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D&D : More Loose Ends

Lamech attunes a certain looted Staff of Defence

Lamech: I just threaten it until it agrees to co-operate.

One last loose end to tie up - go to the actual Lost Mine of Phandelver known as Wave Echo Cave, and locate our dwarf employer's brothers. That, and find out who the Black Spider is. Some rogue dark elf seems likely.

Lamech: They were torturing you for the location of the cave, right? And you never told them? And they never STOPPED torturing you. So they still don't know where it is - what's the rush?
GM: The fact that he sent his brothers to the cave, and haven't been heard from since, is a bad sign.
Lamech: Good point.

Plus we'll be getting some mithril gear out of it, on top of 10% interest in the lost mine. Of course the wandering undead archers wandering about are a bad sign too. Especially if they were intelligent enough to run away when they were attacked. We argue over whether the dwarfs have a claim to the mine, under prior ownership, or whether the descendants of the orcs that trashed it and the village of Phandalin generations ago have a better claim.

GM: What a pity you have to run off and deal with an elemental apocalypse, instead of staying here to argue the legal intricacies of ownership of the Lost Mine.

The cave does indeed boom like heavy surf. Which is odd, given how far we are from the sea. We find the dwarf's campsite, and a dwarf who has been dead for at least a week. It's one of the missing brothers, after we get his boots identified.

Lamech: I wonder why he hasn't got up and started walking around.

Subsidence has also collapsed the original entrance to the mine, and opened up this cavern.

Kavorog: I drop a rock down the chasm.
GM: You really want to alert everything down there?
Kavorog: It's just a rock.
Lamech: If you want to alert everything you need to drop a bucket. And then someone calls you a fool of a Took.

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Shadowrun : Hunting Congresscritters

The GM, in an effort to ramp out just what a hypocritical POS the target of this week's run was, and inadvertently aided by some very unflattering character art, managed to make this session rather transphobic. We took him to task over this and he promised not to do it again.

Ripper K: So, do we know if Oracle is alive or not?
Shell: Hang on, I'll check *bringbring*
Oraclet: Yeah, what?
Shell: He's alive.
Ripper K: He told us to not disturb him.
Oraclet: It's OK, I'm not bunker coding anymore, just coding.

GM: News of the Day! Prop 23 got vetoed as unconstitutional.
Ocelot: How did that happen?
Ripper K: Racist arseholes.
Poe: Insert Arbitrary Bitching

Kenneth Brackhaven, Governor of Seattle, vetoed the recent Proposition 23, which had given Seattle's goblinoid population a political voice. Given Brackhaven is the only known case of 'remission" from goblinization, and was raised as a complete arsehole anyway, this surprises nobody. Nor does the fact that the Goblinoid's protest rally is happening the same day that the Humanis Policlub are having their own counterrally. Or that the planned routes meet at Town Hall.

Kenneth Brackhaven ran for UCAS President under the Archconservative Party, and narrowly lost out to Dunklezhan.

Ocelot: He couldn't stand up to the Big D.
Ripper K: *splutters*
Poe: He actually said that without smiling.

Naturally, we have an incentive to see this veto gets overturned - have the party are goblinoid.

Shell: And what are you, Ripper?
Oraclet: Living novelty dildo.

This is one of the occasions we can approach the client first - we call our friend in the Ork Underground. He does indeed have a job for us. Off to the Howling Griffin, a goblinoid rock club.

Astronauta Peligroso: What's goblin rock?
Oraclet: Glam rock for orkls.
Astronauta Peligroso: I see. So now someone needs to explain glam rock to me and I'll be fine.
Ocelot: Jem and the Holograms as played by fantasy stereotypes.

Bouncer: I know the drill, you were never here.
Ripper K: I don't even know where we are. *turns to Poe. Spittakes* Who are you?
Shell: I was just looking for the bar.
Ocelot: I bet at least once a month a random group of people get mistaken for shadowrunners. That's how new teams start.

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Black Crusade : The Ninth Arcana, Reversed

Daniels' player: Have you considered letting Tzeench into your life?

Weldun: *watching the Jaws of Hakkon intro* Sigh - looks like I'll be committing genocide. Again.

Digna: I want to get this tower done and dusted. Done, dusted, and launched.

