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“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort, and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.”  Pope John Paul II

One of the most common things we are encountering today is, according to most any news source, the disintegration of the familial unit.  This is not about hetero- versus homosexual, traditional family versus single parent.  This is about the degradation of the core ideal of family, and of a holiday meant to bring a family closer together and celebrate how strangers helped save colonists.  This about the decay of Thanksgiving.

First, some history.  Sarah Hale was a woman born in New England in the very late Eighteenth century.  She is credited with writing the poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and a seventeen year letter campaign to a total of five Presidents of the United States to establish the National Holiday of Thanksgiving.  Her noted worry was that the industrialization of the nation was causing the destruction of the family as a concept, and she felt that a National Holiday celebrating all the things that people should be thankful for would do the trick.  In 1863, Abraham Lincoln also saw it as a balm to help salve the wounds of the ongoing Civil War, and signed into existence Thanksgiving as said National Holiday.  This means that as of last year, Thanksgiving was in existence as a Holiday for 150 years.

Before I fully launch into this, I want to say one more thing: I wish there was a way for everyone to have this day off.  I realize that the nature of some things, such as emergency services for police, ambulances, hospitals, and the like forbid the idea of getting the day off.  And I am sorry.  But this isn’t about an essential service.  This is about greed.

Macy’s has announced that this year they would open at 6pm on Thanksgiving Day for Holiday shopping.  This has, in turn, prompted competing stores like J.C. Penney, BonTon, Sears, and the like to open then as well.  I want that to sink in for a moment.  They are opening at 6pm, the dinner hour for most families celebrating Thanksgiving.  They are taking the whole idea of the holiday, being thankful for what you already have, and turning it into a chance to engage in absolute avarice and greed, and lust after things you want.  And understand, if these stores are the anchors in a mall, such as the one I work in, it usually triggers a clause in leases that force other, smaller stores to open at the same time.

Let’s get something clear here: I would be just as angry about this were I not a retail worker.  I would, because this is a sign of just what is happening as the years roll by.  That our greed as consumers, because it is just as much our fault as it is the companies, is driving us to completely assault the ideas of this holiday meant to bring family together, and turn it into a chance to drive wedges between us as we all go separate directions during that dinner hour to shop.  Most all of you that are reading this have families.  I want you to think about what this means.

Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, so this is not about one group being excluded because of their religion.  This is not what happens to Jews and Muslims during Christmas.  This is not even about those without families, because friends often invite you over to join in dinner and Thanksgiving with them.  This is out and out about denying what the true meaning of this holiday is about in an effort to do things: sell a bunch of merchandise and make money.  As the opening quote spoke, understand what this means, what it portends, and what it heralds.

                I am very lucky in that I have a coworker and store manager that has volunteered to work the necessary 4pm to 6am shift to open the store and ride it through the initial run.  This is a man that has a wife and kids, and has every right to not do what he is doing.  I have offered to work it for him, and I might still for all I know, but it’s utter ridiculousness that we have to do this at all in this manner.

                And we all know that even those store managers for the bigger stores, who have been told by their corporate overlords that they must, must open at 6pm on Thanksgiving are sacrificing the same thing.  They don’t get to be at home with their families, enjoying the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pie that they should be eating with the warm and satisfying glow of knowing that their loved ones are around them.  The hourly workers that have to punch a clock are being dragged away from their tables to slog through an absolutely bullshit night instead of being at home.

                Again, I wish there was a way for those people in what are considered essential services to be home at the same time.  I do.  I am not going to pull some bullshit line about “you chose the career.”  That’s crap.  Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice.  But this is about a very non-essential service being forced into greed-driven acquiescence to the commands of those who don’t have to get their asses out of their homes that night and work.  The corporate overlords don’t have to leave their family behind and come deal with masses of greedy, grabby masses out to save pennies on the dollar.  They don’t have to be screamed at, or cried at, or clean up the horrendous messes left behind by the tide of humanity.

                If you have a heart, a soul, or even just compassion and regard for your fellow humans who are being strong-armed into going out to work on Thanksgiving, don’t shop.  Don’t even buy a gallon of gasoline.  They will only keep opening up during these deplorable hours as long as people come to shop.  You may not have to work it, but have some empathy.  “Well, let them find a different job, then.”  Don’t say this, because it’s horrendously dehumanizing.  Many of the people that work in this industry don’t necessarily do so because that’s all they want to do with their lives.  Have some compassion.

                Don’t shop on Thanksgiving.  Please.


Where do I begin?

I was a part of the public playtest, and, towards the end, I became very skeptical of the outcome of D&D Next. The part of gamers that was working with me up at SRU to test out the regular updates and changes agreed with me: it was just missing something. It didn’t feel right, and what’s worse, at more than a couple turns, it felt worse than fourth edition.

That’s really saying something. Towards the end, Fourth suffered from power bloat, redundancy after redundancy, and it had all the style of ruled loose-leaf composition paper. I was worried; yes, we have Pathfinder, but D&D was the first game I ever played, the old BECMI set. (That’s an acronym that stands for Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal, referring to the Basic D&D boxed sets from the Eighties.) It was disheartening to me to think that it was likely dying before my eyes.

For the past year, I have watched, cautiously, as more and more was leaked out about the new edition being finalized. I watched Google Hangouts with Mike Mearls and others with mounting skepticism. Cautious Optimism was the catchphrase, emphasis on the Cautious.
I have now had a chance to look at the Player’s Handbook for a few days, pulling it apart like a finely smoked pork shoulder, examining every strand of meat. I dug down in to the bones, poking and prodding.

And I’ve come to a conclusion:

They did it. They saved the game.

I will go into details in a moment, but bear with me on this. I am not saying it’s the finest iteration of the game, nor am I saying it’s perfect. But it is a good game.

