“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” -- Carl Sagan

Day 113: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

Hey folks!  I played Swords of the Serpentine!

You might be saying, maybe in private, perhaps out loud: didn’t you write Swords of the Serpentine?  And I would say, yep, setting stuff!  Because I love setting.  But I never got the chance to play the finished game.  I played loose early prototypes of the game, but not the finished product.

Now I have!  I have played it!  Very loose and fast, lots of player narrative control, easy for making up insanity on the fly, strong magic elements with sorcery, a pretty fly setting. We exercised many of the ‘bits:’ combat, travel, magic, sorcery, spirit sight.  And we destroyed a part of Eversink, so that’s a score!  It has all the parts I remember enjoying strongly about Timewatch but more dialed in and focused on the High Fantasy feeling.  Also, the system can endure me in a wacky frame of mind, so that’s a plus.  I had three dots of Laws & Traditions on my sheet and I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to accost some NPC with completely made up government bureaucracy.

The core of the adventure was a spirit wanting to get revenge for his murder.  We had one character with Spirit Sight, and at one point, the character decided to lie for the spirit. Kevin, playing the spirit, silenced his zoom and then yelled into the screen.  Hilarity, as they say, ensued.  The spirit did get vengeance for its murder but… probably not in the way that it wanted.

Big thanks to Kevin for running this afternoon! And big thanks to our players!  You guys were all awesome!!!!!  kermit arms

SotS is definitely not a D&D alternative.  D&D is all about the tactics, the grinding, the combat, and the crunch.  Swords of the Serpentine is all about collaborative storytelling.  Combat is something that happens because the party made the wrong choice or it’s required for narrative storytelling reasons. It felt much closer to Blades in the Dark, another game I adore, than D&D.  Yeah, I think.  If I was running or playing in a long game, SotS would be a strong contender.  And I’m not saying that because I wrote the setting.

Ok, maybe I am.

But it’s a really good game.

I’m already thinking about what a Cyberpunk version of this game would look like somewhere deep in the back of my mind.

So that was great.

In other news:

  • We tried to make these Sebastian’s Best Brownies out of the Dorie’s Cookies book and they were the first recipe out of that book to objectively fail.  They’re delicious, don’t get me wrong, but they’re so gooey and fudgey they didn’t cut or hold together well.
  • I keep chewing my way through the Murderbot novel.
  • We got on the bikes again this morning and this time I made it through the entire loop and up the hill, no asthma attack.  Still had the monster workout headache an hour afterward.  Next ride: longer loop.

I’m still trying to take a long break from the news.  I skim the headlines and everything is horrible.  There’s nothing I can do about 99.9% of it.  For the .1% all I can say is: if you’re going to be around lots of people, wear a mask.  Do it and stop complaining.


  • 35,512,916 total test results.
  • 2,868,866 total positive cases.
  • 132,060 total dead.
  • 69,728 cases in MD with 3,329 dead
  • 1 in 122 people have it in Howard County, MD

It looks like a) testing is still growing and b) results stopped coming in over the holiday weekend.  We’ll see revised numbers tomorrow.  Case fatality rate has fallen to 4.6%, so that means the infected are now in the more general population.

Florida reported 10,000 new cases today alone which is, you know, terrifying.


Day 112: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

The only thing that has worked through the entire pandemic has been exercise.  Lots and lots and lots of exercise.  I’ve fallen an entire pant size since March.  The number on the scale hasn’t gone down much but the waistbands and the now super baggy t-shirts do not lie.

Thus here we are taking it up a notch.

And failing.

Ok, so, even though I was doing everything to get into shape, when I got on the bike this morning I found out that I was not actually in shape.  To be fair, it’s been 16 years (we estimate) since I last got on my bike, so being out of practice is totally understandable.  But on a hill, I went into 3rd gear instead of 1st gear and gave myself a nice giant asthma attack.  We got home fine, with my butt and thighs on fire, and then turned around and went out for another 20-minute walk in which I caught ~20 Pokemon.

We’re fully planning to go out again tomorrow morning.  Get up, get out of bed, get on the outdoor bike, go through the park.  Out out out.  Do the loop until it is easy.  Then find longer loops.  The only way to maintain coherent sanity is to keep pushing on the exercise.

The park was loaded with people.  I think there was some kind of little league playoff thing going.  They weren’t wearing masks, which was a little grumpy-making.  But it was outside.  If they were in the mall, I’d be all like “I’m not going in there.”  But it was on a baseball field.  So I dunno.  We whizzed past them anyway.

I know.  I’m getting dangerously close to going full couch-to-5K.

I’m screwing around with Strava because we bought a bike mount for my phone.  It really wants me to give it $99 for things.  I really like the route mapping but I don’t see $99 of value (yet).  I dunno — maybe there’s something there I want?

Then after all that exercise, I promptly cleaned the house, which was gross because people now live in it and the whole place decays at a faster rate than it ever has.

