Category Archives: ALLTHING

ZERO GAIN

Exclusive: one of the greatest conceptual breakthroughs in mathematics has been traced to the Bakhshali manuscript, dating from the 3rd or 4th century

In this close-up image you can see the use of a dot as a placeholder in the bottom line. This dot evolved into the use of zero as a number in its own right.
 In this close-up image you can see the use of a dot as a placeholder in the bottom line. This dot evolved into the use of zero as a number in its own right. Photograph: Courtesy of Bodleian Libraries/ University of Oxford

Nowt, nada, zilch: there is nothing new about nothingness. But the moment that the absence of stuff became zero, a number in its own right, is regarded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics.

Now scientists have traced the origins of this conceptual leap to an ancient Indian text, known as the Bakhshali manuscript – a text which has been housed in the UK since 1902.

Radiocarbon dating reveals the fragmentary text, which is inscribed on 70 pieces of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeroes, dates to as early as the 3rd or 4th century – about 500 years older than scholars previously believed. This makes it the world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol that we use today.

The ‘front’ page (recto) of folio 16 which dates to 224-383 AD.
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 The ‘front’ page (recto) of folio 16 which dates to 224-383 AD. Photograph: Courtesy of Bodleian Libraries/ University of Oxford

Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, said: “Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.”

The Bakhshali manuscript was found in 1881, buried in a field in a village called Bakhshali, near Peshawar, in what is now a region of Pakistan. It was discovered by a local farmer and later acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Translations of the text, which is written in a form of Sanskrit, suggest it was a form of training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road, and it includes practical arithmetic exercises and something approaching algebra. “There’s a lot of ‘If someone buys this and sells this how much have they got left?’” said Du Sautoy.

In the fragile document, zero does not yet feature as a number in its own right, but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the “0” in “101” indicates no tens. It features a problem to which the answer is zero, but here the answer is left blank.

Several ancient cultures independently came up with similar placeholder symbols. The Babylonians used a double wedge for nothing as part of cuneiform symbols dating back 5,000 years, while the Mayans used a shell to denote absence in their complex calendar system.

However the dot symbol in the Bakhshali script is the one that ultimately evolved into the hollow-centred version of the symbol that we use today. It also sowed the seed for zero as a number, which is first described in a text called Brahmasphutasiddhanta, written by the Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta in 628AD.

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“This becomes the birth of the concept of zero in it’s own right and this is a total revolution that happens out of India,” said Du Sautoy.

The development of zero as a mathematical concept may have been inspired by the region’s long philosophical tradition of contemplating the void and may explain why the concept took so long to catch on in Europe, which lacked the same cultural reference points.

“This is coming out of a culture that is quite happy to conceive of the void, to conceive of the infinite,” said Du Sautoy. “That is exciting to recognise, that culture is important in making big mathematical breakthroughs.”

Despite developing sophisticated maths and geometry, the ancient Greeks had no symbol for zero, for instance, showing that while the concept zero may now feel familiar, it is not an obvious one.

“The Europeans, even when it was introduced to them, were like ‘Why would we need a number for nothing?’” said Du Sautoy. “It’s a very abstract leap.”

Carbon dating reveals Bakhshali manuscript is centuries older than scholars believed and is formed of multiple leaves nearly 500 years different in age.
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 Carbon dating reveals Bakhshali manuscript is centuries older than scholars believed and is formed of multiple leaves nearly 500 years different in age. Photograph: Courtesy of Bodleian Libraries/ University of Oxford

In the latest study, three samples were extracted from the manuscript and analysed at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. The results revealed that the three samples tested date from three different centuries, one from 224-383 AD, another from 680-779 AD and another from 885-993 AD, raising further questions about how the manuscript came to be packaged together as a single document.

The development of zero in mathematics underpins an incredible range of further work, including the notion of infinity, the modern notion of the vacuum in quantum physics, and some of the deepest questions in cosmology of how the Universe arose – and how it might disappear from existence in some unimaginable future scenario.

Richard Ovenden, head of the Bodleian Library, said the results highlight a Western bias that has often seen the contributions of South Asian scholars being overlooked. “These surprising research results testify to the subcontinent’s rich and longstanding scientific tradition,” he said.

The manuscript will be on public display on 4 October, as part of a major exhibition, Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation, at the Science Museum in London.

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THE MURALS OF DATONG

This interests me for purely archaeological, cultural, and historical reasons, but it also goes to show that in gaming and in writing fiction, authors and creators (and modern people in general) often overlook the near ubiquitous artwork and coloring that often existed in many Medieval and certainly a great many Ancient urban centers.

