2019/09/19

The Poirot Murders - Season 1

I usually write with something playing in the background. Recently, I put on ITV's Poirot series. Agatha Christie's cases are often entertaining. They're like chess puzzles in the newspaper; you can't imagine how the game got to that point without both players forgetting how to play for twenty minutes, but that's not important. Elements are presented. It's up to the reader to solve it, no matter how nonsensical it might be.

And it's good light fun (and great research material for a gilded age Call of Cthulu-type game)... but what if it wasn't?

Midway through the second season, I realized that Hercule Poirot, the genius detective, with his meticulous ways and his perfect moustache, could, potentially, if you squinted, be a murderer. Think about it. Everywhere he goes, people die. He can't take a vacation without corpses falling out of cupboards or poison appearing in martini glasses. He's a dandified harbinger of death.

What if it wasn't a coincidence? The explanations in the series are implausible anyway. Could one go back, rewatch the episode, and figure out how Poirot did it?

Wait I thought this was an RPG blog?

Players get involved in convoluted bullshit all the time. It's great practice to work on convoluted bullshit of your own. Coming up with schemes, excuses, or alternative plans is part of being a good player and a good GM. Reframing Poirot is... brain cardio.

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The Rules

-Poirot can't be in two places at once or do anything that breaks the rules of the genre.
-Poirot's canonical skills include disguise and makeup, housebreaking, sleight of hand, basic chemistry, forensics, and medicine, and a few other talents that crop up as needed.
-Poirot can disguise himself perfectly by removing his false moustache, putting on a flat cap and an old coat, and dropping the accent. Who would recognize him?
-Any confessions at the end of the episode don't count. There's an unreliable narrator at work.

Feel free to watch along or read the linked summaries. Note that many details were changed for the TV series; the general plot is often the same, but clues and circumstances are often significantly altered.

Season 1, Episode 1 – The Adventure of the Clapham Cook

Poirot didn’t commit this murder, but he easily recognized the murderer’s clumsy efforts with spirit gum and false whiskers. All that effort just to obtain an old trunk.

Season 1, Episode 2 – Murder in the Mews

It’s Bonfire Night. Fireworks, crowds, and confusion. “What a good night for a murder,” Hastings says. And it is. Poirot is practically taunting his friends with this one. Hastings idly suggests a method and a place; the next day, Japp calls with “Well someone did it.”

Poirot sneaks into the victim’s house, lures her to her room on some pretext, shoots her, and writes a brief suicide note. The rest of it (Miss Plenderleith’s deception, moving items from the sitting room to the bedroom, etc.) goes exactly as it does in the show. Miss Plenderleith is genuinely confused and thinks her friend really was right handed. When it turns out she wasn’t, she realizes her insistence on the point has made her a suspect, and disposes of any incriminating left-handed items in the house. Poirot is delighted.

The whole Major Eustace/blackmail angle is merely convenient, a thread for Poirot to tug on and divert suspicion. Or perhaps that’s how Poirot selected his victim. He’s not above reading a blackmailer’s files for leads. Or perhaps she wrote to Poirot for help in escaping her blackmailer, giving Poirot a handwriting sample and a convenient way to arrange a late-night utterly secret meeting.


Season 1, Episode 3 – The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly

Poirot is not a kidnapper. He untangles the ludicrous kidnapping plot with ease. Despite creating a massive waste of police time and resources, and Poirot lets the kidnapper off with a stern warning, once again showing he’s not in it for justice or humanity, but for personal prestige.

Season 1, Episode 4 – Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Another episode where Poirot couldn't plausibly be involved. It's a purely domestic entanglement.

Season 1, Episode 5The Third Floor Flat

Poirot wishes to be rid of his noisy downstairs neighbor and turns to his usual tool: murder. Perhaps Mrs. Grant, the victim, contacted Poirot to ask for assistance in locating her husband, Donovan Bailey. Poirot recognizes Donovan as the husband of Mrs. Matthews, the downstairs neighbor. It’s a petty bigamy case, but he agrees.

Poirot slips into Mrs. Grant’s apartment, shoots her, drops some misleading props, and hides her body behind some packing cases. His plan is to have the maid come home, go to sleep, and find the body in the morning. The maid would be blamed and easily silenced. Poirot could then blackmail Donovan and his wife out of the building. But an accidental break-in changes his plan. After stalling for a bit, Poirot exploits Donovan’s paranoia, turns his friends against him, and pretends to have found evidence (provided by Mrs. Grant or pilfered from her apartment). When
Donovan flees, his guilt is all but assumed. Hastings invents a confession for his records.

The light bulb? Pure chance and old wiring.

Season 1, Episode 6Triangle at Rhodes

In this episode, Poirot kills at random. A tiresome knot of people is a tempting target. He drifts by a table, poisons a pink gin (the signature drink of several of the annoying people), drops the poison vial in someone’s pocket, and then leaves the hotel. It doesn’t matter who the poison kills. They all have motives. But alas, his escape is delayed by customs officials. Now he has to spend more time around these awful humans. He toys with them a bit, deliberately annoying the local police (who he blames for delaying him at customs) by proving their suspect is innocent, and wrecking relationships left right and centre.

He even brings an impressionable witness with him on his quest to find the “poison-seller”. A few bribes here, some sleight of hand there, and a false narrative is created. The supposed murders, impulsive and tired of being cooped up in their hotel, go for a fatal boat ride. Pursued by what they think are robbers, kidnappers, or paparazzi, they try to flee. The police arrive, Poirot spins a tale, and justice is done. After all, how could a Catholic husband desire a divorce? It’s inconceivable. Officer, take him away.

Season 1, Episode 7 Problem at Sea

“But really, what would one be if one wasn’t alive, Poirot?”
“Dead, madame.”

Poirot is on a Mediterranean cruise. The most annoying person on the ship dies. This one’s trivial. He’s one of the last to leave the ship. He simply circles back, opens the victim’s door with any number of keys possessed by the staff or his own lockpicking skills, and stabs her. The ship’s dubious and untrained surgeon botches the time of death calculations, no doubt assisted by some gentle hints from the “famous detective”. The victim said goodbye to her husband through a closed door; later, Poirot uses the supposed murderer’s “ventriloquism skills” (which he has never before demonstrated) to pin the murder on him.

Season 1, Episode 8  The Incredible Theft

Poirot has no interest in a case of mere theft, though it’s interesting to ponder if his delight at the plans being stolen comes from sympathy with the plotters or with the Germans.

