Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Continental Drift

There are good maps of the prehistoric continents at the Paleomap Project, Mollewide Plate Tectonic Maps, and Paleogeography and Geologic Evolution of North America. The Silurian is particularly alien-looking, the continents assumed forms roughly recognizable to us after the K/T extinction, and the next supercontinent will form in approximately 250 million years.

It looks like what is now the Ohio River valley (west of Appalachia) rose from the ocean sometime in Devonian and early Carboniferous, after the Appalachian mountains formed some 450 million years ago. The limestone exposed at the Falls of the Ohio formed in a shallow sea during the Devonian about 380-325 million years ago. Interestingly, it appears much of southeastern Indiana, central Kentucky and Tennessee, and northern Alabama was the site of a large island (or peninsula) on the arid southwestern shore of Laurussia, the Old Red Continent, that ephemerally rose and sank into the ocean for 100 million years or so in a position roughly analogous to contemporary Patagonia.

The intrusion of the Western Interior Seaway during the Cretaceous is the closest this area came to sinking since then.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Night of the Living Dead" Farmhouse Map

This is the first floor of the farmhouse from the original "Night of the Living Dead", translated into a 5-foot scale battlemat. Adapting real buildings to a battlemat can require some distortion, but the layout of the map is reasonably faithful to the film.

The farmhouse from the 1990 remake has a similar, but slightly different layout. The rooms are in roughly the same location, but the front door is in the central hallway and the kitchen is much smaller.

The cellar is a single small room with a door that can be barred, in which hide Tom and his girlfriend Judy, Harry and Helen Cooper, and their daughter Karen. The keys to the shed are always in the cellar. We only get a brief glimpse of the upstairs hallway, and the only thing known about the layout of the upstairs is that it's possible to toss Molotov cocktails from a bedroom out in front of the house.

1. The Farmhouse

A. Back Porch.
The easiest entrance to the farmhouse is via the unlocked door on this small roofed porch, which allows ingress to the kitchen.

B. Pantry
Sacks of flour and cans of pickled vegetables line the walls of this small pantry.

C. Kitchen
Counters and cabinets line the walls of the kitchen, and a small table occupies the center of the room. Toolboxes in the kitchen cabinets hold hammers, handaxes, and nails. A sliding door connects to the pantry.

D. Dining Room
A table and setting for four sits at the center of the room, and a sofa and armchairs line the walls.

E. Front Porch
A picnic table offers a place to sit, but the front door itself is locked.

F. Drawing Room
The leering, mouldering heads of mounted animals—a deer, a boar, and the skin of a bobcat—grimace from the walls of this room. A desk, littered with diverse rumpled papers and candlesticks, faces the fireplace.

G. Closet
Materials for maintaining the fire are stored in this closet, including a box of firewood, a clearly labelled bottle of lighter fluid or flammable oil, and a box of matches.

H. Hallway
A trickle of putrid blood is pooling at the base of the stairs.

I. Sitting Room
Armchairs and occasional tables line the room, facing the fireplace.

J. Closet
This small close is mostly filled with fine women's shoes and clothes. A rifle and a box of ammunition is hidden behind the clothes.

BTW, and according to Wikipedia, it seems that the original movie was filmed near Evans City, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles from Pittsburgh. The shots of the exterior and lower floor were filmed at a house that was afterwards demolished. Here's some then-and-now photos of the cemetery.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wizard's Bastle

This map is inspired mostly by the fortified houses of the Scottish and English border regions, especially the L-plan castles which allow defenders to fire on people attacking the door. It also takes the basic idea of the bastle house, which keeps livestock inside the fortified house and includes internal defenses against intruders to protect the residents.

Rooms on upper two floors have arrow slits for light and air, which can be closed with wooden shutters during rainstorms or in the cooler months. Doors on the upper two stories are good wooden doors (Hardness 5, 15 hp, Break DC 18) while doors on the first floor are iron-reinforced strong doors (Hardness 5, 20 hp, Break DC 25).

