Friday, July 25, 2014

Spotlight: The Second Greatest Damn Art Resource Ever...

So, it's been a little while. I have quite a bit to tell you.

Sneak Peak style? Lots of work, lots of WFRP, and two weeks in Japan. I shall tell you all more soon!

However, in the mean time, I have another Art Spotlight recently discovered, in the same vein as the last one.

May I present Lidrael's Gallery!

Check it out, weep over the artworks, and let me know what it inspires you to create.

Good gaming, everyone!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Creating Impossible Worlds & The End of A-to-Z

Greetings all,

It's been a little while since I last posted. A great many things have happened, and in the end they got in the way of the last few posts I was going to do on the Marienburg A-to-Z. But, I am here to let you know what was happening, and what will happen next.

First of all, as I may have mentioned, Impossible Worlds was experiencing some problems. They are far to myriad and complex to go into here, so I am posting the link to the Post-Mortem for you all to read if you so wish:

Additionally, I am here to let you know that I am currently working on a PDF of the entire Marienburg A-to-Z series. This will include a polished up version of the posts made between A-U, as well as the unposted V-Z. I will release this freely on versamus, for all viewing pleasure.

On this, I am looking for a couple of artworks to scatter throughout. I might end up using some of the stuff in the Marienburg: Sold Down the River book, but if you know of any artwork that would be fitting, please let me know.

I hope everything settles down soon, and I can get back to my regular posting.

All the best, and I hope you have time to get in some gaming soon!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Unity Meets Melbourne

I had the good fortune last night to visit the Kelvin Club as part of the IGDAM gathering and listen to the representatives from Unity discuss a few topics involved with Unity game development. Now, a lot of great developers I know couldn't be there, because there was very limited seating, so I decided to take some notes to bring back and share, and the easiest way to do that would be to dust off the "Game Design" tag on versamus, and make another post in regards to my bloody career!

The talk was divided into three sections: Project Architecture in Unity, Mecanim, and Unity5. Unfortunately the 2nd part, Mecanim, was not actually discussed due to technical issues (I believe they didn't have the correct cables? Though, how you'd go to such a presentation without at least a spare HDMI, VGA, DVI and all adapters between I'm not sure, but anyway). However, they did talk a good long while on the other two, which gave more than enough information. I'll summarise the points below and expand upon them where I feel necessary. If you want more information on any one point, just let me know in the comments or contact me via Facebook, email, or phone.