Having successfully convinced the deranged renegade Inquisitor to join forces, the heretics head back out of the underhive, but the renegade's Kroot mercenaries opt to remain behind.

Eniek: I hope they do come with us - I can't wait to get him on the table.
Digna: Why their Shaper, in particular?
Eniek: He pissed me off.
Digna: Oh, right. So, 'You're going on The List'

Digna muses on various applications of warpcraft and dark science she can embark upon. A creature that can manipulate the target's emotions, for example.

GM: There's always the Orgasmotron from Barbarella.
Digna: I don't need a homonculus for that - but thanks for suggesting another engineering project.

Digna: OK, that's it - this campaign is becoming Warhammer 40K : The Musical.

Digna: I hope you didn't tell Mr Bubbles to retrace his steps - I'm pretty there were some places that wouldn't take his weight twice.

Skerrit's player is sent forward as a scout and rolls 100 for Stealth. and 100 again for perception. This is as bad as it is possible to be, so it's fortunate there are no Critical Fails in the Black Crusade system. Fortunately the servoskull accompanying him spots the heavily armed Victorian undertakers waiting for them in a subterranean chapel.

Skerrit: it's a steampunk cosplay group.

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Steven Universe

I've started watching another cartoon series - Steven Universe. After all, it's going to be months until more MLP comes out :) But kidding aside, there's certain similarities - in both cases my social media were turning up more and more fan art, memes, etc, and rave reviews, so I went and had a look. Briefly summarised, it's the adventures of the title character and his guardians, a trio of lesbian space rocks. Not that they're female, technically speaking, but they all use female bodies and pronouns, and the les yay is *strong*. Indeed, the entire series is wonderfully positive in its inclusiveness.

Rebecca Sugar and her team have created a really really good series here - gorgeous art, emotionally deep scripts, and an excellent balance of episodic story-telling to story arc. It's a series that rewards watching them in order though - even 'filler' episodes might include a little detail that will give you a moment of fridge horror later, especially as more details of why the Crystal Gems are on Earth get revealed. Lots of wacky hijinks, although more often than not the hijinks take a sharp detour into horror (the fingers, oh god, the fingers haunt my dreams). Most episodes are up here, if you want to get any idea of the show. Second season and shorts on separate page

Very funny, too. Some really filthy jokes at times. And the number of shout-outs the creators have worked into it is impressive - everything from One Piece, to the mindfuck ending of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, to Akira, to The Mystery of Amigara Fault (there's a reason the line "This is my hole!" at the Kindergarden made me scream and cringe). And then there there was the crossover episode with Uncle Grandpa, which claimed to be non-canon, right before the head-cannon sank the Lars + Sadie ship I laughed myself sick throughout.

The fans are certainly witty enough. I quite like the nicknames they have for the Mom Squad - Square Mom, Bird Mom, & Fun Mom (although temperament-wise I'd describe Amethyst as a big sister). They've expanded the theme to the rest of the cast to - Dad Mom, Mom Mom, and later on, Helicopter Mom, which made me LOL.

It's also interesting to see where the show's setting differs from Earth - apart from the fact that the Gems have been around since humans were all hunter-gatherers, and there's dangerous gem monsters all over the place. *Something* happened to separate Florida from the mainland, for example. And the US film industry is based in Kansas. And the space programme didn't get past Low Earth Orbit.

The music is very good too - I was very impressed by the way the incorporated an earlier sound effect into Steven's Lament, for example - but the fandom don't seem to have gone as berserk with it as the MLP fandom did. Still, there are very good remixes out there, such as anosci's mash-up of Estelle, Daft Punk, and Grover Washington "The Two of Us Are Better, Faster, Stronger Than You".

#925 - 927 - Midwinter Insects

#925 - Bactrocera tryoni - Queensland Fruit Fly

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I didn’t see many invertebrates whilst over in Uranquinty and Wagga Wagga, , largely because it was the middle of winter, but I did see a few. Such as this Tephritid.

A horrendous pest of fruit and vegetables, largely because the eggs are laid on the fruit long before it’s ripe enough to fall off the tree. This fly is one of the reasons Fruit Fly Exclusion Zones are set up around Australia, where you’re expected to dispose of any fruit you might have in your car, why we have sniffer dogs searching for fruit at the Perth airport, and why there are bait stations for the QFF around Perth, just in case they get over anyway. They HAVE reached Auckland, which induced a certain amount of panic.

