• Denizens of the Sea

    I’ve published an article about underwater adventuring in the past, in which I mentioned that “fish-people” had several advantages over “land-lubbers” when it came to mobility and fighting in an underwater environment. A later post included a few items that could help those land-lubbers close the gap… so how about we take a look at those fish-people now? As a bonus, you get a nice little bundle of setting info you can drop on your campaign if you want.

    The Fate of Atlantis

    The name “Atlantis” figures in the myths and legends of many more places than it should. Cultures that have never heard of each other have stories about an empire that ruled the waves in ancient times but no longer exists. The stories might differ but the name is always the same.

    That’s because ancient Atlantis was the largest and most powerful underwater civilization to ever exist. They discovered a means of traveling to other worlds and exploited it with gusto.

    Despite its power Atlantis eventually fell, as all empires do. The exact sequence of events is more or less impossible to piece together, and mostly irrelevant in the present day. The important bit is that their inter-world travel network was the first thing to go, instantly fragmenting the empire. That’s why each of them has a different story about how Atlantis fell - those stories talk only about the bits of it they knew about. In some, it happened overnight due to a cataclysm. In others, they eventually morphed into successor cultures that might still be extant in the present day.

    Aside from giving rise to a whole bunch of legends and to fueling the occasional would-be despot’s ambitions, the most enduring legacy of Atlantis was its underwater engineering. They pioneered a lot of the techniques that used to make sturdy weapons and tools out of implausible aquatic materials like bone, shell, coral, and mother-of-pearl. They were also the first civilization to successfully make and work orichalcum.

    But we’re not here to talk about stuff, we’re here to talk about people.

    So Let’s Talk About People

    Opinions differ on whether Atlantis was a Golden Age utopia or a despotic empire whose downfall was a blessing to the world, but everyone agrees it was pretty diverse. Unlike most typical dungeon fantasy kingdoms, its citizens belonged to many different species with none of them making up an overwhelming majority of the population.

    Many of Atlantis’ citizens can be described using already-published stats. Sea Elves and Water-Infused from GURPS DF 3: The Next Level fit very well, as do the Argonians from this post. The octopus- and shark-folk from GURPS Banestorm are also good fits, though they’re a bit more complex and costly than the standard for DF racial templates.

    Below are a few new templates, with the overall goal of allowing a diverse all-underwater party if the group wants to play that type of campaign. A couple of the new ancestries I present here might have equivalent official templates already, but since I don’t have those I’m writing new ones for my own use.

    These templates assume that being Amphibious also makes you able to see and hear unimpeded while submerged, and the ability to breathe underwater also makes you able to speak there. I feel this is in line with the simpler feel of Dungeon Fantasy. If you want to follow Banestorm’s assumptions instead, give all templates here one level of Nictitating Membrane {1} and Speak Underwater {5}, increasing their costs by 6 points each.

    Atlantean (20 points)

    This template describes people who are a product of successive generations of intermarriage between the other species that made up the population of Atlantis, and possibly some surfacers too. They are known as “Atlanteans” because their general look became associated with that empire. Surprisingly, they look a lot like humans even when they have no humans among their ancestors.

    Atlanteans are warm-blooded, have legs, and can breathe both water and air. Their human-looking bits exhibit the same ethnic variety as humans. Individuals can also have a variable number of “fishy” traits like visible gills, fins, blue or gray skin, and so on. These might be visually striking but are never significant enough to count as more than 0-point features.

    Atlanteans can appear in worlds that had an Atlantis, or those whose underwater peoples are generally friendly with each other. The base stats could also be used as they are or modified a bit to represent any species of underwater humanoid.

    Advantages: Amphibious {10}, Gills {10}.

    Other Traits: Those fishy bits might count as varying levels of Unnatural Features in a setting where almost everyone is human and the character is the only known Atlantean, but in all other situations they’re 0-point traits. If the character has something like rigid fins or a prominent tail growing out of their lower back, they might need adapted body armor. This doesn’t cost extra, but might restrict their usage of looted armor.