I am going to flat out say this right now: the price tag pisses me off.
Yes, I know the Pathfinder Core Rulebook is fifty bucks. I know the new Shadowrun Core Rulebook is sixty bucks. But, with those two, you get absolutely everything you need to run the game, player and gamemaster alike. It’s a bit of sticker shock to get hit with fifty bucks for the Player’s Handbook. Now, I weaseled out of that by working for a bookstore and having a lovely little employee discount, but the average gamer doesn’t have that opportunity.

But once you crack open the book, the artwork alone is a good example of what you are in for. And now, without further ado, I will go through, bit by bit, and talk about what works and doesn’t.

Character Creation: Ability Scores.

They advocate a number of different methods for making characters, including a starting array of scores, (instead of my personal favorite method, which is rolling for them) that includes an 8. This means that at least one score is giving you a penalty, unless you utilize an attribute bonus to level that out. I like that; it encourages players to embrace the idea that you don’t have to be good at everything. They still stick with the standard set in 3.X of pairs of numbers giving escalating bonuses to anything related to that score.

Character Races.

The Big Four are your standard races: Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans. They uphold the old standards well, and go into detail for each about all of the various major campaign settings and how they fit in, from Dragonlance’s Silvanesti High Elves, to Eberron’s tribal Halflings. The inclusion of subraces for options does a good job, so far, of allowing for more customization. Yes, even the much derided Drow are there, but done very well, in my opinion.

Uncommon Races are included as well, such as Gnomes, Dragonborn, Half-Elves, and Tieflings. Gnomes and Half-Elves are well done, but I was never a big fan of either the Dragonborn or the Tieflings, as they are ported over almost directly from Fourth Edition. I hated the appearance unification to Tieflings, and thought that the Dragonborn were flat out fan-service. But, they aren’t out to just impress me, and let’s face it, you don’t have to use everything in the book.
Character Classes.

These impress me immensely. The inclusion of the new Proficiency bonus system, instead of Base Attack Bonus and the like, feels a lot better. Your class dictates what armor, weapons, toolsets, saving throws (more on that later), and skills you are proficient in, and may benefit from that bonus. In addition, your Background (more on that later as well) can add to this list.

Instead of flat out buying your gear, you have a number of options to pick from for starting weapons, armor, and gear. Backgrounds can add to this as well, just like Proficiencies.

The abilities granted by classes are finally tamed a bit. There is nothing outrageous, per se. Many of it could be abused at a table by a dickish player, but every game has that. For example, standard Barbarian Rage now just adds a bonus to damage, gives Advantage on Strength based skills and checks, etc., instead of coming with an arcane and almost trigonometric set of augmentations.

The classes have long-term balance. Survivability is still an issue for many characters at low levels, but if you ask me, that is as it should be. In the long run, classes balance well. Fighters have various “traditions” to choose from, including the Battle Master that utilizes Superiority Dice, much like the Maneuver dice in one iteration of the playtest that I thought was a spectacular idea, as well as Maneuvers fueled by the Superiority dice. You get the dice back after at least a one hour rest, meaning that in many situations, you aren’t just saying, “I swing at the orc… again” in every combat, round after round.

I do foresee one problem with this, and that is what I term “lazy boring player.” So many people will think that unless you have a power, ability, or spell that says, specifically, that you can do something, you can’t. And frankly, if you stick with that kind of mentality, whether you are a player or a DM, you are missing out on the fun of the game.

Anyway, back to the point. The classes are done very well, from the Domains of the Clerics, to the way Wild Shape now works for Druids, to the nature of Sorcerous magic. You get a feel for who you are as a Cleric, Bard, Ranger, etc., instead of just getting an idea of what part you are to play in the tactics part of the game. At one point, I was a serious proponent of the way Fourth Edition freed up space in characters for individual roleplaying, but then I got to see what it turned into at the table, and realized just how crappy many of the roleplayers can be.

Saving throws are now based on your Abilities. Need to avoid being paralyzed? Your DM may tell you to make a Strength saving throw. You roll a d20, add your Strength modifier, and if you are a class that is proficient in Strength saving throws, your proficiency bonus. Oh, did I mention that proficiency bonuses increase with level? Yeah, they do.

This is a great addition to the game. Reminiscent of the Kits of second edition AD&D, they serve to augment your character, adding another dimension to him or her. Sure, you get a couple more skill proficiencies, maybe a tool proficiency, and some gear, but you also get depth. The Backgrounds help you choose some things like personality quirks, bonds, and even flaws to help build a good three dimensional character. You want to make a War Wizard, take the Soldier background with your Wizard, and make things happen. Want your Ranger to be a Falconer from a great and powerful family? Take the Noble background and play it up!

Combat and Resolution.

First of all, the Advantage/Disadvantage is fun. Oh, you’re in a situation that gives you the drop on a foe, or puts you in a position of power? You get to roll two d20s and take the better result. Five minutes later you find yourself in a situation that has you (hopefully metaphorically) bent over a barrel? Now you are at a Disadvantage, and you roll two d20s again, but this time you have to take the lower roll. It’s not necessarily going to absolutely ruin your chances, but it doesn’t help.

Combat itself is amazingly streamlined, and no longer relies on miniatures and maps to work. You can go back to winging it, or you can use your minis, your choice. I, myself, prefer to wing it. I like the internal mental envisioning part of the game.

Skill and Ability checks are still faced against a DC, and the system encourages non-roll resolution of the simpler things, preserving the narrative flow of the game.

Vancian magic, kind of, is back. Yes, you still memorize spells, and you are limited to what you can prepare in a day, but now you slot them into spell slots of varying levels in order to cast them, giving a spin of personal energies being used. As well, when you use a higher level slot to cast the spell, you get an increased effect. And here’s something else: a couple of classes get a chance to regain some of those expended spell slots when they take at least a one hour rest, meaning you’re no longer just a one trick pony at lower levels. Oh, and they followed Pathfinder’s lead and you can now cast your prepared Cantrips as many times a day as you like.

