Venthyr Shaman Transmog

I’ll admit, Venthyr is not one of my favorite covenants. The gothic vampire vibe just doesn’t do it for me. But when I saw that the Venthyr mail set has candles on the shoulders, I knew I had to have it for my Tauren shaman.

Here’s a transmog set based around those shoulders. For obvious reasons, I call the set Playing with Fire.

Image: Screenshot from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

DIY Wheelchair Spoke Covers with Crocheted Solar System

Caoileann O’Mahony crocheted some wheelchair spoke covers and blogged the instructions for the Glasgow in 2024 Worldcon bid. This isn’t your sleepy granny square crochet, though, oh no; O’Mahoney also made little planet appliques and turned the spoke guards into a model of our solar system.

O'Mahoney Wheelchair Spoke Covers w Solar System

And round and round it goes. I like the color selection (although I wish the photo were a little clearer). Saturn and Uranus even have their rings. How cool is that?!

Found via File 770.

Image by Caoileann O’Mahony at Glasgow in 2024

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Azerothvision Song Contest: Shadowlands

Have you ever asked yourself: “I wonder what it would be like if there were a Eurovision-style song contest in Azeroth?” No? Just us? Well, okay then.

If you’re not familiar with the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s an annual competition in which countries around Europe (and a few beyond) present songs in a wide variety of styles and genres. It’s good for inventive songs, wild stage shows, and good-spirited competition among nations. What if we had the same thing in the lands of World of Warcraft? Here are our ideas of what songs might represent the various realms and lands of the Shadowlands.

Oribos – La Forza by Elina Nechayeva (Estonia, 2018)

Elina Nechayeva – La Forza – Estonia – LIVE – Grand Final – Eurovision 2018 by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

An ethereal, soaring, operatic melody from Estonia in 2018 befitting the mystical city surrounded by The Inbetween. (Probably helps if you like opera.)

In English, the Italian lyrics start something like “You know in the night for me / There is a star / It lights up my way / For eternity / It is my guide / In the immensity / That never leaves me” (someone else’s translation). Very apt!

Bastion – Visionary Dream by Sopho Khalvashi (Georgia, 2007)

Visionary Dream, Sopho Khalvashi, Georgia, Eurovision 2007 via OkazakiYoko on YouTube

Georgia’s Eurovision contribution from 2007 is a hypnotic song. Among its lyrics: “I will fly away / To reach the heights I’ve ever dreamed / Beneath the sun / No sense of time and space.” Sounds like Bastion to us.

Maldraxxus – Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi (Finland, 2006)

Lordi – Hard Rock Hallelujah (Finland) 2006 Eurovision Song Contest Winner by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

Finland won in 2006 with this hard rock song. It’s got monsters, pyrotechnics, and a head-banging beat. What else could you hope for from the Necrolords of Maldraxxus?

Ardenweald – Spirit in the Sky by KEiiNO (Norway, 2019)

KEiiNO – Spirit In The Sky – Norway 🇳🇴 – Official Music Video – Eurovision 2019 by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

Norway’s song from 2019 has a magical fairy-tale feel and features a yoik performance evoking the spirits of the northern lights. It feels like something the Night Fae of Ardenweald would be into.

Revendreth – It’s My Life by Cezar (Romania, 2013)

Cezar – It’s My Life (Romania) – LIVE – 2013 Semi-Final (2) by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

In 2013, Romania blessed us with this levitating falsetto vampire drama king. If that’s not right for the Venthyr of Revendreth, I don’t know what could be.

The Maw – Hatrið mun sigra by Hatari (Iceland, 2019)

Content note: The Icelandic group Hatari is described on the official Eurovision site as “Award-winning, anti-capitalist, BDSM, techno-dystopian, performance art collective”. The music pretty much matches that description—in English, the song name apparently translates “hate will prevail”. Be warned.

Iceland – LIVE – Hatari – Hatrið mun sigra – Grand Final – Eurovision 2019 by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

The lyrics start with “The revelry was unrestrained / The hangover is endless / Life is meaningless / The void will get us all” (someone else’s translation), and the stage show includes chains and spikes. Yep; as bleak as playing through The Maw.

Torghast – Warrior by Nina Sublatti (Georgia, 2015)

Nina Sublatti – Warrior (Georgia) – LIVE at Eurovision 2015 Grand Final by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

Representing Georgia for the 2015 contest we find another Eurovision song where the lyrics and stage show seem to fit WoW uncannily well (Sublatti’s outfit certainly does!) and certainly suit the desolation of Torghast.

