Rage of Demons: Session 1

I am member of a local role-playing game club. As part of our club activities in December I organized a session of “5th edition Dungeons & Dragons for Beginners”. That way I met a group of young (adult, but half my age) people who were very much interested to play more D&D. So I started a full regular campaign with them.

I asked them what genre of fantasy they would prefer, from the generic heroic fantasy, to less heroic dark fantasy, the gothic horror fantasy of Ravenloft, or even the steam punk fantasy of Zeitgeist. They opted for dark fantasy, which left me with not much choice based on what little material I had for that in 5E: The Rage of Demons campaign, which consists of only the Out of the Abyss campaign book. As there was already another Out of the Abyss campaign in the club (and another one based on that book in which I had participated as player before it went dormant), I preferred to use the Rage of Demons title to avoid confusion.

As I posted a few weeks ago, I had to turn a not-so-great experience as a player of Out of the Abyss into a a much better appreciation of that book by better understanding how it was supposed to be played. Once I got the basic recipe down (follow the chapters in strict linear order, but improvise as much as you can within each chapter), the campaign appeared doable. So I started preparing, and this week we played our first session.

Out of the Abyss has the least subtle start imaginable for an adventure, the much overused “you start the game near naked and in prison”. As the players had played the start of Lost Mines of Phandelver with me and wanted to keep their characters, I needed to get them into that prison. (The DM I had played with had avoided that start, and that turned out to be very detrimental to the story.) As we had ended in the middle of a dungeon, the Red Brand hideout, I simply told them that in the next room they had encountered not just the boss of that hideout, the mage Glasstaff, but also a drow priestess with six elite drow bodyguards. The drow had then quickly incapacitated everybody with their poisoned hand crossbows, and carried them off as slaves. Well, they had said they wanted dark, so they got dark. 🙂

The reason you need to start in the prison is so that you can encounter all the wonderful NPCs there, ten fellow prisoners. There is everything from a deep gnome with a betting habit, to a Yoda-like kuo-toa pacifist hermit and a hairy monster claiming to be an elf prince. I explained to the players the basic principle of interactive story-telling in D&D: As the DM I was setting the scene, which includes some obvious story goals like in this case escaping the prison. But it was up to them to come up with a plan on how to escape, who to take with them, and what means to use. I must say that ended surprisingly well, with them showing a lot more initiative than my regular group of old timers.

I used the NPCs to give the group an overview of the locations of the Underdark. The closest town from the drow outpost is the kuo-toa village of Sloobludop. Buppido the derro told them that from there they could cross the Darklake and get to his home town of Gracklstugh, where he claimed that in a tunnel system called the Whorlstone Tunnels there was a way to the surface. That gave them a general idea on how to proceed after the escape.

Due to there being several female players, I played up the matriarchy of the drow, so the male slaves were doing laundry and kitchen duty, while the women were doing heavy manual labor. That led to one NPC, an orc named Ront, getting killed by the drow for tearing the priestess’ underwear, and the warrior of the group being forced to feed Ront’s remains to the giant spiders. I think I got the message across that the drow are cruel bastards.

The group’s cleric had written for himself a background story where his temple had done a forbidden ritual that got most of them killed, and him with a scarred face, wearing a mask. I turned that ritual into a summoning of Juiblex, and his injury into an acid burn. And io and behold, while doing kitchen duty the cleric saw one of the elite drow with similar acid burns. Based on that connection he could persuade that drow to help, and ultimately got the key to their cell from that (although the drow clearly cared more about hurting his boss than helping them). Meanwhile the ranger managed to pickpocket the smaller key to their chains from another drow. That precipitated their attempt escape, when they heard from other drow that there would be an inspection the next day, where the missing key would be noticed.

The keys got them out of their chains and cell, but the outpost was built high up the wall of the cave with only a well-guarded elevator to connect to the floor. And they had absolutely no equipment. So they decided that part one of the plan was to attack the guard tower in front of their cells, where only one elite drow and two regular drows stood guard. They had the good idea (I might have nudged them a bit in the right direction) to use the fact that the other way to the guard tower was a hanging bridge, to try to cut the ropes of that bridge. The first rope cut made quite some noise, so the combat began with the drow looking out the far door of the guard tower to see what was happening, and one regular drow getting pushed of the ledge by the warrior rushing in through the other door.