Bound all together, this makes a game that I actually really want to both play and run. I have made about five characters to get a feel for the generation process, and I am impressed with how it flows. Sometimes it is a very difficult decision to make regarding class and background, or what you want to specialize in. I get the feeling we’ll see more options coming out for the various classes, and more background, especially setting-specific ones. Until then, it is easy enough to make your own to fit your home campaign.

Pick it up, or even just the Free Basic Rules (available here: and give it a spin. Well worth it.

What do you think?

When it comes to making new characters for gaming, there are a lot of processes a player goes through before pencil touches character sheet, or dice clatter to table.  It’s not that it’s necessarily a laborious process, but most players grow concerned about what they are going to play and how, if at all, that character is going to fit into the table dynamic.  When this is what is called a “shared world,” such as Living Forgotten Realms, Shadowrun Missions, etc., it becomes even worse.  After all, when it’s your friends at the table, it’s easier to know what will work and what won’t.  When there are a crap ton of other variables, including players you have never met before and may never get a chance to make a good impression upon again, the stakes are higher.

Let me let you in on a little secret: None of that matters.  The party needs a cleric?  It’s just as incumbent upon every other player at the table to consider playing one.  You think your barbarian warrior is going to be a little rough around the edges, and not very personable from the beginning?  So freaking what?  You think no one will like you if you don’t play a good little soldier that follows every order barked at him or her?  Tough crap.  Play the character you want to play.  Now, don’t intentionally dick over other players (I’ve said that before), but make the character you want to play that still fits the setting.  After all, a Sherlock Holmesian inquisitor is not going to work well in a setting built around sheer survival.  A brutish warrior known for breaking tables and NPCs isn’t going to work well in a setting that is based on courtly intrigue.  Then again, I could be wrong.  The points here come down to two simple ideas:

  1. Are you designing the character just to screw another player or players?
  2. Can you make your design work in the game?

There you have it.  It really is that simple.

You see, everyone spends all their time worrying about impressing others and playing instantly personable characters.  Here’s the killer truth though: not every PC is going to be some shining-toothed goody two-shoes.  Raistlin Majere?  Conan the Cimmerian?  Solomon Kane?  Harry Dresden?  Anita Blake? (I kinda threw up a little in my mouth there, but it’s still a relevant point)  The list goes on and on.  Hell, even Quasimodo the Hunchback.

It’s not about the personality of the character; it’s about your personality as a player.  You can play an aloof and divorced character in a game and still do it with panache and style.  You can make people enjoy being in a party with just such a character without being an insufferable suck up.  The loud and boisterous barbarian who comes to respect the fighter in the party after getting into a fistfight with him; the slightly overconfident mage who grudgingly admits his need of the others, and his constant silent support of them; even the sneaky rogue who cheats at dice with the other players, but is the first to slip a dagger between the ribs of a threat she gets the drop on.  All of these are characters that, by all conventional thought should be hated, but most often aren’t.

You see, the character works as an extension of yourself, and if you consciously paralyze your creativity, you are going to paralyze yourself.  As I said, this is discounting the impulse to play a character that exists only to dick over others, or attention whore.  But playing a character renowned for being a bit of a prick, yet very dedicated to the group he is with is not an issue.  Backstabbing, betrayal, the like… they all belong as ploys used against the bad guys.  Egotism, self-centeredness, and flat-out asshole gloryhounding are not a part of the cooperative game experience.

But tell the story you want to tell.  If you want to play a character that is not fond of divine spellcasters, but respects them enough not to outright attack them on sight, go for it.  If you want to play an arcane spellcaster who sees melee fighters as little more than cavemen with sharpened sticks, go ahead.  But when that Cro Magnon saves your ass a couple times with his “sharpened stick,” you had best acknowledge some skills.

Once again, it comes down to grace on the part of you, the player.

What do you think?

There is a certain joy you feel when you reunite with an old group of friends after months or years of absence.  And, if it is a particularly solid group of friends, it will seem like nothing has changed and no time has passed at all of note.

When this occurs around a gaming table, it is particularly poignant for the group.  Add in the factor of playing characters that have not adventured together in that time, and a sense of nostalgia overpowers even the great nostalgia from just the friendships.  There is a weight of shared adventures and exploits that, while not truly more powerful than those of the real world, are as if Jason and the crew of the Argos reunited.    It’s a delightful weight that doesn’t encumber like a millstone, but supports, like a solid foundation built on bedrock.

This past weekend, I returned to the COSWorld game setting from my local Gaming Guild (Circle of Swords, for those of you interested).  And what’s more, I was able to return not only to play as a new character in the new iteration of the world using the Pathfinder system, but I was able to update an old character and have him return to the active world of the adventure again.  Luth Stormwind strode the world once more, turning his mind to the pursuit of the righteous path and the pursuit of knowledge.

Now, I suppose I ought to provide some background here.  COSWorld is the shared world, much like Living Forgotten Realms, Shadowrun Missions, and some older shared worlds in which players can take part in the constantly developing events of the world and help shape it.  In essence, they can sit at a table where multiple other players, some they know, some they don’t, are working with them.  Since this group is not overly massive (at most, about twenty active players, max, at any one given time), we still get to know one another, and a dynamic forms.

The world was once known as Kysie, and survived through the Second and Third/3.5 editions of the D&D games.  I started playing as Luth in about 2002, and played him through 2008, periodically, as I gradually took over greater reins in DMing, and then Admining, along with my friends, the world itself.  Soon, though, life started keeping me away from when and where I needed to be, and I turned over the reins to my friend Steve.

Luth started as a wizard, venturing alongside his friends Angdor the outcast dwarven fighter, Kiara the statuesque elven sorcerer/ranger, and Jonathan the devout human cleric of the lord of battle.  There are tons of tales I can tell about the adventures, from the ruined knighting celebration of Sir Turlogh, to the now-infamous “dart-in-your-neck” story, and beyond.  If you catch me in a good mood some time, and offer to buy me a drink, I may just share them with you.

