Apr 2003

Session 2 Summary

Babylon Campaign Summary for Session 2 (18/3/2003)

by André Pang

The last session ended with our five valiant heroes mercenaries fighting to earn a place in the Thel’s Warriors, and they greatly impressed Thel and XXX by ripping their opponents to shreds whilst also smelling like minty freshness.

Thel Achila congratulated Amber and the party after the fight, and told them more about the Thel’s Warriors. She informed them that wounds suffered by any of the stable’s fighters are tended to by their healer named Papparasmus, a man not particularly known for his social skills, but was nevertheless good at what he does. Thel also mentioned that she was now in retirement because of the “Ankheg incident” —- several of her fighters were gored to death in an unpleasant manner in an ankheg pit during one of the fights. In fact, apart from the Ankheg incident, many of her warriors were dying during the middle of a fight in the veins; they would mysteriously keel over with no signs of warning. In particular, her greatest gladiator, a shambling mound who went by the name “The Golden Shambler”, died in this fashion. Thel wants the party to find out who or what is responsible for killing all her gladiators, and is offering a 1000 gp bounty to solve this puzzle. Thel suspects that a rival stable, the Sandnets, may have something to do with the deaths. Led by Vulpone Sandnet, a hulking minotaur who savagely cuts down almost all opposition, the Sandnets have never been on the best of terms with Thel’s Warriors. However, our heroes’ first intuition was to follow up on the strange minty smell that Torr picked up in the battle to prove themselves to Thel. Thel mentioned that Flug, the arena janitor, uses some cleaning fluid which may have been a bit minty.

After their conversation with Thel, the crew of five descended beneath the gladiatorial arena: the Underveins. The Underveins, featured on a very cool Dragon® map, was home to Papparasmus the healer. Papparasmus was about as pleasant to deal with as everybody suggested: that is, not very. He did do his job though, and healed everybody back up to their optimal health. One thing that our heroes managed to get out of Papparasmus was a name: Tiberius, apparently a master healer and cleric who was responsible for raising the dead.

The heroes then went to visit Thel again; upon asking Thel about Tiberius, Thel became defensive and refused to talk to the heroes about “her father”. Instead, she laid down the rules of gladiatorial combat in the Veins:

  1. No magical “buffs” before a match; e.g. no Mage Armour, no Protection From Normal Missiles and Other Pointy Things. It’s perfectly okay to cast those spells once you’ve started combat, though.
  2. There’s a 50gp entrance fee for each fight, and the 1st such fee is paid for by Thel. This fee can also be waived if you’re particularly (in)famous.
  3. One can take “raise dead insurance”, which costs (50gp + 10 * your fame score). Once you’ve taken the insurance, if you fall in combat, you will be raised for the mere price paid for the insurance.
  4. If you have no “raise dead insurance”, it costs 200gp to raise you lest you be decapitated, arrowed, sworded, or otherwise burninated (to the countryside).
  5. Winning a gladiatorial battle nets (50gp + 2 * your fame score). XXX: This doesn’t seem like much, given that the entrance fee takes 50gp out of that. Andrew?
  6. Good performance in battle and/or good crowd entertainment nets a gladiator more fame.
  7. A gladiator may appeal to the crowd with either a Charisma check or a skill check (DM determines difficulty), at their choice.
  8. Inflicting massive damage, such as one would expect from a critical hit from a scythe, increases a gladiator’s fame.
  9. Performing a Fatality to kill your foe(s) increases your fame.
  10. Having “spice” in a battle (and presumably winning that battle) increases your fame. “Spice” can be a number of things, such as having an ankheg pit present, a random basilisk peacefully wandering around the arena, or random landmines.
  11. Doing “cool things” in combat increases your fame, where “cool things” is subject to interpretation by Mr. Dungeon Master.
  12. To perform a Fatality, a gladiator must kill an opponent with a critical hit, or must kill an opponent with a -6 penalty to their attack roll.
  13. Once you hit 0 hitpoints in the arena, you’re gone. Dead. Burninated.

Armed with this valuable information, our astute heroes then took a one week break, with 45gp spending money courtesy of Thel, to prepare themselves before their first battle. The group separated for the week, and each mercenary had their own story to tell.