Korthia – Higher Ground by Rasmussen (Denmark, 2018)

Rasmussen – Higher Ground – Denmark – Official Video – Eurovision 2018 by Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube

A pensive Danish song from 2018 about departures and the potential of either victory, failure, or passing seems appropriate for Korthia.

Zereth Mortis – Sanomi by Urban Trad (Belgium, 2003)

Eurovision 2003 22 Belgium *Urban Trad* *Sanomi* 16:9 HQ via 2000ESC2003 on YouTube

The Belgian entry from 2003 is sung in an imaginary language and also has a bit of an otherworldly quality to it, making it the perfect song for Zereth Mortis.

Finally, as an honorable mention, if there is a Eurovision song for the Shadowlands expansion as a whole, it’s Sweden’s Heroes from 2015.

Shadowlands – Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden, 2015)

Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes (Official Video) by Warner Music Sweden on YouTube

Any favorites among these or other Eurovision songs, or suggestions for additional WoW zone pairings? Do share!

P.S. The 2022 Eurovision Song Contest semifinals are finished, and the final is held this Saturday, May 14, in Turin, Italy, should you want to follow along.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Roman Leather Toy Mouse from Vindolanda

The Roman fort at Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall in Britain has been a source of many remarkable finds. The unusual conditions at the site preserved many examples of the kinds of organic material that usually disappears to decay, including wood, textiles, and leather. When the onset of the covid-19 pandemic delayed the start of the excavation season, researchers at Vindolanda used the time to reexamine some leather scraps that had been turned up in earlier seasons and came across an unexpected find: a toy mouse!

Toy mouse, image via Vindolanda Charitable Trust (Vindolanda; 1st-2nd c. CE; leather)

The mouse is cut from a flat scrap of leather and has markings on the body to indicate eyes and fur. Mice would have been a common sight around the fort and the nearby village, a constant nuisance to a community that depended on stored grain to survive through the winter. Since we know there were families and children in and around the fort, this mouse might have been a child’s toy. Or perhaps it was made to be slipped into some unsuspecting legionary’s bedroll for a practical joke. Whatever the original intent for this mouse, it’s still cute two thousand years later!

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Polar Bears Taking Over Abandoned Buildings

In September 2021, Photographer Dmitry Kokh visited the currently unoccupied Kolyuchin Island in the Chukchi Sea between Russia and Alaska, and documented some of the wildlife there. A bunch of polar bears seem to have settled in the abandoned buildings of a former Russian weather station.

Colossal Dmitry Kokh Kolyuchin Island Three Polar Bears

You can see the bears casually stroll in between the houses, and apparently even spend time inside the buildings, often peeking out of the glassless windows. Astounding!

See more of Kokh’s photos at his site or in Colossal.

Image by Dmitry Kokh via Colossal

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Estonian Muhu Skirts Dyed with Mine Chemicals

Kadri Liik shared on Twitter some of her family history of using mines to dye fabric for colorful folk skirts in western Estonia in 1930s.

Strictly speaking, of course, it’s not mines themselves that were used in dyeing, but the picric acid in them. Russian World War I battleship Slava sank in 1917 between Muhu island and mainland Estonia, only 12 years after putting to sea.

Google Maps Muhu Estonia

Estonians scrapped the ship in the early 1930s. During that process, picric acid was extracted and put to use. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, picric acid was first used in dyeing in 1849, initially of silk. In Muhu, it was apparently used with wool.

The bright yellow derived from picric acid was locally known as mine yellow (miinikollane). Below is the Muhu skirt made from scratch by Liik’s grandmother or great aunt in 1930s:

Twitter Kadri Liik Muhu Skirt

Apparently, Muhu skirts enjoyed such popularity that older women might be doing their everyday chores in them as late as the 1960s.

It’s quite striking, isn’t it? It seems that some of these traditional patterns survive, either in traditionally woven textiles or as prints on modern fabrics, which is fabulous. I’m not sure I’d like to know exactly how the picric was extracted in the 30s, though…!

Images: map of Muhu island by Google Maps. Skirt by Kadri Liik via Twitter.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Gold and Silver in Fantasy Coinage

Are your fantasy characters in the market for a loaf of bread? A new suit of armor? A mercenary army? Then it’s time to think about how people in your world buy and sell things. Of course, the beauty of fantasy is that you can do anything. Do you want to write a world where the common currency is bolts of silk and songs of youth? Go for it! But if you want your world to be more grounded in the familiar, coins stamped out of gold and silver are both historically accurate and staples of the genre.

Gold and silver are both relatively soft metals that were easy to work using pre-modern technology. They are unreactive and resistant to corrosion, so coins will not lose weight over time and use. They are also metals that are rare and highly valued for creating objects of beauty and prestige, which gives coins struck from these metals intrinsic value not dependent on confidence in the state that issued them, unlike modern paper money. Gold and sliver coins were worth something no matter where you carried them, even if just to be melted down as bullion.

