Chatter #66: September 5, 2002

12/14/2001 — I started the Chatter section on July 27, 2000 when I noticed that the rest of my site was sometimes getting cluttered with lots of text. I'm a talkative guy, after all! So now I talk about my life here, instead of all over the place. Originally this was one huge section, but in December of 2001 it simply became too large to remain as one page, and I broke it into dated sections, as you can see. —>PM

Obviously there has been a bit of a burst of creativity for me lately. It feels good!

So What Happened?

As I mentioned somewhere else (I think), a few weeks ago somebody wrote and asked me for some rare game material. The files were way too big for email (not to mention posting on this site), so I decided to put them on a CD and snailmail it. But the two files added up to less than 150 megabytes; and as you may know, a CD-R can hold up to 650mb of data. So I started combing through my hard drives for more RQ- and game-related things to bulk out the disk.

One program I was looking forward to including was Starmap, an old program which could generate an image of the Gloranthan night sky for any chosen date. I'm not that much into Glorantha any more (though I'd enjoy running or playing in a Gloranthan RQ game as long as it was clearly understood that I don't accept anything about it as gospel that was written after 1995), but it was still a pretty cool program.

Unfortunately it turns out that it no longer works. No matter what I tried I got an error message when I ran the executable, so I left that off the disk.

Somewhere along the way the disk turned into a little bit more of a project, by the way. I worked up an HTML index that could be used to browse the disk's contents, and prettied it up a little bit. Didn't take long, as I just whipped it up in FrontPage Express. Anyway, as I looked through my old files I found some neat stuff: a couple of RQ3 character generators (one stand-alone, another a special worksheet for Excel), a PDF summary of RQ:AIG by Oliver Jovanovic, a PDF of a pretty cool scenario that I never got to finish running (the writeup was incomplete, but the plot and key concepts were all included), some random magic items that I'd made up and emailed to a friend as part of a game I was running, and a detailed list of books and scrolls (with descriptions) that were also emailed for a game. It made me wonder what else is stored in the tens of thousands of back emails and old files that I'll never find...

It also made me nostalgic. I miss roleplaying more than ever. I think that if I was running a game it would be a lot easier to come up with new ideas, but I don't know if I'll ever get the chance again.

Old story. To get back to the point, I was naturally ecstatic to find all this unused old material—much of it perfect for the site. I don't get to update as often as I like, and unfortunately the Chaos Project hasn't been getting that many outside contributions lately. I want to maintain at least a 50/50 ration of old stuff to new stuff—just to keep in training, so to speak—and that worked out quite well. In fact, the first new book I came up with expanded itself from a Found Items entry into an entire new scenario (The Book). Or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it an expanded plot hook; I didn't put in a lot of details apart from the concepts themselves. Anyway, the ideas poured into my brain, which is a great feeling.

Another Windfall

It never rains but it pours, or some such cliche. In the process of searching I also dug up a bunch of old zines from Interregnum. Since the Interregnum site no longer really exists, and back issues are no longer posted nor available, I won't be hurting anybody if I post those old zines here. And there were a lot of them, 25 or 26 at least.

Now, many of the earlier ones were DTPed with blanks where I later physically cut & pasted paper graphics. But I soon found a way to work around that problem: I have a disk with a bunch of PDFs that was put out to promote IR, and it has the first complete nine issues. They're scanned in graphically, but I've been able to capture the graphics from my zine and reinsert them into the desk-top-publishing version of that zine. Then I print the DTPed document into Acrobat format. The result is a PDF with text that can be searched by engines such as Google, and that also take much less memory and is therefore quicker to read.

The process does take a little time, but it works well and is definitely worth it. I'll annotate and post a new zine at least once a month, if possible. Now all that remains is to find the hard copies of my REALLY old zines, the ones from The Wild Hunt, and scan them. Still, with 26 zines on hand I have enough new material for the Zines section to last for at least two years!


This installment just gets longer and longer. It's starting to feel like I can't catch up. If you're wondering, I've been working on this over several days now, and by the time I'm done I suspect a week will have passed.

Hit Me!