The answer seems self-evident to me if you think on it awhile. Lacking things like cinema and film and television, etc. then what would be your source of visual and imaginary stimulation in a world devoid of such things? Indeed, what would be your method of advertising your skill and craft and wealth compared to that of a neighbor or competitor? How would you communicate with foreigners? How would you establish yourself even after death?

Art work.

Impressed everywhere you could impress it as strikingly colorful and vibrant as you could make it.

I don’t think our ancestors were less impressed with visual imagery than we are, I think they were likely more conscious of it because they had less of an opportunity to render it in motion and in a way that was seemingly active and alive. They had to do so not “in the air” (images transmitted by carrier waves) but by time and by place as “solid images,” fixed by time and place. Art then was not shifting energy, but actual craft, and anything that called attention to that craft would have been a vital element of that craft. Color, skill, literary allusion or merit, design, complexity of composition, etc.

So they looked for every opportunity to do so that leisure or condition allowed.

This is why the Ancient world (especially) and any sufficiently advanced corner of the Medieval world looked as it did.

Writers, poets, game developers (even historians and non-fiction writers) would do well to note that in their own works. It would add real depth to their efforts…

Ancient Tomb Decorated with Vibrant Murals Found in China

Ancient Tomb Decorated with Vibrant Murals Found in China

The tomb’s entranceway is located on the south wall of the tomb. It was blocked off with bricks 1,000 years ago. Images of two servants can be seen flanking the entrance.

Credit: Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

A 1,000-year-old circular tomb, whose walls are decorated with colorful murals, has been discovered in Datong City, in northern China.

Because the tomb’s entranceway is sealed off with bricks, archaeologists had to enter through a hole in the deteriorating arch-shaped roof.

The team, from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology, found cremated human remains in an urn in the middle of the tomb. No texts were found in the tomb, but the archaeologists believe that the tomb likely belonged to a husband and wife. [See Photos of the Circular Tomb and Colorful Murals]

The murals on the walls show servants, cranes and numerous articles of clothing that hang on several stands, their colors still vibrant despite the passage of a millennia.

Colorful clothing abounds on the tomb’s murals. One clothes stand, painted on a mural on the west wall, has “sky blue, beige, bluish-gray, yellowish-brown and pink clothes,” wrote the archaeological team in a paper published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. “The garment to the far right has a green-diamond grid pattern, each diamond of which has a small red decorative flower in it,” wrote the archaeologists, noting that another article of clothing has what appears to be a jade ring that “hangs at the waist.”

 

The murals on the west wall of the 1,000-year-old tomb depict articles of clothing as well as two servants.
The murals on the west wall of the 1,000-year-old tomb depict articles of clothing as well as two servants.

Credit: Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Additionally, the mural shows that “in front of the clothes stand there is a long rectangular table, on which are placed four round plates, black on the outside and red inside, holding, respectively, a headdress, bracelets, hairpins and combs,” the archaeologists wrote.

 

On the east wall of the tomb the mural shows another clothes stand. “On the stand hang beige, light green, bluish-gray, pink and brown clothes,” the archaeologists wrote. “On one of the garments hangs a ring-shaped pei pendant accompanied by a string of black beads.” Pei is a word that can mean “matching” or “accompanying” in English.

The team believes that the tomb likely dates to the Liao Dynasty (A.D. 907–1125). Historical records indicate that this dynasty, controlled by the Khitan, flourished in northern China, Mongolia and parts of Russia.

At that time, people in northern China were sometimes buried in tombs decorated with murals. In 2014, Live Science reportedon the discovery of another tomb containing murals, which was found decorated with images of stars as well as numerous animals, including a crane, deer, yellow turtle and even a cat playingwith a silk ball. That tomb was also excavated by a team from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology.

Archaeologists believe that both mural-decorated tombs will help shed light on  those who lived during the Liao Dynasty.

The tomb with the murals showing colorful clothing was excavated by the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology team in 2007. The team published a report on the tomb in 2015, in Chinese, in the journal Wenwu. That report was translated into English for publication in Chinese Cultural Relics.

Original article on Live Science.

GREEN ICE OF THE ANTARCTIC

This gives me an interesting idea for both a science fiction story and an element to add to my fantasy novel…

 

Strange Green Ice Seen Floating in Antarctica’s Ross Sea

Strange Green Ice Seen Floating in Antarctica's Ross Sea

An imager on the Landsat 8 satellite captured this image, on March 5, 2017, of Antarctica’s Granite Harbor, a cove near the Ross Sea, where the sea ice has a green hue due to a bloom of phytoplankton.

Credit: NASA

No, Antarctica isn’t busting out the green beer for St. Patrick’s Day. But a new satellite image of the continent shows strange green ice floating in the Ross Sea.

