Up way too late…

and still too much on my mind.

Round I of parent teacher conferences tonight went well. I had the parents of day-students in my classroom tonight, and we got a groove on — ten minutes per passenger, racing along at breakneck speed. Mrs. DP probably got the worst of it, since I have three of her boys and she only got ten minutes total. Ooops. The other conferences went well. Mrs. R told me, “if you have low expectations of my daughter, she’ll meet them; if you have high expectations, she’ll meet those, too.” I love parents with high opinions of their kids; that makes my job so much easier.

Feeling less in the dumps about my English classes now that I have a plan; Ben gave me a pep talk today, too. I love having that guy in the next classroom. I can beg, borrow and steal from him any time at all. He gave me a nifty new tool to work with today, namely a pair of sheets that I can use as my planbook. I’m so excited to have them, and start writing down my daily lesson plans and recording them.

Spent my free period today fussing with my laptop, trying to get iCal and other functionality up to speed. Tried to get the laptop to sync with the computer on my classroom desk. No dice, at least not yet. Also tried to get the school’s LDAP server to synch with my laptop. No dice there, either. Still finding it hard to gather enough time to correct papers — I’m planning on sitting at the station tomorrow and correct papers for several hours. Also plan to work out my gradebook at least for the fall. I’m also planning on printing the gradebook rather than trying to keep it digitally. As much as I’d like to give up paper — the fact is, the school’s not ready for it, and neither am I. Not this year, anyway.

Built a Labyrinth on the school grounds, off in the woods. I’ve been walking it every day since we built it last week, at least every day that I’ve been on campus. It’s a Cretan-style, or Troytown-style, labyrinth, with four loops. Two kids and I laid it out a week ago Saturday, and then we finished it last Wednesday. So far it’s been the big project for our fall camping group that hasn’t yet gone camping. We need to collect firewood and repair the lean-to shelter before we can go camping, though.

My desktop machine died today. I turned it on to help a kid who needed to work on a paper; I haven’t turned it on since mid-August, I’m guessing. The screen popped, grumbled, and finally turned on, reluctantly, with a series of static-like lines crossing the screen horizontally. The machine stayed on about five minutes, before roughly and unceremoniously shutting itself off, not to restart again. I think it’s done. Maybe it’s just the screen — maybe it’s the hard drive — maybe it’s the software. Whatever it is, my iMac is something like six years old and very slow, so maybe it’s time to let it die gracefully. I’ll take it over to the school and see if they can salvage it for spare parts or whatever, but I think it’s done.

Now I have to decide whether to replace it or not. Frankly, since I started getting freelance assignments, I’m nervous about having only one computer. can’t access the net from work, and so she wants to be able to do it from here. For several years now I’ve deluded myself that the desktop iMac was useful and good, because it was a backup machine, and that I could work on it, while worked on the laptop. But the desktop at school is mind-numbingly slow, and the home desktop machine is now definitively dead. Replace it?

With what money? I’d like one of those flatscreen models, but would like a laptop and the wireless card so she could work around the apartment. I don’t think either of those things is in the budget right now. Alas

The final issue is gaming-related. I’ve got a kid who’s really into games. We’ve been playing Carcasonne, and Fluxx, and Clans and Cathedral, in addition to things like chess. But he’s mentioned D&D by name several times now, and there’s enough interest that I’d like to run something. Only, I haven’t got time to develop the game I want to run. Who am I kidding? I haven’t got the time to grade papers, much less game-master anything. As much as I’d like to, that puppy is going to have to wait.

Still, his interest reminds me that I’d like to run a game. I’m feeling the urge to get back into it, and do something with that side of my creative life. The recent paper I did about early Neolithic life has kinda got me interested in the idea of running a prehistoric game, where the magicians have to think about erecting standing stones and suchlike to raise energy and create the leylines that make magic flow from magic-rich nodes into magic-poor areas… imagine a fantasy game where the players are literally setting up the tools that make clerical magic and sorcery and magic-user magic possible. “Ok, you raised a dolmen… you can cast first-level spells now.” “You built an altar and made arrangements with a spirit-court, so now you can cast clerical second-level spells.” “You have mystified the tribe with your sorcerous ways and your knowledge of herbs; you can be a sorceror now.”

