Sunday, January 18, 2015

Quick and Dirty: Kosice, Slovakia

Košice, Slovakia
(Quick and Dirty)

Description:  Košice is the biggest city in eastern Slovakia and second largest in the country after the capital of Bratislava. It is on the Hornad River and among the eastern reaches of the Slovak Ore Mountains. Košice is an important industrial center in Slovakia and the largest employer is U.S. Steel Košice. There are various courts, universities, religious building, museums, galleries, theatres, an international airport, and an extensive railway.

Košice has a high number of businesses for the population. There are approximately 20,000 businesses, nearly one per twelve residents of the city. Some of this stems from being one of the two 2013 European Capital of Culture cities (Marseille was the other city). This event drove research into the needs of the people, research into using untapped resources and making them into something usable, and spurred entrepreneurs to start their own companies. Many of the efforts were put in to transforming the city from heavy industry to postindustrial with many other more creative options.

Population:  240,000 (Galatia, Romania or Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
Conflict: Crime in Košice is not unknown. Women are encouraged to not go out at night unaccompanied. Gypsies and their children are a known nuisance. The political parties are under intense pressure to leave the mafia groups alone, including Hungarian, Russian, and Slovakian groups. The Slovak groups are actually the weakest of the mafias. The Russian and Hungarians keep the Slovaks in their place and in the country. The Russian groups include Ukrainian and Chechen organizations. There is some drug trade, mostly in amphetamines, The Slovakian groups stick to security services, construction, and ownership of restaurants and nightlife locations. Human trafficking in Slovakia exists at two levels. The first and most widely performed is moving product through the country. This includes women and children for sex trade and men for work trade. The second is the kidnapping and exploitation of Roma women and girls. The Slovakian government has been slow to support anti-trafficking laws and spends less than $100,000 USD on efforts per year.

1.  Parks:  There are two recommended parks within Košice. The first is one of the largest zoos in Europe, with fifty-five different species of animals. There is a focus on European animals. The zoo is located in the northeast section of the city. The second park is Mestsky Park. It is located between the main railway hub and the cultural center of Košice. This large park is part of a revitalization of the city following the European Capital of Culture. Many trees were felled, shrubberies were taken out, and areas were cleaned up. The process is not yet complete, but the park is accessible to the public.
2.  City Center:  Located along Hlavna ulica, this is the cultural center of the city. The area is filled with museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, vendors, and the luxurious Hotel Zlaty Dukat Košice. This location provides great opportunities for foot chases, clandestine meetings, and tailing unsuspecting targets. The north end of the square even has a medieval plague column:  The Immaculata.
3.  Palaces:  The city of Košice boasts at least eight palaces, from the beautiful Jacab’s Palace to the eldest, Former Town Hall. Andrassy’s Palace was converted into a large cafeteria and patisserie. Pongracz – Forgacs’ Palace is the Regional State Library and the Csaky – Desswffy Palace is the set of the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic. It also houses the biggest bookstore in Košice, selling books in multiple languages.

Three Hooks: 
1.  Dolná Brána:  Welcome to the entrance into 13th century Košice. This is the original entrance into the city and original town fortifications. This was discovered by accident during the excavation and rebuilding of Hlavna Street in 1996. The Lower Gate Museum serves as the starting point for visiting these old remains. The Dolná Brána has yet to be completely excavated and tours are usually only available from May to September. Tourists looking to get lost in creepy tunnels may accidentally stumble upon hungry vampires. Agents looking for tools to use in their war against the conspiracy may follow a lead to Henri Solon’s Scepter of Penance (see Eden Studios Presents volume 2) down amongst the ruins.
2.  Nočná MoraThe Night Owl is a nightclub involved with the Pitovci gang members. They use the nightclub as a front for selling smuggled cigarettes, heroin, cocaine, and running prostitutes. The nightclub is rather large and the décor is black with occasional highlights of gold and silver. This serves well to hide the various secret rooms and hidden cameras throughout the nightclub. The Night Owl is only open on Thursday through Sunday and gypsies are typically not allowed on premise. Agents following money may come across this nightclub and find a lead to another level of the Conspyramid. Failing that, the Agents may just settle for destroying a crime organizations primary money maker in the city of Košice.
3.  Csaky – Desswffy Palace Bookstore:  Bookhounds will want to explore this bookstore. The fact that it is in the same palace as the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic may cause some concern. After all, if the palace is a court, there are bound to be many police officers in the building. While this is true, the police would never expect Agents on the run due to Heat to enter this palace. A constitutional court and a bookstore – why would international criminals come here, unless it was to turn themselves in to authorities? The bookstore’s curator, one Tatiana Thokoly, claims to be the descendant of a prince from the 1700s. Tanya’s collection of books includes early editions of hard to find books in their original languages. Tanya will not reveal her sources of the books, but rumor has it, she uses burned agents left over from the Cold War. The potential ties into the Conspiracy are endless. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Thoughts Over the Past Year


2014 was a jacked up year. There were emotional highs among the clouds and very low valleys well below sea level. Highlights include bombs dropping, houses nearly felled, and visiting hospitals.