We helped shape the world, and were shaped by the world, becoming iconic adventurers in the world, along with the lord Armand (a wonderful fencer and boon companion), and so many others.  We worked towards making Kysie a better place, and told grand tales in the process.

And then Kysie changed forever.

A comet plummeted towards the world, its source unknown.  We gathered one last time in Dweomerheart, the name for Luth’s manor in the town of Deepwood.  We came together and did all we could, sending ourselves to vast and different parts of the world, gathering all who would listen to us, and finding a way to survive the coming holocaust.  Luth gathered what he could carry from his home.  One of his friends, Angdor, had died recently defending a remote dwarven outpost.  With a heavy heart, he magically locked the doors to Dweomerheart, doors that could only be unlocked by six others with the right key.  And off he went, along with Kiara, Jonathan, and others to try and save what he could of the world.

During this module, I actually had moments of tears in my eyes, so immersed was I in character.  I remember looking at my friend who plays Kiara, trying not to break down, and saying, “How do you say goodbye to home?”  I was constantly on the brink of leaving the key magical item for everyone’s survival in Kiara and Jonathan’s capable hands, and staying behind to save who all I could from the comet.  To me, in part, it was fitting for Luth.  Though insanely intelligent, he nevertheless always took the risks to do what he hoped was the right thing.  But when I turned to Kiara’s player at the table, I felt inside that even Luth couldn’t do that.  People depended on him here and now.

So, Luth left his home behind to be destroyed, trusting in the goddess of Magic who he had always served faithfully.  At the end of the module, Luth sequestered himself in his new tower, given to him by Sir Turlogh.  He was going to find a way to bring his home back, to return Dweomerheart.  I did this at the time because I was entering a stage in my life where my attendance at the conventions and game days I loved was becoming spotty.  It was time to take a sabbatical from this setting and drift a bit.

Fast forward to this past weekend.

Sitting at the Epic Level (Epic for COSWorld is level ten or so, given the nature of the beast) module for COSWorld, I was able to once more step into the boots of Luth Stormwind and adventure once more.  It was glorious.  Luth’s character is one I adored playing so much that it was second nature for me to slip into playing him once more.  The cerebral mage, known for refusing to use fire magic (“it’s inelegant and brutish; only the simplest of mages would resort to such a thing.  I prefer the power of the storm, thank you.”) was once more a part of the unfolding events of the world Caladonia (the name for the world we ended up in, 500 years in the future), and the return of a villainous old foe we had worked to oppose frequently in the old world.  Apparently, my friend who runs the world decided he would make this module just because I decided to return to COSWorld.  I feel honored.  Honestly, I really do.

But more than that… It was fun.

I bought a new set of a dozen six-sided dice just for spell damage (yes, I get to roll that many dice sometimes.  I told you, Luth is freaking awesome in the true sense of the word).  I was faced with a situation where my evocation spells, powerful dweomers of lightning, thunder, and force were ineffective.  I proved my utility by still being able to utilize spells that bolstered my companions’ abilities, making them more effective at combat.  I had a chance to teach a spellcaster of the new world a new spell Luth brought with him from the old world.  I sent a message to a mighty foe from old that some still stood against him.  And I got a chance, for one evening in game, to return to Dweomerheart, which is now the retreat of the gods and goddesses themselves.  It was what I, and Luth, needed.  The storm was reinvigorated, and my return was well worth every dime I spent on the weekend, even if I had done nothing else.  Had I not sat at a single other table, not rolled another die the rest of the weekend, that evening, that module, those friends… it was all worth it.

Don’t turn down a chance at that nostalgia.  If you get a chance to revisit something old and left behind with a group of gaming friends, take it.  Don’t even think for a spare moment; just freaking do it.  There are new stories to be told, new treasures to be won, and old tales to tell around an imaginary table in the game, passing ale and wine, eating good food from a magical table, and remembering old glories.

Just like in life, there are things out there that are good for the soul.  And old friends are one of them.

Share your stories here as comments, or just let me know what you think.


P.P.S. – Included is a swiped and recolored picture I use for Luth.

My 12th level wizard (Pathfinder), Luth Stormwind

My 12th level wizard (Pathfinder), Luth Stormwind


I have tried, numerous times, to get roleplaying started on chat systems with other RPers, and have, without failure, always found that it sucks.  I spend hours and hours trying to get something rolling, to prompt the players to move forward and craft storylines that are memorable and enjoyable.  But inevitably, it always goes the same way…

They sit around, bullshit, and accomplish all of squat.

And I mean jack damn squat.

These people take the time to make a character, get into the chat, and all they want to do is sit in the bar chats and act like a bunch of drunks just trying to find a warm body for the night.  They provide no storylines with any achievable or recognizable goal, and no one is willing to take the time to be a villain for everyone else to target.  In short, they do nothing.

Inevitably, the men are all perfectly sculpted creations with no appreciable flaws, all confident and trained in martial arts, and can kick the hell out of anyone else.  The women are all models who have no problems with maintaining their beauty, or struggling with identity.  And always they all never worry about money; they could buy the drinks for the whole bar and never even dent their bank accounts.  In short, they play shit characters with no chance for failure.

They also never create any storylines outside of their own little dramas that exist between characters.  Their stories exist around who is sleeping with whom, why is this person taking self-defense lessons, betraying each other by sleeping with another person, and all the things that make afternoon soap operas the worst programming on television outside of reality TV, which it also resembles in many cases.

What it comes down to is that these people are not interested in telling stories that most roleplaying games encourage, full of adventure, risk, and true plot.  Someone, since it takes place in a chat system, has to be willing to play the villain and lose in the end.  And it should change from player to player, each one taking on a temporary persona to present the antagonism needed for true motion in a plot.  There has to be the occasional combat, even if it is just a drunken brawl outside of the usual bar or tavern.