    Crab-Folk (40 points)

    Crab-folk are sapient humanoid crustaceans easily distinguished by their heavy segmented carapaces. Like crabs, they lack distinct heads and their eyes are located at the end of a pair of flexible, retractable stalks. Unlike crabs, they only have the usual complement of humanoid limbs, though these are still armored.

    Crab-folk can operate normally on the surface, but their gills begin to dry out if they go more than a day without being immersed in sea water. This means they tend to stick close to the coast. Their voices sound strange and “bubbly” outside the water, which most surfacers find off-putting.

    Advantages: 360-degree Vision {25}; Amphibious {10}; Gills {10}; Damage Resistance 5 (Cannot Wear Armor) {15}; No Neck {5};

    Disadvantages: Cold-Blooded {-5}; Disturbing Voice (In Air, -50%) {-5}, Dependency (Sea water, Daily) {-15}.

    Optional Traits: If your campaign takes place far from a coastal area, the Dependency disadvantage is worth -30 points, and the template therefore costs only 25. Your local alchemist can prepare a solution close enough to seawater to satisfy the requirement, but it’s still not free.

    Deep Ones (50 points)

    These humanoids are much more obviously “fishy” than Atlanteans, with an anatomy closer to that of an abyssal fish than a human’s. They’re adapted to the lightless depths of the ocean and that’s where they prefer to make their homes. Deep Ones can swim up to the shallows without suffering ill effects, but can’t breathe air.

    After Atlantis fell, it was not uncommon for its Deep One settlements to become more isolated and break contact with shallower or surface communities. This some times gave rise to sinister legends and rumors about what they got up to down there. These are mostly bunk: they are no more prone to worshiping Elder Things than any other species.

    Advantages: Amphibious {10}, Dark Vision {25}, Fangs {2}, Gills {0}, Pressure Support 3 {15}, Tough Skin 1 {3}.

    Disadvantages: Cold-Blooded {-5}.

    Optional Traits: A variant that can operate on the surface would be closer to several classic D&D fish-people. They have the 10-point version of Gills and so cost that much more.

    Merfolk (20 points)

    Merfolk are humanoid from the waist up and have fish bodies from the waist down. They can breathe both air and water and have naturally melodious voices in both mediums, but they require magic or assistive devices like wheelchairs to operate on land. Their human halves display the same variance as Atlanteans, and their fish halves can resemble a variety of species of fish, shark, or cetacean.

    Advantages: Gills {10}, Voice {10}.

    Disadvantages: No Legs (Aquatic) {0}.

    Features: The “Leg” and “Foot” hit locations on merfolk refer to their tail and lower fins instead. Armor for those locations must be specially constructed. As usual this doesn’t cost extra but limits which looted armor they can use.

    Optional Traits: If your character’s fish half mimics a particularly speedy species, they might have Enhanced Move 1 (Water) for an extra 20 points. At the GM’s option, this might be a matter of training instead of biology, which means any merfolk character can buy this with earned points as a power-up.

  • The Great Tabletop Hackaton: Hard Wired Island

    Hard Wired Island's cover.

    Hard Wired Island is a cyberpunk game published by Weird Age Games in 2020. It’s a beefy 400 page tome comparable in size to the Shadowrun or CP RED cores, but only about 25% of that is rules.

    Setting Overview

    Hard Wired Island takes place in Grand Cross, an O’Neil Cylinder habitat orbiting Earth’s Lagrange 5 point, in the “distant future” of 2020. It was built according to an idealistic plan in the wake of terrible environmental and economic disasters on Earth, but is currently in the process of being co-opted and corrupted by the interests of ultra-rich corporations and elites. The way in which this is happening is described in very realistic detail throughout the book, which also talks a bit about what people do to fight back. PCs are usually expected to help in that fight, if not for moral reasons then because those billionaires cause constant economic shocks that threaten their survival. This is the main conflict in the setting.