Kane and Arjanne were visited by the PsiCore: darkly-dressed people with scary-looking hoods. Fascinatingly, neither of the two could tell whether the PsiCore members were actually male or female. In fact, the PsiCore look quite … inhuman. They were taken to some sort of temple where they met the PsiCore leader, another average-looking PsiCore members who told the two psions to “side with them when the time comes”. After agreeing because they didn’t see much choice (being surrounded by about 50 PsiCore members at the time), they were escorted out of the temple and were immediately met in by other mysterious men, dressed in white, claiming to be part of a group called the “Freeminders”. The Freeminders, like the PsiCore tempted the two champions to join their side when the time came, and also said that the PsiCore were “corrupters”. Of course, since they were wearing white, Arjanne and Kane dismissed them as being pansies. Mind flayers The PsiCore are obviously much more fun to be allies with.

Amber couldn’t sleep for the week. Her sleep was being haunted with nightmares of ghosts, who kept telling her to “open the door”. When confused little Amber asked what-the-hell-door they were talking about, the “Earthbound” ghosts simply stated “There is only one door. Don’t you understand?” Obviously, Amber didn’t —- at least, not for now …

Our favourite drunken monk, Grasshopper, decided to talk to Rifius, the little boy with the large golden belt. Rifius ran an errand for Grasshopper and managed to get a jar of the cleaning fluid that Flug used to clean the arena; unfortunately, Grasshopper’s keen sense of vapours didn’t detect any minty freshness in the fluid. Grasshopper also met another girl in Thel’s Warriors named Stiletto, who at the moment seemed to be what meta-gamers call a “standard NPC”, but will no doubt turn out to be significant later on in the campaign a nice young lass. Grasshopper gained a fame point from saying Hi to the ladies, and also learnt that the commons hold a “Blood Bowl League” —- this week’s game was between Super Nashwan (of Xenon II fame) and Brutal Deluxe (of Speedball II fame), and it was looking like a good one. Bets are welcome!

Torr met a fellow named Mountain Musso who had some kind of “angry potion”, fought him in a wrestling match for it, and promptly lost. Stupid Torr.

After the one-week break taken by the heroes, they were approached by none other than Tiberius Achila. He looked like a very streetwise old man, and claimed that Thel was a criminal, and “stolen from Nathaniel” (whatever that means). Tiberius also warned the heroes that he’d be coming to take half of their arena winnings, and if the heroes refused, they’d be in for all sorts of trouble.

The leaderless heroes now needed a leader for their combat group, named “The Jackson Bitches” (with a 3-2 majority vote, thank you, drive through). In order to determine who would be their fearless leader, they diplomatically beat each other senseless until one was left standing. Of course, the Cleric won that fight (thanks in no small part to a small glowing celestial doggy); Amber now leads Torr, Grasshopper, Kane and Arjanne in their search for monsters to kill and stuff to take. Each of the heroes earned 200 XP in the gladiatorial challenge.

At this stage, the heroes relaxed for one more day before their first fight. In the day, they could visit the markets to buy some new equipment, or speak to Thel, Papparasmus or Flug about their investigation. At the end of the day, the heroes could then go to the Bloodbowl match to watch lots of humies beat the living crap out of each other. Hooray!

Most of the heroes decided to go to the markets, except for The Monk (XXX: is this correct?) Grasshopper talked to Thel and told her that the cleaning fluid wasn’t minty. Thel basically said “ahuh” in response to this. Upon asking Thel about her father Tiberius, Thel claimed that Tiberius and her were no longer blood relatives.

At the Bloodbowl stadium, our heroes learnt that the Orcland Raiders won last year, and in this match, the odds were 3 to 1 for Super Nashwan vs Brutal Deluxe. Brutal Deluxe ended up winning (XXX: is this right?); as a result, Kane lost 7gp, Arjanne lost 10gp, Amber won 12gp, Torr lost 10gp (stupid Torr), and Grasshopper lost 66.6666 silver pieces.

At this stage, life was suspended in the Babylon universe, and mundane daily life returned.


