Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Flight 93 - "Stand Up and Bring the Ship Down!"

The last minutes on the fourth plane (from the film United 93)

This is a repost (with some edits and supplementary comments) of a piece I wrote a year ago on September 11, 2017. Obviously I think the subject is as important and relevant as ever.

This post is not about Islam.

It's certainly not about any sort of "tragedy."

It's about heroism.

Another word for that is love. Love for one's neighbor. Love for justice. And, yes, love for life. Even if you think you might lose it.

"We've nothing to fight with, and may wind up dead,

But we've voted to stand up and fight them instead,
And we might keep them from getting through."

United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania fie
ld on September 11th, 2001, killing all aboard - 34 passengers (including a near-term unborn baby) and 7 crew. 4 hijackers also died. The plane had been comandeered 45 minutes after takeoff by terrorists - confederates of the men who steered their 3 hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

These hijackers were a few minutes late in their mission (the plane had been delayed taking off), which gave the passengers enough time to figure out what their mission was - a suicide strike against the U.S. Capital Building or the White House.

"One man's been stabbed, and we can't reach the cockpit,
But somehow we'll alter the flight.
We've guessed that the target is likely the White House,
And if we fail, we'll surely die."

The lines above were composed and sung by Leslie Fish.

Who is Leslie Fish?

Leslie Fish is a writer, folk singer and "filk" musician - "filk" being the term for music tied to the science fiction and fantasy fan convention scene. She is a libertarian anarchist whose political activism has spanned the breadth of the movement. She has protested the Vietnam War, worked with the "Wobblies" (Industrial Workers of the World), defended gun rights and praised the Moon landings. On anarchism she wrote:
What sort of anarchist future would I like to see? There's no reason for a government-free society to be nothing but agrarian, no reason at all that it couldn't be industrial and space-faring.
She is a quasi-pagan. And a Trekker. Or "used to be," according to Fish:
I sort of lost interest when NEXT GENERATION came along; it's just too pussy, Yuppie-ish, and bloodless for my tastes.
Fish also wrote "Flight 93," the most moving and inspiring artistic tribute yet made to those heroes of 9/11.

"We've nothing to fight with except our bare hands,

But we'll keep on trying until the plane lands
One way or the other. We've taken our stand.
My darling, I love you. Goodbye."

If you listen to it and are not moved, listen to it again. If you still are not moved, then I cannot help you. If, on any listening, you do not cry, at least a little, then you are much stronger than I.

He watched while the passengers battled and died,

And knew that no help would be found.
The guard was distracted. Just one chance to win.
There's one case where suicide isn't a sin.
He weighed all his chances. He said: "Auger in!"
And drove the ship into the ground.

The passengers on Flight 93 almost succeeded in wresting control of the plane from the terrorists. Most believe that they effectively breached the cockpit. But there is controversy over who w
as at the controls at the end. The song implies that it was a passenger - "Jason the pilot" - but the cockpit tapes appear to indicate that a hijacker crashed the plane, fearing that he was seconds away from being overpowered. It's also possible, of course, that there was a fight over the controls.

Flight 93 hit the ground at full speed,

And no one aboard her survives.
But the White House still stands, and a few thousand folks
Can thank those aboard for their lives.
There's no guarantee, when the Bad Guys come in,
That they won't kill you all to a man.
So when some fanatics are out to have fun,
There's nowhere to hide and there's nowhere to run.
Then pray that the law lets you carry a gun,
But fight back however you can.

So the song is a tribute but also a lesson. Don't expect the bad guys to have any scruples or mercy. Someti
mes, they just want to kill you, and perhaps thousands more in the bargain. No hero wants to die. But there are worse things than natural death. And better things than giving in.

Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

A YouTube link to the
song follows, along with the full lyrics. Here are links to a few of Fish's other more notable songs - The Day it Fell Apart, a righteous anti-corporate ballad, also about heroism, in this case, hospital workers dealing with the results of a mine explosion, Valhalla (warning: graphic paganism), one of her most well-known "filk" efforts, and Gamers (warning: graphic nerdity), a light-hearted hymn to gamers and their battles against prejudice and the government. She currently has a blog, LeslieBard, whose most recent post has a distinctly nonconformist take on Charlottesville.

For Flight 93, I highly recommend United 93, a straight-ahead, non-ideological narrative of the events, which manages to also be moving and inspiring.