    Grand Cross has cybernetic implants, gene editing, fully sapient AI and androids. However its “global net” is still pretty much the internet of 2020. It’s even named “the internet”.

    Every building in the station is wired for high-speed internet. The airwaves are serviced by cell carriers like the ones you know from the real world, and some of its wards even have free public wi-fi, though that tends to be poor quality because capitalism is the worst virus. The station is linked to Earth’s internet by satellites, with a 1.2-second lag there due to the physical distances involved. Most big services have station-local data centers to try and get around this, and there are some GC-native ones as well like HeoCities (website hosting) and Pulser (a Crosser social network).

    Hackers are simply called hackers. Their equipment is collectively known as a Hacking Suite, and it can be anything from computers that wouldn’t look out of place here in the real world to some fancy cybernetic implant. Target systems tend to be private corporate intranets or other networks located on the station, and whether hacking is done remotely or on-site depends on the specific mission.

    Mechanics Overview

    Most tests in Hard Wired Island use 2d6, with bonuses coming from one of the PC’s main stats/approaches (Cool, Clever, Tough, and Quick), from a skill specialty, from Augments (implants), and from Assets, which are special equipment. There are rules for rolling with advantage/disadvantage (add a d6 and drop the lowest/highest) or for Boosting rolls (add a d6, don’t drop anything). Criticals happen when two or more dice roll the same value.

    The system for hacking is a mixture of the systems for stealth and social interaction. It has a set of specific actions associated with it, but also uses some actions from those other systems.

    Hackers begin each hacking attempt in a state called “Ghost”, meaning they haven’t been detected by the target system’s security. They also begin with three chances to avoid getting caught. Every time a hacker needs to do something that requires a die roll, they might get caught if that test fails, and must spend a chance in order to avoid that. If they fail a roll after running out of chances, they’re discovered and their physical location is traced. Security is on its way, but the hacker can still disconnect and try to run. A hacker can try a Cover Your Tracks action to restore lost chances, but that’s also a roll so it might backfire.

    Target networks have two stats: a Network Level that determines the basic difficulty of all tests made against it, and a Mood that describes the strictness of its security procedures and how willing it is to let you do things. Hacking is mostly about improving the network’s Mood towards you. Friendly networks are helpful, giving Advantage for data searches within then. Indifferent networks neither help nor hinder. Hostile networks assume everyone is an intruder until they can prove otherwise.

    Most networks start out Indifferent, and their mood can be improved to Friendly through hacking actions, or degrade to Hostile by failures. Hostile networks can’t have their mood improved except by gaining admin access. This can be done by succeeding at a number of rolls equal to its Network Level, but it’s not strictly necessary to accomplish your goals. Admin access on a network makes it Friendly, and prevents its mood from lowering. Doing anything in there becomes almost trivial and you only need to maintain Ghost if someone intelligent is monitoring the network (like another admin or an AI).

    There’s no deadly ice here, and no cybercombat at all. Getting discovered and traced is usually enough of a threat here, since those armed goons will kill you just as dead, and the heightened state of alertness from the target will also complicate your teammates’ lives.

    Hard Wired Island tries to abstract the extensive planning sessions players of other games engage in with a resource named “Prep”. Before the mission itself you use actions to gather both Individual and Group Prep, and you spend those points during missions to use your Assets or acquire new ones on the spot.

    Run Parameters

    We do have a sample hacker here, the ever adorable Maru. Her Hacking Suite is built into her cybereyes but she still operates it with a keyboard. She will be going with the team on this one, which might mean leaving that keyboard behind but won’t affect her effectiveness.

    We will once again go with three separate target networks here. The office network is level 5 and Friendly to access from the inside; the security network used by the guards is Indifferent and level 6; and the isolated server is Hostile and level 7.

    If the first two detect intrusion they grow Hostile, trace Maru’s location, and notify both the guards and the police. If the secret server detects intrusion it will destroy itself in a very messy and noisy fashion, drawing guard attention. This counts as a mission failure for our purposes, since the team will spend the rest of the run trying to leave the office without the evidence they came here to collect. As these are separate networks they have separate Ghost counters.