Traffic to the site has been holding steady at around 300 unique visitors per day. Here's a pic of the traffic from a couple of weeks ago:

That seems awfully high to me—almost too high to be credible. Are there really that many online RQers out there? It's hard to believe. The truth is, I'm always wondering about the people who come here.

When I do a major update to the site (more than just another installation of Chatter), I announce it in several ways: First, I send out a notice to Pete's Update List!, 'cause I figure they deserve it for signing up. Then I post announcements to,, and Usually these announcements bring an extra hundred or so people to the site the next day. But not long ago I was amazed to see that the hits for the day were over 1,000 and climbing! By the end of the day the hits were over 2,000, a record. Here's the graph:

(The bars are shorter because the graph automatically recalibrated—that's probably obvious, just didn't want anyone to get confused).

The next day even more unique visitors had come by—over 2,200! I was stunned. What had happened? Was somebody using some of my graphics on their site? That had happened in the past, though it never made much of a difference before.

A scan through the referral log soon made things clear. Somehow the announcement of the latest update to the site had been picked up by a large number of associated RPG sites, including,, and The announcement, along with the silly face-icon of me from the front page, was identical on every one of these pages. And they'd brought in a ton of new people.

Now, I'm not sure how that announcement got there. Either whoever wrote it is on the update list, or they just grabbed it off of Usenet—and either way, they then had to visit the site for the face-graphic.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that one of my previous update announcements also made it to this set of rpg sites, but the bump in hits was probably under 1,000. Incidentally, on the third day hits fell to about 700, and were down to about 350 after that. So there has been only a small increase overall.

I do wonder, though, if I should redesign the site to make the depth of content more obvious? As someone once wrote to me, there's a TON of material here, but it's not obvious at first glance.

Oh, another thing: it's a little scary that so many rpg web sites seem to be owned by the same people!

Chaos A-Go-Go

Which brings me to the topic of the Chaos Project. It's getting huge; as of today (September 5, 2002) there are 574 found items, 514 chaotic features, and 93 magic items. But for each category they're broken up between the archive sections and four to seven separate pages in the Alxnet books that contain the current entries. They can't easily be searched, and they're not at all organized.

So it's time to gather all the entries and do something with them. But what?

Here's what I'm thinking of doing: creating a set of three Acrobat documents, one for each category, with the entries in alphabetical order. Then the current books would be zeroed out and people could start writing new entries. They'd have the (searchable) books to refer to, so it would be easier to avoid duplicating past entries.

What do you think? Should I consider trying to organize found items (for example) by indoor and outdoor items? Are people likely to print out the books as reference works, and if so, should I try to design the PDFs with that use in mind? Should Chaotic Features be divided into positive, negative, and neutral effects, or lumped together? Or maybe group them into categories like Defensive, Offensive, Annoying, etc.? And should these be numbered for tables? Should I also post HTML versions of the tables, like the current archives but better organized?

I'd really appreciate any advice at all from readers and contributors!

Incidentally, I plan to include credits indicating who wrote what, and will also be trying to contact all the authors about this project.

The NPCs of Chaos?

I have a strong suspicion that this will be the longest installment of Chatter ever. Anyway, in the past I've occasionally mentioned the idea of adding a fourth section to the Chaos Project: NPCs. Lately I've been more and inclined to do just that. But again I need advice. If I do it, I'll make a template available; actually, if I had my choice I'd make an online form for all the NPC elements so that contributors could just fill in the blanks, with text boxes for things like personality details and history. Unfortunately I don't know how to set up that sort of thing.

A quick aside: I'd really like to move the entire Chaos Project as well as the guestbook off of Alxnet altogether, and put them purely on my site. But I don't know how to duplicate the features. If anyone out there does and would like to help, please write me.

Ahem. Anyway, I'm trying to decide what elements should be included in a standard NPC writeup. Should I include the RQ characteristics? Or would those put off players of other systems from using the NPCs? I've also considered using AD&D stats, but that would also be limiting, and in any case I'm not up on the new AD&D (I have the books, but without anyone to play with and with little time to read the books it's hard to pick up the details of the system). Generic descriptions might be most useful, since the most important part of an NPC is the concept and personality—I think. On the other hand, RQ characteristics are fairly straightforward and easy to translate into most other RPGs, I think. The same might go for key skills, since straight percentages are easy to translate. Any thoughts?