Character Sheets

Here are some character record sheets for use with the Babylon campaign:


Fixing Corrupted Modules


One of the very irritating downsides to the Aurora Toolkit is that it has a nasty habit of corrupting modules:

Uh oh.

Virtually none of us have the discipline to keep backups of the last 10 saves of the module in case the latest one becomes corrupted, which means that we can lose hours of work. (Some unfortunates have probably lost hundreds of hours of work thanks to these corruption bugs.)

There was a “sticky” thread on the BioWare boards about how to recover these corrupted modules, which involved messing around with the temporary directories that the Toolset creates, but that was a bit too hacky for my liking. So here’s another method to recover them.

Recovering Corrupted Modules with NWNViewer and NWNPacker

You’ll need Zoligato’s NWNViewer, an invaluable program for NWN hackers. The NWNViewer application actually has the NWNPacker program inside it, so there’s no separate download for NWNPacker.

Here’s the procedure:

  • Use the “File menu -> MOD HAK ERF Open” command to open your corrupted module
  • Right-click on any name inside the “File List” pane (the left-hand-side of the NWNViewer application) and pick “Extract ALL” from the context menu
  • Extract all files to a Directory Of Your Choice
  • Start NWNPacker by going to the “File menu -> NWN Packer”

Here’s the fun bit: the “File” menu is completely irrelevant to the NWNPacker application. Everything in NWNPacker is controlled by the icons in the NWNPacker window. So …

  • Click on the “New Document” icon (the piece of paper with the folded corner) inside the NWNPacker window, and select the “New MOD” menu entry. (You can’t go to “File menu -> New -> New MOD” to create a new MOD file, because there is no “File menu -> New” menu entry!) The directory browser inside the NWNPacker window should now allow you to navigate directories and add files to the left pane.
  • Add all the files which you previously extracted to your new module, by dragging them from the file selection window in the bottom-right to the list of files in the module in the bottom-left.
  • Use the disk icon in the NWNPacker window to save your new module.

At this point, your module should be openable (is that a word?) in the toolset.

  • Open your new module up in the toolset, and delete any invalid resources in it. If you’re lucky, the Toolset won’t give you those fun “invalid pointer” error messages as you’re doing this. Save this new module as your final module, and you should be able to continue work from there.


  • If you’re paranoid (like moi), you may want to then open up your final module and repeat the process with NWNViewer/NWNPacker, to make 100% sure that the module file is packed properly.

I’d add screenshots to this to make it more understandable, but hey, I’m lazy. If you care enough about recovering your corrupted module to email me about it but can’t understand this procedure, email me so I can put up some screenshots for you.

Possible Explanations for Corruption

If you try to open up your corrupted module in NWNPacker (instead of NWNViewer), it will complain about insufficient memory. My intuitive guess is that one of the length fields for the resources inside the module is wrong, which would also explain the invalid pointer operations performed by the toolkit.

NWNViewer appears to be more robust than NWNPacker and the toolkit, and seems to deal with such corruption better.

Have the appropriate amount of fun.


Barkskin VFX Removal

The Barkskin, Stoneskin and Greater Stoneskin spells are all great, except that they make your character look like a brown or stone-like object. I dunno about you, but I prefer staring at a character which doesn’t look like a tree.

So, I modified the “skin” spells to use the visual effect used by the “Premonition” spell. The actual spell effects don’t change, of course, just the visual effect that appears on your character.


Extract this file to the directory where you installed Neverwinter Nights, and you should end up with a few new files in your override directory. Have fun oogling at your character.

Note: This is for NWN HoTU 1.61. Untested on other versions.


Subraces and ECLs

Neverwinter Nights has all the standard 3E races: Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, and Half-Orcs. (I do wonder who at WoTC decided that half-orcs should be a core race; whether this is a good or bad thing is left as an exercise to the reader.)

However, NWN doesn’t implement any of the additional races found in the Forgotten Realms sourcebook, which you might’ve expected, since Icewind Dale (II) does. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Forgotten Realms sourcebook adds quite a number of player character (PC) races, including Sun Elves, Gold Dwarves, Tieflings, Genasi, and the infamous Drow.

So, here’s to extending NWN to support those new races.


(n.b. These files aren’t really meant for public consumption yet. Do. Not. Expect. Them. To. Work!)