The year began as it ended. I was on leave of absence taking care of my wife from the end of December through the start of February. She had major surgery (and is fine) and was confined to the couch. We were both back to work by February.

I was not going to let my wife think she was the only one who could visit hospital emergency rooms. She visited three, only one was planned) in the year prior. I did not best her record, as I only had two unplanned. I did not include a planned visit.

The first visit was a food reaction while I was in Nebraska. There I was in Middle-of-no-place, Nebraska at 10pm driving around town looking for a clinic only to wind up in a hospital. Four hours later, freshly drugged, but not IV-flushed, I was back in my hotel. Six hours after that I was up swinging for the fences. I may have been drugged up post-allergic reaction to some food product or another, but you would not know it from the results of my work. I won an award at the day job for working through that mess with my usual aplomb.

The second visit was local and likely started as something similar. However, I probably overdosed myself with various drugs by accident. “Oh, hey, that didn't make the problem go away, let's try this other drug,” is not a good plan of attack. Just trust me on this one. Also, if you hear of an addict or junkie talking about bugs crawling under their skin, I think I have now experienced such an event. It is horrible and emergency room teams may or may not react properly to your face. Mine claimed to not know what was wrong with me, but may have had words with each other outside the room. Either way, I went home that same evening.

Come July, we had a party for my wife's birthday. We partied so hard the gods saw fit to send a terrible storm our way two days later. A sixty foot tree limb lept from its trunk into our house. Windows were broken, a door jam was busted up, the fence was damaged yet again, the siding was banged up, and a hole in the roof were just the start.

The entire start of the work on this house was a nightmare. Communication was spotty. However, once the work started, the wife and I were much happier about it. During bad communication with the adjustor and two contractors, a hive of wasps developed in the house at an entry point caused by the branch. I spent an entire weekend caulking windows and window frames, taping over the same windows and frames, using fly swatters and putty knives killing the wasps who were entering our home in both the upstairs and downstairs through two different areas on each floor. It was a very stressful weekend spending 30 minutes upstairs then 30 minutes downstairs, rinse, repeat. I had to push back a trip for work and hire a company to come out and kill them. They had to come out three times just for the wasps. I contracted them to do other work, as well.

In the mean time, the wife has taken to researching the house, houses like it from the era it was built, and we have begun changing the appearance to be more period. So, not only is the house different from the rest of the neighborhood because it is the most updated on the outside, it is starting to look like it should look. We are changing out light fixtures, changing doors and house numbers. On the inside, we updated the dining room furniture in January 2015 to a more formal look. As luck would have it, the living room light fixture needs to be replaced and the kitchen cabinets need knobs or handles. Luckily, the wife has read up on American Foursquare Prairie homes and knows what we need for the house. We may not go full authentic everywhere, but we are trying to give it a makeover to make it feel more like our home.

Come August, George invited me down to GenCon to talk with him. I visited on Saturday. The place was packed to the walls with gamers. The event has officially become too big for me to get everything done I would want to get done. George and I discussed the success of Adventure Maximus! and the future of Unisystem products. The end of the conversation is that I am not the main person behind the Unisystem game lines. George will remain involved, but I have much more room to do want I want. Bomb dropped.

Eventually, work began on the house. It's coming along nicely. As I type this, work continues. Our black and white exterior house is now meadow green with big, bold, white accents. The formerly screened-in, dingy porch is now an open, welcoming porch that helps set the property apart.

Work on Unisystem products has been haphazard. I've dealt with authors flaking out on me, me losing interest due to the stress of dealing with the house, stress of the day job and other typical life situations, occasional health problems with the dogs, and I started a health program offered for free through work.

I don't do health programs well. The last time I tried one, I was angry all of the time. This one is working better. I am down 18 pounds and have another 38 to go. I'm trying to build up to 360 minutes of exercise per week, a caloric intake of 1700 calories, increasing my typical fiber and protein diet, and doing it all at a slow, planned pace. The last time I dieted, I cut things too harshly leading me to crashing and burning.

I am leaving out plenty of things that happened in 2014, but these were the highlights. Games were played. Travel happened with the wife to Columbus and Chicago. Future vacations were planned with family and friends.

2015 has started as rocky as 2014 started smoothly. After all, we were at home everyday. I could write as often as I could sit down and not need to get up to care for the dogs or the wife. I could watch all the C*O*P*S or First 48 I wanted. 2015 is more about using the resources at hand to succeed and not letting the world hit me so hard I stay down for the count. Fighting to succeed at what I want to succeed at on my terms and not fail because the world hits harder than I have been hitting back. 2015 is about deciding what I want, how those desires stack rank, and accepting what it takes to make it happen. Is it more important to live where I do, where I have a support network of friends and family? Or, is it more important to me to live where the temperature is almost always above freezing and I have to make new friends. Money and enjoyment of life often go hand in hand, but must they? Are the hobbies I have hobbies or am I taking them too seriously? Is the day job really that bad or that good? These are not topics unknown to anyone. It's just time for me to start making some decisions and moving on to wherever they lead.

