Archive for December 2010

The Heart of Phoenix, Part two   2 comments

If you joined us late, your host, Atroll, is playing explorer in his own city.  Today’s blog covers the second half of my epic drive from one end of Van Buren Street to the other.

I continued west from Central Avenue on Monroe, just one block south of Van Buren.  The situation is the same. There is no place to park on Van Buren, thus making photography difficult at best.  And I found another . . .

1. Painted wall.  I wrote about the painted walls of Phoenix at length here:  Although the building faces Van Buren, I never would have seen this wall if I hadn’t been driving behind it.

This wall is only visible from a church parking lot. Is there a spiritual connection? The mostly red background makes me think of blood.


Is this some sort of small demon in quest of money? Everything else is on a godlike scale, but this is tiny--its it meant to represent mortal men?


2.  Getting Social

My plan was to get back onto Van Buren at 7th Avenue.  The Sevens (7th Street on the east and 7th Avenue on the west) mark the real east-west limits of the downtown area.  7th Avenue and Van Buren is also the start of Grand Avenue, almost the only transverse street in the city.  It runs northwest from this starting point for many miles until it reaches the city of  Wickenburgh.  I’ll do that route some time.

But our point of interest here is a huge office complex for the Social Security Administration.  An hour of sitting inside it trying to get my social security convinced me that using the internet was by far the best way to deal with this branch of the federal government.

Social Security--why do they need that huge building?


3.  Death is always with us.

I am entering an older, poorer section of town.  Both businesses and houses are generall run down, and it gets worse as I drive to the west.  I travel for about 20 blocks without finding anything to photograph and then I find . . .

Greenwood Lawn Cemetary


I sort of knew it was here because I’ve gone by it hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my life, but I never gave it a second thought before.  Hmmm, there are roads leading into it.  Let’s go inside and take a look.

This cemetary is huge.  A bit of research confirmed my suspicions that this is the largest cemetary in Arizona.  I spent half an hour in here and didn’t see a tenth of it.

There is a small section of the cemetary devoted to people of Vietnamese ancestry.


And there is a much larger section nearby for the Chinese. According to the monuments, the Chinese section is older.


Some burial headstones are spectacular.


(and the blue car in the distance is mine.)

You can just make out a children's playground at the northern end of the Chinese Memorial Garden.


4.  Carl Hayden Community Center

Leaving the cemetary behind I return to Van Buren and drive westward.  I plan to see if I can find the house I lived in when I was in the second and third grades.  But before I reach that part of town I am stopped by another painted wall.

I see a Phoenix Suns logo in this sign. Sure enough, there is a basketball court in the back.


This evocation of the Spirit of Music is what first caught my eye as I was driving by. Stopping and exploring revealed a lot more.


Pre-Columbian Mexican civilizations are alive and well in Phoenix. You can see it in the Aztec and Olmec motifs in their wall paintings.


Catholic imagery mixed with Mexican fetility goddesses.


This is actually the last spectacular image on the trip.  The rest of the pictures until you reach the very end are kind of plain and boring, but I’m using this blog as a kind of metaphor for travel through life (as well as cities). Things are varied, fresh, and exciting at the beginning.  They reach a climax somewhere in the middle, and then there’s a long downhill slide to oblivion.

5.  One of my old neighborhoods

When I was a child, about a million years ago, our family moved frequently–about once every two or three years.  In the earliest days we rented, and every time Dad saw a chance to move up in the world, he did so.  The fact that our family kept growing might have played a part in always looking for newer and larger homes.  The result is that I lived in a lot of different places in Phoenix when I was young.  I remember them all.  This trip along Van Buren took me close to two of them.

The place is a slum. It was a lot nicer 55 years ago when I lived around here.


For about 2 years the St. Andre family lived on West Melvin Street.  We rented a little apartment behind someone else’s house, and I went to the 2nd and 3rd grades at the newly built Coe School.  The Acres of Fun drive-in theater was at the end of the street–it went away long ago, and the space is full of warehouses and storage units now.

I'm guessing, but I think that the little house in the back may have been where I actually lived when I was 7 to 9 years old. I believe the man who lived in front was an amateur radio operator, who got my father interested in ham radio. The amateur antenna gives it away, and it's in about the right place.


As you can see, I was not rich, or even middle class as a child.  I came from the poorer class, but my father was upwardly mobile, and to some extent I have also worked to better myself all my life.

6.  Warehouses

As I go westwards, the residential areas fade away, and a district of gigantic warehouses replaces them.  I could have taken dozens of pictures of warehouses, but let’s face it.  Warehouses, while vital to the economic well being of the city, are dull.  For mile after mile both sides of the road are filled with warehouses.  This is where the supplies of the city are kept.  And it’s not just Van Buren.  The endless warehouses extend both north and south for a couple of miles.