Project Hierarchy in Unity

  • Began with a parable about a house with broken windows, and explained the relationship between a poor living environment and a poor mental space. Expanded this to include project hierarchy and organisation: if you maintain project cleanliness, you'll maintain project morale.
  • The problem with almost every project in Unity (that is, problems to do with the actual in-engine stuff, not with the team, etc) is in its architecture. If the project isn't planned and built correctly, it will fall down.
  • To maintain project architecture, they recommended several key points:
    • Use C#, as it is a lot more responsive to the Console system within Unity and will make finding game breaking bugs easier.
    • Use strict naming conventions.
      • Use descriptive names, including what the asset is, where it is likely to go, and any immediately important information.
      • Don't be afraid to use spaces in asset names - Unity has no qualms with this.
    • Use a strict and logical folder structure*.
    • Maintain zero-tolerance for yellow warnings and red errors, and resolve them as soon as they present to prevent later back tracking.
    • Maintain zero-tolerance for runtime memory allocation.
  • Operate under a system of Core Application Logic (now please be advised that I didn't grab everything in my notes on this, as he did talk very fast, and was in a hurry to speed past the code examples. Thankfully they did provide us with the link to the examples, which I will post at the end of this article.)
    • Use a Main Controller in your first scene.
      • This controller will be used to manage all high level applications, such as level loading, caching resources, and dumping unused resources. Technically this sort of stuff isn't entirely necessary for PC projects, but will make mobile projects work infinitely better. It is, however, just good form to get into, and they advised it is best to always use as it will make cross-platform support a lot easier down the line.
      • This should be placed in a blank scene at the very beginning of the project. It should be set to a Singleton Pattern, so that it exists throughout all levels of the game space.
    • Now, here they talked about two aspects of Unity that I've never actually seen before, so I can't comment on them well - however, they will be the first thing I will investigate when I have some free time tomorrow: GC.Collect and Resources.UnloadUnusedAssets(). If you know either of these things, please let me know in the comments, as they intrigued the hell out of me.
      • Basically, they seemed to be used to reclaim memory from unused objects within the game space. I don't know how they go about doing this, but I feel a closer inspection of the example code would help.
    • They specifically called their states in an Array of Delegates, which you can see in the examples, which was very intriguing.
    • Furthermore, they touched on the Unity "Profiler", which is an in-engine aspect which tracks performance. This will be invaluable to test these memory saving techniques, as they have a heavy up-front load time, but will save on runtime loading.
  • They recommended using script Controllers for every repeating part of a game, including Scene Controllers, Player Controllers, Enemy Controllers, Asset Controllers, etc. Essentially, anything that has one or more instances that need to be tracked (I.e., everything) should have a central Controller which is mapped to the static public.
    • Each Controller should be mapped to a Singleton Pattern, so as to prevent multiple instances of the Controller.
  • Next, and perhaps most intriguing of all, they discussed Pool-Based Objects. Pool-Based Objects work in lieu of Instantiation in a rather brilliant way.
    • Instead of instantiating and destroying instances of a prefab in runtime (which is massively taxing on memory, as can be seen in one of Impossible Worlds' recent releases SprawlRunner), you begin a scene with the maximum number of the prefab that can appear on screen at any one time.
    • Next, you disable all instances that shouldn't be visible at the beginning, and add them to a List.
    • As the object would normally be instantiated, you move the object to its intended location, enable it, and run its Awake() function.
    • At the end of its usefulness (like being killed in the case of an enemy, or going beyond visible space in the case of a bullet) the object is disabled, moved back out of the way of the scene space, and added to the end of the List again.
    • This way, if you could have a maximum of, say, 60 bullets on screen at any one time, you could preload all 60 on start-up, and then use them in your Pool as needed without having to tax memory by instantiating them. You're only calling transform values, instead of drawing whole new objects!
* I'm going to be writing up a document which will contain all the hierarchy and naming conventions that will be used as a standard template scene for Impossible Worlds in future, so I will post up the documentation and even template project files once that is created.

As stated, Mecanim was not actually discussed, which was a great disappointment. Luckily there is plenty of information online regarding it, so it wasn't a devastating hit, but was still annoying.


Most of what was discussed with Unity5 was just a rehash of the teaser presented earlier this year, but there were a few key things noted which were not shown in the video that are worth discussing:
  • The new UI tools which are being implemented to streamline the Unity design process will be implemented into Unity4.x as well, so even if you can't get Unity5 right away, you can still access it.
  • The WebGL platform (which is awesome) is currently only working in Firefox and Chrome, but they are trying to get it to expand to others at the moment.
  • The scene view will now be in full HDR, so will look the same as your in-game environment.
  • They are improving load times for the Unity Asset Store, a badly needed update.
  • A new Physically Based Shader (which emulates, but doesn't suffer the horrendous lag issues of Physically Based Rendering) has been developed.
    • This Shader has essentially every Shader input you could need for a Shader, all of this have their values exposed and toggleable.
    • As such, instead of using several Shader types in a project, you can use the one, and customise it to its needs in engine.
    • This looked very impressive, and will solve a lot of the problems with standard Unity Shaders looking like shit - however, I don't know what this is going to mean for custom Shaders in Unity, and if this is going to affect the standard Shaders already in place.
  • There are multiple new types of Ambient lighting to scenes.
    • The only two we saw were:
      • Skybox Lighting, which mirrors the colours of the skybox onto a cubemap and reflects them from an object, which is rather cool.
      • And a 3-Point Gradient Lighting, which allows you to choose three colours: Sky, Horizon, and Ground, and your scene will be coloured depending on object facings.
        • For instance, if you have a Red Sky, White Horizon, and Blue Ground, and a model with its hand sticking out, palm down, the top of the hand would be lit by red, the finger tips by white, and the palm by blue, with a smooth gradient between.
That was essentially it, from what I gleaned. Here are the Unity examples I spoke of, and if you have any questions or answers to my own questions, please let me know via one of my billion contact methods!

Hope this was useful!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Marienburg is Born!

I do apologise for the lack of A-to-Z posts recently... I've been working a crazy amount at SportsBet, so I haven't had many evenings in which to write, and the next few days are likewise filled with lots of fun (though I will be posting about all of that), so the last few letters will have to wait a little while. I'll try and do a few tomorrow and stack them up, but no promises.