In the modern economy, with prices driven by industrial demand and market speculation, the relative values of gold and silver can vary widely. In pre-modern times, the values of these metals was more stable, shaped by the productivity of mining and refining on one hand and cultural demand on the other. Geological research has found that silver and gold ores occur naturally at a ratio of about 19 to 1, which is to say that for every 19 grams of silver in the earth waiting to be dug up, there is about 1 gram of gold. Ancient mining techniques were of limited efficiency, however, and it is likely that the ratio of metals actually put into use was closer to 10 to 1. Where we are able to compare the historical values of gold and silver coins in use by the same culture, we tend to find them falling within these brackets: one gold coin was typically worth 10 to 20 times its weight in silver coins. Bear in mind also that gold has about twice the density of silver, so a gold coin will weigh about double what a silver coin of the same size weighs. When gold and silver coins are struck at the same size, that means that we would expect one gold coin to have a value of anywhere from 20 to 40 silver coins.

Assigning an actual value to an individual coin is a trickier proposition. Pre-industrial economies are hard to compare directly with the modern world. Some things are much cheaper in real terms for us today than for our ancestors, like clothes and books; others are much more expensive, like labor. We rarely have good, comprehensive evidence for what a given amount of money could buy in any historical context (and when we do, it is often hard to tell whether the values and prices quoted are realistic or an expression of what someone in authority thought things ought to be worth).

In many cases, our best way of estimating the worth of a coin is to put it in terms of daily wages for a soldier. Military pay was a pressing matter of state finance that was important to get right—you definitely don’t want to forget to pay the people hanging around your castle with swords. That leaves us with reasonably good evidence for soldiers’ pay in many historical contexts (of course, not all soldiers are paid in money).

Gold coins are classic standbys for fantasy currency, but historically gold was too valuable for everyday use. The value of any specific coin depended on its weight, with heavier coins naturally worth more, but even a small gold coin was typically worth a great deal. Examples like the Persian daric or the Roman aureus had a value of approximately a month’s wages for a soldier or a skilled crafter. Most people in their daily lives would never even have seen a gold coin, let alone had occasion to spend one.

Silver was the standard metal for coinage in most places and times. Silver, like gold, could be minted at whatever weight the issuing state wanted, from large, high-value coins to tiny small change. Often, however, the basic silver coin in circulation, like an Athenian drachma or an early Islamic dirham, amounted to about a soldier’s daily wage.

The difference in value between gold and silver helps explain why gold coinage was rarely debased (issued at lower purity by mixing precious and base metals or applying a precious coating over a base metal core), but silver sometimes was. Gold coins were used for major state expenses and usually only came into the hands of people who could cause real trouble if they felt stiffed; silver was used for routine purchases and changed hands among people with limited recourse except to treat their debased coins as being worth less than face value.

Now, if you remember your classic Dungeons and Dragons coin charts, you may be wondering “What about platinum, electrum, and copper?” All of those metals do appear in pre-modern coinage, but they all have their limitations.

Platinum is extremely rare and hard to work by pre-industrial means. At least in the eastern hemisphere, it was not identified as a distinct metal until the 1500s. There is some evidence that metalworkers in pre-Columbian South America created alloys of platinum and gold, but the process is poorly understood, and they weren’t making coins with it. Traces of platinum are found in some ancient and medieval gold coins, but only as impurities not refined out of the metal. Moneyers in any pre-industrial world are unlikely to have the technology to deliberately produce platinum coins, and even if they did, the expensive and labor-intensive process would make it impractical.

Electrum is an alloy of gold and silver, either naturally occurring or produced by smelting. Some early coins were minted out of electrum, but a problem arose: because the ratio of gold to silver in a particular batch of electrum coins could vary, it was hard to be confident of its real value. Too much silver in the mix, and people might be reluctant to accept a coin at its stated value; too much gold, and it would be more profitable to melt coins down for their bullion value than to spend them. Most monetary systems moved away from electrum to pure gold and silver for the sake of stability.

Copper, usually in alloyed form like bronze or brass, was used for low-value coinage in many places. These coins could be useful for paying wages to ordinary workers or buying everyday goods like a mug of ale or a loaf of bread. Since copper is a much more common metal than silver or gold, its intrinsic worth was much less by weight. As a result, for copper alloy coins to have enough worth to be useful, they had to either be made much larger and heavier than contemporary silver and gold coins or else be issued at a face value significantly higher than their worth as raw metal. Most states that issued copper alloy coinage chose the latter route, making their copper coinage essentially a token whose value was guaranteed by the state’s promise to accept it at the issued value for taxes and fees rather than its metal content. For this reason, copper alloy coinage rarely circulated beyond the reach of the state that originally issued it, while gold and silver were useful as international means of exchange.