I’m not sure what I want to do this afternoon.  There’s the Baking Option ™ — a brownie recipe has been selected.  There’s the reading murderbot option, as I’m to the novel.  There’s the work on something production option.  There’s also the nap option, and after all the exercise, all I want to do is eat and nap.  So we’ll see!

I’m avoiding all news except for coronavirus news for a little bit.  I’m starting to believe deep down that any other news is mostly nonsense and a distraction.   There’s really only one news story, and it’s the pandemic.  Everything else is just “look over here!”


  • 34,213,497 completed tests.
  • 2,793,316 positive cases.
  • 131,404 dead from the virus.
  • 69,026 cases in MD, 3,303 dead
  • 1 in 124 people have it in Howard County, MD

Considering how flat the numbers are in MD, I’m not surprised the park was full of people this morning.  It does look like the deaths are trailing off here, although the positive rate is ticking up a touch.  People have it but, because the hospitals aren’t overloaded, fewer people are dying of the virus. That’s probably the right place to be.

But if I look at, say, Florida, the rise in rates is so horrifying it looks like exponential growth on the log graphs.  (The linear graphs are straight into the sky.)  It looks like the virus started its exponential growth rampage right at Memorial Day in Florida, and now it’s in full blossoming stage.  The rt.live charts for Florida are terrifying.

Day 111: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

Ok!  So!

I came to the realization that sitting in the house all day, day after day, was making me go absolutely insane.  I didn’t plant a vegetable garden this year, so there was no garden to spend time in and the flower garden is designed to be a weed-and-hands-free affair.  I do spend time on the deck, and that helps.  But it wasn’t leaving the house.

We hit upon a horrible, terrible, truly dark idea:

Get the bikes out.

Back before Kate when we lived in Germantown, MD, we bought very expensive mountain bikes for the trails.  We loaded them up on one of the tiny Tonka Trucks we drove at the time and took them out to the C&O Canal trails west of Frederick.  We road all the trails all over Montgomery County — several of which I was prepared to die on since they were straight down steep hills.

When we moved to Laurel, we hung them on a nice rack in the back of the garage and never touched them again.  We just got busy.

Here we are in the pandemic.  We can’t really go anywhere on vacation.  We can’t do any of the things we’d normally do this summer.  But we have the bikes, and it is bike trail city around here in Maryland.

Much to our surprise, hanging them in the back of a nice, clean, dark garage off the ground was the best possible thing for them.  The bikes are in excellent shape.  Sure, they had flat tires, and my gear shift is a little wonky, but otherwise, the bikes are rideable.  We can ride the bikes.

But… it’s been 15 years since we rode the bikes anywhere, and what we don’t have is any gear.  We have no idea where our helmets went.  The last pack of tubes is 15 years old.

So we went to REI.

That was weird.

REI itself isn’t weird.  Waiting in line with masks in the 92 degree heat to get into REI was weird.  The social distancing in REI was weird.  The protocol around trying on helmets was weird.  Everything was weird.

Everyone was friendly about it.  No one seemed to mind much waiting in line to get into the store.  Everyone stood on their little social distancing circle while waiting in line to check out.  100% people wore masks.  No one was mask-angry.  No one protested the rules.  People working there were nice and apologetic about the weirdness.  But this is the New Normal, and if we want all the stores to reopen, this is what it is.

We’re now fully equipped with Bike Gear.  (Any old bike gear found will go into the bin.)  New helmets, bike shorts, a clamp for my phone.  We’ll see if we have tire issues if the tires deflate overnight or not.  Tomorrow morning, we’re going to try going up to the park back behind the elementary school with the GoPro.

(Also we bought a mask from Keen.  Wearing it makes Eric look like SubZero.  FINISH HIM.)

The pandemic is so weird.  I’ve gotten more exercise a day during the pandemic than I think I’ve gotten since maybe Grad School.   My normal exercise regime is already 45 minutes a day and now I’m going to add some bike rides to it for variety and adventure.

I’m going to try an app called Strava to record walks and bike rides, and see how that works out and see if it’s any better than Apple’s workout app.

I’m wearing shorts — I hate shorts but it is 92 degrees out — that were pretty tight last time I wore them and are rather comfortable now.

I guess with all the exercise I can make all the breads and brownies.


  • 34,213,497 completed tests.
  • 2,765,919 positive test results.  This grew by 53K in the last 24 hours.
  • 131,199 deaths.  This had gotten as low as 250 a day but now it’s over 650 a day and rising.
  • 69,026 cases in MD with  3,303 dead.  Our rate of growth in the last two weeks has gone flat.  Flat flat flat.  It’s not dropping, it’s not rising.  It’s flat.
  • 1 in 124 people have it in Howard County.

It’s all very strange.  The outbreak was here and now we are experiencing everything like our REI visit.  It’s still here but it’s not growing anymore.

Although rt.live is something else.  A bunch of states are in full on exponential growth.