I wrote the above a year ago. A few days later I exchanged a number of neat letters with Leslie Fish. She is a true individualist in the common sense meaning of the term. One way of putting that is that she doesn't give a damn what anyone else thinks, and follows her ideas wherever she belives they lead, even if that's in a different direction from what some might predict. One of her recent posts (Fall, 2018) is a quasi-tribute to (of all people) John McCain. At the same time she has also often made a libertarian defense of Trump-like immigration controls.  

I disagree with a few of her opinions. But I love more that she doesn't give a damn. Would that more Americans were like her.




"Flight 93"

by Leslie Fish

She took off from Newark on a warm autumn day,
With forty-five travellers and crew.
They all were unarmed at the will of the law;
Security passed them all through.
An hour into flight-time, four Arabs jumped up --
Two Ahmeds, Ziad and Sa'eed --
Announced a hijacking and waved knives around
(Razorblades, box-knives and steak-knives they'd found),
And a box that they swore was a bomb up and down;
They thought that was all they would need.

Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

CeeCee the stewardess had a cell-phone,
And called up her husband to say:
"The plane has been hijacked. We'll do as we're trained;
Be quiet and humbly obey.
They'll dicker for money or some social cause.
The government surely will pay.
They'll put us out somewhere and leave with their score,
Or maybe police will come catch them and more.
That's always the way this has been done before.
With luck, I'll be home in a day."


Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

Next was Mark Bingham, who had a phone too,
And used it to call up his Mom.
He said they'd been hijacked by "three foreign men"
Who had knives and said they had a bomb.
But some of the passengers plotted, he said,
To take back the plane as it flew.
"But first tell me, Mom, is it true what they say?
That three other airplanes were hijacked today,
Flown straight into buildings and blew them away?"
His mother cried, and said: "It's true."


Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

Jeremy Glick called his wife on the phone,
And told of the bomb and the knives.
He said: "If these stories we're hearing are true,
We might as well fight for our lives."
His wife told him: "Yes, the World Trade Center's hit,
And maybe the Pentagon too."
He left the phone hanging, then came back and said:
"We've nothing to fight with, and may wind up dead,
But we've voted to stand up and fight them instead,
And we might keep them from getting through."


Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

Thomas Burnett phoned his wife several times,
Reporting the course of the fight.
He said: "One man's been stabbed, and we can't reach the cockpit,
But somehow we'll alter the flight.
We've guessed that the target is likely the White House,
And if we fail, we'll surely die.
We've nothing to fight with except our bare hands,
But we'll keep on trying until the plane lands
One way or the other. We've taken our stand.
My darling, I love you. Goodbye."


Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

Jason the pilot could hear the whole tale.
He'd signaled as well as he could.
He saw that the terrorists still held the cockpit --
And one way to stop them for good.
He watched while the passengers battled and died,
And knew that no help would be found.
The guard was distracted. Just one chance to win.
There's one case where suicide isn't a sin.
He weighed all his chances. He said: "Auger in!"
And drove the ship into the ground.


Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.

Flight 93 hit the ground at full speed,
And no one aboard her survives.
But the White House still stands, and a few thousand folks
Can thank those aboard for their lives.
There's no guarantee, when the Bad Guys come in,
That they won't kill you all to a man.
So when some fanatics are out to have fun,
There's nowhere to hide and there's nowhere to run.
Then pray that the law lets you carry a gun,
But fight back however you can.


Flight 93 no more will fly.
Dead on the ground or dead in the sky:
You might not survive, but at least you can try.
Stand up and bring the ship down.


Leslie Fish
Cross posted at Mahound's Paradise.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Story for Earth Day: "A Narrow Escape" by Lord Dunsany


"A Narrow Escape" from Tales of Wonder, 1916, by Lord Dunsany


It was underground.

In that dank cavern down below Belgrave Square the walls were dripping. But what was that to the magician? It was secrecy that he needed, not dryness. There he pondered upon the trend of events, shaped destinies and concocted magical brews.

For the last few years the serenity of his ponderings had been disturbed by the noise of the motor-bus; while to his keen ears there came the earthquake-rumble, far off, of the train in the tube, going down Sloane Street; and when he heard of the world above his head was not to its credit.

He decided one evening over his evil pipe, down there in his dank chamber, that London had lived long enough, had abused its opportunities, had gone too far, in fine, with its civilisation. And so he decided to wreck it.

Therefore he beckoned up his acolyte from the weedy end of the cavern, and, "Bring me," he said, "the heart of the toad that dwelleth in Arabia and by the mountains of Bethany." The acolyte slipped away by the hidden door, leaving that grim old man with his frightful pipe, and whither he went who knows but the gipsy people, or by what path he returned; but within a year he stood in the cavern again, slipping secretly in by the trap while the old man smoked, and he brought with him a little fleshy thing that rotted in a casket of pure gold.