Those aren't houses beyond that field of clover. It's one gigantic warehouse a quarter of a mile long.


The city’s petroleum farm is also out here around 47th Avenue and Van Buren–dozens of huge tanks up to 20 stories tall containing millions of gallons of gasoline.  There was no good place to stop and get a picture, but the place is there.  It’s kind of impressive to see how much fuel could be stored here before being distributed to the gas stations of Maricopa County. 

7.  There is a river . . .

but it hardly ever has any water in it.  This tiny bit of desert wilderness separates Phoenix from the smaller satelite cities to the west.

The Agua Fria (Water Cold) riverbed as seen through my car window. Note the abundant vegetation. There is water here, although it may be just below the surface.


8.  Time for Lunch

The road turns back into city–housing developments, shopping malls, etc.  I have been driving and taking pictures for over 3 hours, and I’m getting hungry.  I start looking for a place to stop and eat, and on the corner of Litchfield Road and Van Buren I find J.B.’s Restaurant.  I remember J.B.’s.  We used to have one on the corner of 32nd Street and Indian School Road, and there was another on the west side of town.  They have both closed.  I used to like to go there for Sunday morning breakfast at the buffet.  All you could eat–it was wonderful.  The waitresses were all experienced pros–they made you glad that you came in.  Popular music played in the background.  I was really unhappy to see it go.  Moved by nostalgia, I turned in and sat down to lunch here.  It was just the kind of place I remembered.  But, nice as it was, I’m not going to drive 25 miles or so just to have a good breakfast buffet.

J.B.'s serves good old fashioned American food--just like your white momma used to make. It's a Caucasian restaurant, and seems to be vanishing from the American scene.


I had a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a Coke for lunch.  The onion rings were fancy, large, and juicy, but hard to eat and messy.  Burger King has better rings, imho.  The burger was excellent and really hit the spot.  The Coke was the Real Thing.

The Trollgod's Hat was on the journey with me. Here it is overlooking the last surviving onion ring and it's getting a drink of water.


9.  The Wasteland

Beyond the town of Litchfield Park there were more houses–some quite pricy–and then trailer parks and ranches and finally it got down to what this part of Arizona woud look like without water from irrigation–bleak wasteland.  Still, it’s only a matter of time before someone turns this desert into another housing development.

This is about 200th Avenue--that is 200 blocks west of Central where this blog began. Arizona wasteland desert.


10.  The End of the Trail

Van Buren Street finally ends when it reaches Jackrabbit Road–somewhere out around 240th Avenue.  There is something out there in the desert beyond the end of the road, but I couldn’t (legally) get there.

Van Buren Street ends at Jackrabbit Road. Across the road is a short piece of dirt road ending in a fence. To the southwest, the Arizona desert stretches off for 100 miles or more.


I turned north on Jackrabbit Road.  My plan now was to get back on Interstate 10 and rapidly return home.  I started this journey about 10 in the morning on the outskirts of Tempe.  It is now around 2 p.m. and I am 45 miles or so from my starting point.  I took one last picture of the mountains west of Phoenix.

The White Tank Mountains are part of a military reservation west of Phoenix. I am convinced that there is a secret military base underground here. It would be a perfect place for it, and I put one here in my computer game Wasteland. It's all fenced off with a gigantic earth dike--you can't get in to investigate.


And that’s the end.  You have been through the heart of Phoenix with me.  You have seen some of the best and the worst that Phoenix has to offer.  Take it as it is.

From here I got on the freeway and was home in half an hour.  There is a lot to be said for high speed travel without interruptions and stop signs.


Posted December 30, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

The Heart of Phoenix, Part One   2 comments

Today, I want to share the story of a journey with you–a journey through the Heart of Phoenix.

Phoenix, Arizona is a pretty big city these days–fifth largest municipality in the United States with census estimated population of over 1.6 million people in 2009.  It is also the 12th largest metropolitan area, the largest state capitol, and the hottest major city in the United States.  Phoenix is built on a grid of north-south streets and east-west streets, with the zero-zero point being the intersection of Washington Steet and Central Avenue.  Phoenix has numberd streets and places running north-south on the east side of town.  The west side has numbered Avenues, Lanes, and Drives running north and south.  Major traffic arteries are planned to be exactly 1 mile apart in most  places (except downtown which retains its original chaotic structure from the 1800s.  Secondary traffic arteries are placed at the half-mile positions between the  major thoroughfares. 

There are two major traffic carriers running east-west in downtown Phoenix.  One is Washington Street which runs from the State Capitol building at 17th Avenue and Washington to the border of Tempe where it turns into MIll Avenue.  The other is Van Buren Steet, two blocks north of it.  In my humble opinion, Van Buren is the true center of the city.