The green-tinged ice is probably the work of phytoplankton, marine glaciologist Jan Lieser of Australia’s Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center told NASA’s Earth Observatory, which released the image yesterday (March 9).

Photosynthetic plankton called phytoplankton (and algae) grow all around Antarctica in summer (which runs from October to February, because Antarctica is in the Southern Hemisphere). It’s now autumn on the icy continent, but algae blooms can happen in the Antarctic fall, too, the Earth Observatory reported.

In 2012, Lieser and her colleagues noted an enormous bloom in late February and early March that was 124 miles (200 kilometers) long and 62 miles (100 km) wide. Scientists on an expedition to observe the green swirls found that the bloom was not free-floating algae, but green sea ice, or sea ice with algae growing on it.

A zoomed-in patch of green ice near Antarctica's Ross Sea can be seen in this Landsat 8 image captured on March 5, 2017.
A zoomed-in patch of green ice near Antarctica’s Ross Sea can be seen in this Landsat 8 image captured on March 5, 2017.

Credit: NASA

The current late-season bloom appears to have gotten trapped in the slushy, just-forming sea ice, lending it a green hue. It’s unclear whether the algae bloom is on the ice, or trapped within or beneath it.

On the other end of the globe, Arctic waters experience phytoplankton blooms, too. As in Antarctica, these tiny organisms are the basis of the food web. Scientists have found, however, that the Arctic’s spring phytoplankton blooms are coming earlier. What’s more, a second season of algae blooms has emerged in the fall, as sea ice has retreated.

Original article on Live Science

PIE

So it was PIE after all?

I had wondered… at the possible construct and the sound

WHAT DO YOU THINK – HISTORY AND MYTH?

As I said in an earlier post:

THE SHERIFF AS CHIEFTAIN AND THE CHIEFTAIN AS SHERIFF

while lying in bed last night (hardly able to move due to my Body Beast training) I was studying myth and folklore and legend and history when I decided to make, for my own benefit and for the benefit of my novels, a list of those attributes or traits or conditions or characteristics most common to certain myths and histories and folklores, etc.

So I made a list of the following myth, folklore, history, etc. sources and started to list those kinds of things found in them.

Rather than simply disclose my own list (and thereby taint and prejudice your thoughts on the matter) I thought I’d simply ask you this question.

What do you consider the chief or most important traits of myths and folklore and histories that arise from the following sources, and what they produced?:

(For example, it could be anything from tribal face painting to the Holy Grail to a magical White Stag. If I don’t already have it listed then I’ll add it to my list.)

Sources are:

Finnish

Nordic/Germanic

Rus (including Russian and Eastern European)

Viking (Western and Eastern/Byzantine Vikings)

Irish/Celtic/Scottish

British

Italy/Roman

Frankish/French

Israel/Syrian/Middle Eastern/North African

Greek/Cretan

Appreciate your help.

Anyone with an interest in history, myth, legend, folklore is welcome to contribute their ideas.

 

NEW SCROLL, OR NOT…?

Did Archaeologists Really Discover a New Dead Sea Scroll Cave?

Dead Sea Scroll cave under the microscope

huji-qumran-parchment

Archaeologists excavating a cave west of the Dead Sea settlement of Qumran found this piece of parchment that had been rolled up in a jug. Could this and other evidence found inside the cave indicate that a new Dead Sea Scroll cave has been discovered? Photo: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld.

I read with eager anticipation the first news stories out of Israel that a new Dead Sea Scroll cave had been discovered west of Qumran. As one who wrote a dissertation on Qumran and who teaches a Dead Sea Scrolls course at the University of Iowa, I was keen to see how the new discovery would fit into our present knowledge of the scrolls. What was found that made it a “Dead Sea Scroll Cave”? Was it a new copy of a Biblical book? Was it a copy of a known pseudepigraphical work? Or, was it a new, previously unknown sectarian manuscript that sheds light on the late Second Temple Jewish world?As I read the Hebrew University of Jerusalem press release and various press reports, I quickly discovered the answer: none of the above. Let me explain:

Recently, a Hebrew University press release and multiple news reports announced a discovery made by archaeologists Dr. Oren Gutfeld, Teaching Fellow at the Hebrew University, and Dr. Randall Price, Founder and President of World of the Bible Ministries, Inc. and Distinguished Research Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.1

dss-cave4

A Dead Sea Scroll fragment from Qumran Cave 4. Photo: Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

Among the hundreds of caves explored near the Dead Sea settlement of Qumran, only eleven caves have ever produced scrolls or scroll fragments. Gutfeld and Price claim that the cave they excavated should be considered the 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave, despite the fact that Gutfeld confirms, “[A]t the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing…”However, Gutfeld claims later in the press release, “[N]ow there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave.” Gutfeld makes this claim because of the discovery inside the cave of pickaxe heads that appear to have been made in the 1950s—which suggest that people had been inside the cave around that time. Gutfeld continues, “[T]he findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more.”

But no Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, only a blank piece of parchment.

Thus, Gutfeld speculates that this must be the “12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave,” arguing that Dead Sea Scrolls must have been looted from the cave. Once again, Gutfeld speculates regarding these proposed looters: “I imagine they came into the tunnel. They found the scroll jars. They took the scrolls … They even opened the scrolls and left everything around, the textiles, the pottery” (italics mine).

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.

I must, in all fairness, concede that Gutfeld’s speculation is entirely plausible. However, we must also acknowledge that it is still speculation—even if well-informed speculation on the part of Prof. Gutfeld—because no Dead Sea Scrolls were actually discovered in the cave! We could similarly speculate that scrolls were once present in several other caves excavated in the past, but that does not make them scroll caves. If there are no Dead Sea Scrolls in the cave, then it is not a scroll cave, even if we think there might have been in the past.

qumran-caves

The caves of Qumran. Photo: “Caves@Dead Sea Scrolls (8246948498)” by Lux Moundi is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Let me also state that it is possible that Gutfeld’s team did find scrolls or scroll fragments in the cave, but are not announcing this discovery in an effort to keep looters from surreptitiously stealing any scrolls that still may be in the cave. Withholding public disclosure of a major find is not uncommon on digs in Israel, as is withholding the exact location of the cave. If Gutfeld has discovered actual scrolls in the cave that the team has simply not announced, then this should obviously be considered Cave 12. However, absent the disclosure of the discovery of actual scrolls, we must evaluate the claim of a new Dead Sea Scroll cave on the evidence that has been disclosed, and the disclosed evidence does not warrant a designation of a scroll-producing cave. Gutfeld’s team did not find a new Dead Sea Scroll cave.Allow me, however, to provide an alternative conclusion that better fits the evidence we have. It is possible to argue that the cave in question was part of a larger parchment production enterprise, and that the jars, leather, textiles and blank parchment discovered in the cave are simply the latest evidence that someone or some group near Qumran engaged in some form of scribal activity and had the means of producing its own parchment. Indeed, the discovery of a blank piece of parchment—placed there either to dry or for storage—fits with previously discovered pieces of archaeological evidence that have been piling up for years, all of which support the theory that scrolls were produced at Qumran.


Visit the Dead Sea Scrolls study page in Bible History Daily for more on this priceless collection of ancient manuscripts.


qumran-inkwell

One of the inkwells discovered at Qumran.

In the excavations of the Qumran ruins in the 1950s, a stylus and multiple inkwells were discovered, suggesting that some sort of writing was taking place at Qumran. In addition, stables and the bony remains of numerous animals buried inside jars were also excavated within the ruins of Qumran. The presence of animals means that Qumran was capable of producing the animal skins needed to manufacture parchment. Large, shallow pools were also uncovered in the western building at Qumran that may have been used to soak the parchment. Lime, which is used in curing parchment, was also found in large quantities at Qumran.2 This initial evidence—along with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in caves surrounding Qumran—led early archaeologists like Roland de Vaux, Gerald Lankester Harding and Eleazar Sukenik to conclude that some Jewish sect (the Essenes, they believed) wrote the scrolls at Qumran.More recent scientific tests support the theory that Qumran could have been a site of scroll production. In July 2010, a team of Italian scientists from the National Laboratories of the South in Catania, Italy—which is part of Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics—led by Professor Giuseppe Pappalardo, discovered that the ink used to write the Temple Scroll possesses the same unusually high bromine levels as the waters from the Dead Sea, suggesting that the ink used on the Temple Scroll came from water from the Dead Sea and not from some other water source. This evidence indicates that the ink was produced near Qumran and not Jerusalem.

Gutfeld and Price’s recent discovery of curing jars, leather, textiles and a blank piece of parchment is but the latest piece of evidence supporting the theory that Qumran was, in fact, a place of scribal activity, and perhaps even of scribal implement production.

But this cannot be called the discovery of a new Dead Sea Scroll cave. One can certainly understand why archaeologists would be tempted to issue a press release stating as much, especially before any peer-reviewed reports about the excavation are published. The press is far more likely to cover a story claiming “New Dead Sea Scrolls Discovered!”—which is inevitably what people think when they read of the discovery of a “new Dead Sea Scroll cave,” especially in the weeks leading up to Easter—than they are to write a story about the discovery of the most recent piece of evidence supporting the theory that scribal activity took place near Qumran.

But that does not mean this most recent discovery is unimportant. Despite the fact that Gutfeld and Price did not discover a new Dead Sea Scroll or a new Dead Sea Scroll cave, they have provided archaeologists studying Qumran and its relationship to the Dead Sea Scrolls with another piece of solid evidence that someone near Qumran was engaged in activities required for scribal endeavors. And this discovery offers one more piece of evidence that someone or some group living at Qumran was capable of producing the materials needed to produce the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the caves surrounding Qumran.

CAMPAIGN AND WORLD BUILDER

D&D INSTANT CAMPAIGN BUILDER

 

 

ARCHIVES AND HELP


Writing Your First Adventure
Part 1 of 6



If you are ready to design your first RPG adventure, or learn how to improve the adventures you’ve already got, you’ve come to the right place. The “Adventure Builder” will cover all the bases, from hooks to background to traps and treasures.

This time out, we’ll cover the foundation you need to build a great adventure. It’s not the background, the stat blocks, or even the main villain. It’s monster selection, and figuring out the size and style of the adventure.

How Big is Your Design?

A common rule of thumb among the Wizards of the Coast design staff is that a typical group of adventurers will level up after about 13 successful encounters of the party’s encounter level (EL). That’s a great number to work from, especially if you want to design a large adventure that spans multiple levels.

In an adventure with dozens of encounters, the party will level up half-way through. Since the party will be tougher and more capable from that point on, the adventure you’ve planned for them needs too scale up as well. It’s better to scale up the second half of the adventure appropriately, but if you don’t want the PCs to level up midway through your epic you can prevent it by keeping your number of encounters small or by lowering their EL (to reduce the XP per encounter).

At the same time, just because you map an encounter doesn’t mean that it will be played. Some areas are never explored, after all, and not every encounter leads to combat (some are resolved or defeated through stealth, magic, bribery, or roleplaying). So if you do want the PCs to level up after your adventure then you’ll need more than 13 party-level encounters to provide enough options and fallbacks if the party doesn’t follow the expected path.

So, not too many encounters and not too few. As a general idea, you want to prepare about 20 to 25 encounters for your party per level of advancement. If you prefer mostly lower EL encounters, perhaps closer to 25 to 30. If you run marathon play sessions every weekend, you might want to prepare 40 to 50 encounters ahead of time, and assume the second half will be at a higher level. If you run short game sessions, you’ll want to make sure that the adventure breaks into small sections of 3 or 4 encounters with a satisfying conclusion to each.

Now you know how many encounters you should prepare. What should be in those encounters? And what mistakes should you watch out for?

Common design mistakes

There are four fairly common errors in beginning adventure design. When I worked on Dungeon magazine I saw them constantly, and the errors haven’t changed.

1) too much useless backstory
2) slow starts
3) random encounters
4) too many encounters

Each of these is easy to fix. Here’s how you do it.

Simple Backstory: Most DMs and designers hate to hear it, but much of the time lavished on history and background is wasted energy. Players never find out who dug the tomb, how the wizard was betrayed by her apprentice, or why the assassin guild changed sides and disappeared. Working on backstory doesn’t improve the gameplay experience for anyone but the bards and scholars obsessed with legends or lore. Unless it connects directly to action in the current timeframe (and the PCs have a way of learning it), skip the involved history. Save that for sourcebooks.

This is not to say cut it all. Details of which faction can be turned against another, which guard might take a bribe, or what the villain ultimately plans to do if the party doesn’t stop him are all appropriate. Make sure your backstory is recent and relevant; avoid anything that starts “Thousands of years ago…”

Start the Action Quickly: When players arrive at the game, they are looking to roll some dice. You can start the action immediately and draw the players away from pizza and other distractions by giving them what they want: a short, simple combat encounter to start off the game. Ideally, the encounter is pitched at an encounter level (EL) no more than one level above or below the party’s level.

The best of the “start in midstream” kick-offs are aimed at all the PCs when they are together, and raise questions that lead the party to the adventure hook. For instance, the party might see raiders attacking an inn where they had planned to spend the night — survivors of the attack tell the party about the black knight who leads them. Or a teleporting extraplanar threat might appear during broad daylight and accuse a cleric of breaking his vows — and threaten to sacrifice his corrupt church elders to a greater power. Where these encounters go ultimately isn’t the most important thing: they can be a little tangential to the plot, as long as they get the party thinking of the right sort of threat.

I’ll discuss this in more detail next time in “Adventure Hooks.”.

Don’t Be Random: Time is precious, so be careful how many tangents and red herrings you include in your design. In particular, random encounters might be fun, or can be useful to get a dawdling party going, or to work off that frustration players sometimes get where they just need to have their characters kill something, but they don’t usually make your adventure any better. If they are tied into the core adventure, then they shouldn’t be random at all; those clues should be built in to the design. If they aren’t tied in to the adventure core, then you are just wasting game time on an encounter that doesn’t advance the mission or the story goals for you or your players.

Trim Excess Encounters: If you create too many encounters and you don’t play every day, players forget what their mission was, or start to lose hope of making progress. They wind up grinding through so many nuisance encounters that they lose sight of the important clues, or they don’t talk to the important NPC, or they don’t search the critical room for documents — because they are too busy grinding through combats. If the encounters are just there to fill up space on a map, they might as well be random. Leave some rooms empty to speed up play.

Encounter Selection: Fitting Together a Cast

The real challenge is balancing encounters to present a variety of challenges for every member of the party. The adventure, after all, is a chance for the heroes to triumph over opposition (or fail miserably and go home).

Selecting for a Coherent Look and Feel

Story, setting, and immersion are all easier to pull off if your monsters fit a theme. That theme might be “united tribes of humanoids” or it might be “desert raiders”, but either way it cuts out many choices. Avoid the kitchen sink approach of just taking creatures that match the party level. Instead, make good use of the EL chart in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 49) to create encounters of small groups, pairs of monsters, and single creatures.

In particular, consider linked encounters for your cast. A guard dog or a sentry might be a much lower EL encounter from a combat perspective — but if the party fails to use a silence spell or a sneak attack to take it out quickly then it could make later encounters more difficult.

Balancing by EL and by Class

The Dungeon Master’s Guide offers direct advice on how many easy, challenging, very difficult, and overwhelming encounters a typical adventure should contain (see page 49). Hint: not many overwhelming encounters.

While this breakdown is good advice, it’s not complete. You’ll want to be sure that your 20 or 25 encounters include encounter variety by class as well as by EL. That is, make sure to include each of the following types of encounters, to give every class and every player a chance to shine.

1) Two Skill Encounters: These are creatures or obstacles that can be defeated by stealth or skill, such as guards, castle walls, cliffs, informants, or low-hp creatures that can fall to a single sneak attack.

2) Four Pure Combats: You need some no-negotiation, straight-up combats that play to the fighter classes. Think orcs, wolves, ogres, giants — or dragons. Consider tactics first here: ambushes, charge, bull-rush, something to make it more than just attack rolls and damage rolls.

3) Two Magical Challenges: Include two magical challenges that require a knock, a fireball, or whatever other strengths your arcane spellcasters have. They might be lore-based challenges, such as knowing the weaknesses of an extraplanar creature, or they might require the use of Concentration or Spellcraft to manipulate a magical object or unravel a mysterious warding.

4) One Divine Challenge: The divine caster in the party is more than just a medic, so give him or her something to do with at least one undead turning, Knowledge (Religion), or nature-knowledge encounter (if your divine caster is a druid).

5) One Puzzle or Trap: This could be as simple as finding the key to a tough lock, deciphering an ancient script, or finding a secret door with Search, but you should include traps and puzzles for your party to solve. If the party doesn’t have a rogue in it, use Knowledge skill checks as a substitute.

6) Two Roleplaying Encounters: Social skills play an important part of the game too, and bards don’t like to just sit and do their stuff in the background. Provide at least two roleplaying encounters that can be defeated by the right social skills, bribes, exchange of services, or clever conversation. Examples include a scholar with a clue that the party needs to bypass some defenses or wardings, or a devil who will ally with them against a common foe.

7) One Mook Encounter: This should be against foes of at least 2 CR less than the party, and ideally 3 or 4 less. Think kobolds, bandits, skeletons, wild animals, or any other group of many foes that play to Cleave and area-effect spells. It’s fun to see heroes cutting a swath through hordes of foes.

8) One Polder: “Polder” is a Dutch word describing land reclaimed from the sea, but here it’s a more general term. As described in detail in Dungeon 135, polders are safe havens for adventurers, places where the party can regain strength. Think Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. Your polder could be a xenophobic elven tree city, a magical rope that generates rope trick spells as a charged item, a bound archon who wards a treasure, or a dwarven merchant caravan. If the party wishes, they can heal up to full strength and level up.

9) One Bigger Fish: To keep the blood flowing, you should have one overwhelming encounter that the party can’t handle without serious risk of a total party kill. This could turn into a roleplaying bit of Diplomacy, a chase, or a stealth challenge, depending on how the party handles it — but they should see that not every encounter in every adventure should be fought.

10) Big Finish: A grand finale encounter with all the trimmings: villain, minions, and a room or terrain that provides interesting combat options.

That list of recommended encounter types covers 17 encounters out of the 20 to 25 in your adventure, but you could easily double up on any of those categories. For example, if you know that the players like intense combat you could set up the remaining encounters as pure combats. If you know that your arcane caster is itching for a magical duel — or that the rogue will always try reconnaissance first — prepare those kinds of encounters.

Tailoring an adventure to show the heroes in the best light means more fun for everyone. Making an adventure that plays to the party’s weakness might be fun for you, but will only frustrate your players. Don’t take away their spells, sneak attacks, or combat items very often — those are the tools of heroism and the key to fun. Instead, give those strong points a challenge and a chance to shine.

To further tailor an adventure, consider some special encounter types if you have, say, a mounted knight, an archer, a monk, or a paladin in the group.

1) A mounted encounter
2) A ranged attack encounter
3) A chase (see Dungeon Master’s Guide II page 57 for chase rules), either hunting or being pursued.
4) A single-combat encounter or challenge from an honorable foe
5) Another class-specific encounter, such as one that requires bardic song, barbarian tracking, or fighting a ranger’s favored enemy.

Conclusion

Adventures work if they are fun and easy to play, and give every kind of hero a chance to shine in different encounter styles. The most important part of design isn’t the details of a stat block, but the type and variety of opponents and encounters.

About the Author

Wolfgang Baur is the author of dozens of adventures, from the “Kingdom of the Ghouls” and “Gathering of Winds” in Dungeon magazine to upcoming releases from Wizards of the Coast. He offers custom-tailored adventures and professional advice to patrons of the Open Design blog.

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I PREFER

I PREFER

I have always loved swords, don’t get me wrong. Especially short, compact to medium length swords, well weighted, tough, entirely functional and made for combat and killing. I speak specifically of the Gladius and the Spatha.

But far more I have always loved long knives and the warhammer. Both feel absolutely right in my hands. Perfect for me as a matter of fact.

Maybe that is because I am so tool oriented (probaly get that form my old man) and because by nature I am more of a scout and a man who prefers to operate alone rather than in a team or to fight in open terrain (likely get that from a coupla my great-grandfathers and my frontier ancestors). I think like a guerrilla, like a scout, like a recon-man. Like an infiltrator.

Anyway, the long knife and the warhammer is me. Made for my nature.

You can do a lotta things with a good long knife and a warhammer and a multi-functional tool. I prefer that kinda thing.

Also, I really, really like tomahawks and hatchets.

SUBURBAN MEN

Although I am not a suburban man, I am a rural man, I like this site:

SUBURBANMEN

 

 

BOGATYRI

Excellent Site:

and

THE BOGATYRI

 

MYTHS OF THE SCOTTISH, IRISH, CELTS, AND THE NORSE

Been away awhile busy at other things. Slowly kicking back in.

Here’s something interesting I found in the meantime. Good source for gamers. Good source for writers.

MYTHS OF THE SCOTTISH, IRISH, CELTS, AND THE NORSE

INSPIRATION

ISIS DOES MORE EVIL SENSELESS SHIT

ISIS Has Destroyed a Nearly 3,000-Year-Old Assyrian Ziggurat

The ziggurat of Nimrud was the ancient city’s central temple

Nimrud Ziggurat
American soldiers in Nimrud in 2008, with the Ziggurat in the background. (Staff Sgt. JoAnn Makinano via Wikimedia Commons)
SMITHSONIAN.COM
NOVEMBER 15, 2016
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In addition to the many human atrocities committed by ISIS, one of its regular calling cards has been the destruction of irreplaceable archaeological sites. Now, even as Iraqi forces work to drive the insurgent group from its strongholds, satellite images show it has left behind a trail of destroyed heritage sites, including a 2,900-year-old ziggurat in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq.

Predecessors to structures like the Great Pyramids, the ziggurats of Mesopotamia were massive step pyramids built as religious sites. For Nimrud, the capital of the ancient Assyrian civilization, the 140-foot-tall temple was the center of its spiritual life, Caroline Elbaor reports for artnet News. Built about 2,900 years ago by King Ashurnasirpal II, the mud brick structure was dedicated to Ninurta, a god of war and the city’s patron deity.

Iraqi forces announced that they had recaptured Nimrud on Sunday, Dominic Evans and Ahmed Rasheed report for Reuters. While experts are still waiting for permission to examine the damage inflicted on the ancient city, recent satellite images indicate that the ziggurat is no more.

ISIS has made a habit out of publically destroying and vandalizing ancient historical sites throughout its reign in the region, nominally as an attack on traditions and culture that do not fit into its religious beliefs. However, as Benjamin Sutton reports for Hyperallergic, experts unsure exactly why the group destroyed the ziggurat.

“The ziggurat mound is the highest point in the nearby landscape, making it an ideal defensive position for encroaching forces. However, the archaeological site is located in a remote area far from strategic points,” the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives says in a statement. “Alternatively, like the Northwest Palace and the Nabu Temple at Nimrud, the attack could have served a dual purpose: intentional destruction for the composition of future propaganda and retributory violence to demoralize local populations and goad invading military forces. ISIL militants could also have been searching for antiquities in the mound.”

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCulturalHeritageInitiatives%2Fposts%2F423303684460130&width=500If the militants were looking for treasures to loot, they would have been sorely disappointed by the ziggurat of Nimrud. Unlike the Great Pyramids, which contained internal chambers and passageways, ziggurats were solid mounds made from mud brick, with nothing on the inside but more brick, Richard Spencer reports for The Times.

John Curtis, the president of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, was told about the Nimrud’s destruction in September by Iraqi sources, but was asked to keep the information confidential, Martin Bailey reports for The Art Newspaper. The site at Nimrud still needs to be secured and swept for mines and booby traps left behind by ISIS fighters before civilian experts will be able to visit and assess the damage in person. But whatever the insurgent group’s reasons for demolishing the ziggurat, the result is the destruction of yet another priceless piece of humanity’s cultural heritage.

YEAH, IT’S A POSER…

WHICH LEGEND?

Which Celtic Legend are You?

 

Actually, I suspect they got it right… with me anyway

Your legend is:
Finn MacCool

You are a seeker of knowledge, mystery, adventure–and of fish. When Finn was a young boy, he accidentally stole knowledge from a Druid. The Druid knew that if he ate a certain salmon, he’d have all of the world’s knowledge. He told Finn to catch it but not eat it. Still, when Finn touched the fish, it burned his hand. As he sucked on his burnt thumb to cool it, he absorbed all of the knowledge meant for the priest. He went on to success in many more adventures where he destroyed demons and traveled to the underworld to battle supernatural beings.

MIND AND MAGIC

As a gamer what do you think are the salient similarities and differences both in how psionic (psychic abilities) capabilities and magic works, or ought to work?

I mean in every respect (how they operate, how they function, what each should be able to do or not do, what is the goal of each, etc.)?

What is your opinion?

 

 

GOOD ONES

My two new favorite TV shows are Channel Zero: Candle Cove and Dirk Gently Holistic Detective.

Superb efforts.

Candle Cove may be the spookiest TV show I’ve ever seen in my life. Spooky and actually scary at times (I don’t spook or scare easy but last night two scene son that show actually made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end) not morbid or just a stupid hack and slash violent juvenile show.

I really, really like the fact that most of the show takes place in broad daylight and seems utterly mundane in background and atmosphere yet still there hangs a foreboding sense of darkness and dread over most everything. The dichotomy is fantastic.

Plus I have enjoyed researching the background internet and YouTube history of the show. Actually, before this show I had never heard of a Creepy Pasta.

As for Dirk Gently I find it to be one of the most original shows I’ve seen in a long, long time (admittedly I watch little TV, but this is one of the shows I do watch). Plus I really like the way he works as a Dick. Dirk. whatever…

And it greatly amuses me.

 

HORNBLOWER

In my sophomore year at Presbyterian College (one of the colleges I attended) while looking for diversionary entertainment reading to distract me from my numerous studies I happened upon the Adventures of Horatio Hornblower: The Hornblower Saga. I read every book in the series by Forester during that year, practically devouring them. I bought many of those books over time and still have some in my personal library.

It was an epiphany and my first real introduction into long series Historical Fiction. I loved them. To this day Hornblower remains my favorite fictional Commander of any ship during the Age of Sail. And one of my favorite Ship Commanders ever. Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise is based upon Hornblower.

The difference is that over time Hornblower commanded numerous ships and even squadrons during his career.

There was an amazingly good television show detailing some of the career of Hornblower though it was very sparse in detail compared to the books. I highly recommend the series.

 

Hornblower Saga

 

MASTER AND COMMANDER

“He might have had the Weather Gage but we had the weather god.”

Captain Jack Aubrey, commander of HMS Surprise

(My first favorite film from the Age of Sail and my favorite series of historical novels on the same and next to Horatio Hornblower my favorite fictional commander of that era. I highly recommend those novels. History as True Art.)

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