1A. Stables
A steel-reinforced double door provides access to the building through the stables and a small storage area.

1B. Loading Room
Ladders, rope, pulleys, and tackle in the room above allow the inhabitants to enter and bring supplies into the upper, living areas of the tower. The portal in the ceiling to area 2A can be shut and barred from above. A trapdoor in the southern half of the room leads down to area LA.

2A. Storage Entryhall
Ropework and block and tackle mounted to the ceiling in this room allows residents to hoist barrels and crates of supplies up from the Loading room below. In an emergency, the ladders can be drawn up and the portal closed and barred to prevent raiders from entering the living quarters. A large stack of crates stands in the southern half of the chamber.

2B. Hallway
A simple hallway connects the entryhall, the library, and the butler's quarters. A flight of stairs leads up to area 3A.

2C. Library
The library is lined with bookshelves on its eastern and southern walls, but contains several weapons racks of spears, chests of arrows and crossbow bolts, as well as a few mannequins wearing suits of mail.

2D. Butler's Quarters
This large room holds a bunk and living quarters in the north half, as well as fireplace and kitchen along the south wall.

3A. Parlor
Several comfortable armchairs and tables stand in this well-appointed room; a service is laid out for afternoon tea.

3B. Master Bedroom
This luxurious master bedroom has two large chifforobes on the east wall, as well as pot-bellied stove southwest corner. Tapestries and weird, surrealistic portraiture decorates the walls.

3C. Laboratory
Tables of alchemical glassware, cabinets of strange materials, locked bookshelves, mounted skeletons, taxidermically-preserved monsters, and symbol-covered rings on the floor crowd the laboratory. A small trapdoor in the ceiling provides access to the attic or roof.

LA. Basement
Crates and supplies can be hoisted down to this room from the large trapdoor in area 1B in much the same way as they are moved to the rooms above.

LB. Dungeon
Two large empty cells can be closed with a simple padlock.

LC. Cellar
Crates of root vegetables and other foodstuffs are stored in this cool room.

LD. Cistern
A large wellshaft in the center of this room is full of water, providing the building with a constant supply.

Game Board Dimensions

GameMastery flip-mats are 24 squares by 30 squares. The Incompetech graph paper generator lite can create graph paper to match: using a square size of 0.3125 inches will leave a half-inch margin on the PDF. Making a flip-mat-sized map using this method would require a canvas of 1200 by 1500 pixels.

The generator lite is also a way to quickly create 8x10 or 8x12 boards for variant chesses. An 8x10 board can fit on letter-sized paper with 0.9375-inch squares, leaving a half-inch margin. An 8x12 board can fit on letter-sized paper with 0.83-inch or smaller squares. Inkscape can easily checker these PDFs for a quick-and-dirty board.

I tend to prefer the square cross generator, usually. With a margin of 0.5 inches and 3 crosses per inch, it creates graph paper that is 22 cells by 30, which is only slightly narrower than a flip mat.

Hexagonal maps are useful, but the dimensions of hexagons are not as straightforward as other tessellations. Hexagons are usually defined by their side length, but the distance between parallel sides is more useful for my purposes. That's, very roughly, about 1.732 times the side length. Hexagons big enough to hold 25-mm miniatures should have sides of about 15 mm.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Poker in the 19th century

James McManus's essay "What Poker Can Teach Us" in the Chronicle of Higher Education is an OK essay, but for some reason it sent me trudging through the murky history of poker. I tend to be more of a fan of the whist-family of games, not so much for the current rage for Texas hold'em. But antiquarian variants sometimes hold interesting gameplay, which is usually somewhat unrefined. has an detailed overview of the game's history:

Original Poker, a game in which four players received five cards each from a 20-card pack and vied as to who held the best hand, evidently originated in the New Orleans some time between 1810 and 1825. Its gaming milieu was that of French-speaking maritime gambling saloons, especially those of the Mississippi steamers. Its name suggests that its first players felt they were continuing the tradition of playing a game called Poque in which one said Je poque to open the betting. At this time and place, and before it underwent development, Poque probably denoted a five-card vying game consisting of the central section of a formerly tripartite game of the same name.

