Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sudd Madarch – A Dwarven Liquor

Hammer’s lifted!  Name’s Daervin Dreadlode, Master Distiller of Clan Dreadlode, Son of Tuvand, Grandson of Baerdil, Great-Grandson of Daervin, who was Chief Distiller to the Grand Dwarven Thane himself!  And I’m at your service.  My apologies for cutting my lineage titles short – I’ve learned most non-dwarves lose focus somewhere around the third paternal ancestor, not to mention the sixteenth.  They usually fall right asleep before I even begin the maternal side.

A bottle of Sudd Madarch

Anyway, I understand you’ve an interest in the techniques of dwarven ale-brewing.  Well, forget about that – dwarves don’t do anything special to their ales.  In fact, it’s a small part of our culture.  Hah!  That look on your face is a sight!  It’s true, though – we don’t have much interest in ales.  Sure, we brew and drink a little.  Of course, it’s the finest you’ve ever had, too – a dwarf brewmaster is a dwarf, after all, and we put our heart into all of our endeavors.  But, think about it.  How do you make an ale?  Barley and hops, right?  Where do they grow?  On the surface, in the soil.  Dwarves don’t care much for the surface, tilling the soil in the sun.  No, sir – let the elves have that!  We trade them for the raw ingredients to make our ales.

No, no – we use what we grow for ourselves to make our prize spirits.  So, what’s that, you ask?  Mushrooms!  That’s right – mushrooms!  What better to grow in these grand lightless realms of ours?  Sure, we can grow lichens and other fungi, and they make for some great spirits too.  But the noble mushroom… that’s what’s best.

We call it Sudd Madarch – and it’s typically a clear, grey-brown liquid, although colors range from red to brown to black, and sometimes it’ll be cloudy as well.  The few humans who’ve had it compare it to your whiskey, but with a stronger, muskier, more pronounced flavor.  Also, one sip seems to knock your kind over.  Heh, I guess there’s something about our dwarven heartiness that makes us better suited to drinking.

Button mushrooms, prior to harvesting

Anyway, we make sudd madarch by making a mash of the mushroom caps.  After a week or so, we take the mash out and put it next to the forges to dry out a little.  It also picks up a great smoky flavor while it’s there.  From there, we take it back to the vats, which are usually carved right into the living rock.  Mix a little flavoring, usually salt, or copper, or some other mined minerals.  And, no, I’m not telling you anything more than that – I am Master Distiller after all, and I keep my secrets.

Anyway, add hot water and let it ferment for some time, a few months or longer, depending on what you like.  Once it tastes just right, and I’m the one who determines that, you get it to the stills.  From there, it’s off to the casks, where it ages for anywhere from two decades to two centuries.

What’s that?  You’ve never heard of sudd madarch?  Well, of course you haven’t!  Distilling it is the finest art, producing the finest spirit a dwarf can drink!  Naturally, we’re gonna keep it to ourselves.  We’ll let you surface folk have the ale.

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Posted by on Friday, 26 August 2011 in Gaming


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The Color of Music

My apologies to those sight- or hearing-impaired readers – I mean no disrespect to you in this article.  My intention here is to describe, to the best of my ability, the way I see and hear the world around me.

Do you know what you’re missing?  I wager you have no idea, but guess what: you are missing a sense.  You are blind, and you are deaf, and you don’t even know it.

“What the heck are you talking about, BeefGriller?  I can see and hear just fine!”  That’s what you’re saying to yourself, isn’t it?  Well, that may be true, but you’re missing out on another dimension to the world around you.  I can’t describe it perfectly to you, no more than you could describe the view of a sunset to one who has been blind since birth.  But allow me to try.

I have synesthesia – a condition where the stimulation of one sense elicits a response in another.  Now, I’ve never been evaluated and diagnosed with it.  However, I spent 40 years of my life living with it, and only recently have found a name to give it.  I have been told by the few people to whom I’ve tried explaining it that I’m either lying or imagining it, but for me it’s just there.

Now, in particular, I have what is known as sound-to-color synesthesia.  In short, I see music.  I know, you’re probably furrowing your brow, trying to make sense of that phrase, seeing music, and at best you’re coming up with maybe a sine-wave on an oscilloscope.  But you truly are coming up short if that’s the case.

My synesthesia allows me to see music in the form of colors, lights, shapes, patterns, even objects and, in some cases, people.  A song’s picture is unique – one song always looks the same to me.  If covered by a different band, or even done slightly differently by the same band, it looks similar, but maybe the colors are a slightly different hue, or the lights a little brighter in the corners, or perhaps it’s purple where it once was green.  I haven’t noticed any connection between volume, pitch, tone, instrument, note or key and the color, light, pattern, shape or size of what I see.  I can say that when I listen to a song enough, it becomes familiar enough to me that I can see differences from, say, one recording to the next.  Also, the more I listen to a song, the more detail it reveals to me.  My favorite songs become like friends, recognizable at a glance, and as comforting.

