Monster Minute: Orcs

Hi everyone, it’s been a while, but here is the latest Monster Minute.  I had a hard time selecting which monster to do next.  Orcs was a tough thing to talk about because in Eberron, they are more of a race than a monster.  In DDO, they are considered a monster, and soon we’ll have playable Half-Orcs.

Lord of the Rings OrcsOrcs in Real-World Mythology
Much of mythology portrays orcs as rough and warlike humanoid creatures; the most famous depiction is set by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series.  The modern use of the word “orc” begins with Tolkien, and though he is famous for his fiction work, he was also a professor of the Anglo-Saxon, English Language and Literature at Oxford University, and had a profound love of language and philology.  In his own words:  “I originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-neas).”  Though there are similar words in Latin, he believed that orc was “actually derived from Old English orc ‘demon’.”

Orcs in D&D
The D&D heavily borrows concepts and descriptions of the orc from Tolkien’s work.  The first D&D orc was introduced in the D&D “white box” set, but described as tribal creatures living in villages.  In AD&D first edition, the villages were described as being underground. It was also in this edition of AD&D that the orcs were detailed as a playable race.  Throughout later editions and campaign settings, the orc has been a constant race, rich in story as much as the other player races — though in earlier books they were listed as a subtype of goblinoids, it wasn’t listed as its own type until D&D v3.0 and later.

D&D OrcsThe orc was one of the first races in D&D to be introduced as capable of breeding with other races and producing half breeds.   Half-orcs was the term to describe human-orc pairings, while Orlfs described an orc-elf offspring.   Other half breed offspring were dependent upon parent’s gender: the brutish but tough skinned Orgrillions were products of a female orc and male orgre; while the smarter Orogs came from male orcs and female ogres.

In all campaigns, orcs are described as grey skinned humanoids with boar like tusks prodding from their lower teeth.  They range in height and weight much as humans do, except they are never shorter than 5′11″.  They’re body build is almost ape like due to living in rough and rugged terrains.  Many campaign settings describe orcs as lawful evil and capable of unspeakable cruelty — some say as much as any human is capable of.

Lord of the Rings OrcsOrcs in Eberron
The orcs of Eberron are not the evil beings as portrayed in other D&D campaign settings.  They are nature-worshipers and have a profound belief in spirituality.  Some 30,000 years ago orcs came into power at the height of the Age of Monsters, taking root on the continent of Khorvaire in lands which is now known as the Eldeen Reaches and the Shadow Marches. They became a druidic culture some 16,000 years ago after learning to channel the powers of Eberron itself from great the black dragon and founder for all druids, Vvaraak.

One of the most famous orcs in history was a female orc, The Great Druid Rasha’Torn.  Some 8,000 years ago, during the Daelkyr War, Rasha’Torn lured the main thrust of the daelkyr invasion into the Shadow Marches and unleashed the full primal fury of Eberron upon the Lords of Xoriat and their aberration armies.  Only six of the daelkyr lords survived; they were locked away, along with their remaining armies, in the deep bowels of Khyber by the druidic order known as the Gatekeepers.  The Gatekeepers’ wards also shifted Xoriat in its orbit around the world so that it was no longer coterminous with Eberron, preventing both worlds from touching unless the seals were destroyed.

A majority of orcs reside in three places on Eberron:  The Shadow Marches, Eldeen Reaches, and the Demon Wastes.

Lord of the Rings OrcsThe orcs of the Shadow Marches make up half the population. They are a people divided into two unofficial groups: the tribal states and the clans.  Many of the orc tribes in this land are insular, but they do accept half-orcs and humans into their numbers.   House Tharashik originated from the Shadow Marches, though the Mark of Finding can only be found on humans and Half-Orcs.

The Eldeen Reaches orc tribes are offshoots from the Shadow March orcs, who have migrated to the Eldeen Reaches to become spiritually closer to nature.  Many of these orcish druids were wiped out during the war with the daelkyr. The orcs that are alive today in this land are the decedents of the original Gatekeepers, and though there are few, they spend their lives guarding the powerful seals that keep the Lords of Xoriat at bay.