Season 1, Episode 9 - The King of Clubs

Poirot didn’t kill anyone, but it’s nice to confirm that he considers punching someone in the face and causing a fatal fall as a happy accent, not a crime. Since the victim "deserved it" and the murderer is very polite, he’s willing to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Blame the gypsies. Hastings tries to object but Poirot overrules him.

Season 1, Episode 10 - The Dream

Could Poirot drive a man to suicide? All we know is that Poirot was called in for a late night consultation. The letter was real (Hastings and the doorman saw it), but the meeting remains a mystery. Poirot alone reported the story of the dream (after the death, so its details could support his story). He alone came up with the convoluted explanation.

Farley's worst fears were confirmed by Poirot. He was a paranoid, unpleasant man. An affair revealed, a scheme uncovered, or some other incident pushed him over the edge. It was suicide, but one that would tarnish Poirot's immaculate reputation. So Poirot pushes the murder angle, against Japp's wishes, until a weak-minded secretary with a guilty secret snaps and catches the blame.



Summary

Episodes Where Poirot Kills: 4/10
Body Count: 4/8
Innocents Incriminated: 5

If this post gets enough interest, I'll do the other seasons (where the plots grow even more ludicrous). If not, well, it was fun to write.

2019/09/17

OSR: Medieval Miners (or Goddamn Cornishmen Stole My River)

Humble members of the Third Estate traditionally have very little power. The great powers of the world—the landowning bishops and prelates of the First Estate, the lords and knights of the Second estates, and the great merchants and guilders of the Third Estate—traditionally reap society's benefits. But there are always exceptions. Medieval miners, despite their dangerous work, the risk of silicosis, poisoning, dismemberment, and death, had it pretty good.

All quotes in this article are from The Medieval Machine by Jean Gimpel (reviewed here).

Derbyshire Caving Club
It is astonishing to study the range of rights that miners enjoyed. They were allowed to take timber from the neighborhood woods for use in their mines. Sometimes when wood was scarce, they could even prevent the landowner from cutting his own wood until they had a sufficient supply for their furnaces. They were permitted to prospect anywhere except in churchyards, gardens, orchards, and highways, and were even allowed to divert streams and were given the right of access to the nearest highway.
John de Treeures complained that:
fully sixty tinners have entered on his demesne and soil, which bears wheat, barley, oats, hay and peas, and is as good and fair as any soil in Cornewaille, and have lead streams of water from divers places to Treeures over part of his said demesne and soil, so that, by reason of the great current of water they have obtained and the steep slope of the land there, all the land where they come will go back to open moor, and nothing will remain of all that good land except great stones and gravel.
And further upstream some poor baron could no doubt complain that goddamn Cornishmen stole my his river! And what's worse, they did it legally. Water is critical for mining... and the source of many disasters.
Those who objected to such violations rarely got satisfaction. In central Europe the overlords or lords of the soil wisely set up a mining administration independent of local authorities, headed by a Bergmeister, and then let the miners run their own mines. They had their own law courts, in which twelve or fourteen miners sat as judges. This was to prevent local authorities from interfering arbitrarily in mining disputes, thus risking a stoppage of mining operations, which would be against the financial interest of the overlords or lords of the soil.

[...]

The miners were exempted from ordinary taxes and tolls, and from military service. They were offered, when necessary, land to build their cottages on. They were entitled to a measured plot of ground on which to search for ore, and the interest of their concessionary was to be permanent, assignable, and transmissible.

In Germany, besides all these rights, a still higher honor was offered the mining classes. If such a group of miners proved successful, a "mine city" soon arose—such as, among others, Freiberg, Goslar, Iglau, Kutna Hora, and Joachimstal—and the last stage in freeing the miners from the feudal laws was to give such a community the status of a freemen's city. The inhabitants, at least those who were bona fide miners, then enjoyed all all the privileges of town hall as well as those of the mines, including free brewing and baking, free transportation of goods, the removal of the burdensome guild regulations, which hindered the miners in their occupation, and finally freedom from any military service.

[...]

The exceptional privileges granted to those who chose to become miners provoked the anger of many manorial lords. Unwilling to see their peasants joining the much freer and more lucrative mining profession, the lords frequently fought back, but in the end were always defeated, and the miners retained their rights. In fact, the free miners not only always took advantage of their privileges but often overstepped their rights. Complaint followed complaint. Miners were even accused of digging on church land in 1237. In 1318, an inquiry revealed that the Devon miners did not even hesitate "to seize and beat up the king's bailiffs. . . and hold them in prison pending the payment of a ransom.

Stone

Quarries dot the landscape. Stone is vital for large construction projects. Decorative stone is rare (and often worth importing), but every barony has a quarry or two. Masons and quarry workers are mere labourers, unable to claim the rights of other miners. A quarry might shut down for a decade and restart when repairs or new projects arose. Stone is expensive; transport doubly so. The castle calculations in this post line up reasonably well with the numbers given below.
According to rough calculations, the cost of carriage by land for a distance of 12 miles was about equivalent to the cost of the stone. The builders had to start by prospecting for stone in the neighboring countryside. They were prepared to try and scheme that would reduce costs—for example, having the stone hand-hewn in the quarries, or having ingenious machines built to load and unload stone. If stone had to be moved any distance, it was always preferable to transport it by water.
[...]
Traditionally, stone had been one of the most significant French exports, with the regional record for achievement going to Caen... In another instance, for the building of Winchester Castle, on September 3, 1272, we read: "And for 1,450 Caen stones . . . £3 7s. 6d." For Westminster Abbey, £10 4s. 8d. was spent in March 1253, for two shiploads of stone from Caen. The builders of the Tower of London similarly spent £332 2s. for seventy-five shiploads. Caen stone bought in 1287 for Norwich Cathedral (some 300 miles away from Normandy) for £1 6s. 8d. cost £4 10s. 8d., where it was unloaded onto six barges at a cost of 2s. 2d. The freight up the rivers Yare and Wensum cost another 7s. 2d., and there was a final cost of 2s. for unloading the stone from the barges to the cathedral yard.

Iron

Iron rules the medieval world. In misplaced enthusiasm, cathedral-builders sometimes strung iron chains through their stonework or built complex and unstable iron frameworks to keep the walls straight. Tools and ploughs were edged with iron. Horse were shod with iron. 
The accounts for expenditure on the fabric of Autun Cathedral for 1294-1295 include not only wages and the price of transport but the cost of yet another vital raw material needed to build with stone: iron. More than 10% of the total cost is absorbed by expenditures on forges in the quarries and on building sites.
To the forge at the quarry, 62 sous
Including our iron £3 2s.
To the forge at Autun, for the year £42 10s. 6d.
[...]

The Franciscan monk Bartholomew wrote in 1260:
Use of iron is more needful to men in many things than the use of god. Though covetous men have more gold than iron, without iron the commonality be not sure against enemies, without dread of iron the common right is not governed; with iron innocent men are defended; and foolhardiness of wicked men is chastened with dread of iron. And well nigh no handiwork is wrought without iron, neither tilling craft used nor building builder without iron.
What a quote! "Without the dread of iron the common right is not goverened." It'll almost certainly make its way into the Iron Gates setting.



Silver & Other Metals

Treasure can come in unexpected forms. Put a shiny rock on the random encounter table.

In 1136, when traders carrying rock salt from Halle to Bohemia came across what they thought to be silver-bearing ore washed down from the mountains by a spring flood in Saxony, in the region of Frieberg, they picked up ore samples and took them to Goslar to be analyzed. The samples turned out to have a finer grade of silver than the silver ore of Goslar, a discovery that prompted an immediate "silver rush". "As news of this discovery spread, adventurers in considerable numbers, with picks and shovels, hurried to Freiberg. They came in a spirit of adventure not altogether unlike that of the Americans who migrated to California in the gold rush of the mid-nineteenth century." By 1170, mining and smelting at Freiberg were in full swing in a metalworking center of some thirty-thousand inhabitants.

Study of the mining vocabulary used in various countries in Europe shows that to a substantial degree it is of German origin, understandable in that German miners played the leading role in the opening up of new mines and the modernizing of existing ones... Their fame was such that they were called for by rulers from all over Europe (even in Turkey the vocabulary of mining terms today is German). Gold and silver too precedence, but there was much interest also in lead, copper, tin, and zinc, and to a much lesser degree in iron, always easily found on the surface in small deposits here and there.
[...]
An enthusiastic report was made and we now know that the author's enthusiasm was justified. He is writing to the Bishop of Bath and Wells:
Know, my lord, that your workmen have found a splendid mine of lead on the Mendips to the East of Priddy, and one that can be opened with no trouble, being only five or six feet below the ground. And since these workmen are so often thieves, craftily separating the silver from the lead, stealthily taking it away, and when they have collected a quantity fleeing like thieves and deserting their work, as has happened so frequently in times past, therefore your bailiffs are causing the ore to be carried to your court at Wookey where there is a furnace built at which the workmen smelt the ore under supervision of certain persons appointed by your steward. And as the steward, bailiffs, and workmen consider that there is a great deal of silver in the lead, on accounts of its whiteness and sonority, they beg that you will send them as soon and possible a good and faithful workman upon whom they can rely. I have seen the first piece of lead smelted there, of great size and weight, which when it is struck rings almost like silver, wherefore I agree with the others that if it is faithfully worked the business should prove of immense value to yourself and to the neighborhood, and if a reliable workman is obtained I think that it would be expedient to smelt the ore where it is dug, on account of the labour of carrying so heavy material such a distance. The ore is in grains like sand.
I'm sorry, but every time I hear "Bishop of Bath and Wells", my mind goes to the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells


Taxes

Was [mineral wealth] owned by the territorial or overlord landowner, or by the lord of the soil? In the later Roman empire most of the mines had belonged to the emperor, and on those that were still privately owned a 10 percent tax was levied. The medieval overlords, perhaps with knowledge of this Imperial Roman custom, tried to enforce such regalian rights for their own benefit... While in England the Crown was generally able to enforce its control, in France up until the fifteenth century the king did not try to claim regalian taxes from his feudal vassals.
In regions with strong central control, mining rights were controlled by the strong central power. In disorganized areas, local powers (down to individual families in Italy) could maintain control. Mines could be leased or sold under a bewildering variety of agreements. Mines in England could be leased to Florentine financiers.


Wood

At Douai, in northern France, in the thirteenth century wood had already become so scarce and expensive that families from the lower income groups could not afford to buy a wooden coffin for their dead. They had to rent one, and when the ceremony at the cemetery was over, the undertaker would open the coffin, throw the corpse into the earth, and bring back the coffin to use again.

An average house built of wood needed some twelve oaks. In the middle of the fourteenth century, for the building operation at Windsor Castle, a whole wood was bought and all the trees felled—3,004 oaks. This was still not sufficient, for some ten years later 820 oaks were cut in Combe Park, and 120 in Pamber Forest, bringing the total for this one castle up to 3,994 oaks.
And these are big oaks too; any timber less than twenty foot long was essentially scrap. A famous book of engineering drawings includes "How to make a bridge over water with twenty-foot timber" and "How to work on a house or tower even if the timbers are too short."
To obtain 50 kilograms of iron it is necessary at that time to reduce approximately 200 kilograms of iron ore with as much as 25 steres (25 cubic meters) of wood. It has been estimated that in forty days, one furnace could level the forest for a radius of one kilometer.
So the deforestation around Isengard is, if anything, less than one might expect. Limekilns, charcoal furnaces, and other processes consumed wood at a frantic rate, let alone simple household firewood. Sea-coal and mined coal helped in some regions, but forests continually shrank through the whole medieval period, never to recover.
Finally, here's a poem on medieval blacksmiths and water-assisted hammers.
Swart smutted smiths, smattered with smoke,
Drive me to death with din of their dints;
Such noise on nights ne heard men never.
What with knaven cry and clattering of knocks!
The crooked caitiffs cryen after coal! coal!
And bloweth their bellows till their brain bursteth.
Huf! puf! says the one; haf! paf! says the other;
They spitten and they sprawlen and they spellen many spells.
They gnawen and gnashen and they groan all together,
And holden them hot with their hard hammers.
Of a bull-hide be their barm-fells;
Their shanks be shackled for the fiery flinders;
Heavy hammers they have that are hard to be handled,
Stark strokes they striken on a steely stock,
Lus! bus! las! das! snore they by the row,
Such doleful a dream that the devil it to-drive!
The master loungeth a little and catcheth a less,
Twineth them twain and toucheth a treble,
Tik! tak! hic! hac!, tiket! taket! tyk! tyk!
Lus! bus! las! das! . . . Christ give them sorrow!
May no man for brenn waters on night have his rest?
Adrian Smith

GLOG Dwarves?

I didn't originally include dwarves in my setting. I still don't think they're a good fit. Elves have a lot of interesting aspects for a medieval setting; dwarves can be made interesting but not without signifiantly deviating from the "surly scottish short bearded person" motif.

Similarly, a Miner class doesn't fit my vision of how the GLOG works; "Miner" could be a skill but not an entire class.

A specific race that has access to the richness of this post seems odd too. There's too much here, and plenty I didn't list. Quarries with horizontal tunnels a mile long. Mysterious burning rocks that wash up from the sea. Pixies are a bit too close to my Gnomes to deserve a separate article.

Metals go to dragons. Stone goes to elementals.

The ability to evalute stones, gems, metals, and ores (compared to a Thief ability to evalute currency, worked goods, art, etc.) could be interesting, but why pointlessly split up an ability and give the GM one more thing to adjudicate?

An "architecture sense" ability could be fun in a game that heavily relies on mapping, but it never seems to work out in play. There are more interesting things than precise room measurements or sloping corridors.

So yes, at the end of all this, no dwarves. But a great deal of potentially useful medieval esoterica.

2019/09/12

OSR: Review: Demon Collective Vol. 1

The Demon Collective: Volume 1 is a kickstartered collection of 4 horror modules.

53 pages, black and white. Writing by Camilla Greer, Mabel Harper, Comrade Pollux, and David Shugars. Art by Lauren Bryce. Maps by Shay and Odysseus Jones. Editing by FM Geist. The PDF is $8 via DriveThruRPG or Exalted Funeral. The physical version is $15 via Exalted Funeral.

Full Disclosure
I've worked with David Shugars on every major project I've published so this review has an enormous positive bias.

And because I'm fussy, peevish, and peculiar, this review also has an enormous negative bias. I usually review books by listing problems or issues and then saying "but it's still very good." This review is no different. You've been warned.

I also haven't playtested any of the adventures in the book.

The PDF
The PDF is optimized, as usual for David's work. Art, maps, and text are on separate layers. Everything is bookmarked and interlinked. The fonts are exuberant but tasteful. If you want to see good layout in action, check out this PDF.

The adventures are short, so my standards for one-page dungeons apply. A dumbwaiter pitch is an elevator pitch but... dumber.

Night School - Camilla Greer

Dumbwaiter Pitch: Evil cultists moved into an old manor. They're kidnapping children.

How is the information presented?
The format appeals immediately. Premise (5 sentences). A bit of location background. 1d6 hooks, 1d6 rumours, and then the main adventure. It's a great way to organize information for a short dungeon. No boxed text, no unnecessary backstory. In fact, perhaps just a bit too little backstory.

The module also doesn't tell you what's going on immediately. The "plot" is revealed as you read it. This isn't my preference. It lets the author build tension and interest, but it also means key information is hidden; the whole thing requires a second reading to make sure the GM caught got everything.

There's a reluctance, especially in horror modules, to put all the cards on the table. The big reveal (what Mother McGregor is really putting in her pies, what the devil-crocodile really wants, etc.) is hidden in a room or in some boxed text in the last quarter of the module. It's a fine technique, but it can leave the reader frustrated when mysteries they expected to be resolved... aren't. Night School has a few unresolved mysteries.

Are the tone and theme consistent?
The module could be played a few ways. The default seems to be dark humour. It's gauche to plug your own work in a review, but I think this module would serve as a great prequel or sequel to Magical Murder Mansion, replacing Hubert Nibsley with Lord Stodore or vice-versa.

Does the art and/or map complement the text?
Yes. The map is excellent. The art is decent.

Is there tension?
Yes, but perhaps not as much as there could be. "These assholes are kidnapping and mutilating children" is about as direct an invitation to massacre all enemies as you're likely to get in D&D. There are factions (two), but one is a bit strange and, unless carefully presented by the GM, not an obvious ally.

There's also no obvious reason not to massacre everyone, especially once the alarm is raised. The direct approach is rewarded; other approaches seem to be possible but unlikely.

Is the dungeon better than something I could improvise?
Yes. The monsters are good, the spells are GLOG-y (which has pros and cons). It's a solid little module.

Final Notes
A solid and eerie dungeon full of strange magic. Before running it, I'd make a table of student quirks and names, and a prompt page of student rambles or the contents of mangled books.



She's Not Dead, She's Asleep - Mabel Harper

Dumbwaiter Pitch:  There's a tomb. There are rumours of great treasure inside. The locals fear the tomb. Want to get rich or die trying?

How is the information presented?
A brief introduction, then a very nice table of patrons and rumours combined. But the text goes straight from rumours to room 1. No exterior setup, no doorway to the surface, no sense of an environment. It's not a grievous sin and it's easy enough to improvise, but if there's a tomb in a forbidden forest, complete with background and NPCs... there should at least be one line about finding or opening the tomb.

The dungeon has a Dread-like jenga gimmick. Dread isn't cited; should it be? It's an interesting twist, but anecdotally, a standard Jenga tower takes between 25 and 35 pulls to collapse.

Activity  - Pull
Forcing open a stuck door or sarcophagus - 1
Loud impacts (dropping something heavy, falling, etc.) - 1
Talking-voice conversations - 1 per participant
Running - 1 per 5' travelled
Combat - 1 per combatant per round
Screaming, shouting, etc. - 1 per utterance
Most rooms also have an activity, trap, or item that requires a pull. Some rooms double the pulls from noise (so presumably, all the activities listed above). Ideally, the Jenga tower tension mechanism would discourage foolish interactions and reward clever interactions, but the pulls in the text seem to just target interactions.

How far will the PCs get before the tower collapses? Not far, I think. 5 PCs in combat for 5 rounds, plus a scream or a dropped item. How'd this work in playtesting?

Information is presented clearly, from most important to least important. Tools and items are coded. Minimaps are provided (perhaps unnecessarily; some are just one room). They layout is clean and usable.

The first room contains 500 HD 2 mummies. They're not active until the Jenga tower falls but when it does, the tomb's only exit is blocked by a deadly heap. They'll swarm the dungeon, the forest, and anywhere else. Interacting with stuff is the core of old-school games. Sure, a huge tangle of ropes and mummies looks like a trap but touching it has a 1-in-6 chance of causing a potentially fatal landslide. Etc. The last room contains 100,000gp but good luck getting it out (or past the 4 5HD vampires that shoot Save-or-turn-to-stone beams...).

Are the tone and theme consistent?
The rumours feel a bit too detailed and too video-game-like. So does the dungeon; precarious structures sit undisturbed, things seem to be linked in a funhouse random way. But the general room and monster descriptions are vivid and crisp. Monster design is often interesting. The death conditions for vampires are nicely folkloric, even if no mechanism exists to discover them.

Does the art and/or map complement the text?
The map is good, but the unnecessarily crosshatched background makes it difficult to take in at a glance. It also doesn't quite fit tonally with the rest of the text. I can't explain why. It's nicely jacquayed though. The art is good, especially the mummy tangle.

Is there tension?
Sort of. "How are we going to die horribly?" is a kind of tension. But for me, horror dungeons require a sense of connection. While each room in this dungeon is horrifying they're often disconnected. There's no sense of discovery or rolling to find out. The result, thanks to the Jenga tower, is inevitable messy death for everyone. Each room presents a new scene, a new chance for the GM to break out the purple prose. Then there's a deadly encounter or trap.

Is the dungeon better than something I could improvise?
Yes, particularly the loot tables at the end, the monster descriptions, and some of the flavour.

Final Notes

This is a Lamentation-style antidungeon, in the vein of Death Frost Doom. Everything is trying to kill you. Most treasure is cursed. Searching is deadly. Some rooms are rated R. You should have stayed away.

It's a genre and style I don't enjoy (if you didn't guess that from the review). If you do, I suspect this dungeon will fit your needs nicely.

Bad Faith - Comrade Pollux

Dumbwaiter Pitch: Evil cultists moved into an old temple. They're kidnapping villagers.

How is the information presented?
Once again, a brief premise, then a superbly eccentric rumour table. The adventure tells you the twist right from the start. Spells and items stand out. Information is usually presented from most to least important. Stats are provided between room text, instead of at a bestiary at the end. It works.

The adventure is linear, but it feels like there would be many ways to accomplish the end goal, and the author's provided tools to enable many strategies.

Are the tone and theme consistent?
Humorous through and through, with a pleasant touch of bleakness and a few well-turned phrases. There are some dark cartoonish moments (an NPC "produces a human-sized meat grinder hidden within the shadows.", a cultist wields a chainsaw and appears to be wearing blue jeans in the art, etc.). It might go a bit too far into parody in places, but it's still solid.

The author has anticipated standard PC actions; selling scrap metal for profit, asking questions, poking things with sticks. Whenever the GM looks for help, help is, for the most part, swiftly provided.

There are no factions, but there's good guidance on duping or negotiating with the cultists, based either on playtesting experience or a solid sense of how games work. On lower levels, most encounters are pure combat, but at least the fights feel interesting and dynamic.

The lower level feels a bit pointless; as far as I can tell, the way to progress is to go back the way you came, and there's no way to tell if you've "completed" all the rooms in the labyrinth. It's a disadvantage of the abstract exploration system.

Does the art and/or map compliment the text?
I like the style of the main map. It's clean and crisp. The meaning of some parts is a bit confusing without the text; it's more of a diagram than a map. Some of the minimaps have rotated versions of the main map. Bent my brain for a few minutes until I figured it out. Not the best plan, but given the diagrammatic nature of the map it's fine.

The art's a lot of fun.


Is there tension?
Yes. The hook is basic, but the twist is inventive and will lead to some "Ooooh, so that's why..." moments. There's a sense of joyful exploration; even if the party dies to a giant slinky it'll probably be fun getting there. But, as I pointed out above, I'm worried the exploration will wear thin, or the PCs will spend hours searching rooms trying to find a non-existent way forward or a bit of lore instead of doubling back to the surface and advancing the plot.

Is the dungeon better than something I could improvise?
Yes. There's good value for money here.

Final Notes
A very solid gore-funhouse let down slightly by linearity and odd mapping choices.

Hush - David Shugars

Dumbwaiter Pitch: There's an abandoned dwarven library. There are rumours of great treasure inside. Want to get rich or die trying?

How is the information presented?
A brief premise, then both a rumour table and a "How do the PCs Learn of the Library?" table. The second table is very clever. There's a giant Basilisk in the library with a tail swipe and a two-turn petrifying gaze attack. I wonder where David got that idea from? Hrm? HRM? (not serious).

The layout is clean but odd. Premise, rumours, hooks. Very sensible. Rules for the basilisk. Then, a treasure table, then rules for silent movement, then general ambiance, then a table of books. Another monster. A bit of dungeon history and loot. More rules and then the dungeon itself.

Ideally, a dungeon's layout should feel... alphabetized. Or if not alphabetized, then semi-intuitive, like a kitchen. If you wander into someone's kitchen and need to find a whisk, you're not likely to check the refrigerator. There are hidden layout rules, and one of them is flip forward. If page 2 prompts the GM to look up rules for a Bloated Trombonist, there's this vague sense they should either be on page 2 or a later page. Unspoken left-to-right progression.

But running this dungeon, the GM will need to flip backwards and forwards a great deal, without any clear signposts of where to find information. Did the Random Encounter Table go before or after the grubs? Where are those rules on noise again? Next to light rules? Nope, must be somewhere else. Etc.

Given my druthers (or some scissors and glue), I'd rearrange it to:

Introduction
-Premise
-How did the PCs Learn of the Library?
-Rumours

General Rules (things the GM needs to keep in their mind at all times while running the dungeon, ideally on one page or a 2-page spread at most).
-Slabs (not book table)
-Shadows
-Silence

Dungeon
-Map
-Key
Monsters
-Random Encounters
-Basilisk

-Pale Grubs

Treasure

-The Brimbrander Group

-Book Table (repeat condensed Slab notes)
-Treasure Table
Are the tone and theme consistent?
Yes. There are some delightfully visceral descriptions. Fear of the dark + some body horror + a sense of unnatural space. It's not humorous, but it's not a bleak march towards inevitable death either. The central conceit (a magically silenced library) is used to create a very tense scenario.

Does the art and/or map compliment the text?
I like the map. It's in a similar style to Bad Faith, but an actual map instead of a diagram. It looks like there's enough space to include both room names and room numbers, but only numbers are listed.

There's also an absolutely adorable picture of a knight cuddling a hatchling basilisk. It doesn't really fit the tone but its so gosh darn cute.

Is there tension?
This really depends on why the PCs are in the dungeon, but yes, I think so. Without the silence or the shadows, it'd be dull, but the combination should make for a very interesting adventure. The author also provides some helpful ways to increase tension via the random encounter table and resource depletion.

Is the dungeon better than something I could improvise?
Yes, absolutely.

Final Notes
Hush is the only dungeon in the book that genuinely gave me a shiver while reading it. While I'd be happy to run Night School or Bad Faith (She's Not Dead, She's Asleep, as stated above, really isn't my style), Hush is the dungeon I'd look forward to with the most gleeful anticipation. It's got gravitas.

Conclusion

As I said in the intro, despite the nitpicking it's still a very good set of modules. I've gone into far too much detail while reviewing to make notes for myself, so I can skim this article and see best practices while working on future modules.

If you're a new writer looking to try your hand at dungeon writing and layout, the Demon Collective is well worth a read. The adventure formats are miles ahead of many products. Text is universally crisp and concise. For the most part, information is presented for use at the table.