Last night I finally held my first WFRP related event since the end of Praag, and it felt awesome. Everyone gathered around at our usual gaming table, and we had a Round Table Character Creation session. We discussed the campaign, and I handed out the Starter Kits, and everything was in good WFRP cheer!

The collaborative Character Creation, though, was a lot more successful than I thought it would be. This is what I did:

  1. Everyone around the table had the chance to give a 1 sentence explanation of their character. This ranged from submissions as succinct as "Pirate", to multi-clause sentences about Half-Ogres and Blood Bowl teams.
  2. Everyone got the chance to veto or question any of the choices. Some questions were thrown, and ideas changed dramatically (I kid you not, one of the characters went from "Axe Cop", to what is essentially Vinculus from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - a charlatan who dabbles in fake magic, gambling, and anything to make a quick copper).
  3. Everyone expanded on their ideas, and added bits of flavour. This was anything to additions of back story, or what have you.
  4. Again, everyone could veto or question.
  5. Everyone described what they would be doing during a usual session, and we got some clear ideas of the party intentions. Surprisingly, there was very little combat focus, so the campaign is going to be more Everyman than I expected, which could be very interesting!
  6. I then laid out two scenarios for the party, and asked them where they would fit into the scenes - they got to colourfully describe what they would be doing*:
    1. The first was a bar fight, where all patrons are being involved in the scrap.
    2. The second was a carnival on a holy day, which was full of attractions that they could make up.
  7. Second to last, the players had to pair off with two different other players and create "memories"**.
    1. How this worked was that each player joins up with one other and creates a memory that they both share which is a "good memory". They need not know each other was involved, just so long as it is a shared experience in their past which they both find good. We had players inadvertently helping each other out, and some who became friends before the start of the campaign.
    2. The second was the same, but with a "bad memory", and another PC. This meant that every player would have a good and a bad memory, and would be linked to two other players. This necessitates that talking to any one of the players means that you can trace a web of interactions to every other player.
  8. And last of all, we rolled up our characters, using the Expanded Character Module as an aid in random skills, talents, trappings, and doomings.
* This process was perhaps the second best thing I did, because it gave the players the chance to directly tell me where in a situation they want to be.
** This was perhaps the best thing I've ever done during character creation, and I will likely write an entire article about this. It allowed the players to really understand each other, and to build a shared history for the city.

All in all, everyone ended up player characters that they otherwise probably wouldn't have thought of. We have a wonderful band which are stuck together due to a shared company interest, as well as a shared history. Among the characters are:
  • A male Halfling "Carpet Salesman" who specialises in rolling up corpses and throwing them off bridges.
  • A male Marienburg-born Norscan Bouncer who shares his Minstrel father's love of the innocent.
  • A male Tilean Painter / Art Forger who has deep ties with both the underworld and the upper class.
  • A male Marienburger Ferryman / Smuggler / Family Man who is always on the look out for more money-making schemes.
  • A female 15-year-old Bretonnian Pirate who has already done way worse things than any of the other characters have even seen in their lives.
  • A male Marienburger Charlatan / Mystic / Gambler / anything else that can con people out of money.
  • A male Half-Ogre Blood Bowl Quarterback who is looking for a leg up in the competitions.
  • A female Marienburger Ex-Black Cap / Rat-Catcher who is searching for the man who framed her, and a way to make her massively extended family proud.
Can anyone say GM fodder?! I'm going to have some fun!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

U is for Urdithriel Imraholen

As Marienburg is an entirely sea-locked city, it is no surprise that ships of all shapes and sizes make up the mastscape of the city. On any given day, citizens of Marienburg can see three-to-four masted Carracks, smaller yet faster two-masted Caravels, massive multi-decked four-masted Galleons, tiny single-masted Sloops, and agile three-to-four masted Schooners. This is not to mention the thousands of little rowing boats, and river-going Barges and Cogs which frequent the Reik either.

However, when discussing sea-vessels in Marienburg, once must first ask the question "Human-made or Elf-made?", because it does make a difference. The finest Human-built ships are little more than floating washtubs in comparison to the lowliest Elf-made marvels - that is at least the opinion of Urdithriel Imraholen. Urdithriel of Clan Lianllach, who has styled himself as the finest shipwright in all the Old World, and indeed the Known World, is incredibly skilled at his craft, and can command prices of 1,000 Guilders for the smallest jobs done (a sum that would cripple even the wealthiest of the Middle Classes).