This morning I decided to journey from one end of Van Buren all the way to the other end of it, and to make a record of the notable things I found along the way.  This is the record of that journey, which began around 10 a.m. and finished about 2 p.m. 

My journey actually begain at my credit union–Arizona Federal at the corner of 44th Steet and Van Buren.  It is a very nice place, and has appeared in these blogs before, but it doesn’t get a picture today.  My thanks to my lovely friend there who gave me printer paper to make notes about my journey.

1.  The main post office of Phoenix, Arizona.

I go here a lot to mail things because the lines are usually shorter.


This is actually a huge building and parking lot, 99% of which is off limits to the general public.  It fills a lot that is two blocks deep by a quarter of a mile  long, and is located at about 5001 E. Van Buren.  There is nothing very fancy about this place, but it has adequate parking and the lines usually move pretty well.

This is Dennis, today's Face of the Post Office.


2.  Tovrea’s Castle

Driving eastward, I next came to Tovrea’s Castle.  It is a fabulous old manion from the days of the cattle barons, and is now a special Phoenix park–not open to the public most of the time.  Our family has always called it the Wedding Cake because it is built in tiers.  This is a look up the main drive leading into it.

Here's where a powerful telephoto lens would have really helped.

3.  Views of the Phoenix Zoo and the old baseball stadium.
Half a mile further east I reached the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Muncipal Baseball Stadium.  The stadium is on the south side of Van Buren; the zoo is located inside Papago Park on the north side of the street.

The area that looks like a farm is actually the petting zoo. It features goats and bunnies and small farm animals like chikens.


This wild-looking area is where they keep the alligators and tortoises and other reptiles and birds.


Long ago, before Phoenix ever got a major league baseball team, this was the home of our minor league team, the Phoenix Giants.  They were the biggest minor league franchise of the San Franciso Giants.  When the Diamondbacks came to town, the Phoenix Giants went away.  Now the stadium is used by the Oakland Athletics team as a spring training facility.  Cactus League games are played here before the regular baseball season starts in April.

The stadium is very well protected by a chain-link fence along with internal walls and scoreboards, making it hard to see.


4.  The Hall of Flame, Museum of Firefighting

Just east of the stadium and around a corner on the Salt River Project Drive–home of the biggest electric power provider in Arizona–the Salt River Project–is a firefighting museum.  It’s not a very busy place.

I have never been inside this museum. I really should go some time.


5.  Tempe Town Lake

The eastern extremity of Van Buren Street turns south and becomes Mill Avenue, the main street for downtown Tempe, Arizona.  Tempe has turned a barren stretch of dry riverbed into a good-sized pond by buiding an inflatable rubber dam (I kid you not–it’s rubber, not cement) out there west of the bridge, and then filling it with water from the Salt River.  The Salt River provides the main water supply for the City of Phoenix, and we drink it dry.  In the days of the pioneers a trickle flowed through the desert–beavers built dams on it, and the local Native Americans practiced agriculture by diverting water from it through ditches and canals.  Hundreds of years earlier the Hohokam civilization dug canals all over the valley to carry river water for their farms.  That is why our city is called Phoenix.  It has arisen on the ashes of an earlier civilization.

Here you see part of the Tempe Town Lake--the largest open body of water for 40 miles in any direction--the Tempe Bridge, and a few Tempe buildings.


There is a very nice little park running along both sides of the river here.  On the 4th of July the City of Tempe holds its fireworks celebration here.

6.  The Rolling Hills Golf Course and Driving Range

I turned around at the river and headed west.  I won’t revisit the spots we’ve already seen, but right at the curve into Tempe there is a gorgeous desert golf course.

Phoenix is renowned for its many beautiful golf courses.  This is one of them.  There used to be a batting range here too.  Every time you drove by, you could see the golfers practicing their swings.  Now there’s a restaurant and a pro-shop.  Yuppification is happening everywhere.

I've never been inside here. I don't golf.


7.  The Big Apple Restaurant

It’s just a fast food restaurant, but it has always been a special place for me, maybe because my dad took me here when I was a kid.  It’s kitschy cowboy stuff–all kinds of guns, and saddle tack, and horses and cows on display.  The waitresses dress western and wear sixguns.  There is sawdust on the floor.  The food is great.  It’s in a bad part of the city now, and is kind of a hangout for old-timers like me.

Doesn't that sign make you feel like you're really in the west?


The only restaurant I've ever seen with a 3-D diorama over the front door.


Look! There's a horse on the roof!


8.  The Hospital

I am driving in towards Central Phoenix and I’m thinking how Van Buren Street is really the heart of the city when I come to St. Luke’s hospital and medical center.  This is a huge medical center, and I tend to forget all about it because I never drive that part of town, or go to that hospital.  I pulled into it, and drove around the parking lots looking for something photogenic, and just by accident, look what I found.