"What is it?" the old man croaked.

"It is," said the acolyte, "the heart of the toad that dwelt once in Arabia and by the mountains of Bethany."

The old man's crooked fingers closed on it, and he blessed the acolyte with his rasping voice and claw-like hand uplifted; the motor-bus rumbled above on its endless journey; far off the train shook Sloane Street.

"Come," said the old magician, "it is time." And there and then they left the weedy cavern, the acolyte carrying cauldron, gold poker and all things needful, and went abroad in the light. And very wonderful the old man looked in his silks.

Their goal was the outskirts of London; the old man strode in front and the acolyte ran behind him, and there was something magical in the old man's stride alone, without his wonderful dress, the cauldron and wand, the hurrying acolyte and the small gold poker.

Little boys jeered till they caught the old man's eye. So there went on through London this strange procession of two, too swift for any to follow. Things seemed worse up there than they did in the cavern, and the further they got on their way towards London's outskirts the worse London got. "It is time," said the old man, "surely."

And so they came at last to London's edge and a small hill watching it with a mournful look. It was so mean that the acolyte longed for the cavern, dank though it was and full of terrible sayings that the old man said when he slept.

They climbed the hill and put the cauldron down, and put there in the necessary things, and lit a fire of herbs that no chemist will sell nor decent gardener grow, and stirred the cauldron with the golden poker. The magician retired a little apart and muttered, then he strode back to the cauldron and, all being ready, suddenly opened the casket and let the fleshy thing fall in to boil.

Then he made spells, then he flung up his arms; the fumes from the cauldron entering in at his mind he said raging things that he had not known before and runes that were dreadful (the acolyte screamed); there he cursed London from fog to loam-pit, from zenith to the abyss, motor-bus, factory, shop, parliament, people. "Let them all perish," he said, "and London pass away, tram lines and bricks and pavement, the usurpers too long of the fields, let them all pass away and the wild hares come back, blackberry and briar-rose."

"Let it pass," he said, "pass now, pass utterly."

In the momentary silence the old man coughed, then waited with eager eyes; and the long long hum of London hummed as it always has since first the reed-huts were set up by the river, changing its note at times but always humming, louder now than it was in years gone by, but humming night and day though its voice be cracked with age; so it hummed on.

And the old man turned him round to his trembling acolyte and terribly said as he sank into the earth: "YOU HAVE NOT BROUGHT ME THE HEART OF THE TOAD THAT DWELLETH IN ARABIA NOR BY THE MOUNTAINS OF BETHANY!"

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Historical Analysis: D&D Prices Then and Now (Is 5e the Most Expensive Edition Ever?)


To me, a middle-aged person who started purchasing Dungeons & Dragons Rulebooks forty years ago, the contemporary product offerings of Wizards of the Coast seem wildly overpriced.

I bought the AD&D Players Handbook in 1978 for $9.95. By the end of the next year, I would own all three AD&D rulebooks, having paid a total of $31.85. At that time, the "whitebox" set of the original three "little brown books" was still being sold for $14.95. Just a few years before, it had retailed for $10.00 - a price that many contemporary reviewers thought was quite high for a mere game, especially one that did not contain a board or pieces.

Today, the three D&D 5e "core" rulebooks sell for a combined list price of $149.85.

Now of course I realize that there has been a fair amount of inflation since 1979 (or 1974, when the first edition of D&D hit the market), but has there been that much inflation? One wouldn't have thought so.

So I decided to find out.

In fact, prices have gone up by a factor of 5.3 since 1974, and by a factor of 3.2 since 1979. (That prices almost doubled in that five-year period, as seen from those numbers, shows that inflation was raging in the seventies.) See the CPI Inflation Calculator, here.

I should note that merely adjusting for inflation doesn't give you the full story about people's purchasing power. Among other things, it doesn't look at how much money people actually have. One might assume that average wages and incomes have risen at least as fast as inflation over the last forty years, but that may not be the true for certain groups, including, arguably the sorts of groups - teenagers, students, younger wage earners, etc - who make up a large proportion of the RPG market. Still, adjusting for inflation is a good place to start.

From this point on, when I talk of prices or use the terms expensive, inexpensive and so on, I will be referring to inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars.