Any tabletop system can actually be used with great ease in a chat system.  Almost all chat systems have dice-rolling programs integrated and the use of them does not appreciably intrude in the chat of the channel.  What’s more, simple dice resolution systems are easily created and implemented if no one system will do.  Dice adds the important role of Fate into the game, simulating the teeter-totter of life tipping first one way then the other.

There is an old adage that if your life is going well, don’t bother writing.  It’s all about conflict, and just telling the stories about conflict that just deal with broken love affairs and desperate men and women looking for Mister or Miss Right Now.  The conflicts of roleplaying are less Driving Miss Daisy and more Gone in 60 Seconds.  Even highly political games like Vampire (both the Masquerade and Requiem incarnations) contain their fair share of altercations and action-packed sequences.

In order to make it work in a chat room, there are a few items that have to be contemplated:

  1. Who is the bad guy?  I know a lot of systems try to get nebulous as to who the villain is, but the primary antagonist needs to be identified.  Whoever decides to take on the role of the antagonist in the chat must be willing to play a character who should, in the end, fall.  Whether the antagonist falls prey to his or her pride, flaws, or the efforts of the rest of the involved players directly, they have to be willing to provide that service.
  2. There is no need for a GM/DM/ST.  The players keep things fair among themselves.  All agree to play by the rules that have been determined.  That’s the wonderful and potentially dangerous part of roleplaying games in this venue; it really has to be cooperative.  By default, the person really responsible for engineering the overall skeleton of the plot should ideally play the antagonist.
  3. Keeping track of minor NPCs and the rank-and-file cannon fodder is a community effort.  Narrating the combats and interactions between PCs and these characters should, ideally, by adjudicated by the antagonist player.  Remember, though, it’s a community effort.
  4. How will the events of the storyline affect all involved?  If the antagonist doesn’t die at the end, what happens to him?  Is there a chance he could resurface later?  How will the vents impact the other players?  Will the one character that was viciously, physically beaten by the thugs of the antagonist have a change in personality because of it?

Unless someone continually likes to play the bad guy, players should trade off the duty for playing the antagonist in the stories.  This way, everyone gets a chance to really participate in appreciable ways.  The same goes for NPCing.  Many chat systems allow for multiple identities to be played by one person through multiple windows.

Through these efforts, real and involved storylines that go beyond the soap opera norm can be brought into the chat.  There should always be downtime where the players just interact socially, but there also needs to be action and movement.  The peaks and valleys of action read like a heart monitor, and when it all goes flat, the life is gone.

Get out the paddles!

As always, what do you think?

In 1995, Stewart Wieck published a game using the White Wolf Studios Storyteller System called Mage: The Ascension.  It had grown, partially, out of an earlier game called Ars Magica, and was based around the idea of actual magic-using characters in a gritty, modern-era world.  The crux of the conflict was the struggle between the Technocracy, who believed that magic would only damn the earth (even though they used it as well), and the Traditions, who believed that the freedom of mankind to have imagination and power over their world was best.  The Technocracy was waging war on the Traditions, all while mages driven mad by magic’s touch (Marauders) and those driven to try and destroy all of Creation (Nephandi) ate away at the roots of the world like some thaumaturgical Nidhoggr. (If you don’t get the reference, look it up)

This was, without a doubt, the most complex of all the Storyteller systems.  Not only did you have to create a character, but you had to create for them a belief system on how and why magic worked.  You had to design the very paradigm by which they could alter reality.  This wasn’t D&D where you just picked a spell list and worked with it; oh no, you had to do a lot of spell casting on the fly, with a lot of adjudication from your Storyteller.  This was not gaming for the casually minded, which is one of the things that drew me to it as my favorite of all the Storyteller systems.  I dabbled in Werewolf and Vampire, and to a lesser extent, the other titles.  But it was Mage that really caught me.  The Nine Traditions (plus the Hollow Ones, the red-headed stepchildren of the Traditions) were great carte-blanche examples of real-world mystical belief systems.  They were perfect, blank archetypes ripe for the embellishment.

After deciding to end the current metaplot in 2005, White Wolf moved to reinvent all of the settings they had into something new.  Mage: The Awakening was released in 2005, ten years after the original was released.  It was a whole new idea, with the Mages now being inheritors of Atlantis.  No world-wide struggle between two factions, no amazing wonders that the world could have.  Just more of a whimper.

This is not to say that I hate the new system; on the contrary, I love some aspects of it, which I will detail shortly.  What I didn’t like was the new flavor.  It was like going from a five mile long, all-you-can-eat buffet of every possible ethnic cuisine that exists, to a four dish mini-buffet of French fries, pizza, egg rolls, and steamed rice.  But, I like steamed rice, you say.  That’s fine and good, but don’t you want the options?

I loved the addition of a morality system for Mages.  It was something I always thought they lacked; after all, didn’t they stand to lose their humanity just as much as the vampires did?  Of course they did call it Wisdom, which to me is not really that smart.  Why not just call it humanity?  I mean, Mages are just supposed to be the pinnacle of human potential.  I liked the more succinct delineations of what each level of a Sphere could do, as well as the division of Entropy into Death and Fate.

But one of the things I didn’t like was the renaming of Arete to be Gnosis.  Now, Arete is a Greek term referring to excellence.  Arete was a quality you had that made you a leader, a paragon.  Gnosis, also a Greek term, refers to wisdom.  (Wait, they had two Wisdom traits?  Yes they did…) Not all Mages where wise when they excelled at magic, but they all did excel as that trait increased.