But the price is the last barrier one must face to have the master of Race the Winds boatyard to take you on as a client. If you're not a resident of Sith Rionnasc (so, if you're not an Elf), you need to apply to Imraholen with a sufficiently flattering letter (hopefully accompanied by another letter from an existing customer) and hope for the best. If the Master Shipwright reads your letter and finds it flattering, yet not pandering, he will have one of his clerks reply stating a time and date for your appointment (which could be from a week to three months away).

Once you turn up to this appointment, Imraholen will take you for a tour of his shipyard. If you do not oo-and-ah at the right moments, and do not show the appropriate amount of respect and knowledge about fine water-craft, he will have a page politely show you to the door. If you argue, he will have his Ogre Watchman, Mordagg less-politely show you the door. However, should you show the kind of appreciative eye he is looking for, Urdithriel will deign to listen to your request.

The Shipwright will ponder your ideas for an indeterminate amount of time, and either send you a letter with his acceptance and a quote, or you will never hear from him again. Then, once paid in full up front, he will make changes to the design and essentially do whatever he feels is best, and will construct your ship for you.

Despite this abhorrent treatment, and the unmistakable and inexcusably chauvinistic and racist air that Urdithriel Imraholen exudes, the boats are exceptional. Nothing the world over compares to their speed, beauty and grace, and without a doubt the slowest of his Carracks would be far faster and more manoeuvrable than the fastest possible Human-build Caravel. 

Additionally, if you mention it in hushed tones, the Shipwright will be willing to add all sorts of hidden compartments and other accomplishments which would not be considered all to legal. But Imraholen isn't stupid, either, and like Lea-Jan Cobbius, he keeps records of every such addition he makes - where it is located - and how to access it. In a sense, he owns the single record of every Sea-Elf smuggling operation in the Known World.

Furthermore, just like Lea-Jan Coobius, Urdithriel has been closely watching the Elf-Human hostilities that are rising in the city, and detests the fact that the Clan Lords have yet to take any real action. As such, he has begun a small gang of vigilantes to "Solve the Human Problem". Whilst the beatings have been mistaken as common muggings so far, it is likely that soon they will escalate further, and Imraholen doesn't seem to care that this could cause a Civil War.

Friday, April 25, 2014

T is for the Ten

Often has the actions, motivations and movements of the Directorate been discussed thus far, but an explanation of what it actually is has yet to be given. I shall remedy that now... Please be advised that this is a very long article, and in fact took several days to write, which has caused it to be late. I do apologise for this. I wont be able to catch up the difference today, but perhaps later this month I will make a double post one day to fix it all up.

Marienburg's politics are handled by a council known as the Stadsraad, a bi-house parliament which meets to debate and discuss the minutiae of Wasteland affairs - from the prices on various bridge taxes, to the exact nature of minor and ancient laws.

The Stadsraad is made up of two houses, as mentioned, with the upper house (the Rijkskamer) being comprised of the priests of all the recognised cults, the deans of the various university schools, and a few remaining nobility who held on to power by selling out their fellows. It meets very rarely, and when it does, it is presided over by the Staadtholder - the elected president of the Stadsraad.

The lower house - the Burgerhof - is a rowdy collection of the heads of each Guild, and the aldermen elected by the householders of each Ward and prominent Wasteland town. It officially meets weekly (with minor matters being presented daily) in loud debates and often fist-fights. It is overseen by Speaker Nieut Gyngrijk, a defacto Judge/Peacekeeper, who is a favourite with the working class, and is very slow to break up fights when they serve his purpose.

Above the Stadsraad is the Directorate proper - the executive council. Any laws or decisions passed by the Stadsraad then pass through the Directorate, and vice versa (though there has never been a recorded 'Nay' vote from a decree passing through from the Directorate). The Directorate itself meets weekly in the New Palace, and its members are made up of the High Priests of Manaan, Verena, Shallya and Haendryk, as well as the Rector of Baron Henryk's College, and the indomitable Ten. Whilst the Directorates sessions are technically open to the public, they are somewhat of a farce, with the real debating and politicking happening behind closed doors, and the decisions just being presented at the meetings.

Whilst the priests and Rector hold a seat, each one is actually allied to one of the Ten, and it truth, it is they who hold all the power in Marienburg. Who are the Ten, then? Well, they are the heads of each of the ten richest families in the city. Whilst it is possible for these positions to change, they haven't done so for the past 17 years.

