Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pathfinder Zaniness: Recovering the Cleric's Spell Slots

Here is an idea for a zany Pathfinder adventure plot.

Father Goodly is an experienced (8th level) cleric who runs a large temple with many happy congregants.  He has two fourth-level spell slots, but seldom has need for fourth-level spells.

He knows how to create magic wands, so he made a wand of neutralize poison to use in emergencies.  That spell is seldom needed, and he realizes that when his people are threatened by poison he will probably need more than one or two castings available.

He also created a wand of divination, for similar reasons.  His flock seldom has doctrinal dilemmas or becomes confused about how to deal with a charitable need, but when these happen they probably need to ask their deity more than two questions about the issue.

Recently, Father Goodly had what seemed a brilliant idea.  Since he was not using his fourth-level spells, he temporarily gave up both fourth-level spell slots to create two wands of imbue with spell ability.  This seemed amazingly efficient: he now can grant 100 congregants minor healing or language-sharing ability.

But yesterday both wands were stolen!  Now the unfortunate Father Goodly finds himself responsible for potentially dire evil.  Who has the wands, and what spells they will acquire from their use?

Moreover, Father Goodly will not get his fourth-level spell slots back until the wands are used up.  If the thief has a grudge against Father Goodly or his faith, the thief can cause trouble by not using up the last charge in each wand.

This quest could even be appropriate for a low-level party of heroes: even though Father Goodly is an 8th level cleric, the thief and his allies need not be that high level.

Father Goodly is busy running a temple and does not have the time to chase down the thief, who has probably already fled the city.  He is willing to use a few charges of the wand if divination to help the heroes start their adventure in a proper direction.

The temple is not notably wealthy and can only offer a reward of 2,000 gold pieces, even though returning the wands is so important.  Father Goodly proposes creating a second-level wand (of a spell lacking expensive material components) for the heroes as an alternative payment: the wand will cost him 2,250 to create but be worth twice that to the successful heroes.

The GM can use any villains, to fit the quest to the party of heroes.  Some, if not all, of these villains are able to use some extra low-level cleric spells.  An interesting twist would be having the adventure take the heroes to a village in which the villains have gained the villagers' trust by pretending to be clerics, perhaps even faking casting imbue with spell ability (using the wands) on the village elders as gestures of goodwill.

Holiday Excuses

Good morning!

I'm sorry that I have not been blogging as much as I want to during the past few days.  Vacations are busy!

A whole bunch of new Smiley videos are uploaded--and I still have 67 more on the hard drive awaiting editing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

For Toddlers, Pedagogy without Curriculum

In educational jargon, curriculum is what to teach and pedagogy is how to teach it.  Every educator does both, consciously or not.  Parents are no exception.

Even parents ascribing to a version of unschooling philosophy provide a home with a certain set of learning topics.  Children being raised in a suburban apartment will grow up with very different experiences and exploration than those raised on a farm.  Children with siblings have different daily experiences than only children.  Even among unschooling families it is normally the parents who decide whether to own a television, which days are good for field trips, and at what age it is safe to teach a child to use the fireplace or a rifle.  For a child (and especially for a toddler who is home more hours than a social older child) the home naturally provides a certain curriculum.

Parents of toddlers usually pay very little attention to the curriculum their home provides, which is not a problem.  Our culture provides expectations that toddlers are exposed to toys, opportunities to run and roughhouse, conversations and books, common art supplies, and play times with other kids.  These provide small and large motor development, language development, artistic and creative development, and social development.  Every parent I've met thinks about curriculum enough to cover these basics, even if they would not call shopping for crayons "curriculum".

Of course, even parents like myself whose training and experience cause them to often think about curriculum do not make daily or weekly curriculum plans for the home.  I certainly do not wake up in the morning thinking, "This will be a good day to teach Smiley about dinosaurs", "today we'll focus on the letter B", or anything else so silly.  Toddlers at home normally follow their own interests.  For now my home is an unschooling home.

Yet every hour with Smiley I do have pedagogy.  From that same Wikipedia article (italics mine):
The child-directed nature of unschooling does not mean that unschooling parents will not provide their children with guidance and advice, or that they will refrain from sharing things that they find fascinating or illuminating with them.

(Tangentially, the phrase about "sharing things" describes what is shared, and is thus curriculum.  As long as the child is free to respond with "I'm not interested in that" or "Get back to me with that later" there is no inherent conflict between an unschooling philosophy and a parent saying "Look at that rainbow!" or "I wonder how jackhammers work?")

The phrase I italicized about "guidance and advice" describes how the parent speaks, and is thus pedagogy.  Unless I am really tired or distracted, I think about pedagogy almost all the time I am with Smiley.

For me, raising a toddler involves many hours of pedagogy without curriculum.

That I often think about pedagogy does not mean I am enjoying my time with Smiley less, that I am over-thinking things, or that I am acting unnaturally.  No one would accuse an artist who could appreciate especially well the colors and the texture of light as sunshine filtered down through autumn leaves of "enjoying the scene less", "over-thinking", or seeing the scene "unnaturally".  Everyone has certain areas where training and experience help them perceive the world especially deeply.  I happen to get toddler pedagogy but not an artist's eye.

And just like I enjoy autumn scenery a lot even without a trained artist's eye, all parents have a lot of pedagogy even without calling it that or being aware of it.  They might instead say they are "in tune with" their child or "mindful of what he is doing".  If they are making choices about how learning happens--and nearly everything a toddler does includes learning--that is pedagogy.

Here is an example using one of our videos.  We are playing with his train set, and he decides to reenact his favorite train story: the Wolly Bear story from his Thomas the Train treasury.

In this situation the what of the learning is 99% of Smiley's own choice: he uses toy trains to partially reenact a story.  It involves some large-motor skill, a lot of language use, and some independence and decision-making.  That's quite common to most of Smiley's playing at home.  Except for when I insert the vocabulary words "excited" and "waiting" I do not adjust the curriculum at all.

In contrast, my pedagogy is plentiful.  I try to help keep a sick and somewhat tired toddler "on track" with his desired play activity (whether to do something in small bursts or as one longer endeavor is about how learning happens).  I encourage a few different kinds of language use; some of my prompts he ignores and others he uses (awareness of ways to describe what is happening is part of how learning happens).  I try to actively play with him while minimizing how much I play for him: for example, I would prefer we each speak for one of the train characters but am willing to abandon my own preference and speak for both (the ratio of "child does it" to "child watches parent do it" is part of how learning happens).  I often ask how this play time is similar or different to his past reenactments of that story (connecting similar experiences together is part of how learning happens).

