The Standard

Sorry for my extended absence

Sorry for not posting anything here for so long.

Part of the reason is that I moved to a new city and a new job - I now work for the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology in Kassel (still in Germany).

Part of the reason was that it took Deutsche Telekom two weeks to connect me to the Internet, because my landlord (or rather, the company representing the company representing the actual owner of the house) didn't know where the central telecommunications box for the house I now live in was.

And part of the reason was my new Google+ account. You can find my profile here.
The Standard

A Night in the Neighborhood

I just was an indirect witness to domestic violence.

My weekly gaming evening was just winding down when the doorbell rang. A 18 year old girl with a bloody nose had collapsed in front of our apartment door and was sobbing uncontrollably. I immediately called the police while the others helped her on a chair and tried to comfort her. When the police arrived, she began to slowly talk again. Apparently her 40-something boyfriend had been drunk and was upset about another neighbor playing Techno music far too loudly, and he thus decided to vent that anger by punching there right on the nose...

The police, after checking the story (and presumably questioning the guy) eventually brought her home. One police officer also told us that a charge is filed automatically in such cases, regardless of what the victim says later... and a good thing too, in my opinion. From what I've heard, all too often the victim rationalizes the incident away and drops all charges. I hope they throw the book at him.
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[WIR] Suppressed Transmissions - Vol. 2

It seems my RPGNet readings of the Suppressed Transmissions have attracted attention from the Secret Masters - both Phil Reed and Steve Jackson himself comment on the posts and state that they will seriously consider publishing more if the sales of the existing volumes increase sufficiently.

And on that account, there is some progress - sales of the first PDF volume have increased by 38 sales, and of the second volume have increased by thirty (and the first printed collection is now "low on stock", although I am unsure when precisely this happened). However, these sales still aren't nowhere near enough to make a difference, so spread the word - and if you have read them, comment on the RPGNet thread to keep it active (giving it good ratings with the "Rate Thread" function probably couldn't hurt, either...).

Anyway, here is the second collection of my ongoing readings, starting from this page:

11. Chess

"As late as 1860 chess historian Duncan Forbes announced, based on no discernible evidence whatsoever, that chess was 5,000 years old and derived from ancient Sanskrit wisdom. That's the kind of thinking we need more of in our roleplaying gameif you ask me..."

This time, we delve into the past and symbology of chess, one of the world's oldest and most popular games. Along the way, we learn of variants like "Living Chess" where the pieces are played by humans (bloody gladiatorial battles when one piece takes another are optional) and "Enochian Chess", which was invented by the founders of the Golden Dawn. Also discussed are chess as metaphor and ciphers for secret conspirational struggles, and as magically potent symbls which can shape ley lines and mana flows.

This transmission is certainly fairly specialized and won't be of use for everyone, but if you are prone to using lots of symbols in your campaign you should be able to make use of it.

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The Standard

[WIR] Suppressed Transmissions - Vol. 1

The "Suppressed Transmissions" columns by Kenneth Hite published by the last incarnation of Pyramid were always among my favorites - there are precious few texts that have such a high quotient of gaming ideas per paragraphs as these. However, once Pyramid shifted towards a PDF layout, the columns became inaccessible to anyone who wasn't a subscriber at the time. Fortunately, I was - but many others weren't so lucky. A small fraction of the columns was published in printed collections:

These had the added bonus of having lots and lots of additional footnotes by Kenneth Hite, making them worthwhile even for those who had the originals. Unfortunately, they never even sold out their print runs, and the ebook versions - which were released last fall and can be bought here and here - didn't sell very well, either. This makes it unlikely that Steve Jackson Games will ever release further collections, as they can't justify the expense.

This cannot stand.

Thus, I've decided to do a little promoting on my own. I have started this RPGNet thread in which I am reading through and commenting all of the columns I have - which are 300 or so in number. And so that you won't have to wade through the entire thread if you are not on RPGNet, I'm going to archive the installments here on my Journal as well, in installments of 10 each.

Let's get started...

1. The First Transmission

"I put great store in the H.P. Lovecraft dictum that the 'piecing together of dissociated knowledge' opens up 'terrifying vistas of reality,' at least in roleplaying games..."

The very first column, beyond explaining the origin of the term "Suppressed Transmission" (from the 1991 movie "Slacker"), gives us an idea what to expect from future transmissions by giving us some short examples from each of the main themes - Conspiracy, Secret History, Horror, and Alternate History. Kenneth Hite starts out with an interesting rumor he read in one of his many, many books which claims that Abraham Lincoln was such a capable politician that he just couldn't have possibly have an utterly unremarkable origin - no, he had to be the son of someone famous. Thus, muses Hite, might he have been the result of some conspiracy trying to create particularly "potent" bloodlines, like the Prieuré de Sion? Then he speculates on the other famous people born in the same year, 1809 - Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin, and the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He further hints at another noteworthy event that year, the Man Who Walked Around The Horses, which is expanded upon in one of the footnotes (where he also contemplates writing a future column on (sadly, he didn't).

