Wednesday, November 23, 2016

LARPs in Limbo

Many years ago, I was involved in the live-action role-playing (LARP) community in New England, and attended Intercon, an all-LARP convention, several times. It's been many long years since I last played this kind of game, and I do miss it from time to time.

This past March, my wife Erika attended Intercon again because a friend who's still very active in that scene had persuaded her to co-write a LARP for the con. They are now writing another one for 2017's Intercon. Coincidentally, they started working on it just before NaNoWriMo--and a well-executed theater-style LARP scenario certainly involves a very similar effort of writing and revising!

Back when Erika and I were still regularly involved in LARPing, I had started working on a handful of scenarios--one in collaboration with her, others on my own--that never saw the light of day. I've always wanted to go back and finish them so that they could be run at Intercon or some other venue, but never got around to it. Now that Erika is working on her second in two years, that might be the push I need to dig out those old notes--or to work on more recent ideas that never even got that far.

Here are a few brief notes about those projects that are currently languishing in development Limbo (i.e., boxes in Tim's garage):

Miskatonic Regional Elementary School: A day in the life of a third-grade class made up of junior spacemen, kid superheroes, and the eldritch spawn of local cultists. I helped write and run this game at a Build-Your-Own-LARP Workshop at Intercon back in 1998, and still have copies of the characters sheets and other material we produced for it. It was a fun little game that was all role-playing with no game mechanics, and it deserves a second run. But it also needs a heavy-duty polishing first (which I've taken a first stab at, but need to do more work on).

Albuquerque!: A LARP based on the works of "Weird Al" Yankovic--and especially inspired by songs such as "Midnight Star," "Everything You Know Is Wrong," and "Jerry Springer." He's released at least two albums since I last worked on this, so I'll need to work as many of those songs into the fragments of characters and plots that I already have. My family went to see Al's Mandatory Fun tour this summer (my kids' first time seeing him live, my and Erika's second), so my interest in this one has definitely been rekindled!

Caravanserai: Travelers from Arabia, China, and beyond meet in a caravanserai on the Silk Road in central Asia, circa the 1300s. Erika and I had worked out most of the characters and plot, but need to go back and flesh out character histories and "blue sheets" (handouts that give characters additional background that their character would know, such as the history of a place, or their faction's identities and agenda).

Narnia (untitled): At one point, I tried to sketch out a scenario set in C.S. Lewis's Narnia, but was never satisfied with the result. If I ever go back to it, I'll probably mine the most recent movies for additional ideas, since they invented a great deal more action and visuals for the various battles.

A Lazy Sunday Afternoon in Freeport: I've been a fan of Green Ronin's Freeport: The City of Adventure setting ever since its birth back in the dawn of D&D Third Edition. I would love to develop a set of LARP rules tailored to the setting, but in order to do that properly, I also need a compelling introductory scenario suitable for a large group of LARPers--each with their own agenda and secrets--rather than a standard party of dungeon-delvers. My working title is a joke about the fact that most of the adventure titles in the product line follow the format of "[Something Horribly Depressing] in Freeport," starting with the original trilogy of Death, Terror, and Madness.

Those are the games that come to mind right now. If you are interested in hearing more about any of them--or better yet, want to play them if and when they are completed and get run near you--please let me know in the comments!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jedi Academy: DIY Lightsabers

Jedi Academy is this school year's theme for the Religious Exploration classes at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, KY. I was one of two instructors for the lightsaber practice unit. For these classes, we needed padded lightsabers for the padawans to spar with. Fortunately, building these weapons was easy and inexpensive (only about $4-$5 per lightsaber*), so I have decided to share the process here. 

These instructions are based on a design by Frank Sewell and adapted by UU educator Jessica Gray for the Jedi Academy curriculum. 

Colored lightsabers for our Jedi Master instructors. 

You will need the following supplies:
  • PVC ratcheting cutter.
  • Lengths of 1/2" PVC. (These need to be Schedule 40 PVC so that they can take impacts without breaking.)
  • Lengths of 3/4" PVC. (Do not need to be Schedule 40.)
  • 3/4" PVC couplings. 
  • 3/4" and 1/2" end caps.
  • 1/2" to 3/4" bushing. (This part allows you to join pipe of different gauges. The inside needs to fit over the end of a 1/2" pipe, while the outside needs to fit into a 3/4" coupling.)
  • Sandpaper or sandpaper block. (Relatively fine grit is best.)
  • PVC cement.
  • Pipe insulation. (Insulation sized for 3/4" metal pipe will fit 1/2" PVC pipe.)
  • Metallic duct tape. 
  • Other colors of duct tape for decorating the handles.

PVC cut into blades (top) and handles (bottom), plus bushings (in tray), couplings, and end caps.