Detailed stats would not be necessary, but key skills would probably be a good idea. As for magic, I'm torn. Perhaps I'll leave that up to the contributor; they can use magic from RQ or some other system, or just give an idea of the types of spells and magic that the NPC knows and owns. Actually, I should say right now that I'm not going to eliminate ANY choices for contributors. Heck, if someone wants to submit an NPC in the form of a series of haikus, for example, I won't stop them (say, isn't that how NPCs are represented in Hero Wars? ).

Another Re-Org?!?

Don't worry, I'm not going to reorganize the whole site (not anytime soon, anyway). But there is a section which is in need of some attention, I think: Pete's Non-Game Favorites. Actually, I'm starting to think that that needs to be almost spun off as a linked but free-standing review site. The sections need to be broken into separate pages, and there's a lot of material to add; I've written several reviews for, and they really should be expanded and put on the site. Speaking of reviews, I had a bit of a surprise recently: the author of one of the books I reviewed on the site emailed me! I was impressed and a bit tongue-tied, I must confess. I've corresponded a bit with a few writers online in my day; Lawrence Watt-Evans and Joe Straczynski of Babylon 5 leap to mind. But I always feel a bit intimidated when I'm writing to a successful writer. Hmm. I need to get some work published, I think.

Pete's Handy Tips!

Can't remember if I ever did this before, but I should have. One of the things I do at work is serve as a general computer guru for some of the people in my area; I help them with relatively simple things. Once in a while I find some useful tricks and pass them along in the hope that they'll make people's lives easier.

Here are two of the more useful things that I've discovered:

  1. Intra-toggle. Perhaps you know that in Windows you can switch between the programs that are running by hitting Alt-Tab? I think it's less well-known that there's an equivalent function for switching between documents within a single application. When you have multiple documents or files open in a single Windows application, you can toggle among them using Ctrl-F6. So for example, if you have three documents open in Word, you can copy text in one and use Ctrl-F6 to cycle to the doc you want to paste it in. Much quicker than clicking on Window and choosing the document you want to switch to, I think. But then I might use the keyboard a little more heavily than most people. Anyway, it works for Excel, Paint Shop Pro, and every other Windows program I've found that can have more than one file open simultaneously.

  2. Shift-click. Often when I'm on the web I see a link I want to follow, but don't want to leave the page that I'm on. With Internet Explorer you can right-click on the link and choose "Open in new window", but I find it easier to simply hold down the Shift key when I click; it does the same thing, popping the link up in a new window. There are some rare circumstances when that causes a problem, but I think that's if the link was already set to open in a new window. And there must be some other factor as well—Javascript, probably.

The Adventures of the Red-Headed Screecher

I don't know if anyone is really that interested in hearing about Sebastian (my 11-month-old baby boy, if you're new here)—whups, wait a minute. Actually, I DO know. At least one person reads this to see how he's doing. Hi, Lois!

Sebastian is far beyond my powers of description by now. He's been standing unsupported for as long as five seconds at a time, walking without holding on to anything for as many as three steps, waving at people, talking like crazy, making very funny growling noises, and occasionally goes on a raspberry-blowing binge for as long as ten minutes at a time (after which we generally need a big towel to dry him off. He sputters a lot! ).

There are so many things I want to the way that he plays with his hair as he's dropping off to sleep, the way that he can express unbearable frustration or exuberant excitement just by the way he waves his chubby little arms, and the way that he keeps taking my glasses off—and sometimes even succeeds in putting them back on me correctly. I want to hold on to every moment, because he's growing and changing so quickly. Every new development is wonderful, and he really gets cuter every day, but each day also brings closer the time when he'll leave us to be on his own. Seventeen years from now, probably, I know; but I'll miss him so much. So I'm treasuring each moment while they last. I know, I'm nuts.