    Run Summary

    For the first time in our series we’ll have to concern ourselves with stuff that happens before the mission itself. Let’s make an Individual Prep roll for Maru. She’s getting her software in order before the run, at her hacker den. We roll 2d6 + Clever + Hacking + Hacker’s Den against a difficulty of 7, and get a 11. Since this is the first Prep roll we’re making, Maru gains 1 automatic Prep, and an extra 1 Prep for beating the difficulty by 4. She takes part in Group Prep later, and let’s say they agree to leave 1 of those points for her use.

    Now for the actual run. As always, the rest of the team manages to bullshit the receptionist and make into the office posing as a repair crew. Maru locks herself into a stall in the ladies’ room and begins.

    The security network isn’t advertising itself, so I rule Maru needs a Search roll to find it. Her bonus here is +3 from Clever and +2 from Hacking; the difficulty is 11 (the network’s level + 5). She succeeds with 13.

    Since there’s a lot she must do in this net, we spend 1 of her 3 Prep to activate the Data Bomb program Asset, which gives her Advantage on her next three rolls here.

    I rule that opening the door and turning off the camera each require an Operate roll. From what I see in the rules this seems to use the Drone specialty instead of Hacking. Maru doesn’t have that, so she’s rolling only 2d6+3 from her Clever. Thankfully, the Data Bomb still gives her Advantage on these rolls. She succeeds at both rolls with a 12 and a 11, precisely because of that Advantage.

    Maru and her team move to the records room, and find the secret server. She jacks into it and begins searching for the data. The difficulties here are all 12 from the Network Level. Maru spends another Prep to activate the Ghost Protocol program, giving her Advantage on her next Hacking roll and an extra Ghost chance. These rolls do use her Hacking specialty.

    Advantage once again lets her succeed with a 14. I think succeeding at this lets her take the data? Let’s be cruel instead and ask for a Spoof roll to download the data without authorization. This is a Hostile server after all. No more advantage here, but she still gets a 13.

    The team leaves the records room and Maru connects to the security wifi to open the exit door. She still has one roll with Advantage remaining from her use of Data Bomb, and succeeds on the Spoof roll with a 13.

    With the way out secured, she searches the office network for the money. No roll needed to locate it, it’s Friendly and advertising itself to people inside the office premises. A Search with Advantage lets her find the money with a roll of 11 versus the network’s lower difficulty of 10.

    She has no advantage for the Spoof roll to transfer the money elsewhere, but she still succeeds with a 11.

    Mission accomplished! Time elapsed: around 15 minutes.

    Run Analysis

    Hard Wired Island feels more complex than Neon City Overdrive in its presentation, but the hacking sequence here was about as fast. This was in part due to good rolls all through the run, but a failure here would have had less impact than in my Neon City run. There, a failed roll would have meant cybercombat, a system I didn’t get to try at all. Here it would have meant an extra roll or two as I lost one of my Ghost points and retried the test. Perhaps I’d have spent another action or two recovering those points as well.

    Keeping it to about one roll per Thing You Do seems to be key to keeping hacking brief.

  • Let's Read Neverwinter: Veil and Surcross

    And finally we get to look at the Thayan cities and the road between them.


    The town of Veil is so named because it’s built atop a stable rift to the Shadowfell, which makes it look like it’s covered by a veil of shadows from afar. This is where Shadowfell Road ends. Valindra’s people are very aware of that, so they’re busy fortifying the town and bringing in undead defenders to gradually replace its living garrison. Should the down fall or the rift close, their Neverwinter contingent would be cut off.

    The rift also protects Veil from direct bombardment by the flying fortress, as it makes its shadow-powered projectiles go astray. Its defenses cannot stand up to a Netherese ground assault, but the attacking army would risk getting caught between Veil’s defenders and a relief force sent from Surcross. The fortress therefore focuses on the bigger town, but sometimes comes here to float ominously over Veil and throw some rocks at it. As we saw before it does this when it needs to take in supplies, as its own Shadowfell portals require proximity to a rift to work.

