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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.

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, www.circleofswords.com 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.S. – I EVEN GOT A PERMANENT +1 CASTER LEVEL AS A DEIFIC BOON!  Kickass, right?!

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

EF

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, thenation.com.  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?

You all have heard me before, going on and on about how we’ve gone wrong in this country.  Ad nauseum, you have sat through me bitching and moaning about how far off the reservation we’ve collectively gone.  I have been ranting for years now about how much the American population, as a whole, sucks.  Well, not tonight.

Tonight I target our leaders.

I recently listened to a podcast by one of my favorite comedians, Christopher Titus, entitled “The Armageddon Update.”  In this podcast, episode 21, Titus refers to our two presiding parties as the Republitards and Democreeps.  But Erik, I hear you say, using the appellation –tard isn’t very PC.  If you really thought that, you should leave this blog right now.  No Political Correctness here; you either laugh or you cry, it’s up to you.

But I got to realizing that there are two pretty accurate terms.  Our capital is just shit-full of tards and creeps.  And I don’t mean people that are saddled with mental retardation through a birth defect; those people would never do the kind of crap these idiots pull off.  To wit: raising the debt cap with the current budget.

Folks, we all have to live within a budget, as citizens, and as businesses.  Witness the recent woes of one of my former employers, Borders.  They spent far too much more than they were taking in; bankruptcy was inevitable.  Not only did they spend more than they took in, their debt from doing so was so large that no one wanted to buy them out recently, and now they get to go away because of it.

But not our government.  Oh, no; they just go about raising the upper limit of the amount they can go into debt.  Does anyone else see the foolishness in this?  Seriously, do any of you?  This is like being with ten bucks of hitting the credit limit on your credit card and the owning company calling you up and saying, “Hey, Mr. Consumer, we notice you are about out of credit.  How about another grand on top of that?”

Oh wait, they did that.  Remember?  It’s one of the things that have drawn us into the swirling spiral around the toilet bowl of our economy.  Yes, I said it; our economy is quite metaphorically in the shitter.  We can’t keep doing this.  Our government needs to learn what the rest of us have had to learn: cut back.

And before you go all whiny on me, I am not talking about cutting civil programs like Social Security and such.  I am, however, talking about taking a scalpel and surgically removing the cancerous spending that our government is guilty of.  When your income is cut because of losing a job or getting your hours cut, the rest of America gets to go from Angus steak to tube steak, and going from Chilean Sea Bass to chili and smallmouth bass.  You see, all of these assjacks have forgotten something that bespeaks wisdom: You are accountable when you represent people.

And it’s our fault.  We have not held them accountable.

Yup, I said it: it is our fault.  Period.  We let them get this way by electing them, re-electing them, and supporting them.  We kept going out in support of them, even though they kept on lying to us, time and time and time again.  And they have grown fat and sassy on the sweat of our backs and brows.  They now believe themselves unassailable, comfortable in the hands of the government they corrupted to serve their own interests, instead of the interests of our country.  And in the progress, the corruption has spread like a damned plague to ourselves.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I can see the problems.  And so can all of you.  You know you can; we see it every day.  The fearmongers on MSNBC and FoxNews and CNN and the Evening News portray the worst of all news.  MSNBC and FoxNews are no more news organizations than this blog is.  I don’t pretend to report the news.  I am just an editorialist, the same as all of them.  They don’t give us the news; they give us the news with their own agenda and spin on it.  And it’s bullshit.  And yet they tout themselves as “fair and balanced.”  I call bullshit on that!

And we, the public, are the ones encouraging them!  Seriously!  We keep watching the crap day in and day out.  We don’t do our own thinking or research on issues; we invite Mr. Beck, Mr. Olbermann, and worse to spin an opinion for us.  We can’t be bothered to form our opinions.  We empower them and enable them.  We swallow it, hook, line and sinker.  And the more we listen, the lazier we get, and the more we beg for it.  We really have become complacent livestock, waiting to be slaughtered to feed the herders we put in charge of ourselves.

Welcome to the New World!