One of the other things I hated was replacing Quintessence with Mana.  Crap.  Absolute crap to pander to the video game crowd.  They shucked Paradox right out the window in favor of an unnamed system of retribution for Vulgar magic.  Also, only the Atlantean paradigm of magic was established as true.  There was no more room for the role-playing possibilities of an aboriginal shaman arguing with an urban techno-wizard over the finer points of True Names.  It was gone, gone.

I also don’t care for Merit system replacing Backgrounds.  In the old setting, Backgrounds were ranked concepts that could offer you a benefit as well as work as story devices.  Backgrounds such as Arcane shielded you from casual notice, and Avatar rated how strong the magical spirit was inside of you.  But those were replaced by Merits, which were a bastardization of the old Backgrounds and the old Merits from the Merits & Flaws system.  Now the old Merits & Flaws system was meant to be small tweaks to characters that either offered them a benefit and cost them Character Points (Merits), or offered them a difficulty and gave them Character Points (Flaws).  When watched over by a Storyteller worth his salt, these systems worked well.  But, they left them in the dust.

And, as much as I like the idea of the Virtues and Vices (yes, you pick a cardinal virtue and a cardinal sin as the opposing forces of the character’s personality), I really feel it lacks that power of the original Nature and Demeanor system.  Natures and Demeanors, in the original Mage game, were personality tendencies.  Your Nature was the personality tendency that that you were at your core; Demeanor was the personality tendency that you showed to the world.  They could be the same, but playing them as different allowed the player to create a personal tension that had less to do with morality and more to do with personal peccadilloes.

But there is something else they did right: they cleaned up the mechanic.  In the Old World of Darkness (OWoD), there were two variables to overcome: the difficulty of the roll (standard 6, but could vary), and the number of successes you had to achieve.  This could be a bitchy prospect at the table when many different circumstances came into play.  In the New World of Darkness (NWoD), they set a static difficulty of 8 for all rolls, and only your dice pool would vary.  You compared your success to either a static number based on the task, or on your opponent’s pool of successes.  Margins of success detailed certain effects.  Blam, done.  (side note: I do not like the NWoD format of rote spells as being dice pools based on Gnosis + an Attribute + a Skill.)  But their mechanic was cleaner, and it worked well.

What I see as happening in the near future is my own mash-up of the new basic resolution mechanic with the old flavor and minor mechanics to create a hybrid that works best for all.  I don’t know how soon I will have this done, but I am aching to do it.  I also find myself nostalgic for playing the game again.  I really do; I miss that kind of role-playing dearly.

What do you think?

18 February 2012 – “This morning, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing titled ‘Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?’ The topic, as you might guess, is the recent administration decision to mandate birth control coverage.

As you might not guess, the first panel of witnesses doesn’t include a single woman. The five-person, all-male panel consists of a Roman Catholic Bishop, a Lutheran Reverend, a rabbi and two professors.

Democrats on the panel were told they were allowed only one witness. They selected a young female Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, who was going to discuss about the repercussions of losing contraceptive coverage. But Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman, rejected her as ‘not qualified.’”

This comes from a news article posted on the website for The Nation magazine,  My first issue with this, not the primary, but first, is that the Republicans were allowed to pad their line-up with as many witnesses as they want, allowing their opposition to have one.  On top of it, they kicked her out for not being “qualified.”    I’ll let that slide for now.  For now.

My second issue is with their argument regarding this trampling the Freedom of Religion.  The last I knew, this freedom applied to citizens of the United States to practice their own faith as they wished without fear of persecution.  Using logic, this means that any person who consciously objected to birth control for religious reasons would not be forced to go onto birth control.  It does not mean that the religious edifices get to play policy-maker.  They are being told they have to offer it; no one is telling the Catholics, and Jews, and Lutherans, or anyone else that they HAVE to take birth control.  They do, however, have to offer it.

Their stance is that it goes against their moral edicts.  That’s fine, but churches and temples had already been exempted from this; it is now being debated as it applies to religious-run organizations like Catholic schools, hospitals, and the like.  There is no question in my mind: you have to offer it.  You have more than just Catholics, or just Jews, or just Lutherans, ad nauseum, working for you who may not object to it they way you do.  And you are taking them from their right to choose.  This makes you the oppressor.

There was a comment made by Bishop William E. Lori of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that this ruling would be comparable with a ruling that would mandate kosher delicatessens to serve pork.  Not only is this terrible logic, it also isn’t even relevant.  Comparing the consumption of a food to a medical compound that many women depend on just to function thanks to horrible menstrual cycles is stupid.  Plain stupid.  What is being discussed here is the requirement of contraception being offered, not the forced intake of contraception.  Again, freedom to practice religion, not freedom to have religion dictate policy.

One of the things desired when the new nation was formed was a relief from theocracy, that is, the rule of religion over governmental decisions.  This would come to be called the Separation of Church and State.  It was also enacted so that no Governmental body could dictate the edicts of religions.  This legislation regarding health care in no way states that the religions must accept it as a new doctrine in their church.  It does, however, require that they offer it to employees of religion-sponsored secular organizations and businesses.  They are still free to admonish the use of contraceptives and to reject it, but they must offer it.  The churches seem to forget that many people that may work for them may not share their sentiments.  They also seem to forget all too quickly that in many cases, their own followers strenuously disagree with their edicts.

Many women need birth control for a number of reasons: prevention of ovarian and endometrial cancer menstrual and pre-menstrual symptom relief (migraines, sometimes crippling, cramps, etc.), endometriosis relief, polycystic ovarian syndrome relief.  Every one of these is a serious medical issue that can be prevented, alleviate, or avoided by contraceptive use.  I know of one woman who, if she did not take her birth control regularly, experiences migraines so bad that she must take a heavy narcotic in order to function in any way.  And functioning on a heavy narcotic is not functioning at all.

These men want to take that option away from women that are employed by them, or even from women MARRIED TO MEN WHO ARE EMPLOYED BY THEM because they feel that contraceptives are morally wrong.  They exist only to allow us to copulate like bunnies without responsibility for our actions.  Well, let me say this: if you were doing your job as a moral authority, and teaching your lessons in accessible ways, you wouldn’t have to worry about that, would you?