Synchronicity in action.


St. Luke is standing tall.

9.  Bunny Cars

As I drove into town I saw a colorful car lot I had never noticed before, and behold!  It has a painted wall!  (A few weeks ago I did a blog on the Painted Walls of Phoenix.  As I find more of them, I’ll probably continue to point them out. 

Look! It's a painted wall advertising a small used car lot.


10.  The Tallest Building in Arizona

Downtown Phoenix is coming into view now.  At the center–Van Buren and Central Avenue is the Chase Bank Building, which is, I believe, the tallest building in the state.  Certainly the big rectangle dominates the skyline of Phoenix.

There is, of course, a fabulous restaurant at the top.  I was there . . . once.

11.  Arizona State University–downtown Phoenix campus

The area around 7th Street and Van Buren has a lot of attractions.  There is the A.S.U. downtown campus–the main campus is back in the heart of Tempe.  The downtown school looks for all the world like an old-fashioned Spanish pueblo. 

12.  The Rosson House and the Arizona Science Center

Across the street from A.S.U. is a special park, which is mostly a place to set up booths and an old Victoriean house from 1880s Phoenix called the Rosson House because the Rosson family lived there.  It’s like a little piece of New England in the heart of Phoenix.

Like something out of a Gothic novel.

The Arizona Science Center contains a planetarium and many halls full of interactive displays.


13.  Downtown Phoenix

I cruised through downtown Phoenix on Monroe Street which is one block south of Van Buren.  Van Buren is very busy and has no place to park and take pictures.  Monroe is very quiet and many of the attractions  have their front doors on Monroe and their backs to Van Buren.  However, they’re all in the vicinity, and I think I am justified in including them as part of the Van Buren tour.

St. Mary's Basilica serves as headquarters for the Catholic Diocese in Phoenix.


Pope John Paul II offers his blessings to visitors.


The Arizona Center is on the north side of Van Buren. There is a whole shppinc center below tis building.


A huge indoor movie palace,night clubs, restaurants, boutiques, and specialty stores fill the Arizona Center.  It’s a fun place to shop, and I have been there several times.  There is no time to investigate it today, or to show in detail–I am just mentioning that it is here across Van Buren to the north from A.S.U.

Of course we find Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Catholic Park in the heart of the city.


Big buildings crowd each other downtown. The one across the street is a parking garage for the Phoenix Convention Center, plus offices upstairs.


Two blocks south of me is the domed stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. It's a great place. I have attended several ballgames there.


A block west of the church is the Herberger Theater–a playhouse capable of seating several hundred people, and a wonderful way to experience plays.  Seeing a play isn’t like seeing a movie.  The people are real.  Everything is on a human scale, and you really appreciate the skill and effort of the actors.

Something about Theatre just maks statues want to dance around in the nude.

Full frontal nudity on the streets of Phoenix. This bronze titan has a body that I envy. Alas, such perfection is not for real human beings.


Everything you see downtown makes you want to look up.  The next picture shows one of my favorite places that I never get to go to–the revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt hotel.  I imagine most large cities have such places.  I visited the one n Seattle atop the Space Needle a couple of years ago.  It was great.  The scenery is Phonix is not quite as spectacular as that in Seattle, but it is a blast to enjoy your meal and watch the world revolve around you.

The Hyatt in downtown Phoenix is magnificent both inside and out.


That was the last thing worth seeing before reaching Central Avenue.  Join me next time to see what the west side of Phoenix has to offer.

End of part one

Posted December 29, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

The Longest Night Party at Trollhalla   2 comments

Some of us sure love our libations!

Trollhalla is my personal club for people who play Tunnels and Trolls.  Admission is free.  Nothing is required of the members except that they ask to get in.  We do things to promote Tunnels and Trolls around the world.  We have a lot of international members, and we have a lot of very talented members.

And on the evening of the winter solstice–the Longest Night–some of us get together on the Trollhalla site and have a virtual party.  We talk, we exchange art and videos, we make jokes, we drink and we eat rare fantasy viands, all in a virtual sort of way.  And for a party that takes place in our minds, we have a surprising amount of fun.

On December 21, we held the second annual Longest Night party.  I was the host, and 32 other members of Trollhalla also attended.  It was a wild party.  There was a lot of dancing.  Orcs danced, ogres danced, goblins danced, trolls danced, and even the dead came and danced for us.  Betty Page is a white flame.

You can find one of the dances we enjoyed here.  I’d like to embed it, but can’t seem to figure out how that’s done.