...In the 1830s, having spread northwards along the Mississippi and westwards with the expanding frontier, Poker had adopted its anglicized name and become increasingly played with 52 cards to accommodate a greater number of players, thus also giving rise to the flush as an additionally recognized combination. Under the influence of Brag, its three-card British equivalent, it adopted the draw. This led to its further and more rapid expansion of popularity, as Poker-players preferred the additional round of betting after the possibility of improving a promising hand, while Brag-players preferred the wider range of combinations offered by a five-card hand.

British Brag certainly looks like an interesting game, with a similar style but somewhat different wagering and gameplay; American brag is often described as different from contemporary or modern English brag. Edmond Hoyle published his first treatise on whist in 1742, and his 1750 compendium of treatises described backgammon, brag, chess, pique, quadrille, and whist. These original volumes are apparently mostly held by collectors, and I can't find online copies. Hoyle's work became genericized and republished in increasingly-unrelated editions, which aren't on Project Gutenberg, but Google Books has some copies.

The American Hoyle (New York, 1864) has good descriptions of poker, brag, whist and faro as played in America at the close of the Civil War. The description of brag seems very similar to the English game, except the Knights and Nines are known as "braggers", which are ranked much like wild cards. However, vying appears to be much the same as in the English game.

This work describes poker as a straight game in which the players wager on the hand as dealt, without drawing. The cards are ranked from a pair, two pair, three of a kind, flush, full house, and four of a kind; it describes the straight as a regional variant. Draw poker, the historic "twenty-deck" or twenty-card poker, and (five-card) stud poker are all variants.

Other Hoyle-derived texts on Google Books include
  • An Epitome of Hoyle (Dublin, 1791), which includes thirteen games, "with an account of the present fashionable Game, called E-O, played at most of the polite Chocolate Houses, never before attempted in print".

  • Hoyle's Games Improved (London, 1814) includes essays on horse racing, skittles, and other games.

  • Hoyle's improved edition of the rules for playing fashionable games (Philadelphia, 1838) includes a description of brag seems mostly similar to the English game, but makes clear that the Knaves and Nines (the "braggers") are wild cards. It's also one of the editions that contains a treatise on cock-fighting and breeding gamecocks.

  • Hoyle's games (Boston, mid-19th century) describes billards, games for "Yankee-notion cards", and Thomas Frere's chess handbook (which includes a four-handed game on a Dessau board).

  • Hoyle's games (New York, 1887) briefly describes poker as straight poker, without draw or stud variants or the straight. "Twenty-deck" poker, with a 20-card deck, remains a variant.

Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains (1836) is the first printed reference to poker; it has a handy footnote to explain it as "a favorite game of cards in the south and west." Jonathan Harrington Green's 1843 anti-gambling screed describes it as a game for a 20-card deck "that is immensely destructive—perhaps more so than any other short game of cards now in use..." Joe Cowell's 1844 memoir relates a legend that it was invented by Henry Clay in his youth. Professional gambler and con man George Devol's 1887 memoir "Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi" is at both Google Books and Project Gutenberg.

Later, poker entered literature. The most significant description of a poker game in Mark Twain's Life on the Missippi is Chapter XXXVI, "The Professor's Yarn". It seems Stephen Crane's story "A Poker Game" was posthumously published in "New York City Sketches" in 1966. This book anthologizes some of the above, as well as 20th-century stories from folks like Bertolt Brecht, W. Somerset Maugham, John Updike, cryptologist Herbert O. Yardley and Truman's White House Counsel, Clark Clifford. McManus reports that Obama is the most recent poker-playing president.

Three-card poker is a modern poker-like game influenced by three-card brag, but without the distinctive vying element of either game, and a good house edge. A three-card straight poker could be an interesting toy poker, though, with fewer and simpler hand rankings.