Day 99: My Favorite SotS Villains: the Mercanti

Swords of the Serpentine always had the Ancient Nobility.

The original idea notes had the Ancient Nobility in all their decaying splendor.  Old families with old names who paint genealogical trees on the dining room wall so they can admire their ancestors while they eat.  Resplendent in their 300-year-old decaying silks, they cling with both hands to the “old ways” — as if a city that constantly renews itself has old ways to cling to.  Old creaky sinking homes full of people who smell of dust and mold, living in darkened rooms full of lace, eating porridge off exquisite plates with golden forks.

They’re cool.  I imagine the Ancient Nobility runs ancient cults, or worship demons, or keep Uncle Alex the Undying Lich in their Underbasement.   They’re horrible snobs who stare down their noses at anyone who doesn’t have their bloodline written on a certificate.

Then there’s the Mercanti — my favorite villains.  They don’t have to be villains, of course.  Surely one of their number gives to charity, or supports an orphanage, or donates their clothes to the poor.  There’s always that one do-gooder, that one guy.  But let’s face it, it’s an entire faction whose roots come from its author’s — me — obsession with Robert Clive and the East India Company.  (Robert Clive is one of history’s great sociopaths.)

There isn’t tons about them in the core book, but they’re Eversink’s capitalists, the merchants, the nouveau riche.  And they’re cut completely free.  The Triskedane aren’t all that involved in, say, financial regulation or trade policy.  It’s like the wild 17th and 18th century.

The Mercanti are all about one thing — making a profit. In fact, Mercanti plots don’t even need sorcerers, cuts, swamp things, or face-hugging fungus.  The Mercanti can be terrible all by themselves!

I imagined using them like this:

  • Straight up villainy.  Someone is funding crime/drug imports/something horrible and some Mercanti is behind the scheme.
  • More straight-up villainy.  The Rise of the Evil Rooftop Developer!  The Mercanti has Ancient Nobility targets in Alderhall and he is out to bilk those people out of their rooftops!  If only he could convince the adventurers the Ancient Noble families are evil (they likely are) and cripple them financially so the Mercanti Developer can buy their newly-developed rooftop right out from underneath them!
  • Even more straight-up villainy! Harbor Approach is undeveloped land!  Sure it has warehouses and dockworkers, but that land is better off used for more Mercanti homes.  It’s time to get those people off their land so the Mercanti can build some new homes to sell at high market prices!
  • Guild on Guild warfare — just like nasty mob warfare, except there’s a nice house to live in, and the City Watch is 100% paid off.  The Adventurers, belonging to one guild, get all tied up in undermining the work of another guild(s) to the point of actual stabbing and leaving bodies in the canals.
  • Fleecing the poor in some horrible way — destroying their water supply, depriving them of food or jacking up food prices, forcing them out of their homes, offering payday loans, getting into the betting business, etc.
  • Fleecing neighboring kingdoms in some horrible way — selling them poorly-constructed Mercanti-made items, making terrible undermining deals, getting involved in their wars, selling arms to their enemies, invading them with small armies, growing things and raping the land.  Hell, rip off the entire history of United Fruit wholescale.
  • Fleecing distant kingdoms and bringing something awful back in some horrible way — so many ideas.

Hell, Mercanti could be the central bad guys from a Swords of the Serpentine: Goonies remake.  (I know, I know, I know. “The Goonies?”)  Go look it up.

If you want to read an entirely bonkers thing that really happened and could be stolen wholesale for use as a whole multi-part adventure in Eversink and use one of the neighboring kingdoms, then read the history of United Fruit and Operation PBSUCCESS.  If I was going to run a huge Eversink campaign, that’s where I would go for inspiration, because it’s so insane.

As a rule of thumb, we can lean on themes out of books and movies where the capitalist financier/developer is always evil.  While there are many sub-themes, the core theme when the villain is a capitalist is this: the Capitalist (Mercanti in this case) purses monetary return at the expense of human life.  Only when the adventurers or the Capitalist embrace humanity is anyone redeemed.

In all these scenarios (and so many more, this was 5 minutes worth of thinkin’), we’d want to lean into some way the adventurers could bankrupt the Mercanti or get some other kind of financial comeuppance.  The bad guy might not necessarily dead in the end, but broke is the right ending for Mercanti villains.

I’m a big fan of anything that injects a little gonzo.


  • 26,566,553 tests.
  • 2,279,894 cases found
  • 121,551 deaths

According to every metric there is, the number of infected people is skyrocketing right now, but the death rate is dropping.  That’s because covid is finally leaking into the general population at large and a wider spectrum of people are getting it.  Before, it was getting into nursing homes and killing everyone there in clusters.  Now it’s working its way through the entire US population.  Eventually, everyone will have had COVID-19.