Cut the 3/4" PVC into 6"-8" lengths for the handles. 6" is long enough for children, but adults may want a longer handle. (We were able to get twenty 6" handles out of a 10-foot length of pipe, though the last two were more like 5.5" because the pipe wasn't exactly 120" long.)

Cut the 1/2" PVC to the desired blade length. The blade + handle should be no longer than the user's hip-to-floor distance or the weapon will be too long to control easily. Our padawans ranged from kindergarten to middle school age, so we needed a variety of lengths: 30" blades for the oldest kids and the instructors, down to about 18" for the youngest kids.

Handle (left) and blade (right) subassemblies.

Lightly sand the last 1" band at one end of the 3/4" PVC handle. Cement that end into the 3/4" coupling, making sure that the PVC is pushed all the way into the socket. Put a 3/4" end cap on the other end of the handle; this joint isn't structural, so doesn't need to be glued.

Lightly sand the 1" band at the end of the 1/2" PVC blade, and cement that end into the 1/2" side of the bushing. Put a 1/2" end cap on the other end. This makes the tip safer by covering the sharp end of the PVC.

Assembled lightsabers.

Give the cement some time to dry, then cement the bushing on the blade into the 3/4" coupling on the handle.

Applying pipe insulation (tight) and metallic tape (left).

Cut the pipe insulation long enough to cover the blade, and wrap it around the blade. There will be about 1/4" inch or so of the bushing still showing on the handle, which you may want to cover as well. (Filling that small gap will make taping the blade easier, when we get to that step.)

The pipe insulation has a slit along its length that you will need to hold together while you cover it with tape in the next step. Wrapping a few pieces of duct tape around the blade will help, particularly around the end cap and bushing, which are slightly larger in diameter. (It doesn't what matter what color this tape is, as you'll be covering it up.)

You will probably end up with a few leftover pieces of insulation that are too short to cover a blade. If you want to conserve your supplies, you can combine some scraps to make up the full length. Be sure to tape the join well, so that there is no gap between sections of padding. (I only really recommend doing this if you come up a couple inches short and need to fill in a small gap near the hilt. It's safer to have a solid piece throughout the area where the impacts will be.) 

Cut a small disk of insulation to place directly over the end cap. In a thrusting attack, all of the force of the blow is concentrated into the tiny tip of the blade, so extra padding here will make the practice weapon much safer.

Cover the insulation with metallic duct tape. Apply the tape lengthwise down the blade, wrapping over the end and down the other side. Attach the ends of the tape to the coupling on the handle to hold the insulation firmly in place. (You will cover these ends in the next step.) Apply a second piece that crosses the tip of the blade at right angles to the first piece of tape. These four strips of 2" tape should be wide enough to cover the full circumference of the insulation. (If you end up with gaps, cover them with more tape.)

We used plain silver duct tape for the practice blades, except for the two that the Jedi Masters (instructors) would use. If you're making the lightsaber for a padawan to keep, or for part of a costume, then you can choose any other appropriate colors for the blade (blue or green, possibly purple; for Jedi Academy, we avoided red, the color of Sith blades). 

Wrapped handles, with and without accents.

Wrap a different color of duct tape around the handle, from the bottom of the blade down to the pommel. You can do this lengthwise, or in rings, or try wrapping it in a spiral like some real-world hilt grips. (We tried some of each, and settled on a few lengthwise pieces plus a band around each end of the hilt as being the easiest and most time-effective.) You can cover the whole end cap. or leave the top of the cap bare, as you prefer.

Decorate the hilt as you desire. We put a band of contrasting color around each end of the handle to emphasize that this is the only safe place to hold the lightsaber.

Then you're done! May the Force be with you.

(Many thanks to UUCL's R.E. director, Stacey Stone, for recruiting me to teach in Jedi Academy and helping to build the lightsabers.)

Completed lightsabers.

* Here's a quick breakdown of the costs, buying enough supplies from Loew's for 20 lightsabers:
  • Ratcheting cutter: $12.98.
  • 1/2" PVC pipe: $2.35 per 10-foot length. Depending on what length you cut them, you can get 3 or 4 blades from each pipe. We bought 8, and used 6.
  • 3/4" PVC pipe: $2.61 for one 10-foot length (enough for 20 handles).
  • 3/4" x 1/2" bushing: $0.48 each (we bought 20).
  • 3/4" coupling: $2.10 per bag of 10 (two bags).
  • 3/4" cap: $3.61 per bag of 10 (two bags).
  • 1/2" cap: $2.62 per bag of 10 (two bags).
  • Foam pipe insulation (3/4" bore): $1.18 per 6-foot length. You can get 2 or 3 blade covers out of each piece. We bought 10 and used 8.
  • Sandpaper: $3.97.
  • PVC cement (8 oz.): $5.58.
  • Duct tape in two colors: $8.98 each. (Additional colors are optional, and can be more expensive.)
That totals $99.04, which comes to about $5 per lightsaber. If you adjust for the fact that the cutter tool is a one-time investment, and some of the supplies (cement, sandpaper) should last for multiple projects, it's more like $4 per sword.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After Harrowing Election, Santa Reassures American Children that Christmas Will Not Be Cancelled

By Tim Emrick
November 9, 2016

NORTH POLE -- In a surprise press conference today, Santa Claus made a rare public appearance in order to address the children of the United States of America.