No, it isn’t acceptable, and I won’t stand for it.  Hell, I’m a man and I find this horribly offensive.  Who’s with me?

I know I have been silent for a rather long time, but the semester ended up taking a lot of my attention towards the end.   But, with the most recent announcements of WotC about the work on the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons, I find myself torn.  Fourth ed worked alright, but I am very worried about the general downward trend Hasbro/WotC is taking with their roleplaying games.   I have signed up to be a playtester for the new edition, and hope to make some kind of decent impact on the new iteration of the game.

In pursuit of this, I have been watching the developer blogs closely.  I came up with this one this afternoon:

Monte Cook, one of my favorite damned game designers of all time, takes a very short amount of time and text to deal with something I do find problematic: Should a flavor factoid for a race, or of any kind for that matter, provide a game mechanic bonus?  The example given by Cook is how dwarves favor axes and elves favor bows.  Should they necessarily receive a mechanical bonus to attack just because they are the stereotypical weapons for the race?

My answer to this is a firm No.  Think about it: just because a race favors a weapon over others doesn’t mean they all attack better with them.  In addition, rulesets like this create a problem.  I call it the No Child Left Behind Effect.

Follow me on this.

When No Child Left Behind came around, it was discovered that teachers were told by administrators to teach the test materials in an effort to secure greater funding for the schools.  In essence, they stopped teaching comprehension and began teaching rote memorization.  All for a bonus.

Now, when you tell players that al dwarves gain a +1 to attack with all weapons considered axes, you are, in essence, telling them that if they play a dwarf, they better use an axe.  After all, to do otherwise is to miss out on a mechanical loophole that makes you a better warrior.  This causes players to, at least 19 out of 20 times, follow the stereotype in order to min/max their character.  You are encouraging a decrease in creativity instead of offering chances for your players to break out of Tolkienian molds in order to blaze new trails and ideas.

One of the things I alternately offered was called a Proficiency Downgrade; certain races treated certain weapons as being one category lower for proficiency purposes.  Dwarves would treat Axes as part of this, meaning that in Fourth Edition, an Urgosh, normally a Superior Weapon, would be treated as a Martial Weapon for proficiency purposes.  By the same token, a battle axe would be treated as a Simple Weapon instead of a Martial Weapon.  This shows that the Axe is a weapon favored by dwarves, but mechanically speaking, there is no bonus to attack or damage offered.    Sure, many players will opt into Axes still, but it dramatically decreases that amount.

Personally, if I wouldn’t face absolute rebellion by doing so, they would be a simple thematic element.  Dwarves like axes; big deal.  Most dwarves you run into will use them, but not necessarily every PC.

What do you think?

I literally just got done reading Neverwinter, and I have to say… I really can’t wait for Dahlia to go away.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like how it is giving Drizzt some new gut-checks on his stances regarding a number of things, but he is still finding that his instincts are serving him well.  While she is doing some small damage to him, making him question at odd moments, she is not shaking him to the core.

What I will say, in a positive tone, is that the meeting of Artemis Entreri and Drizzt again after so many decades is well worth the read.  There is a point just after Drizzt encounters Entreri that he wonders if it isn’t just a part of him wishing for times long past.  And right there is the hardest crux of this.

You see, Salvatore’s writing has changed.  Or rather, the tone of the Drizzt novels as Salvatore writes them has changed.  There is a darker edge than ever before, and an increased attention to sexuality throughout the book.  It was only hinted that Drizzt’s last night with his catatonic wife, Catti-brie, was engaged in sex.  In this book, it is out and out stated that Drizzt sleeps with Dahlia.  In addition there are scenes involving the villainess Sylora Salm, her champion Jestry, and a succubus having a tryst, the hint of what happened to a captive Entreri took in a battle at the hands of Alegni, and even a violent threat of emasculation.

None of this is tawdry; Salvatore hasn’t turned into even a softcore porn writer.  But he has introduced those darker and more lascivious elements to his writing.  I don’t have too much of a problem with it other than this: it shows a fundamental shift in what is expected of authors, especially those associated with Dungeons & Dragons.

When Salvatore started, they were great books of high adventure, fun, sweeping grandeur and the same feel you would get from reading the classics of fantasy.  But now, it feels grimmer, grittier, more disposed to the seedier and darker elements.  And I don’t know if I like that.  Drizzt to me was always a hero, the kind of stand-up guy you quietly hoped you would be like, or your kids would emulate.  But now… it’s stained.  And that worries me.

There are some good inside jokes in there, including a lovely joke about World of Warcraft imps and the actions they take as you sit idly.  There is still Drizzt struggling against darkness, this time as much in the bad guys as his new lover (oh how I railed against that little fact coming out).  But there is also the sense that something has changed.  And I don’t really know if it’s a good thing.

I am not saying that Salvatore is an amazing writer, nor am I saying that this should be the barometer by which all other fantasy literature is measured.  But I am saying that it’s the first I noticed of the shifting trends in fantasy.  And again, I really don’t know if I like it all that much when it comes to some of these heroes.

Still, read the book.  It has great moments, Salvatore’s almost trademark fight scenes, and the great monologues by Drizzt preceding every section of the book.  It does not disappoint, overall.

What do you think?

I swore up and down when I had to sell the Sony eReader back in my days at Borders that I would never, ever get one of them.  They heralded a movement away from my beloved books and magazines.  It was horrible, I thought then, that they would try to replace print media.  There’s a lesson here, folks.

Never make an ultimate; fate (or God, or Allah, or what-have-you) WILL make you eat your words.