We took him to a pretty cool zoo with my parents last weekend, by the way. It's quite close to our home, which was quite a surprise; only about a 15-minute drive. Lions, tigers, elephants and giraffes only 15 minutes from our house! Who knew?

Here are some photos:

I've never been so close to a giraffe before—it wasn't more than a yard away! I should explain that my digital camera does not have a telephoto option, unfortunately. As for the tortoise, perspective sort of ruined that picture. That's my hand at the bottom of the frame, but the shell of that tortoise was at least five feet across—from side to side! Its legs were as thick as my thighs, and I'm no lightweight. And the other tortoise was standing up on its legs and walking around!

The tiger was one of two, and they were both beautiful. Somehow I can't help but feel somewhat sorry for them, trapped in that cage—even though it's a huge one, with a waterfall. They both want to be free so very badly, and to eat the annoying housemonkeys who keep annoying them with their flashing boxes.

Chocolate Vinegar Cake

Since I seem to be throwing everything and the kitchen sink into this installment, here's something neat. I'm not a bad cook, although my range is limited; I recently perfected my formula for barbecued hamburgers (more about that in some later installment), and I can bake pretty well. Anyway, I have a bunch of recipes that I mostly got from my mother, and a few weeks ago I managed to type them all into a text file.

Here's one of the easier and better recipes from the bunch. Of course my mother didn't invent this; she found it somewhere, although I can't remember where. In any case I've made it many times, and it has always worked out really well. It also never fails to amaze people: they just can't believe that you can make a delicious chocolate cake with vinegar. That you can mix it right in the pan, and that it uses no eggs or butter, are just icing on the cake—so to speak.




Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients except the vinegar together in a round 9" cake pan. Once the ingredients are well mixed, add 2 tbsp of white vinegar, stir in quickly and place in oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until center is slightly puffed and sides pull from edges of pan. Let cool, and then frost or cover with powdered sugar.

Whatever Happened to "The"?

I have a quick, probably stupid question that has been nagging me for years: What happened to "the"? Every time I hear a newscaster talk about "Ukraine" (for example), I'm taken aback, because when I was growing up it was always "the Ukraine". Likewise for the Punjab, and the Ivory Coast. They just sound wrong without the "the". But somewhere along the line in the past fifteen years or so common usage apparently removed the "the". It's sort of like the Brits with "in hospital", maybe. Can anyone explain this to me, or come up with more examples? I'm sure there are some.

RQ Addicts

A while ago someone wrote to me and asked me to link to a Yahoo discussion group called RQ Addicts. I want to support RQ, of course, but I dislike the idea of linking or promoting anything that I don't actually use and like; so I went over to Yahoo and took a look at the group. I had to sign up, since non-members didn't even have read access (that may have since changed, at my suggestion), but when I did, I found a fun little group of RQ fans. Oddly enough, they seem to have been sort of a lost colony of RQers; I don't know if any of them knew of the RQ-Rules list. But their discussions are interesting and less, well, forbidding than some of the conversations on that list. They're definitely worth checking out. I post there once in a while, and check it often.

Collaborators Will Be Shot

No, no, no. Let me rephrase that: collaborators are very definitely NEEDED. I'm looking for people to collaborate on stuff for the site: specifically, on a couple of scenarios that I've worked up. The plots and ideas are extensive, though there's certainly room for improvement and expansion; but I may never be able to get enough time to actually write them up, particularly not in the detail that I'd like. So I'm looking for people to kick around ideas with, as well as mappers, artists, and writers.

While I'm at it, I think I'll wish for a pony.

Seriously, though, if you can do any of those things and would like to help out, I'd really be overjoyed to hear from you!


I recently realized something: isn't this Chatter sort of a blog? With less-frequent but far-more-huge installments than most? Kinda, I think. And it predates this whole blog fad by what, two years? Something like that. I guess I'm a trend-setter.

No, not really.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: keep an eye out for a new scenario soon!

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So what do you think?

[email protected] Copyright 2002 by Peter Maranci. Revised: September 11, 2002. version 1.1