The orcs of the Demon Wastes are the most brutal of the orc civilizations.  Known amongst themselves as the Ghaash’kala, they are strong in body, spirit, and mind.  They find spirituality through military discipline, and consider it their sacred duty to guard the Demon Wastes; preventing anyone from going in to the lands, and from anything from escaping out - at any cost.  They are a proud people resigned to a live in the taint of the Demon Wastes to protect the greater good.  Because of this they are not oppose to working with and often readily accept those who have been infected by demonic magics.

The orcs found in modern Xen’drik and Stormreach are typically immigrants, coming from Khorvaire seeking adventure or to start new colonies.

Jordan Weisman & Alternate Reality Games

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jordan Weisman, an American game designer, author, and serial entrepreneur. Weisman is known for designing games such as MechWarrrior, Shadowrun, Mage Knight, and Heroclix. But what the lecture focused on was Alternate Reality Games or ARGs.

What are ARGs?
An ARG is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform. It very often involves multiple media — such as cell phones, the internet, and TV — and game elements to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.

An ARG is primarily defined by intense player involvement with a story. The story takes place in real-time and evolves according to participants’ responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game’s designers. Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and often work together with a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities. ARGs generally use multimedia, such as telephones, email and mail but rely on the Internet as the central binding medium.

Some examples of ARGs:

  • Portal 2 (http://portalwiki.net/) On March 1st and March 3, 2010, Portal was updated to feature parts of an eventually highly successful alternate reality game (or ARG) to promote its sequel, Portal 2, leading gamers and journalists to postulate that an announcement for Portal 2 or Half-Life 2: Episode Three might soon be made, until Portal 2 was announced on March 5, 2010 for release in Q4 2010.
  • I love Bees (http://www.ilovebees.com/) – served as both a real-world experience and viral marketing campaign for the release of developer Bungie’s 2004 video game Halo 2. The story is of an AI named Melissa, trying to survive by transferring herself San Francisco-area web server, which happens to host a bee enthusiast website known as I Love Bees.
  • The Beast (http://www.42entertainment.com/beast.html) – A campaign built and executed for Warner Brothers to promote Steven Spielberg’s film, AI: Artificial Intelligence. The Beast was a sub-dermal narrative that drew consumers into the world of AI, and made them active participants in the fiction before the film’s release.
  • Year of Zero (http://www.42entertainment.com/yearzero/) – Year0 is based on the Nine Inch Nails concept album of the same name and was a campaign building up to the release of the album. The story of Year0 borrows heavily from well-known dystopian fiction crafted by writers such as George Orwell.
  • Cathy’s Book (http://www.cathysbook.com/) – An interactive book which includes an evidence packet filled with letters, phone numbers, pictures, and birth certificates, as well as doodles and notes written by Cathy in the page margins.

ARGs: Kin to Role-Playing Games
ARGs have a puppetmaster, who is very much like a game master for a role-playing game. The PMs craft the story, NPCs, obstacles, and clues for the players to find and interact with. The primary difference between ARGs and Table-Top RPGs is that there aren’t any set rules for the players. In fact, players must discover the rules and boundaries of the game on their own. Players also do not have to assume any “role” or made up character to participate in the game. They play the game as themselves.

A Trans-media Game
Clues, puzzles, obstacles, and other story information can come in a myriad of real world media. In the Year0 game, the first discovery of the game was found by fans that discovered a new Nine Inch Nails tour T-shirt highlighted with letters that spell out the words “I am trying to believe.” Which then lead to the website, http://www.iamtryingtobelieve.com/. In the case of Cathy’s Book, you can read the book by itself, but if you call the phone numbers and go to websites, you find additional information about the story and the characters. Today with iPhones, Blackberries, and other mobile devices lend themselves to new types of interaction for ARGs. Microblogs and Social Networking sites such as Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, and Myspace provide new trailheads for players into ARG storylines. Yes, that’s right; Skynet Research has its own twitter page at http://twitter.com/SkynetResearch.