For the fun of it, I made a chart of some of the most well-known versions of D&D, with their original prices as well as their inflation-adjusted prices. As you can see, I also made a second chart featuring some of the "retro-clones." Which editions are or were actually the most (or least) expensive? Is 2018 a good time to be a D&D or RPG purchaser (in terms of prices) or were things better back in the day?



Here are some of the most interesting things I got from the charts:

First Impressions:
  • In terms of its list price (3 x $49.95) D&D 5e is in fact the most expensive version of D&D ever published.
  • However, if you purchase it through Amazon, where you get almost a 50% discount, it ends up being the least expensive, at least among the editions that feature three hardcover books. (I should note that while there was some book and game discounting going on before Amazon, the magnitude was generally nowhere near as high.)
  • Starting with AD&D in 1977-79, each successive hardcover edition would be a bit more expensive, culminating in D&D 5e, which cost almost 50% more than its first ancestor (going by its list price, at least).
  • The original 1974 edition sold for less than half of the price of any of the successive five hardcover editions.
  • However, if you add in the three supplements - Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry - the prices are comparable.
  • Unsurprisingly, the "Basic" editions have always been the least expensive (and thus, given certain assumptions, have been the "best deals"), coming in at anywhere from 50% to 15% of the hardcover sets
  • You can buy hardcover reprints of the original AD&D 1st edition volumes on DriveThruRPG for substantially less than they cost back in the day ($74.85 vs. $103.41). Not sure about the quality, but there it is.
Pages and Words:

The above analysis changes somewhat if one looks at page and word counts. Of course, some would argue that more pages and words don't necessarily make a game product better - they might even make it worse. But for the sake of argument, let's assume they add value to the product at a constant rate.
  • The original edition of Dungeons & Dragons may have been at the time, one of the longest game rulesets ever published, coming in at 45,000 words - almost certainly longer than the typical rulebook for, say, any of the Avalon Hill or SPI "monster" wargames of the period, and, I assume, judging from Chainmail, substantially longer than the typical set of miniatures rules.
  • Five years later, the three AD&D game books would utterly crush that record, coming in at over a half-million words. I can't imagine how this wouldn't have meant that AD&D was by far the longest set of game rules published in the history of the world. Yet, oddly, as far as I can remember, few seemed to have remarked on this. Though role-playing was still new, and though the first AD&D rulebook - the 1977 Monster Manual - was stunning in its quality and scope, I don't remember anyone saying, "uh, guys, should anyone really be playing a game with a set of instructions 500,000 words long?" It seemed a completely natural and logical development, and is, of course, taken for granted now. But the more I think of it, the more I think this is extremely odd.
  • With AD&D there was a massive leap in price to, I assume, near record levels for games. How many relatively self-contained games had ever cost more than $30?
  • On the other hand, if looked at in terms of the number of words per dollar spent, AD&D constituted a massive leap in value - at least compared to earlier versions. You got six times the words for your dollar with AD&D than you got from the little brown books.
  • The successive three-volume hardcover sets would all offer comparable word value - 4,000 - 6,000 words per dollar.
  • However, the number of pages in each book took a large leap with 3rd edition (and the number of words per page dropped off somewhat proportionately). It looked like you were getting more content even though you weren't. Of course, if fewer words per page meant more pictures per page, one could argue that you were in fact getting more content.
  • Words peaked at close to three-quarters of a million with edition 3.5. That's more words than are in the novel War and Peace.
  • Curiously, edition 3.5 was the only multi-volume edition to feature three books containing exactly the same number of pages - 322 each, depending on how you count pages.
  • Not counting D&D 5e at the Amazon discounted price, the best value (in terms of words per dollar) of any D&D edition was the Rules Cyclopedia.
The Retro-Clones:

