An Ode to Epitaph to a Dog

A decent amount of time ago, in a galaxy still just this galaxy right here, approximately as many years in the past as that poem about the cat was written in the future…

OK, a note about linguistics. Time travel and fiction lead to some very strange formations. Douglas Adams of course was an expert on the topic:

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be descibed differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is futher complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later editions of the book all pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Anyway, this Lord Byron guy wrote a poem about his dog. It’s on the dog’s tombstone. The dog has a tombstone.

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below:
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour’d falls, unnotic’d all his worth,
Deny’d in heaven the Soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas’d by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on, it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one—and here he lies.

What is it about the last two lines of poems about pets that slays me?


An Ode to Ode to Spot

A long time from now, in a galaxy very close and actually it’s just our galaxy, and not that long from now really in the grand scheme of things, is set a show known as Star Trek: The Next Generation.

There’s a cyborg (robot?) who has a cat. He wrote a poem about his cat. It must have been a fun day in the writers’ room.

I was sharing a good affectionate moment with my own cat, Samwise Gamgee the Brave, just now. And it made me remember this poem.

I now reprint without comment Data’s poem about his cat, “Ode to Spot”:

Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature;
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.

O Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

Those last two lines just slay me.

What Level is the Crew from Jaws?

It’s that time again. I saw a movie at a rep house and got to thinking about Dungeons & Dragons.

This one should be fairly simple. We’ve got a cop, which I’m going to say is analogous to a city guard; head of the town watch perhaps. He’s probably a Warrior–decent, but still an NPC class.

We’ve got a crazy shark hunter, which according to the maritime table would make him, it’s a toss-up, but I think I’m going to go with Rogue.

And we have a scientist, who’s obviously an Expert, with a one-level dip in let’s say Rogue, since the other sailor is a Rogue too.

So the shark is obviously a Dire Shark, challenge rating 9. Now, would we say the shark is “Very Difficult”, or “Overwhelming”? It’s not a TPK but they do lose their Rogue, and they only end up killing it with a trick that probably made the DM roll his eyes. Let’s say Overwhelming. According to the DMG, that’s the party’s effective level plus five, or so. According to the SRD calculator, this puts the party somewhere between level 5 and level 6.

But these are NPC classes! Do we need to increase it? Maybe by a little bit. But they did get lucky too, and lost a party member. Let’s look at wealth by level.

They should each have around 13,000 gold at this point, perhaps more for the Expert. The boat’s probably around 15,000 plus fuel, so that works pretty well with a level 6 rogue. These are fairly high levels for an ordinary shark hunt, but keep in mind this is no ordinary shark. So I guess they have to be level 6, which would make the Expert smarter than Einstein and the Warrior stronger than Conan, so it’s imperfect. But they need a boat and they need to be able to kill a 25 footer, so there you have it.

Maybe level 4 and they got super lucky, or maybe only the rogue is level 6 and the others are level 3 and they got really super lucky.

Or maybe the DM is kind of lazy and the crazy shark guy is a higher-level NPC babysitter that railroads a lower-level party. Perhaps that works better. I could see a level 6 rogue with a boat shepherding two level 2-3 characters through this encounter. He even dies just in time for the PC’s to be the real heroes in the story.

UPDATE: One of my friends makes a decent point.

yeah, or maybe they’re just non-optimized characters who spent all their points on skills like knowledge(sharks) and spent their entire time writing up backstories
they just want scenes like the singing on the boat

What Level is Beatrix Kiddo?

So my husband has chicken pox(?!), and he’s cooped up inside all day for the next n days, and yesterday we watched Kill Bill Part 1 and Django Unchained. When I got up this morning, he was watching Kill Bill Part 2. He is, shall we say, a Tarantino fan.

During the Crazy 88 fight in Part 1, I was like, if I wanted to make her character sheet, what on earth would I put on it?

I’m going to go with a human Fighter since she is very tough and obviously has a lot of combat feats. For instance, Great Cleave would allow her to kill all those dudes in one round, as she does repeatedly. Weapon Focus: Katana seems likely too. She needs Power Attack and Cleave before she can get to Great Cleave, so she’s at least level… wow, a human Fighter can get there by level two. Let’s add in Weapon Specialization: Katana, so now we’re at level 4, with an unused feat. Now, I know this will weaken the overall build, but I’m going to throw in a one-level dip in Monk for plot reasons. Stunning Fist is a fairly obvious feat she needs to have at the end of Part 2, and she can’t get it as a Fighter until level 8.

So, now we’re at human Fighter 4/Monk 1 and we have an unused feat still. I’m also house-ruling that multiclassing doesn’t have an XP penalty, because duh. What else. Let’s add Improved Critical to unarmed strike, so now we need to be Fighter 8/Monk 1. That’s level 8’s bonus feat, which leaves us with the unused level feat, another unused level feat, and an unused bonus feat. We should be able to round out the character now. Perhaps Combat Reflexes (bonus feat), Diehard (level feat), and Endurance (level feat, prerequisite for Diehard).