The Hive Mind
“Collective intelligence”, or CI for short, is a phrase Pierre Levy created in 1994 to describe the impact of Internet technologies on the cultural production and consumption of knowledge. Levy argued that because the Internet facilitates a rapid, open and global exchange of data and ideas, over time the network should “mobilize and coordinate the intelligence, experience, skills, wisdom, and imagination of humanity” in new and unexpected ways.

In Internet lingo, this is also known as the Hive Mind. One of the difficulties in constructing an ARG is that anything that a group of puppetmasters can craft, the collective Hive Mind of the audience will quickly decode and solve it a matter of minutes. In the example of The Beast, the PMs came up with a website puzzle that would only allow one entry per person per day. The PMs thought that it would take the audience days to solve the sequence, but the Hive Mind quickly organized themselves into online committees. The committees then crafted a solution to the puzzle and assigned tasks to individuals. The individuals went to the site to input their portion of the solution into the site. They then reported results into a central location for The Hive Mind to review. The effect was that the puzzle was solved in a matter of minutes after the Hive Mind organized itself.

In the case of I Love Bees, players around the world to worked together to solve problems with little or no direction or guidance. In one instance of a puzzle, the game presented The Hive Mind with 210 pairs of global positioning system coordinates and time codes, with no indications to what the locations referred to. Players eventually figured out the coordinates referred to pay phones and the times to when the phones would ring. The audience would then try to coordinate and task sub groups or individuals to reach the phones in time to receive the message.

Find an ARG Hive Mind
There are quite a few Hive Minds out there dedicated to playing ARGs:

The Take Away: Simple steps to creating an ARG.
From Jordan Weisman’s lecture, I learned a few simple steps to creating an ARG – which can be applied to creating table-top rpg games:

  1. Write a story
  2. Create all the evidence that would exists had the story taken place
  3. THROW THE STORY OUT
  4. Hide the evidence all around the digital world and physical world
  5. Inspire the audience to find all the evidence and learn more about the story.

2009 Seattle Noshing Review

Pam’s Trinidadian-Caribbean Kitchen
5000 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
http://www.pams-kitchen.com
This place is amazing! The food is even better. Its the only Trinidadian restaurant in the Seattle area and specializes in roti dishes served with your choice of four different curried meats or vegetarian style with garbanzo beans and potato. Pam’s also stands out for its exotic smoothies and for its Guinness ice cream! Just go for the Guinness ice cream if nothing else! What the heck is a roti? Roti is a flatbread and is kinda like a tortilla, pita and naan hybrid-mix. There are two types roti and both are popular to the West Indies. My favorite is the Lamb dhalpurie roti. Try the Goat paratha roti if you want something exotic. Always have the Guinness ice cream.

Lola
2000 4th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
http://www.tomdouglas.com/restaurants/lola
The hubby took me here for a date night. Lola features a Mediterranean Greek and North African flavors, highlighted by kebabs (chicken, squid, pork or lamb) delivered to your table in a sizzling iron skillet with a splash of ouzo. Go for the kebabs and dolmades. Splash it all down with a martini with olives stuffed with aged feta cheese. Yum!

Palace Kitchen
2030 5th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
http://www.tomdouglas.com/index.php/restaurants/palace-kitchen
We went here when a friend of ours came into town for a visit. They mainly serve northwest flavors mixed with Mediterranean. Their goat cheese and lavender fondue served with grilled bread and apples is super tasty. Their entree menu changes seasonally, so I can’t say if the gourmet burger I had will still be there.

Vital Tea Leaf
1401 1st Avenue, Seattle
Seattle, WA 98121
http://www.vitaltleaf.com
Vital Tea Leaf offers a modern twist on the age-old tradition of Chinese tea drinking. Modeled after a wine bar, they have complimentary “Try before you buy” tastings. With more than four hundred teas to select from, you’ll want to come back for more. They also have an assortment of tea gear such as Yixing purple clay teapots, hand painted tea sets, and tea tasting trays. Their collection of Puer cakes is amazing! Our favorite teas from Vital Tea: Blue People Ginseng Oolong, Lychee Black, and Blue Tea.

