Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili

In the last couple years, Doritos has introduced tons of new flavors, many of which are nothing short of disgusting. I remember back in the day when Cool Ranch Doritos was the new “in” thing. I’ve become numb to the barrage of Doritos flavors that I sail by in the grocery isle; however, a new flavor actually caught my eye—Spicy Sweet Chili. I couldn’t resist giving it a try. Wow! These are pretty good. I don’t think they are as good as chili Fritos, but they are still very tasty. Give them a try sometime.

Bas-Lag and Perdido Street Station

I recently finished reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station after reading several reviews about it and seeing the Dungeons & Dragons conversion rules in Dragon Magazine issue 352. I think the book is a bit over-hyped in reviews I have read; however, I think it is still a very good book.

The novel takes place in the fantasy world of Bas-Lag where humans are the main protagonist race. Technology levels are similar to Victorian era Britain with the addition of magic. A wealth of exotic races populate Bas-Lag, and they vary greatly from the fantasy staple elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Instead, Bas-Lag treats you to beetle-headed khepri, frog-like vodyanoi, bird-like garuda, animated cactus-men, and impish flying wyrmen. Even more exotic creatures stalk the land, such as the hideous Remade, creatures who have been punished for crimes by being flesh-sculpted into new forms and crossed with animal or mechanical body parts.

The titular Perdido Street Station is the main railway hub and seat of government for the sprawling, industrial, sleazy city of New Crobuzon. This is where Mieville particularly shines, in his ability to paint a vivid picture of the filth, corruption, and horror that is daily life in the great city. Before long, you are immersed in a world of corrupt government, an oppressive police force, bizarre science based on steam power and chymical-thaumaturgy, rebellion, poverty, perversion, and violence. The author draws out the experience, dragging you down into the pit of New Crobuzon long before you are introduced to the real plot of the novel. At some point, you realize the book is sprawling, languid, and grimy—the perfect portrayal of New Crobuzon itself. I think within this lies the true genius of China Mieville.

The story eventually unfolds as a “man” against terrible organic threat. Although the creatures involved are unique, the story is tried and true. Underlying is a tale of love, a tale of tragedy, and a tale of struggle against oppression. Many plot elements find a conclusion, but just as many are left unfinished and waiting. For readers who need closure in novels, this one will certainly disappoint.

In the end, I found Bas-Lag a fascinating new realm of fantasy. I think the potential here is tremendous and recommend the book to anyone seeking something going off the standard fantasy path. Be warned that book is intended for a mature audience, being filled with language, sexual content, and concepts that would offend many. If your fortitude will stand up to such, venture on into Bas-Lag, but don’t say you were not warned. When I set the book down after the last page, I felt intrigued and yet grimy. I believe this is the author’s intent.

China Mieville is a former player of role-playing games, and he includes several characters and lines in the book for the gaming crowd. It should not be surprising that such a richly detailed world is eagerly used by some as a new location for role-playing game sessions. As mentioned earlier, Dragon Magazine issue 352 presented a wealth of information for playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition in Bas-Lag. It includes race write-ups, monsters, weapons and equipment, and a very good summary of the wards and districts of New Crobuzon. It has plenty of material within to begin playing in Bas-Lag with very little effort. Also, in February 2008, Adamant Entertainment announced an upcoming Tales of New Crobuzon role-playing game.

Additional Information

Bas-Lag Novels

Wikipedia Entries

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 76

Game summary for March 25, 2008; present characters included Eolas Windmaster (moon elf duskblade), Grim Firestorm (shield dwarf barbarian/battlerager/frenzied berserker/warmain), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/ring sage/warmage), Mael Gabrian (human cleric), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Ranulph Wathbater (human berserker/fighter/hellreaver/paladin of freedom/rogue), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger/peerless archer), and Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor/pious templar).

Wasting little time, the Mercenaries set out in search of Thessalar, lich wizard and father of the thessalmonster. After a few hours travel, the troupe found a lake and used the folding boat to head out toward the lich’s tower. Following a short boat ride, the party got to the cliff leading up to Thessalar’s keep and used flight and dimension door to arrive on his doorstep. The party was confronted with a thick-walled stone keep with a closed double portcullis. Using a grapnel, the team scaled the outer walls and moved along the parapets to avoid a stasis field in the courtyard noticed by Mael’s arcane sight. Along the wall, Mael discovered a staggering array of magical traps laid out with the murderous tenacity of an undying lich with nothing but time to ward his domain. Apparently, Thessalar is a firm believer in overkill.