It’s also a myth that cases are going up because testing has finally crossed a 500K/day testing threshold.  Cases are going up because more people are getting COVID-19.  The % weekly positive is back up to 11% of all tests.  Hospitalizations are hockey sticks.  So while daily deaths are down to 600/day (and that’s still 600 people a day!) it will start to march back up as these people in ICUs start to die.

And this will march on until we have tracing.  But since Trump doesn’t even want testing, tracing is probably “never.”


Day 90: My Game Design Theory of Fun

It’s my birthday!  Happy birthday to me!

Also, I have blogged something every day for 90 days through this crazy pandemic.  I’m not certain I’ll be able to keep up that performance for the next 90 days.  I’ll likely keep blogging regularly since I’ve now spiffed the place up, fixed the popped nails, and cleaned up the detritus around here.  But it may go to either weekdays (M-F) since I have little to say on the weekends or a three day a week schedule (M-W-F) so I will have more to talk about.  We’ll see.

Back in the day when we were working on Elder Scrolls Online, we had Friday afternoon playtests.  The entire studio would stop and everyone would patch up to that week’s build and play the current weekly build on the internal prod server (which was not, in fact, prod) for several hours.  Then, we were required to give feedback.

This entire process made me squirrelly and it was because, at the time, the game was not fun.  It was a game, and it played, and you could cast spells and swing a sword and hit things and do damage but as a whole, it was not fun. And that led me to run around talking with game people about “what is fun?”  The result of those conversations led to conversations when making SotS with me saying, “Always do the fun thing and make the fun choice.”

One thing I believe in strongly when designing a game is that it must be fun and, fun is the #1 priority when making design considerations.  Creating fun is a selfless act — it’s the act of making design choices, based on listening to feedback, that might not be in your wheelhouse but will bring joy to N other people.  Your job is to make N other people happy.

What do I mean by fun?  When I’m talking about fun in RPGs, I’m thinking about:

  1. Is the game easy to understand and written in a clear, concise manner?  Do I have to expend a ton of effort to work through your rules?  Clarity helps get to fun.
  2. Are the game rules confusing? I call the time between reading rules, understanding rules, and applying rules friction.  The more friction the game has, the less fun it is.  By the way, that doesn’t mean that game cannot be complex or loaded with content.  Take D&D5, a low-friction system.  It has a zillion rules but it’s core mechanic of “roll a d20 and add to it for skill, attack, and saving throws” is shockingly simple to understand.  Friction is the killer.
  3. Are the rules engaging? What I mean here are they appealing and interesting enough that they make you want to learn more.
  4. Are the game rules flexible enough to apply to fun and creative situations?  Can the players bend, break, abuse, or misuse rules in creative ways and the game rules respond well?  We did horrible things to Blades in the Dark, but the roll your d6s and let’s see what happens worked well. The Dungeon World “succeed, succeed with consequences, or fail hilariously” mechanic also lent itself well to player abuse.
  5. Do the rules inspire storytelling or support storytelling?
  6. Do the rules support each other?  This one is not obvious.  The magic system must work with the combat system and must work with the skill system.  Back in Shadowrun 2nd Ed days — published gloriously in 1992 — the only thing the decking system had in common with everyone else is that it used d6s and use the power of 6 rule.  Decking might as well been its own game.
  7. Are the rules overly jargon?  Having actually written on White Wolf titles, I still can’t tell you those damn rules.
  8. Is the setting cool?  Is it engaging?  Does it even need a setting/ You cannot have Shadowrun without its goofy cyberpunk setting.  You can do Blades without Duskvol, but you’d need to run it in, say, Eversink.  Most games that are not a generic toolkit like FATE have some sort of setting or at least bring in an overlay on the real world.  Trails of Cthulhu is setting (real world) with Cthulhu overlay, while Nights Black Agents is setting (real world, future) with Vampires.
  9. Does the setting support the rules and vice versa?  Do they resonate with one another?
  10. And, the most important rule, do the playtesters enjoy playing the game and engage with the game during the playtest?  Are they having actual fun? Because, at the end of the day, the game is written by you, the game designer, but the only way to make it fun is through collecting as much feedback as possible and iterating your way to fun.

I’m going to give you an example which Kevin has mentioned in public a few times: the rewrite of the trap rules in Swords of the Serpentine right at the end.  I, myself, tripped over the original version of the trap rules.  You know what is rarely exercised in running a playtest?  Trap rules.  You know what you run over backward with a car, repeatedly, when trying to figure out how to make a dungeon encounter dangerous?  Trap rules.

The trap rules were really stodgy.  I’m not a super big fan of D&D5’s trap rules, either, because they reflect a 70s mentality and have to carry some ancient assumptions, and these were even less flexible.  Basically poison traps, magic, things that explode, that sort of thing.  I sort of wanted something, like, someone to touch a lock and then a ghost trapped in the lock oozed out and started chewing on someone’s face, but I could not figure out how to make that work.  And I had made an offhand, not particularly useful, playtest comment of:

“The trap rules are garbage.”