It’s interesting to see how music has changed since I was a child – no, wait, that’s not quite right… how similar songs are to each other.  The phenomenon of sampling makes so many modern songs look oddly similar.  Maybe it’s the background, the canvas of several paintings are cut from the same cloth.  Perhaps the color of the shapes in front are dancing in the same pattern.  Or, maybe, the peaks and valleys of the hills can be superimposed over one another in a perfect fit, if only one of them is squeezed in or stretched higher.

Another thing I have noticed is that a composer or conductor of a song can be seen in his or her works.  The color of Beethoven’s symphonies, for example, tend to be primarily purple and brown, especially in the slower songs; Mozart’s, on the other hand, have more of an orange hue.  These are generalities, mind you, as some of Mozart’s symphonies have the most green and blue skylines at times.  But when one person writes several songs, it’s as if his or her signature is on it.

When I say that a song is particularly beautiful, I mean that literally – the shapes, colors, patterns and lights of the song fit together beautifully, creating an impressive view.  Likewise, a song that I hate will be an ugly miasma of ill-tempered stains, rough edges and shapes that just don’t fit.

Another thing that I have always liked are remixes of songs.  When a DJ, producer or songwriter records a new mix, it is a surprise to me as the shapes that were once there are now moving off to the left, a different color, or forming a new pattern.  If it is done well, I am pleasantly surprised.  On the other hand, if changes are made for the sake of changing them, but without a good, solid, musical reason, then they stick out like loud tie.

Finally, when two songs are mixed together, or mashed-up as it is called lately, they better fit together, otherwise I can see the square pegs not lining up in the round holes.  I usually can tell if two songs can be mashed-up successfully, because their patterns will fit, or the colors won’t clash, or, well, you probably get the idea.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, “OK, BeefGriller, so you’re a synesthete.  Great.  Um, what does this have to do with gaming?”  Well, I’m glad you brought that up.  I can’t help but use it in my games, and it makes for some interesting themes.  But, that will be in a future post.

Does any of this make sense to you?  Do you have any questions about synesthesia?  Do you know anyone who has an extra sense like me?  Perhaps you, yourself, are a synesthete.  Please let me know in the comments below.

Author’s note: I do not own the rights to the images in this or any other article on this site (other than the picture in Show Me Your Dice.  I did, however, try to find pictures that were in the public domain for this article.  If there is any question, the rights to these images are owned by their respective owners.


Posted by on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 in Gaming, Personal


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Introducing New Players to RPGs

Throughout my gaming lifetime, I’ve tended to have stable groups.  By “stable,” I mean that when we would meet for a game, it would tend to be the same players with the same GM.  For the most part, each group would last for at least a few years.  There have been occasions when we would bring new people to the table, either to join an existing group or in the process of forming a new group.  I’ve mentioned previously how I was introduced to the hobby. With that perspective, along with three decades of gaming with both long-time and neophyte players, I’d like to share some guidelines I follow to ease the introduction to this unique hobby.