Part of the reason I’m considering this kind of game is because of the labyrinth. It took three of us about a half-day to build half the labyrinth, and it took a crew of eight of us to finish it over another half-day. One such labyrinth, let’s say, could affect the surrounding square half-mile, meaning that you’d need four per square mile to energize and empower your tribe’s whole territory — at a day per construct for the whole tribe, that would be a lot of effort and energy to expend, just to cast first level spells, if that’s what the Labyrinth does. If you then have to construct medicine wheels to do second level spells, and dolmens or stone circles for higher-level magics, then the landscape slowly gets ‘charged’ and empowered. But then the tribe has to do maintenance, or your character does, and someone has to talk to the spirit world from time to time, and get new project ideas.

That’s one possibility. The other possibility I had considered was the idea of a colony from a magic-rich medieval society setting up on a strange and foreign shore. What if the vikings in Newfoundland had had magic, and the skraelings/Inuit had had clerical magic? Or vice-versa? What if they had weird spell lists? You’d have a town, and a wilderness, and some interesting magical battles to contend with, for sure.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY shout-out to . and I still don’t know about your Saturday party. We’re hoping it will work out, but I’ll have to see whether I have movie or gym duty that night, or have to drive the on-campus kids to the mall somewhere. I’ll let you know soon.

18 comments

  1. Re: Gaming Aids

    Polaris and Northern Kingdom make sense for me. Dogs in the Vinyard I’d have problems with, and my students would, too. I still haven’t solved the basic prep-time problem, tho.

    You might be interested in my reply to on this thread, as well. He raises some good points, and I’m starting to develop them.

  2. Re: gaming

    I am on duty on Tuesday nights, so I can’t join your D&D game, unfortunately. I have to be here on dormitory until 6:30, and I have to be back on campus at 8:30pm. So that won’t work. Thanks for the offer, tho!

    I like a number of your points, and I’ll consider them. I think one of the things I’m considering is that once a dolmen is erected, it extends the magical-essence effect over its region for everyone, so if a magic-user builds a dolmen in one area, that area is now opened to all magic users. The builder knows why he constructed it, so he gets access to 2nd level spells, maybe; but first level spells can be used by anyone “in range”. If you can convince the builder to give up the secret of the place, or you can deduce it for yourself (Spellcraft DC 15 for a 2nd level construct, DC 20 for a 3rd, DC 25 for a 4th), you can access the level of spell you manage. This also suggests that each circle can be augmented — I build a labyrinth to charge my character, that’s a Level 1 augmentation. Later, I add a stone to track midsummer sunrise: that’s a level 2. Still later, I put up a few stones to track the moon-rise and moon-set on a special day: that’s my level three.

    To make things easier on divine magic users, what I can do is make spirits manifest themselves more easily, and assume a thinner wall between the Prime Material Plane and the realms of the gods. Thus, a god or spirit can manifest, and say, “put up a stone altar here, and I’ll grant you level 3 spells.” The spirit declines to mention that this means he has the mana to loan the PC to cast those spells now, or that he’ll grant lesser spells to the apprentice left behind to keep the altar clean and light sage bundles over it every third day… but the gods’ ability to manifest and ask for these shrines will make it easier for clerics to fulfill their obligations and create their constructs, where the Arcane magicians have to work things out for themselves.

    Also, once a player has developed three sites to a certain level, the triangle between them generates ley lines, and maybe a pool of mana between them. The sum of length of the three sides becomes the radius of the new “area of effect” so that three sites a mile apart now make possible magic within their boundaries, and up to three miles away from any place along the ley lines or the vertices (the dolmens themselves). Any three dolmens of the same time (Arcane or Divine) generate these ley lines for lower-level spells even if their creators are not cooperating; if they do cooperate, they generate spells at higher levels.

    You could also create a class of metamagic feats associated with Dolmens. Carving a rune on a stone in a circle, for example, adds a mile to that dolmen’s effective area.

    AH. The XP cost of some spells is actually paid into the Dolmen, giving the dolmen itself or the resident spirit the ability to project energy over greater distances and allows spells to be connected to the spot.

    You also posit that a site could be threatened. Hmmm. You could disrupt the spell casters by damaging their nemetons, and you could have wars between divine and arcane spellcasters. This tends to lead to the primacy of fighters and rogue types, and a general dearth of spellcasters. BUT! Maybe once a sacred or arcane site reaches a certain basic energy level, it leaves a signature in the land so that even if it’s destroyed, the magical capabilities of the place remain… Lots of stuff to think about.

  3. gaming

    Hey man-

    We do have an opening for my Tuesday D&D group if you are interested. It’s in Worcester.

