Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Almanacs and Thin Ice

Once upon a time, I was suffering through an earache and a bit of a cold. I had an earache as a baby, and the doctor told my mother I would be susceptible to them for the rest of my life, and he wasn't wrong. I'd usually get once about once a year, and they'd last about a week.

Anyhow - the ear pain would spike in the evening, and I'd seen some goofy commercial on TV about home cures that included using a hair drier to dull the pain of an earache. So there I was, lying on the couch, aiming a hair drier at my ear (it worked, by the way, and still does) and reading a book I'd picked up at the grocery store earlier that day on a whim - The Old Farmer's Almanac. It was chock full of interesting things to read, and I've been a subscriber for many years, the book becoming more valuable once I started growing vegetable gardens.

Believe it or not, The OFA isn't a bad book to have around if you're a gamer. The back section of the book is full of interesting tidbits about the natural world, and as a subscriber, I also get a reprint of the OFA from 100 years ago and 200 years ago - right now, I'm looking through the 2014, 1914 and 1814 OFA's. If you're running a game set in the early 19th century in the United States, those 19th century Alamanacs could come in quite handy.

One interesting thing I found in the almanac tonight was a bit on ice thickness - in particular, how much weight, in general terms, ice could hold based on its thickness. This brought to mind the usefulness of a random ice thickness table for referees running games set in the frozen north, or in more temperate climes under the grip of Old Man Winter.


1. Thin ice - breaks on contact
2. Deceptive ice - breaks when one has walked 1d6 paces
3. 3 inches - enough to hold a single humanoid (medium) on foot
4. 4 inches - enough to hold a group of humanoids in single file or a single ogre or frost giant
5. 7 inches - enough to hold 2 tons (a horse, ox or large giant or iron golem or cloud giant)
6. 10 inches - enough to hold 3.5 tons (a fire giant)
7. 12 inches - enough to hold 8 tons (an elephant or storm giant or titan)
8. 15 inches - enough to hold 10 tons (a triceratops)
9. 20 inches - enough to hold 25 tons (a brontosaurus or elder earth elemental)
10. 30 inches - enough to hold 70 tons (half a tarasque?)


  1. Did you try chopped onions wrapped in a cloth and put on the ear? It helps better than anything else I tried (but I never tried the hair dryer.) Cons: You smell like chopped onions...

  2. I love the farmer's almanac, it has been an awesome resource!

  3. When I was running my home game all the time, I picked up a Farmer's Almanac from the previous year and used it for the weather, sunrise/sunset, moon phases, all that kind of thing.

  4. Almanacs are wonderful resources, both in-game and in-life. Loads of good stuff and ideas in there. What do you raise in your gardens? We had to forego doing a garden this year, but maybe next year will be different...

    1. Well, living as I do in Las Vegas, gardens are tricky. I usually do one every other year, fortifying the ground with manure before I plant. The garden beds I have are maybe 60 to 80 square feet in total, so not much room. I always do tomatoes, and I usually get an enormous crop that we use for salsa, tomato sauce and salads. Small tomatoes usually do best in Vegas, because you need to get as much growth as possible before the extreme heat stops the flowering process, but last year I grew some great beefsteak tomatoes that we used for BLTs. I also tried corn for the first time last year, and got one usable ear and about seven that were almost fit for eating. My family hails from Iowa, though, so just having those tall corn plants out there in the back yard was balm for my soul. In the past, I've done watermelons (got a couple good ones), cucumbers, strawberries (the birds enjoyed them), peppers (alas, tasteless) and beans (never cooperated).

  5. People call me lots of names, but physicist is not one of them, so forgive me if the following are stupid questions:
    Why would people walk single file over the ice? I thought you wanted to put a good deal of distance between to distribute the weight. If I'm wrong about that, how thick would ice have to be for someone to dismount and walk a horse behind them?

    Another tip for gamers to reach for "classic" resources - grab an atlas to pair with your almanac.

    1. Unfortunately, I'm not a physicist either, and I live in a desert to boot. The only ice I ever see is on top of concrete, which will hold just about anything in any pattern. I'd be interested in knowing why single file is the trick as well - maybe a gamer from a colder clime can chime in with an answer for us.

  6. I grew up on a fairly large lagoon on a lake up here in Minnesota. Spent a fair amount of the winter running around on the ice, only fell through a couple of times. When a group of people bunch-up on the ice it creates more tension/stress because of the increased weight of those people, and that puts more pressure on the ice in a smaller area, making it fracture sooner rather than later. A physicist might have a fancier explanation, but this is based on direct observation and what I learned in the Boy Scouts.

    Going single-file across lake ice is smart because when/if someone botches their roll and the ice breaks and they go through it, the rest of the group and lie down in a chain, each grabbing the other's hand, and pull the unfortunate member of the party free of the frigid water. If everyone is bunched-up and a really big section of ice gives way...who is going to be able to help any of those splashing around before they drown?

    Getting out of this sort of situation unaided is extremely difficult and takes a great deal of luck. The edge of the broken-open section of ice is already slippery, being ice, but now it's wet with the freezing lake water. Very treacherous stuff. Plus the hypothermia is super bad news. Even if you do get them out...they may well die from hypothermia. Very dangerous stuff. A ten foot pole would actually be a good investment--it might just keep you from falling all the way in and give you something to hang onto in order to climb back out if you did fall through the ice--that'd be one of those instances where having played D&D could potentially save your life.

    Ice is wicked treacherous stuff. It doesn't all freeze evenly, and there are bubbles, weak sections, rotten sections (can appear almost foamy), and it can thaw/refreeze into weird patterns. If there are currents, like from a spring feeding into a lake, the ice gets almost worm eaten in appearance and is really unsound. The old settler accounts regarding how they survived the winters up here are harrowing, but fascinating.


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