  1. Define Role-Playing Game Make sure the person knows what to expect with this type of game.  I try to explain “role-playing game” by an analogy to something with which they are probably familiar.  One example would be, “While watching a movie or reading a book, have you ever said to yourself, ‘What is that character doing?  Why, if that were me, I’d do this, not that!’  Well, role-playing is kind of like that – you step into the role of a character and act or react to the situation.” (I have to credit this idea to my late best friend, Andy.  The world is worse without him.)
  2. Define the setting and genre The new player needs to know what kind of world his or her character lives in.  Again, try to relate it to something familiar like a book or movie.  Is it high fantasy like Lord of the Rings? Pulp adventure like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Or perhaps it’s science fiction like Star Trek?
  3. Define the character options Explain to the new player what character types are available.  This would probably be easiest, again, by example.  Mention specific characters or character archetypes. Would he or she like to play a heroic archer-type like Legolas?  A debonair spy like James Bond?  Or even a mysterious, pyrotechnic-loving sorcerer like Tim!  (From Monty Python & The Holy Grail)  The key here is to make it simple enough by using familiar examples.
  4. Define the basic system mechanics Here is where the player actually learns the nuts and bolts of the specific game.  Boil it down to what he or she will use most often.  “When you attack with your sword, roll this die, called a d20, and add this number.”  “To see if you can dupe the bouncer, roll four of these dice, which are called Fudge Dice, add the plusses and minuses to your Fast Talk skill, and see if you beat his BS Detection roll.”
  5. Work with them as they create their first character Many systems have complex character creation rules, with dozens upon dozens of options.  From ability generation, to skills and stunts, to equipment purchases, a new player easily can be overwhelmed.  Be there while  he or she creates his character; encourage other players to be involved as well.  Explain the options, and don’t be afraid to make suggestions.  One option is to use a pre-generated character for the first session, although I don’t care too much for this.  I think it removes the investment the player has in the character, which can be an impediment to role-playing.
  6. Don’t require them to invest heavily at the outset Speaking of investment, unless you are playing a free RPG, the cost of getting into this hobby is high.  Even if you only purchase, say, the D&D 4E Player’s Handbook, you’re looking at $34.95 at a bookstore.  Add to that the cost of a set of dice, and you can easily spend $45.  That’s asking a lot from someone who may play the game only once.  So, let them use your books.  Let them use a set of your dice.  (Yes, that’s right – I’m advocating for someone other than you to touch your precious dice! Don’t worry – they haven’t played enough to build up any bad luck yet.)  Once they’ve come back to play a few times, broach the subject of them getting their own supplies.  That it, if they haven’t already shown any interest.  If the gaming bug has bitten them, they’ll go hunt down their own book, dice, character sheets, etc., on their own.
  7. Guide them in their decisions during the game This is important.  Just as during character creation, a new player will be overwhelmed with the multitude of options set before him or her.  We’re used to it, but the new player has never seen a game where you can try whatever you can think of doing.  Present a few options to them – “Well, you can fire your laser pistol at one of the robots; or maybe you can pick up your jackhammer and swing it like a club at the enemy captain; or maybe you’d like to run over to the control panel and see if you can open the blast doors.”  Also, let him or her know when the character would know something that the player does not.  It won’t be too long before the new player starts thinking of other things to do, but, until then, help them out a little.
  8. Be patient as they learn This can’t be stressed enough.  Most games have a lot of rules, new and funny-looking dice, and seemingly countless options open to the player.  It will take a while before he or she is familiar enough with the game.  In the meantime, answer the questions, show the tables, or  point out that ability or power or stat on the character sheet.
The best thing to keep in mind is that we all were new to his hobby once.  No one starts out with all the skills and knowledge necessary to jump into an RPG head-first and forge ahead.  We are the ones who know and love this activity, and bringing more people on board is the best way to guarantee our fun continues.
Do you follow any guidelines when introducing new players to RPGs?  Do you have any success stories?  Failures?  Post your thoughts below in the comments.

Posted by on Monday, 8 August 2011 in Gaming


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Show Me Your Dice

Tim at Gothridge Manor recently came up with an idea he called Show Me Your Dice Marathon.  As a gamer, I love dice.  Heck, don’t all RPG enthusiasts?  (OK, other than fans of Amber or other diceless games.)  Throughout the years, I’ve managed to collect quite a few.  Each set has a story, too – but I wager I’m not unique in that respect.  Rather than blather on about it, let me show you my dice.

BeefGriller's Dice Collection

Observant readers will note the dice bag on the right is from none other than Dragonchow Dice Bags.  Despite it being a tall bag, my dice won’t fit in it, hence the Captain Morgan Private Stock bag on the left for the rest.

Anyway, if you’re up for it, take a pic of your own dice and participate in Tim’s marathon yourself.


Posted by on Friday, 5 August 2011 in Gaming


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I Was Accepted!

RPGA Blog Alliance

Alert readers will note the recent appearance of the RPG Blog Alliance logo in the right column.  That’s right, folks, the BeefGriller is now a member of this esteemed group.  To any other RPG bloggers reading this, if you haven’t yet, I’d recommend submitting your site for membership.  Since my application was accepted today, my views number is nearly equal to my record day.  And if you don’t have an RPG blog, go to the site, and browse the links to all the quality blog entries there.

Update By the end of the day that this post went live, my views doubled my previous record.  Thank you, RPGBA!


Posted by on Thursday, 4 August 2011 in Gaming


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GenCon Misery

GenCon – the Mecca of RPG Geekdom.  Folks come from far and wide in an annual celebration of gaming, tabletop RPGs, new products, new games, dice, and other accessories and activities.  Attendees leave with memories to be told at their own games for years to come.

And, outside of all of this, are we who are steeped in GenCon Misery.  We, who are not in attendance of the single must-be-there-can’t-miss-it event.  We, who, for whatever reason, must stay home and read the blogs, articles, Tweets, Facebook status updates, and Shared Posts on Google Plus.  Sure, the technology available allows us to keep abreast of the goings-on in real time!  But, let’s face it – there is no substitute for being there.

So, last year I became aware of some folks on Twitter who, like me, were bemoaning our shared inability to attend GenCon 2010.  The hashtag used at this time was #GenConMisery.  As GenCon 2011 is soon underway, we have revived the hashtag.

Without further adieu…

On this 3rd Day of August 2011, by Declaration of the Committee, it is Resolved:

  1. That we, who cannot attend the convention in the City of Indianapolis, located in the State of Indiana, of the United States of America, said convention that goes by the appellation GenCon 2011, do hereby declare GenCon Misery.
  2. That we, who do declare GenCon Misery, do hereby invite all other Souls admittance to membership ~ provided those Souls are not in attendance to GenCon 2011 & share Misery with existing members for their incapacity for attendance ~ to GenCon Misery.
  3. That Members of GenCon Misery shall Tweet camaraderous salutations to  one another with the hashtag #GenConMisery when ever each Member is able.
  4. That Members shall imbibe potations during aforementioned Tweets while toasting One Anothers’ Good Health, with the express intent of ~ in the vernacular Speech ~ “Drowning Our Sorrows.”
  5. That the preferred Beverage of GenCon Misery shall be Whisky.  If a Member shall not imbibe Whisky, then let said Member drink Vodka.  And if neither Whisky, nor Vodka, then shall it be the Alcohol Beverage of said Member’s selection.
  6. Exceptions are hereby granted to Members Who, in Supplication to their Conscience, Faith or Physician, Eschew Alcoholic Fluids.  However, it shall be in the Expectation that Exempt Souls do imbibe a Caffienated Beverage.  Should said Soul also eschew Caffeine, then let said Soul determine the Beverage to be imbibed.
We do hereby affix our Names in Agreement and Unity, directly ‘neath & within the Comment Section…
Mark, the BeefGriller, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Posted by on Wednesday, 3 August 2011 in Gaming


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My 4E Setting Wishlist

Greyhawk Box Set

It seems the setting from Wizards of the Coast for 2011 will be the Neverwinter Campaign Setting.  Other than the minor issue I have that it is actually part of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and not a setting in its own right, I look forward to its release and plan to purchase it.  Still, it has me thinking about other settings from the old TSR that I’d really love to see updated to 4E.

Greyhawk How could I start a list of settings without Greyhawk.  It’s the biggie – the setting to end all settings, at least for so many of us who got our start in the early 1980s.  Obviously, E. Gary Gygax’s role in both Dungeons and Dragons and  Greyhawk has a huge influence on so many folks’ feeling of nostalgia for this setting.  Add to that the fact that it was demoted from 3rd Edition’s “Default Campaign Setting” to historical footnote, and you have more than a few folks who really would like to see 4th Edition Greyhawk.  It’s a traditional, generic fantasy RPG setting, too, so updating shouldn’t be too terribly problematic.


Planescape This setting set so many standards in atmosphere, concepts, RPG artwork.  Philosophies changed not only worlds, not only planes, but the entire multiverse at times.  Get enough residents in a town on the planes to change their minds on an idea, and that town could pop out of existence on one plane and be transported to another.  New ideas mean serious consequences, to be sure.  The interplay between Factions lead to deep roleplaying and pitched battles, and not necessarily to exclusion.  (OK, they are not diametrically opposed, but you get my drift.)  This is anything but traditional or generic fantasy RPG, so there would have to be a lot of work to update it to 4th Edition, not the least of which is the loss of four alignments.  Despite the difficulty, I think Planescape is a very worthy candidate.


Spelljammer Back off!  Yes, it is so often derided, but I love this setting.  Its use as a unification of all settings was merely a side-effect – it was a setting in its own right.  Almost all of the supplements focused on locations within wildspace itself.  The image of a warrior standing on the deck of a ship in space is oh-so-evocative.  I would love to see a 3-dimensional ship-to-ship combat system for 4th Edition, as well as a Spelljammer Helm, different racial ships, and the giant space hamster.  OK… forget the giant space hamster.

Council Of Wyrms

Council of Wyrms I’ll admit – I wan’t at all crazy about this setting in 2nd Edition.  You get to play a dragon, a half-dragon or a servant to a dragon?  No, thanks, I’ll pass.  But, that was back then.  Now, however, with 4th Edition, we actually have a dragon-inspired player-character race, the Dragonborn, built into the core rules.  We finally have a good foundation upon which to build Council, rather than tacked-on rules.  I think 4E can make this setting work now, and make it work properly.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any favorite settings that you would like to see updated to the latest edition?  How about, like Council of Wyrms, any setting that didn’t work for you before, but could benefit from the current ruleset?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Posted by on Monday, 1 August 2011 in Gaming


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