    The city’s defenses are led by a priest of Bane named Renault Abrecht, who coordinates everything from the local temple he took over. When not doing that, Abrecht spends his time ensuring the forces under his command are more loyal to him than to Thay, and acquiring more converts from the town’s stressed-out population. When he judges he has a big enough army of followers, he will cross into Shadowfell Road and collapse the rift behind him, hoping to conquer a kingdom for himself elsewhere in Faerûn. The Netherese would actually love that, as it would achieve their own goal of cutting off Valindra’s supply route.

    The Road

    The road linking Veil and Surcross is warded and trapped to a frankly ridiculous level, because the Thayans rightly fear that if it got taken then Veil would fall soon after.

    Both sides of the road are lined with stakes upon which are impaled bodies. These are enchanted to animate, jump from the stakes, and kill anyone who attacks the town of Veil or a Thayan national while on the road. Under the road itself are a series of deadly necromantic rune traps that activate when anyone living steps on them. They deactivate for five minutes if an undead being steps on them, so caravans to and from Surcross use zombie guides to travel the road.

    I guess it’s possible for the PCs to travel overland between the two cities without using the road, since by this point they should be able to navigate the area’s environmental hazards without much trouble. Armies, however, would prefer to use the road if they can, and supply caravans must use it.


    Tam was smart enough to foresee any serious attack against Thay would have to go through Surcross, so he had potent defenses installed in the city a long time ago. However he couldn’t imagine that the actual attack would come in the form of a whole Netherese flying fortress, and the particulars of that attack lead to the current stalemate.

    Surcross is a town under permanent martial law. It’s governed by the military garrison stationed here to fight the Netherese. Its civilian population is suffering greatly because the soldiers requisition all the food for themselves, and don’t hesitate to kill any who complain about it or displease them in other ways. A dead Thayan is just an undead Thayan in waiting, after all.

    Getting into the town is hard and will require some ingenuity from the party. Once inside, though, they can easily pass for residents, because who in their right mind would want to break into the place?

    The town’s governor is Ukulsid, an undead gnoll general who is entirely focused on the war effort, and therefore dislikes the fact that his town also became the center of Valindra’s schemes. His loyalty to Tam forces him to obey her, though, because she outranks him.

    External Defenses

    The gates of Surcross are made of necromantically animated bone. They open and close themselves at the orders of Thayan military necromancers, and will attack others who linger close to them for too long like the animated wall traps we saw earlier in the Dread Ring.

    The wall surrounding Surcross is pretty solid, and also festooned with hundreds of hidden crypts. If the wall is breached or bypassed by enemy forces, a single command will trigger a selective zombie apocalypse. Every corpse within the wall will be animated and the shambling army will be sent into the town to kill every non-Thayan they find.

    Fingers of Szass Tam

    These five bone and marble towers are the reason Surcross hasn’t been flattened yet. Located at equidistant points around the perimeter of the city wall, they can project force fields over the city. They can’t cover the whole city for long, so the towers usually project stronger but smaller fields over whatever parts of it are being bombarded.

    The towers have no windows, but their walls are enchanted to “not exist” to anyone inside them. They’re filled with arcane artillery pieces similar to those that defend the plateau, whose crews can see and fire through the walls just fine. They also have assault units ready to deploy to anywhere inside the city or to just outside its walls by marching on force field bridges.

    The Garrison

    Another important structure in Surcross’ defense, the garrison houses all living Thayan troups stationed in town. It’s guarded around the clock by undead. Its barracks are not segregated by gender, but by species: human, orc/half-orc, gnoll, and “other”. It has short-range teleportation circles that can move soldiers instantly to the front gate or to any of the five Fingers.

    A particularly luxurious section of the garrison is reserved for the Sunmasters, a contingent of Bane clerics and star warlocks who specialize in radiant attacks. They mostly work as a special strike force against the Shadovar, or when there’s an emergency and they need every soldier in the field.