Because I am a terrible playtester and despite have a ton of playtest credits I’m really no help sometimes. If you ever playtest someone’s rules, don’t just write “X rule is garbage” because it’s not actionable.

The trap rules broke several of my rules above: Not engaging, not flexible, didn’t support storytelling.  My only clarification was: “Here we should do the fun thing.”  Luckily, Kevin had better playtester than me, and right before the manuscript was shipped, the rules were fixed and the traps are much better now.

I have read and do have a copy of Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun.  It’s a large essay in bound form.  I recommend people buy it and read it.  He wrote it way back in the day and it got spiffed a few years ago.  It’s useful to read.  But really, the way to understand fun is to design something, put it in front of people, and try to gauge their confusion.  You’re looking for:

  • Low confusion (friction)
  • High engagement
  • Flexibility
  • Supports storytelling

This doesn’t matter if the game is story-heavy, rules-heavy, rules-free.  It makes no difference.  It’s on you, the game designer, to hit those high notes and bring joy to someone else’s life.

Go make fun.


  • 21,933,301 completed tests.
  • 2,046,806 tested positive.
  • 115,104 confirmed dead.
  • 60,826 positive cases and  2,940 dead in MD.  (Looks like we’re finding them)
  • 1 out of every 140 people have it in Howard County

rt.live shows the virus spreading in 15 states.  Stay safe out there.

Day 88: Food, Setting Design, and You


“I know, I know,” I say. “I’m trying to shake it up a little here.”

To honor the Swords of the Serpentine Thread on rpg.net, I am going to write about… food.

Annoyingly, I kept writing about food when writing Eversink.  I expended fountains of precious words on meat-onna-stick.  Why?  Was I hungry?  Well yes, but…

  1. Food defines a people, an environment, and a biodome.  People living on mountains eat a diet rich in goat, while people living on the coasts eat a diet rich in oysters.
  2. Food helps define a people.  People who farm and herd cattle are a very different people than those who primarily fish, or hunter-gatherers.  Are people sedentary with huge feudal plantations?  Do they live on lashed together boats?  Do they farm smoky terraces of rice paddies?
  3. Food defines status.  People with a higher status eat much differently than people of a lower status.  Rich people can indulge in delicacies while the poor eat, well, meat-onna-stick.
  4. Food defines a sense of place.  Food markets, food carts, farm plots, grazing plots, fishing ponds, oceans, seas… These are the sounds and sights of a city come to life.  A city with no food is just archeology.
  5. And because of A Better Tomorrow II.

If you haven’t seen A Better Tomorrow II, first, you need to go get educated in classic Gun Fu and the Heroic Bloodshed genre of movies.  Go away and watch it.  I’ll wait.

Here’s the scene I really care about:

This scene has everything.  Chow Yun Fat.  Hong Kong Restaurant Wok Cooking.  Violence. Guns. White guys getting their comeuppance.  And, most importantly, a dissertation on man’s relationship to rice.

It’s the deepest shallow thing ever.

I have this image in my head of PCs parkouring down through Eversink underbasements pursued by some nasty summoned by a Sorcerer and then bursting up through a bathroom and stumbling out, all covered in gore, into a huge, ridiculous, ritzy gala and there, in the center of the gala, is this spread of oysters.   And me, being a curious sort who is in love with travel food shows, goes “ooh? where do the oysters come from?”  Nevermind the underbasements, the nasty, the Sorcerer, or even the benefit gala for poor Tangle Orphans.  What do I care about?  “Where’s the fish market?”

This unspools in a creative weave into building a fish market, and fisheries, and the smell of the docks, and the Tangle itself because the fishermen need to live somewhere and they do not live next to ritzy galas that serve oysters.

I can unweave anything if I start with food.  If, for some reason, the restaurant in Ironcross serves, of all the strange things, steak, and Eversink is on series of islands connected by bridges, where the hell does the steak come from?  And how fresh could it possibly be in a world without refrigeration?  Is there a Sorcerer who specializes in cold enslaved to some horrific Demonic Master and forced to freeze warehouses full of meat sides until the Sorcerer implodes in a giant bloody poof of Corruption?  Or does the Corruption go in the meat?!  How does the Demon smuggle the meat to the warehouse?  Does he also run a Thieves Guild?  Holy jumping jacks, that restaurant is a front for Smuggled in Illegal Demon Meat Loaded with Sorcerous Corruption.  And what happens if you, I dunno, eat it?

Dear God, do not get the special!

Things like this are why my friends think I need help.

I’m fascinated by man’s relationship with food and how it defines their place, their cities, their governments, and their entire ways of life.  Everything about man, space, life, and man’s relationship with food.

I once read this book, a Taste of Conquest.  It’s honestly not the greatest book of all time but I found the section on Venice deeply amusing.  Not for the food!  The food is abhorrent in that book — except these, Venetian Peverini, they look pretty good.