    As for your ideas on expanding magical influence, there are a few game balance issues you should consider. Limiting the casting of spells to geographic regions makes the magic using classes less attractive, thereby making the fighter / skill types significantly more powerful in contrast. By the same token, this makes wands / potions and the like more powerful as well ’cause they are “go anywhere.”

    In addition, you should make it at least slightly easier to obtain divine spells as these are more important to the whole party than arcane spells. If this is the case, you wouldn’t want to use the same method to give differing benefits to different players for the same project w/o ample justification.

    You will also want to consider what to do as the characters grow. Having a 1st level wizard construct a dolmen for a 1st level spell is one thing, but a 16 level wizard probably should be able to cast first level spells regardless of geography (but they still might need something for 7th level spells).

    One option that would require a less critical change in the rules would be to have the dolmens, or other creations, generate metamagic effects. This would be less impressive and unless you gear the system to favor them, most players might ignore these.

    Don’t discount the use of feats in this system either. A feat could extend a dolmen’s influence, or provide a link w/ the tomb so the creator could know if her control over the object was threatened.

    Let me know how that turns out.

  4. gaming

    Hey man-

    We do have an opening for my Tuesday D&D group if you are interested. It’s in Worcester.

    As for your ideas on expanding magical influence, there are a few game balance issues you should consider. Limiting the casting of spells to geographic regions makes the magic using classes less attractive, thereby making the fighter / skill types significantly more powerful in contrast. By the same token, this makes wands / potions and the like more powerful as well ’cause they are “go anywhere.”

    In addition, you should make it at least slightly easier to obtain divine spells as these are more important to the whole party than arcane spells. If this is the case, you wouldn’t want to use the same method to give differing benefits to different players for the same project w/o ample justification.

    You will also want to consider what to do as the characters grow. Having a 1st level wizard construct a dolmen for a 1st level spell is one thing, but a 16 level wizard probably should be able to cast first level spells regardless of geography (but they still might need something for 7th level spells).

    One option that would require a less critical change in the rules would be to have the dolmens, or other creations, generate metamagic effects. This would be less impressive and unless you gear the system to favor them, most players might ignore these.

    Don’t discount the use of feats in this system either. A feat could extend a dolmen’s influence, or provide a link w/ the tomb so the creator could know if her control over the object was threatened.

    Let me know how that turns out.

    • Re: gaming

      I am on duty on Tuesday nights, so I can’t join your D&D game, unfortunately. I have to be here on dormitory until 6:30, and I have to be back on campus at 8:30pm. So that won’t work. Thanks for the offer, tho!

      I like a number of your points, and I’ll consider them. I think one of the things I’m considering is that once a dolmen is erected, it extends the magical-essence effect over its region for everyone, so if a magic-user builds a dolmen in one area, that area is now opened to all magic users. The builder knows why he constructed it, so he gets access to 2nd level spells, maybe; but first level spells can be used by anyone “in range”. If you can convince the builder to give up the secret of the place, or you can deduce it for yourself (Spellcraft DC 15 for a 2nd level construct, DC 20 for a 3rd, DC 25 for a 4th), you can access the level of spell you manage. This also suggests that each circle can be augmented — I build a labyrinth to charge my character, that’s a Level 1 augmentation. Later, I add a stone to track midsummer sunrise: that’s a level 2. Still later, I put up a few stones to track the moon-rise and moon-set on a special day: that’s my level three.

      To make things easier on divine magic users, what I can do is make spirits manifest themselves more easily, and assume a thinner wall between the Prime Material Plane and the realms of the gods. Thus, a god or spirit can manifest, and say, “put up a stone altar here, and I’ll grant you level 3 spells.” The spirit declines to mention that this means he has the mana to loan the PC to cast those spells now, or that he’ll grant lesser spells to the apprentice left behind to keep the altar clean and light sage bundles over it every third day… but the gods’ ability to manifest and ask for these shrines will make it easier for clerics to fulfill their obligations and create their constructs, where the Arcane magicians have to work things out for themselves.

      Also, once a player has developed three sites to a certain level, the triangle between them generates ley lines, and maybe a pool of mana between them. The sum of length of the three sides becomes the radius of the new “area of effect” so that three sites a mile apart now make possible magic within their boundaries, and up to three miles away from any place along the ley lines or the vertices (the dolmens themselves). Any three dolmens of the same time (Arcane or Divine) generate these ley lines for lower-level spells even if their creators are not cooperating; if they do cooperate, they generate spells at higher levels.

      You could also create a class of metamagic feats associated with Dolmens. Carving a rune on a stone in a circle, for example, adds a mile to that dolmen’s effective area.