Grab the above file and unzip it to your modules directory. This module allows you to pick a non-standard race.

Unzip all the files in the ECLs.zip archive to your override directory. This will implement proper ECL support.


Neverwinter Nights First Impressions

The one-word summary? Wow.

I’ve read many reviews on this game, and I was in slight disbelief as review after review refused to rate this game at any less than 90%. Now that I’ve got my hands on it though, I know why.

Keep in mind that this is a first impression. It’s not an extensive review, and no doubt my opinion of the game will go down as I encounter bugs, or realise that the single-player plot is about as boring as Baldur’s Gate. However, BioWare looks like they really have done what no other company has ever done before: taken the D&D concepts (not just the rules), and faithfully implemented them as a computer RPG.

They got 3E right

For hardcore D&D players, NWN is everything that you’ve been waiting for in a computerised version of D&D. It’s not perfect, but it’s so good that you just won’t care about the insignificant shortcomings.

Part of the reason that it’s so good is simply because it’s the very first game to use the 3E mechanics: it’s the same D&D that we know and love (or hate), and it’s a huge improvement over the 2nd edition rules that previous D&D games used. Yes, you can multi-class in this. Yes, every feat that’s in the Player’s Handbook is in the game, and they’re all implemented perfectly.

Sure, some bits were changed around to suit the nature of CRPGs better; for instance, the Rogue’s “Disable Device” skill has been split up into “Disable Trap” and “Set Trap”. But those changes are small, and they’re Done Right.

But really, for all intents and purposes, this game is 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps this won’t dawn on you until you see all the skills and feats that you can choose at your character generation, but this in itself makes the game worthy of buying. The amount of attention paid by Bioware to implementing every single last detail in 3E is truly staggering; if they got nothing else right about this game, I wouldn’t care. The 3E implementation is just so good that any hardcore D&D fan would be impressed with it. (Hey, if Ryan Dancey’s happy with it, it has to be That Good).

So what didn’t they quite get right with the 3E rules? It’s not extensible enough. You can’t add new feats, for instance. If you want to create a new weapon model, you’re going to need 3DSmax. But before you sneer, the Aurora engine which Neverwinter Nights uses is extensible enough that you can simulate everything that you’d ever want in a computer RPG just by using various types of items.

And on that note, let’s talk a bit about the Aurora toolkit.

The Aurora Toolkit

Forget everything you know about level editors, map editors, and anything else related to modding games. The Aurora thing is so usable and so friendly that it makes creating basic modules fun, and not a chore.

There’s a little bit to learn, but considering the worlds that you can craft with this thing, there’s very little to learn. Put it this way: the section on the toolkit in the manual is less than 20 pages long. The toolkit’s interface is so good that it just makes creating modules trivial.

For instance, take the conversation editor. You can add new dialogues for NPCs by using this tool. You click the ‘Add’ button and type in “Greetings! What’s two plus two?”; the toolkit automatically tags that message as being spoken by the NPC. You click ‘Add’ again and type in “1” as a possible response, and the toolkit immediately tags that as being spoken by the player’s character.

If you want to add more things that the player character can say, just click on the “Greetings” message, click ‘Add’ again, and type in “2”. This can send the player down a completely new conversation path, which implies that it might be complex to handle. Not at all; the conversation’s represented as a simple tree, which makes it trivial to insert new conversation items.

As I said before, the core engine doesn’t let you expand feats or races. Is that a big oversight? No. You can simulate almost of these things by using items which grant the characters whatever abilities you wish.

For example, I was disappointed that I couldn’t play an Aasimar, one of the standard Forgotten Realms races. So, using the half-elf template, you can give the character an invisible, intangible item called a “skin” which grants her those Aasimar qualities. Change your subrace name to “Aasimar”, and bingo, you’re an Aasimar. You just added a new race.

So while the game engine doesn’t allow the extension of some core 3E ideas such as classes and feats, you can do a lot with the toolkit. I imagine that implementing prestige classes and new feat-like things won’t be out of the question at all. Of course, you can create new items, weapons, armour, magical staves, rods and spoons with ease.