The fight was rather tough, a group of level 2 characters against a drow elite warrior of challenge rating 5 having two attacks each round and poisoned weapons. The warrior went down early, but got healed back up; fortunately the group has three people with healing spells, a cleric, a druid, and a ranger. The drow then outright killed one of the NPCs, the dwarven scout Eldelth, who had wisely asked the group before that in the event of her death they would carry word to her family in Gauntlgrym. During the fight the sorceress and drow NPC managed to cut the rope bridge, preventing drow reinforcements. The druid meanwhile had gone up to the store room and dropped weapons for them from there. So ultimately the group prevailed, got decently equipped (although not finding their initial equipment back), found ropes, and used those to escape from the drow outpost. We decided to stop there and play the rest of the escape and pursuit the next session.

Netgear Orbi RBK50

Fiddling around with technology that doesn’t work makes me very nervous. On the plus side I am then mighty pleased when I finally get everything working. And so I am happy to report that after fiddling I managed to dramatically improve the WiFi reception in my home by installing a Netgear Orbi RBK50.

For the last few years I have been using a Linksys EA7500 WiFi router. That worked, but in spite of the promises on the box about covering a “medium household”, WiFi reception in my den was always feeble. The den is only two rooms away from the office with the router, but the room between is the bathroom, and so there is one tiled wall without an opening in the way. That appears to block the signal quite drastically, so it takes the long way around. It was okay for web surfing, but not ideal for things like Netflix streaming. And then I bought the Switch. The Switch has one major drawback regarding Wifi, in that it has the world worst WiFi antenna. When your tablet shows 2 bars instead of 3, the Switch already can’t find any signal at all any more. So I had to move the Switch next to the base station every time I wanted to download something. Time for an upgrade.

I surfed the internet for recommendations (which also told me that Linksys routers aren’t considered to be very good) and found that a lot of people liked the Netgear Orbi. Just to make sure I took the RBK50 system, which has both a base station and one satellite for range extension. I had tried a Linksys extender, which had worked to some degree, but failed to use the same SSID as the base station as promised on the box. With Netgear Orbi there was no problem. I could put the satellite in the den, and it would still get a good signal from the base station and then enhance it. So now I have 75 Mbit/s WiFi connection everywhere in my home! Even the Switch shows three bars of WiFi connection.

The fiddling was necessary to get my printers working, which didn’t like the Orbi switching to a completely new IP gateway address. So I had to change the Orbi to access point mode, which then mysteriously messed up everything and I had to factory reset my main router as well as the Orbi system to get everything working again. It is still a mystery to me why everything goes fast on a computer, except for network connections: Every time you reset a router or network card, it takes several minutes to establish a network.

Anyway, everything is working now, and at 15 times the speed necessary for Netflix HD streaming (or 3 times the speed for Netflix Ultra HD streaming, which I don’t have the Netflix streaming plan for). Which means that both me and my wife can stream video without a download on the computer slowing down by much. Nice!

Ordered a new 3D printer

I’ve been using my XYZ da Vinci Junior 1.0w 3D printer for a year now. It is still working. However I have learned a lot during that year, I’m printing more complicated models now, and I’m reaching the limits of what the machine can do. I still think it is a great printer for a beginner, but now I want something much better. So I ordered a Zortrax M200 Plus. The “Plus” is important, as this is the brand-new and improved model of the M200, which is highly regarded but now 5 years old.

The first difference between the two printers is the price. The da Vinci Junior was 471€, the Zortrax M200 Plus is 2,369€. Obviously not the same league. The da Vinci Junior uses PLA, the Zortrax can use PLA, ABS, and some other materials. The old M200 was really best used with ABS, but the new Plus version has better cooling fans, so PLA should come out fine now as well. The main difference is that the XYZ printer was only able to use proprietary XYZ filaments, while the new Zortrax also works with filaments from other suppliers. That was a major point of annoyance for the old printer for me; the spools came with an RFID chip, and if the chip said your spool was empty, the printer refused to use the spool. As the chip counted loading, unloading, and failed prints as lost material even if there was no actual material lost, I always ended up having to throw away the last meters of the spool. And the material was far more expensive than it should have been. However at the start I’ll use Zortrax ABS, just because the software knows the best settings for that material.

Where the difference between the two printers is likely to be biggest is in the quality of the prints. At the shop where I ordered the printer they had sample prints of little miniatures similar to those I often make, and the quality was *much* better. On the best setting you don’t even see the layers any more with the Zortrax M200 Plus. Of course it remains to be seen how good it will work with my prints. But the experimenting and fiddling around is all part of the hobby, the resulting miniatures are more of a secondary benefit. 🙂

From what I see in reviews the main issue with the Zortrax is that the software is very slow. I saw a YouTube video of a guy using the old Zortrax M200 to print a Harry Potter wand, and the software took 25 minutes to slice that model. That has probably to do with the print being with rafts (mandatory with the Zortrax) and supports. I suspect the supports use a lot of slicing time, I’ll have to try with and without it. But from the video it appears that the supports are easy to remove, which could be a plus. Now I finally understand the models of Miguel Zavala: Many of them can’t be printed without those automatically generated supports, and the supports generated by the XYZ software are very bad. So up to now I had to fiddle around with the models a lot, disassemble them digitally, reassemble them digitally, and generate functional supports with Meshmixer. I might be able to just hit a print button in the future, which will be faster even if the slicing is slow.