The rest of the column then follows the year 1809 and see what else might be happen. In Secret History he speculates upon the death of Meriwether Lewis. In the Horror section he muses on a world based on the visions of Edgar Allan Poe. In Alternate History, he points out that both Wellington and Napoleon were involved in heavy fighting on opposite ends of Europe which might have gotten them killed - and that the death of either might have helped the survival of the French Empire. Finally, Kenneht Hite gives us a short introduction of himself and his previous works.

As an introductory column, this works well enough, although it lacks the stronger thematic unity of later columns. As usual he makes references to many, many things (Masons? The pirate Blackbeard? Emperor Norton? Bugsy Siegel?, but since he is trying to cover so many things at once he lacks the space to go into any of them in detail. Still, you get plenty of cool tidbits to research further, and while the author was limited to physical books and AltaVista when he wrote the column, we have Wikipedia, Google, and all sorts of other tools to help us with our research - that is, if you don't want to look up all the books he references (thirteen in number, and that's not counting the books he wrote himself). This is a general "problem" when reading the Suppressed Transmissions - there are so many interesting books mentioned that the average reader simply cannot read all of them...
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The Standard


OMG! I think I have just created the perfect sandwich!

This is made from a very flat sourdough bread with a nice and strong crust. The dough included chopped chilies, garlic, and olives.

I will write about my recent adventures in baking later, and in more detail. For now, this teaser will have to suffice.
The Standard

Going Home

Two minutes later, and I would have been among the Damned.

But I barely managed to get my connecting train - and with it, my seat reservation.

But let's do this from the start. Each year, I take care go back to my hometown for Christmas to visit my parents, my family, as well as old friends, and this year was no exception. Usually, I travel on the weekend before Christmas, but this year I was only able to do it today, on the 23rd.

I knew that the journey was going to be bad - at this time in the year, everyone goes home to visit their families in Germany. The severe snowfalls which the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) wasn't able to cope with very well caused further delays. And making it worse, lots of flights in Central Europe ended up being canceled as well in the last few days, which added even more passengers to the trains. So I was quite relieved that I had bought a ticket and reserved a seat the previous week. And after a rousing game of Eclipse Phase the previous evening, I started early, finished packing my suitcase (which quickly filled with lots of old gaming books and novels I wanted to sell, and thus was correspondingly heavy - probably about 35 kg or so) and stepped out of the door.

Which is where I encountered my first problem - new snow had fallen overnight. Which is not a good condition to pull a suitcase with tiny little wheels through, especially considering that the snow covered semi-molten ice in many places. The wheels hardly seemed to connect with the ground at times. But when I arrived at the bus station, I saw that the wheels probably did connect to the ground - but what they didn't connect to was my suitcase, as they were gone by that point. The grit some caring people had put on the sidewalks on some places probably hadn't helped, either. Considering how much I still had to walk today from one train to another, this was... not good.

Fortunately, I did get to the train station early enough to catch my first train, a regional train from Aachen to Cologne, as I wanted to have some breathing space and timed it to account for the bad weather - though getting my suitcase to the platform was rather more strenuous than originally planned. But then I discovered that the train was five minutes anyway - but I arrived early enough to get a good spot in the queue that formed when the train arrived, and carried my luggage to the upper floor.

Then, before the very next train stop, the train took an unscheduled break, and there was an announcement that we would have to wait until the bullet train from Bruessels - which was running late - had passed us by. At this point, I started to worry - the train was now ten minutes late, and according to my ticket I had only nine minutes to get my connecting train in Cologne.

That train would take me from Cologne to Nuremberg, and was an Inter-City Express (ICE), the German equivalent of bullet trains - and unlike regional trains, it permits seat reservations. Which is pretty important for a connection which you know will take you four and a half hours, and which you know is going to contain more people than seats, many of whom will have more than one suitcase with them because they want to bring gifts to their relatives. So while I could simply have taken the next bullet train an hour later, I really didn't want to without a seat reservation.

So I checked checked the online status of the train, and the Deutsche Bahn website told me that it was punctual. Punctual! Why today, of all days? I already resigned myself to the purgatory that was sure to await me, but then the conductor told me that the latest news she had heard was that that train was running ten minutes late. 15 minutes prior to our arrival an announcement with connecting trains confirmed that. But five minutes prior to our arrival another announcement with connecting trains in Cologne took place - and this one didn't mention my train. What was going on? Had it already left?