For purposes of this analysis, I'm ignoring the fact that many of the clones are also available in free or extremely inexpensive PDF versions.
  • All the retro-clones seem to offer good value compared with their D&D parents. Yet, for most of the clones, if value is expressed in terms of word count, their value is merely comparable with the various Wizards of the Coast "core" books, if even slightly less.
  • Part of the philosophy of the clones is that less is in fact more. But still.
  • In terms of pages and words per dollar, the incredibly massive OSRIC and the incredibly cheap Delving Deeper are the undisputed champions. Blueholme Prentice Rules also deserves a mention.
  • The three members of the "100,000 word club" (at least on this chart) - Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry Complete and my own Seven Voyages of Zylarthen - are all roughly comparable in terms of overall price and words per dollar. (By the way, the words per dollar figure for the Labyrinth Lord hardcover edition, four rows down on the chart, is in error. Instead of "6,260" it should read, "3,130".) Much of the variance presumably reflects the different formats - hardcovers vs. paperbacks vs. booklets.
  • Zylarthen's monster book contains 35% more words per page than its non-monster books (I think this is because its "stat blocs" are presented in prose as opposed to table form, and there are no other tables in the volume). I suspect Zylarthen is relatively unique in this as it is the reverse of the phenomenon you get in the five multi-volumes editions of AD&D and D&D where the monster books are often 35% or so less "meaty" - presumably due to having more pictures and stat blocs. You can't see this from the charts but I just thought it was a minor (obviously, very minor) weird and interesting fact.
  • You can buy physical versions of the two relatively "straight" clones of the three little brown books - Swords & Wizardry Whitebox and Delving Deeper - for one-fifth and one-tenth, respectively, of what the three little brown books cost back in the day.
  • Or, you can buy a PDF of the original Dungeons & Dragons whitebox itself for one-fifth of what you would have paid for its physical instantiation back in the day.
  • Life isn't all bad.

Monday, April 2, 2018

ZYLARTHEN Bundle (Booklets plus Deluxe PDF) Now Available on DriveThruRPG


Campion and Clitherow has (finally) bundled the physical instantiations and combined PDF of its classic OD&D "neo-clone" Seven Voyages of Zylarthen.

The bundle includes the five physical booklets (the four original books plus the Book of Spells supplement) and the 337 page deluxe Electronic Edition, featuring an extensively bookmarked and hyperlinked PDF that includes all of the previous plus a printable Player Reference Sheets booklet.

The bundle is priced at $34.75 on DriveThruRPG. Previous purchasers of the PDF alone will find they can purchase the bundle for $29.75, or $5.00 off the total price for the individual booklets.

One of the reasons we're excited about this this is that we've noticed that most Zylarthen purchasers bought their booklets from Lulu but their PDF from DriveThru. Lulu prints great booklets, and I assume some people them during one of Lulu's periodic shipping sales. We wanted to create a way for DriveThruRPG people to get their own "permanent" advantage while creating a "one-stop" mechanism for new Zylarthen purchasers to get both the booklets and the PDF at a discount.

For those unfamiliar with Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, the motivation was not to "clean up" or add "house-rules" to the original edition of the world's most popular role-playing game in the manner of, say, a straight retro-clone. There's nothing wrong with either of those programs, but they had already been done by, among others, Delving Deeper and Swords & Wizardry White Box.

Rather, it was to identify the essential elements of the original game and, as it were, "turn them up to 11."

And much of this had to do with tone and setting. As we remarked in the Introduction, "the brilliance and charm of earliest version of the original game was its simplicity and elegance, combined with a certain asymmetrical quirkiness. It invoked many sources—King Arthur, the Crusades, Middle-earth, the Arabian Nights, pulp fantasy, fairy tales, even science fiction. Its breadth of tone was a virtue, offering to the players a multiplicity of delights."

Here are the gods and goddesses of myth, as well as the goblins and witches of Faery. And here also are the Martian races described by Burroughs, as well as the androids, cyborgs and robots of speculative fiction.

Here are treks through a fantastic wilderness or delvings into the deepest and most mysterious dungeons.

Zylarthen is a game you can feel comfortable playing with your children. It is also a game for adults who wish to recapture the sense of wonder they had on first being introduced to the role-playing hobby. We hope that it will appeal to role-playing history wonks as well as younger enthusiasts who wish to get become more acquainted with, as it were, the roots of the thing.

We hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Villanelle for Easter Eve

The athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell
For years, I sought to walk a godly pace,
Not sensing all things rushing into God.
But now I run, I run as in a race. 
There was a stream, but one I could not trace
While I was wading dust as thick as blood
And shouting that I walked a godly pace. 
There was a sun, but one I did not face,
Nor see the hills pursue it in a crowd.
I did not hear it panting in its race. 
But everyone who turns to seek His grace
Becomes a restless horse the faint breeze prods
And instigates beyond a godly pace. 
I could not be left lonely by the chase
Toward Him. The ground was moving in a flood,
And all things sang and hurtled in the race. 
And through that storm I saw how wide a space
I had to cross. I heard each slow step's thud.
For years, I sought to walk a godly pace,
But now I run, I run as in a race.
Villanelle of the Hidden Life by Sarah Ruden

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Fantasy Weather: How to Create a Temperature Algorithm in Just 16 Easy Steps!