    The Tombstone

    This squat fortress at the very center of town is where its leadership resides. Its windows and doors can be commanded to meld into the walls and disappear, allowing it to serve as a last redoubt if the wall is breached.

    Ukulsid holds court here and lets people petition him for judgment on disputes or to make other requests and complaints, but since he tends to draft those who annoy him into the army, few people make use of the opportunity.

    The building also contains an enchanted audience chamber that’s a perfect replica of the one Szass Tam uses in his palace. It’s one of many such chambers spread throughout Thay. The lich can sit in his throne in the original chamber and establish a link with any of the replicas, causing an illusion of him to appear on the corresponding throne. This lets him talk to anyone inside the replica chambers as if he was there, and lets him forcibly teleport people inside the replica chamber to the original one if he wants. Ukulsid occasionally uses this room to report to his boss. PCs should probably avoid lingering here.

    Valindra has an area reserved for her use underneath the Tombstone as well. This currently stores a large and still growing collection of dragon bones, guarded by skeletal guardians hidden among them. Valindra is stocking up in preparation for the time when she learns the ritual to raise dracoliches.


    Surcross looks like an even worse place than Evernight, and that’s saying something. PCs who make it inside the walls will have some freedom of movement, but still their stay there will resemble a dungeon delve more than a city adventure. Nowhere is safe, no one can be trusted, and you ideally want to do what you came to do and leave as quickly as possible.

    If the PCs main reason for coming to Thay is to disrupt the Thayan supply lines, then Veil is probably their best bet, since the portal can be closed without them needing to destroy either city. If the GM says Valindra’s Soul Vessel is here in Thay, though, then its most likely hiding place is her bone collection under Surcross’ Tombstone.

  • Let's Read Neverwinter: Kolthunral, the Flying Fortress

    Kolthunral is the Netherese flying fortress currently besieging Surcross. We’ll look at it first because it kinda dominates the skyline and its goals are important to contextualize everything else that’s going on in this area.

    The arrival of the fortress was a complete surprise even to Szass Tam, who considered the current conflict with the Netherese to be a distant and minor dispute over Shadowfell supply routes way off to the west in Neverwinter.

    That conflict is happening because, as we already know, both sides have ongoing plots happening in the Neverwinter area and need a constant influx of material and personnel from home: Valindra’s group is at the Dread Ring, and Clariburnus’ group is at Xinlenal. The Prince of Shade evidently disagreed with the lich about the importance of the dispute and dispatched the fortress to solve it once and for all.

    There are many rumors and theories about why Szass Tam hasn’t gotten personally involved in this battle. Some say that if he did it would attract the collective attention of the other Princes of Shade and lead to one of those Realms-scouring epic level wars everyone wants to avoid. Others say he realized all of this is ultimately Valindra’s fault and he wants to see how she gets out of it.

    Kolthunral is captained by Duchess Antheriss, one of Prince Caliburnus’ subordinates. She was a shadar-kai in life, and is now a Spirit Devourer.


    Kolthunral uses the same principles as any Netherese flying enclave to stay in the air, with a mythalar and everything. The thing that makes it atypical is that it’s thoroughly militarized. Most of the inhabitants are soldiers, and the rest are only here to work support jobs for the army.

    The bottom of the flying island is encased in thick enchanted metal armor, and the city has towers jutting out at all angles (even from the bottom) festooned with siege and anti-air artillery similar to the engines used by Thay to defend its borders.

    Spatial Distortions

    The interior of the fortress is partly made of shadow-stuff that warps and distorts space, meaning it’s bigger on the inside and can actively misdirect and confuse intruders. The same techniques were used to build its ultimate weapons, the meteor tubes.

    Meteor tubes are, well, straight metal tubes that connect the inside of the fortress to circular hatches in its bottom armor. Their enchantments make them “ritual paths” very similar to the Shadowfell Road. You drop a big rock through the entry hole of a meteor tube, and it falls an unfathomable distance through the weirdest and most inhospitable reaches of the Shadowfell, coming out the exit hatch at a speed many times greater than terminal velocity. They’re hard to aim precisely, but the kinetic energy of an impact is so big it can obliterate everything within a few dozen yards.