The train arrived at its platform, and I saw the bullet train at a platform parallel to ours. Would I make it in time, or would it leave right before my eyes? I carried my (again, very heavy) suitcase down the stairs as fast as I was able. Then I carried it up again the next set of stairs. No, the train was still there. Where was my seat again? Wagon 25, Seat 21 - right. I had emerged near the end of the train, next to Wagon 21, but there were still quite a few people crowding at the doors, so I walked as quickly as I was able with my suitcase. Wagon 22, Wagon 23... no, better get inside before the train departs. I caught my breath again and then waited for a few minutes until most people had found their seats and stowed away their luggage before I dared venture further. Wagon 24, Wagon... wait, why was the next one the dining wagon? After that, I was in Wagon 27. Where was Wagon 25? I went back to the dining wagon, and asked an attendant - and she told me that there was no Wagon 25! I looked at my ticket again, and realized that my seat was in Wagon 21! So I went back the way I came. Wagon 24, Wagon 23... in Wagon 22 there was a jam as a group of pensioners had apparently been late with finding their seats and still took their time with stowing away their luggage. I waited at the front of the wagon and chatted with another attendant, who had to wait as well because she wanted to be able to walk through the wagon so that she could sell drinks and snacks from her small trolley, and she couldn't push the trolley through the wagon because all those people and suitcases were still in the way.

But eventually the jam cleared, I went to the right wagon, and I found Seat 21 - a window seat at a table, just as ordered. I evicted a young women from it who didn't have a seat reservation, but fortunately there was still another free seat nearby which she vacated to. Gratefully, I sank into my seat and bought something to drink from the attendant with the trolley who had also managed to progress this far by this stage.

The train passed Bonn, Koblenz, and was approachingMainz - a normally extremely scenic route along the river Rhine, but it was too foggy to see much and I was on the wrong side of the train anyway. At that point I belatedly realized something: If I had been confused about the wagon and my seat was in Wagon 21 instead of 25, shouldn't my seat number conversely have been 25 instead of 21? I looked at the ticket which confirmed it - my reserved seat was at the window on the other side... which was currently occupied by a woman holding her one year old baby, with her husband sitting right next to her. Since I mentioned my mistake to the other passengers at my table, the couple became aware of this - but I reassured them that as long as nobody had reserved the seat I was sitting on, everything was fine.

Predictably, a passenger getting on the train at Mainz had done just that. The couple made motions to vacate the seat, but I told them that I would just stand until Frankfurt Main Station (fifteen minutes away), where in my experience lots of seats would open up in this wagon. Then a passenger sitting at the same table as the couple offered me her seat, as she was getting off at the Frankfurt Airport (five minutes away), so I was able to avoid standing. Finally, at Frankfurt itself I suggested switching sides to the couple so that I could have my reserved seat and they could still sit next to each other, which they agreed to. Finally, I had my seat - unlike the more than a dozen people in our wagon alone who were forced to remain standing or sitting on the floor or their suitcases...

As we were approaching Nuremberg, we were running fifteen minutes late - which was regrettable, but not nearly as bad as I had feared in the morning. Still, it meant that I would miss the next regional train from Nuremberg to Erlangen, my final destination. But just before Nuremberg, the train made another unscheduled stop, and it was now running 24 minutes late - which meant that I would miss the second regional train going into the same direction, and if I remembered correctly, the next one would go fifty minutes later.

So instead I simply got onto the next bullet train passing through Erlangen - which I wasn't supposed to, since my ticket only covered a regional train for that direction, but I figured that instead of carrying my heavy suitcase all the way to the so-called "Service Point" and argue with the employee of the Deutsche Bahn there to give me an exception - and likely miss the train due to waiting in line there - I'd just take my chances and argue the point with the conductor in the train should one appear (which didn't happen).

I didn't even bother to look for a seat, since that final leg of the journey only took ten minutes. During that time, I chatted with an older women who also wanted to get out of the train at Erlangen - and, as it turned out, who had lived in the same suburb where my parents live now, and now was about to visit her grown-up children. Once we arrived, she offered me that her son could take me to my parents' house with his car, which I gladly accepted since it meant I didn't have to take the bus - which would likely have been at least as crowded as the trains.

Thanks to them, I finally arrived at my parent's house seven and a half hours after I left my apartment in Aachen - sore, but happy. And I hope that you, too, will be spending the next days with people you care about and who care about you in turn.

So, what tales do you have about your journey home, if you made one?