2019/09/05

OSR: Sharpening the Axe - How I Plan and Write RPG Books

This post is full of loosely organized advice. All opinions are personal. Your mileage may vary. I'm not sure I'm successful enough to offer any truly valuable advice.
A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” Let us take a few minutes to sharpen our perspective.

Research and Groundwork

  • Have a plan. Revise the plan, but never forget the plan. 
  • What problem is your book designed to solve? What sort of book is it? Who's the audience? It's fine to write things just for yourself or for your group, but pick an audience and work with their needs.
  • It's often harder to get people to look at your work than it is to write it in the first place. If you're not sure what to write, listen to people talk about problems they're having. If nobody's offering good solutions, write one. Work that solves a problem has a built-in audience.
  • Check for similar products or overlapping ideas. Find adjacent media. Start a bookmarks folder and name bookmarks with notes on why you think they're useful.
  • Read all the reviews you can, especially negative ones.
  • Start small. Build off previous projects. It might be tempting to burst onto the scene with a massive handcrafted megadungeon, but if you haven't demonstrated prior work nobody's going to trust your skills.
  • The world is full of 200+ page homebrewed combat and character generation systems. Even if your ideas are good, your audience is saturated. People already have decent mousetraps.
  • Writing systemless material is hard but it's often worth it. The constraints imposed by not locking your material to one system's jargon and assumptions usually result in a better final product.
  • The hobby is small. Revenue is smaller. Don't write to get rich. Find a better reason.
One of the wisest bits of advice I’ve heard came from a former Blizzard employee (via Day[9]). To paraphrase, when making a game, there are often two choices and people argue back and forth about them. Do we do A, do we do B? The important thing to realize is that sometimes it’s not a discussion or an argument about which option is better. There could be a good game if you go with A or a good game if you go with B. The critical thing is to realize that sometimes you’re just making a choice. Truly great games come from lots of consistent choices in the same direction. Inconsistent choices result in terrible games.

Keep that in mind at all times. What’s the direction? And how can you stack up those consistent choices?


Before Writing

  • Work in your final editing program if possible. Learn to use it. I use Affinity Publisher (badly, as David Shugars can confirm), but I'm learning. Each new book is easier than the last.
  • Pick a font. Pick your font size. Do some test prints. Check readability in PDF form. It's a pain to change this later. 
  • Set up header styles and any other formats you might need. Check your margins and bleed. You don't need to figure out every detail, but anything that significantly alters text spacing or the way a page works should be locked before you begin.
  • Figure out how many table rows fit on a page, how many columns of text you'll use, etc. Lock it before you write any content.
  • Nobody gets points for effort. Chopping down a tree with a herring is impressive... but if your goal was to simply chop down a tree, you've chosen the wrong tool. It doesn't matter if your book took 1,000 hours to write if most of those hours were wasted. Decide how you're going to allocate your time.
  • PDFs make sprawl trivial. Who cares if a paragraph bloats into a page; nobody's monitor is running out of ink. But sprawl is the enemy of utility. Cut mercilessly. Turn pages to paragraphs, paragraphs sentences, sentences to tables, and tables to entries on better and more useful tables.
    If you have repeated sections (wings of a dungeon, classes, etc.) pick a consistent format and stick with it.
  • Tools, not rules. I see OSR-type RPG products as toolkits. A dungeon map and key are just tools that let a GM create a game. The game isn't in the book, it's the thing the book helps create. Build the best possible tools, label them and give guidelines, but don't forget what you're doing. If you want to tell a story, write a novel or pick a different genre of RPG.

Dragon's Dogma
Dungeons and Adventures

  • Dungeons aren't just a series of rooms. They're a conceptual space. The author needs to convey ideas into the GM's head; the GM needs to convey those ideas into players' heads. This process is messy. Keep both steps in mind as you write. It's possible to accidentally take the GM on a guided tour of a work of genius without providing them the means to convey those images to a crowd of cheeto-eating half-distracted amateurs.
  • Start with a core idea and iterate. Add layers. This was a tomb -> with a false tomb above it -> but now it's full of goblins, etc.
  • Bryce Lynch's Adventure Design Tips - Into the Dark
  • No boxed text. No readaloud text. You're allowed to break the rules. If you must have it, make it easy to read. Test readloud text by standing on one leg, holding a marble in your mouth, and reading it at a good volume. It's a silly method but it does eliminate awkward phrasing.
  • No history. Nobody cares what a room used to be. If there's history, either imply it or put it at the very start of the dungeon, in 2 sentences or less, or find some other clever way to weave it into the book.
  • No "This room is...". It's a room description. We get it. 
  • Let the room name carry information. "#14. Kitchen. This is a kitchen. There are stoves, pots, pans." Urgh. Why?
  • Every sentence needs to fight for its life in a dungeon key. Evoke. Make it visceral. Make it real.
  • Use mini-maps. Write information on the main map. Focus on how the book will be used at the table.
  • Start with the most important information. What do the PCs see at a glance? What's moving? Then, smells. Details. Hidden information. Abbreviate sparingly. Use as much natural text as you can. Symbolism and obscure keys might be tempting to compress information, but it takes disproportionately more brainpower to unpack them, and a GM's brainpower at the table is worth more than ink. Descriptions should be easy to chew but not diluted or mashed into blandness.
  • Take advice from all fields: architecture, civil engineering, plumbing, Ikea manuals, landscape architecture, theme parks, medical flowcharts. Anything that is designed is fuel.
  • Accept no default choices. Everything is there for a reason, even if the reason is trivial or a matter of convenience. Be fussy. This applies to things like room numbers.
  • Add patterns. Deliberately break patterns.
  • Test everything. In your head first, assuming good players and bad players. Then as much as you can in real life. Testing is hard and painful and, depending on how you do it, potentially expensive. Test segments and tables in games you're running before testing the main work.
  • Tell your readers what you're doing and why you're doing it, either in the introduction or in an appendix. Big fancy mainstream modules never show how the sausage is made. They hide their design choices behind a curtain of authority. You don't need to. Show, explain, and let people see the seams in your work for what they are.

Name of the Year 2015
People

  • Pick good and reliable people. 
  • Don't work with assholes. It never seems to end well.
  • Pay experts what they ask for, and pay them on time.
  • The point of a contract is not to hang as a legal threat over the parties involved. It is to spell out, in clear and mutually intelligible terms, exactly what each party requires of the other. What do I need you to do? What do need me to do?
  • Ask questions about contacts. If you have concerns, either hire a lawyer to skim them (this might require prior acquaintance), amend the contract so the terms are completely clear, or don't sign.
  • Most of the time, you're the only one who really wants your book to succeed. The other people involved might be supportive, but you're the only force driving the project. 
  • Collaborators write content with you or for you. They could write a few clearly partitioned tables or work on every part of the book. Collaboration is very hard. You need to share a vision and constantly work towards the same goals. Changes can be immensely frustration. Some loss of creative control is inevitable and possibly desirable.
  • Publishers take your work and sort out all the messy details of turning words into books. They can handle finding artists, editors, playtesters, distributors, etc. Depending on the publisher or the type of content, you might be able to send over a raw text file and get a nice cheque at the end with no further work. You're trading cash and some creative control for convenience and time. 
  • Editors take your work and improve it. Copy-editors look for spelling mistakes and grammar errors. There will always be mistakes and errors, even if you've read your own work a hundred times. When working with a copy-editor, make sure you've talked about stylistic choices (oxford commas, lists, tenses), which dictionary you use, and any other eccentricities. Some copy-editors provide a fill-in-the-blanks style guide; if not, it's a good idea to make your own. 
  • Before sending your work to a copy-editor, it's best to print it and look through it with a red pen. For some reason, reading a physical copy makes errors stand out.  
  • Use find and replace to locate common "filler" words: little, big, grand, tall, dark, etc. Everyone has their own bugbears. Replace with evocative choices. Think about what the sentence says or the description describes and alter accordingly.
  • General editors can offer layout advice, actually do layout, or perform high-level overviews of an entire project. A good editor is worth a fortune if you don't have the skills or time to do fancy layout yourself.
  • Optimize your PDFs.
  • Distributors take a finished product and ship it to people. They also handle some aspects of marketing and logistics. OneBookshelf (DriveThruRPG) is a distributor. If you're just starting out, they're a decent and fairly foolproof option.
  • Comparison of Print Quality - Axes and Orcs

Art

  • Use public domain art if you've got no art budget.
  • Figure out what you're using art for. Is it to illustrate a difficult-to-describe concept? Convey emotion, theme, or tone? Or simply to fill half a page where nothing else quite fit?
  • Text before art. Always. Art can supplement but it can't carry.
  • Try to have a vague sense of where art will go before commissioning anything. This lets you provide approximate dimensions to artists. The text does 't need to be 100% complete, but
  • How to Commission Art - Luka Rejec
  • Reach out to artists early. Give a timeline and stick to it. Be flexible where you can but stick to your key goals.
  • Some artists, especially very busy ones, prefer timeline reminders and gentle pressure. Some don't.
  • Provide as much relevant information as you can. Create a collage or a reference folder. Write some purple prose. Send over a song. Do whatever you can to get the image into the artist's head.
  • The less detail you provide, the more freedom the artist has interpreting your request. In many cases, you won't know exactly what you want, so pick an artist with a clear talent for improvisation, implied worldbuilding, or a strong personal style.
  • Get sketches. Offer comments.
  • Even if your really like an artist's work, and you'd love to hire them again, accept that their style might not be perfect for your project. Scrap Princess' frenetic style works for a dark and tomblike tutorial dungeon but it'd overwhelm a comi-tragic funhouse. Frenden's comic-book art suits the glorious nonsense of Magical Murder Mansion but would feel jarring in a more serious heist module. Etc.
  • If your project has critical deadlines, always have an emergency backup artist in mind. In fact, always have an emergency emergency backup artist in case the first one isn't available.

Feedback

  • Have strong opinions arrived at by hard experience, testing, thought, or personal preference, and stick with them. You should always listen to critics, reviewers, and editors, but that doesn't nessesarily make them magically right. Sometimes they've just got a different opinion, they've misread or misinterpreted text, or they're working with different core assumptions. And sometimes you're just straight-up wrong and you need to revise your views or choices.
  • In many cases, the issue is simple: one of your ideas was not clearly communicated. Consider how to avoid the same issue in your next project. 
  • Listen when other people talk about their mistakes because it's usually pure gold.
When offering criticism, try to avoid "Why didn't you X?" statements. In most cases, the author didn't make a selection between their choice and X. They may not have even thought about X. And now you're asking them to more-or-less prove a negative. You're assuming a course of action took place, and assuming makes an ass of you and... Ming.

Instead, say, "I've noticed you did Y. I don't think it works for [reasons]. Did you consider X, for [reasons]?" This provides the author with a solid basis. You think they did Y; they may not have done Y. You might have misread or made an error, but telling them what you think they did first means that issue can be solved without delay. Then, you've explained why you don't think Y works as well as X and explained X. The author now has all the information they need for a constructive, non-confrontational, and useful reply.
The world is as sharp as a knife. Be careful or you might fall off.
-Haida proverb

Goals and Fallbacks

  • Set ambitious but achievable goals. This stuff isn't actually that difficult. There's no magic to it, no secret ingredient. Talent is just Hard Work, Consistent Decisions, and Research wearing the same trenchcoat to sneak into the movies.
  • If you see someone doing a cool thing, ask them questions.
  • Think ahead. What if a critical step goes wrong? What if a vital person can't hold up their end of an agreement? What's the backup plan?
  • The stakes are generally low in this hobby, but you can still disappoint people or leave collaborators in the lurch. If you're leading a project, you need to be confident you can handle challenges as they inevitably arise.
  • Challenges may require you to compromise your vision or your goals. You'll need to decide how to proceed. Be realistic but don't pick the easy road.

Axioms

  • Have a plan.
  • Make consistent choices.
  • Nobody gets points for effort.
  • Test everything.
  • Pick good people.
  • Be ambitious but plan for failure.

Articles I Frequently Re-Read

Familiarity and Contempt - Against the Wicked City
Held Kinetic Energy in Old School Combat Arenas - False Machine 
What's Needed for a Setting - Dungeon of Signs
State of the Art - Necropraxis
Conceptual Density - Against the Wicked City

Dungeon and Adventure Design
Jaquaying the Dungeon - The Alexandrian
The Basis of the Game is Making Decisions - The Retired Adventurer
Wayfinding in Themed Design: The “Weenie” - Theory of Theme Parks

2019/09/04

Book Notes: English Eccentrics (Edith Sitwell)

I'm able to form an opinion on most authors. Edith Sitwell, poet, eccentric, and fashionista, is an exception. I'm torn between rage and admiration. English Eccentrics is like a train wreck. I can't look away.

Most historians cite sources. Edith Sitwell sometimes remembers to do so.
Most authors (past the 18th century) balk at lifting whole pages from other sources. Edith Sitwell plunders. If I hadn't just finished Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds I probably wouldn't have spotted it. No quotation marks even. Just passages lifted wholesale.
Most people, before writing a book on famous English Eccentrics, would consider if any members of their family should be included. Edith Sitwell's entire immediate family could be included. She didn't include any of them.
Most historians would at least hesitate before inventing romantic details to add to their stories. Edith Sitwell, not so much.
Most biographers document their subjects chronologically.
Most chroniclers don't assume their readers have met the people in their tales personally and can fill in details as needed from intimate acquaintance.
Most authors don't include long poetical-metaphorical interludes.
But Edith Sitwell is a poet, and I believe poets can apply for a special license.

And yet, at the same time, she put together and indexed (by her own eccentric standards) a vast miscellany of interesting fragments, personal details, and digests of longer works. She summarized a library of knowledge and (in most cases), provided enough breadcrumbs for a diligent modern reader to stumble towards a more trustworthy source. She claimed she wrote prose only for money, and reading English Eccentrics I can certainly believe it.


1d50  Eccentric Notes
1 The Prince Regent was overcome by the splendour of the whiskers and of the uniform...
2 ...for she would never drink tea excepting from a favourite teacup, not sit down excepting in a favourite chair.
3 Who but he, for instance, could have survived the Black Vomit, in the Plague of Malaga.
4 ...insist on delivering, in a horizontal position, interminable lectures on whatever subject was at the time occupying his attention.
5 He went shooting on the back of a bull of ample proportions and uncertain temper, whilst for pointers, he made use of the services of a crowd of vivacious and sagacious pigs, all of whom answered to their names, and did their duty irreproachably.
6 He had a hundred and fifty-two pairs of trousers and breeches, and the same number of coats and waistcoats.
7 "The Strong Fives, the Marthambles, the Moon-Pall, the Hockogrockle."
8 "...his braine was like a Hasty-Pudding, where there was Memorie, Judgement, and Phancy all stirred together."
9 ...and his mother, with commendable firmness, married him to a heiress.
10 The Squire was constantly riding at dangerous fences, falling off his horse when drunk, driving his tandem at frantic speed, and paying no more attention to crossroads and corners than he did to creditors.
11 But there were moments when his memory failed him; and he would forget to eat dinner, though he never forgot a quotation.
12 "He had considerable inventive genius, especially in the actual formation of supposed extinct animals, generally of a most horrid form and appearance, buy a skillful union of separate portions of reptiles."
13 ...that she burst into a loud howling, the bassoon-like notes of which persisted throughout the work.
14 He would swagger about the enclosure in his glossy shining waistcoat made of drakes' feathers.
15 "the Glimm'ning of the Gizzard, the Quavering of the Kidneys, the Wambling Trot, etc."
16 He was equally addicted to matrimony, though he was as much a wanderer in this sphere of activity as in any other...
17 "It is said that his Lordship keeps six French friseurs, who have nothing else to do than dress his hair."
18 "The most curious part of his dress, which he has brought from Paris, is an iron wig; you literally would not know it from hair. I believe it is on this account that the Royal Society has chosen him of their body." 
19 ...and leave the Professor sitting at the table, emitting no sign of life except the perpetual eruption of smoke.
20 "I forgot to tell you she is his daughter. Upon being told that he could not make her a nun upon the account of her religion, he said that would be no obstacle and that they were all alike to him."
21 "...he replied that he came into the world without a shirt, and he was determined to go out in the same manner."
22 When he found a circumstance difficult to explain to his advantage, he was in the habit of exuding clouds of ink, like an octopus, in which he could disguise the facts at will and capture his audience.
23 He was one of those unfortunate people who cannot move one step in life without being injured by one person, insulted by another, so that he was forced to engage in perpetual warfare in order to preserve his dignity.
24 No drama given in aid of Charity was complete without him, even though his presence alone meant that the drama must come to an untimely end, or, in any case, that disaster must ensue.
25 Amiable and charitable, there was but one person he disliked, and that was the Pope.
26 New diseases were found, which, though they were not apparent, must be cured.
27 "A friend told me that he once put down his hat, and never could find it again, such was the confusion of boxes, packages, and parcels that lay about the chamber."
28 "Her extreme plainness, a trick of incessantly opening and shutting her eyelids, the nasal tone of her voice, all repelled."
29 It was impossible to mention any adventure in his presence without that gentleman turning royal purple and explaining, at great length, how he had endured the same trials, not once, but twice.
30 ..."amused himself by giving poison to dogs and cats and seeing them expire by slower or quicker torments".
31 After she had become totally blind at the age of sixteen, she could distinguish colours by the touch of her fingers.
32 He added gloomily that "her fits and obsessions seem to be greater, for she screeches in a most hellish tone."
33 He never slept in a bed nbut on the floor, wrapped in a cloak, and with a block of beech-wood for a pillow.
34 "The meeting was to take place on the summit of the volcano, Mount Etna, and that if either of the combatants fell, the crater was to become their tomb."
35 ...a long record of high ideals, the maddest tricks and escapades, and of hair-raising adventure.
36 ...had, in spite of her ugliness, a monolithic, mysteirous, primeval grandeur of countenance...
37 These suits and hats wree all addressed, with proper respect, by names bestowed upon them by their owner.
38 Of these two strongly opposed races of the Dead, the first was deeply affected by the moon.
39 ...became famous for his amphibious habits, and for possessing benevolence and a beard.
40 "Wonders are now to be seen by the help of the Sun and his new-invented Solar microscope."
41 He died at the age of thirty-eight, worn out by too much foolishness, too much wretchedness, and too much brandy.
42 Once he galloped at full speed over a rabbit-warren, to find out if his horse would fall. He found out. 
43 His voice seemed pitched in two different keys, the effect of which was to make on seem a distant echo of the other.
44 It was not only that he did not mind accidents, he positively liked them.
45 ...the poker was never brought into play on these occasions, for the Professor relied on verbal effects alone.
46 The audience could not, would not, and did not endure his interpretations of the classics.
47 Dinner was waiting, and all went well until the Squire, who was dressed in full hunting costume, applied his spurs to the bear.
48 In spite of certain sinister rumours which I will mention later, his diet consisted mainly of beef tea...
49 He wrote a book... the boredom of which was commented upon by that virtuoso of in that quality, Sir Walter Scott.
50 Alas, the bath was not a success, and many of the owls died.

And finally, a charming quote on the Reverend Doctor Ralph Kettle, for any readers heading back to classes this week.

But he would take his hour-glass to lectures, and would threaten "the Boyes... that if they did not doe their exercise better he would bring an Hower-glasse two howers long."