Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Part 27

Keeping up my epic long-running series looking at classic Dungeons and Dragons of the TSR era!

The Complete Book of Necromancers (1995), by Steve Kurtz. This one is a rarity, and relatively pricey! I finally sucked it up and ordered myself a copy.

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Missed my blogiversary again!

Well, it turns out I missed a big anniversary for my blog — again! August 14th marks 15 years of me blogging, which is pretty amazing considering this was really just going to be a minor thing that I experimented with when I started.

But blogging has really transformed my life. It introduced me to an entire community of science communicators, scientists, and gamers, many of whom have become good longtime friend. My blogging on horror led me to become an amateur scholar of horror fiction, writing introductions for Valancourt Books and reviews for the periodical Dead Reckonings. My science blogging led me to writing guest posts at Scientific American and articles for Optics and Photonics News, American Scientist, and La Recherche. And, of course, it has led to me writing popular science books, such as my often mentioned Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics and my upcoming Invisibility: the history and science of how not to be seen.

I definitely don’t blog as much as I used to, but I intend to keep writing about those subjects that interest me as long as I can! Here’s to another 15 years.

Me and Blake Stacey back at Science Online 2011, holding Riley Black’s first book.
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Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Part 26

Time for more old school Dungeons & Dragons, compiled from the threads I post on twitter! Without further ado, let us begin:

Lords of Darkness, by Ed Greenwood et al. (1988). This is another one of those reference books that underwhelmed me as a teenager, but that I really love now!

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The oldest falling cat explanation

So when writing my book Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics, on the history and science of how cats land on my feet, I attempted to track down the oldest explanation in print that attempted to explain why cats seem to always land on their feet, whether scientific or not.

The potentially earliest story I found is a legend about the Prophet Muhammad. The version that I posted in my book is given below:

The Prophet Mohammed had one day gone far into the desert, and after walking a long distance, fell asleep, overcome with fatigue. A great serpent – may this son of Satan be accursed! – came out of the bushes and approached the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah – whose name be glorified! The serpent was on the point of biting the Servant of the All-Merciful, when a cat, passing by accident, fell upon the reptile, and, after a long struggle, killed it. The hissing of the expiring monster awoke the Prophet, who understood from what danger the cat had saved him.

“Come hither!” commanded the Servant of Allah.

The cat approached, and Mohammed caressed him three times, and three times he blessed him, saying, “May peace be upon thee, O cat!” Then in further token of his gratitude, the Messenger added, “In return for the service thou hast done me, thou shalt be invincible in combat. No living creature shall be able to turn thee on thy back. Go, thou art thrice blessed!”

It is in consequence of this benediction of the Prophet that a cat always alights on its feet from whatever height it may fall.

This version of the story came from the 1891 book The Women of Turkey and Their Folk-
, written by English folklorist Lucy Mary Jane Garnett. Garnett referenced a book only a few years older, which in turn got the story from a theology student.

At the time, I was unable to trace the story back any further. If it came from anywhere near the time of Mohammed, it would definitely be the oldest falling cat explanation known, but it could of course be much, much more recent, as often happens with such stories.

A couple of years ago, however, a former student of mine read my book and did a little research, and confirmed that the story is, in fact, much, much older!*

It comes from the book with the (translated) title The Feats of the Knowers of God, written by Shams al-Dīn Aḥmad Aflākī and published around 1318. It is a collection of lectures given by the influential Persian poet, Muslim scholar and Sufi mystic known as Rumi (1207-1273) to his followers. In this collection, we find the origin of the story that Garnett referenced some 570 years later!

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From “The Fireside Sphinx”

My apologies for my relative quietness on the blog lately — I’ve been quite busy with work, which has left me little energy for detailed blogging!

However, I rediscovered a small story about cats that amused me, and that I thought I’d share. It is from The Fireside Sphinx (1901), by Anges Repplier. It is one of many books that appeared through the Victorian and Edwardian eras expounding upon the glory of housecats, which had been largely vilified in the Western world up until that point.

This was one of my references for my book on Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics, though I ended up not finding any information relevant to falling cats in it. It contains a fun stylized narrative of the housecat throughout history, though it starts with the Garden of Eden and probably shouldn’t be considered a super-reliable source! However, it is a fascinating narrative that looks at how cats had once been revered in ancient times, fell out of favor in the “Dark Ages” as the servants of witches, and returned to favor in more recent times.