I have learned I need to do things differently. I need to listen to what others say (the wife and others) and try their methods more often. I don't have to admit I'm wrong about anything, I just need to learn to do things in different ways. (insert annoying smiley face here)

I hope the decisions I make this year are good ones. I hope whether or not they are the best decisions, they are decisions which help me grow and define me.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Night's Black Agents - Quick and Dirty Cities: The Collection

This post will function as a quick list with links for the Quick & Dirty City posts I have created. The Q&D cities are designed for use with Night's Black Agents from Pelgrane Press. However, I think they work well for various roleplaying game settings, such as Armageddon, Conspiracy XHunters Hunted, and Spycraft. As always, your mileage may vary.

Cities of Note:
Apremont-Sur-Allier, France
Belize City, Belize
Kresnador Urban Okrug, Kresnador Krai, Russia
Tumaco, Columbia
Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Russia
Wroclaw, Poland
Kosice, Slovakia

Coming Soon:
Znamenskoye, Chechnya, Russia

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Quick and Dirty: Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw, Poland 
(Quick & Dirty)

Description:  Wroclaw is the largest city in western Poland and fourth largest overall. It is on the River Oder and only 25 miles from the Sudety Mountains. Historically, Wroclaw was the capital of several countries and was claimed as a city in more than four different countries. It will serve as the European Capital of Culture in 2016 and host the World Cup in 2017.

Wroclaw’s many factories produce land transportation vehicles, as well as, home appliances and electronics. Chemical plants are also present in the city. There are both domestic and foreign companies active in the city, including Bosch, Siemens, Nokia, Volvo, Google, Whirlpool, Getin Holding, Telefonia Dialog, MCI Management, Protam, and EKO Holding. A high-tech sector of the city is drawing in many active corporations active, including IBM, Dong Seo Display, LG, and Toshiba.

Transportation in and around Wroclaw is fairly easy to come by. There are private taxis, bus lines, and nearly two dozen tram lines. The city has a port on the Oder River and the airport is designated as international. Highways quickly connect the city to cities such as Dresden, Germany (2.5 hours) or Nachod, Czech Republic (2 hours).

Population:  632,100 (Bratislava, Slovakia or Syracuse, New York)
Conflict:  Crime in Poland is lower than many of her neighboring countries and continues to decline year over year. The Polish Organized Crime Division was able to break up the major Poland-based gangs and mafias in the 1990s, sending many members to jail. Current organized crime groups in Wroclaw specialize in car theft (with ties to Columbian drug cartels), drug trafficking (amphetamines), and weapon trafficking (including assault rifles). Gun sales are often tied to Russia-based mafias and shipments are sent to countries under embargo with the use of falsified documents. Human trafficking is on the rise in Poland, but the government is very active in passing laws to support stopping this crime. Human trafficking in Poland includes all levels:  moving product in for sales, moving product from Poland out to other countries, and transporting product through the country.
1.        Ostrow Tumski:  The oldest part of the city, it once was an island between the branches of the Oder River. The cathedral on the island originates to the 10th century. Old town has a borough of four temples with a Jewish synagogue, Lutheran church, Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church all near each other on one corner. The Roman Catholic Church has an observation tower where visitors can look out over the other three religious buildings. Visitors uninterested in religious buildings can visit the market.
2.        Sky Tower:  This is the tallest building in Poland, with residences, offices, commercial space, a bowling alley, an oversized Salvador Dali sculpture, and recreation areas. Sky Tower actually consists of seven different buildings of various heights, and a car park. The building is over 200 meters tall and has a viewing area on the 49th floor. The elevator rises from the ground floor to the top in under 60 seconds.
3.        Botanical Gardens of Wroclaw University:  These gardens were originally established as a place for scientific research. They are still used as such, but today also function as a tourist location. Waterfalls, fountains, bridges, and statues fill the grounds. The gardens fill the northeast corner of the universities property north of the river.

Three Hooks:
1.        Clear Protection:  Clear Protection was purchased by a member of the Conspiracy soon after filing a patent for a new type of glass that will block all AVA and AVB light. Production of the glass only started this year and someone in Sky Tower has paid for their suite to have these windows installed.
2.        Banking:  Wroclaw is home to the highest number of debt collecting and leasing companies in the country of Poland. This means there is also a high number of financial and accounting institutions in the city. The number of financial organizations in town means it is easy for the Conspiracy to collect the money on-site when trafficking goods into Germany and the Czech Republic. Due to the amount of money in Wroclaw, the Conspiracy has several teams of gun thugs situated around town. Agents attempting to track down money sources or relieve the Conspiracy of funding may soon find themselves in a thriller car chase. Lucky for the Agents, there are plenty of highways in Wroclaw, some even cross the Oder River.
3.        SCIENCE!:  Dr. Adek Stelmach is a botanist specializing in phytochemistry and plant systematics and is employed at Wroclaw University. Dr. Stelmach has received funding from a private donor to produce plants with a genetic code sequence that more resembles plants from pre-industrial age Eastern Europe. The private donor may be a member of the Conspiracy looking for a mega powerful form of aconitum lycoctonum, a fellow hunter trying to find a new old way to slay vampires, or a movie producer looking for a movie gimmick tie-in.