So, the toolkit makes doing all the standard things easy. Of course, if you want to do wacky stuff, the Aurora engine is driven by a programming language called NWScript which you can write stuff in. Don’t be mistaken —- this isn’t a play-language. From what I understand, it’s fully OO, and gives you full access to the internals of the game engine.

What’s even better than that is that Bioware realised how powerful NWScript is, and provide you with a script editor right in the toolkit. No more whipping out that sorry-ass excuse for a text editor (notepad.exe) to change things around; all your development tools are in the toolkit. Effectively, it’s a small IDE (integrated development environment): the toolkit can edit scripts, debug them and compile them. This makes things so much more accessible than fooling around with two dozen text files. (Civilisation, anyone?)

If you’re a DM and have never done programming before, well, now’s a good time to learn. The toolkit is so good that you could use it as a basis to build a module that you wanted to play in table-top RPGs. That’s really cool.

The network effect

Now we get into romantic territory. Fasten your seatbelts!

By itself, the flawless implementation of the rules doesn’t mean all that much. By itself, an easy-to-use toolkit doesn’t imply that much. By itself, the DM client, which allows you to dungeon master a module that you’ve created, isn’t a big deal.

However, combine these three things, and the effect is exponential: I kid you not, this thing is a truly viable alternative to tabletop RPGing.

Read that again, just in case it hasn’t hit you yet. NWN could drain away as much of your time as regular D&D does, or perhaps even more. (Although in the case of our current gaming group, draining more time than our D&D sessions isn’t all that hard :).

I’m not saying that it should replace tabletop RPGing, or dethrone it as the RPG method of choice. I’m saying that’s NWN is an alternative to tabletop RPGs; it’s an alternative because it offers a completely different experience to tabletop RPGing.

Computer RPGs vs tabletop RPGs

Let’s get something straight, first: computer RPGs will never be able to compete with tabletop RPGs. They never have, they never will.

However, now that NWN has been released, something has emerged which I thought never happen: computer RPGs now offer something which table-top RPGs don’t, and never will be able to: the feeling of being immersed in a computer game created by friends. The graphics detail in NWN is good enough that just seeing the environment makes for a completely different experience from conventional RPGs; the fact that you will play your DM’s module just like any other computer game also makes for something different.

If you’re a DM, you can prep the entire module before the session starts, watch your players walk through the world, talk to them as you would over a table, and then watch with glee as that pretty NPC they picked up is actually a succubus and teleports them to hell. You get to see all that in vivid graphical detail, in a campaign you wrote, on a computer game that your players are playing, and you’re watching them do this as they’re playing*.

Think about that for a second. Come back and read the rest of this when you’re done.

Thought about it? Good. Now imagine that you can have multiple DMs controlling a session. This is unfeasible in real-life RPGs, but it’s actually recommended for NWN. You can have a DM/PC ratio of 1:1; for every PC, there’s a DM. DMs can control NPCs to say exactly what they want, and the human players on the other end will just think it’s all part of a computer game.

That staggers me.

So, first impressions of NWN? Awesome. If you’re a D&D player, buy this thing. Right freaking now! (And I mean buy, not pirate.) If you’ve got the computer to run it, it will provide you with as much joy as any D&D book does, and at least from my point of view, that’s possibly the highest accolade that I could ever award to a computer game.



Chiba is a markup language I’m currently working on, which is inspired by many other markup languages, including the syntax used by HTML, SDF, POD, lout, AFT, APT, Wiki, DocBook, and of course, LaTeX. It’s written in Haskell.

It’s nowhere near finished (and don’t hold your breath), but the framework is currently there. Some very simple functions have been written, so it’s currently possible to convert a Chiba DOM to HTML markup.

Here, you can find all the source code for my presentation in the chiba-20020603.tar.gz file, or you can browse the contents of the tarball . The actual presentation can be downloaded in two formats:



Hicki was the working name for my thesis project, which is a case study of writing a WikiEngine in Haskell, before I decided to change thesis topics.

Here are the slides and handouts which I used in my Thesis Part A presentation (22/10/02), if you’re interested:



What’s zsh?