The Ten, as they currently stand, are listed below in no particular order:

House van de Kuypers, lead by Jaan van de Kuypers sits as the richest House in the Ten, and is the real power broker of the city, with all acts either being presented by them for their interests, or against them by the other Houses to attempt to topple their monopoly. Collectively, through his agents and allies, he commands a block of 8 votes - which is exactly enough to break any ties. Among his allies are House van Raemerswijk, van Scheldt, den Euwe and Rothemuur. He also commands the admiration from the High Priests of Haendryk and Verena, and the suppose of the Rector of Baron Henryk's as the man is his cousin. They have the widest trade interests, stretching from Averland corn futures, to medicines from Cathay, and all the way to the Lustrian trade.

House van Onderzoeker, lead by Thijs "the Lesser", is currently in a state of decline, as the recently deceased Rembrand van Onderzoeker (father of Thijs) placed the house heavily in debt due to mostly losing court cases. Rembrand attempted to aggressively cut out the middleman with the continental trade routes with the Empire and the Dwarves further inland. As such, the house has lost its allies in House Fooger, and can only call House van den Nijmenk their friends. Due to this decline, they may find themselves ousted from a position on the Directorate. But, even if they fall, Thijs is determined to take House van Haagen with him, as he is certain that they in fact murdered his father.

House de Roelef, lead by Clotilde de Roelef, which is actually the only remaining noble family to have succeeded in business and who won their security after the fall of the Baron. They won their seat again on the Directorate with the fall of House Akkerman, when they were revealed to be Slaaneshi cultists. Clotilde is still unmarried at 47, and spurns all suitors, including Jaan van de Kuypers. They trade mostly in luxury imports from Araby, Tilea and Estalia, and export Imperial cloth, liquors, and Wasteland lace. She counts among her friends several Arabyan, Tilean and Estalian rulers, as well as most of the other Directorate members (excluding Jaan, who she holds nothing but disgust for). She is particularly close with Arkat Fooger.

House van Haagen, lead by Leo van Haagen, is the second wealthiest of the Ten. They trade extensively in continental affairs, which causes nothing but hot blood between them and House van Onderzoeker. However, their wealth far outweighs their products' value, which has caused some to speculate that they are more heavily involved with smuggling than first expected. They have even been known to call for bans on products, only to secretly be smuggling them in for a higher price. Further rumours claim that they might even be involved in the illegal body-trade of slavery! Stranger still, they have no standing friendships on the Directorate - with almost every house openly despising them. Yet, somehow, every time they call for a vote they just narrowly win...

House van Scheldt, lead by Wessel van Scheldt, is concerned chiefly with fishing and fish-packing. They have managed to set every fisherman in the city either in debt or indentured to them through rather nasty tactics. As such, the vast majority of fishermen have to sell their catch to them at a reduced price to await salting and packing. These fish are then exported to Kislev, or the Empire. A recent attempt on Wessel's life has lead him to become a shut-in - only leaving his manse for Directorate meetings. As such, his influence is dwindling, and the lack of an heir is even more concerning. Whilst he still holds the alliance with van de Kuypers, Raemerswijk, den Euwe and Rothemuur, his paranoia and grim prospects have meant that few even on the council listen to him any more.

House van Raemerswijk, lead by Luitpold van Raemerswijk (the current Staadtholder), is a puppet house. Luitpold, known as the "old bull seal" for his girth and great moustache, was chosen for the role precisely because he wanted it, and because everyone knew that he wouldn't know what to do with it. He is happy to sit and preside over things whilst not actually taking an active or aggressive interest in them himself. the house doesn't actually trade in anything itself, but is the junior partner in several ventures in the city and Old World at large, where their sponsorship gains them profits. Their ties to House van de Kuypers are so close that some have renamed the house van Raemerkuypers. Luitpold has never failed to cast his tie breaking vote with his allies.

House Fooger, lead by Arkat Fooger, holds all ties to the Dwarven trade routes deeper into the Old World and beyond (a fact which has caused conflict with van Onderzoeker). They also control the letting of public works contracts, which has made them a favourite with Lea-Jan Cobbius and his guild. The house holds close ties with no particular other house, as they are traditionally close to their chest in the Dwarven fashion, but Arkat has been courting an alliance with House de Roelef.