U-District Portage Bay Cafe
4130 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
http://www.portagebaycafe.com
A breakfast treat for both Sig and I, is the challah-bread French toast and a trip to the toppings bar. Another favorite is the Rancher’s Breakfast if you like to mix your platter up with protien and carbs. Its super crowded during weekends, so we go on weekdays when we have time off or when we’re planning to work from home. I hear the new South Lake Union Portage Bay Cafe has better cooks and service, while the Ballard one isn’t worth the effort. The U-District one is consistent and the original.

2009 Music Review

Dear Science is the fourth studio album from New York based band TV on the Radio. Named the best album of 2008 by Rolling Stone, MTV, and many other music critics I decided to pick this up early this year. Its been a staple on my iPhone in 2009
Alive 2007 is a live album by Daft Punk, first released on November 19, 2007. It is the second album recorded live by the duo, following Alive 1997. Alive 2007 features their performance at Bercy in Paris from June 14, 2007. The album finally won the Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album in 2009.
It’s Blitz! is the third full-length studio album by New York band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The album was produced by Nick Launay (Nick Cave, Arcade Fire, Talking Heads, PiL), along with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. It’s Blitz was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album on December 2009
Fantasies is the fourth album released by the Canadian indie rock band Metric. Sig got this album for me on a whim at Silver Platters one spring day. In the U.S. it debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers. My fav track is “Help I’m Alive” which has kept me rolling during crunch modes.
The Fame Monster, Deluxe Edition is the second studio album by Lady Gaga, released on November 18, 2009. Lady Gaga is an amazing artist, I really would love to go to one of her concerts. I don’t think I’ve liked 100% of an album, but this is it. Most surprising track is Teeth with its gospel sounds and strong beats.
Living Thing is the fifth album by Peter Bjorn and John, released on March 30, 2009 in the UK and March 31 in the US. The lead-off single from this album is “Nothing to Worry About.” My favorite track followed by “Living Thing.”
The Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack was composed by A. R. Rahman who planned the score in two months and completed it in a quick two weeks. The soundtrack has won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and two Academy Awards, one for Best Original Music Score and the other for Best Original Song for ‘Jai Ho’. “Paper Planes” by MIA is by far my favorite track.
The E.N.D. World Tour is a concert tour by the Black Eyed Peas. The album by the same name was released in June 2009. “Boom Boom Pow,” “Meet Me Halfway,” and “Party All The Time” are my favorite tracks. Lots of energy in the whole album great for fast pace programming work.

Anne, Alton, & ATK: Steak and Mashed Potatoes

For Christmas, I got myself Alton Brown’s latest book Good Eats: The Early Years. When I first found this show back in 1995, I was just shy of 18 years old and lamenting about how my mother’s cooking absolutely sucked. So I started cooking on my own. Sadly, I found many of the cooking shows to be boring. Alton’s show was different: Good Eats armed me with knowledge! Not just on how to prepare a single recipe of the day, but really how to cook. Good Eats was not only informative, but entertaining in a Mr. Wizard kinda way and funnier.
Good Eats lead to my discovery of Cooks Illustrated magazine, by the American Test Kitchen (ATK). My magazine archive only goes back to 2000, but I remember going to the library to scribble or photocopy recipes. I love ATK because, like Good Eats, it was very informative – again not just teaching me the recipe but also how to cook in general. I found their little side bar notes and kitchen hardware recommendations exceedingly helpful.

In 2010, I vowed to cook more at home and eating out less. So I went back to what I know and love best: Alton & ATK.

My first set of recipes of the year included Pan-Seared Rib Eye Steaks and Cognac Pan Sauce (Brown 14-15). For sides I selected Mashers (Brown 18).

The steaks required to set the oven to 500 degrees F. WARNING: do not do this unless your oven is clean!! At 500, all the carbon caked on to the sides of your oven will start to smoke, set your fire alarms off and your house cats into a mad stampede! After cooking, resting meat is important, and Alton suggests that you rest in a “resting rig.”  For my rig, I opted for the thick slices of toast so that the escaping meat juices would get absorbed into a nice side treat.