And there you go. As for Part 2, I did my best. I have no idea how to recreate the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique except for more monk levels. But this build feels right.

DnD Levels and Fiction

So seeing Raiders last night got me thinking about Dungeons and Dragons (3.5, nerds) and characters and levels. I recall reading a number of criticisms about how the game is completely unrealistic, since a top-level character (20) is basically a god, but nothing in fiction comes close to that level of power. And you know what? That’s true.


kftsjI recall reading a single rebuttal piece pointing out the obvious problem here, which is this:

Point: Level 20 is broken, because if Albert Einstein is the most intelligent person who ever lived, he should be level 20.

Counterpoint: Albert Einstein is a Level 4 Aristocrat with 20 Intelligence and all his ranks in Knowledge: Physics. That means he would be able to arrive at answers to questions only the gods themselves could know about 10% of the time.

I’m paraphrasing. I can’t find the original post. So, what level is Indiana Jones?

Well. He’s human, so he gets an extra feat. But he can use a whip, which is an Exotic Weapon, so he might have to burn that feat just for whip proficiency. Let’s, instead, focus on the gunshot wound. He barely notices it until the entire chase scene is over.

A pistol does 1d6 damage. So perhaps he got lucky and only took the 1, but we don’t really know, do we? So, now we need to know how many HP he has. Let’s be charitable and say he’s a Ranger (he clearly has Favored Enemy: Nazi). They have a d8 hit die, and he clearly has an increased Constitution score–I would guess his dump stat was Wisdom–so that’s, let’s say, 1d8+2 per level. Let’s assume that he took average damage from the shot (3) and has average HP. Any character with six HP (level 1) who lost 3 of them would simply not behave that way. So he has to be higher than level 1.

Leather armor has a terrible armor class, so every time he doesn’t get shot it must be from some other factor. I’d guess he went down the Dodge feat tree. You’d need an insane number of feats and bonuses to avoid getting shot that many times anyway (remember that 5% of everything hits–natural 20), so we’ll just do what we can, here. The Dodge tree really needs all three feats to be worth it, and since he already burned his bonus human feat on the whip, that means that his level 1, level 3, and level 6 feats need to be devoted to the Dodge tree.

Now, if he hadn’t used Wisdom as his dump stat, he’d be able to cast spells at that point, but he did, so he can’t. And anything higher than level 6 would be kind of ridiculous.

So Indiana Jones is a Level 6 Human Ranger.


I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark this afternoon at the Castro Theater with my dad. He’s in town and had never been there before, and Raiders is one of his favorite movies, and it was playing there, and I wanted to hang out with my dad, so, kind of a perfect storm.

I think I’ve seen it once before, plus scenes in the background at parties or bars or whatnot, but it’s very different in a theater. You’re seeing it, as they say, as it was meant to be seen. I was also seeing it with a firm understanding of what was going to happen, so I was able to see details I hadn’t before.

It’s just an incredibly well-crafted film. It’s campy when it should be, serious when it should be, John Williams is a genius, the sound editing in general is almost perfect (in the theater a couple people whooped at the Wilhelm Scream, it was a good audience), and–and this is what struck me the most–no Checkhov’s Gun went unfired. Everything was called back to once. Even the sand in that first scene is referenced at the end, when they open the Ark–the motion the Nazi uses to throw away the sand from the Ark is the same Indy used when he was measuring the bag. Same angle, too, if I recall. Sure, we all know about the set-up for the snakes quip, but I had no idea the call-and-response thing was done so thoroughly.

The only “bad” cuss word was in German, too. My dad and I both remarked on it at the time (we’re both speakers). The worst thing said in English is “god-damned.” And maybe the anti-Nazi stuff was a little in-your-face–we all know Nazis are bad, after all–but the little touches, like the Mercedes hood ornament snapping off or the only cuss word being in German, are just hilarious.

And the sound editing! My god, the sound editing. What follows is a random list.

  • The use of total silence was just stunning. They didn’t do it very often but it really served to underscore what happened.
  • In the fistfight at the airplane, every punch was the same sound effect. It’s a combination of camp and brutality that worked really well. You understand that Indy is getting the shit beaten out of him, but it also sounds like a “Bang! Pow! Zam!” Batman-style bit of cartoon violence due to the repetition. Or, to my mind, like a video game, though those didn’t quite exist at the time.
  • Of course there’s a Wilhelm, but it’s still funny.
  • The syncing of Williams’ score with the acting is just… brilliant. When the soundtrack can deliver a joke all on its own, you know you’re dealing with some smart cookies.

And having a good crowd is important. You could hear people doing the suck-in-the-breath-and-cringe thing right before the incident with the propeller, and everybody clapped after he shot that one guy, they cheered John Williams in the opening credits. It really feels good to be in on the joke, you know? And I contributed my part. I wasn’t expecting any less from a Sunday afternoon matinee crowd at the Castro–that’s why I took my dad there, after all–but it’s really uplifting to do stuff like that.

I guess Vonnegut said it best:

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”