Here are some details, for those who care:
  • At 0:05 I do not show him the hackey sack he normally uses for the treacle ("syrup") container.  I could have, but I wanted him to be challenged at least for a little.  This time he quickly gives up searching and decides a different toy will be the treacle container, which is unusual.  In other words, I did not create the problem-solving situation but did ask Smiley to try to deal with it himself.
  • At 0:57 he is pushing a train up the spiral.  This is a big reach, and he often leans against it.  Since it is fragile, this dislodges some track.  Sometimes Smiley asks me to push the train so he need not reach and lean so much.  But I don't offer that help unless asked, unless he is tired and easily frustrated.  Smiley is becoming more aware of where his body is week by week.  He no longer kicks the train track apart behind him as he crawls while pushing a train.  He has almost developed the body awareness to routinely use the spiral without wrecking it, but not quite.  Again, I did not create this large-motor challenge, but am careful about when I let it be a challenge and when I help to keep him from becoming frustrated.  This time he is independently successful.
  • At 1:07 I dump out some paper "hay" for his game.  A few days earlier he had asked me to bring him something to use for hay.  Usually his pretending avoids minor props.  (For the story in which Percy falls in the ocean, Smiley prefers that the carpet be the ocean instead of the blue tissue paper I twice offered.  When we pretend to be animals eating, he almost always uses completely imaginary food instead of his play kitchen plastic food.)  Notice I let him direct where the paper hay goes.  It is his story, not mine.  He is the one that wants the paper hay, even if he often ignores it--notice it is ignored for the rest of the video.
  • At 1:19 I scoot some small train set toys (train cars and signs) a few inches.  This is because in that particular track arrangement, Smiley sometimes wrecks the track by trying to squeeze into the small space between the helipad, raised curve, and mountain.  Since I want him to reenact his story without interruption, I fill that spot with small toys to prevent him from trying to sit there.  So in this case my pedagogy is to avoid a situation, unlike before when I was encouraging him to face situations.
  • At 1:35 he encounters a new problem.  The treacle-dropping hopper is too close to a downward ramp.  When the train tries to roll forward to finish going downhill it pushes the engine past the hopper.  I decide this is a problem-solving situation too complex for him, and fix the problem myself so he can keep focusing on his reenactment.
  • At 1:46 I say, "Oooh!  The syrup fell on Percy."  I participate by appreciating what he is doing.  I could decide to go do housework now that he is set up for his desired play activity.  Even my choice about whether to keep playing with him or go do something else is pedagogy.
  • At 1:48 I ask, "Now what happened?"  This question prompts him to speak as himself, rather than as Percy.  In other words, I am encouraging a story in third-person instead of first-person.  Sometimes I instead ask "What does Percy say?" to encourage first-person storytelling.  Smiley sometimes ignores these prompts, picking for himself which style of story he is telling.  I am fine with that.  I just want to encourage broader language-skill development if he is willing to try.
  • At 2:09 I say, "Hello, Thomas.  How are you today?"  Smiley ignored my prompt to use third-person.  So I switch to a first-person story in case that is what Smiley wants.
  • At 2:19 Smiley asks me to make Percy say something.  So he does want a first-person story.  But he is not feeling creative at the moment, and asks me to speak for both characters.
  • At 2:22 I repeat his request.  I often repeat what Smiley says, which supposedly helps with toddler enunciation and language development.
  • At 2:27 I use little Duplo kids to pretend to clean Percy.  This is another subtle prompt.  Does he want four characters in his story instead of only the two trains?  He ignores them, and we stick with a two character story.
  • At 2:56 I again repeat what he says.  Then I do what he asks me, even though he did not say "please".  Sometimes I am the boss, as the parent.  In normal conversations we say "please" and other polite and formal words routinely.  But when we are playing together he gets to be in charge a lot, at his desired level of formality.  This is another way I show that I appreciate what he is doing.  The same with my third-person narration at 3:17.
  • At 3:23 I ask if he wants tape.  Smiley has one version of this reenactment where we put a loop of Scotch tape, sticky side out, around Percy so he can put the paper hay on the toy train.  Smiley normally does not do this.  Normally I would not have asked, but that day he is sick (and sniffly) and not talking as much.  I'm just asking a question to get a reply.  The same with my subsequent questions.
  • At 4:46 he invents a new part of this game.  He decides there is a treacle container up by the ceiling.  I play along, slightly confused about how to participate.
  • At 4:53 I invite him to sit on my knees.  This is again because he is sick, so more cuddly than usual.  He does not want to, which is fine.  He stands next to me briefly, than climbs onto the love-seat out of the camera's view.  I'm not sure why he goes there--perhaps the excitement is so high he needs a place to retreat to.
  • At 5:34 he answers my question by saying "I will tell you when it falls down."  I continue to play along as best I can figure out how.
  • At 6:21 I say, "That was exciting."  A few times each day I'll use emotion vocabulary, usually as part of a question.  By asking "You are excited?" or "You are frustrated?" he slowly learns those words, so he can eventually use them himself.  (Here I am inserting a learning topic into his story.  This point is curriculum, not pedagogy.)
  • At 7:05 I nod.  He just said something lengthy I could not understand.  So I nod, to be participating noncommittally.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pathfinder Zaniness: Crafting Supply and Demand

Just how broken is the Pathfinder economy?  I was talking about this today with my brother-in-law while on a walk with Smiley.  We know that in the future of our Kingmaker campaign our characters will be both adventuring and founding a city.  How would a mayor of a Pathfinder city maximize it's overall economic profit?

Well, only a little bit of a walk; usually either Follow The Leader using some pink string (which began with Smiley pulling a toy car until he decided he would rather pull a grown-up), playing chase down the sidewalk, or holding hands and pretending to be a train.

For game balance purposes, magic items are really expensive.  This means that crafters of non-magic items have negligible income compared to people who make magic items.

All magic item creation profit is capped at 500 gp per day.  Any character with the Craft Wondrous Item feat who can cast first-level spells can be that productive.

In contrast, the slightly complex rules for creating non-magic items provide as daily profit a multiplier of a die roll.  An average craftsman with a skill of 5 would have an average die roll of 15 and multiplier of 30/210, so a profit of 2.1 gp per day.  A master craftsman with skill of 26 would have an average die roll of 36 and multiplier of 72/210, so a profit of 12.3 gp per day.

Crafting tasks have a DC rating up to 35.  Divide this by 10 to get a multiplier in gp instead of sp. Multiply this by two-thirds to get a multiplier for profit instead of retail cost.  Divide this by 7 to get a daily profit instead of a weekly profit.

Tangentially, the above calculations contradict the rule-of-thumb provided earlier in the Craft skill description: profit of half the die roll in gp per week.  But they are consistent with a master performer who also earns about 12 gp per day.

So even greenhorn makers of magic items can earn over 180 times the profit of average crafters, and over 40 times that profit of master craftsmen.  Thus the Pathfnder mayor who wants his or her new city to thrive economically must encourage supply and demand for magic items.

Increasing supply is simple: send messengers to neighboring cities to whisper in every temple and arcane academy that even first-level spellcasters can realiably make a magic item creator's maximum income in the new city.

Increasing demand is more complicated.  We never produced a good way to do this.  But we came up with several evil methods:
  • Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Work with allied monster clans (neutral kobolds, etc.) to convince evil mosters to dwell near the city.  "Don't live too close or the city watch will hunt you down.  But living near the roads a few days distant is great for attacking the caravans traveling to and from the city."  Then send messengers to other cities describing all the caravan-enriched monsters ripe for adventurers to slay and loot.  Yet no caravans actually need to be looted since the goal is only to have many traveling adventurers to buy magic items as they pass through the city to fight the monsters.
  • We've Always Been At War with Oceania: Establish a second city of Lawful Evil folk by using secret agents to organize the region's bandits, smugglers, and pirates into an urban mafia-like government.  Monitor this evil city.  Encourage it to enrich itself by attracting more established criminals.  Yet keep the evil city subdued and plundered by sending out the army of the main, good city often enough to minimize risk to good soldiers--but always avoid any chance of totally eradicating the evil city.  Encourage members of the main city's military to spend their plunder on magic items to keep them safe during their next invasion of the evil city.
  •  The Height of Fashion: Use agents to other cities, to convince the nobility and other wealthy folk that certain small magic items are now required to be fashionable.  After all, no one who is anyone maintains a kitchen without a continual purify food and drink barrel, attends a costume party without a disguise self ring, etc.  When spellcasters in other cities notice this new demand, secretly sabotage their attempts to also make fashionable magic items and point the blame to the local wealthy families who were the first few to puchase those items and would benefit by retaining the resulting elite status.

Happily Limited

As the Gregorian new year approaches, I find myself thinking about resolutions I will not be making.

I am aware, from talking with talented family members and friends, that with more training and experience I could perceive the world more deeply and thus enjoy life more.  In many situations I simply do not notice all the depth and richness present because I do not know what to look for.  (The fact that I lack the vocabulary to discuss many of the topic's subtleties is a related but lesser issue.)

I enjoy scenic views and sunsets, but I know I do not see colors and light the way a trained and experienced artist or photographer does.

From my wife, who is quite a gardener, I have learned a lot about plants and gardening during the last 14 years.  But I know I still do not view and appreciate a carefully planned and maintained ornamental garden the way a trained and experienced gardener does.

Although I seldom drink wine I do enjoy it.  Yet from friends who talk about their wine tasting outings I know I do not appreciate wine flavors the way a oenophile does.  (This is undoubtedly also true for food flavors in general, but to a much lesser degree.  My wife is a wonderful cook, and I have enjoyed eating so many nice foods and talking with her about them that I am sure for flavors I am much more limited by how severe childhood allergies impaired my sense of smell than lack of training and experience.)

My hearing is good, and I enjoy listening to music.  But I know from talking with musicians and soundboard operators that I do not perceive subtleties of music and acoustics like a trained and experienced musician or sound technician.

I could go on an on.  I lack a breeder's appreciation of horses, dogs, or goldfish.  I have never learned to understand and enjoy foreign-language opera.  And so on and so forth.

Nevertheless, I am content to be so limited.

I currently have no interest in investing all the time and energy required to be able to perceive the world more deeply in any of those ways.  I do not mind never seeing sunlight in the autumn trees the way my artist and photographer friends do.  I am content without appreciate gardens as a horticulturist (even though I laughed yesterday when I noticed that the San Diego Zoo's plants were more interesting to me than its animals).  I will continue drinking a few glasses of cheap wine each year, listening to music happily through cheap ear buds, and missing out on operas.

No one is expert at everything.  I only have had (and only will have) a certain amount of time and energy.  And I have chosen to invest it in those few topics that are most important to me.

Some are quite mundane: tea, for example.  Years ago I tried to focus on God more by removing all my entitlement.  I discovered that if I do not consciously devote a little time each day to spoiling myself in a healthy way then my unconscious will claim some spoiling in an often unhealthy way.  I also realized that I would never have the wealth to enjoy the world's nicest cars or wines, but could easily afford some of the world's best teas and chocolates.  Since then I have tried scores of teas, and talked about tea with friends many times.  I'm certainly not a "tea expert" but undoubtedly have developed a richer and deeper appreciate of tea flavors.

Some of my specializations are quite spiritual: listening to God, for example.  There is an intriguing "feedback loop" where the more someone listens to God the more they are guided, so they have more to do with God and thus hear more details from God as they obey, which means they get even more practice listening.  We see this pattern often in scripture.  The prophets (such as Moshe) heard from God, obeyed, and then heard even more.  The intercessors (such as Daniel) saw visions, interceded, and then saw even more visions.  The priests felt God's presence, helped other experience God safely, and then felt God's presence even more.  This pattern does not require that all prophets hear words whereas all intercessors see visions.  I merely mention it to help explain why listening to God is indeed an activity that improves with experience and training.

And some of my specializations are relational.  For example, my training in early childhood education and my experience in teaching preschool allow to better perceive and understand what a toddler is thinking about.  (Please understand that I am certainly not claiming that parents need special training to understand their children, any more than I need special training to enjoy a sunset.  Rather, just like I could learn to appreciate shades of color and the texture of light more deeply, parents can learn to grok their children more deeply.  Do not the parents of two children understand their second trip through the toddler years a little better than the first?)

Part of the thrill of life is how much joy there is without need to work hard for it.  I think that "appreciate more all the ways I experience the world" is a better New Year's resolution for someone my age than "learn a new way to experience the world more deeply".

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Quart of Hot Cocoa

The San Diego Zoo is the only zoo in the country with a skyway.  That's Smiley's favorite part of the zoo.  And the broken escalators (out of service due to the recent rainstorm), which he obsessed about for some unfathomable reason.

Speaking of the rainstorm, the smelly zoo exhibits were not nearly as pungent after a recent rainfall.

I found out that my wife's souvenir mug with flashing lights not only had free refills for her coffee, but for hot cocoa as well.  I did share my hot cocoa with Smiley, refilling his big sippy cup twice.

I would link to Flip videos of Smiley at the zoo, but the internet connection here is so slow I cannot upload anything that large.  Which is a shame, since I have 25 edited videos to upload besides the 15 short zoo videos from today.

Pathfinder Zaniness: Chains of Alchemist Silliness

Remember the Alchemist cohort idea?  Unsurprisingly, at higher levels it gets sillier.

When the PC is 15th level, and thus able to have a 13th level Alchemist cohort, then one fine morning the cohort could give its PC master extracts of delayed consumption and universal formula.

Now the PC has, for up to 13 days, the ability to once use any Alchemist formulae of first to third level as an immediate action!  That's a pretty funny power for a non-Alchemist character to have!  (Or several non-Alchemists.  If the PC does not use up the delayed consumption then tomorrow the cohort could give the next dose to a different party member.)

Obsolete Laptop is a Netbook?

While checking CostCo laptops and netbooks, I noticed that the slightly larger than usual netbook HANNSbook SU4100 has stats very similar to my Acer Extensa 4620Z laptop.

I knew my laptop was a few years old and obsolete.  I didn't know it was now equivalent to a wimpier class of computer!

Well, sort of.  I now enjoy two 1.6 GHz processors, and the netbook has only a single 1.3 GHz processor.  But for most of what I do the netbook probably has very similar performance, and its 1366 by 768 screen would be a lot like the laptop's 1280 by 800 screen.  It also has triple the hard drive space and costs about half what than the laptop did.

Faking Being an Illusionist

Perhaps my favorite childhood AD&D character was an Illusionist.

I'm currently playing a different kind of Pathfinder character, and it would be extra fun to somehow make my character a bit of an old-school Illusionist.  The Pathfinder rules provide great ways to do this!

First, the foundation.  The spell silent image is the iconic illusion spell.
This spell creates the visual illusion of an object, creature, or force, as visualized by you. The illusion does not create sound, smell, texture, or temperature. You can move the image within the limits of the size of the effect.
This spell only creates a visual illusion but can make a big one that is moving, even far away.  Thinking of clever ways to fool the enemy using only silent image is much of the fun and challenge of the classic AD&D Illusionist character.

Now, the only weakness silent image has is that, as a first-level spell, the opponent's saving throw to resist it does not increase as the game goes on.  Its illusions are initially effective, but later on powerful opponents always notice the illusion is fake.  To fix this problem, spellcasters use the feat Heighten Spell to increase the saving throw difficulty.
A heightened spell has a higher spell level than normal (up to a maximum of 9th level). Unlike other metamagic feats, Heighten Spell actually increases the effective level of the spell that it modifies. All effects dependent on spell level (such as saving throw DCs and ability to penetrate a lesser globe of invulnerability) are calculated according to the heightened level.
So far so good.  But at this point my character is just a spellcaster who memorizes a bunch of hyped-up silent image spells.  That's not really an Illusionist.  So we turn to the feat Preferred Spell (which somehow lacks its own page in the SRD) to allow using any spell as if it were the character's favorite spell.
Choose one spell which you have the ability to cast.  You can cast that spell spontaneously by sacrificing a prepared spell or spell slot of equal or higher level.  You can apply any metamagic feats you possess to this spell when you cast it.  This increases the minimum level of the prepared spell or spell slot you must sacrifice in order to cast it but does not affect the casting time.

Ah, much better!  Now anytime my character does does not think he will cast that a particular spell that day he can use a correspondingly hyped-up silent image instead.  That feels like something deserving the name "Illusionist".

But it gets better!  Eventually the feat Spell Perfection will allow a favorite spell to freely benefit from any one metamagic feat.
Pick one spell which you have the ability to cast. Whenever you cast that spell you may apply any one metamagic feat you have to that spell without affecting its level or casting time, as long as the total modified level of the spell does not use a spell slot above 9th level. In addition, if you have other feats which allow you to apply a set numerical bonus to any aspect of this spell (such as Spell Focus, Spell Penetration, Weapon Focus [ray], and so on), double the bonus granted by that feat when applied to this spell.
This feat is only available late in the campaign, but is the bee's knees when combined with Preferred Spell.  Am I misreading the rules, or could my character really apply Heighten Spell to silent image freely, using a first-level spell slot to create a visual illusion with the saving throw of a ninth-level spell?

Alternately, my character could use Disruptive Spell to make the illusions briefly disrupt enemy spellcasting.  Even more fun, my character could use Quicken Spell to create an illusion and then fake reacting to it: perhaps pretending to carefully jump over an illusionary pit that just appeared, or pretending to duck under an illusionary portcullis as it closes.

NOTE: This plan is certainly not the way to make a very powerful character.  It requires using up five feats (because Spell Perfection has a prerequisite of knowing three metamagic feats).  The character would be much more powerful learning the four feats Spell Penetration, Greater Spell Penetration, Spell Focus (Conjuration), and Augment Summoning as well as some other fifth feat.  But this could be so much more fun!

An Index to Shamus Plays WoW

The other day I visited Shamus's blog to show my brother the cool and soothing video of Pixel City, and realized that since my brother plays WoW he might appreciate Shamus's latest fan fiction endeavor.

However, I discovered that the series was nontrivial to track down.  When Shamus finishes a series he typically writes an blog post indexing its entries, but he has not yet finished.  So here is my own index of "Shamus Plays WoW" to help my brother.
  1. It's an Imp's Life
  2. Toiling in the Kobold Mines
  3. Into the Bandit's Den
  4. What Happens in Goldshire
  5. Another Day, Another Mine
  6. Overwhelmed by Kobolds
  7. The Cataclysm Begins!
  8. Lazy, Star-Crossed Lovers
  9. No Murlock, No Wedlock
  10. Murlock Madness  
  11. What?  More work?
  12. Hogger!
  13. Crime and Punishment
  14. Thinking Inside the Box
  15. The Final Quest 

(Shamus's categories mix the series up with a lot of other Escapist posts, and searching the blog is cumbersome because sometimes Shamus titles his posts using the full name "World of Warcraft" and sometimes merely "WoW".  Putting together this index only took a few minutes, but that was more time than I wanted to spend while my brother had to wait.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Baking

In November and December the cold weather, upcoming holidays, and Smiley's interest in making things with "clay" prompted two changes in our baking.

First, we tweaked our soft pretzel recipe a bit.  It still is too dense for normal pretzels.  But it works great as a gluten-free Play-Doh substitute you can eat!

Next we perfected a gluten-free gingerbread cookie recipe. It tastes so good it is now my favorite recipe for snacking. Smiley loves decorating the cookies with icing.

Pathfinder Zaniness: Introduction

The folks who wrote Pathfinder tried a nearly impossible task: condensing the best and most popular parts of an enormous amount of published 3.5e D&D material.  They made a more enjoyable game.  It even had usable grapple rules.

A huge problem with 3.5e D&D was that since so much had been written a player could pick and choose rules to make an absurdly powerful character.  The writers of different supplements never imagined that this character class would be combined with that prestige class, and use that magic item, and so on...but a player would notice an insanely overpowered way to combine details.

(Example A will always be Pun-Pun the Kobold.  But be warned that understanding that link requires more familiarity with the 3.5e D&D rules than I have.)

So one goal of Pathfinder is to remove this over-optimizing.  Yet this is an impossible goal.  Therefore, you get my brief new series: Pathfinder Zaniness.

Pathfinder Zaniness is done for now, by the way.  I had collected a few ideas during the last few months, and finally had time to blog about them.  Now on to better things!

Undoubtedly I will find a few more zany things to write about.  I am part of a group playing the Kingmaker campaign, which involves establishing a new kingdom.  The Pathfinder economy is remarkably balanced considering the existence of powerful magic items, yet it will always be true that a kingdom's tax revenues will be insignificant compared to sending its high-level rulers out adventuring.  Surely this will expose yet more silliness within the fantasy economy.


UPDATE: I also blogged about my Entertaining Pathfinder Forum Threads.

Pathfinder Zaniness: Air Elemental Familiar

Pathfinder includes many spells designed to aid allies (healing, buffs, etc.) that must be delivered by touch.

Normally the spellcaster walks up to his or her ally, and uses the spell efficiently because the time to cast these spells includes the time required to touch a willing target.  But during the middle of a dangerous combat, walking up to the party's Fighter might be too dangerous for the spellcaster.  What are the alternatives?

There are three solutions, and many spellcasters can use all three.

First, a magic item.  The lesser rod of reach metamagic costs only 3,000 gold pieces, and thrice daily allows the casting of a low-level touch spell with "close" range instead.

Second, a spell.  The second-level spell spectral hand is designed to deliver low-level touch spells instantly within medium range (100 feet + 10 feet per caster level).  It is safe to use because it hardly matters if it gets zapped.  However, it halves the pace of casting touch spells since the spellcaster must use half of his actions directing the hand.

Third, the Improved Familiar feat.  Spellcasters with familiars can obtain a small air elemental.

What a familiar!  Familiars can deliver touch spells, and this one can deliver a touch spell each round up to 40 feet away (each round it can move 40 feet, use its Flyby Attack feat to deliver the touch spell, spend 10 feet of movement to reverse direction, and fly back 40 feet).  Its whirlwind form, combined with familiars having hit dice equal to their master's character level, makes it very hard to hit.  Like any familiar, it can normally be holding the charge for a touch cantrip such as guidance just in case it is needed, and can deliver spells of higher level than a lesser rod or spectral hand.

The small air elemental can also be a master of disguise!  Humorously, if its master wears a Ring of Chameleon Power then, because that ring actually casts the spell disguise self (unlike most items that say they grant an ability "as if..." the spell was used), the spellcaster could use the standard familiar share spell ability to make the air elemental look like any Outsider up to two feet tall.  (A "small" creature has a size between just over one foot up to two feet, and disguise self changes size by up to one foot.)

Even more amusingly, the small air elemental can be made enormous!  The creators of the spell Threefold Aspect probably did not consider using it with the share spell ability: this makes the air elemental to grow to 40 feet tall, although it gains no other traits of an elder air elemental.

As before, let the villains benefit too!  The big villain of a fifth-level adventure could benefit during the climactic combat by having two spellcasting minions hiding in the shadows, both using air elementals to heal and buff the villain, and spectral hands to deliver offensive touch spells against the heroes.

Pathfinder Zaniness: The Monk's Alchemist Cohort

Pathfinder includes a silly ability called alchemical allocation that allows a character to get the effect of any potion without using it up.

Now, potions are somewhat limited. Only spells of first through third level with a casting time of 1 minute or less that directly affect one or more creatures can be made into potions.

However, potions are also extremely flexible.  They can be created at any caster level.  A group of adventurers probably cannot convince one of the world's few twentieth-level wizards to make them a potion.  But potions of a third-level spell, created at a caster level of fifteenth-level should be available (if politely commissioned at a large city) at the 1,125 gold piece price described in the rulebook.  That is indeed a lot of gold for a one time expense, but quite reasonable for a reusable and powerful effect.

Imagine a seventh-level Monk who uses the Leadership feat to acquire a fifth-level Alchemist cohort with decent Intelligence and the "Infusion" discovery.  This cohort could wait safely at camp, crafting wondrous items for use or sale, while the Monk adventures with the other party adventures.

The rules cap the profit of any crafter of magic items at 500 gold pieces per day.  That's a decent use of a cohort.  But this situation is even more profitable, because each morning the Alchemist gives the Monk three extracts of alchemical allocation.  The Monk owns three of those 1,125 gold piece super-potions, which he can use without using up.  So the Alchemist is worth an amazing 3,875 gold pieces per day!

Which three potions?  How about two to start with.  The spell greater magic fang would give all of the Monk's unarmed strikes +5 for an amazing fifteen hours, and stoneskin would give the Monk damage resistance of 10/adamantine for two-and-a-half hours.  The Monk could use the stoneskin twice for five hours of damage resistance each day.

This is one example of why the Leadership feat is entertainingly overpowered.  What seventh-level Monk would not want to spend a feat for 15 hours of huge offensive boost and five hours of huge defensive boost each day?

(The stoneskin potion is actually 1,375 gold pieces because of the diamond dust ingredient.  The Alchemist cohort is even more cost-effective!)

Not all Monks would want to use stoneskin twice, since often a party only adventures for a couple hours each day.  A sneaky Monk might want fifteen hours of nondetection as the third daily potion.  A warrior Monk might prefer enough coordinated effort for several fights.

Of course, the villains should also fairly benefit.  A seventh-level adventure could be more interesting if one of the druid villains has this kind of Alchemist cohort, and in combat used wildshape while benefitting from greater magic fang as above, as well as 13 rounds of both fire shield and thorn body.

Pathfinder Zaniness: The 360 gp Magic Item

I recently wrote about a 7 gold piece magic item in Pathfinder.  That trick took advantage of how an item's price is reduced to one-fifth if it only works once per day.

Does that great sale price have any practical benefit?  Sure!

The game has some really useful first-level spells, such as enlarge person, mage armor, shield of faith, obscuring mist, and command.  The party's spellcaster would be much more effective it he or she only memorized these, since they will probably be used up each day.

The other party members can help with this goal by each buying a command-activated daily-use body-slot wondrous item with the first-level "buff" most needed by the character's class.  These only cost 360 gold pieces, and together relieve the spellcaster of trying to be a Swiss Army Knife with lots of tools the party might need, but probably not daily.

A Fighter could get a headband with feather step.  A Rogue could get a necklace of negate armoa.  And so on.

Naturally, the villains should also use this trick.  Surprise the heroes with an enemy mook who has a daily use of true strike and a net!

Galt in Oregon

From Instapundit, an article about Oregon taxes.  They key bit:
Instead of $180 million collected last year from the new tax, the state received $130 million...One reason revenues are so low is that about one-quarter of the rich tax filers seem to have gone missing. The state expected 38,000 Oregonians to pay the higher tax, but only 28,000 did.
I know Oregon is a low-population state (about 3.8 million people).  But only 28,000 people earn more than $250,000?  That's less than seven-tenths of a percent.  Pretty astounding if the WSJ has its facts straight.

I wonder how the percentages for other states compare?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pathfinder Zaniness: The Staff of Vomiting Win

A staff is an interesting magic item.  It allows a spellcasting character to cast spells "early".  The staff contains a spell, and a character whose class could eventually cast the spell can use the staff to cast the spell as if he or she was eighth-level.

Admittedly, there are more complicated staves.  But that's the basic idea we care about.

All staves have 10 charges.  Only a spellcaster that really can cast the spell can recharge the staff.  But a first-level character with a fully-charged staff could still use it ten times to pretend, in a small but notable manner, to be eighth-level.

Our question for the day is "How cheaply can we equip a first-level character with an insanely powerful staff"?

Obviously we could give a first-level character one of Pathfinder's most impressive magic items or artifacts to allow the character to do far more than most first-level characters.  But if the goal is to allow a first-level character to become an adventure's dangerous main villain, how inexpensively can we do this?

(There may be options for a cleverly designed first-level dangerous villain besides a staff.  Suggestions of lesser expense are welcome.)

Well, staves are fairly expensive.  They are overpriced compared to wands for first-level spells (trust me on that), so no sensible mage creates first-level staves.  But staves are affordable compared to wands for second-level spells and above.  Therefore, the least expensive staff that would be reasonably crafted would contain a single second-level spell.  That costs 6,400 gold pieces.

What would we use as an super-powerful second-level spell?  We need a spell that becomes much more potent when cast at eighth level?  Few spells qualify: usually a spell's raw power depends only upon its spell level, and the caster's level only increased duration or provides other minor benefit.

Our best choice is the attractively named spell Vomit Swarm.  How much win do we have?  An eighth-level caster creates a swarm of wasps.  This is a horrific monster.
  • The wasp swarm is fast.  It flies faster than most characters can move.
  • The wasps are diminutive creatures, so the swarm is immune to weapon damage.  It also cannot be grabbed, making normally powerful low-level spells like entangle useless against them.
  • Swarms are "distracting", making both spellcasting and skill use very difficult within the swarm.  The wasps are unintelligent and immune to mind-affecting spells, therefore immune to most of the other powerful low-level spells like sleep and silent image.
  • The wasp swarm automatically causes 2d6 damage to everyone it touches, and anyone damaged might be distracted in a second sense which causes them to lose their next action.  So not only is the wasp swarm nearly impossible to harm, but those inside it often can do nothing but impotently try to flee.
  • The wasps are also poisonous.  Their victims are probably losing Dexterity as well as hit points.

There may be other magic items costing less than 6,400 gold pieces that are more dangerous in the hands of a first-level character.  But, if so, I do not know which.  Suggestions are welcome.

This staff could become the focus of an interesting adventure for low-level heroes.  An evil, powerful villain creates or buys the staff, charges it, and bonds it with retrieve item (using a wand if not a spellcaster).  Then this villain works from behind the scenes by convincing or charming a first-level alchemist or witch (the classes that will learn vomit swarm and can thus use the staff) to use the staff to terrorize a city.  Each act of terrorism is scheduled at a certain time of day, so that after each use when the underling sets the staff down the main villain can retrieve it without attracting attention.  However, the underling is sloppy and the first few nights targets his or her personal rivals instead of random innocents, allowing the heroes to eventually solve the mystery and find the killer.  The climactic battle is tense as the low-level protagonists rush to defeat the underling (ending the spell and banishing the wasp swarm) before the neigh-invulnerable wasp swarm kills anyone; heroes with superior detective-work will be better prepared for this fight, realizing the "ferocious monster" is a swam vulnerable to gust of wind or area-of-effect fire magic.  The adventure ends with a cliffhanger: if the heroes learn about the staff, they claim it but it vanishes before their eyes after they set it down, or if the heroes are still ignorant about the staff then a few days later a "copycat killer" strikes who is really a new underling using the same staff.

Pathfinder Zaniness: The 7 gp Magic Item

The Pathfinder RPG contains a table that describes most magic item costs.  Below the table are a few additional rules.

What is the least expensive magic item?

A wondrous item that grants +1 competence bonus to a skill costs 100 gold pieces, if the item must be worn on a certain part of the body.  Restricting the item to only work once per day shrinks the cost to one-fifth the normal amount.  Restricting the item again to have 50 charges shrinks the cost by another one-half.  Restricting the item again to only function for characters with a specific alignment shrinks the cost by another 70%.

Thus a bracelet that grants +1 to a skill to lawful characters, once per day, fifty times, costs only 7 gold pieces.

How much is 7 gold pieces?  The Gamemastery book says a PC living in a town with "average" lifestyle spends 10 gold pieces per month on food and board.  This probably means most crafters and merchants earn about three times that, since PCs generally do not support a family. So crafters about earn 30 gold pieces each month.  A gold piece is probably a daily profit for the middle-class workers of the Pathfinder world.
The rules require a minimum of 8 hours to create any wondrous item (more if the item costs more than 1,000 gold pieces).  So these bracelets still take a full work-day to create.  Because creating a magic item requires materials costing half its retail value, these bracelets cost 3.5 gold pieces to create.

We should examine two disastrous corollaries.

First, these bracelets are sensible to create.  Their creator would only need to know the guidance orison.  Paying an initiate 1.5 gold pieces to create the bracelet would be a generous daily wage.  Materials cost 3.5 gold pieces.  That leaves 2 gold pieces profit per bracelet (about 29%) for whomever is running the operation.

Second, introducing these to a city's economy would be horrible.  If most craftsmen are first-level commoners with an Intelligence score of 13, their profession's craft skill is 5.  They earn about 1 gold piece per day, so it would not normally be sensible to spend a week's wages for a bracelet that gives them a 20% skill boost only 50 times.  However, market conditions might force them to...

Time for a quick tangent about cracker/cereal history.  There was a huge and ruthless conflict a few years ago among the makers of crackers and breakfast cereals.  A giant company invented "mini" crackers and "snack size portions" of cereals.  Manufacturing these was overall a loss, because it required new equipment, more packaging, and more payment for shelf space on the grocery store aisles--the new product was not any more valuable than the old product, so there was no increase in profit (consumers would pay a little bit more, to offset the extra packaging from which they directly benefited).  But the giant company could cope with the loss better than any smaller company, and all the small companies had to follow the trend or have their share or grocery store aisle shelf space halved compared to the competition.  It was a brilliant but evil move.

The same effect would happen with our Pathfinder bracelets.  Imagine a group of neutral-evil druids that "generously" gave a bunch to local craftsmen as thanks or accolades.  Then the city's other craftsmen would need to buy bracelets to remain competitive.

Since increasing a craft skill from 5 to 6 does not allow creating more valuable items, consumers would notice and appreciate slightly better stitching in their boots or slightly nicer decoration on their pottery, but would probably not be willing to pay more for products with only minor aesthetic improvements.  These bracelets would suck away 7 gold pieces from each crafter every 50 days: 14% of the entire city's crafting economy.

The evil druids would, of course, reap most of this profit.  Undoubtedly other people who knew the guidance orison would join the new business and claim a share.

But no city's economy can handle a 14% hit.  The local economy would nearly crumble, and with a little subtle provocation the city would see riots and looting.  Then the group of evil druids would laugh and move on to the next city.

Picasa Re-Do

All the links to our 2010 photos in our Picasa album are about to change!

I do not think anyone cares.  I expect that any family and friends who enjoy our photographs either look at these on that web page or save copies to their own computers.  I would be surprised if any place besides my own blog links to the photos.

But, in case anyone has bookmarked them, or something, you have been warned!

The culprit is file size.  Early in 2010 the Picasa software stopped working on my Ubuntu laptop.  Initially this seemed to not matter, because I could upload photos using the Picasa website.  However, the website uploads larger-sized versions of the photos.  (Our 2009 album uses 204 MB for 610 photos.  Our 2010 album uses 284 MB for 303 photos.)  To avoid needlessly using our allotment of free storage space too quickly, I am going to delete all the current photos and upload them again using the Picasa software.  I only have 15 blog posts that include the photos, so this chore should not take too long.

UPDATE: All done. The new 2010 album takes 99 MB instead of 284 MB. Perhaps Google will continue adding free Picasa space faster than we use it, and we'll never need to pay anything or switch to another photograph sharing site.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Freefall Link - Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor

Back in October I was re-reading the Freefall webcomic.  I can't remember why.  It author provides some fun links.

Here is an example: a comic about Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, with links to a pipe organ version.

(Two other comics with really interesting comments are Casey and Andy and Irregular Webcomic!.  The former is among my list of favorite completed webcomics.)

Car Shopping Wind-Up: More Links

In October I wrote a lot about car shopping.

Because of the modern realities of auto dealerships participating in the Costco pricing program, I found some links about car shopping that were not especially helpful to me, but might help other people: the Edmunds car buying guide and ten steps to buying a car, and articles about bargaining and dealer holdback.

The Costco pricing program was more significant than any of these kind of aids.  With minor bargaining it was very easy to get a price well below the invoice price.

The Hypothetical Game

Three weeks ago Smiley invented a new game: the "What if...?" game.

Initially he asked all of the questions.  Now he allows us to also do so; usually I make it easier for him by only asking questions which he has previously asked me.  Most of his questions involve things he sees as we play the game, which makes it a great activity when driving.

Here is an example from last night.
Smiley: What if there were no cars?

Me: Then everyone would have to walk or ride a bicycle.

Smiley: What if there were no signs?

Me: Then no one would know what street they were driving on.  What if there were no shoes?

Smiley: Then no one could put their shoes on.  What if there were no trucks?

Me: Then cars would have to pull big trailers, because cars cannot carry very much.  What if there was no cheese?

Smiley: Then no one could eat cheese.  What if there were no lights?

Me: Then everyone would stay home at night.

Been There, Done That

We just finished a long road trip to visit family in Southern California.  Hours of driving meant a lot of stories told to Smiley, and a lot of Smiley talking.

My favorite exchange happened on a very un-scenic portion of Highway 46, between the 5 Freeway and Highway 101.
Smiley: Are we at Grandma and Grandpa's?

Me: Not yet.  They are still far away.

Smiley: They live in California.

Me: Yes, they live in California.  We have been driving through California for a long time.

Mommy: Ever since we went down from the big mountains with snow.

Smiley: This road is in California?

Me: Yes, this road is in California.

Smiley: [Sounding satisfied] Then I've seen California.

Yeshua, Rude to Infants

I just wrote about Smiley's fondness for Thomas the Train, and how he is interacting with those stories.

Here is amusing anecdote about a social lesson Smiley is learning from the Railway Series.

As background, you will need to know that a common theme in many stories is that locomotives who are rude to the "trucks" (freight cars) get pushed and jostled by the trucks and become stuck or crash, but when a locomotive is polite the trucks cooperate and are more friendly.
Smiley: [Pointing to the cover of one of his toddler Bible books] This book has Yeshua holding a baby.

Me: Yes, it does.

Smiley: If Yeshua is rude to the baby, the baby won't be friendly.

Me: [Pause...] Yes.  If Yeshua is rude, the baby will not be friendly.
I decided it was wisest to wait on any comments about the likelihood that the Son of God would be rude to infants.

Percy the Train

Thomas and his friends have invaded our home.

It all began with our Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter.  This is one of Smiley's favorite books.  I like it even though a few of the stories are beyond him.  It seems to help him learn and understand memorization and narrative, because the stories are slightly longer and have more text for each picture than most of his picture books, yet there are sufficient pictures from him to retell the stories to himself.

(Costco was recently selling a box set of all the Beatrix Potter stories for about $25.  We bought that even though we own the big book, so that my wife can read those stories to Smiley with less weight on her lap.)

Since those stories are so successful, when at the library I was looking for similar stories.  To my surprise, a very close match was the Thomas the Tank Engine Collection.  We checked it out, and it was an immediate hit.

Now, there are probably some folks who are aghast that anyone would hold side-by-side cute, little Peter Rabbit and big, cheeky Thomas the Train.  But the series really do have a number of similarities, especially for a toddler.  Not only is the blend of text and illustrations similar, but both sets of stories mix some very age-appropriate "Three Stooges" physical humor along with social lessons appropriate for a slightly older child.

An amusing side-effect is that Percy is Smiley's favorite character, because he is the engine that gets treacle dumped on him, that gets hay stuck to him, that falls into the ocean, and must keep a promise by driving through a flooded section of track.  Thomas is okay, but not as nifty as Percy.

(By the way, I have heard that the Big Yellow Treasury and the Big Blue Treasury, which have bigger pictures and less text per picture, would be an even more age-appropriate introduction to the Thomas mythos.  But I have never seen these myself.)

When my wife got sick in November, we needed something to entertain Smiley in the evenings so he would do a better job of letting her rest in the recliner.  So I checked out some Thomas the Train DVDs from the library after previewing their five-minute nature on YouTube.

Now, I have written before that we did not own a television, and on the computer were only allowing Smiley to watch the Flip videos we record about him and a few YouTube videos about trucks, farm animals, or his other current interests.  One theory is that children younger than two-and-a-half are still learning what constitutes "a single event", and families prone to ADD, dyslexia, and other attention-related brain disorders should have their young children avoid any film in which a single event includes flipping back and forth between multiple camera points of view--this can confuse a young brain.  Now, this happens all the time in cartoon and movie conversations: the camera point of view changes as the speaker changes.  It is hard to find kids' films that do not involve frequent changes of camera angle.  And my wife and I do care, since both our families have family members with ADD or dyslexia.

So these Thomas the Train movies were Smiley's first big exposure to "real" movies.  We figured that he was older than two-and-a-half, and we really needed something to keep mommy from being climbed on and jumped upon without exiling her to the bedroom.

I was quite happy that, as a first exposure to movies, the Thomas stories are as simple as I could imagine.
  • Smiley had already memorized many of those three- and four-page stories, and the movies are five-minute nearly-verbatim recitations of the story text.  So when the camera perspectives do change during conversations he follows along easily since he already understands that familiar situation.
  • The animation is carefully done but involves very little movement: normally only trains driving, their eyes moving, and steam or smoke.
  • In the beginning, we dutifully watched each movie with him, pausing the movies frequently to double-check that he was indeed following along.  He had some questions, especially since the movies remove the quaint British language ("guard" for conductor, "trucks" for freight cars, "coaches" for passenger cars, etc.).  But mostly he was recognizing and enjoying familiar short stories.
The Thomas movies are so much a success that we used AcidRip to turn each story into its own avi file.  Smiley has his own account on my laptop, so he cannot delete my files.  He has learned to open the folder of Thomas movies that sits on the desktop, and then pick the icon for the story he wants.  No need to mess with a breakable DVD, or to navigate a menu.

To be fair consumers, we've added a couple of Thomas DVDs to Smiley's Amazon wishlist.  These are not the same DVDs we got from the library, but the number of stories is equivalent and these two better focus on the stories Smiley enjoys most.  It seems a better way to give equal support to the franchise.  After Smiley outgrows these movies we can donate the two new DVDs to the library, to increase its collection.

For my part, I have learned a lot about tank engines, which I never had realized were so distinct in shape and purpose from the steam engines that used tenders.  Thomas is a side tank model.  Percy is a saddle tank, and proud of his rounder shape.  Duck is a typical Great Western pannier tankBill and Ben are more top-heavy saddle tanksToby is a steam tram, which I had never heard of before.