The pan sauce needed a bit more work and perhaps real Cognac, I tried to substitute Burbon, but it didn’t work out as well. The instructions also say to use a blue cheese, but I found that Gorganzola was better.

Mashers are simple enough and it turned out great the first time, though a bit wetter than what the book intended. Maybe leaving the heat on a bit longer after draining should do the trick.

For this meal, I also used my plate warming drawer. Yes, my oven has one. It’s awesome! Cold plates suck heat away from the food, so if I had plated the mashers by the time the steaks were ready and served, the mashers would have gotten cold. Not so with a warm plate!

The hubby approved of the meal greatly, though would have liked the steaks with a crisper crust. Maybe a thicker steak next time, so I can get the crust without over cooking the meat into scary well-done land.

—–

America’s Test Kitchen. The New Best Recipe All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes. New York: America’s Test Kitchen, 2004. Print.

Brown, Alton. Good Eats: The Early Years. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2009.

2009 Movie Reviews

Best Theater EVAR:  Cinebarre
I usually don’t go to theaters to watch movies, but since Cinebarre opened in Mountlake Terrace (and much to Sig’s delight) we’ve seen quite a number of movies. I really love Cinebarre because it removes many of the factors which deter me from going to theaters:

No Kids – yes, kids are great. But really I don’t want them crying or complaining or whining or making any noise while I’m watching a movie. Why no kids? Read below.

Open Bar – This means the whole theater is also a bar, hence folks must be 21 and over to watch a movie. There have been a number of times where I’ve been dragged to a horrible bad movie, only wishing I had a drink to dull the pain of said bad movie. Nothing says yummy like Stella’s or a Guinness.

Food – the food is far better than regular theaters. I would say not great, but I like the burgers and drinks, while Sig loves the chicken tenders. Plus they have popcorn with REAL butter, not that fake stuff.

No Ads – OMG! I had those fucking ads they run before the previews. They beat you over the head with their stick of lameness repeatedly until you’re the consumer zombie they want you to be. Instead, Cinebarre has film shorts by budding film makers for their preshow. They also take effort to theme the film shorts to match the main show. For example, we went to see Ninja Assassin, for the preshow they featured 2 film shorts: one about a female samurai and one a modern kabuki singer. If you have a mobile device you can even go online and rate the short film. How cool is that? More cool than some fucking lame ads.

The Good

  • Coraline – This was just a pretty movie and the plot was cute. I really should go back and read the book
  • Watchmen – I mainly watched it because it had eye candy and decent action sequences. I’ve never read the comics before I heard of the movie, but I did go out and get the graphic novel before watching it. I was entertained by “Southern Manhattan”
  • Star Trek – I watched this movie twice. I loved it because it was different in good ways from the original series and it contained bits of fan homage to what was already known to Star Trek.
  • Zombieland – in 2009, I played quite a bit of L4D. So I had to go watch this one. I have a hard time finding movies that will make me laugh hard.  But Zombieland nearly busted my gut!
  • District 9 – though provoking movie all nicely wrapped up in some great eye-candy. The Story reminded me of the kind you find in classic sci-fi books.
  • Avatar – best movie all around. It didn’t even feel like a 2+ hour movie and was surprised it was done.

The Suprising

  • Drag Me to Hell – this movie was far better than I expected. It was written and directed by Sam Rami. It felt like a modern day version of Evil Dead. It was the first movie of the year that shocked and made me laugh at the same time.
  • Terminator: Salvation – this is the movie they should have made instead of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Guilty Pleasures

  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra – I use to watch GI Joe the cartoon as a kid. I couldn’t help but giggle my way through scenes that viewed ridiculous characters in a dramatic light. Destro just made me laugh. Did I mention that I’m an eye candy fan? I like the action sequences much more than I had anticipated. Snake Eyes is hot!
  • Pandorum – It’s been a very long time since I was able to see a space horror movie. I kind of liked this one because it reminded me of Resident Evil in space.
  • Paranormal Activity – I think I only wanted to watch it in theater so I could watch other people in the theater scream or get shocked.
  • Sherlock Homes – I love the costumes! The steampunk fashion fan girl was all giddy inside.