I’ll let you know how the new printer works out once it is delivered and installed.

D&D Reader

Another app for players of Dungeons & Dragons has been announced, called D&D Reader. Basically it is a kind of e-book reader only for D&D rulebooks and adventures. Instead of bringing a backpack full of books to your game, you bring a single tablet with all the information on it. And to some extent it is searchable, which isn’t the case for paper books.

Now a few years ago I would have said that this is a brilliant idea, exactly what I needed. But since then I spent $280 to get access to all D&D books in digital form on D&D Beyond. As long as I have internet access, that gives me the same functionality: Able to read any D&D book on my tablet and search it. But the new D&D reader app is from a different company. So, you guessed it, if I wanted to use that app as well, I would need to pay *again* for all those books. Which would be the third time, since I already own the books in paper format and on D&D Beyond. Just to have offline access. No thanks!

Wizards of the Coast really need to rethink their strategy on this one. In this time and age it is a great idea to have content available in different ways, paper, online, and offline digital. But a full collection of D&D books is already expensive to buy once. The paper books should include a coupon for all digital versions. I was already exaggerating by buying the books twice, but who on earth is going to go for a third version at full price?

The T-Mobile HTC U11 Life is getting Android 8.0 Oreo (updated)

Update (12/18/17): Just about three weeks ago, the unlocked HTC U11 Life was upgraded to Android 8.0 Oreo. Now, the T-Mobile variant is receiving the update as well. T-Mobile is the only carrier in the United States to carry the HTC U11 Life so between it and the unlocked versions, pretty much everyone should be updated to Oreo at this point.

HTC warns that this is a pretty large download so you’ll need to connect to Wi-Fi before you start. As a reminder, Oreo brings background limits on apps that help to save power, smart text selection, grouped notifications, and picture-in-picture mode, among other features. To read more about Oreo, check out our review here.

Original article (11/30/17): The HTC U11 Life was introduced earlier this month, arriving on the Android One program in global markets (with almost stock Android), while those in the US received a variant with HTC’s Sense UI. The device launched with Android Oreo outside of the US, meaning those residing in the States were left waiting for the latest Google software, but HTC assured that it wouldn’t be far off.

Today, I bring good news as the US unlocked U11 Life is now said to be receiving Oreo. HTC Vice President of Product Manager Mo Versi delivered the news via a Tweet published a couple of hours ago. Versi said that the update would be available “starting today,” but we don’t know how long it could take to hit individual devices.

HTC has been on a roll with its rollouts this week, having upgraded the regular HTC U11 flagship to Oreo just a couple of days ago. Here’s hoping the speedy updates continue for the rest of its smartphone lineup.

Check out our full HTC U11 Life review at the link and visit our dedicated Android 8.0 Oreo update page to find out more about HTC’s schedule.

Google expands booking features for travelers with price tracking and deals

Google

We are a week and a half away from Christmas, but it’s still not too late to fly away for the holidays — it’ll just cost a pretty penny to do so. If you’re okay with that, Google updated its suite of travel applications and services to feature price tracking and deals.

Starting with Google Flights, the search giant is leveraging its machine learning chops to take a look at historical price data to let you when is the best time to book a flight. Once you let Google Flights know where you want to go, you can choose to have it send you tips like “prices won’t drop further” or “prices are less than normal.” That way, you can be better informed as to whether you should book your flight now or wait a bit longer.

Editor’s Pick

Moving right along, Google’s hotel search results offer similar information. Because you’re dealing with hotels, Google lets you know if rates for a specific room are higher or if the surrounding area is busier due to a local event. That way, you can better plan when to make a hotel room reservation, though you can opt for email alerts whenever prices fluctuate.

Finally, Google’s Trips app now features a “Discounts” section. As the name implies, the section nets you deals for things like tickets, tours, activities, and attractions. Discounts vary based on where you’re located, though the app also leverages Google’s travel-booking features.

Overall, the new features sound very familiar to what services like Kayak and Hopper already offer. The main difference is, since many folks are already deeply immersed in Google’s ecosystem, these are just more reasons why they shouldn’t leave that ecosystem.