Or at least I'm going to tell you how I did it for THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER.

I'm not a computer programmer. The last (and only) programming language I learned was Fortran, as a college sophomore in 1982. (Yes, Fortran. Is it still around?) But I've always enjoyed working with numbers and logic puzzles. So, I've ended up spending a fair amount of time "programming" in Microsoft Excel. I'm not an expert, nor even close, but I've learned enough Excel to help me do what I want to do for both my real-world job and gaming projects.

I also knew almost nothing about weather or climate science (at least in any formal, courses-in-school way) before beginning the SEVEN YEARS of FANTASY WEATHER and THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER projects.

In a sense, this post is a companion post to my Editing Batten post of a few years ago. It tracks the progress of an amateur (or more accurately, quasi-ignoramus) in "learning" a new thing.

I don't want to sound falsely modest. I do think I am pretty good with numbers. But as far as I can tell, 80%+ of OSR people are pretty  good (or better than pretty good) with numbers. My impression is that many of you are IT or programming people. One of my favorite gaming blogs - Delta's D&D Hotspot - is written by a professional mathematician.

As with Batten, what's notable is not that I did it, but that I did it. Or to put it another way, If I did it, then you can probably do it, too. We're all nerds here.

Whether you would ever want to do it is, of course, another question...    

The problem: Given a particular real-world model - say, Jerusalem - create an algorithm for realistically simulating the temperature for 365 days or 730 twelve-hour day/night periods over the course of a typical year.

1. Find a data source. For temperature, I used Weatherbase and Weather Spark almost exclusively. Most online weather data sources feature both the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales. I used Fahrenheit for all data entry and internal calculations, but presented the temperature using both scales on the actual weather charts. Here is some of the data from Weatherbase:



And here is some of the data from Weatherspark:



I should note that the overall weather data would often differ from source to source. The average number of days with precipitation was notoriously variable, for example,  presumably because the definition of "precipitation" differed from site to site (and many sites wouldn't explicitly tell you which definition they used). However, for temperature  this wasn't a huge problem.

2. Determine base temperature ranges and probabilities for each season or month. I began, following the suggestions in Lisa Cabala's 1988 Dragon magazine article, "Weathering the Storms," with three seasons - Winter, Summer and Spring/Fall - each broken down into four sets of ranges. Here is what I started with for a "South Temperate Coastal Hot" climate type, similar to that of Jerusalem:



But in redesigning SEVEN YEARS of FANTASY WEATHER to create THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER I made things more granular - in this case, going from seasons to months, and from four ranges to eight ranges - and made the data specific to the location I was trying to model:



The lows and highs were taken from Weatherbase, but the ranges within the percentile chances were taken from the Weatherspark charts for the middle day of each month, using the values at the time of day that contained the peak day temperature. "Eyeballing" the values for the shades was initially annoying, but after a while I got pretty fast at it. 

3. Smooth things out. As you can see, unsurprisingly, the ranges can shift up or down pretty dramatically from month to month. For example, they shift up about 8 points or so from April to May. Rather than have these shifts suddenly happen, so to speak, on the 1st of each month, I smoothed these transitions from "peak" - the middle of each month - to peak. You just take the difference between peaks and divide them by 30 or so to get the incremental change for each day. If you think about it, one problem with this method is that it might smooth things out too much - a peak is not necessarily the same as an average. I'll talk about how I addressed that problem in #16, below. Here are the smoothed numbers for the first five days of January for Jersusalem:



Why are the lows (0.0) here 10° higher than the lows under "Lowest Recorded Temperature" in the Weatherbase data? Because, these are the base day temperatures. The evening temperatures will be, for January, an average of 10° points lower.

Why is the first "1/1" cell red, and what is that "J" and "x" in the upper right-hand cells? Don't ask. My "programming" is filled with that sort of cryptic stuff. I often forget myself what some of it means myself. 

4. Determine how "sticky" the base temperature is. Generally temperature doesn't suddenly "re-set" every 12-hours. You might get a sudden major rise or drop, but on average you don't. Early on, I settled on a 90% "stickiness chance." That is, as you go from one 12-hour period to the next, there is a 90% chance that the base temperature will remain the same and a 10% chance it will re-set. This means that a particular base temperature phase will last an average of 5 days. Of course, even if the base temperature does re-set after, say, 5 days, this might not be noticeable - it might re-set to a value close to the previous one. So even in climes and seasons with quite wide potential temperature ranges, relatively consistent warm or cold spells might persist for some time.