Rather than meticulous defeat the dozens of traps, Mael attempted to dispel the stasis field, with success. Syvarius was lowered down on a rope and started searching for traps. Apparently, the stasis field originated from an item, not a spell, because it soon flickered back into existence. Syvarius’ presence within triggered the effect, causing four stasis-held thessalmonsters to appear—two thessalhydras, a thessalisk, and a thessalnaga! Syvarius succeeded in avoiding the petrifying gaze of the thessalisk and fled back up the rope to his allies. The first thessalhydra moved forward and launched a glob of acid spittle into the midst of the Mercenaries, damaging them and destroying several of Mael’s items.

Meanwhile, the thessalnaga warded itself with greater invisibility and started moving into better position. In order to buy time, the quick-thinking Lyrin separated the thessalmonsters with a prismatic wall. The team started hammering away at the thessalhydra, including a diving attack from Grim and a feather fall-assisted advance from Taravin. Lyrin turned the creature to dust with a disintegrate and dismissed his prismatic wall.

As the wall flickered out of existence, the skeletal form of Thessalar—his steel snake-crown firmly on his head—was seen across the courtyard above the doors on the parapet. Apparently, he had emerged from the open doorway behind him. The lich wasted no time hurling spells at those who hurt his thessalmonsters. He attempted a disintegrate of his own, with much less spectacular results. The thessalisk whipped its pincer tail through the air and scissored Grim’s left arm off above the elbow. A flurry of attacks from spells, bow, and blade soon cut down the thessalmonsters; however, dealing with the creatures bought the lich more time to hammer the team with his fell magic. Lyrin, flying a few feet in the air succumbed to a flesh to stone spell and toppled to the ground.

Grim and Taravin, using the skeleton key, appeared behind the lich and triggered some of the parapet wards. Grim was scoured with energy, while Taravin was dimensionally shifted out over the water and slowly drifted (thanks to feather fall) toward the lake. One-armed Grim attempted to grapple with lich, but discovered it to be no more than an image. Unfortunately, he was caught by a maze and sent into the labyrinth. Mael dispelled the illusion lich, Ranulph flew up to the open doorway, and Taravin used the skeleton key to return to the area where he triggered the ward. A blast of colorful rays, a dreaded prismatic spray, rippled out of the doorway and engulfed Taravin and Ranulph. It had no effect upon the paladin, but the hellreaver caught the full effect of a green ray and died in poisoned agony. A second maze sent Taravin into a labyrinth as well.

Moving quickly, Eolas grabbed Syvarius and Mael and used a series of dimension doors to end up within the keep. They discovered the second floor they could see through the open doorway was an illusion and the actual floor was twenty-five feet down. As they plunged to the stone floor, they saw Thessalar flying above, startled by their appearance. They could see a blade barrier flash into place across the doorway as they entered the room; fortunately, their magic by-passed the danger zone entirely. Somehow, the three just missed the edge of a huge bubbling vat of swirling, fleshy stew. The effect of landing in the protoplasm would have no doubt been disastrous!

With three foes in his sanctuary, Thessalar went on a real offensive. He hit the trio with a slow spell and followed it with another prismatic spray. Eolas became confused from an insanity effect, Mael was struck dead by a poisonous green ray, and the swirling colors left Syvarius a petrified statue. Eolas retaliated with a polar ray, but the spell slid off of Thessalar like water. The snarling lich countered with a ray of enfeeblement, which missed Eolas. It then turned Syvarius the rock into pyrohydra the hungry. The hydra attacked Eolas, who began babbling in his insanity, and Thessalar moved to the corner to let his monster do its work.

