By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor | March 10, 2017 09:47am ET
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Seven years ago, my guest today published what has become an underground cult classic on masculinity. His name is Jack Donovan and that book was The Way of Men. I had him on the podcast a few years ago to discuss it — check it out if you haven’t listened to it. In The Way of Men,Donovan argued that for men to really live what he calls the “tactical virtues” of masculinity, they need to join an all-male honor group, or what he calls a gang or tribe. In his latest book, Becoming a Barbarian, Donovan lays out what creating these honor groups would look like.
On today’s show, Jack and I discuss why masculinity is often tragic, why today’s modern world makes it hard for men to form male honor groups, the difference between a club and a tribe, and what it means to start the world.
The runaway success of The Way of Men
How Becoming a Barbarian is a continuation of The Way of Men
The difference between a tribe and club
Why masculinity is tragic and requires conflict
Anti-fragility and masculinity
Why men need other men to fully experience masculinity
Why the lone alpha male is a myth
Why belonging to a group can make you a more interesting person
Why modernity makes it hard to be part of a community
Why individualism can make us less free
What it means to be a barbarian
Why social media gives the illusion of action and influence
Can you have an online tribe?
Why technology is the opposite of manliness
How the Amish can serve as a template for living in a community
Donovan and I admittedly have different conceptions of manliness. To me, “primal” anthropological/biological manhood should always be coupled with the ancient conception of manliness as virtue. Donovan champions a stripped-down, raw masculinity over and above more lofty conceptions. But even if you disagree with some of his views, his sharp and compelling insights into the core of masculinity force you to re-think your assumptions about what it means to be a man and to live in a community; after all, you can’t build towards higher manhood unless you understand the foundation — you can’t become a Gentleman Barbarian and neglect the barbarian virtues. The ideas in his books are thus worth grappling with. You can pick up copies of The Way of Men and Becoming a Barbarianon Amazon.
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS
Below are to be found descriptions and entries I have created regarding unusual ways to begin Adventures, Campaigns, and Quests for various kinds of Role Playing and Tabletop Games.
Though they could also be used as the basis and genesis of other types of games as well, for example LARPS and Alternative Reality games.
I intend to provide beginning scenarios for various types and genres of games: Contemporary, Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, and Wargames. To name a few.
I will make such posts on every occasion I have the free time to develop them. Also these scenarios will be different from the scenarios I have developed specifically for my own Setting and World. Those will be listed separately under the Category – The Other World
Feel free to take the names of places and characters mentioned in these scenarios (or even the basic structures of the scenarios) and alter them to fit your own gaming worlds or situations. These are, of course, merely suggestions. I describe these scenarios to give DMs and GMs far better, more original and more unique methods of starting games than, “your party meets in a tavern,” or “you all hear a rumor.”
So modify and use these beginning scenarios as you will. They are meant to stimulate original situations and your imaginations, not to dictate terms and conditions.
Tonight I will begin with Four Fantasy Scenarios for beginning adventures or campaigns: Infiltration of the Fertilands, The Secret Missionaries, The Sky From Long Ago, and The Long Road to Disaster.
Infiltration of the Fertilands – The Senate of Alaria has decided to clear an area of land 7 and ½ leagues north of the city-state (an area called the Losharian fertilands) to provide timber and resources for a proclaimed public works building project, and to establish a new frontier’s garrison and outpost for the city to ward off raiding attacks by local barbarians. However three separate surveying teams and their armed recon in force escorts (at least for the second and third attempts) have disappeared when sent to the location.
The Senate has decided to send an expeditionary force of 1500 men to investigate and clear the area of potential hostiles, but before they can vote on the measure or dispatch the forces the chief architect in charge of the new building program approaches your party and asks you to undertake the task of infiltrating the target area in secret, to see if you can discover the cause of the disappearance of the previous teams. You are charged with secrecy in your mission (you can discuss it with no one) and if you are successful the architect not only promises that you will be richly rewarded in pay but that the Senate will award you tax free lands on which you may establish estates and villas of your own. He also hints at the possibility of awards (Champion of the City), public acclaim, and possibly even junior seats on the Senate.
However since the mission would be kept entirely confidential he can offer you no initial assistance other than to provide you with information on how to find the Losharian fertilands.
But he does offer you two pieces of advice. First, do not drink the waters of the fertiland even if it is rainwater which falls during a storm. And secondly, watch the rivers, creeks, waterways, and marshes at all times. They may hide dangerous enemies and hidden perils.
The Secret Missionaries – Your party is called to the Great Temple of the Sacred Hierophants after nightfall one evening. The Church of Adaltorn, the Last Hierophant, in the city of Ramara Passea has decided upon a missionary program of expansion Eastwards. They wish to convert the rich, independent merchant cities east of the river Venwaldros, which they feel would be very open to their doctrine. However to the south of the narrow strip of unclaimed no-man’s land of the Venwaldros lies the fierce (and some say cannibalistic) barbarian tribes of the Colmar Confederacy, and to the north of the river in this unclaimed area lies the Imperial outposts of the Srechalt. All of which are hostile to both the Church and to Ramara Passea. This narrow strip of land and the thin thread of the Venwaldros which passes through it is called Reedbrake (for its high and musical reeds, which go silent when anything passes through them)) and it is the only safe passage from Ramara Passea to the East.
The church has sent scouting teams of monks and priests along the river which have either had to turn back after being attacked or were simply lost, their true fates unknown.
The church is willing to produce an indulgence in the names of each of your party (meaning you will be free from both local taxes and tithes for a period of ten years), to pay you a stipend for three years, to Bless each member of your party, and to secure you Writs of Absolute Non-Hindrance from the city fathers if you can help them find a safe passage through the Reedbrake so that their monks and priests may travel securely and unmolested from Ramara Passea to the eastern merchant cities. They will also equip your expedition and provide you with river-craft, a barbarian scout (a recent convert) familiar with the Colmar, and three warrior monks as servants and men at arms to assist you.
The Sky From Long Ago – The retired Sage Geirwovan (rumored to have once been the famous Wizard Taleorstir) has sent every member of your party a formal and very decorative invitation to visit his mansion six miles from the outskirts of the Ulorian borderlands.
When you accept and reach your destination you are shown to the Sage’s Tower and observatory where the ancient and bent Geirwovan greets you warmly and feeds and shelters your entire party. After a late dinner and entertainment by a very talented female bard (whom Geirwovan identifies as his personal Bard, the Lady Yurliel) you are ushered back to the Sage’s Tower where Geirwovan accompanies you to the roof. Briefly after sunset (far too soon after sunset) the entire sky is afire with stars but of very unusual constellations that you have never before seen. Some of these constellations seem to come alive, take on weird and fantastical shapes of creatures you have never seen before, and to move about and even battle one another. Stars flare and flash, changing colors or becoming briefly too bright to look upon. The moon rings like a giant gong. The tower itself seems to shake. Comets flash across the sky and explode by impacting one another. Then the entire sky goes absolutely black and a few moments after that returns to normal, as it would appear on any other cloudless and moonless night shortly after nightfall.
Geirwovan then takes you back into the tower where each of you feels weird and uncanny, as if you have just witnessed something unnatural, supernatural, and/or very spectacular and unnerving.
Geirwovan makes no comment and ignores all questions to explain and instead spreads out a series of complex maps upon an antique drafting table and begins to explain how rewarding it would be and how much you would all benefit by reaching a particular destination. One he repeatedly shows on the different maps. (The maps are also all filled with odd glyphs and scripts and indicated locales you have never heard of or seen mentioned before.)
Then Geirwovan tells you of the fabulous riches, both mundane and magical, that can be found at that destination though he will not describe the particulars nor disclose any details about what else may lay at the destination. He tells you that if you will go to that location then you will understand what he means and that you will understand what you saw in the sky. He asks only two things: 1. that when you arrive you do what is appropriate, and 2. return to him all that you find so that he may examine it and then he will keep only one article, a small silver coin of unremarkable design. You may keep all else that you find and there will also be another reward awaiting you upon completion of your expedition. If you agree then he will hand you one of the maps which he says will guide you unerringly to your destination but that you must never venture from the route it dictates for the map is untrustworthy otherwise and you may find yourselves lost in such a way that you will be unable to return. He also offers to allow you to take his bard Yurliel with you if you so wish.
The Long Road to Disaster – The Lord of Merchants and Commander of the Merchants at Arms have called your party to the Tent of Foreign Prizes in the Agora of Kroipos to discuss an urgent matter. They explain to you that they have recently (within the past year) opened up a new trade route to the Far South, through the desert of Samorah, that they call the Elidian Road. (Elidia being what some rumors declare to be a semi-mythical and legendary city of peculiar and unique wealth located in the Far South.)
Within the past six months no fewer than four separate and well-armed caravan trains have been ambushed and destroyed or lost. By what the Commander describes as a well-organized, large, ruthless band of experienced brigands, raiders, and thieves.
Searchers and follow up teams have only recovered small bits of debris or valueless remains from the ambushed caravans and the losses to merchants in the area have been sunstantial and heavy indeed. Armed scouting parties sent by the city have discovered nothing and have been of almost no help.
Only three survivors have escaped thus far, two from one caravan (the first attacked) and one from the second caravan. No other survivors have surfaced or are accounted for.
Both the Lord of Merchants and the Commander of Arms ask if you will entertain shadowing the next caravan to be dispatched along the Elidian Road to see if you can discover who is responsible for these raids and possibly help save the caravan from being plundered and destroyed. If not can you then follow the attackers to discover their identities and base of operations so that a military force can be dispatched to kill them all.
Neither wants you to be part of the armed military and merchant force of the caravan so that if the attackers arrive in overwhelming force you may survive and bring back invaluable Intel on the parties responsible. They only want you shadowing the caravan unless it is obvious you could actually safely protect and rescue the caravan if it is attacked. Both Merchants promise you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Though neither will describe precisely how or in what form.
After the meeting the Commander of the Merchant at Arms leaves but the Lord of Merchants pulls your party aside in confidence and tells you that his nephew will be accompanying this caravan in order that he may be trained in commerce. As is the custom at his age. This being his Voyage of Initiation. The boy has instructions that if the caravan is attacked he is to flee to the safety of your group or if necessary you are to rescue him and flee after discovering what you can of the enemy. He promises to reward you separately for this action and he tells you that aside from his nephew and the head merchant of the caravan no one in the group will even know of your existence or that you shadow the train. So he says it is imperative that the caravan not discover your presence either. You must also never mention this side deal involving his nephew. Especially not to the Commander at Arms, who would consider such actions cowardly and dishonorable.
He also tells you that he has personally interviewed the three survivors of the previous attacks. One is now dead of unknown reasons, one is in a long sleep from which they will not awaken (coma), and one appears to be mad. But before these things happened the survivors described weird things occurring during the attacks and despite the Commander’s opinions to the contrary the Lord of Merchants is not at all convinced this is the work of brigands or caravan raiders. In fact he says that he does not believe any raiders are involved at all. But he will not elaborate on his suspicions.
He will only say that he once read a passage in a book in the Far South that said that long ago the skies were poisoned by an unknown creature so that ghosts and dead men rained upon the living.
Also, feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments below, or tell me if you’d like to see Beginning Scenarios for certain types of games, particular subject matters, or for specific gaming genres.
This article on Viking clothing reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time now. In my games and in my writings, Craft (and by that I mean High Craft), often plays a large and beneficial role in both individual matters and even in larger events.
Using boots and shoes as an example characters have both found and had created for them (by master craftsmen) footwear that is not magical but rather so well crafted that it provides real benefits, such as resistance to extreme temperatures, resistance to wear and replacement, comfort befitting improved endurance or resistance to things like trench foot or blistering, and when they concentrate upon certain tasks (such as running, hiking, climbing, jumping, or stealth) they give definite though temporary advantages.(The characters must concentrate upon the task, for instance, and declare or show evidence that they are trying hard to sneak, or paying attention to their climb – but then such boots give temporary but definite advantages).Such boots or other items and gear (weapons, clothing, tools, etc.) are not magical at all but rather of such high quality and clever construction that they give measurable advantages over other items not constructed by master craftsmen.
(Though really well constructed items of High Craft might very easily be discovered far more susceptible to being enchanted at a later date than more mundane items. That is to say items of High Craft can be far more easily enchanted or ensorceled and such magics will far more easily affix and permanently secure themselves to objects of High Craft than to less well made implements.)
The same could be said to apply in a larger sense to whole groups of people. Nations with master craftsmen or smiths or even entire shops, foundries, and industrial operations devoted to High Craft (and invention and innovation) can produce gear and weapons and armor and equipment that gives a particular army a real and measurable advantage over another less well equipped force. Maybe even, en masse, a very large advantage. Again, not a magical advantage but a qualitative advantage of High Craftsmanship.
Though in a Tolkienesque sense it could easily be argued that High Craft is a form of “magic.” That High Craft is precisely what much magic really is.
With me however, at least in games, I usually use Magic as something “added to” or above and beyond even the Highest of Crafts. Though in my writings and novels High Craft and Magic are sometime synonymous and interchangeable or fungible, depending upon the particular circumstances of precisely what is being discussed.
I know that some use craft as a part of their game(s) and writings and some do not, but if you do, then what are some of the ways you use High Craft as an advantage on any level?
How do you use and employ High Craft in your own creations?
One of the original boots found in the Oseberg Burial Mound dating back to 834 AD. (Photo:skinnblogg.blogspot.no)A number of complete Viking Age shoes found in Scandinavia and England have the same characteristics. They are flexible, soft and mostly made of cattle hide, but also other kinds of leather was used.There are complete shoes found in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway, Hedeby trading center in Denmark, and Coppergate (York, Viking Age Jorvik, Editor’s note) in England.
All three of these discoveries show a similar construction and form typical for the Middle Ages.
The shoes found in the Oseberg ship consists of two main parts, soles and uppers, and are so-called “turn shoes”.
Reconstructed boots found in the Oseberg burial mound, by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo: Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no)
The shoemaker stitched the shoe together inside out, and then turned right side out when finished. This hides the main seam, prolongs the life and prevents moisture from leaking in.
Viking Age shoes (793 – 1066AD) were well suited for use in wintertime by using thick, felted wool socks and fur inside.
Materials and Tools
Studies of the leather shows that mainly cattle hide was used from the 9th to mid-11th century and was typically 1 – 3 millimeter thick.
Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England. (Photo: definedlearning.com via Pinterest)
A bristle or metal needle was used stitching flax, hemp, or a combination of the two. Shears or blades were used to cut the leather, and a simple awl to punch the holes.
At Coppergate twelve examples of iron shears were found.
Tanning and Color
Vegetable tan was the primary method for tanning, but also alum tans and oil tans were used in luxury leathers.
Reconstructed Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo:by Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no)
Modern vegetable tans are much stiffer due to industrialization and shortening of the process and are unsuited for turn shoes.
Like today, elaborately made clothing and shoes were visible proves of high social status.
Scientists have concluded that the better-quality shoes and boots had much more color than can be seen from archaeological discoveries.
ATHENS — A Greek archaeologist who has been leading a 20-year excavation in northern Greece said on Thursday that he believed he had unearthed the tomb of Aristotle.
In an address at a conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, commemorating the 2,400th anniversary of Aristotle’s birth, the archaeologist, Konstantinos Sismanidis, said he had “no proof but strong indications, as certain as one can be,” to support his claim.
The tomb was in a structure unearthed in the ancient village of Stagira, where Aristotle was born, about 40 miles east of Thessaloniki. According to Mr. Sismanidis, the structure was a monument erected in Aristotle’s honor after his death in 322 B.C.
“We had found the tomb,” he said. “We’ve now also found the altar referred to in ancient texts, as well as the road leading to the tomb, which was very close to the city’s ancient marketplace within the city settlement.”
Although the evidence of whose tomb it was is circumstantial, several characteristics — its location and panoramic view; its positioning at the center of a square marble floor; and the time of its construction, estimated to be at the very beginning of the Hellenistic period, which started after the death of Aristotle’s most famous student, Alexander the Great, in 323 B.C. — “all lead to the conclusion that the remains of the arched structure are part of what was once the tomb-shrine of Aristotle,” Mr. Sismanidis said.
Aristotle, who was born in 384 B.C., was a pupil of Plato in Athens and became a crucial figure in the emergence of Western philosophy. His work forms the basis of modern logic, and his metaphysics became an integral part of Christian theology. His “Poetics” still offers penetrating analysis of what works, and does not work, in theater. King Philip II of Macedon engaged him as a tutor to his son Alexander.
A separate excavation in another part of northern Greece, Amphipolis, in 2014 led to the discovery of the largest ancient tomb ever found in the country. Speculation linking the tomb to Alexander the Great set off huge media interest, but archaeologists later concluded that it had probably been built for a close companion of the king and conqueror.
Now before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, based only upon the title of this post, let me state clearly that I am not one of those gamers or writers who favor turning magic (in either game or fiction) into a mere exercise in science and technology under a different name. I am not for “scientificizing magic.”
I am not in favor of turning either game magic or fictional magic into science by another name, nor am I one of those who favor making magic operate under closely regulated and studied rules of scientific function or with mathematical precision. I like my magic wild, uncontrolled to some degree, definitely unpredictable, prone to malfunction and misfire, and in most other ways outright dangerous.
(You know, much like a woman. Now I say that half-jokingly, but only half jokingly. To me science and technology should operate like a man – with precision, with mathematical certainty, with rules, with predictability. Now am I saying all men are this way? God no, and I can only wish. I know real people as they truly are, you see, and that is merely a philosophical postulate of how male types would operate ideally, logically, and rationally. Sort of like saying all Vulcans should be like Spock.
On the other hand women should be unpredictable, without Newtonian mathematical precision, with emotional flare and passion, fuzzy and quantum at the edges, hard to pin down, and in more than one way, truly dangerous. Generalizations of course, and type generalizations as well, but they make the point. Magic to me should not be Science and science should not be magic despite all the modern Geekery in games and fiction that would have them be, in effect, merely interchangeable and fungible concepts for the same thing.)
Science should be amazing in what it can achieve but predictable in how it operates, Magic should be almost miraculous in what it achieves but largely unpredictable and untamed in both technical function and in its methods of operation. The very point of science is to be controlled and safe, reliable and commonplace, not dangerous, for a dangerous and rare science defeats the very purpose and function of being scientific. On the other hand the very essence of magic is to be rare, uncontrolled – especially in comparison to science and the mundane – and unreliable. For indeed if you have a magic that is too easy to control, utterly predictable, reliable, safe, and ubiquitous then you don’t really have Magic at all, you simply have science under the flimsy and inaccurate guise and faulty nomenclature of “magic.”)
Now all of that being said there is one way in which I favor the intersection of magic and science and that is in the analytical and detective capabilities of modern science, which often border closely upon the frontiers of what I would actually call magic. Or at least magical in effect.
