The Horror, The Horror: Building a search engine Prop for a LARP

So I was involved in Room 13’s Collector Con earlier in the year and one of the things we wanted to do as a prop was to give the players the ability to search online for clues, so what we needed was a search engine that was big enough for them to explore, but would quietly present them with fake results hidden away amongst real ones to enhance the immersion.

Being the tech-ref for the game this fun fun job fell to me to do a quick feasibility study to work out if we could do it for the game.

Now the last thing we wanted to do was have to write a search engine from scratch, and then populate it with enough fake data to hide the clues amidst false leads – that just wasn’t going to be economical in terms of how much Ref time was going to be needed to put it together.  So instead what I did was build a rewriting proxy server.  It works something like this:

A diagram of boxes showing the flow between a web-browser on the left via an apache proxy, to the DDG search engine, back through rewrite HTML, then ddg-rewriter, before returning to the web-brower

So basically a Web Browser makes a request of our server (search.example.com).  The Apache webserver makes a proxy request to http://duckduckgo.com/html (who see’s it as coming from search.example.com and not the web-browser).

Of the data that comes back, if its an HTML page then Apache rewrites http://duckduckgo.com/html to http://search.example.com/html

Every page and image is then sent to a small program called “ddg-rewriter” which scans for HTML files.  It has a list of “Keyword” -> “Fake result” associations and if it sees one of these keywords used it will insert the relevant fake result(s), if not it will leave the page unchanged.

The end result is that DDG thinks its getting search requests from search.example.com.  And the players Web Browser gets back a page that appears to be from http://search.example.com – so it has all the usual search output you would see online, but if specific keywords are used then the fake results are inserted.

Those fake results will appear to blend in better because they have a URL that is shown (so http://magicaldomain.com) however they are actually linked to somewhere else (so http://game.example.com/magicaldomain).  This means you can make it look like your search results appear from dozens of domains without having to buy a single one, as they can all be really hosted from your example.com server.

So yeah, there we go, feel free to download the code and configs and have a browse, yes its messy, yes its first drafty, yes it should be pulling in data from a database and have a nice management interface (and yes it was written by my foul mouthed alterego as usual) however it is functional and should give you some ideas for how to do this kind of thing.  There’s a README.txt in there which will include some more technical details.

If you want it: ddg-rewriter_2018-05-25.zip (11k)

An afternoon pilgrimage: Heysham Rock Cut Graves

So last year some time I bumped into the website of The British Pilgrimage Trust who are kind of funky, and their mission seems to be to restart the tradition of pilgrimage in the UK, which they define as an “unbroken journey on foot to holy places” (which … has some kind of ableist connotations) and they define holy places in a very vague sense:

There are many kinds of holy place. There are temples – i.e. chapels, churches and cathedrals of all faiths. There is water in the form of holy wells, springs, river sources and confluences. There are ancient trees, sacred stones and hilltops. And there are the places where great people were born, lived, died and buried.

They specifically include all temples (be they in use or not), including a suggestion of reworking Christian churches in your minds as nexus points for attempts to contact higher truth and also marking big events in life (births, marriages, deaths) even if you don’t agree with other things the church does, so that’s kind of an interesting perspective.

They also have lots of advice on when, why, also a lot of suggestions on where (either the “great routes” or things that just speak to you), and finally a whole section of articles on how to approach it (which while it does have lots of “do it now with whatever gear you have available!” also includes some suggestions of really expensive kit and a little bit of looking down on some cheaper gear in some ways) – oh and they also advise that you take a pilgrim staff along with you, which is quite sensible.  The main how article is called The Pilgrim Pledges, which suggests the best way to approach this is to:

S:      Slow Down – Seek Holy Places – Stop More.
I:       Set an Intention – Be Instinctive – Improve the Way
N:     Need Less – Notice More – Be Natural
G:      Give Gifts – Practice Gratitude – Be Good.