Unlike most other fruit fly pests, B. tryoni does not breed continuously but passes the winter as an adult. The total life cycle requires two to three weeks in summer and up to two months in autumn. Females often oviposit in punctures made by other fruit flies (such as the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata), with the result that as many as 40 larvae have been found in one peach, and as many as 67 adults have been reared from a single apple. Eggs hatch in two to three days and development may be completed in as little as five. Adults may live a year or more. Adults mostly eat the juices of host plants, nectar, and honeydew.

Wagga Wagga, NSW



#926 - Prionine Cerambycid remains

The remnants of a large longicorn beetle that I found under a tree, among the leaf litter. I looked, but could find any other fragments. I suspect that it was cleaned out by meat ants, who could have carried off the smaller parts.

I know that there are Prionine longicorns around Uranquinty - my brother was camping near there years ago, collected one for my benefit, and was brutally savaged by the beetle for his pains.



#927 - Hepialidae - Ghost Moth pupa

Dozens of the things, sticking out of the ground underneath one medium-sized gum tree at the Uranquinty oval. It must have been a very good night for ghost moths.

Hepialids, also known as Swift Moths, are large primitive moths, and in many species the caterpillars live underground, chewing on and into plant roots. On emerging (usually after rain), some species will lek - males gathering into a mass display to attract females. In others it’s the females who gather downwind of a displaying male.

Afterwards, the female will scatter her eggs wildly - one Trictena carried 29,000 eggs - of which only a handful would have survived to adulthood.

#918 - 924 - Native Burds (and a chicken)

Thanks to gemfyre for IDing some of these. My aunt's birding book was also useful.

#918 - Acanthiza chrysorrhoa - Yellow-rumped Thornbill

I had, a moment before, been complaining that all I’d been seeing were introduced pest birds, when three of these flew past.

I had no luck figuring out what these were, until I Googled “yellow rump” and “thornbill” and discovered that they were, in fact, yellow-rumped thornbills. Also known as Butterbums. They’re small insectivores, common in savannah, scrub, and forests across  most of Australia.

photo by sunphlo

Yellow-rumped Thornbills sometimes breed co-operatively, with a pair being assisted by helpers. The nest (usually built in the dense foliage of trees, near the end of branches or in vines or mistletoe) is a large untidy structure of grass and bark with an upper ‘false’ cup-shaped nest and a lower, domed, nest-chamber with a hooded entrance. The function of the false nest is not clearly understood, and might deter predators or cuckoos, by a roosting place for males and fledglings, act as a 'practice’ nest for the helpers or as a 'displacement’ activity for males.

Uranquinty, NSW



#919 - Smicrornis brevirostris - Weebill

Australia’s smallest bird, the sparrow-like Weebill, an Australasian Warbler found hunting insects in woodlands across most of Australia, usually in pairs or small groups. This one was fluttering, hovering, and hanging upside down in a gum tree near the Uranquinty hall where my grandfather’s party was happening (getting outside to photograph birds got me away from the noise).



#920 - Neophema pulchella - Turquoise Parrot

There was a small flock of these flying and feeding on the oval at Uranquinty.

Also known as chestnut-shouldered parakeet, chestnut-shouldered grass-parakeet, chestnut-shouldered grass-parrot, chestnut-winged grass-parakeet, chestnut-winged grass-parrot (all referring to the red shoulders of the male) and turquoisine grass parrot. ‘Pulchella’ comes from the Latin for ‘very pretty’ and they are.

Found in a band from Southern Queensland down to Victoria -  considered vulnerable in New South Wales, and threatened in Victoria, after having been considered extinct in the wild by 1915. The population began to recover by the 1920’s. Before protections were put in place they were caught in large numbers for the cage bird industry, and were also shot for pie-filling. Habitat-clearing and the loss of nesting hollows remains a major threat to their ongoing success, but they’re also vulnerable to Avian Paramyxoviruses like Newcastle Disease.



#921 - Ptilotula penicillatus - White-plumed Honeyeater

Formerly Lichenostomus pencillatus. Found across mainland Australia, apart from the most arid areas, and the tropical Top End - not so common in the SW, but there’s evidence it’s expanding its range down here as well. It’s certainly reconquered Sydney, and is a common garden bird where-ever it can find a supply of nectar.