Being an amateur scientist and having a near lifelong interest in physics, forensics, archaeology, medicine, chemistry and biochemistry I often keep up to date on new papers and techniques in those fields and have recently been studying several superb new and relatively new methods of analyzing, collating, detecting, examining, and understanding archaeological and forensic evidence. Such as the use of LIDAR, magnetic surface and subsurface scans, satellite imagery sweeps in the infrared, multiple data source computer modeling, etc.
In thinking on those things and what they can accomplish it has recently occurred to me that a new type of “magic” (of a kind rarely ever encountered in gaming and fiction) could easily be developed to mimic such scientific technologies without necessarily being limited to being scientific in operation.
For instance I have recently begun developing “spells” for both game and fictional use that mimic such new discovery techniques without presenting themselves in a scientific or predictable manner. I won’t specifically describe these “magics” in detail or enumerate the spells themselves as that would take too long and as one could easily develop multiple spells from these general categories in any case, but I will briefly describe a couple of these “spell types” for you to consider in developing your own magics in this regard.
1. REENLIVENING SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area or other target and can then present, in a complex still or even a moving image, the events that occurred long ago in a particular area, concerning certain bodily remains, etc. For instance the spell could take you back into time (figuratively speaking) to see events that had occurred long in the past, such as making you privy to a particular conversation, an event in the life of a person long dead, to witness a long forgotten or unrecorded (or even an historical) event so that you could view such things occurring for yourself. These would be very different spells from something like Speak with Dead because you would be an observer and witness, not a conversant, and such results would not be limited to mere third party descriptions but rather you would be a first hand, though passive, observer.
2. RECONSTRUCTION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area of building or object and that allows you to see that area or building or object as it looked at another period (of the past), say at the point of its making or shaping or construction. Via the use of such an enchantment you could see a building as it is designed and constructed, an object as it is manufactured, or perhaps even several different time periods (in sequence or simultaneously overlain against one another) and their interactions, tracing the construction or object through time to several different time-points to gain detailed information about its history.
3. REENACTMENT SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over a large area or maybe a specific person or set of remains that allows one to view, hear, feel, taste, smell, and magically touch the reenactment of a famous battle, an unknown war, the forging of a weapon, a day in the life or an individual, or even the vision, trance, or dream of another individual or creature. The emphasis here would not be merely upon the gathering of information or the witnessing of an event, but more directly upon a sort of shared (or in this case reenacted/relived) past experience. Perhaps such a spell would actually allow you to become another person, another creature, or even an inanimate (but magically aware) object for a certain period of time.
4. RECREATION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour upon a particular object, building, device, etc. that can recreate a visual, interactive image of the same. Higher levels spells of this type can actually recreate a physically real or similar mock-up of the original object based upon the information gathered from the object remains by the initial glamour. Still higher level spells can recreate usable approximations of even formerly magical objects (though the magic contained in the reconstructed objects may be limited) and the very highest level such recreation spells can even recreate working (though not necessarily magical in any way) models of previously lost artifacts and relics (assuming there are any remains left for the glamour to read).
5. PROJECTION SPELLS – One of the other types of spells would have to be enacted first, but, once that was done, and using the information or experiences gathered from that initial set of magics a spell caster could then seek to work a secondary set of spells that would allow one to project what would happen in the future regarding one’s chosen target or set of targets. For instance say you were in an existing castle, you could then use a projection spell to analyze and predict how it might fall to ruins, what part of the construction would be destroyed, what parts preserved, why, and by what agencies of destruction or even of renovation or preservation.
As I said above I will not enumerate the specific spells I have developed using these categories or ideas of magical effects because I don’t want to limit your imagination to my conceptions. I think every DM or player or writer ought to develop their own ideas regarding the specifics of this concept.
However I will say this, that when it comes to the operations of “magic” in my own milieus and worlds and writings every use of magic is at least tinged, and sometimes heavily tainted, with the possibility of danger, misdirection, and even failure and misfire. For instance considering the spell types above perhaps the information gleaned from such a spell will be entirely accurate, then again perhaps the work will be only partially accurate, or even mostly inaccurate. Perhaps the caster intends to see an image of one particular fortification or construction site and what he actually sees is an entirely different site. Perhaps the spell will fail entirely (with no discernable consequence or with great and dire consequence). Perhaps the spell will erroneously mix information from several different objects together and produce an amalgam of an object that does not really exist. Perhaps the spell will cause a “Rogue Projection” that will attempt to divine or even produce an unanticipated future rather than accurately display the past. Or perhaps the spell will draw the unwanted attention of some dangerous creature or being that is monitoring or warding the intended target.
The dangers surrounding the use of such magics, as with the use of any such game or fictional magic, could be nearly inexhaustible.
And I fully encourage such dangers, just as I encourage the dangers inherent in the use of any magic.
Magic is, after all, not science. And it should not operate like science. Even when it closely mimics the basic functions of science and technology (as in the case of the “spells” described above), it should be remain essentially separate and distinct in operational methods and in general nature.
For even if magic yields an essentially scientific purpose this does not mean that it should in any way reproduce a technological outcome or result.
It should always remain dangerous, rare, unpredictable, mysterious, and “magical.”
A rather unique and brilliant and innovative use of archaeoastronomy/archaeoastrology, to predict past city construction behavior among an ancient people. The boy is sharp and asked all the right questions.
Unfortunately, the driving directions are pretty beastly.
David Grossman, PopularMechanics.com Updated 2:39 pm, Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Editor’s note: Since this story first appeared, several members of the scientific community have voiced skepticism that the image shown above is the ruins of a Mayan civilization. Read more on that story here.
Next time you think there’s nothing left to explore—that GPS and satellites have already discovered everything on Earth—just think about the 15-year-old kid from Canada who discovered an ancient Mayan city, The Fire Mouth.
It sounds like a reboot of Indiana Jones, one where a kid is able take raw data from satellite imagery and put it in crucial context. William Gadoury, 15, became obsessed with Mayan history after the endless media drumbeat over the predictions of the end of the world in 2012. Gadoury’s discoveries appear to be the only worthwhile development stemming from that cesspool of clickbait. Gadoury became curious as to why the Mayans lived where they did, often removed from natural options like rivers. He started to focus on twenty-two Mayan constellations and began to wonder if there any correlation with the placement of Mayan cities in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador.