Meanwhile, Beardfist removed any traces of poison from Ranulph, and the cloak of the phoenix spell Morak had cast earlier brought the slain hellreaver back to life. Now, two allies are outside moving toward the opening (with an unknown blade barrier behind an illusion!), and two more Mercenaries desperately seek escape from their mazes. Any moment, Mael will be raised by his cloak of the phoenix as well. Can the confused Eolas survive long enough for his allies to arrive? Will the return of several supposedly vanquished foes give the Mercenaries the edge they need to bring down the archlich?

Halloween Revisited

Last night, I watched the new Halloween remade by director Rob Zombie. I’m a fan of Mr. Zombie’s music but not his films. Therefore, I was not expecting much from the new Halloween. Wow! Sometimes it is good to be wrong. The original is certainly a classic, but this may be even better. The film is bloodier than the original, but it is not over the top like the overwhelming majority of the horror crap of today. I particularly like how Michael Myers’ childhood was portrayed, giving you answers to the questions not addressed in the original.

I viewed the unrated version, which has many scenes that would offend (including a fairly brutal rape scene). I think the film did a particularly good job of portraying the moral decay and perversion of our normal, daily society and not just focusing on the psychotic Myers. In the early portions of the film, you almost have some sympathy for young Michael. By the end, however, the director has done a great job of shattering any attachments you could have for the character.

The movie stays very true to the original, with many scenes duplicated in homage. It was very cool to see familiar events with the added benefit of a higher budget and some background story to set the stage. I found it like watching an old favorite with new eyes and seeing it again for the first time.

In the end, the movie is no more socially redeeming than the original. The plot really boils down to a freakishly strong psychopath goes berserk and starts killing people. However, this is a strong representation of the genre and a carefully crafted retelling of a classic. I also liked how one of the characters was portrayed by an actress who starred in several of the middle films of the series. Well done, Mr. Zombie, well done.

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 75

Game summary for March 18, 2008; present characters included Eolas Windmaster (moon elf duskblade), Grim Firestorm (shield dwarf barbarian/battlerager/frenzied berserker/warmain), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/ring sage/warmage), Mael Gabrian (human cleric), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Ranulph Wathbater (human berserker/fighter/hellreaver/paladin of freedom/rogue), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger/peerless archer), and Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor/pious templar).

The Mercenaries wasted no time pursuing poor snatched Grim up the cavern. Taravin led the charge and found another mindkiller scorpion and a massive ulgurstasta awaiting. A vicious battle erupted as the rest of the party worked their way up the cliff, and the scorpion holding Grim scuttled off down a side chasm. The second scorpion stung Taravin and snatched Syvarius in its pincer, but he slipped free. Eolas hammered away at the scorpion with polar ray, while Mael and Morak used mass heal offensively. Taravin engaged the scorpion in melee while Ranulph attacked the ulgurstasta. Syvarius ripped a volley of stinging arrows into the ulgurstasta’s slimy hide.

Using disintegrate, Lyrin eliminated the mindkiller scorpion. Morak dropped a flame strike and searing light on the ulgurstasta. The writhing worm hit the team with a horrid wilting and a mind fog. It attempted to hold Eolas, but he shrugged off the effects. His retaliatory polar ray rippled off the ulgurstasta with no effect. Taravin charged the worm while Ranulph continued his attack. Soon, Lyrin was in position to unleash a sunburst, which blasted the ulgurstasta into pieces.

The team searched the area and found a comatose Grim lying under the rotting remains of a mindkiller scorpion, its animating magic shattered. The ulgurstasta’s treasure horde gleamed with gold and gems and not a few magic items. Lyrin also discovered the source of his compulsion, a fragment of Balakarde’s soul imprinted upon an everfull purse. After finding this, Lyrin was able to sense a similar pull in another direction, which the team followed.

After a few hours of travel, the party ascended to a plateau via wind walk and approached a massive claw-like tower. Beautiful stained-glass windows surrounded the upper floors, and Lyrin’s tug seemed to originate from within. A pull chord hung beside a pair of crystalline doors. When pulled, the chord caused a horrendous scream to echo through the tower. The party pulled the chord again. After the second scream, a series of clicks and thumps resounded from the doors, and they swung open with a creak. Standing within was a exotically gorgeous lillend drinking a fine wine. She spoke with the Mercenaries at length and agreed to let Ranulph and Lyrin inside. They located a statue of Balakarde, and after accepting a geas, Lyrin was allowed to touch it. As he suspected, another shard of Balakarde’s spirit is tied to it.

After reuniting with the Mercenaries, the group spoke to the lillend about payment for the statue. She proffered four tasks or payments. She requested they kill an annoying lich, Thessalar. Second, she wished they make her some artistic creation that is impressive, even to her (a consummate artiste). Third, she requires valuable magic items of interest to her. Finally, she requires the service of Ranulph as a servant and guardian for a period of one full year, starting in three weeks time. Unsure, the group debated ideas and decided to rest on her stoop. The lillend invited Ranulph to spend the evening in the tower with her, which he accepted.

The next day, the lillend and Ranulph emerged, and she provided the team with a map to Thessalar’s fortress. Will the Mercenaries accept the terms to acquire the statue from the quirky outsider? What repercussions, if any, will Ranulph face for his illicit tryst? Is Thessalar as daunting as legends say?

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 74

Game summary for March 11, 2008; present characters included Eolas Windmaster (moon elf duskblade), Grim Firestorm (shield dwarf barbarian/battlerager/frenzied berserker/warmain), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/ring sage/warmage), Mael Gabrian (human cleric), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Ranulph Wathbater (human berserker/fighter/hellreaver/paladin of freedom/rogue), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger/peerless archer), and Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor/pious templar).

After the brutal battle with Prendergast’s assault team, the party gathered their dead and regrouped. Grim was successfully recalled from the dead, but Iapetus, Chuck, and Aridarye were stripped of their possessions and left on the cold hard ground to rot. Before long, the group encountered a cleric and hellreaver also intent on stopping the Age of Worms and joined forces. After some debate, the new Mercenaries set out to follow Lyrin’s tugging sensation along the canyon wall. After a few hours of travel, they came upon a series of waterfalls and a broad, shallow lake deep within the chasm. Their attempt of crossing with a folding boat failed due to the shallowness of the water.

The team skirted the lake and eventually found a crossable river they could use their limited flying magic to hop across. They again veered in the direction of Lyrin’s vision tug. After a long hike down, down, down into the dark bleak domain, they came upon a cave. Mael recoginized the floor as an illusion covering a deep dark chasm. Morak unleashed a wind walk, and the group advanced into the caves. The Mercenaries disrupted a writhing mass of centipedes ranged from 30 to 40 feet in length, which skittered after the cloudy party. Meanwhile, a flaming sigil appeared and flashed, unleashing deadly magic at Mael, but he shrugged off the effects. The party back-pedaled into a side chamber, and Morak dismissed the wind walk while the centipedes scurried toward them. Lyrin, using his own flying abilities, backtracked down the cave-chasm to unleash spells from a different angle.

In moments, scuttling legs and gnashing mandibles met stinging steel and scorching magic. The fighting became hurried and brutal. From the side cavern the Mercenaries retreated into, another scuttling arose. A massive black-carapace scorpion dripping green worms scurried into sight, its three stingers whipping about furiously. Syvarius felt an intrusion into his mind as the thing appeared but shook it off. Grim rushed to meet the new threat head-on and found his mind shredded by some fell power around the scorpion. The frenzied dwarf stood his ground and hacked away at the beast, but in short order, his mental faculties ruptured, sending him into a catatonic vegetative state. He hit the ground with a “thump!”, and the scorpion snatched him up in a claw and fled.

While this was going on in the back, the fight was brought to the centipedes with a vengeance. Syvarius’ arrows whistled out, stinging with their anti-undead magic. Spells of sunlight, cold, and lightning illuminated the caves with the first light to ever grace the walls. Centipedes writhed, squirmed, burned, and died. The priests channeled positive energy into twitching bodies, and the paladins rushed to Grim’s aid. The fierce fighting finally resulted in the slaughter of the centipedes, but the scorpion hurtled up a vertical shaft, leaving the Mercenaries in its wake. The team could do nothing but watch in horror as a limply-flopping Grim disappeared into the darkness in the clutches of the insanity-causing monster. With no time to spare, the Mercenaries rushed to the shaft and prepared to ascend. Will they reach Grim and save him? What will happen to the dwarf if they are not in time? Is the scorpion retreating or leading the party into the midst of a hive swarming with the creatures?

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 73

Game summary for March 4, 2008; present characters included Chuck Ahammer (shield dwarf master thrower/rogue/thunderthrower), Grim Firestorm (shield dwarf barbarian/battlerager/frenzied berserker/warmain), Iapetus Hasur (hu-charad giant rogue/scout/vigilante), Lady Aridarye Phylund Brokengulf (human aristocrat/harbinger/ranger cohort), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/ring sage/warmage), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), and Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor/pious templar).

The Mercenaries spent some time requipping themselves in Longsaddle and taking an audience with Malchor Harpell. They told him what had transpired, and he asked them their plans should Kyuss’ prison be found with Dragotha. The Mercenaries had no answer for that situation but decided to take the fight to Dragotha anyway. They used a sending to speak with Lashonna who urged haste in confronting the dracolich before he could build a new phylactery. Morak used discern location to pinpoint Dragotha and confirm he was within the Wormcrawl Fissure. The team whisked themselves via magic to the Fissure and set off within.

The downward sloping fissure proved to be a very wide chasm cloaked in mist so thick the sunlight could not reach the bottom. Within the fissure, Lyrin experienced a vision of Balakarde being tortured and rotting away into a pile of worms. Thereafter, a steady tug pulls Lyrin one direction, while Morak’s find the path leads another toward Dragotha’s Writhing Sanctum. While discussing which way to go, a dry, deep voice snarled out, “This is the last place you should have come, lover.”

The party spun about to find the green-flame eyes of Prendergast Brokengulf staring balefully upon Aridarye. Beside him stood a worm-draped wormcaller, and the writhing true form of Gazzilfek. Much to the Mercenaries’ surprise, a very much undead Filge stood behind Prendergast, black necromantic flames whipping around his body. Within a heartbeat, Filge sent waves of necromancy across the party, spiraling everyone into exhaustion. He then caused a plague to erupt, weakening and blinding several. Prendergast lunged forward, slashing a wickedly serrated dire blade and hacked into his lovely wife. With a grin of malice, Prendergast swept Aridarye’s head from her shoulders. Meanwhile, Gazzilfek moved up and slashed into Lyrin while the wormcaller walked into the air and sent a barrage of darkness rays down upon Beardfist.

The party attempted to scatter and take some defensive positions but found themselves hard pressed. Grim came roaring into the forefront, and quick-thinking Chuck hurled Lyrin to safety and then hid from the attackers. Iapetus, blinded by disease, charged into the melee, swinging wildly. Lyrin began a steady barrage of magical attacks, and Taravin started engaging the foes about him. Filge sent life-sapping magic down upon Morak, stripping him of the ability to cast the majority of his spells. Only through his fast-thinking use of a wand of restoration allowed him to stay in the fight.

The battle started to turn in favor of the Mercenaries, with the undead trying vainly to slaughter Grim in his tracks. Both the dwarven battlerager and the party paladin put pressure on Filge, forcing him to unleash a deadly keening wail. So horrid was the sound, that it stopped cold the hearts of both Chuck and Iapetus, who collapsed in heaps. Lyrin harnessed the power of sunlight and eradicated Gazzilfek, Filge, and the wormcaller, leaving only the blackclad death knight, Prendergast, standing. He took a desperate charge at Beardfist and pressured him with his attacks. Grim attempted to lay him low but found his charge met and countered. Knowing he could not penetrate the death knight’s tremendous armor, Taravin moved in and channeled his divine power into the undead madman. Green flame spewed from the death knight’s eyes, and he exploded in a conflagration of emerald abyssal fire. As the fires died out, the translucent form of Prendergast, still armed and armored, glowered at Taravin and faded into nothingness. With the last foe vanquished, Grim came out of his frenzy and succumbed to the staggering damage he had received.

With four of their own slaughtered within the first hour of entering the Wormcrawl Fissure, the Mercenaries find themselves questioning again what they are doing here. How many more such minions can Dragotha throw at them, and how terrible must the dracolich be if such powerful undead are at his beck and call? Looming like a spectre over the thoughts of the vicious red dracolich hangs the possibility that Kyuss himself waits somewhere deep in the dark of the Fissure.