The flight and hotel price tracking are currently rolling out worldwide, whereas the Discounts tab inside of the Trips app will be available in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Pharmaceutical Company Billionaire and Wife Found Dead in ‘Suspicious’ Circumstances

Bodies of Barry Sherman, the founder of Canadian firm Apotex, and his wife Honey were found in their Toronto mansion.

The founder and chairman of Apotex, Bernard Sherman, and his wife Honey were found dead inside their North York mansion, in Toronto, Canada, on Friday. The couple recently put up their home up …

 

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The Smart Weapons Fallacy: Civilian Casualties From ‘Precision’ Air Strikes in Iraq and Syria

There’s no such thing as a smart bomb.

The final elimination of Isis in Iraq and Syria is close, but welcome though the defeat of these monstrous movements may be, it has only been achieved at the cost of great destruction and loss of life. This is the new face of war which governments try to conceal: a limited number of combat troops on the ground call in devastating air strikes from planes, missiles and drones, be they American or Russian, to clear the way for their advance.

Governments pretend that air wars today are very different from Vietnam half a century ago when towns were notoriously “destroyed in order to save them”. These days air forces – be it the Americans in Iraq, the Russians in Syria or the Saudis in Yemen – say that this mass destruction no longer happens thanks to the greater accuracy of their weapons: using a single sniper, a room in a house can supposedly be hit without harming a family crouching in terror in the room next door.

The sale of vastly expensive high precision weapons to countries such as Saudi Arabia is even justified as a humanitarian measure aimed at reducing civilian casualties.

The PR has changed but not the reality. Despite the claims of enhanced accuracy, drone pictures of west Mosul look very much like pictures of east Aleppo, Raqqa or large parts of Damascus where every building is gutted or reduced to heaps of broken bricks interspersed with craters. The problem for journalists or human rights organizations is that it is almost impossible to verify the claims of victims or the denials of alleged perpetrators at the time.

Witnesses, when they are not dead, have often fled or are too frightened to speak; governments, regular armies and air forces will probably get away with it if they stick to a straight denial that they have done anything wrong. Even if damaging information does eventually come out, the news agenda will have moved on and public interest will be slight.

I found it frustrating during the final weeks of the siege of Mosul, which went on for nine months, to know that there was very heavy civilian loss of life as Iraqi forces backed by air strikes closed in on the Old City, but it was impossible to prove it. I was in touch by mobile phone with two different individuals trapped behind Isis lines who faced the dilemma of either staying where they were and chance being killed by the bombardment, or trying to escape to government-held territory and risk being shot by Isis snipers.

The two men took different decisions, but neither of them survived. One was shot dead by Isis as he and his mother joined a group trying to escape across the Tigris using rubber tires because they could not swim. A second man was wounded in one air strike and killed by a second in the last weeks of the siege. Most of the two men’s extended families were also dead by the time the siege ended.

Fortunately some reporters do go on looking at what really happened in battles like Mosul long after the rest of the media has shifted its attention elsewhere. Joel Wing, in the online journal Musings on Iraq, writes that fresh information on casualties raises “the total number of dead during the operation [to capture Mosul city and surrounding area] to 21,224 and 30,996 wounded. 17,404 of the former and 24,580 of the latter occurred in Mosul. The new numbers still highlighted the fact that there are many more undocumented casualties as the wounded should be four to six times higher than the fatalities figure. Even if you subtract the 5,325 people that were executed by the Islamic State, that would still mean there should be 60,000-90,000 injured from the fighting.”

The figure looks high but is credible, taking into account the use of conventional artillery and Russian multiple rocket-launchers in the attack on west Mosul. Casualties from air attack also went up because the rules on ground troops calling in air strikes were relaxed before the attack on west Mosul began. Isis was killing civilians who tried to escape from the shrinking Isis-held enclave and more people were confined in fewer houses so if one was hit the loss of life would be high.

Even before this happened many more civilians were being killed by air strikes than the US-led air coalition was admitting. The only way to get at the truth is to look at a large sample of air strikes on the ground and see if they were reported by the coalition and, if so, how accurate that reporting was.

This has now been done for the first time by Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, who visited the sites of nearly 150 air strikes in northern Iraq between April 2016 and June 2017. In a lengthy study called “The Uncounted”, published in The New York Times on 16 November, they reached devastating conclusions. They write that “we found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledge by the coalition”. They add that when it comes to civilian deaths this “may be the least transparent war in recent American history”.

The coalition denied that many of the air strikes that had killed people had ever taken place, but the reporters found that there were videos of several of them on the coalition’s YouTube channel, though these claimed to show the destruction of Isis targets. When they pointed this out, the videos were quietly withdrawn.

The picture that the coalition presented of its air offensive turns out to be a fabrication. In one sample of a residential area called Qaiyara, near Mosul city, the coalition claimed it had killed only one civilian in or near the town and the Iraqi air force said it had killed nobody. It turned out that there had been 40 air strikes on this area which had killed 43 civilians, of whom 19 were men, eight women and 16 children aged 14 or younger. In about a third of fatal strikes Isis had been in close proximity to the civilians, but in half of the cases there had been no discernible Isis presence.

Where there was evidence of Isis it was often flimsy and out of date: in one case a family of six was wiped out aside from a two-year-old child because a local informant had once seen a mortar near their house though it had been moved long before the strike.

The significance of the study is great because for the first time it can be shown what is really happening in a series of wars in the Middle East starting with Afghanistan in 2001. There is no such thing as precision air strikes.

The coalition claimed that only one in 157 of its 14,000 air strikes in Iraq since 2014 have caused a civilian death, but the evidence on the ground shows the real rate to be one in five. The comforting claim by American and British air commanders that smart weapons enable them to avoid killing civilians is simply untrue.

 

 

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Open beta weekend for Total War: Arena

If you’re not in the closed beta for Total War: Arena, but want to try out the game anyway, you can do so this weekend. They couldn’t move into complete open beta yet, because the game still needs some balancing, and after open beta starts there will be no more wipes. So they did an “open weekend during closed beta” event, where everybody with a Wargaming.net account can try the game for the weekend.

Total War: Arena is a lot of fun, but they still haven’t completely nailed it. Strategic play isn’t rewarded enough, while mindlessly shooting into the fray and causing friendly fire is rewarded too much. However ranged units are so damn inaccurate that if you punish friendly fire too much, they basically become unplayable. So there is still some work to be done on that front, and the devs admitted as much.

Remote access and control your PC using Android App : Android – LeaVe my baThRoom at-least !


Do you want to remotely control your PC? Android apps help to remotely access and securely control your desktop, laptop through mobile phones. To do this you will need to setup a remote desktop server on your computer. 


In this post we will take a look at 5 android apps which will help to remotely access and securely control your computer from anywhere using Internet.

1. TeamViewer

Team viewer is a remotely control app which provide spontaneous support or to remotely access an unattended computer or servers across different platforms.

teamviewer android application

Some Features of TeamViewer app

  • Support your clients and colleagues spontaneously
  • Access your office desktop with all of its documents installed applications
  • Remotely administer unattended computers
  • Easy file transfer to and from remote computer


2. VNC Viewer

VNC Viewer is a remote control app from RealVNC gives you instant remote access of your computers or servers from anywhere using your mobile.

VNC Viewer

Some Features of VNC Viewer app

  • It supports all popular desktop operating systems
  • Provide different authentication techniques to prevent unauthorized access
  • Provide backup and syn facility
  • Available online support and documentation through chat or E-mail


3. Microsoft Remote Desktop

You can use the Remote Desktop client for Android to work with Windows apps and desktops directly from your Android device.this tool only work on windows PC.

Microsoft Remote Desktop

Some Features of Microsoft Remote Desktop App
  • Support Windows OS desktop or servers 
  • Rich multi-touch experience supporting Windows gestures using RemoteFX.
  • Access to remote resources like printers using Remote Desktop Gateway (the same need to be configured on your network).
  • High quality audio and video support using advanced bandwidth compression.


4. Chrome Remote Desktop

Chrome remote desktop is a chrome browser extension which is fully cross-platform. Provide remote assistance to Windows, Mac and Linux users, or access your Windows (XP and above) and Mac (OS X 10.6 and above) desktops at any time, all from the Chrome browser on virtually any device, including Chromebooks.

Chrome Remote Desktop
Some Features of Chrome Remote Desktop
  • Able to setup screen sharing and remote assistance
  • Encrypted session using chromes SSL features including AES
  • Free to install and use at personal as well as commercial level
  • Streams audio and support copy-paste features

5. Splashtop

Last but not least we have Splashtop.It is the easiest,fastest,secure remote desktop app for accessing your Windows or Mac computer.it is easy to setup.
spalshtop
Some Features of SplashTop
  • Splashtop Business supports the Swiftpoint GT mouse for iPhone to enhance the productivity of your  remote desktop sessions
  • In session FPS settings– Experiment with these settings for the best performance on different networks and computers! 
  • Strong encryption including logging, audit trails and multi-level passwords. 
  • Business features include file transfer, remote print, chat and multi-user access.

Conclusion

TeamViewer is recommended for personal use because it is easy to use and also support screen sharing and support different operating systems. If anyone wants to perform basic remote control on windows then Microsoft Remote Desktop App is a good option.

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