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He had solid grounds for his theory: Mayans placed a heavy emphasis on astrology, the idea that the stars directly effect life on Earth. They would use astrological signs to determine farming cycles, so it stands to reason that the signs could influence where Mayans would want to live. Gadoury started to map out the constellations and noticed that they corresponded with 117 known Mayan cities. Then he decided to add a twenty-third constellation to his map.
A 15 year old Canadian used Google Earth and images from the Canadian Space Agency to discover a Mayan City. (Hosted by Josh King @abridgetoland)
Media: Buzz60 English
The twenty-third constellation was a small one, only three stars. But Gadoury, using Google Maps and later images from the Canadian Space Agency, was able to determine that a 118th city should correspond to it. He plugged in the appropriate coordinates, you can see what he found above. Dr. Armand LaRocque, a remote sensing specialist from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, who is working with Gadoury, believes it is a Mayan pyramid surrounded by thirty smaller structures. “Geometric shapes, such as squares or rectangles, appeared in these images, forms that can hardly be attributed to natural phenomenon,” LaRocque said, and it’s hard to argue with that. Gadoury chose the name Fire Mouth.
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Still, all the evidence lays with satellite imagery—no one has actually explored the location Gadoury spotted on Google Maps. “It’s always about money,” says Dr. LaRocque, bringing to light the stark contrast between the costs of physical expeditions and digital ones. Funds are currently being raised to get Gadoury to Brazil’s Expo-Sciences International, where one hopes he’ll be able to direct his ample abilities towards networking and finding someone willing make their way Fire Mouth.
This article originally appeared on PopularMechanics.com
The Greek culture ministry announced that an international team of archaeologists led by the Department of Classics from the University of Cincinnati have uncovered a spectacular 3,500-year-old, treasure-filled grave of a warrior has been discovered near an ancient palace in southern Greece.
UC’s Sharon Stocker with the 3,500 year-old skull found in the warrior’s tomb (Photo Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)
The Culture Ministry says the grave is the most spectacular discovery of its kind from the Mycenaean era in more than 65 years on continental Greece. The discovery has revealed about 1,400 artifacts, including gold and silver jewelry, cups, bronze vases, engraved gemstones and an ornate ivory-and gilt-hilted sword.
The grave escaped plunderers who looted a monumental beehive tomb discovered decades ago in the area, near the palace of Pylos — one of the most important Mycenaean administrative centers.
The warrior’s remains were found with a yard-long bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.
It said the dead warrior, aged 30-35, must have been a “leading member” of Pylos’ aristocracy. The tomb, which stands at 2.4 meters (7 feet 10 inches) long and 1.5 meters wide, was unearthed during excavations begun in May near Pylos, on the site of the palace of Nestor.
“Probably not since the 1950s have we found such a rich tomb,” said James C. Wright, the director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
Nicholas Wade wrote in The New York Times that the discovery could be a gateway to discovering unknown things about the relationships between the Minoan civilization on Crete and the Mycenaean civilization that flourished on the Greek mainland more than 3,000 years ago.
In the year 1168 a Danish bishop destroyed three pagan gods. The story is told in Gesta Danorum, by Saxo Grammaticus, which has recently been entirely translated into English for the first time.
Saxo Grammaticus was a Danish cleric and historian who around the year 1188 began writing the first full history of Denmark. Stretched over 16 books, the Gesta Danorum goes back to the time before Jesus Christ to relate the mythological beginnings of the Danes. It has long been popular reading for the tales and legends it gives relating to the pagan past of this region, as well as for covering the rise of important leaders such as Cnut the Great.
As it moves into the twelfth century, the focus of the work concentrates on the rule by various Danish kings, most notably Valdemar I, who was King from 1146 to 1182. While Denmark had long been a Christian country, some of its neighbours in the Baltic Sea region were still pagan, including the Wends, a people who inhabited the island of Rügen, which lies just off the coast of northeastern Germany.
After years of pirate attacks by the Wends, King Valdemar was persuaded by Absalon, the Bishop of Roskilde and the chief royal advisor, to launch a crusade against the people. In the year 1168 the Danes landed on Rügen and besieged the capital city of Arkona. Once Valdemar’s forces set fire to the walls and buildings of the city, the residents of Arkona made a deal to surrender.
Once King Valdemar took control of Arkona and received hostages from the leaders of the Wendish people, he ordered the statue of local deity a god named Svantevit. Saxon writes that the men:
found themselves unable to wrest it from its position without the use of axes; they therefore first tore down the curtains which veiled the shrine, and then commanded their servants to deal swiftly with the business of hacking down the statue; however, they were careful to warn their men to exercise caution in dismantling such a huge bulk, lest they should be crushed by its weight and be thought to have suffered punishment from the malevolent deity. Meanwhile a massive throng of townsfolk ringed the temple, hoping that Svantevit would pursue the instigators of these outrages with his strong, supernatural retribution.
After much work, the men cut down the statue:
With a gigantic crash the idol tumbled to earth. The swarths of purple drapery which hung about the sanctuary certainly glittered, but were so rotten with decay that they could not survive touching. The sanctum also contained the prodigious horns of wild animals, astonishing no less in themselves than in their ornamentation. A devil was seen departing from the inmost shrine in the guise of a black animal, until it disappeared abruptly from the gaze of bystanders.
While the god in Arkona was being destroyed, the Danes received word from the people of Karenz – another important town on the island – they were ready to surrender. Absalon traveled to the town along with 30 men, where they were met by 6000 warriors. However, the Wends prostrated themselves to the Christians and welcome the bishop.
Karenz was the home to three pagan deities – Rugevit, Porevit and Porenut – which were believed to be the gods of war, lightning and thunder. Bishop Absalon came to destroy these gods, and Saxo Grammaticus (who may have been an eyewitness) describes the scene of coming across the the first of the three pagan temples:
The largest shrine was surrounded by its own forecourt, but both spaces were enclosed with purple hangings instead of walls, while the roof gable rested only on pillars. Therefore out attendants tore down the curtains adorning the entrance area and eventually laid hands on the inner veils of the sanctuary. Once these had been removed, an idol made of oak, which they called Rugevit, lay open to the gaze from every quarter, wholly grotesque in its ugliness. For swallows, having built their nests beneath the features of its face, had piled the dirt of their droppings all over its chest. A fine deity, indeed, when its image was fouled so revoltingly by birds! Furthermore, in its head were set seven human faces, all contained under the surface of a single scalp. The sculptor had also provided the same number of real swords in scabbards, which hung on a belt at its side, while an eighth was held brandished in its right hand. The weapon had been inserted into its fists, to which an iron nail had clamped it with so firm a grip that it could not be wrenched away without severing the hand; this was the very pretext needed for lopping it off. In thickness the idol exceeded the width of a human frame, and its height was such that Absalon, standing on the toes of its feet, could hardly reach its chin with the small battleaxe he used to carry.