The small anecdote I want to share is about the rise of cats after the Renaissance, and one humorously quantitative way to see that rise:

Two proofs we find of Pussy’s rapid progress in esteem. The French country houses built between the middle of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen­turies were all furnished with “chatieres,” little openings cut in the doors for the accommodation of the cat, who wandered in and out of the great chill tapestried rooms as her restless fancy prompted her. These chatieres indicate a careful study of her convenience, yet, by the close of the seven­teenth century, they had wholly disappeared ; – a circumstance, says M. Havard, which points to but one conclusion. In her hundred years of pampered domesticity, the cat had accustomed mankind to wait upon her pleasure. There was no longer any need of creeping through a hole. If she wanted to come in or go out, -and cats are perpetually wanting to do one or the other, – somebody was always ready to get up and open the door.

This is quite familiar to most cat parents, including myself! My cats are fully indoors, but they like hanging out in the garage, and my roommate and I will regularly get up to indulge their passage.

I am also reminded of the legend of the prophet Mohammed,

The love which Mohammed bore for his fair white cat, Mu­ezza, has thrown a veil of sanctity over the whole feline race ; and no good Ottoman ever forgets that when Muezza slept one day upon her master’s flow­ing sleeve, the Prophet – being summoned to the Council – cut off his sleeve, rather than disturb her slumber.

Again, every cat parent can understand this feeling! I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen people take photos with their cat lying on top of them, with a caption something like: “trapped.”

That’s all for now — more blogging to come soon!

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Old School Dungeons And Dragons: Part 25

Time for the next installment of old school D&D! I have been buoyed by a visit to Games Plus in Mount Prospect outside of Chicago, which has a massive collection of new and used game stuff! (So expect posts to continue in the future!)

So let’s get going!

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Rough photos of lunar eclipse 2022

Today, May 16, is the 2022 International Day of Light, designated by UNESCO to recognize the role of light in science, art, and education. You can read more also at the optical society Optica’s webpage. I’m out of town for a niece’s graduation and wasn’t able to properly celebrate the day, but thought I could share a few of my photos of last night’s lunar eclipse, which started about 9:30 CST and ran to about midnight CST. The photos were taken using my iphone in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn as I chatted with my dad, so they’re not as impressive as my previous lunar eclipse photos (see here and here), but it’s still always fun to see new photos.

There were clouds in the Chicago area at the time the eclipse was starting, and at first I only got a peek of the moon through a few gaps.

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Old School Dungeons and Dragons: Part 24

Twenty-four blog posts about old school Dungeons & Dragons? I can hardly believe I’ve done it! Let’s begin right away:

Palace of the Silver Princess (1981), by Tom Moldvay and Jean Wells. This module is one of the true classics, though it has a rather curious history. It was originally written entirely by Jean Wells, and was released with an orange cover:

The orange cover version was pulled from the shelves and almost all of the entire print run was destroyed, and it is now one of the most valuable vintage D&D products. Why was it destroyed?

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Burn, Witch, Burn! by A. Merritt

I’ve long been a fan of the works of Abraham Merritt (1884-1943), a talented and successful writer of weird fiction, and have blogged about many of his works. His 1920 novel The Metal Monster is one of my favorite works of weird cosmic horror of all time, which starts with its protagonists discovering a long lost tribe of Persian warriors and it gets even weirder from there.

A couple of months ago, I happened to think to myself that I needed to track down and read the few Merritt novels that I haven’t read yet, and as if he was reading my mind, that very day Wayne of Wayne’s Books put up a slew of lovely Merritt editions for sale. I bought quite a few, such as this four-pack:

The only one of this bunch I hadn’t read yet is Burn, Witch, Burn! (1932), which represents a significant departure from his earlier works. I just finished it this week and thought I’d share some thoughts on it.

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Eliza Young owns some scientists (1816)

This is a belated post for the International Day of Women & Girls in Science, which was on February 11. In this post, I honor those women who never had a chance to get into science due to societal and cultural restrictions, even though they were capable. This anecdote will appear in my upcoming book on the history of invisibility.

Thomas Young is rightly regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century, and one of the greatest of all time. In the early 1800s, he argued, against the scientific consensus, that light has wave properties, and he was of course absolutely correct.

Portrait of Young by Henry Perronet Briggs, 1822

As I’ve blogged about previously, however, in the short term Young was attacked for his work by a bitter rival, and this caused him to withdraw completely from scientific research in 1804 to focus on his medical work, with the exception of publishing in 1807 his massive work, A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts.

That same year was not completely bad, however; on June 4 of 1804 he married Eliza Maxwell, who was related to the Scottish aristocracy through the family of Sir William Maxwell of Calderwood.

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Posted in History of science, Optics, Women in science | 2 Comments