For Netflix

  • Surrogates – intersting, but not enough to tempt me out to the theaters
  • Ponyo – I was very tempted by the newest Miyazaki Film, but they didn’t show it at Cinebarre. I wasn’t up to encounting the middle school mafia nor the elemetary echelons
  • Nine – I usually don’t go for musicals, but i hear this one is pretty entertaining.


The Very Bad

  • Brüno – I went to this movie because Sig asked me to. I’m just glad I had two beers by 30 min in the movie, because I can’t remember much of it only the parts which were horrifyingly awful. I think I laughed at certain bits, but that was the booze laughing not me. I think I was done with my fourth by the second half.

2009 Video Games Review

There have been some really fun games in the past year. I only wish I had the time to play them all the way through. Much like last year, game publishers have decided to release the hot games at the end of the year for the holiday season.

The Good

Dragon Age: Origins – Just pure pleasure to play this RPG Strategy game. The story is rich and the world so immersive – I sometimes get that nostalgic feeling of when I was a kid reading some deep fantasy novel: lost in the visions on a page, but now with a game. DA:O is story, visual, and voice acting art all rolled into the media of a game. Relationships between characters must be nurtured. Combat is challenging, yet rewarding. Quests are exciting filled with unexpected twists. On the PC, Xbox 360, or PS3 it is worth playing it. You will not regret it. PC version runs pretty slick on my machine. I’ve heard reports that the consol versions have glitches.

Borderlands –An FPS Action game with persistent characters. This game is a hoot! After the initial network routing setup wrangling, it’s fun to play. It’s an awesome 4-man Co-Op game: kind of grindy, but very low commitment. This was my kind of game for 2009, since I was busy with work. I can pick it up for about an hour, get some good game time in and then walk away without having to think about it. Weapons, shields, and other phat lewts come fast and flowing – this is what makes the game play feel rewarding. The visual art style is refreshingly different. I was easily miffed at the lack of a loot distribution system. It’s a free for all — if you want to be nice and save something for a friend, you can’t because someone else will just grab it up. The only thing that is auto managed is cash, which is evenly divided between the party members. You can play it on the PC, 360, or PS3 – I prefer the PC version myself. The Firefly references make the fan girl in me giggle.

The Bad

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin – The original F.E.A.R was an awesome game. The sequel was such a disappointment. Maybe I had such high expectations based on the first game, which was unique game play with a captivating story. F.E.A.R. 2 was just so undistinguished and unexceptional that it felt like any other FPS shooter.

Champions Online – Like most MMOs, this puppy was half-baked when they fed it to the masses. They promised an active combat system with mouse aiming and mouse dodging, but they dummied it down and put in powers with a fast cool down timers so now combat feels like any other MMORPG out there. You have to select your target, have line of sight, and click an attack power button just like any other MMORPG. YAWN! It’s filled with about one month’s worth of action in quests – just enough to play for that first free month, but not enough story to keep you playing (and paying!) longer than that.

2010 Playlist
I didn’t have much time this year to play a plethora of games, so it gets added to my playlist for the coming year:

  • Play it Again Set – KOTOR, KOTOR 2, Jade Empire, Assassin’s Creed, and Bioshock. Mainly to prep for sequel game play; see items below!
  • Left 4 Dead 2 – I didn’t pick this one up as fast, but I did get it on sale for 40% off during Steam’s holiday sale event.
  • Assassin’s Creed 2 – They took what was wrong in first game and made it right…and in some cases better. I want to experience that
  • Bioshock 2 – I loved the first game so much and so far what I’ve seen says I’ll like the sequel. I hope.
  • Mass Effect 2 – Only the PC version. The consol version was clunky and inventory management was a bitch.
  • Heavy Rain – I just hope the story is as good as promised. I have low expectations for the game part. David Cage is the writer and director of this game. He also wrote & directed Omikron: The Nomad Soul, which I did like the story a lot, but the game play was awful. Still, Omikron is one of my guilty pleasures
  • Final Fantasy XIII – no more PS2 Graphics!!