2/02/2019

Pointless Clicking: The Dark Side of Automation

A few days ago I posted this graphic over at DeviantArt. I mention in the post that it's a snap to make an effect like that into a single-click Photoshop action, which is true. What I didn't mention is that I do this habitually, even for effects (like this one) I don't actually need to automate or even intend to repeat. When I'm playing around in Photoshop, I smack the the Record button just in case it turns out interesting.

There is a dark, wicked, unfortunately evil-naughty side to handy Photoshop Actions: They are fun to pointlessly, endlessly play with in a way that is not actually a form of work. I can just feed any one-bit image to that Action and apply the same style to it, so ... I do. Pointlessly, for amusement. Click, click, click. This is why I call Photoshop one of my favorite videogames. When I'm not working in it, it's a time-suck. My alternative to matching three or tapping cartoon treasure-chests for explosions of gold coins:




Embiggening These Will Be Necessary.
The Line-Fill Effect is Too Fine to Show Clearly in the Thumbnails.

Works better for some test-cases than others! On that last one I'm fiddling with different fake spot-colors and, as noted in the DA post, this isn't really a Uresia look, just a side-effect of constantly browsing through old maps for research and/or funsies. But it occurs to me, it might be a good visual direction to explore for Fly From Evil when it comes time to do the San Francisco neighborhood maps.

But right now, it's just pointless clicking, because I'm simple-minded and easily amused. That's the dark side of automation for me ... but at least, when Photoshop is my videogame, time spent it can feed back into my actual work! Pointless play is how I learn most things in graphics software. 

Speaking of pointless: that was all. I didn't want to delete these test images without sharing them with someone; they're cute! Hope this finds you well; drop me a line if you're bored and want to talk Photoshop (or gaming, or any of the usual things).

1/27/2019

Gurlinghouse

One of the things I've been up to lately is archiving/mothballing projects that I'd had somewhere on the Maybe Burners for Cumberland, which never quite made it to the Back Burners.

For the most part, this process is a solemn series of document-flips, sighs, folder-compression and a final file-dunk into the "dead" archive discs instead of precious hard-drive space.

But, as you might suppose, I linger on some more than others. A Uresia mini-supplement called Gods of Gurlinghouse is one of those.

Gurlinghouse is one of those projects that I call "pre-finished," which means "finished enough for me to GM with it, but not nearly finished enough to send it to blindtesters." It's the level where a lot of projects stop, because if I can GM with it, that's all I'll personally ever need from it. To decide if a pre-finished item deserves the long hard production march to Finished Cumberland Games Title, I float little feelers in the directions of the fan-community. If they seem excited by it, I continue. If they seem indifferent, I take the hint and simply keep it as part of my own GMing arsenal.

Gurlinghouse teeters on the line. When I floated feelers on it, a couple of fans perked right up, while most registered no response. But more importantly, Gurlinghouse is probably going to be the basis of my next online runs in heaven's grave ... and that nudges the teetering a tiny bit.

Which means it hasn't been mothballed yet. It's just kind of sitting there in the Uresia Projects folder, daring me to finish it, or at least take it another layer deep into production. So, I'll ramble about it for a moment.

That's Gurlinghouse in the middle
(Old Gurling Manor, if we're being starchy)

The Very Short Version is that Gurlinghouse is an old town-manor on Shortshadow Street in Shadow River, and once upon a time it was owned by the Gurling family (cordage folk; hemp and jute; very knotty; ties to Boru; the jokes write themselves; etc), but then all the Gurlings were dead and the Duke made a gift of it to an elf he fancied. This elf – Tani Arrowspike – was so famously indelicate she once horked an entire ham across the Duke's dining-hall, so you can understand his ardor, I'm sure.

Tani turned the house into a delverclub, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a place where Overtly Player-Character-Types gather and give the neighborhood a slightly shadier name. This was many years ago (she was part of Grandma August's crew) and Gurlinghouse rages on, having housed multiple generations of ne'er-do-wells and always-do-wells and the muddy in-betweens.

So that's the boiled-down essence of what the Gods of Gurlinghouse mini-supplement would have been (or might be?): an exploration of this particular delverclub, with side-notes about delverclubs in general (just like Caravel did for caravels). It would also include a few notes on the neighbors (the alchemical gardens behind it, the massive Cordage Guild in front of it, Dredjer the Locksmith is just around the corner there, etc. It'd focus on a few colorful NPC-types, some adventure possibilities, some mysteries about the house, and of course a floorplan of the place. Probably in this style, approximately:

This isn't Gurlinghouse.
It's Rede Cottage, Dreed.


This map is from another (fully mothballed, fully cancelled) Uresia mini-supplement about Sindran Loreseekers, which included this zeroed-in look at one of their foreign chapterhouses, yadda-yadda. Like Gurlinghouse, Rede Cottage falls into the general (and useful) category of "houses where Player Characters can forward their mail when they're off galavanting." Gurlinghouse is a bit larger: three above-ground levels, two subterranean levels, and a rooftop terrace ... but same general idea, a home base for a campaign.

The reason I have a mostly-finished map of Rede Cottage is the same reason I'll soon have a mostly-finished map of Gurlinghouse: despite the Cumberland book being shelved, I'll be needing a player handout for my own gaming purposes.

Inevitably, if pathetically, I can't help but wonder if Gurlinghouse perks any additional eyebrows nowadays. If not, I've got enough on my project-plate and I'll just take it from "pre-finished" to "pre-finished plus handout map for the players." But if so, let me know? Either way, it's always nice to hear from Uresia gamers. Hope this finds you all well.