The book inspired me for two reasons:

  1. It lays out the machinations and machinery of how, in the 16th and 17th centuries, various spices start on one side of the world and traveled to the other side of the world, often in musty holds.
  2. The early mania for printing cookbooks.

When the printing press first spread through Europe, one of its first stops was Venice.  While at first, the bookbinders cranked out Bibles, they quickly churned out a more popular seller: cookbooks. (Then after that, you know, porn.)  Bibles people bought once.  Cookbooks people bought every time a new one was released.  Oh rapturous joy, early 16th-century cookbooks.   There are few things more bizarre, confusing, and glorious than a 16th-century cookbook.  They rarely have the ingredients, let alone full recipes!  And mostly they said: “Take a rabbit and roll it in pepper and cinnamon and roast and eat and don’t die.”

It’s glory because it talks about people, and things, and people eating things.  And it is a story of a city, and how the city worked.  And how it wrapped itself around that spice trade so people could eat rabbit rolled in pepper.

Eversink is loaded with food carts because I have a passionate love for street food.  And it’s loaded with food because it’s a place of people, and culture, and where people come together to share in culture.  And also, where the meat might be, just slightly, haunted.


  • 21,467,820 tested
  • 2,003,107 positive cases.  Yikes!  2M cases!
  • 113,349 dead.  I note we are back up to 1K dead/day.
  • 59,550 cases in MD, 2,885 dead
  • 1 in 147 people have it in Howard County

Day 84: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

I hope all of you who went to the protests today wore a mask.  This is your official reminder: covid-19 is still a thing and it could kill you.  Fight the man but be safe!

I promised I would write something short about the City of Eversink in Swords of the Serpentine.

I have many favorite things in Eversink — wackiness with Laws, food trucks, more food trucks — but one of them are the underbasements.

One of my favorite reference books when thinking about the architecture of a city is Kate Asher’s The Works.   It’s not the cheapest book — it’s $25 on Amazon — but if you’re spending time twirling a pen and thinking about cities, this is one you should have in your library.  (So is New Your City Politics: Governing Gotham but that one is very dry and spends most of its time talking about committees.  It’s one of the two sources for the endless governing committees in Eversink.)  The Works walks through each public city service one by one.  Most of them have an underground component.  Water, sewer, power, natural gas, telecommunications, subway… all underground.

One established fact about Eversink are the sinking buildings.  All buildings save the Haven sink.  Not all at the same time.  Not all at the same rate.  But they do sink into the ground.  There is constant building up, new floors on top of old, as the lower floors sink away and new ones become street level.

It’s a cool thought, but what’s cooler is the concept of a three-dimensional city.  From flipping through the Works, we know that all cities have three-dimensionality even if it’s only a few feet deep.  But Eversink isn’t a mere few feet deep for sewer lines and coax.  Eversink has been sinking for two thousand years.

There’s all sorts of weird things down there.

Let’s think for a moment about the archeology of a truly old city like London or Rome.  When you walked up to the Largo di Torre Argentine in Rome, the spot where Caesar was stabbed to death, you look down.  (Also, it’s currently home to a cat colony.)  Over the last two thousand years, repaving, river silt, people, things, and stuff, Rome is dozens of feet… taller… than it was two thousand years ago.  Check out the Wikipedia page because it has a good comparison between the ruins and the street up above to get the idea.

Now imagine the Largo di Torre Argentina if it sunk an inch a year.  That’s 16 stories (166 feet) beneath street level.  Have silt and pave-over and build up and to get to where Caesar died, if it was in Eversink, is some 20 stories down!

I reflexively go to a place of “ooh so much cool archeology.”

As an added wrinkle, the buildings sunk intact.  The rooms, the doors, the boarded-up windows, they’re all still there.  They’re just underground.  Think about the Tangle, the poor section of town where building is dense and buildings crowd on top of one another.  They all sink at once, in a buried warren of houses and shacks.

Meanwhile, the Canal and Architect’s Guild patches and plows city services underground right through these sunken buildings.

What does this tell me?  It tells me that Eversink is a giant, three-dimensional dungeon.  And, as a PC, I want a high-stakes parkour chase that starts across Eversink roofs and then ducks underground through broken Eversink sunken rooms and then to emerge again on some street and then back on the roofs again.

And there are things down there.  Stuff.  Hidden secrets.  Secrets people both have forgotten and have conveniently buried in some sunken, waterlogged basement.

We can put all kinds of cool and horrible things down there:

  • Cults worshipping forgotten gods
  • Sorcerous cabals
  • Meeting rooms for thieves guilds
  • Floating black markets with the best food stalls
  • Temples to the Old Nameless Gods
  • Random demons from a forgotten time simply lost and eternally wandering
  • Hidden gashes in time
  • Intelligent fungii
  • Swamp things
  • Forgotten libraries
  • Rooms of statues full of angry souls
  • Serpentine holding court plotting their return
  • The occasional small god
  • Government paperwork strangely dry
  • Weapons that can both save and destroy the world
  • Tunnels between major Eversink buildings so people can sneak from place to place
  • Busy Eversink Academics “researching.”

You know, things.  Cool things.  Eversink is kind of like a big mullet on its back.  Business up on top, party underneath.

Spend a few minutes thinking up things that could be down there and it probably is.  Then ask yourself if there’s some way that thing down below could affect the world negatively up above in some horrible way.  If you can think up a way, have it happen, and then point adventurers at it.  You have an adventure in Swords of the Serpentine.

I can think up a dozen more things already because it’s so awesome.


  • 19,778,873 covid tests.  This is a huge jump and phenomenally good news.  It looks like we’re getting to 500K tests a day.  We’re definitely testing.  The CVS up the street that is doing tests has a line of people waiting to get nose swapped constantly.
  • 1,925,356 positive tests.  With the huge jump in tests comes the huge jump in finding it.
  • 110,563 confirmed dead.  It is wiping out entire nursing homes.  Arizona’s ICUs are 100% full.
  • 57,407 cases in MD with 2,774 dead
  • 1 out of 155 people have it in Howard County.

Good on testing.  Bad on people keep dying at a good clip.  Wear masks, folks.  Please.


Day 68: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

As I keep saying over and over again, unless people feel it is safe to resume their lives outside their homes, the economy will not revive.

  • You cannot declare the economy “open.”
  • You cannot force people to work by screwing around with unemployment benefits.
  • You cannot slogan people back to normal.
  • You cannot squirrel at people and distract them back to normal.
  • You cannot scream at people to get back to normal.
  • You cannot protest to get back to normal.

There is only one way to get people to feel comfortable about leaving their homes and going about their business again, and that is to make them feel it is safe.  Without a Federal plan that crosses state boundaries to make people feel like the virus is under control, the economy will not turn on.

There is no “turn on the economy” or “listen to the epidemiologists.”  It’s an and.  The economy will only turn back on when people understand the risks, and understand the risks are low enough that they will be safe.

Let’s use the TSA analogy.  I’m a well-known security theater hater, but the TSA serves a very important function.  They don’t actually keep terrorists off planes. They’ve shown they’re terrible at keeping weapons, drugs, and annoying people off planes.  They’re a huge hassle and an annoyance.  They’re often racist.  But they make a certain very large population feel safe to fly because someone is doing something across the country.  The very act of theater makes someone who might feel skittish about 9/11 get on that plane.

Don’t listen to me.  Listen to each other:

  • In this poll, 83% are either very or somewhat leery of opening up.
  • And in this poll, 2/3rds of Americans don’t think anything will get back to normal for six more months.

These numbers are big enough to show that the risk calculations go across party lines.  Without a clear communication about the risks, about safety, and without clearly making progress to make people safe, no one is coming out of their homes.  It doesn’t matter how much you want to “open up.”

Unfortunately, the hard work must be done and no one seems to want to do the hard work.

Meanwhile, here in Maryland, on the State level, we’re opening 17 drive through coronavirus testing stations — including one next to my home.   This looks like a nationwide partnership with CVS to get the testing numbers over 500,000/day so that we can at least find the virus and see where it is.  No symptoms necessary.  Testing is free.  I hope they open up more locations.

The first step is to get testing to where it needs to be, so this looks like a pretty snazzy move forward.  The second step is, of course, contact tracing.


  • 12,647,791 tested.
  • 1,579,068 confirmed cases.
  • 94,926 confirmed deaths.
  • 371,374 confirmed recovered.
  • 42,434 cases in MD with 2,160 deaths.
  • 1 out of 216 people have it in Howard County.

At least testing is ramping.  That’s something.

Day 65: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

We have wandered the weft and wane of Maryland delivering masks.  They have been delivered.  And in exchange, I received 1lb of yeast and 12 cans of a dubious flavor of La Croix.  The yeast is made of pure gold in these yeast-free pandemic times and I have secured it thusly in the freezer where it will last and contribute to many bakes.  The La Croix, well.  I’ll probably drink it.

I finished the Beast yesterday.   You can see a picture of it here on my Instagram feed.

The Beast is Rheinlust by Melanie Berg. Because I followed the pattern instead of my instincts like an idiot, I used a needle gauge that was at least two sizes too big, and it ended up an unwieldy six feet long.  It is not supposed to be that big.  Also, every picture of it online looks worlds better than what I produced, so I’m not 100% certain what I did wrong.  I think I just have endless tension issues.  It is downstairs on the blocking board right now.  After I write this, I’ll go check to see if it is dry and, if so, take it off and fold it up.

I am a mediocre knitter on the best days and I am retreating back to where all mediocre knitters go — socks — like a vampire hissing at a crucifix.  Honestly, even if you utterly mess up a gusset and it has a big flappy maw of a hole, you can fix it afterward.  Socks look hard with the short rows but they aren’t, really.  They’re just done on itty bitty needles and that’s a pain and there’s some fiddly bits.

I had not intended to finish the Rheinlust shawl.  I had intended on it being a nice thing to do while on zooms because it was all garter stitch.  But halfway through our session of Curse of Strahd, it finished.  That was good, because we were getting our asses handed to us.  I, personally, could not roll above an 8 across multiple combats.  The only combat so far where we’ve been even vaguely competent was against the vampire several CR above us that constantly regenerated.  We pumped out about 200 points of damage into the damn thing.  A pack of wolves nearly killed us.

I’m still taking a news break.  I don’t think anything is actually changing right now.  We’re stagnated unsure how to open things back up and get things going again.  No one is leading. The anti-mask arguments align nicely with the tinfoil hat of anti-vaxxers, both of which should be dismissed as moronic at best.  Donald Trump is still the worst.  The Federal Government is still failing us all.  Stupid inexplicable things keep happening.

I have a theory that my deep burnout is linked directly to staring too long at screens.  In the BeforeTimes most of my meetings were in person.  Now they are on zoom one after another after another and that is leaving me drained.  I spent hours in the car zooming around Maryland reading Gideon the Ninth off my Kindle and my brain felt much better.

Even thought I pine for a faster one, I’m moving my reading over to the Kindle for my own sanity.  But my paperwhite works fine and does what I need it to do.

I am cursed with being unable to throw a curveball in Pokemon Go correctly.


  • 1,514,243 confirmed cases.  (Looks like out of ~11M tests)
  • 90,922 confirmed deaths.  I see different numbers on different sites but I’m going to go with the 91K dead.
  • 351,741 recovered.
  • 39,762 cases in MD,  2,025 dead
  • 1 in 228 people in Howard County have it.

The COVID Tracking Project is now tracking the number of tests.  Also, the gap between the deaths on the COVID Tracking Project and Infection 2020 is that Infection 2020 uses the new guidelines that include probable deaths, not just 100% confirmed.  Since we’re likely severely undercounting deaths, I’ll go with the higher number.

Day 64: A Day in the Life of COVID-19

Not much going on right now so this will be a short post.

After doing a Ring-Fit workout this morning in which I committed to stop avoiding squats after I read on reddit the most effective workouts were the large muscle ones, I put together a small custom “running track.”  And after I did that, I decided what I really wanted to do was die. But I did not die.  I took a shower instead.

Two hours later, as happens every time I try running, I was hungry enough to eat the dog.  I did not eat the dog.  He is all gristle and derp anyway.  I did, however, eat a carry out Five Guys burger which succeeded in making me ill but it was delicious beyond words while I ate it because of said running track. And from a distinct lack of greasy burgers in my life right now.

I’ve taken to walking around the block once a day with or without dog simply because I need to get outside for a little bit.  The Ninatic games help (both Harry Potter and Pokemon Go.) Pokemon Go is by far the superior game — I can’t even tell you the point of the Harry Potter one — but I keep depleting my ball supplies.  This has started a gift-and-friend frenzy where I’m constantly feeding/walking with my pokemon so it will range and get gifts and I give all the gifts away so other people will give me gifts so I can get pokeballs so I can go out on my once a day walk around the block.

I’ve beaten exactly one raid with my remote raid pass.

Also, do you know, if you jog on RingFit and you have Pokemon Go hooked to the speedometer on your watch you can jog on RingFit and bust open eggs at the same time?  And if you are in gift frenzy you can get a good economy of 7km eggs going from gifts so you have this constant supply of new Pokemon from eggs? This is a COVID-19 quarantine hot tip.

I finally moved my house on top of the cliffs in Animal Crossing.  Progress in something!

I ate through 30% of Programming Machine Learning yesterday.  I cannot recommend this book enough.  It’s the first book that really walks through building a neural net from nothing up to an actual neural net using numpy — and only numpy until the end — and spends the time actually walking through the whys of various statistical functions with the math and the why squishing with sigmoid (although everyone uses reLU) and the whys behind classification.  It’s worth way more than $25.

I’m working my way through Gideon the Ninth which is, frankly, the bestThat’s my other hot tip of the day.  Go buy Gideon the Ninth.  There will be a test.

We started watching the Great last night.  It’s on Hulu.  It’s kind of terrific in all ways.  I am pretending it’s not faux-Russia, but that it’s a Game of Thrones-adjacent world where we’re always dicking around in King’s Landing and it’s always Littlefinger and Varys time but they’re less evil and more, well, Russian.

News happened today but I need to take a few sanity days here.


  • 1,495,938 confirmed cases.
  • 90,084 dead.  90K!  That fills a college football stadium with the dead.
  • 340,609 recovered.
  • 38,815 cases in MD with  1,983 dead
  • 1 out of 235 have it in Howard County

Everyone tells me it’s time to play Strahd so time to wrap.

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