First Pilgrimage: Heysham Rock Cut Graves

Rock Cut Graves

Being as today is continuing strike action for my Union and I’d been on the picket in the morning and Mish was working at home in the afternoon I got the idea into my head to go and do a simple pilgrimage, somewhere I’d been before, and that I knew was local and reachable as a good first starting point and I wanted to get out into the landscape before my enthusiasm for the idea went from “Oooh good idea” to endless planning and pondering.

So yeah, got in from town, ate a solid warm lunch, packed a bag, wrapped up warm, took up a staff/walking stick I already had in, then stepped out the door and into a wider world of adventure.

And it was nice, it was good to get back out there into the country side.  I’ve been idle from doing a lot of direct paganism for a while now, burnt out on running pagansoc and then gender stuff got in the way of bodily interactions which put a stymie on things really, but its nice to get back out there and be active.  Since this was a first go for me I tried to remember what it was I was doing but mostly concentrated on slowing down and paying attention.  Things I noticed included:

  • It was good to have layering options – I was cold at the start but once I’d gotten going I was warmer and took more layers off
  • I needed more water because I hadn’t drunk enough that morning
  • Grass walking is much more pleasant and relaxing than road walking, heavily trafficed roads (as formed a bunch of my route) got in the way of me slowing down and connecting with things
  • I need a backpack with both side pockets for things and also straps that are good for wearing on my shoulders.
  • People look at you funny when you’re carrying a walking stick

Staff and cup

Once I got to the Morecambe bike/human path things were nicer, but over in Heysham itself things were calmer, I was more off road, I could interact with people passing more, enjoy the scenery, listen to the world (lots of birds were out, and the electric train tracks sound like insects).

St. Peter's Church

There seemed to be some work going on at St. Peter’s church so I didn’t get to go in and see the hogback grave, but I did go up to St. Patrick’s Chapel and enjoy the view, sit with the graves a little, and sit on the cliff top, watching the sea, listening to the birds and some young people who’d also walked up there.  I had a spot of tea from my flask, made offering and then walked back to the bus – which technically ended my pilgrimage.

So all in all an inspiring day, next time I’ll plan routes to use the canal and footpaths better to get to more places locally and see whats going on I think :)

I took some pictures along the way which are in a flickr album but I’ve inserted a couple of choice ones in this post.

The approach to the cliffs

The Echoing Green

Okay so this weekend I participated in a funky one off weekend game called Ghosts in Public: The Echoing Green, this was a game run for Mish’s Birthday up at Eskmeals, so it was cold and wintery and also cosy inside with the fires, which was handy because since we were all playing ghosts we couldn’t really leave the house that much :) Continue reading

Empire E3 2017 – Hots & Nots

(mirrored from a long facebook comment)

So apparently the done thing is Hots and Nots for Empire, so here’s a short list of things… I may add more later.

Hots:
+ Okay Anvil was kind of impressive, even coming over the hill exhausted and travel sick looking out over the sea of tents made me realise the scale of the thing. Also GOD were lovely about me rolling up and being like “Hey I just paid money on the gate what do?”

+ Friendliness of people and willingness of people to talk to me. I showed up to chase down information and rumours about last seasons plot line and got involved in talking to priests, warriors, generals, wise women, cardinals, and the magistrate involved. And pretty much everyone was willing to take as much time as they could between whatever else they were up to to engage in roleplaying with me, although some of those were walking meetings where I was frantically scribbling notes (I still have names to tick off my list).

+ The various camps were super interesting to wander into and kind of chat to people, although I don’t think I made it up to Dawn, let alone into Navarr. Also the Hospital seemed a friendly bunch, I wandered in to hassle them as part of a plot I was chasing up for my own amusement and they were helpful and took time out of their shit to come donate roleplaying to help build my game (shout out to Magdalena and several others who’s names I didn’t catch, oh and Medea Ruth who had a super disturbing dog and I later debated theology with). Also watching them deal with injuries post major battle was pretty cool  Lastly the Orcs were all just wonderfully sliiiiiightly inhuman but all *on message* as Orcs, do you lot teach Orc 101 classes to new people who are joining? (getting thrown out of the Orc camp twice and also chatting to some of you with the Kallavesi egregore was fascinating).