Altitudinal migrant - heading for lower ground in cold weather. They very actively from leaves and flowers in the crowns of trees and in shrubs between 5 m and 13 m from the ground, seeking nectar, insects (and their sugary byproducts such as lerps and honeydew), manna and fruit, with some seeds. Very strongly associated with River Red Gums, which are the most prominent plant along the Murray-Darling riverbanks. They sometimes also feed in the air or forage upon the ground, but these twoi didn’t stay from the top of this eucalypt.

Uranquinty, NSW



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#915 - 917 - Introduced Burds

#915 - Acridotheres tristis - Indian Myna

photo by Richard Taylor

The name means “Gloomy Locust-hunter”. The only gloomy ones around here are the people that have to cope with these damn birds, which are considered one of the most invasive species on the planet.

Elsewhere in the world they’re called Common Mynas, or Mynahs, Native to Asia, but introduced widely elsewhere - sometimes for insect control, which never worked, and sometimes as pets for their vocal abilities, and sometimes just be morons who wanted to ‘improve’ the area by introducing species from elsewhere in the British Empire. I would quite cheerfully strangle members of such Acclimatisation Commitees if any of them were still alive today. That said, 110 pairs of mynas were released near Canberra in the 60s, so there’s a good chance I could hunt down somebody in earnest need of a punch in the nose.

Now found in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South Africa, Madagascar, Israel, the US, Argentina, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and various oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, including Fiji and Hawaii.

The common myna is a pest in South Africa, North America, the Middle East, New Zealand, many Pacific islands, and particularly bad in Australia, where it’s now often the predominant bird in urban areas all along the East coast. In a 2008 popular vote, the bird was named “The Most Important Pest/Problem” in Australia, also earning the nickname “flying rats”.

Happily, they haven’t established themselves in Western Australia - yet. Back in Sydney, they were by far the most common suburban bird :(



#916 - Turdus merula - Eurasian Blackbird

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A true thrush native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but introduced to Australia (by a bird dealer visiting Melbourne in 1857) and New Zealand. Predictably, the little shits took over. I don’t recall seeing them in Sydney - possibly because they’re still restricted to the south east, or because I confused them with Indian Mynas.

image

Photo by Andreas Trepte

The national bird of Sweden, sacred but destructive to the ancient Greeks, and widely caught for food - including pies.

In Australia they’re considered pests because they damage soft fruits, spread weeds such as blackberry, and may compete with native birds for food and nesting sites. I’ll admit the song of the many that hang around my grandparent’s yard in Uranquinty was pleasantly melodious, but I’d still prefer native birds.



#917 - Passer domesticus - House Sparrow

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Also abundant around Uranquinty, and in Sydney, but they were so nervous that the entire flock would fly off the moment I lifted my binoculars or camera.

One of about 25 species of True Sparrow, native to most of Europe, the Mediterranean, and most of Asia. Intentionally or accidentally introduced to Australia, Africa, the Americas, and many more regions, make it the most widely distributed wild bird. Quite comfortable around humans, and can thrive in urban or rural areas. The diet is mostly seeds, but it is an opportunistic feeder.

Widely and usually vainly persecuted as an agricultural pest, butt also kept as a pet, as food item,  and as a symbol of lust, sexual potency, commonness and vulgarity.

Quite similar to the Eurasian tree sparrow, Passer montanus, which has also been introduced to Australia, and has invaded from Melbourne up into the Riverina. Neither species has established itself in Western Australia, mostly because they get exterminated with extreme prejudice the moment any make it across the Nullabor.

Uranquinty

#906 - Colpomenia sp. - Oyster Thief

It somehow got missed, or misordered, in the last TIGTIDAW post.

A Brown Algae also known as Bladder Weed, and Sea Bubble. This one, washed up on the beach at Little Bay, might by C. peregrina or C. sinuosa - it’s easier to tell them apart when they’re older.

C. peregrina is native to the Pacific, but started turning up around UK and European oyster beds in the early 1900s. C. sinuosa is also common around southern Africa and Australia. 



They got the Oyster Thief name because they fill up with gas, and when they're big enough can lift the entire oyster they're attached to off the bottom, and float away.

#893 - #914 - Stuff in Sydney



Second stop of of my trip east (first stop was meeting my brother and nephew after they’d finished work for the night and were on the way home). My dad drove me around a couple of my old seashore haunts, including Bare Island at La Perouse.