The following people attended in this order.  Trollish names are being used here to protect the guilty.Misha the Berzerk (left early and came back later)
Kopfy (Partied hardest, kept the music going, and almost lasted longest)
Tmuwo (left early–ran a Shadowfist tournament, returned later and partied hard)
Mist-Tikk Foo-all (the life of the party and most versatile)
Ea (left early, but brought food and laughter)
Taran Dracon
Dannnherrrm (gave us all a magnificent gift)
Sligo (brief appearance)
Quoghmyre (uploaded the most art–some created on the spot & lasted longest)
Moonwolf (scariest art in the show)
Ramsen Triton (jolliest art in the show)
Khenn Arrth (ye host finally arrived after all those other people)
Arrdhann Trrellish
Grrrey Wulff Carried the artistic load early)
Corencio (likes to party in real life with a younger crowd)
Dekhurrrsio (brought 7 new rooms to as a gift for all.
Boris the Brave
Darrgh Tarrho (drove his car into a hedge–weird British behavior–that)
Lezzirf (did fortunetelling for the mystically inclined)
Bitt Burrnn
Mmartin the Mensch
Kattjje (joined Trollhalla just to get into the party)
Dhell Marrh
Khayd’haik (showed up late but contributed greatly)
Trrrommm (worked thru tha party backing up his hard drive)
Khurrt Ahhvenns (newest member of Trollhalla, stopped by and said hi)

Scary creatures of all sorts are welcome at Trollhalla on the Longest Night.  Heck, we evern let Grey Wolf and Moonwolf in.  Then there was this mysteriously friendly girl.

We had so much fun that we’re thinking of  having a Shortest Night party on the Summer Solstice.  You have about six months to   join if you want to get in on it.  Actually the whole party is captured on 89 pages of the Trollwalla in Trollhalla.  Anyone who really wanted to experience the revels could still do so.

H’aaarrrrgggghhhhh! (Trollish for in haste!)

–Khenn Arrth aka Atroll

Posted December 24, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Protected: John Wick’s Birthday Party   1 comment

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Posted December 20, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

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Narnia III   1 comment


Chasing danger to the ends of Narnia

I went to see Narnia III–the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  IMHO, the Narnia movies are probably the best heroic fantasy movies currently in production.

According to, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader assumed a commanding start on the weekend’s box office derby by taking in an estimated $8.1 million dollars on its opening day. Playing on 3,555 screens, that gives Narnia 3 about an average of $2,500 in ticket sales per screen — not a lot of demand for a big holiday picture on its opening weekend. Based on the forecast ahead, Dawn Treader isn’t likely to break $30 million on its opening weekend but it will still wind up in first place.  I don’t know where they get these stats, but what it tells me is that there is a considerable market for fantasy–not overwhelming, but big.

Three kids–Lucy, Edward, and Eustace–use a painting of a ship at sea as a gateway to Narnia.  They quickly find themselves aboard the Dawntreader with King Caspian and a bunch of Narnians, sailing to adventures at the ends of the world.  There is magic and sword-fighiting, talking animals including the noble Reepicheep, an unexpectedly witty minotaur, and the spoiled-rotten Eustace, cousin to Edward and Lucy–is transformed into a dragon.  Narnia is the best kind of dream–it feels totally real, the adventures can continue for weeks or even years, but when they return to Earth no time at all has gone by.

The Narnia movies and books are wonderful for both children and adults.  There is all the joy of exploration, the confort of comradeship, the wonder of magic, and the thrills of combat and peril, but there is no blood, no nudity, no profanity.  Adult things are alluded to–there is sex and death and despair and all the corruption of adulthood going on behind the scenes, and the adults who see the movije realize it, but the children who see it only see glory, adventure, and wonder.  By the end of the movie i was all choked up.  It rips me up that Edward and Lucy can never return.  When your childhood is over, you can’t go back to Narnia.  At the end they are confronting the final mystery, which is Death.

At age 63 I’ve been confronting my own mortality a lot these days.  It makes me sad.  Thus, movies that deal with the protagonist dying–even a kind of metaphorical death of childhood–leave me sad.  The better the movie, the sadder I feel.  So I was very sad at the end of the movie.  Narnia 3 is excellent indeed.

If Aslan ever let me into Narnia, he’d have to eat me to make me leave again.

Lucy in the sky with Lions.

Posted December 16, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Visions of Lord Dunsany–a Dreamland   2 comments


In the previous blog, I showed you all some maps that I drew long long ago.  I disovered the notes that follow below–clearly my inspiration for this map:

There are at least 23 notable locations on this map. See if you can match them to the list below.

Although I made these notes and this map more than 40 years ago, what I have here are short snippets that I wrote down from the various stories of Lord Dunsany.  The prose has to be his.  Neither I, nor any other living human being writes like this.  His visions seem inspired by all the fantastic lore and mythology of the world. 