      AH. The XP cost of some spells is actually paid into the Dolmen, giving the dolmen itself or the resident spirit the ability to project energy over greater distances and allows spells to be connected to the spot.

      You also posit that a site could be threatened. Hmmm. You could disrupt the spell casters by damaging their nemetons, and you could have wars between divine and arcane spellcasters. This tends to lead to the primacy of fighters and rogue types, and a general dearth of spellcasters. BUT! Maybe once a sacred or arcane site reaches a certain basic energy level, it leaves a signature in the land so that even if it’s destroyed, the magical capabilities of the place remain… Lots of stuff to think about.

  5. Gaming Aids

    The gaming library of Tom recommends:

    HeroQuest — There’s some groovy magic stuff in there and the system is really open-ended.

    Northern Kingdom — a d20 supplement that marries the exploration of the New World with a fantasy setting (much like your Vikings and Inuit bit above).

    I have a Supplement for CORPS (a game system I do not own) that talks about roleplaying in a primative society and I have Tribes, the SJG game about pre-historic life (that latter is more like a pre-historic Model UN game than a full-blown RPG, but it’s interesting).

    But I understand that your biggest problem is prep time. So you may want to consider stuff that is easy to set up and run. For most RPGs this usually means that you’re splitting GM duties with the players. Depending on how cool your kids are this can be a really great learning experience or just a frustrating mess. However:

    Dogs in the Vineyard — You play a group of religious enforcers traveling from town to town making the hard decisions to help cleanse them of evil. Each game is a self-contained episode (you arrive in town and fix the problems). So prep time is limited to setting up the town — and there are very clear, explicit guidelines for setting up each town. And their quick so in about 30 minutes it’s really easy to churn out a town that’s just rife with moral quandries the players will have to sort out.

    Polaris — Tragic chivalry at the end of the world…well, the world of the People anyway. They used to live in the frozen North under eternal night. Now the baleful sun is slowly but surely eating away their kingdom. What to do, what to do. Not much in the way of happy endings for these games, but the imagery is really powerful. The other slick conceit is that GMing duties rotate around the table. When it’s my “go”, the person across from me controls the big baddies and the players to my left/right control various NPCs who might help/hinder me. So everyone pitches in and makes it up as they go along. So here, there’s almost zero prep time.

    I can recommend a few more if you’re interested, or get you copies of stuff.

    later
    Tom

  6. Gaming Aids

    The gaming library of Tom recommends:

    HeroQuest — There’s some groovy magic stuff in there and the system is really open-ended.

    Northern Kingdom — a d20 supplement that marries the exploration of the New World with a fantasy setting (much like your Vikings and Inuit bit above).

    I have a Supplement for CORPS (a game system I do not own) that talks about roleplaying in a primative society and I have Tribes, the SJG game about pre-historic life (that latter is more like a pre-historic Model UN game than a full-blown RPG, but it’s interesting).

    But I understand that your biggest problem is prep time. So you may want to consider stuff that is easy to set up and run. For most RPGs this usually means that you’re splitting GM duties with the players. Depending on how cool your kids are this can be a really great learning experience or just a frustrating mess. However:

    Dogs in the Vineyard — You play a group of religious enforcers traveling from town to town making the hard decisions to help cleanse them of evil. Each game is a self-contained episode (you arrive in town and fix the problems). So prep time is limited to setting up the town — and there are very clear, explicit guidelines for setting up each town. And their quick so in about 30 minutes it’s really easy to churn out a town that’s just rife with moral quandries the players will have to sort out.

    Polaris — Tragic chivalry at the end of the world…well, the world of the People anyway. They used to live in the frozen North under eternal night. Now the baleful sun is slowly but surely eating away their kingdom. What to do, what to do. Not much in the way of happy endings for these games, but the imagery is really powerful. The other slick conceit is that GMing duties rotate around the table. When it’s my “go”, the person across from me controls the big baddies and the players to my left/right control various NPCs who might help/hinder me. So everyone pitches in and makes it up as they go along. So here, there’s almost zero prep time.

    I can recommend a few more if you’re interested, or get you copies of stuff.

    later
    Tom

    • Re: Gaming Aids

      Polaris and Northern Kingdom make sense for me. Dogs in the Vinyard I’d have problems with, and my students would, too. I still haven’t solved the basic prep-time problem, tho.

      You might be interested in my reply to on this thread, as well. He raises some good points, and I’m starting to develop them.

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