UPDATE: It's more than a year later, and during that time CostCo has had two bundle-packs of Thomas the Train movies on sale.  We purchased both, and have now done our fair share to support the franchise.  We did not make all of the purchased movies into avi files because some were computer animated instead of created with a model train set.  We prefer the latter because those have one narrator who reads the old stories verbatim (or in a few cases very slightly changed).

Smiley and Magalene

Toddler discipline has evolved remarkably since I wrote in May.  Four things happened, building upon each other.

1. The Benefits of Listening

As Smiley grew older and more aware of consequences, we taught him that when he was a Listening Boy his life became a continuous stream of nice things.

Our main tool was noticing his favorite parts of activities and reminding him about these.  When grocery shopping, he likes pushing the cart and pressing the "okay" button on the credit card reader.  When at the library, he likes to read together, play with the puppets, and talk to the librarian named Barbara.  And so forth...

"Listening Boys get nice things," we would say.  "If you are a Listening Boy today then when we go grocery shopping you can push the cart and press the 'okay' button."

Of course, when we was not being a Listening Boy he would not get those favorite things.  Then he would fuss and cry, which we calmly ignored.  Soon he was always a Listening Boy, unless overtired.

2. Introducing Magalene

Any educator values "compare and contrast" as a teaching method.  So I decided to reinforce how much nicer life is for Listening Boys by inventing "Magalene Stories".

(I chose the name Magalene because I doubted he would ever have a childhood friend with that name.  I was having trouble thinking of a name, and picked the first part of the name from the Magalena-Pagalena song.)

Originally these were short stories I told while driving somewhere.  Here is an example.
Smiley and Magalene went grocery shopping.

Smiley was a Listening Boy.  He stayed with his daddy.  He did not touch things on the shelves.  When he wanted something, he asked politely and said "please".  He was not too loud, and was friendly.  So he got to push the cart, and when they paid for the food he got to press the "okay" button.  He was very gentle pushing the cart and did not bump any people or shelves.

But Magalene did not listen.  She ran away from her mommy, saying "Nah, nah, can't catch me!"  She grabbed things from the shelves.  She threw things.  She yelled and hit people.  So she did not get to push the cart or press the "okay" button.  Her mommy took her to the car and said, "Magalene, you are misbehaving".  Then they went home and Magalene had to go in her crib with no stories.
(Smiley has never hit strangers or been sent to nap time without stories.  Including the hypothetical is not a problem as long as I do not tempt him by prompting him to consider bad behaviors he would otherwise not think about.)

These soon became Smiley's favorite stories, even replacing the tradition due of a Broken Car Story and Sad Car Story before bedtime.  Smiley liked being the hero who was rewarded.

(In January I had mentioned bedtime stories about what Uncle Nathan did today.  Those soon turned into a duo of an Uncle Nathan Story and a Bubba Story.  Uncle Nathan would do extravagant things like learn to play the tuba or visit the moon.  Bubba usually ate brunch at Denny's and went shopping.  In June his growing fondness for cars eventually led to switching his bedtime stories for one about a broken car that needed to be repaired at a mechanic and a second story about a sad car that was really muddy, dirty inside, or covered with leaves.)

3. Getting Attention Without Misbehaving

At the end of Summer an unexpected and positive development happened.

When I was busy with housework, Smiley began vying for my attention by using Magalene to vicariously misbehave.  For example, I might be doing dishes and he would come into the kitchen holding a toy and say, "Magalene would throw her toy in the kitchen".

For safety's sake, we do have a rule that in the kitchen toys need to stay off the floor: Smiley can bring in toys but must hold them.  He could have broken the rule to get my attention.  That would be normal and age-appropriate for a two-year-old; waiting is very hard, and negative consequences are unpleasant but more desirable than not getting any attention.

But Smiley invented a better alternative.  I felt obligated to reply to his statement, and thus he got the attention he wanted without any negative consequences.  "Yes, Magalene would do that," I replied.  "But you are a Listening Boy and you know the rules very well."

I was quite happy with this development.  What a nice way for him to let me know that his toddler-size patience for my housework was wearing thin.

4. When Magalene Behaves

In early December another unexpected development happened.  Smiley began requesting stories in which Magalene behaved.

I am not sure why these stories are suddenly so preferable and satisfying.  Perhaps Magalene is slowly turning into an imaginary friend.  But Smiley is a bit young for an imaginary friend, so I expect he instead is vicariously enjoying her victories.

So now most of our impromptu stories start like this:
Smiley: Tell me a Magalene story.

Me: Is Magalene behaving today, or is she not listening?

Smiley: She is behaving.

Me: Okay. Once upon a time there was a girl named Magalene, who was being a good Listening Girl today.
Now Smiley's favorite stories involve Magalene, Duck, and a Nightingale visiting his house to join him playing with his toys.  Those other two pretend playmates were simply random characters from stories he enjoys, who do not have much personality so they are easy to adapt.  (Unlike Little Bear or Peter Rabbit, who are well-developed characters.)

Eleven Scissors

Before I met my wife, I lived in an apartment and did not own any scissors.  I used a very sharp folding pocket knife for those household tasks that normally require a scissors, such as opening packaging.

To me this was a humorous, small virtue.  I prefer to own as few things as possible.

I still do, although the goalposts have moved quite far now that I am a homeowner and parent.  My wife, however, does not share this preference and in this matter usually gets her way.

The other day I was curious and counted.  We now own eleven scissors.

Two live in the kitchen: one for household tasks and one for use with preparing food.

Two living with sewing supplies: an expensive pair dedicated to cutting fabric and a small sewing scissors for cutting thread.

Two live in the bathrooms: a small cuticle scissors and a normal size scissors dedicated to haircutting.

Five are art supplies: three craft scissors with interesting designs for trimming paper with fancy edges, and two blunt toddler scissors for Smiley.  (We didn't mean to get him two.  I bought a pair during the past year, forgetting we already owned a pair from my preschool teaching days.)

Life can be strange.

Walking to Rivendell

My wife has found a fun way to gain motivation for taking evening walks.

It is called The Eowyn Challenge: Walk to Rivendell.  So far my wife has walked 180 miles, which apparently puts her from Hobbiton to the middle of the Midgewater Marshes.

Around Town Mileage

Back in October I wrote a little about how our new car had mileage almost comparable to our old car.  I ended with the teaser:
"The Saturn SL2 would normally give us 30 to 31 miles per gallon for our normal day-to-day driving.  Next time we buy gas we'll learn the equivalent for the Touring."

Here is that update with the data about our mileage when driving around town.

For our first tank of driving around Eugene we drove 329.9 miles, and used 11.24 gallons.  That is 29.3 miles per gallon.

Our second tank was very similar, with 290.9 miles and 9.95 gallons, for 29.2 miles per gallon.

Our third tank was also similar, with 344.5 miles and 11.84 gallons, for 29.1 miles per gallon.

But all good things come to an end.  After the weather became chilly our around town mileage dropped notably: our fourth and fifth tanks were about 26 mpg and 25 mpg.  Why?  Because now when I pick up my wife from work I idle the car to keep the heater going.