“I know that many of you, as well as your parents, are frightened by the prospect of a Trump presidency,” the patron saint of children said. “Now more than ever, it is important to remember to be kind to one another. Be good, for goodness’ sake!”

Santa reassured his audience that his determination to distribute presents to nice children remains undaunted. “Remember Heat Miser? Loud-mouthed, orange-haired buffoons have never stopped me for long,” Claus said confidently.

When reporters asked how the election results would affect Kringle’s recent reinstitution of “the coal standard” for adults on his “naughty” list, the jolly old elf’s smile faltered. “I admit that we grossly underestimated the demand for coal in an election year. Sure, I know who’s naughty and who’s nice, but humans have free will, which means I can’t predict the future perfectly.” But then the twinkle returned to his eye. “However, my elves are already in negotiations with mining companies in Appalachia to help us meet our new quota. The silver lining here is that hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed coal miners will get their old jobs back. For the next four years, at least. By then, we hope to have retrained many of them for jobs in the toy industry.” Then he winked at the camera. “Yes, West Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

#Drawlloween2016 catch-up: Days 24-28

I sprained my drawing hand about two weeks ago, so fell behind on doing #Drawlloween2016. It's healing, albeit slowly, so I'm able to do most light tasks again. I can knock one or two of these short sketches at a time without any complaints, so I should be caught up within a couple more days.

Day 24: Mechanical Monstrosity

Day 25: Entombed Tuesday

Day 26: They Came from Outer Space!

Day 27: Call of C'Thursday

Day 28: Ghosts-A-Go-Go

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The "Dungeon Interludes" Party

My wife Erika is currently running the Dungeon Crawl Classics module Dungeon Interludes, which is a series of six interconnected side quests designed to be inserted between other adventures in a campaign. She ran it once before, using it as written for D&D v.3.5, but that group was never able to play the sixth and final part. Ever since then, she has wanted to run it again so that she could complete the series. Our group's current default RPG is Pathfinder, so she has converted all six parts to that system. However, she is dispensing with other adventures in order to focus on completing Dungeon Interludes. She started us at 1st level, and we've been advancing our characters two levels after each completed adventure. We just finished Part 5 this past weekend, with 9th-level PCs, and we will be 11th for the conclusion.

We have a much larger party than the adventure was designed for because we invited another friend to join us, as well as his two teenaged children, bringing us up to 8 PCs. (This is the other family I'm running the D&D 5E Starter Set adventure for, and Jeff will be playing in my upcoming "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign, too.)

The party's racial mix is highly unusual, too. Erika has been encouraging us to stick to just the Core Rulebook as much as possible, but let us choose classes from the Advanced Player's Guide and races from the Advanced Race Guide. We ended up with only one human, though half the party could pass for human if they had to.

It was a great deal of fun to build miniatures for this motley crew! Erika has been trying her hand at building LEGO minis for the enemies in these adventures but, with one exception, I built all the minis for the party members.

Kaori is a kitsune rogue. As a shapeshifter, she needed a miniature for both her natural fox-woman form (left) and her human form (right). In play, she usually stays in human form in order to blend in, but on the map, we normally just use the fox mini to make it obvious which one she is. For the fox form, I used Furty, a Fox Tribe character from Legends of Chima. For the human form, I used the Kimono Girl from Miniseries Series 4. 

Enakai is a gillman barbarian. This race looks mostly human except for gills and webbed digits, so I gave her a Pirates of the Caribbean mermaid head, turned to the angry side with the gills and scales. Her body is from a Native American minifigure (Old West theme), to suggest her tribal background as well as the light armor she preferred in order to run and swim at full speed. Now that she can afford mithral gear, she has started wearing heavier armor, so I've added a chrome breastplate from an Imperial Armada conquistador. Her falchion is the Desert Warrior's (Minifigures Series 16).

Kuroda is my character, a tengu cleric of Iomedae, goddess of justice and valor. His head, body, armor, and wings are a combination of parts from a couple different Raven Tribe characters from the Legends of Chima theme, and the fire tile on his chest is also from that theme. His shocking blade is a Ninjago energy sword.

Maladross is a dhampir (half-vampire) inquisitor of Pharasma, the shepherdess of souls. His studded armor is from an old Castle set, and his head is from a Professor Snape minifigure (from the first wave of Harry Potter sets). Maladross has recently upgraded his favorite weapon, a heavy repeating crossbow, to one of Huge size--essentially, he's Rambo-ing* a ballista--so I've given him one of the bigger bows from the new Nexo Knights theme. (These can fire a 1x1 round plate or tile, but we leave the mini unloaded so that I won't lose pieces.)

* This is a term that I first saw in a miniatures game for toy soldiers in Dragon Magazine, where it described a hero picking up, carrying, and firing a big machine gun.

Jonah is an elf wizard with just enough human blood for an aristocratic mustache and goatee. His head is from a Castle noble; his body is a Dragon Knight wizard (Kingdoms). (The torso is unprinted because it was hidden by a beard on the original minifigure.) He very rarely resorts to melee weapons, so carries only a simple staff and a few daggers.

Byg is a human paladin of Iomedae. His sword and armor are, naturally, from the Castle/Kingdom theme. His NPC cohort, the elf ranger Talathel, is a combination of a Mirkwood elf body with the older elf hair and ears from the Minifigures theme (Series 3).

Caboose is a gnome bard. He wears a chain shirt (recently upgraded to mithral, so he got one of the fancier printed torsos). He fights with a rapier, but due to his size, I used shorter Heroica sword rather than the Pirate cutlass I normally would. A pirate's sextant make an excellent crossbow for a Small character.

Finally, we have the snake gang. Sukisha is a nagaji summoner. Nagaji are snake-like humanoids, so I used a Hypnobrai minifigure from a Ninjago set. I later acquired the skull helmet (same theme), so added it just to accent the snake motif. Like Jonah, he carries a plain staff, but has never really used it in a fight--that's what his at-will cantrips and summoned creatures are for. (Not shown is the mini for Sukisha while he's using reduce person: a Crocodile microfigure from the Legends of Chima LEGO Game.)

His eidolon, Ruchika, started out as a Medium serpent with two arms and a humanoid head. As she gained evolution points through advancement, she grew two more pairs of arms, so she now resembles a marilith demon. Sukisha's player, Chris, built this mini from his own brick collection: the head is the Wicked Witch (Minifigures Series 2), the torso is a Manta Warrior (Atlantis), and the torso extensions are from the four-armed version of Garmadon (Ninjago). Because of the bit of groin armor at the bottom of the torso extensions, one has been turned backwards, and its arms were swapped so that they would bend the same direction as the other four. Ruchika recently grew to Large size, so now finally has a proper snake tail (Ninjago) rather than the small slope bricks Chris had to use to fit her into a Medium space. This bigger base makes her a much more stable model. Like a marilith, Ruchika wields six swords at once; hers are gladiuses (or more properly, gladii), which are the Gladiator's swords (Minifigures Series 5).

Finally, we have Sukisha's NPC cohort, Tsukasa, a vishkanya alchemist. Vishkanyas are yet another race with snake features, but mostly look human. His head is Darth Maul's (Star Wars); the body a Stone Warrior (Ninjago); and the hair is the Sumo Wrestler's (Minifigures Series 3). A flame has been attached to the Female Scientist's beaker (Series 11) to create a bomb. His shuriken is a Ninjago weapon.

Bonus: More Summonings!

If Ruchika is badly hurt in a fight, Sukisha will dismiss her and summon other creatures to fight for him until we have a chance for everyone to take a breather and heal up. (If she's slain, he has to wait a full day before calling her back.) To date, most of these summoned creatures have been elementals (which Chris has D&D minis for) or mephits (which I do), but now we're high enough level that Sukeisha has access to some varieties of good outsiders, too. In order to give Chris better options that what his mini and brick collections offer, I have prepared some archon and azata minis for our final Dungeon Interludes adventure.

These hound archons are an Anubis Warrior (with khopesh) from the Pharoah's Quest theme and three Wolf Tribe characters from Legends of Chima. The gray greatswords are from Lord of the Rings sets, while the gold sword is from the short-lived Knights Kingdom II sub-theme to Castle.

For bralani, I've equipped LEGO Elves minidolls with bows and swords. The lillend is built from a Medusa tail (Minifigures Series 10**), a Pirates of the Caribbean mermaid torso, Eagle Tribe armor and wings (Legends of Chima), and Farran Leafshade's hair (LEGO Elves).

** For those counting along at home, that makes 7 out of 16 Minifigures series represented in this column. As some of you probably already know, I've been actively collecting them since Series 3, and they are one of the best sources for unusual minfigure parts and accessories.