12/25/2018

My Cthulhu Christmas

(with some awkward writing, assisted by rum)

Here's a Christmas memory with some Cthulhu in it. My friends all know this one; my friends out in yon Internet should know it too.

It was about thirty years ago. We lived in a rental house (low 400s on Miller Boulevard) in Havelock, North Carolina within easy driving distance of MCAS Cherry Point (where my father was stationed) and easy walking distance of Reader's Haven, the used-books/comics/game-shop where I stationed myself much of the time (in the "Slocum Village Shopping Center," a sad miniature strip-mall on the west side of Park Lane leading up to West Main). There were also two convenience stores and a small public library within easy hoofing, so it was a nice little spot to be a newbie gamer with a burgeoning research addiction.

It was to be my first Christmas completely alone. My parents had broken up years before, and my father had a long-term girlfriend in Virginia, and he'd decided he wanted to spend Christmas with her and her kids that year, leaving me the run of the house.

I oscillated between feeling sorry for myself for my first lonely Christmas, and feeling like a mouse in the proverbial cat's-away position for my first Christmas To Do Whatever I Wanted, but mostly I just felt the alone parts. I had some gamer-friends from school and from the shop, but they all had their own families to deal with and nobody needed an extra teenager hanging around, especially those weird ones with their TARDISes and X-Mens and things.

I spent Christmas Eve constructively (doing some game-mapping and comic-book reading and MTV-watching) but woke up on Christmas morning feeling a little under the weather both physically and emotionally. While I was only a teenager, I had, from my perspective, a lifetime of experience of Christmas Morning being this joyful, family thingy which culminated in food.

I was the cook of the house (Dad could make ice cubes or sandwiches if you left him a clearly-written recipe), but cooking a Feast For One didn't feel legit, so I made some Rice-A-Roni and a chunk of Mooki Meat (an oval patty of ground beef, seasoned with such eccentricity that it had to be the work of the infamous Mama Mooki, an imaginary cook I made frequent reference to because I was a weird teenager).

And then I got my jacket on, and walked to the base library. I'd read in the base paper they'd be open on Christmas Day, and being at the library (which I loved) sounded way better than just belching up Mooki Burps in an empty house on Christmas.

The walk did me a world of good. My under-the-weather glum got replaced by full-blast enjoying-the-weather brisk, and it was a walk of about 2.5 miles, which I suppose took me an hour. I enjoyed that route, in through the main gate (as a dependent, I could get in with my Marine Brat ID), past the base McDonald's (Google Maps says it's still there).

I didn't know what to expect. Being open on Christmas wasn't normal for the library; it's not very normal for any library, but I would learn that two of the librarians had just realized they had no big holiday plans, so they decided they'd donate their time to offer a little cheer to Marines who couldn't get home for the holidays.

So the scene was this library, with only half the lights on, and two librarians, and four young Marines far from home, and me. And, with further thanks to those two kind librarians, there was a tray of cheese and crackers, and a carton of eggnog, and some punch.

And I could barely keep from crying, I was so grateful. We sat in a circle of random library chairs and introduced each other and just chatted about nothing in particular and Christmas in general and we just thanked the librarians over and over.

I didn't keep from crying, exactly. I just held off 'til I was alone in the stacks, because these two angelic librarians didn't stop at cheese and crackers and refreshment. They said, if we wanted, we could check books out, too.

I picked two: one of the time-travel novels of George Alec Effinger, and one of the old Arkham House collections of H.P. Lovecraft stories.

I'd already been an Effinger fan for a few years, having consumed many of his short stories in the pages of IASFM since my first subscription around '84 (stories like White Hats and the Beast From One-Quarter Fathom, if I recall), but this would be my first time reading his novels.

Lovecraft, I'd never read before. But I had been reading a certain Chaosium roleplaying game, and Call of Cthulhu was stern and clear: I shouldn't consider GMing the game until I'd read at least half of [LIST OF RECOMMENDED STORIES] and lo and freakin' behold, this Arkham House book contained right around half of those, so: score. I could finally, legally be a Keeper.

And as the librarians ran the books through the magnetic thingamajig and I shook the hands again of the young Marines and thanked everybody and wished everybody a Merry Christmas, we just stood there as the lights went out, recognizing that without a doubt, we were having one. And it became the best ever, in a way.

The walk home was a mixed bag. Those two and a half miles felt a bit longer with only the empty house to get back to, and it was later, and darker, and colder, and I was carrying books. Plus, that under-the-weather-feeling from earlier? Turned out it wasn't just me being glum, it was me feeling the first pangs of some kind of viral crud.

My bedroom was on a corner and got colder than dad's, so I decided I'd go ahead and swipe his for the night, with blankets from both to keep warm, and I curled up all snug, getting sicker and reading Lovecraft stories and then falling asleep to my first-ever genuine HPL nightmare. Pretty sure it was The Picture in the House that did it. Here, young Sir, don’t git skeert. Victuals, etc.

So maybe not the best ending, and maybe not the best beginning, but right there in the middle, it was a beautiful Christmas. I'm not done being grateful for it, and I don't plan to be. Thank you, angel librarians. Thank you, young Marines with your stories of home. And even thanks to the pulpiest of the pulpsters for giving me nightmares, and the great and lovely Effinger for that novel and so many others. Still so very grateful.

Hope today finds you well, whenever today turns out to be.