    A meteor salvo could flatten Surcross or Veil if it hit directly, but the cities’ defenses have held so far. Surcross has a force field projected by its five defense towers, and Veil has the Veil of Shadow that gives it its name. This is the main cause of the current protracted siege.

    The Prison of Night

    Kolthurnal’s prison is a large empty chamber where prisoners are held in place by levitation magic near the center of the space. They’re stuck in place because they’re too far away from the walls to push off, and the magic is too strong to let them move by random thrashing. There’s only the one door, and it’s always guarded, just in case.

    This room is reserved for those the Shadovar judge might be useful in a future hostage exchange, which to them means officers or members of “civilized races”. Lower-ranking orcs, gnolls and undead are instead killed outright.

    Movement and Power

    Kolthunral can fly at a leisurely ten miles per hour, and the only thing limiting its maximum altitude is the fact that it’s not sealed against vacuum. It could easily have flown over the plateau to attack the Thayan heartland, but it’s actual goal is to stop the Thayans from using Shadowfell Road. To do that it needs to destroy Veil and/or Surcross.

    The fortress contains doors that are enchanted to become portals to the Shadowfell when it passes over an area where the boundaries are weak. Ironically, this means that it hovers over Veil whenever it needs to take in new supplies.

    The city’s mythalar power plant is stored in a nondescript tower near its center. It’s a standard piece of Netherese tech. Destroying it would make the city drop from the sky. There are actually rules for this!

    Magical safety measures slow the city’s fall, but its mass is so high they can only do so much, and only for a short time. This gives occupants (and PCs!) time to evacuate, but they’re still in for a bad time if they fail to do so. And you are supposed to give them a good chance to get out - the goal would be to scare them, not force a TPK.

    When the city hits the ground, effects depend on what its initial altitude was when it started falling. If it was 100 feet or less, everyone inside takes damage as if they had fallen that distance - the slowed fall speed is counteracted by all the collapsing buildings. If it was higher, everyone inside will be automatically squished.


    It looks like this region presents the PCs with a sticky situation. Kolthunral’s goals align perfectly with their own, but both factions here are pretty terrible. The group can side with one to defeat the other, but the victor will get a significant boost back in Neverwinter. PCs who don’t want either of them to win will have to defeat them both here in Thay.

  • Computering Interval: Fast Firefox Video the Hard Way

    The Firefox logo.

    I usually write about roleplaying games around here, but I just spend quite a bit of time chasing down a weird computer issue and I want to write about it somewhere to record the steps I took.

    If you’re not a big Linux nerd, feel free to skip this. If you are and have issues with how I did things, feel free to skip this as well. If you want to read this anyway, I try to explain some of the basic concepts behind this quixotic adventure in footnotes.

    What Happened

    I run Ubuntu on my home desktop, and I currently updated to the latest release version, 23.10. It was a small upgrade, as I was already running 23.04. Everything worked fine.

    Then I saw a video with some news about version 545 of the nVidia drivers being released. I was using 535, which again worked fine, but I heard that 545.29.02 fixed a lot of bugs and added some improvements I had been waiting for.

    These weren’t part of the official Ubuntu distribution yet, so I added the Graphics Drivers PPA to my system, which did have them:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:graphics-drivers/ppa
    sudo apt update

    I installed the new drivers, tweaked my Firefox config to use Wayland1, and tested the new setup with a Youtube video. I saw that the videos there remained weirdly laggy, so I went back to X11 but decided to keep the new driver around for its other improvements.

    It worked quite well for games and everyday usage… but I noticed that my Youtube videos were still weirdly laggy on X11, and that my computer was getting quite a bit hotter while playing them than it used to. The “Stats for Nerds” menu told me they were dropping more or less 50% of their frames, which is bad.