Well, I don’t want any of it.  I am sick of being a mushroom.  I am not a Liberal or a Conservative; I am not a Republican or a Democrat (or, more accurately, Republitard or Democreep).  I am not Left or Right.  I am just an American, plain and simple.  I am not picking one side or the other because they are both so blind and stupid, I would rather not dumb myself down to that level.  Either of the sides of the road are full of maniacs and morons.  Me?  I’ll pick the middle of the road.  Sure, greater chance to get hit by a maniac or a moron, but the options and the view are so much better.

Who’s with me?

There was a time not too long ago in my reckoning when we were told that if we ever were in trouble, we, as children, should go to the police.  We were told, back then, that the police were there to Protect and Serve, to keep us safe in the face of danger.  The police would make sure we were safe, they were heroes deserving of our respect.

I recently noticed this particular little gem of a news story on a feed I pay attention to, and I got seriously honked off.  I am talking that level of pissed that normally I reserve for election years.  If you all want to look back, in my post about old blogs under the subheading “First Posted May 7, 2007,” I rail against a young man being arrested and held because of yelling at a police dog.  Well, this one takes the shit taco, let me tell you.

This news story, the one first linked above, is about a young man, 17 years old, from Dayton, OH.  Jesse, the young man, suffers from mental handicap(s) and disability which have saddled him with an undisclosed speech impediment.  When the young man was singled out and questioned, by an officer that knew he was handicapped, and was unable to clearly speak.  Officer Willie Hooper pulled Jesse aside as Jesse was riding his bike in front of his own house.  When Jesse was unable to communicate with the officer, who I will remind you, gentle reader, knew of Jesse’s handicapped status and impediment, he began yelling at Jesse, taking the garbled speech for disrespect.

Jesse turned and made for his house in an effort to get his mother to help him (Jesse) communicate with Hooper.  Hooper took this as flight, and not only pursued Jesse, but called in backup.

20 officers from different jurisdictions of backup.

For a seventeen-year-old, mentally handicapped boy.

Hooper, as well as his partner, one John Howard, not only pepper-sprayed the boy, but they used Tasers, their fists, and an ASP.  For those of you that do not know what an ASP is, it is an extendable baton used for security.  They are usually made out of lightweight, highly-flexible, extremely strong metals.  The average one extends out to a length of eighteen to twenty-one inches.  When used by a trained combatant, they can break bones.  They hit Jesse in the thigh with one of these, repeatedly.

A neighbor tried to tell Hooper that Jesse was handicapped, but he was told by Hooper to go back into his (the neighbor’s) house, or he would be arrested.  As well, the entire time Jesse was being beaten, he was yelling for Hooper and Howard to stop, and Jesse’s mother was attempting to tell them about Jesse’s problem.  They ignored her.

Jesse was not only handcuffed, but also hogtied and thrown in the back of a police car.  He was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing official business.  The Juvenile Court found him incompetent (no shit, Sherlock) and dismissed all charges against him.

Now here is the part I truly love: Jesse and his mother are seeking damages from the city as well as the two officers, for false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault, battery, excessive use of force, infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy.  For those of you that don’t know, the difference between and assault and battery is assault is a “reasonable threat to a person,” whereas battery is “actual physical contact and harm.”  As well, civil conspiracy is when two or more parties collude to deprive a third party of their legal rights, or deceive the third party to achieve an illegal objective.

This story not only worries me, but it pisses me right off.  The older I get, it seems the less I will ever tell my children to trust a police officer.  Not only has this happened, but has anyone else noticed the lack of the old police motto, “To Protect and Serve” on police cars these days?  I don’t care for that.  Not at all.  You see, as a police officer, judge, law enforcement official of any kind, up to and including judge, you serve the people as well as the local laws.  You are a public servant, period.  This is not a negotiable fact.

And when you step so far out of line as Hooper and Howard did, you deserve to lose your job.  You assaulted, battered, and harmed a mentally-handicapped minor.  You used Tasers, pepper-spray (the police-issue stuff, not that aftermarket stuff they sell to the rest of the public; police pepper spray goddamn hurts), struck with bare fists, and struck him with an extendable metal baton.   You then arrested him for the simple, so-called crime of being mentally-handicapped and unable to directly communicate with you, as well as the crime of going to get his mother so that he could communicate with you.