The men of Karenz had believed this to be the god of war, as though it were endowed with the strength of Mars. Nothing about the effigy was pleasant to look at, for its lineaments were misshapen and repulsive because of the crude carving.
Bishop Absalon soon ordered his men to begin destroying the gods:
Every citizen was possessed by sheer panic when our henchmen began to apply their hatchets to its lower legs. As soon as these had been cut through, the trunk fell, hitting the ground with a loud crash. Once the townsfolk beheld this sight, they scoffed at their god’s power and contemptuously forsook the object of their veneration.
Not satisfied with its demolition, Absalon’s workforce now stretched their hands all the more eagerly towards the image of Porevit, worshipped in the temple close by. On it were implanted five heads, though it had been fashioned without weapons. After that effigy had been brought down, they assailed the sacred precinct of Porenut. Its statue displayed four faces and a fifth was inserted in its breast, with its left hand touching the forehead, its right the chin. Here again the attendants did good service, chopping at the figure with their axes until it toppled.
After the idols had been broken, the Danish bishop wanted to inflict a more permanent destruction on the pagan gods:
Absalon then issued a proclamation that the citizens must burn these idols the city, but they immediately opposed his command with entreaties, begging him to take pity on their overcrowded city and not expose them to fire after he had spared their throats. If the flames crept to the surrounding area and caught hold of one of the huts, the dense concentration of buildings would undoubtedly cause the whole mass to go up in smoke. For this reason they were bidden to drag the statues out of town, but for a long time the people resisted, continuing to plead religion as their excuse for defying the edict; they feared that the supernatural forces would exact vengeance and cause them to lose the use of those limbs they had employed to carry out the order. In the end Absalon taught them by his admonitions to make light of a god who had not power enough to rise to his own defence, once they had become confident of being immune from punishment, the citizens were quick to obey his directions.
As the remains of the pagan gods were being dragged away, Sven of Arhus, another bishop who came with Absalon, added insult to injury:
So that he might show them the idols deserved disdain, Sven made it his business to stand high on top of them while the men of Karenz were heaving them away. In so doing he added affront by increasing the weight and harassed the pullers as much with humiliation as with the extra burden, when they viewed their deities in residence lying beneath the feet of a foreign bishop.
As this was being done, Bishop Absalon went about preparing the area to be Christian. He first consecrated three burial sites in the countryside just outside Karenz, and after celebrating a mass baptized the people. Saxo then adds, “Likewise by constructing churches in a large number of localities, they exchanged the dens of an esoteric superstition for the edifices of public religion.”
The island of Rugen came to accept Christianity – and Danish rule. Bishop Absalon would become the Archbishop of Lund in 1178, serving until his death in 1201. Saxo Grammaticus would finish his Gesta Danorum in the early thirteenth-century, covering his account of Denmark’s history up to year 1185.
Indeed. It has been a seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.
I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.
When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.
Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”
“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”
Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.
For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”
The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).
With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.
Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.
Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”
And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.
The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)
Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.
“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”
What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”
If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)
Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.
The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.
Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”
Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”
As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”
A couple of months ago, a friend asked me if I’d teach him and his 6th-grade son how to play D&D. I’d been thinking for a while about playing with my own kids, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity.
After recruiting several other parent-and-kid combos, I set up a gaming night at my house, with a pool of players ranging from 2nd- to 6th-graders and their parents. Here’s how it went for me.
PREPARATIONS AND PREGENS
This might come as a shock, but not every kid wants to roll dice and slay goblins. In fact, one of those not-every-kids is none other than my own son. A couple of parents brought multiple kids, so I wasn’t surprised as things got going that my son and several of his fifth-grade friends just weren’t interested—as was also the case for a parent or two.
As a DM, it’s important to not take this personally. I told the players (kids and adults) that they were free to go play video games. What remained were two parents, a sixth-grader, a fifth-grader, an incredibly excited 2nd-grader, and my 2nd-grade daughter who just wanted to co-DM and roll the dice for me.
Because this was going to be the first time playing D&D for all the players, I wanted to run something I was familiar with so I could focus on different hooks to get them into the adventure. I opted for the Lost Mine of Phandelveradventure in the D&D Starter Set, having played it once or twice with coworkers.
Conveniently, the Starter Set also comes with a number of pregenerated characters. Though rolling up a character is great fun, I quickly realized that doing so would have taken up our whole first gaming session as I tried to help all the players create characters for the first time. It was important to get to the fun as fast as possible, and pregens are the best way to get everyone playing the game quickly.
CHARACTERS, NOT STAT BLOCKS
As the players got ready, I went over possible character choices by focusing on play styles. For example, do you want to sneak in the shadows? Hit monsters with a sword up close, or shoot arrows from a distance? Cast magic spells? I focused on what type of heroes the players wanted to be, not on how much damage each class dealt or which race had the best features.
I did a really high-level overview of combat. Here’s a d20. On your character sheet, here’s the number you add to hit the monster. If you hit, here’s what you roll for damage. Here’s the number the monster needs to hit you. Here’s your health. For everything else, I just left it for explanation if and when it came up in the game. New players—kids and adults alike—often have short attention spans that don’t want or need a math lesson or a discussion of mechanics.
A player’s first time roleplaying can be awkward, so I quickly worked through the adventure background and right into the goblin ambush to get everyone focused on the game. Once the dice were rolling, the real fun began. The party encountered a goblin ambush that turned into a classic battle of heroic successes and humorous failures. I found that the key to keeping the players hooked was spinning good dice rolls into flavored descriptions and poor rolls into comedic moments. This made the players feel like action heroes in a movie.
For example, one of the parents decided to have a character jump from a ledge down onto a goblin below. I explained that there could be consequences for stumbling on this 20-foot jump, but the player went for it anyway—and rolled low, missing the goblin. Given a chance to land without harm, the character then failed a Dexterity save, so I got to describe how the hero plummeted to the ground and landed face-first at the goblin’s feet.
At this point, one of the kids decided to try the jumping trick to save the fallen character. This time, the roll was high and the second character crashed onto the goblin. As DM, I wanted to keep the action-hero feel going, so I told the player whose character was prone on the ground to make another Dexterity check. Another low roll, so I got to describe how the kid’s character crashed down onto the goblin, which crashed into the fallen hero—who wound up taking more damage from the ally than if the goblin had just attacked with its sword.
SHORT AND SWEET
In the end, that moment in the ambush turned out to be a pivotal point in the game, with everyone laughing and engaged in the adventure. To try to hold onto that engagement, I kept the play session short and focused. We played for about an hour and a half before pizza arrived—at which point, we lost the bulk of the players to food and video games. That was okay, though, because that was all the time it took for the night to be a huge success.
Over subsequent sessions, that first game has evolved into semi-monthly game nights that have included a Magic: The Gathering mini-tournament and a few different board games. We keep coming back to D&D, though, and I hope to write more about our games in upcoming installments of Behind the Screens.
HEROES OF HESIOD
In the past, we’ve also published a shorter version of a D&D experience: The Heroes of Hesiod. An updated version of The Heroes of Hesiod will soon be available in a forthcoming Dragon+ issue.
About the Author
Tom Olsen is a senior game designer on the Dungeons & Dragons team, focusing primarily on digital projects. Tom has worked on multiple teams and projects, including D&D Insider, Magic: The Gathering Online, and various D&D licensed games, but is most proud of his work on Lords of Waterdeep for iOS.
Pre-orders of the device, which can been used for everything from immersive space sims to interactive VR movies, will kick off later this year, at a yet undisclosed price point. The shipping device, based on the company’s Crescent Bay prototype, will include built-in audio and what Oculus describes as “an improved tracking system” that works regardless of whether you’re sitting down or standing up.
The ergonomics and industrial design have been tweaked as well to make it a product that’s a little more polished for the consumer market. Previous models were only available for developers interested in building apps and games for the headset, though the company also helped produce the Gear VR headset being sold by Samsung.
We’ll get more details from Oculus VR in the coming weeks, including the price and full technical specifications, and the company teased that the upcomingE3 gaming conference might be one venue in which it would deliver further information. The big question remains exactly what software will work with the Rift upon launch. We’ve seen some examples already, including space simElite: Dangerous and the aforementioned interactive movies. Given how long developer kits have existed, it seems likely that game companies and others have had time to add support for the Rift into their products, but I’d expect to see some game announcements at E3 and more as we get closer to the Rift’s actual ship date. Like so many new peripherals, however, there’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma; some will no doubt buy a Rift sight unseen, but many may wait to see whether this is a literal game-changing experience before they invest. Yet if nothing else, there’s always Oculus’s parent company, social media behemoth Facebook, which has said it intends to provide some sort of social experience through virtual reality.
Of course, Oculus isn’t the only company interested in VR: HTC has teamed up with Valve to produce a headset targeted for later this year and gaming company Razer is taking a bigger picture approach with an open source platform that’s compatible with multiple VR platforms. One way or another, virtual reality will be a fact of life in the next year or so.
Inspiration is a way to leverage this system as a DM to reward behavior you want to see at the game table. It’s suggested in the rulebooks that the DM award inspiration for a player playing his characters flaws and negative personality traits well, but the DM can award inspiration for other reasons as well.
Inspiration is one of the more awesome innovations of fifth edition. If you’re not using it as DM, you’re missing out.
You can hear more about this topic in the companion episode of the Game Master’s Journey podcast.
How inspiration can enhance your game
You can use inspiration as a “carrot” to reward behavior and gameplay you want to see more of.
You can use inspiration as a buffer against unfriendly dice and unwanted character death. This works especially well if you use the variant rule that allows inspiration to be spent after the die roll but after the results are announced. This also works well if you use the variant allowing inspiration to be used multiple times on a roll.
Inspiration can be a great way to hedge against a TPK (total party kill). This is helpful if an encounter starts to go south due to no fault of the players—maybe you gave them an encounter that is too difficult, or maybe the players are just having a really unlucky night with the dice. In a situation like this, look for reasons to give PCs inspiration.
Don’t give out more than one inspiration per two PCs, and don’t give a PC more than two inspiration in a given game session. Allow players to learn from their mistakes. Let them suffer the consequences of bad decisions or foolish actions.
Inspiration increases player agency and gives players more of a feeling of control over what happens to their characters.
Additional guidelines for awarding inspiration
Award inspiration for outstanding background write-ups and character development at character creation. This allows a PC to begin play with inspiration, which can be very helpful to “squishy” first-level characters. This encourages players to put more thought into their character before the game starts, leading to a living, breathing character instead of just a collection of numbers on a piece of paper.
Award inspiration for in-character creations like journal entries, letters and sketches. These not only add depth to the characters, but add a lot to the immersion of the players. Make sure to judge such creations on effort and impact as opposed to talent. Not everyone is an artist. If a creation adds to the enjoyment of the players and GM, then it’s worthy of an award.
Award inspiration for anything a player or a PC does that goes above and beyond. Try to be consistent in the kinds of things you award inspiration for. However, also gradually expect more from your players as the campaign goes on. Just as a higher level character needs more xp to advance a level, you should expect more from higher level characters to earn inspiration.
Inspiration variants and optional rules
These are various ways to make inspiration more powerful and useful. Be careful using more than one of these. Some of them synergize well, but some combinations could get out of hand.
Consider using the optional rule that a PC can choose to use inspiration after the die is rolled but before the result is announced. In this variant, the PC rolls a d20. If she chooses to use inspiration, she then rolls a second d20 and takes the higher roll. This makes it easier to use inspiration without fear of “wasting” it and allows PCs to have it and use it when it really matters. This improves inspiration’s ability to buffer against bad die rolls and character death. This does make inspiration more powerful, but more importantly, it makes it more relevant.
Allow inspiration to stack with advantage. By default inspiration gives advantage, which makes it useless in when the PC already has advantage. Allowing inspiration to be used with advantage makes inspiration useful in more situations. This works best with the optional rule allowing inspiration use to be declared after the roll but before results are determined. The PC rolls with advantage as normal (rolls 2d20). If the player then chooses to use advantage, she rolls a third d20 and takes the highest of the three rolls. This makes inspiration more powerful. It’s especially useful to give an epic feel to the game or in campaigns that are very lethal and/or difficult.
Allow inspiration to be used multiple times on a roll. This requires the optional rule that inspiration can be used after the roll but before results are announced by the GM. If the player uses inspiration, but still rolls poorly, another player can give the first player his inspiration die, allowing the first player to roll another d20. This can be done as many times as the party has inspiration dice. This allows a PC to succeed at a very important roll by using all the party’s inspiration at once. This builds a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, as inspiration even more becomes a party resource as opposed to an individual PC resource. This won’t break the game because although the PC will very likely succeed at the important role, the party now has much fewer (or no) inspiration dice left to spend.
Spending inspiration allows you to automatically succeed at a death save. Or, a more powerful version, spending inspiration allows you to stabilize at 0 hit points. This is a great way to further buffer against PC death. This works great for a GM who wants a lower mortality rate and also rolls in the open (or doesn’t want to fudge rolls).
Use of inspiration during a short rest allows you to recover spell slots. You recover a number of spell levels equal to the maximum level spell you can cast divided by three. You can divide this among slots as you wish.
Example: Nikki’s character has access to sixth-level spells. She can spend her inspiration during a short rest to recover either one 2nd-level spell slot or two 1st-level spell slots.
This allows spell casters to use their spells a little more freely. Be aware that this slightly cheapens the wizard’s Arcane Recovery ability. The wizard’s ability is still better at most levels, but it becomes less unique.
Use of inspiration during a short rest allows you to recover some hit points. You can roll a number of hit dice equal to your tier.
Tier 1 is levels 1-4
Tier 2 is levels 5-10
Tier 3 is levels 11-16
Tier 4 is levels 17-20
Example: Jim’s character is a fifth level rogue with a constitution modifier of +1. He can spend his inspiration during a short rest to regain 2d8+2 hit points.
This might be a good option in a campaign with a lot of combats and few chances for long rests. This works well with the optional rule allowing multiple inspirations per PC.
Allow PCs to accumulate more than one inspiration during a session. Any inspiration in excess of one are lost at the end of the session. This makes inspiration (and any of the variants you use) much more powerful. You will want to limit the total number of inspiration the PC can accumulate. I suggest a limit equal to the PC’s tier.
Tier 1 (levels 1-4), 1 inspiration
Tier 2 (levels 5-10), 2 inspiration
Tier 3 (levels 11-16), 3 inspiration
Tier 4 (levels 17-20), 4 inspiration
Hero points can have many of the same advantages as inspiration, but they work differently. Hero points are overall less powerful than inspiration. If you decide to use hero points and inspiration, decide if you will allow both to be used on the same roll.
Hero point variants
Here are a couple ways to make hero points more powerful. This is especially useful if you’re using hero points as a replacement for inspiration.
Allow the hero point bonus die to scale as the Bardic Inspiration die does.
Levels 1-4, d6
Levels 5-9, d8
Levels 10-14, d10
Levels 15-20, d12
Allow more than one hero point to be spent on one roll.
It’s been attributed to war, crop failures, political strife, and even an epic fire.
But new research in the heart of one of North America’s most influential prehistoric cultures suggests that its demise may have been brought about, at least in part, by disastrous “megafloods.”
The new findings come from a team of archaeologists and earth scientists who have been studying the land surrounding the ancient metropolis of Cahokia in what’s now southernIllinois.
At its peak — between around 1050 and 1200 — Cahokia was the continent’s largest and most prominent cultural center north of Mexico, wielding economic power and religious influence from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
But by the early 13th century, signs of the city’s might began to wane as suddenly and mysteriously as they had first appeared.
“But [it] began to decline after A.D. 1200, when large floods became more frequent.”
Munoz and his colleagues made this discovery somewhat by accident, while researching the area’s agricultural history.
They extracted 10 deep cores of sediments from two sites in the Mississippi River floodplain aroundCahokia’s former boundaries, each cross-section representing 1,800 years of geologic history.
“When we were examining these cores, we noticed unusual layers that had a very fine and uniform texture, and contained almost no pollen, charcoal, or plant macro fossils,” Munoz said.
These strangely sterile layers turned out to contain the silty, small-grained clay typical of floodwater sediments.
“We designed this study so that if we saw the same kind of deposits in both [sets of] cores at the same times, then that would confirm that they were deposits from floods of the Mississippi River,” Munoz said.
“We found five out of five overlapping deposits with distinct particle-size distributions that were deposited at the same times, and thus concluded that these must represent Mississippi River floods.”
The layers above and below those bands of flood sediment, meanwhile, contained charcoal and other plant material that allowed the researchers to date the strata, and re-create Cahokia’s environmental past.
Until about 1,400 years ago, the evidence showed, the area where the ancient city would one day stand was prone to frequent and severe floods, with the Mississippi River rising at least 10 meters (about 33 feet) above its base level.
But then the climate shifted, and the great floods stopped.
“Beginning around A.D. 600, high-magnitude floods became less frequent, and indigenous peoples moved into the floodplain and began to farm more intensively and increase their numbers,” Munoz said.
By the mid-11th century, these settlements had grown into a metropolis that, at its zenith, housed at least 10,000 people in its central district.
However, Munoz’ team found that the city only continued to thrive at the pleasure of the Mississippi.
Starting around 1200, the data show, the climate of central North America became wetter again, and the large floods returned, inundating the region with increasing frequency.
Munoz’ team speculates that these “megafloods” would have devastated crops, ruined caches of food, and forced the temporary relocation of thousands of people.
While there’s no direct archaeological evidence of the disruptions that these disasters likely caused on Cahokians’ lives, Dr. Sissel Schroeder, a Wisconsin archaeologist who collaborated in the research, said that the return of the floods coincides closely with many signs of political instability and social upheaval in the community.
“We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia,” Schroeder said, in a press statement.
Population in the region soon began to drop, as well as agricultural production. Then, the construction of religious and elite structures that helped hold the community together came to a halt.
“Beyond the Cahokia site, our results demonstrate how sensitive large rivers like the Mississippi are to climatic variability — and how dependent human societies are on rivers.
“It isn’t clear yet how rivers like the Mississippi will respond to the climatic changes projected for the 21st century, because our historical records cover only the last 100 to 150 years, and do not represent the range of climatic variability projected for the next 100 years.”