Air travel, scans and searches, and you

I've been following the recent TSA policy changes with great interest and concern. It seems that in late October 2010, TSA changed its airport security policies to include a far more invasive "pat down" for travelers who opt out of the backscatter x-ray scan (or "nude-o-scan," as it's been called). Citizens have health and privacy concerns about TSA's Advanced Imaging Technology program and privacy and other civil rights concerns about the advanced frisks. Because these methods are basically ineffective terrorism countermeasures, it upsets me that people have to endure these risks to fly. Call your senators and representatives and let them know how you feel.

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[Caldera] Residuum (Magic)

Caldera is my new fantasy setting for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Two million people are packed into a city of street levels stacked on top each other like pancakes. Why? Because the leaders figured out that the emotional and creative energy of people living close together creates magic. This is an article about the rock beneath the city becoming infused with magic.

Read more about Caldera on my Obsidian Portal website.


The core rules explain that disenchanting a magic item extracts the magic from it and transforms that magic into a fine, silvery dust called residuum. It’s so rare and useful that a mere pound of it is worth 500 thousand gold pieces. Wow, right?

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[Red Box D&D] Keep on the Borderlands

B2 Keep on the Borderlands module cover (courtesy Wikipedia)
So yesterday I gathered a few friends and we played a bit of B2 Keep on the Borderlands using the Basic D&D (Moldvay) set from 1981. I still have my original books, the ones I cut my teeth on when I was ten years old. I dug up a fantastic replica of the old character sheets and printed out a dozen for the 3-4 players I expected. I re-read the Keep and skimmed the Basic rules again. It was surprising how much I still remembered after 25-30 years.

I had three players. Jamie doesn't really like D&D and had never played the Basic version. Mark hadn't role-played much in years and years. Brandon had started with D&D 3rd Edition.

We made up characters by the book. 3d6, six times, in order for the attributes. No rerolls, no swapping. Pick a class based on the stats you rolled. Brandon had a good Strength and Intelligence, so he chose an Elf. Jamie wanted to play a Thief and got the good Dexterity score to back it. Mark's best stat was Intelligence, so he chose a Magic-User. When they rolled hit points, Mark managed to roll a 1. Ouch! Well, we were playing by the book so we went with it. The Elf's spell book got Read Magic, Charm Person, and Protection from Evil (memorized). The Magic-User's spell book got Read Magic, Sleep, and Magic Missile (memorized). I let them choose their spells, realize.
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Caldera: Life and Death

I hadn't planned on posting today. I had a tough day lay-off) and spent my time doing other, more important things. However, as I peeked over some of the Bloodsand Arena material that previews the Wizards of the Coast's Dark Sun setting, I thought about life and death in Caldera.

In the Dark Sun world, life is cheap. No one cares if you live or die. I realized that Caldera is different. I believe the city is a bit schizophrenic about the issue of death. On one hand, two million people are crammed into a city, stacked like sardines, so violence is a fact of life. On the other hand, the government has a compelling interest in increasing the city's population.

This got me thinking. If population growth is a primary concern, the senate would do everything in its power to combat those things that attack a city's population growth: disease, malnutrition, violent crime, fires, and exodus.

I recently posted an article about dwarf sickness, a disease unique to Caldera. The city is constantly stricken with all kinds of ailments, normal and magical. These ravage the city population. A terrible plague can wash over a city and kill a vast number of people.

The senate funds the temples to research divine magic that can cure diseases. The temples sponsor clerics who go among the sick, helping them.

In general, Caldera has enough food for its people. There is sufficient farm land around the city to provide basic needs for everyone. There's a grain dole for the poorest. The problem is getting the food to the people who need it most. Evil gangs intercept food deliveries and extort the citizens.

The senate deputizes adventures as police to protect food silos and shipments from gangs and monsters (especially giant rats).

Violent Crime
While there are many complicated laws prohibiting and punishing criminal acts, the senate has been unable or unwilling to fund a proper police force. There's a long tradition of justice requiring the plaintiff to drag the defendant to court. That is, the aggrieved party has to do the policework.

Recently, the senate has started deputizing strong adventurers to go out and bring the worst criminals to justice. Before this, citizens would hire adventurer types to serve as bounty hunters. This still occurs, especially when a noble house wants swift justice.

Especially in old cities like Caldera, fires are a huge threat. Either by arson or accident, a fire can spread quickly in a city so densely packed as this. Most of the city's buildings are made of stone but they contain a great deal of wood and other flammable materials, and even stone burns.

The senate has established a system of fire squads and preparation. Firefighting in Caldera is very dangerous due to the presence of elemental fire created by magic. This fire seems to have an evil will of its own. PCs might be hired to serve on a firefighting team.

The simplest way a city loses its population is by exodus. That is, conditions get bad and people just leave. This is not easy to do in Caldera.

Centuries ago, the city's government made it very difficult to leave the city. Only trusted mercantile citizens come and go as they please. It is easy enough to get into the city. To get out requires having the right papers.
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Caldera: Servilla Caste

Nothing too exciting today, setting-wise. Finishing up castes with the lowest of Caldera's four casts: Servilla.

Caste Servilla: Workers & Farmers

The Servilla cast is comprised of two groups: the Manutha ("Laborers") and the Greia ("Farmers"). The Manutha are expected to do all the hard, unskilled labor in the city, such as mining, porting, and cleaning. All the farming and animal raising (herding, milking, and so on), however, is done by the Greia, whose families are tied to the land they sow. These are not serfs or slaves, but hard-working lower class families. The highest ranking among them are overseers and managers.
Servilla are barred from holding any public office. This is not a point of contention for most of the caste, though there are occasional rabble-rousers.

Members of this caste have an unwritten code of good behavior that includes the following four commandments:
  1. Labor is the furnace that hardens men. Work hard and be proud of the work you do.
  2. Harm no one. Live a peaceful life.
  3. Share with others less fortunate.
  4. Honor your family and your gods.
These commandments are ideals and it's a rare individual who leads a perfect life.

(I owe some caste feats for Servilla.)