    A little investigation showed me that the Firefox browser did not in fact play very well with that new graphics driver, at least not in the Snap version that was installed by default on Ubuntu Linux2. It didn’t really “see” my video card and so was sending all of its graphical work to the processor instead. It already did this with videos, but now it was doing this for everything.

    The easiest solution to this problem by far, would have been to go back to version 535 of my graphics driver, the one I had before that worked just fine. I could wait for this stuff to get fixed upstream without worrying about it.

    This is not what I did.

    What I Did Instead

    I went spelunking into the depths of DuckDuckGo, looking for a way to enable hardware-based graphical acceleration on Firefox. That would make it use my video card both for displaying web pages and for playing video.

    Firefox has been able to do this for a while now, but the option was only enabled by default on Windows or in Linux computers with Intel graphic cards. I have an Nvidia card with proprietary drivers, so I’m out of luck.

    Firefox uses something called VA-API to talk to the video card when hardware acceleration is on. On machines like mine the capability is forcibly disabled, because those drivers don’t support VA-API. It’s possible to bridge the gap, but the process for that seems to be a bit experimental still. Most people do not have the time or inclination to worry about that, and are happier for it.

    After some trial and error, this was the sequence of events that led me to success.

    Step One: Bridging the Gap

    A developer with the horrible user name of El Farto has a Github repository that contains the code for nvidia-vaapi-driver a little wrapper program that translates VA-API calls into something the Nvidia drivers understand and vice-versa. The package is actually part of my default Linux distribution, but since I’m on the 545 drivers I needed a more recent version straight from the source. That’s v0.0.11, which has support for those drivers.

    Following the excellent documentation in that repository, I did the following:

    • Compiled nvidia-vaapi-driver v0.0.11 from source and installed it.

    • Edited /etc/default/grub and changed the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT variable to the follwing:

    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash nvidia_drm.modeset=1"
    • Edited /etc/environment and added the following environment variables to it:

    Then I rebooted my computer, and found out the Snap version of Firefox didn’t detect my video card. Whoops!

    The next step was therefore to get rid of Snap Firefox in favor of the traditionally-packaged version. Give up? Never!

    Step Two: Fox Replacement Surgery

    First, I added the repository with the “traditional” packages for Firefox:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mozillateam/ppa
    sudo apt update

    Then I added a file named /etc/apt/preferences.d/mozilla-firefox with the following contents:

    Package: firefox*
    Pin: release o=LP-PPA-mozillateam
    Pin-Priority: 1001

    This ensures that the PPA’s version is chosen over the Snap. The next step is to remove the Snap and install the traditional package:

    sudo snap remove firefox
    sudo apt remove firefox
    sudo apt install -t 'o=LP-PPA-mozillateam' firefox

    Since my user profile is in my home directory this preserved all of my bookmarks and add-ons. Whew! And Firefox could now see my graphics card.

    Step Three: Chant the Deep Magic

    The final step was to change some advanced browser configurations in the dreaded about:config screen.

    • gfx.webrender.all to true -> This lets it use the graphics card to render web pages.

    • media.ffmpeg.vaapi.enabled to true -> for video acceleration

    • media.rdd-ffvpx.enabled to false -> This disables the built-in-software codecs in Firefox.

    • gfx.x11-egl.force-enabled and widget.dmabuf.force-enabled to true -> These are needed to get past the “hard blocks” imposed on the browser due to its default configuration.

    These take effect after I restart the browser. Finally, hardware acceleration works! My computer heads up considerably less than it did, my videos in Firefox have a buttery-smooth framerate, and I only had to battle a maximum of two Elder Things to acquire the knowledge of how to do so.

    1. A compositor, the part responsible for drawing windows and whatnot on the screen of a Linux computer. Wayland is the new hotness in that area, X11 is the older thing it’s replacing. 

    2. Snaps are a form of packaged program that’s a bit more isolated from your base system than usual. They’re less dependent on the specific traits of your base system. Snaps are a bit more tricky for developers to configure right, but they only have to do that once. 

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