House van den Nijmenk, lead by Sasha van den Nijmenk, whose line is a mix from Kislev and Norsca. Sasha was forced to take over the family interests and abandon his sea-faring ways when the rest of his line met unfortunate ends during the previous decade of war and strife. Now, he is resigned to picking up the pieces and staying in Marienburg to oversee them. The house has great contacts up and down the River Lynsk, and Sasha calls King Naranbaatar I ni Praag his close and personal friend. They mainly trade in rich amber, furs, gems, and other products unique to Kislev and Norsca. The house is particularly famous for the wondrous unique goods it brings back from its many expeditions into the two snow-bound countries.

House den Euwe, lead by Karl den Euwe, is the smallest of the Ten, but has made its sizeable wealth through the trade of gems, precious metals and alchemical ingredients, all of which are sourced from their extensive trade network in Cathay and Nippon. These trade networks have given the house much prestige in the Empire, as many nobles will only purchase their diamonds and other rarities from the house. Furthermore, the White, Gold and Blue colleges purchase all their alchemical ingredients and magical accoutrements from the house, and eagerly await the trade in magical grimoires that has been promised from the East. This patronage has made the house strong, and made Karl bold. Karl, despite being an ally of Jaan van de Kuypers, fears the man's reach, and has begun amassing a secret counter-balance alliance of the Foogers, van den Nijmenks, de Roelefs, van Onderzoekers, and the Cult of Shallya.

House Rothemuur, lead by Maximilian Rothemuur, concentrates its trade on Araby and the New World markets. The former has placed them in contention with the de Roelefs, whilst the latter is done with support of the van de Kuypers. The house also holds significant ties to the Sea Elves, which aids their Lustrian trade. Maximilian was recently and horribly embarrassed when he proposed marriage to Clotilde de Roelef and she laughed in his face until tears rolled down her cheeks.

There stand the Ten most influential people in Marienburg - even if not all of them grasp at their power. The movements of one can effect the others, and what may be decided on a whim for them could spell doom or elation for hundreds of thousands of Old Worlders...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

S is for Suiddock

For the past 18 posts of the A-to-Z challenge I've variously mentioned the great Ward of Suiddock. Well, it is finally time to explain that reference.

Whilst the first thing anyone sees when entering Marienburg by boat is, undoubtedly Rijker's Isle, the first place any visitor, coming by boat or carriage, is Suiddock. Sitting in the dead centre of the city, and run through by the Bruynwater Canal, the largest and deepest canal which allows even sea-going ships, Suiddock is often considered the true heart of Marienburg.

Normally I don't add pictures to my A-to-Z posts.
But I freakin' love maps.
Due to the accessibility of the Bruynwater, and the central nature of the three islands (from west to east; Riddra, Stoessel and Luydenhoek), Suiddock enjoys the attentions of every level of Marienburg's citizenry. It boasts the patronage of the upper class merchants come to the Wasteland Import-Export Exchange, the middle class working for institutions such as the Pilots' and Seamen's Guild, the lower class who make up the ranks of the Stevedores & Teamster's Guild, and even clergy come to pay their respects at the Church of St. Olovold and the Orphanage of St. Rutha. Truly, Suiddock is Marienburg.

It's not just the three islands, though - the Ward also encompasses Hightower Isle, which connects onto the richer northern parts of the city, as well as the southern bank of the Bruynwater. Each side of the canal is crammed full of wharves, shops, warehouses, whore houses, drinking holes, tanneries, workshops, tailors, brewers, butchers, and really anything that could benefit from the patronage of sailors. Here, Theophilius Graveland and the Black Caps attempt to maintain order, but really the show is run by Adalbert Henschmann.

But, whatever your vice, virtue, want or need is, Suiddock and her delightful people will be able to cater. If you want some smoking herbs from far-flung Cathay, just visit Venk Kataswaran and his Dreaming House (more on him when we get to 'V'). If you need a stiff drink, visit Ishmael Boorsevelt at the Pelican's Perch (just don't mention his wooden leg!). And if you fancy a fine night out with a bit of murder...

What's that? Oh, you haven't heard? Well - they say that at night, out of the fog, comes rowing a small little ferry which will take hapless travellers home. The man who sits at the helm is a kindly fellow, with handsome features and a nervous shyness. He's obviously harmless...whilst the light is on him. When the light lowers, the keen-eyed will notice a change just before he hacked your head from your shoulders to join his shelf. For the poor young man has no one to talk to, and sooner or later the heads stop whispering back. When that happens, it's time for a new friend.

Yes indeed - Suiddock is a fine place to find yourself. Just make sure no one else finds you there first...