Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Swag

Here is the Christmas Swag countdown so far for 2013:

GURPS for Dummies.  
Actually, it looks to be a pretty cool book for GURPS 4th edition. 

GURPS Vikings
It's for 3rd edition, but GURPS sourcebooks transcend time and space.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series
Completely awesome art book!

Fairytale Fantasies Calandar
I'm a big fan of both artists.

Doctor Who T-Shirt
'Nuff Said! 

Homemade Miniature Zen Garden
Very cool and portable.  AUM. 

A House
That's right.  We bought a house in another city and moved last week.
Packing sucks, Moving sucks, unpacking sucks, but new house - cool!

There are some other really cool presents - but they are still packed and I have no idea which boxes they are in.

- Ark

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holy Dyvers, Batman

The one that got away?
I think most of the RPG Blogoverse - at least the OSRish types - have heard about this, but just in case . . .

Charles Akins over at the Dyvers blog has been assembling a big-ass gaming blog list called the The Great Blog Roll Call.  It's great for people, like me, who are miserable failures at keeping up with their own blog rolls.  He's got nifty little blurbs about each blog and links. Okay, these blurbs are actually good sized and indicate he's actually read the blogs in question.

FYI, 'Dyvers' appears to refer to some city near Nyr Dyv (if you remember that little pond,) and not any particular DIO albums.  But who knows.  It could refer to both!

So yeah, anyway, go over there and browse.  There some good stuff you probably have not heard of - or forgot about long ago and shouldn't have.

- Ark

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Little Star Catalog

Is the French Arm giving the American Arm the finger?
I remember really digging the original Traveller's subsector maps until I got to the Solomani supplement.  It became all too obvious that Traveller's space was two dimensional and just horribly, horrible wrong.  Of course, players never cared, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Star Frontiers wasn't any better, so I remapped THAT universe into 3D - just because.

Then Traveller: 2300 came out, containing a glorious map of the REAL local space.  Besides the map, it came with a distilled version of Gliese Near Star Catalog - version 2 - in a nifty little booklet.  I sat and mapped stars for days with that booklet, a pencil, and graph paper.  I loved it, and that booklet stayed with me much longer than the game ever did.

In the 90s, I found digitized versions of the Gliese Catalog and others - including the Yale Bright Star Catalog.  There was a very nifty BBS in North Texas back then run by amateur astronomers - and it was glorious.  There was a simple spreadsheet program in the Microsoft Works package, and I set about trying to map the galaxy.

Hipparchos parallax - accurate to ONLY 1600 light years.
Running the numbers, I realized Douglas Adams was right.  Space is fucking huge.  Light travels at a snail's pace.  And, for all their nifty telescopes and sciency shit, astronomers are just guessing at the distances of the stars.  BIG guesses.  Most of the stars that we can see are very, very local - in galactic terms.

A much more comprehensive survey came out - the Hipparcos Catalog.  It was so big my computer couldn't grok it.  I sighed and stepped away from star mapping for a while.

By the time I had regained my interest and could afford a faster computer, I ran into Winchell Chung's web page.  Beside's defining the look and feel of Steve Jackson's OGRE back in the mid 1970s, Winchell Chung is also a star mapping freak of the highest caliber. He's got so much about star mapping on his site - it boggles the mind.  Because of his work in this field, he remains one of my favorite people in the universe - even though I've never communicated with him.  Talk about stalky. :)

So much of the work was already done for me on the site that, well, I got lazy.  Any time I'd want to know information - distances - whatnot - I'd just hit the site.  But this year - after delving back into GURPS, I got hungry for star mapping again - BIG star mapping.  It dawned on me that I have been doing database work as a career for almost 20 years now, slicing and dicing huge wads of data in the blink of an eye.  The stellar data, by comparison to bank transactions, is relatively small.  So I pulled in the data and it was glorious fun.

I present to you, without further ado, the Arkhein Derived Catalog (Simplified.)  Please note, this data is not accurate enough for astrogation purposes.  Black holes are not charted.  Your mileage may vary.