Is 90%, or an average of 5 days, realistic? I have no idea - whatever "realistic" might even mean in the context of this sort of model. But it seemed about right.

5. Determine the relationship between day and evening temperatures. In virtually every climate, the day temperature is on average higher than the evening temperature, though, how much it might be higher, on average, will depend on climate and season. Weatherspark provides the average high (day) and low (eve) temperature averages for each day throughout the year. In Jerusalem, these high and lows differ by anywhere from 10° in the Winter to 18° in the Summer. In other words, if the afternoon temperature reaches, say, 90° F for a particular day in July, it will, on average, drop to a low of 72° F during the coldest part of the evening. This is, again, an average, however - the algorithm randomly determines a different actual variance each time. I settled on a variance (from the variance) of 20%. That is, the actual variance will be between 80% and 120% of the average variance. Thus, in July, the temperature might drop anywhere from 14° to 22° from day to evening. Of course, it won't always drop, since it's possible the temperature might re-set to a higher base during the transition from day to evening, an increase potentially higher than the average day/eve decrease. But this will be infrequent.

6. Add a completely random variance to the base. I went back and forth between 1° and 2°, and I think I settled on 1°. (Weirdly, 2° made things look too swingy to me.) That would mean a base of 80° F could yield an actual temperature with whopping variance of anywhere from 79° F to 81° F. Why go to the trouble of doing this since this would obviously have virtually no effect on play? Well, so the charts would look more "realistic," of course - like real weather as opposed to made-up weather, and thus trick the reader into thinking it was real. Here, as in many other places, "realism," for me, would actually mean "apparent realism."  

7. Add an additional quasi-random small "step" cycle to the base. In the real-world, you often notice small up or down temperature trends over the course of days. It's not quite a random-walk, in that once you've started to go up or down, there's a greater chance that you will continue than that you will stop or reverse. But a stop or reverse is always possible, and once you get to a peak of 3 or 4 above or below the trend line, you go back in the other direction. This adds further variance and "apparent realism" to an otherwise constant base.

Here is a (very rainy) first nine days of January. Can you tell which temperature changes happen around the same base and which are "re-sets"?



8. Add in the possibility of "exogenous" shocks. In the real world, sometimes particularly cold or hot years are completely random within the internal parameters of the system. But other times, some external factor - sunspots, ash from a volcano, etc. - will shift the whole system one way or another. In THE ALMANAC, every 50 days there's a chance for such a shock, which at the limit could move the ranges up or down by as much as 8° (though 8° would be very rare). Like the base temperature, these shocks have a 75% chance of sticking from one 50-day phase to the next. Also, as with base temperature, the shocks are often not shocks - the transitions are smoothed - though occasionally they are.

I thought it would be fun to indicate on the charts whether a particular month or year was unusually cold or hot. The player-characters or NPC inhabitants of the area would presumably know this, and it might prompt adventure or plot hooks perhaps involving higher level NPC's, monsters or even gods messing around with things.

Or it could just be sunspots. 

9. Optional: Create ceilings or floors for record highs and lows. This is sort of a question of taste, but in THE ALMANAC, once you get to within 3 or 4 points of a record high or low for the month (based on real-world weather data often going back many years), a mechanism kicks in that will randomly re-assign you to a point also within 3 or 4 points of that high or low but in a manner that makes actually hitting the high or low less likely than getting a few points from it. That's a confusing way of saying that if you have ceilings and floors, you don't want temperatures to "bunch up" at the identical extremes. This would look odd and "unrealistic" on the charts.     

10. Determine temperature minimums and maximums for precipitation events. This is a basic insight, and it's sort of obvious, but as with many otherwise obvious things, I was alerted to it by David Axler's Dragon article, "Weather in the World of Greyhawk". I initially cribbed the values from Axler, but would later modify some of them. The idea is that you always have a chance for precipitation event - determined by the climate type and month - but the range of which precipitation events you might get will depend on the temperature. 

Thus, it needs to be at least 30° F for Drizzle, 40° F for a Gale and 55° F for a Cyclone. It must be below 35° F for a Light Snowstorm and below 20° F for a Light Blizzard. For Light Fog, it has to be between 30° F and 70° F. For Freezing Rain or Sleet, it has to be between 25° F and 35° F. And so on:



11. Make sure that the temperature won't exceed the maximums or fall below the minimums during the precipitation event. Many precipitation events only last a few hours, and thus will only take up one 12-hour period, but some will last longer. You don't want to temperature to suddenly shoot up to 50° F during a blizzard.