Hooper, Howard… I refuse to refer to you as police officers.  You are scum.  You are deplorable.  Not only have you tarnished your own badges, but men like you poison the sentiments of the public as they regard the police.  Men just like you have turned police officers from heroes into villains.  Being a cop does not put you above the law.  You are still held by the law, as well as special laws governing the behavior of police officers.

I just won’t do it anymore.  I can’t stay silent.  There is nothing about this story that allows me to respect the police, or see them as the good guys anymore.  And as for Jesse… my heart goes out to you and your mother, son.  Get them; run them up the flagpole and let them get some public scrutiny for what they’ve done.

Remember: as a police man or woman, you serve the public.  You don’t rule the public.

What do you think?

I have been noticing a trend in gamers, as I have said before, that their skills at strategy and tactics aren’t too damned bad, but their skills at actual roleplaying are so damnably lackluster that one can easily overlook how well they do at numbers.  I mean it; they are so pitiful at staying in character and helping to construct the story that it sets my teeth on edge.  Most times they don’t even try.

I came to the realization that a lot of it has to do with all of their games based around “building” a character from the ground up, instead of “growing” a character by putting together various elements.  The seeds of this capability are sown in the tradition of randomly-generated characters.  That’s right, characters grown around random characteristics that the dice dictate when figuring out what the player will play.

In the first editions of Dungeons & Dragons (including Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), you rolled three six-sided dice, and put the results down in order for your character’s statistics.  If you were lucky, your DM would let you get away with murder by switching a number or two.  Other than that, you were stuck.  You learned to work with the numbers fate handed you, and it actually taught you how to make a solid character out of an assortment of numbers.

Erick Wujcik, cofounder of Palladium Games, based out of Michigan, wrote the following as the lead-in to every roleplaying game he wrote for Palladium, explaining the superiority of random character generation:

RANDOM CHARACTER GENERATION: A Rationalization

Some readers will be surprised to discover that there is a “point system” for creating the animal characters in this book. There is a good reason for it; we want to make sure that every player could create an animal character to suit themselves. Which, if you think about it, is really not all that different from the way things are handled in Heroes Unlimited. After all, Bionic and Robotic characters also build themselves. But this game, just like Heroes Unlimited (and most other Palladium games), is based on random character generation.

There’s a fair amount of controversy in the roleplaying game community about character generation. Chiefly, some players complain that it is not as much fun or as challenging to roll up characters off a table as it is to ‘create’ the characters.

There is some validity to the argument. Regardless of our personal opinions on the subject you are free to do what you will with the game. If you are a game master, then simply let the players create their characters according to your own preferences. If you are a player, then lobby your game master for whatever changes you feel will make for the most playable game. However, here are a few good reasons to retain the random character generation system:

1. Excellent players can role-play ANYTHING; granted, the play-testers that I and the other folks of Palladium have at their disposal are superb. An excellent player can play any character, and sees a weak character as a challenge, not a liability.  When running my own campaigns, I frequently deprive characters of all their various powers and possessions. It is when the character is in the direst of straits that fantastic role-playing comes about.

Let’s look at one example. Recently a pair of players in fantasy game were captured by enemies. They managed to escape, but they found themselves lost in a strange desert with nothing but a piece of wire. The roleplaying went on for several weeks, alternating between the lost survivors dodging armoured hunters and straining to get water, shelter and food in hostile land. It was an intensely interesting role-playing adventure.

2. Another advantage of random character generation is the convenience that it provides to the game master. Instead of laboriously ‘constructing’ every new villain and N.P.C., the game master can just ‘roll-up’ the new encounters. This makes scenario design and quick response to player actions much easier.

3. Finally, let’s not forget that random rolls reflect real life. Even in the ‘perfect’ lives of fantasy characters there is no control over their origins. Super characters are usually created by accident or by forces over which the character has little or no control.

Now, take a good look at those three points made at the end of his short rant.  Points one and three are the important ones, especially point one.  A good roleplayer comes not from what super powers you have, or what rules you can exploit, but rather what kind of adversity you can overcome, both in the game and behind the character sheet.

For those that have never looked over a Palladium RPG, the character creation process entails a lot of die-rolling and table-referencing in order to make a character.  It does take a bit of time to accomplish, but in the end you are left with a very developed and three-dimensional character with an impressive array of skills and abilities, whether it is the Nightbane RPG, Rifts, TMNT and Other Strangeness, or any of their RPGs.