ArkheinDerivedCatalogSimplified.csv contains 18,729 star systems within a 135 parsec cube centered on Sol.  It is derived from The HYG Database (a dataset derived from Hipparcos, Yale, and Gliese,) the HabCat Dataset (from Jill Tarter and Margaret Turnbull - a list of systems that might contain a habitable planet) and data from the NASA Exoplanet Archive as of September 22, 2013.

This simplified version I'm putting out for public comsumption is rather slim - with the following columns:

ADCID Arkhein Catalog Derived ID # for my own tracking.
HIP The Hipparcos Catalog Number.
CommonName Of all the names of the system, my own, personal favorite.
Distance In parsecs from Sol.
AbsMag A sciencey brightness thingy.
Spectrum The Hertzsprung-Russell classification.
ColorIndex A sceincey color thingy.
Xg Cartesian coordinates based on a Galactic orientation.
Yg Cartesian coordinates based on a Galactic orientation.
Zg Cartesian coordinates based on a Galactic orientation.
HAB SETI watch candidae per Tarter/Turnbull.
pl_hostname System name per NASA Exoplanet Archive.
pl_pnum Number of verified exoplanets, per NASA.

Part of the reasoning behind the cubic shape of the data is to organize the stars into cubes.  Though not in the simplified dataset, I have everything in this 135 parsec wide cube sliced up, identified, and named.  I may publicize this later, as I tried to make it as neutral as possible, naming each unit after the brightest star in the area.

The hierarchy is as follows:

Width (parsecs) Cubic Parsecs Comprised of . . .
Subsector 5 125
Sector 15 3375 27 Subsectors
Region 45 91125 27 Sectors

Thus, the 135 parsec area is made up of 27 Regions, 729 Sectors, and 19,683 Subsectors.  A huge amount of space, yes, but easily slice and diced with a database.

The naming convention of the areas results in Sol being located in . . .

Subsector: Sirius
Sector: Vega
Region: Aldebaran

. . . which seems pretty neat to me.

I've got some ad hoc calculations to randomly (but logically) determine human habitable systems from all of this data.  I get about 520 planets with complex life on them out of the entire area.  A lot more planets with single cell life, but those are far less interesting. :)

So there it is - my life's work.  Yay.  It will all go toward a GURPS: Space campaign one day.  Please let me know if you have any questions or are interested in seeing any of the additional data.

- Ark

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gods - Not Officers, Cash, nor Tom


Due to the winter storm that turned North Texas into an skating rink, I had some time to work on a piece for Gorgonmilk's Petty Gods project.  Everybody - this is Galishma.  Galishma - this is everybody.  Galishma is the goddess of the darkness under bridges and the disposing of murdered bodies, so I hear.  And maybe ice cream.

I've been drawing a lot for the last few months - but nothing for public consumption.  Lots of work on structure.  A lot less fun than churning out goddesses, but really, really needed.  A site called Pencil Kings has a great month long (free) figure drawing course by an artist called Sycra, and I recommend it highly.

Since I've been working in pencil and paper exclusively, I was a bit nervous to jump back into digital - but I needed to since I don't ink in the real universe yet.  I think the dread was more about Photoshop than anything else, so on a whim, I tried out Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.  I like it a lot.

Sketchbook makes it very clear why Photoshop is named Photoshop - it's for photos first, not for drawing.  Sketchbook is for sketching (duh) and drawing.  Painting too.  The image above is the first picture I've drawn with the program - and I'm pretty impressed.  The brushes are all easy to use and flow smoothly.  I can draw straight lines and shapes without a lot of clicking and button holding.  Everything related to drawing is just a heck of a lot easier.

I still prefer Photoshop's canvas rotating - it's much more smooth than Sketchbook's.  And Sketchbook seems to chew up a lot more memory than I think it should - but still nothing compared to Photoshop.  And, of course, all your fancy filters are not available.  But you can save files in *.PSD format to do Photoshop fiddling with your layers intact.

So maybe over Christmas break I can finish Galishma, and that will be drawing #6 for the book.  Yay!

- Ark

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Succubus Climax

THE Mata Hari.
The GURPS horror game is going along well.  Last night, we finished the second chapter - The Haunting of Pamphelgoat Manor - and arrived at an unexpected ending.

Expected endings are so passé, don't you think?

Our intrepid group of monster hunters found themselves in an abandoned orphanage/tuberculosis sanatorium in the highlands of Scotland, trying to find the evil cultists who were performing a ritual to crack the boundary between the world of the living and the dead and raise and army of spectral minions to disrupt Lord Fortescue-Smyth's daughter's debutante ball and masquerade party.  Long story, I know.

So, the evil cultists were on the roof performing the ceremony in their nefarious black robes, all chanting around their magic circle.  The players were having a heck of a time getting up to the roof from the fourth floor.  Suddenly, the party's resident matahari, a Brazilian femme fatale named Esmeralda Cabala, found a dumb waiter that lead up to the roof, and hoisted herself up - after splitting herself from the rest of the party, of course.

The rest of the party was either busy trying to get up on the roof or draining the blood from evil cultists.  That would be the resident vampire, Lilith, who had spent most of the adventure exsanguinating various chauffeurs, maids, and a large Cleavland Bay horse used for fox-hunts.  I'm not sure why so many of the players want to be monsters themselves - but they do.

So, anyway, Miss Esmeralda saw that The Boy's character, Louis Feng, had gotten up to the roof and was kung-fuing some of the cultist guards, but not getting very far.  Esmerelda then decided that it was up to her to stop the evil ritual - despite her complete lack of combat ability.

Instead, her plan was to strip butt-nekkid, sneak into the middle of the magic circle, convince the cultists that she was a succubus from hell, and distract them with her feminine wiles.  Okay, yeah, sounds crazy.  However, her attractiveness rating is through the roof, so it didn't seem completely impossible.  Well, until she COMPLETELY blew her rolls.

One of the cultists drew a wicked knife to dispatch poor, nekkid Esmerelda.  She whipped out her knife.  Don't ask were she was keeping it.  She attacked the cultist and . . . CRITICALLY FAILED the attack.

Yeah.

So, she, inside of a highly charged magic circle, drew her OWN blood.  Even a muggle could figure out nothing good would come out of that.

The party's magic user, who had fought off the onslaught of a group of mind-controlling ghosts, decided to toss an exploding fireball into the fray.  Now, there are two things to keep in mind . . .

  1. The magic user is actually the half-demon son of LORD IBLIS.
  2. The magic user, who was out of fatigue points, had to burn his own hit points to pull the spell off.

Yeah.  Demon blood magic going off near a corrupted, blood-tainted magic circle.

Esmerelda?
So the exploding fireball hit the center of the magic circle PERFECTLY, blasting Esmerelda unconscious and frying the chanting cultists into lifeless husks.  It took me a few seconds to piece together what would happen.

Just before the fireball exploded, the Detective character got up to the roof and shot the Evil High Priest dead with a gun.  What he saw was an bright explosion centered on the magic circle - followed by the after-image of something huge - giant - winged - horned - stepping out of some sort of fissure.  Then it was gone.

Running to the fallen form of Miss Esmeralda, they found her alive, but somewhat red, with vestigial bumps on her forehead, tiny wings on her back, and the beginning of what only could be a barbed tail near her rear end.  I mean, after all, her desire upon entering the circle had been to be perceived as a sexy demon lady - so it only made sense that the ritual followed her desire.

Of course, I left it up to the PC, but yeah, she decided to go ahead and have Esmerelda become a succubus.She actually seemed excited about the prospect. :)

The next game session should be quite interesting, indeed.  So, we've got a vampire, and now a succubus.  Oh, the half-demon's player got bored with his character and is making a werewolf.  The party better invest in some flea dip.

- Ark