12. Create a mechanism for possibly lowering the temperature if a particular precipitation event happens. This is different from 10, above. The idea is that temperature is the base engine that influences everything that happens - from precipitation to windspeed. If the temperature is 100° F, you can still get a rainstorm, but that rainstorm would then lower the temperature - at least while it was raining. I went around and around on this, and had a difficult time finding information for how this worked in the real world. But it just seemed sensible that rain would "cool things off," somewhat. Can it be 100° F during a rainstorm? 90° F? 85° F? I came up with some values but am still not sure whether they were "realistic".

Also, as with #10, above, you have to come up with a way to "fuzz" things, otherwise any lowered temperatures will bunch at the maximums and look dumb.    

13. Create the possibility of temperature shifts - warm fronts or cold fronts - caused by or associated with precipitation events. This is different from 12 - not a temporary shift in apparent temperature, but an actual change in the base. In THE ALMANAC, there's a 50% chance that "mild" precipitation events - Drizzle, Light Rainstorm, etc. - will cause the base temperature to shift up 1 to 3 steps, and "harsh" events - Thunderstorms, Blizzards - will cause the temperature to shift down by 1 to 3 steps. I think this is quasi-realistic, based on the information I could find.

Writing this into the algorithm was tricky for me as it potentially created circular references (utter doom in Excel) - temperature determining possible precipitation which in turn possibly determined temperature - but eventually I figured it out. To be honest, I don't remember how.

Here's a case where a Light Rainstorm rode in on a (minor) warm front:




14. Add in wind-chill. In the Introduction to SEVEN YEARS of FANTASY WEATHER: Indea, I argued against this, but then I changed my mind, perhaps due to suffering through another unpleasant Chicago Winter - a Winter (still not over) made much more unpleasant by the wind. But I thought it would be too fussy to put two temperatures - the actual one and the "feels like" wind-chill one - on the chart. Thus, my wind-chill measurement is hidden, but it does determine the "C" rating - C-1, C-2 and C-3 - for rating the effect of cold temperatures. The effects of wind-chill are particularly noticeable in the Southern Mountains:



15. Add humidity and a heat-index. The internal algorithm for THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER generates relative humidity for each 12-hour period, based on the climate type, temperature, season, cloud cover and precipitation status. But, as with wind-chill, I decided it would be too busy to list relative humidity on the charts, except in a general way on the yearly summaries. But the relative humidity does help to determine my own heat index, represented, as with cold, with three ratings - H+1, H+2 and H+3 - on the charts. Along with temperature and relative humidity, the rating also incorporates wind speed - which at very high temperatures may actually make things feel hotter - as well as sun intensity. Thus, cloud cover could go both ways - more clouds might mean more relative humidity, but they also might mean that direct sunlight is less intense.

16. Adjust the monthly weather ranges to approximate the desired averages. Because of the peaks vs. averages thing and the sometime bias caused by the warm and cold front adjustments, as well as other factors - some of which remained admittedly somewhat opaque to me - the average monthly temperature averages I ended up with for a particular climate template were sometimes "off" the real-world model averages (as listed on Weatherbase) by a number of degrees. (The average averages were taken from 80 simulated years. Don't worry - once you set things up, simulating up to eight years at a time takes about five  seconds.) Here, I suppose, was another place where it's unlikely anyone would have noticed or cared, but it still bugged me. To have gotten this far, so to speak, and then to end up with, say, February off by an average of 6° was annoying. Fortunately, the problem was easily fixed by simply adding a constant (a plus or minus value) to the original monthly temperature ranges.

There's something satisfying about designing a completely artificial simulation which nevertheless appears to get the averages, as well as the highs and lows, variance frequencies and so on, right or at least apparently right.

Maybe I need to get out more.

Here is the final product - January of Year 1 for "Jerusalem":


As I mentioned in the Introduction of THE ALMANAC, while Climate Template 101: Southern Temperate may have been modeled on Jerusalem, it ended up diverging from the model in a few significant aspects. Perhaps most obviously, I added a coastal cyclone season in the Fall.

Did those violent cyclones (or those gales caused by Storm Giants or the occasionally marauding cluster of possibly malign whirlwinds, etc.) kill all of the meticulously averaged averages previously mentioned? Actually, they didn't:


                   
See, for fantasy weather Year 1, the average temperature in Temperate South is 60° F, while Weatherbase tells us that the average temperature for Jerusalem is - oh, damn!

61° F.

It must have been one of those exogenous factors.