I had a wild idea of tracking down all these different references, because references they are to older poems, tales, and myths.  I started to do that, and realized that it would be work for a season or longer.  The Black Lake whose waters cause forgetfulness seems to be a reference to the River Lethe, which in Greek mythology caused forgetfulness.  The lake so dark that its waters reflect the stars even by daylight is an idea picked up by J.R.R. Tolkien, and it is encountered on the borders of Lothlorien–a pool between Moria–the underground Dwarven realm that fell to the forces of darkness, and the beautiful homeland of the Elves.

You see how easy it is to go off on flights of fancy with these names and quotes.  I’m not going to do it.  I could be writing and free associating for weeks trying to explain all the wonders that are part of Dunsany’s Dreamland.  They are also part of my dreamland, but only when I’m conscious.  I regret to say that my dreams are nowhere near this vivid and entertaining when I’m actually asleep.

The Geography of Dreamland–visions of Lord Dunsany

1.  in a desert land renowned for weirdness and mystery, the Black Lake, whose waters bring forgetfulness and which reflects the stars even by day.

2.  tall mountains beyond which lie peaceful valleys.

3.  lost legendary palaces of serpentine, silver, and ebony, whose columns are green stalactites.

4.  pillars of fallen temples, standing in the vast purpureal sunset of a land of lost and forgotten romance

wouldn't you like to go exploring here?


5.  dark-green cedar forests beside brilliant blue tropical oceans, palm and coral isles.

6.  the land of Taprobane

7.  strange hidden cities of the desert, with burning brazen domes and slender pinnacles of gold and copper that pierce a heaven of heated lazuli

8.  the Memnons of the Night–mountains carved into the forms of grotesque, awe-inspiring Collossi

These huge old Egyptian statues at Luxor inspired both Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsay to transform them into whole mountains.


9.  a flower-covered tomb in a fantastic garden, but worms crawl there

10. Cocaigne–a land of sexual ecstasy

11.  the sunless land where dream-clouded people dwell somnambulistically among their own tombs

12. Hyperborea–the paradise of the north

13. the land of Illarion

14. the Forbidden Forest–to enter it brings dreams and death

15. the Desert of Soom at the world’s unchartable extreme whose dangers cannot daunt love

16. the City of Morm with its temple to Amanon with the images of iron and bronze

17. the ancient city of Toomal with its catacombs and tombs

In Toomal there are catacombs and tombs

18. the cities of Thebais and Elephantine where lamias are sometimes welcome.

19. Sadastor, a land of salt deserts and cyclopean volcanoes with one last pool in which lurks a broken-hearted siren who must die when her pool is gone

20. sub-sea cities where only ghosts and fishes go

21. Mandrikor–a dying city where lichens creep on crumbled fanes among dried-up seas and barren sands

22. Shadowland, on the edge of the world–the purple lands within it.

23.  Ispahan, a rich and mighty nation in the east, bearded warriors and willing maidens


I inserted a few pictures above to brighten up this dusty list.  I bet one could find an illustration for everyone of these ideas.  I found three.  It’s up to you readers to find the rest, or visualize them for yourselves.  At least, thanks to my map, you know approximately where to find them in relationship to each other should you ever venture into this particular Dreamland.


Posted December 7, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

The Cartography of Dreamland   7 comments

I love maps of fantastic places–the places we dream about, the places we read about.  Every fantasy novel should include a map–maybe more than one.  It can be terrific when an artist and a writer can work together to make that kind of cartography happen.

Long before I created Tunnels and Trolls I was reading and trying to write some fantasy, and making up the maps to go with it.  While searching through my backroom recently, I found a bunch of my old maps–maps that I personally drew.  I am not known as an artist, and there’s a good reason for that.  The stick figure drawings of Order of the Stick look like the work of Michaelangelo compared to my work, but still, I contend that anyone can draw basic fantasy maps if they’ll just try.  Here are some of my trials.

The first map you see above is my version of the Dreamland of Lord Dunsany.  The river that runs down the center is clearly the Yann (Idle Days Along the Yann is imho Lord Dunsany’s all-time finest fantasy), with additions from other little known fantasy authors like Janes Branch Cabell.  It’s a continent perfect for writing heroic fantasty fiction.  There are mountains, plains, swamps, deserts, forests, rivers, and seas–any environment you can imagine for fantasy.  There are Cities of Light and Cities of Darkness.  It’s a place where dragons and fairies will be equally at home.  Some of the ideas from this map carried over into other maps and fictions that I did.