+ Fierce religious/legal debate, again with people who were clearly up to their ears in plot (I even went and talked to Yael about things and we had a few minutes walk and talk) willing to hash out arguments with me or just have their well reasoned and passionate debates in front of witnesses to put their points across, also arguing with others and even changing other priests minds about various motions, and the debating that occurred at the seemingly random Crow meets at (I think) Sherard’s opposite the Artisans Arms (was there a pattern to these things? I just seemed to wander into camp sometimes and we’d kind of clump up). I really quite enjoyed watching the Yael plot bubble up and the heresy trail and execution that I think will have repercussions for a while yet.

+ I finally got to bump into a friend of mine again after a shit load of time, like literally 15 years.

Nots:

– Environmental factors: I suffered pretty badly from travelling down there, and additionally the long term rain on Friday, and Saturday nights was pretty dampening to the spirits.

– I think I managed to have basically no clue about when official shit was going on, I managed to miss my virtue assembly (my own fault for not checking the times), I had basically no idea when Wintermark was doing moots and Crow meetings. I think this is pretty much all my fault, but I’m half tempted to suggest a scheduling blackboard of “Next X occurs at Y, location Z” outside the Artisans Arms.

– There definitely needed to be some self motivation to find game and I think if I hadn’t been lucky to be going with an existing group and having a silly idea for getting started I could fall back on I could wind up sitting about in camp watching a flurry of activity go by and have basically no idea how to get involved in it.

Roleplaying Ramble: Torture

So last night I was at the LURPS panel discussion for mature themes, and super appreciated the input from the lovely panel (seriously I have notes that may get typed up at some point and got some chewy ideas to ponder).  Anyway one of the questions was on torture scenes, and various ideas came forward and I offered some thoughts and examples, but thinking about it I kind of wanted to write something to set my ideas out. Continue reading

Snoopers charter and so forth

Okay so with the upcoming snoopers charter thingy (by which I mean the Investigatory Powers Act) going on in the UK a few people have asked for some thoughts on security and the net.  Now I’m a sysadmin, I’m not a security expert, I’ve got a working knowledge of things so I can give an overview but may wind up wrong on some points. Continue reading

Batch Generating Character Sheets

Okay so google drive is the commonly used solution for group editable document collections for roleplaying games.  For many events Room 13 generates 2 documents per character: A background document (essentially a short work of fiction describing the characters history) and a character sheet (their stats, sanity, coping mechanism, and a brief rule summary).  Now it’s the second one of these that concerns us.

For The Fete we needed to make a tweak to the sheets late in the process, and hence I had to personally go through about 30 documents making the same edit to each one, and ever since then I’ve been wary of it.  So for Cluedothulhu 2016 I’ve decided to look into batch generating character sheets. Continue reading

Secure Facility 7: TeH h4x0rs

Okay so the final thing that I built most specifically for SF7 was the interface for funky movie style hacking that occurred in the game, this was basically … a sort of a bodge in a way, it was one of those things that I knew wasn’t going to have to stand up to a lot of traffic, but was going to have to look the part in terms of being a sharp contrast to the corporate smoothness of the rest of the site, and also was going to have to give the players some sort of delay and some sort of challenge to make them work for their information. Continue reading

Secure Facility 7: Door Control

The Door Access Code system was designed so that players could enter the codes from 2 department heads, inside an hour, which would then “unlock” the doors in character, and allow them to throw the dead mans handle, spin the wheels, and press the two additional deadmans handles by the door to open the main bunker doors – killing everyone inside pretty fast from radiation poisoning.  While this sounds like a bad idea once they worked out they were sharing the facility with an unknown alien being some of them get very tempted to use it :) Continue reading