As always, you have the flexibility in building your own worlds to make the money work however you want, but for historical verisimilitude you can’t beat gold and silver for your coinage.

Image: Lydian gold Croessid, obverse, photograph by Classical Numismatics Group via Wikimedia (minted Sardis; 564-539 BCE; gold)

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Trailer for the Obi-Wan Kenobi Series

Obi-Wan Kenobi, a live action series with six episodes, is nearly here.

Apparently, the series is supposed to gap the pain of Ewan McGregor’s young Obi-Wan and the hope of Alec Guinness’ old Obi-Wan. That makes for an unusual angle to approach a Star Wars story from, and the first Disney+ series I have any interest in seeing.

Obi-Wan Kenobi | Teaser Trailer by Disney+ on YouTube

At this writing, Obi-Wan begins streaming on Disney+ on May 27, 2022. So soon! (It was supposed to be May 25, 2022, the 45th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, but apparently something something—publishing is weird, and tv publishing doubly so.)

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

The Obligatory Male Protagonist

Tv shows or movies with an ensemble cast will nearly always have a man as de facto main character. (Studios, networks, and advertisers have apparently not yet caught on to the fact that people who aren’t 18-35-year-old white men also watch tv and go to the movies.) These obligatory protagonists come in a few different varieties. Here’s a spotter’s guide for some of the major types (mind you, more than a few characters cross the lines from one category to another).

Captain Competence

James Kirk from Star Trek via IMDb; Gil Grissom from CSI via CSI Fandom; Gregory House from House via IMDb

He’s better than everyone at everything. He always has the right answer. While other characters may have their particular areas of expertise, he’s always the one to solve the real problem. To be frank, the only reason there are other people on the show is so that he has someone to be better than.

The Fixer-Upper

Nate Ford from Leverage via IMDb; Mal from Firefly via IMDb; Jeff Winger from Community via IMDb

He’s a damaged, bitter, broken man, but that doesn’t stop him from being the center of attention. Expect the women in the cast to do a lot of emotional work for him, such as holding his hand while he cries, calming him down when he lashes out, and making excuses for him to the people he hurts. He may pull himself together over time. Then again, he may not.

The Overgrown Child

Phil Dunfy from Modern Family via IMDb; Castle from Castle via IMDb; Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99 via IMDb

This guy just never grew up. He lives his adult life with the blissful joy of a child, which would be fine except that it also means he never takes responsibility for anything, is clueless about how his actions affect the people around him, and gets pouty and petty when things don’t go his way. The women in his life usually fall into the role of surrogate mother, saying “no” to his worst ideas and cleaning up his messes when he does them anyway.

The Plot-Jacker

Peter Quill (and Gamora) from Guardians of the Galaxy via IMDb; Emmet (and Wild Style) from The Lego Movie via IMDb; Owen (and Claire) from Jurassic World via IMDb

(Also known as the “Chris Pratt Special.”) There’s a female character in the cast who not only has the knowledge, skills, and background to be the hero of the story, but also has a good reason to take on the mission or challenge the big bad. Then this guy wanders in out of nowhere and takes over, doing better by sheer guts and grit than she did with all her knowledge and skill. Expect her to fall into his arms at the end.

If you spot any of these types in the wild, you know what to expect.

In Character is an occasional feature looking at some of our favorite characters from written works and media to see what drives them, what makes them work, and what makes us love them so much.

Space Telescope Test Image of Star Captures Background Galaxies Too

The James Webb space telescope, launched into orbit at the end of December 2021, is going through some mirror alignment steps. A test image was taken, and it shows the astounding potential of the telescope in space imaging. Take a look:

2022 03 NASA STScI James Webb Alignment Eval Image

Not only does the focal point star stand out conspicuously, you can see other stars and galaxies(!) in the background.

The significance of James Webb summarized in NASA’s press release for the alignment test:

“While some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth use segmented primary mirrors, Webb is the first telescope in space to use such a design. The 21-foot, 4-inch (6.5-meter) primary mirror – much too big to fit inside a rocket fairing – is made up of 18 hexagonal, beryllium mirror segments. It had to be folded up for launch and then unfolded in space before each mirror was adjusted – to within nanometers – to form a single mirror surface. […]

“Webb is the world’s premier space science observatory and once fully operational, will help solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.”

I don’t need to be a STEM person to be delighted at the progress!

Image by NASA/STScI