The fort on Bare Island was built in the 1880s, and redundant by 1902. Worse, the contractor who made it was so criminally incompetent it was falling to bits before it was even finished. The Royal Commission investigating the fiasco were even  reluctant to refer to the material as concrete. That said, it’s still a nice place for a visit, when it’s open for tours, and their National Park staff were lovely, back when I was growing up out this way.

Apparently they filmed parts of Mission Impossible II here. I haven’t seen it.

Off in the distance on the other side of the entrance to Botany Bay is Kurnell, where Captain Cook first came ashore in Australia. The bay was named after his expedition’s scientists ( including Sir Joseph Banks ) saw the flora of the area and completely lost their shit (although Cook originally called it Sting Ray Harbour). There’s also a very large chemical refinery over that side, from which the jetty runs to tanker ships.

The stone tower was a Customs building, built in 1820 - it was the first building in the area.

La Perouse itself is named after the French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, whose two ships arrived in Botany Bay a few days after Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet to set up the penal colony in 1788. The meeting was cordial, and Lapérouse sailed off into the Pacific and was never heard from again.





Little Bay, Sydney, and the next stop. I used to walk from my paternal grandparent’s place to here regularly, not least because my grandmother worked at the hospital that backed onto the beach here. The Prince Henry Hospital started off as a smallpox treatment camp in 1881.

My dad used to be a member of the Little Bay Tigers, an informal spearfishing club, here. Rockfishing remains excellent but dangerous.

Then the hospital got sold off to be made into luxury flats, some of which sold for 2 million dollars and are already being destroyed by the salt spray coming off the ocean. Morons. The Coast Golf Course doesn’t seemed to have changed though. I vividly recall high school golf at the other course near here, when I sliced the ball off into the rough on the landward side of the fairway, and it hit a boulder, ricocheted in a beautiful arc back across the fairway, and vanished into the Pacific. We stood on the edge of the cliff and gazed solemnly off into the depths, impressed by the perfect dreadfulness of the shot.

Little Bay’s only claim to fame took place in 1969, when international artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude created the world’s largest sculpture at Little Bay called: “Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia”. Australian artists and students volunteered to assist them wrapping 2.4 kilometers of coastline, 46 to 244 meters wide, and up to 26 meters high at the northern cliffs, in fabric.



#893 - Phyllopteryx taeniolatus - Weedy Seadragon

photo by Richard Ling

One of the these was probably the most awesome thing I’ve ever found beachcombing. They’re large relatives of the seahorse, found along Australia’s southern shorelines. They get up to 45 centimeters long.

They don’t have the prehensile tail of seahorses, but like seahorses, the male broods the eggs, which are glued to a patch under his tail.

There’s two other species of seadragon - the Leafy (Phycodurus eques), and the Ruby (Phyllopteryx dewysea), which was only described this year from the Western Australian coast..



#894 - Hormosira banksii - Neptune’s necklace

A distinctive Brown Alga found in rockpools in Australia and New Zealand. The branching strings of hollow water-and-gas-filled beads have a slimy layer which conserves moisture, and pop off satisfyingly when squeezed between your fingers.

There’s an unattached form of this seaweed found in mangroves that reproduces from broken fragments. The attached form squeezes out its clusters of eggs or sperm in sticky masses, synchronized with its neighbours.



#895 - Sturnus vulgaris - European Starling

The first bird I saw on the NSW trip that I haven’t described before. It’s one of Sydney’s most common birds. Unfortunately, it’s also an introduced species.

The species can be beneficial to agriculture by controlling invertebrate pests - but they also  feed on fruit and sprouting crops. In Australia they were introduced to control agricultural pests in 1857, and because they were believed to be Flax pollinators, but by the 1920s they were rightly considered pests. At least those responsible had slightly better intentions than Eugene Schieffelin, who introduced Starlings to North America because they were mentioned in Shakespeare.

They’ve been kept out of Western Australia, partly because they get blasted out of the sky the moment they’re seen, but mostly because of the Nullabor Desert slowing their relentless spread. Oddly enough, the species has declined in numbers in parts of its native Europe due to fewer grassland invertebrates for feeding to chicks.



More stuff under the cut - mostly seashellsCollapse )

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