This summer, I was perusing my booklist for classes this fall, and a couple of my professors, both men whose opinion I value very highly, suggested to me that I purchase some sort of eReader device, as it would be a powerful asset to me in both schooling and my proposed eventual career of teaching.  I took myself to the esteemed internet, did some research, polled some friends, and came down to purchasing the Kindle from Amazon.

Now, I have to tell you, this entire time I was waging a war with myself internally.  I felt like I was selling out.  I was giving in; I should just stamp a corporate logo on my forehead and collect my thirty pieces of silver.  At the same time, the eight-year-old still trapped in my psyche maniacally jumped up and down and rubbed his palms together, gleefully cackling, “oh boy, new toy” over and over.

I had looked over the Nook. Kobo, Sony eReader, and Kindle over the course of three days.  I carefully perused online sentiments outside of the vendor websites, and I looked at the bells and whistles of each.  I would be damned if I was going to just up and buy one of these things, only to find out that I had made the worst choice I could.  In the end, it was the Kindle, as I stated above, that won me over.

Here’s why:

  1. It wasn’t a touchscreen model.  I hate touchscreens.  I have large fingers that tend to be very warm, which makes operating a touchscreen a lot like trying to pick a lock with a butter knife.  It can be done, but it ain’t pretty.  The actual keypad, set up like a keyboard, is easily operated, and far enough out of the way that it is rarely bumped.  The side keys for page-turning are easily accessible and make about zero noise.
  2. It wasn’t a color model.  This may seem trivial, but I don’t give a damn.  I am going to be using the device to read print, not peruse art.  If that is what I was going for, I would have been looking harder at tablet PCs.  I can sit in full, direct sunlight and see my Kindle screen perfectly.  The technology used for the screen prevents LCD glare in light, and actually is easy on the eyes, as it does not use stark white for a background.  It really is just like reading the page of a book.
  3. The built-in OED.  That’s correct; each Kindle comes with a built-in Oxford English Dictionary.  All you do is use the directional pad to position the cursor at the beginning of a word, and it pops up a brief definition that you can expand with a single button push.  One button push later and you are back where you left off.
  4. Highlight and notation functions.  I know other eReader devices have them, but I found more positive reviews of the Kindle system than the others.  Now that I have it, I have to agree that it is a simplistic and straight-forward system that I like immensely.  I have used it a couple times already for some texts, and it is a very nice utility.
  5. Security.  Amazon keeps a record of all your purchases for your Kindle online so that if you lose it, you upgrade to a new model, or you have a catastrophic system loss,  you do not have to repurchase all  your books over again.  This is a great boon.  I now know that if I accidentally lose my copy of Small Favor by Jim butcher, it is only a couple of clicks away.
  6. Compatibility.  The Kindle reads almost all of the files used for eReaders.  It has a small problem with .PDF files, and it cannot read the independent .EPUB file, but the good news is that a free program, named Calibre, can transform those into .MOBI files, which the Kindle has no problem with whatsoever.  Which brings me to…
  7. I can port my own files over to the Kindle with minimal hassle.  I can do this wirelessly, if I wish.  You get at least one email address for your Kindle, which works with its 3G service.  Using the 3G costs you money, I believe about $.15 per MB.  However, if you get the wireless-enabled model, you get a second address that is completely free to transmit files through to your Kindle.  This brings me to…
  8. I can put my own generated files on my Kindle.  Using Microsoft Word, I can make up my own documents, such as notes, individual works, lecture notes, etc. and put them on my Kindle.  Just save them as a .PDF, use Calibre to convert them to a .MOBI, and voila, I have what I need on my Kindle.  If I save these to a cloud drive online, in a matter of moments, with a wireless connection, I have the documents I need from just about everywhere.
  9. The thing holds a charge just about for-damn-ever.  I charged it once when I first got it on the 25th of August.  It is now the 1st of September, and it is only down to half a charge, and I use the thing every day.
  10. The 3G allows you to purchase and download from the Amazon store just about any time, anywhere.
  11. The wireless comes with an experimental browser that lets you peruse a number of sites, including the BBC, Wikipedia, and the New York Times.

I didn’t realize it has a built-in MP3 player with good speakers (I have an iPod for that0, and I didn’t realize just how light it is (all of eight ounces).

But not everything is good.

  1. It really doesn’t like PDFs.  I mean, at all.  Text-based PDFs convert easily using Calibre.  However, if it is an image-based PDF, it hates you, your whole family, and anyone in five mile radius.  It displays the whole PDF on the six inch screen at once.  And no amount of text-resizing is going to help you, honestly.
  2. You have to be careful when reading on your Kindle.  Those side buttons for paging through are easily accidentally click, so until you really get the hang of it, you will be doing a lot of backward and forward paging.
  3. The screen is not backlit at all.  You have to have some kind of external light source for it to work.  There are a number of Kindle jackets sold with a built-in light, but it runs off the Kindle’s charge, so it will decrease your battery life.
  4. You really have to buy a cover for it.  The model I got is $189, and I don’t want to waste that money.  So, I purchased a $34.99 leather cover for it, and I do not regret it, but it is an unspoken cost for anyone that wants their Kindle to last a while.
  5. For you students, you HAVE to contact your professor and determine if you can, indeed, buy any of your books for use on your Kindle.  There are a number of professors that outright forbid this, and will make your life hell by making you also purchase a physical copy of the book.  Don’t assume.

The more I use it and have it, the more I like the Kindle.  The USB tether comes with a wall-socket adapter for recharging as well, and the manual installed right on the device is easy to read and get set up.  In all, I am glad I made this purchase, even if there is still a lingering feeling of betrayal.

To Literature, English Education, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and History majors, as well as people that do a good deal of travelling, enjoy new gizmos, and are looking for a portable device, I really do suggest the Amazon Kindle.  Avoid the models with “Special Offers,” as these are simply ads that come up whenever you boot up your Kindle.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go read the latest World of Warcraft novel on my Kindle.

Don’t judge!

What do you think?