Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Am The Game

I am considering creating a Game Blog.

It has been quite a long time since I ran or played in a tabletop RPG - that's those things like Dungeons and Dragons with funny dice to the layperson - and I'm getting the hankering. Sometime over the last year, I read Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East, and I really enjoyed a lot of the thematic elements and the setting. It's a mix of fantasy and sci-fi in a way that is completely unlike the one mix that most people have experienced of those two things - Star Wars. I am going to borrow some of his ideas.

I'll say right now: if you're thinking you might like to play in my game, think before you read the book. I won't be running a game that takes place anywhere near the events of the story, but it will spoil some of the mystery of the greater world for you.

The best description I can come up with for the setting is "post-post- apocalyptic fantasy western." I'm sure I'll draw inspiration from, and be criticized for allegedly plagiarizing, such diverse sources as Deadlands, Stephen King's Dark Tower books (his Midworld is a rich source of inspiration), Empire of the East obviously, and TSR's old Dark Sun world (indirectly... it's a bit of a jump from a harsh desert wasteland to a typical Spaghetti Western, but I'm such a big fan of Dark Sun it's hard not to let its influence creep in). I hope to create a setting that's all my own, however.

I've been hearing a lot of good things about the Savage Worlds rule system, and I might look into that. I have always harbored an ambition to repair Dungeons and Dragons, however, and with the recent release of D&D Fourth Edition, I think I'll probably run that way. I've been looking over the 4E core books, and I have to say that while I think they've lost something in verisimilitude and gained what I can only describe as WoWiness (a certain unreal, repetitive quality reminiscent of typical video game play), they have, in large part, smoothed out a whole lot of what used to make D&D suck: the unplayable frailty of new characters, the mismatched hodgepodge of different rules adjudications, and, most of all, the interminably long, boring combats that consume four-fifths of any play session. That's not to say that combats can't be interminable in the new rules - they can, as the playtests of the introductory adventure Keep on the Shadowfell painfully illustrate - but rather that I think the new rules provide DMs with tools for maintaining a good flow and possibly even making combat stay within it's appropriate sideline role in a role-playing game.

It will, of course, require some house rule "patches" to keep up a good flow and restore the verisimilitude. That's expected among experienced players. Restricting the new "healing surges"; stopping interplayer table talk during fights; and doing away with WotC's absurd (and cringingly WoWy) idea that you can only earn experience from 1) killing and 2) completing simple, generally "kill x and retrieve y" formulaic quests will make for a good start.

Oh, right. Where I was going with all this: I am considering starting up a new game blog on which I will chronicle the plot arc in an episodic story form (and perhaps occasionally gaming happenings as brief interludes). I think that this would be beneficial both to me and to the players. It will be something of an exercise in discretion to keep from including spoilers but still make a good story out of it. I will keep you posted.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Another bad man dies, and again those in power crassly heap posthumous praise on one of their own in order to make themselves look better by association.

This is why we need something akin to Orson Scott Card's Speakers for the Dead. The only real memorial of an individual's life is the truth about that life. A full, unbiased, human portrait of Tony Snow might have earned him some understanding and dignity; as it is, he'll now go down in history as just one more Bush White House lie. No one deserves that.

Edit: Half of what I ask for is out there: personal accounts of the man. This is the good, but without the bad; if only she had elaborated on the phrase "Politics mattered to the professional Tony," maybe we could have seen the very human duality of a man who kindly helped friends in need even as he lied to the entire nation for the benefit of a few power-hungry crooks.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Why do we pity the dead?

I'd like to challenge the notion that it's wrong to speak ill of the dead.

Jesse Helms died today, and, frankly, good riddance. I'm not one to celebrate the death or suffering of any man, but I am profoundly grateful that Helms' influence is no longer a direct part of the world. Personally, I did not know him. Politically, it's good to see him permanently out of the picture.

Helms is being lionized today by the modern conservative movement. President Bush has called him "a kind, decent, and humble man," and Pat Buchanan said he was second only to Ronald Reagan in his importance to the bastardization of the Republican party -- admittedly not in so many words.

The media seem to be striving for impartiality in presentations of the late Senator Helms. I am forced to question the acceptability of this seemingly proper act. To say that Helms was a divisive figure would be grotesquely to understate the case; he made a career of pitting racial factions in his state against one another. Helms was the last, longest-standing opponent of equal civil rights for all Americans. He endorsed discrimination against victims of HIV. He relentlessly assailed the separation of church and state. Helms proudly stood firm to his last day in office as a racist, a bigot, a reactionary anti-intellectual, and an elitist in the true negative sense of the word -- not one who endorses the commensurate rewarding of merit, but one who looks down contemptuously on the poor and unfortunate.

Asserting that "the negro" is inherently unstable and violent is not the act of a "kind" man. Attempting to bar HIV patients from employment in a wide variety of careers is not the act of a "decent" man. Advocating the imprisonment of the faculty and students of a major university to prevent the blight of their educated ideas from spreading, however facetiously, is not the act of a "humble" man. Jesse Helms was many things, but President Bush failed to accurately name any of them.

I never hated Jesse Helms the man. In his personal life, he seems to have tried to be a genuinely good person, adopting a disabled boy for no apparent reason other than simple altruism. Nevertheless, neither good intentions nor a long-awaited death change the ugly facts of a long life of evil. Jesse Helms the politician was a powerful and visible symbol of many of the worst facets of American society. I will not pretend to mourn the passing of villainy from the earth, and I do not believe that dying, something which anyone can accomplish with comparative ease, earns a man immunity from criticism.

Jesse Helms has been a blight on America for some sixty years. The fact that he is now no longer among the living does not remove the shame of our failure to rid our government of his taint during that unforgivably long career. Look with fairness on all he did in his life, yes, and praise the good - but do not fail also to condemn the evil.

To put a more positive spin on this, Helms is a useful example of how much positive change we've really made in the last several decades. Things may look pretty bleak to Americans of intellect and good conscience some days, but you just have to look around you to realize that we no longer have segregated schools, active laws about what sexual activities can go on between consenting adults in their own homes, or a government that looks the other way at everything from discriminatory hiring practices to lynchings. Helms was a relic of an era that is passing away, and as much as we may seem to be backsliding some days, his passing is a reminder that things do, in the long run, get better.