The earliest Tunnels and Trolls map

Before I ever had an inkling that my life would be bound up with imaginary characters delving imaginary dungeons in imaginary lands, I was trying to write fantasy is a mode that mixed the styles of Robert E. Howard and Lord Dunsany.  Fantasy places shoud have great evocative names.  If you study this map you will find the city of Khosht, a place of ruins called Khazan-Tharothat, and other names that might sound familiar to T & T players.  Wherever you see the little hammer/pickaxe symbols was a stronghold of the Dwarves.  The Elves, of course lived in the forests.  And Men lived in the cities. I wasn’t gaming yet, but my inner dream cartography was beginning to take shape.

My conception of the Dying Earth lands written about by Jack Vance.


Some books just begged for maps, and yet the authors didn’t supply them.  Once such book was The Dying Earth by Jack Vance.   Vance wrote a series of picaresque short stories back in the early 50s of the adventures of certain rogues and magicians at the end of time.  Magic and monsters are everywhere.  He introduced a rogue named Cugel the Clever who was a slap in the teeth to all the pure heroics of medieval romance.  To a young would-be writer, Cugel was the embodiment of all that was clever and original.  Talk about your forgotten writers of fantasy.  Jack Vance outshone both Howard and Tolkien in his imaginative fantasies, and the only person even in the same league with him as a writer was Fritz Leiber, who gave us the Grey Mouser and Fafhrd.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was the 20th century's greatest creator of unknown lands.


Before I got interested in Robert E. Howard’s Conan, my all-time favorite author was Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan.  Tarzan was my god, my ideal.  The best Tarzan novel ever was Tarzan the Terrible which took the Ape-man to the lost land of Pal-ul-Don, where dinosaurs and pteranodons and ape-men with prehensile tales still roamed the landscape.  Burroughs never gave us a map.  I made my own from his description in the books.

A lot of my early maps were heavily influenced by the map of Europe and Africa.


I drew this map after writing my first Howard-esque swords and sorcery story called “Some Legends Should Remain Forgotten.  At the time the writer I most admired was Fritz Leiber, closely followed by Robert E. Howard.  My story told the tale of two adventurers named Vyrre Veredans, Prince of Ispahan (Spain) and Shang the Barbarian–a Conanesque character from the Caydonian Isles (Britain), who travelled to the ruined city of Mandrikor to rescue the last surviving princess of the Mandrake race (read Melnibone’ for that one–oh yes, I was heavily under the influence of Michael Moorcock’s Elric at the time.)  I wrote two stories for this series, and I still like them–derivative as they are.  I wanted to do swords and sorcery, and I was doing it with all my might back then.

Traces of old Celtic myth, along with Egyptian, and my own love of invented names.


Note the lack of mountains, trees, rivers and even cities.  This is my earliest invented map, I think, and I was obsessed with the idea of islands, especially an archipelago that looked like a dragon when seen from above.  I think I might have been under the influence of Ursula Leguin’s “Wizard of Earthsea” books when I created this map.

This is another map of the world of Shang and Vyrre.


I think this map precedes the previous one.  Obviously, I threw it together in a hurry one day–with all my favorite influences jostling for positions on the map.  It’s almost a pure mixture of Howard and Lovecraft, but look closely and you’ll see traces o Greece and Persia as well.  Does this look like Europe to you, with the Bay of Mandrikor being the Black Sea?

This blog has been a hodge-podge, a journey down Memory Lane for me.  I might have rearranged it to show earlier to later–some of these on the lined paper go back to when I was in high school in the 60s, but I didn’t.  The pleasure should be in just looking at the maps, letting the exotic names and land forms carry your imagination off into dreamlands of your own mind.  It would be sweet, wouldn’t it, to find a really good artist out there in Internet Land who could take these scribblings and turn them into really good maps of my early dream worlds. 

Back in the day I used to doodle fantasy maps.  Maybe I could go back to that.


Posted December 6, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Shadowfist Night Redux   Leave a comment

Last week's new comics

Samurai Comcis is first and foremost a comic books store, and one of the best in Phoenix.  It is also the very best place for gamers to gather with their friends and do some serious gaming.  Especially if that is serious card gaming, because not only are there tables to play on, but the shop sells the cards the gamers need, and has cold pop available for only 75 cents a can.  On Tuesday nights between 5 and 8 p.m. a bunch of us meet at Samurai comics for some Shadowfist gaming.  The store closes at 8 p.m., but the Samurai employees, including owner Mike Banks are very cool about letting us stay till 9 p.m or later to finish our games.  

Shadowfist is a collectible card game with some similiarities to Magic.  In a way, Shadowfist is like Tunnels & Trolls.  It never had the success that it’s big name competitor, Magic, had, but it’s the superior game. IMHO. And My Humble Opinion is very often not exactly in line with the majority.  That doesn’t make me wrong.  🙂

This is as close to a gaming group as I have these days.  We had a large group–9 people–on Tuesday night, November 30.  This was not an ordinary meeting of the group, but a special draft tournament of a rigorous and difficult format.  Everyone had to buy 6 fresh packs of cards–that is 60 cards.  That’s just enough to make one full-sized deck.  We kept 40 of our choice and put the other 20 into a common pot.  Then we had a trading draft, which worked thusly.  Take one of our 40 cards and put it in the center, and then take another card back out.  This we did for 16 rounds, and then we took 4 more cards each.  That gave us each 44 cards from which to construct a deck.