This is a talk I gave on zsh (the Z shell) at SLUG, the Sydney Linux Users’ Group. You can find more information on this great shell on the zsh homepage, which is at (drumroll) www.zsh.org . Briefly, zsh combines all of the (in)famous interactive power of tcsh and bash’s standard Bourne shell syntax, with its own most utterly crazy and useful word completion, globbing, redirection, and editing features. Once you start using it, everything else seems annoyingly … useless.

You can find a copy of my current zsh configuration files at

My zsh presentation

Feel free to take a peek at the slides that I used for my presentation, in html or MagicPoint format.

Other zsh tutorials and advocacy documents I used for my talk include:

  • Paul Falstad and Bas de Bakker’s “An Introduction to the Z shell” (intro.ps). This is also on the zsh homepage.
  • The FEATURES document that comes with zsh (taken from 4.0.1prerelease). This is actually a superb quick reference to all of the useful features in the Z shell.

However, you really want to drop by www.zsh.org and see the documentation, FAQs and scripts there.


Download CV

You can find the online version of my cirriculum vitae here, if you’re curious: it’s accurate and updated as of February, 2006.

It’s currently available in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) and PostScript (ps) formats; the Acrobat version contains hyperlinks.



What is Vimacs?

  • Conrad Parker: “Dude, I gotta get you doing some serious hacking projects”
  • Erik de Castro Lopo: “Oh, so you’re the insane guy that K was talking about”
  • Wichert Akkerman: “Gross. Horror. Vim abuse. Mind if I include this as an example in the Debian vim packages? :)”

Yep, it’s Emacs in Vim:



GHC Runtime Loading

Note: Since I wrote this dynamic loader for Haskell a long time ago, quite a few advancements have been made, so I’m no longer supporting this package. See the end of the page for discussion on the state-of-the-art in Haskell dynamic loading.

Introduction to Dynamic Loading & Plugins

Dynamic Loading is an important feature for building extensible programs and larger applications. It allows the program to load in code contained in a file, at runtime, and execute it. It’s a simple concept, but it leads to applications which can be very easily extended, sometimes in ways the original author never imagined.

If you’re still not convinced of the power of dynamic loading, think of WinAmp (a.k.a. XMMS :), which uses plugins to read files and perform device-specific output (not to mention all of its fantastic visualisation plugins). Each file type (MP3, WAV, OGG, XM, etc) is handled by a separate plugin, which means that it’s incredibly easy to extend WinAmp to play different types of media files.

Other notable projects which extensively use plugins are the Linux kernel (think kernel modules), Emacs, the Windows device driver model, the entire DirectX/gstreamer media framework, and the Apache web server. These projects would not be what they are today without their modular, extensible design.

Plugins in Haskell

The good news is: GHC has had, for quite a while now, the capability to load in Haskell modules at runtime. (If you use GHCI, that’s exactly what it does!) The bad news is: you can’t normally get at the functions which will do this for you. The better news is: thanks to some handiwork, you now can get at the functions which perform runtime (un)loading of modules; you’ll need to download a special RuntimeLoader module which allows you to do this.

To use it,

  import RuntimeLoader


  -- Load the plugin file
  plugin <- loadObject "MyPlugin.so"

  -- Load the function inside the plugin
  adder <- loadFunction plugin "addFunction" :: IO (Int -> Int -> Int)

  -- Execute the function
  let i = adder 2 3

That’s all you need to do to load a plugin. (Okay, not quite, you have to add a few flags to the ghc commandline too ;-).

If you’re interested, I’ve packaged up a small, example program called “TextFilter” which includes the RuntimeLoader module and demonstrates how to use it. Download it and get hacking!

Sorry, there’s no separate package for just the RuntimeLoader by itself: I think the TextFilter example is small enough that packaging it separately from the RuntimeLoader isn’t worth the hassle for you or me.

RuntimeLoader Redux

Since the release of RuntimeLoader in 2002, a few other people have taken up the challenge to make Haskell a more dynamic language. If you’re interested in this, have a look at:

  • HWS-WP, a.k.a “Haskell Web Server With Plugins”. Martin Sjöaut;ren took the original Haskell Web Server written by Simon Marlow many moons ago, and extended it to have Apache-style modules.
  • Hampus Ram’s DynamicLoader, which provides a higher-level API than my RuntimeLoader module.