So if you want to know how to up your game, how to be a more solid, true roleplayer that can impress the other players at the table, I suggest you give random character creation a try.  Put away the point-buy systems and their convenience for fair play in organized, shared games, and try your hand at a character you haven’t been able to fully min-max to hell and back.

It builds character!

What do you think?

I know I can get a bit mouthy with my opinions on the state of gaming.  To say that is actually an understatement.  I get downright angry and acidic with what I say.  I love to point fingers at the game companies, especially if they are owned by larger companies, like, say, a toy company.  Gee, who could that be?

Back to the point; the addition of Fortune cards, and the upcoming Despair cards, as well as the Essentials line of products to the Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons game has spun me off into a special dimension of anger of late.  It really ranks on me when something is added to a game that is completely superfluous and unneeded for game play.  When I am at a table, I have actually refused the Fortune cards for my own use.  It made a lot of other people at the table give me an odd look until they saw me do my job perfectly fine without them.

The other night I was talking to a very good friend of mine, Nate, about D&D in general, and he was really expressing his displeasure at some of the conventions of the game like half-breed races, some game settings, the proliferation of fey races, all that kind of stuff.  We were arguing back and forth, good naturedly, and I realized something: D&D has ALWAYS been full of B.S. add-on gimmicks, extending back at least until second edition.

I am gonna go all grognard on some of you here, and those of you that earned your wings under the auspices of a truly Gygaxian DM are welcome to feel the aching twinge of nostalgia along with me as I write this.

In first edition AD&D, they marketed packets of Dungeon Geomorphs; premade modular maps to use as simulated underground territories.  Under second edition, it only got worse.  Priest and Wizard spell cards, multivolume spell and magical item Encyclopedias, collectible cards with NPCs, magic items, spells, and the like printed on them; and let’s not even talk about the Complete series of faux-leather bound books.  Anyone remember those?  Introducing eight new subraces of elf, forty-seven species of halfling, and one whole book of humanoid races like goblin, kobold, and pixie?  How about the class “kits” offered by the Complete Handbook classes series?

Anyone but me remember the player’s kits they marketed?  Big plastic cases to hold your character sheets, dice, notepads, pencils, miniatures, Player’s Handbook, pager, cellphone, pet monkey, torch, and Swiss army can opener?  Oh, hey, how about those nifty, handy-dandy Monstrous Compendium three-ring-binder inserts that detail monster after monster after monster that just kept adding to an almost innumerable tally of baddies to throw against your players?  And the Annuals they kept pumping out for four years, adding on to regular products?

What about the Player’s and DM’s Option series of books that offered eighteen million different optional ways to change up your game?  The book that split all the ability scores from six to twelve?  What about the first spell point systems for AD&D?  I mean, in all honesty, there was as much unnecessary B.S. in the game then as there ever has been.

Now mind you, I have never  even touched on third edition, as it was about as much maligned as fourth is, and with good reason.  The amount of crap they kept adding on and adding on, creating instances of power creep that made it almost unpalatable to play the game.

What we have to remember is that these are not artists; they are tradesmen.  They are in this for the buck, and we love to point a finger and cry foul on them time and again.  Don’t; they are only doing what they should.  If you don’t like something, don’t use it.  But at the same time, don’t act like this is something new that has happened.  This has been happening time and again for generations of gamers.  And D&D isn’t the only one; let’s take a fricking look at Palladium Fantasy or Rifts, or GURPS, or any of the various Star Wars incarnations.  It just keeps happening.  This means that it is not just an isolated instance of a game edition we wish to demonize, just because it is ultimately owned by a toy company.

Do you know who is really to blame for all this?

We are.  We, the players.

We keep going to the well, time and again for more and more, and we get downright pissy when we don’t get what we think we want.  I realized that night that I always had what I liked about games since I was too damn poor to buy the new splatbook, module, or gimmick out there: imagination.  If I couldn’t buy it, I just made it up.  We all think we have to own this stuff to “Keep Up With the Joneses.”  Well, I call bullshit on that.  And that includes myself at times.  I am just as guilty as anyone else.  Want to put a stop to it?  Stop buying  the crap.  That simple.

What do you think?