The problem with this format is that both feng shui sites and base characters were few and far between.  Of the 60 cards I started with, I found only 4 sites.  Of course, I kept all of them.  There was a good deal of griping from other players who did as poorly as me, and a couple who did even worse.  You can’t bring out the super good stuff in Shadowfist unless you have the basic stuff to support it.  Here’s a look at our brave gamers.

From left to right: half of Paul Taunton, Mike, Ledo, Frank


From left to right: James, Harley, Paul, Mike.


From left to right: Half of Mike, Ledo, Frank, Chris, and Daniel's hand.


Not shown in these pictures are Daniel and me, Atroll.  Daniel is a majestic fellow, and I showed him in the first Shadowfist blog, and nobody needs to see any pictures of me.

After the trading draft was over, we broke into groups of three for the tournament.  I found myself facing James, who is my mighty gaming son,  and Daniel in the first game.  Daniel got no sites.  I got sites and no base characters.  James got both sites and characters out of his cards.  Guess who won!  If you guessed that Atroll pulled a victory out of this game, you missed by a mile.  If you guessed Daniel, you came in second.

Not everyone finished at the same time, so I got up and wandered around, and took some more pictures.

Yu-Gi-Oh is another collectible trading card game with a strong fan base around the world.

Some Yu-Gi-OH gamers also show up every Tuesday night.  I used to play this game about five years ago, and I still have hundreds of cards and a few decks for it in the back room. When I first got my son into  playing card games, we started with Pokemon, during the height of the Pokemon craze. When he moved into his teen years we switched to Yu-Gi-Oh with its darker, edgier, more complex style of play.  When I thought he was ready, I switched him to Magic, and finally to Shadowfist.  He hasn’t quite made the jump to Poker, Pinochle, or Bridge yet.

(In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to have taught my son my own love of gaming. I should have taught him to study hard and play the stock market or how to mow lawns or cook hamburgers. Now his ambition is go go on the Pro Magic tour and win tournements for a living.  Sigh.  Mommas, don’t let your kids grow up to be gamers!)

The Yu-Gi-Oh group. Two guys are dueling. One is on the internet with his laptop. The girl is texting on her cell phone.


After a few friendly words with the Yu-Gi-Oh group–one of the things I love about gamers is that they (we) are easy to talk to.  You usually don’t find other types of social groups mingling so easily–I moved on to take some pictures of the store.  I love tihs store.  There is so much good stuff inside it.  Mike Banks–the owner–is lucky that I don’t hang out here every day, read his books without buying them, and frighten off his customers with my grim old visage.

See that rack of comics straight ahead beneath the Batman t-shirt, every single one of those books is a different Batrman title.


And on the other side of the stockroom door are all the Avengers titles from Marvel.


I also read through a Justice Society comic while I was hanging around waiting for Shadowfist to start up again.  They finally called me back, and I got into a second game.  I was at the all losers table for my second match–the three of us who had done worst in the first game.  My opponents this time were Paul and Frank.  Frank had a strong beginning, but not a very big deck.  He ran out of cards and had to drop out.  The game settled into a hard-fought duel between Paul and me.  Neither of us had quiet enough power to do everything we wanted.  Paul had a powerful killer demon character that he could play every turn.  I had superior numbers in characters, and one of them had a tank that made him as tough as Paul’s character.  In the end, superior numbers won.  I took a couple of Paul’s sites and burned them for victory, which meant I coudn’t lose the points for them, and Paul pummeled my sites, I had two hanging on by the narrowest of margins.  We ran out of time before either of could satisfy the game’s victory conditions.  Because I had more victory points at the time, I won. 

There, you see, Atroll does actually win a game he plays once in a while.  It’s enough to keep me going.

To sum up the evening.  We had a good time.  Ledo won the tournament with two victories.  My son James said that his second game was his “worst game ever”–had to discard half his deck before he ever got a site to play.  James and Harley and I all won one of the two games we played–not bad when you consider that the group I brought to the meeting won half the games played with only 1/3 the number of players.

Next Tuesday night we’ll meet to play again–Final Brawl style.  I’ll have a better deck to play, and probably wind up somewhere in the middle.  That will be a good time, too.

I put this picture in because Daniel is in it. He's the tall guy dressed in black with his back to the wall. He's cunning and modest, a strange combination for a card player.



Posted December 1, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized