Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Audio Book Discussion, "Blindspot"


I am returning to higher education in the coming weeks.  I have been futzing about with a longer and more navel gazing blog on the topic, mostly having to do with how I decided to try, the hoops I jumped thru, and what I hope to accomplish… That is for another day.
                Today I am going to briefly talk about a book I am reading for my return to Graduate School that I have been listening to on Audible.  This is part of the University’s summer reading and… kind of a mission statement for the University.

The School
                I am going to be attending George Washington University in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC.  I will be seeking my Doctorate and I hope to study voting systems, my ultimate goal would be to get a popular referendum passed… Somewhere… that would allow for ranked choice voting, a system I was surprised to learn is gaining traction in the United States and I think is the key to saving the Republic.  Or at least hitting the snooze button on our inevitable collapse for another couple decades.

The Book
                George Washington has decided to emphasize learning about hidden biases.  To do this they have put out for summer reading, “Blindspot” by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.  Not the TV show, “Blindspotstarring the intensely hot, Jaimie Alexander… I like athletic women with tattoos.
                The book is about biases and mental categorization with the key analogy being the literal blind spot all human eyes have but we are not aware off without doing some deliberate effort to “show” it to ourselves.
                What has surprised me most so far reading the book is how much of it I already knew or anticipated.  Studying politics you begin to understand how people have a mental image of certain jobs, certain ethnicities, and misconceptions about every other possible way to categorize people.


Stereotypes
                In “Blindspot” one of the chapters deals with stereotyping, and it begins with this old… Riddle I guess would be the best term.  The riddle helps frame the rest of the chapter.  Here it is,

------
A young boy and his father are on their way home from soccer practice when a distracted driver crosses the center line and hits them head-on. The father dies at the scene of this horrible car accident, but the boy is still alive when the emergency medical technicians arrive. The injured boy is transported in an ambulance to the hospital, where's he taken immediately into surgery.

However, the awaiting surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, "Call Dr. Baker stat to the operating room. I can't operate on this boy. He's my son!"

The question: Who is the surgeon?
------

                If you are unfamiliar with the riddle take your time to think about it.
 
This is from an article about Daylight Savings time.
I hate Daylights Savings as a concept.  It is cosmically stupid.
                The answer is that the Surgeon, a role that is typically MALE, is actually the boy’s MOTHER.  Gasp!  Twist!
                Not really.  I had heard it before all the way back in middle school along with other problem solvers… I figured out the answer then too.  Something in retrospect I now attribute to having watched a lot of diverse media growing up (you can read a little about that here).  I mean, Doctor Crusher was a woman and a doctor on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.  The idea of a woman doctor is not all that world flipping.
                But I also get the point.  People do often default to certain mental images that shape what they expect and how they react to the world around them.  The book goes on to talk about one of the first studies on the topic of stereotypes that has been replicated in recent history to show the evolving nature of stereotypes.  FYI: Germans, for the last hundred years, have been consistently thought of as industrious and scientifically minded.
                The topic then moves into what would more often be called intersectional identities, or intersectionality.  That by layering different categories you can picture in your minds eye a distinct individual.  Their example was to first picture a professor, which they said, “white male, tweed jacket, pipe, etc…” they then started talking about how you could build a person by stacking certain ideas.  For instance, “Professor, French, Black, Muslim, Lesbian”.  To show how your mind can construct an image.
                Their idea is that stereotypes help humans to construct individuals based on these categories layering on top of one another until a unique person is constructed.  This allows you to see people as individuals, but also as the sum of their “parts” for lack of a better word.
Again, this chapter was nearly an hour long on the audiobook, I am not giving you all the material.  I do have a reason for explaining all of this.  To set up for an insight I WAS EXPECTING, but NEVER SHOWED UP.

The Un-Twist
                See, the chapter starts with the Surgeon riddle, and at several points during the chapter sexual orientation is mentioned.  The Muslim, French, Lesbian being the one I relayed to you.  So I was EXPECTING, that the chapter would end with a subversion of the Surgeon Riddle.

------
A young boy and his father are on their way home from soccer practice when a distracted driver crosses the center line and hits them head-on. The father dies at the scene of this horrible car accident, but the boy is still alive when the emergency medical technicians arrive. The injured boy is transported in an ambulance to the hospital, where's he taken immediately into surgery.

However, the awaiting surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, "Call Dr. Baker stat to the operating room. I can't operate on this boy. He's my son!"

The question: Who is the surgeon?
------

                I was expecting the new answer to be, “The surgeon is also the boy’s father.  His parents are a gay couple.”  Apparently, I am either ahead of the curve on subverting expectations in the world by acknowledging that gay surgeons exist in the context of a riddle… Or maybe I should just get around to writing a novel because I am apparently pretty good at writing twists that book end a quasi-narrative.

This is not a well composed photo.  There is so much dead space to the left.
Other Book Elements
                The final thing I want to mention is that the narrator, Eric Jason Martin, has a cadence almost exactly like the opening narration of “The Outer Limits”.  It is not distracting, I kind of like it.

To School
                I am very close to the last day of my current job, less than two weeks.  It is in many ways somewhat scary-exciting.  A life roller coaster for which I am in an interminably long line waiting to take off down the track.
                I am so eager; it is kind of exhausting.  If for no other reason that I will get to read books and have people ask me my thoughts on them.  I had no idea I would miss that so much.

______________________________
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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons, "Character Ideas" episode 6


Ideas for Future Characters
            A while back I wrote up some short biographies for characters I thought about using in a 5th edition game of Dungeons and Dragons.  While I ended up using only one of them and have since moved on to running a game rather than playing in one.  However, and let’s be honest here, the most fun there is in Dungeons and Dragons is making a character.
            Since I like doing it, I figured I would make a chart in Excel and start checking off class/background combinations, by the end of this writing exercise I will have 156-character ideas.  I have decided not to include races, sub races, sub classes, or the backgrounds from supplemental materials.  Just the Players Handbook… FOR NOW.
            For fun, I will also give a numerical rating for whether I think something is “Interesting”.  There are characters that are so common as to be arch typical or even cliché, but maybe there is a reason they are so common, because they are just that intriguing.  Feel free to disagree or offer your own suggestions and objections in the comments.
            If you would like to share some of your own unused character ideas, do so in the comments, maybe use this format (maybe get it to catch on, I like its simplicity) and try and keep to a shorter length, you don’t want people to “tldr” your stuff.
            One more thing worth mentioning, I will make an effort to include a variety of different fantasy races in my character creation.  I have written before that I could run an entire fantasy world with just humans and see most fantasy races as too bland to be seen as meaningfully different from humanity (elves, to me, are too often played as just tall humans with pointy ears).  I also know that this is not an opinion shared by most and I want to try and expand my own horizons.



What Have I Got?
            I recommend as a DM, that if you have the luxury of having your players making characters as a group, picking a theme of 1-5 words to serve as an inspiration seems like a good idea.  For these two I decided to make a pair of Orcs that are not typical to what people think of as Orcs.

Name: Strathuz
Class: Cleric
Race: Orc/Half-Orc
Background: Hermit
History: “There is no God, but God.  And he is such a prick.”
Orcs have found themselves in conflict with the other intelligent races of the world for… always.  And in spite of what you have heard there are some legitimate reasons for this.  For instance, you all won’t stop praying.
It is undeniable that the divine which rules our universe is just the worst.  How can anyone justify the universe being such a brutal, random, and cruel place and claim that the creator of such things is not an asshole?  Elves believe they are the chosen people because their “God” made them beautiful… while ignoring that their race is split between the supposedly good light-skinned and supposedly evil dark-skinned breeds that are locked in mortal combat… and they blame it on the gods.  Some days it feels like I am taking crazy pills.
The Orcs know the real score.  Our universe is the product of an evil or deluded or just insane mind.  There are some prophets who claim that God is merely an idiot, but I give God no such credit.


Goals: It is time for me to come out of my long-spent isolation, where I contemplated the nature of the divine, and spread the word of my faith with my new insights and candor.  I am on a crusade in three parts, first to destroy the most vile of cults who would use religion as an excuse to propagate war, second I will challenge those tyrannical governments that claim their rule is a gift from the divine, and last, I shall refute the religious doctrine that makes people complacent to God.
Too many people who follow a faith are led into the afterlife like lambs into the mouth of a great wolf, I shall spur people to throw off the false dogma of trusting in the divine, and instead tell them to train themselves to defy God, to harder their minds and hearts for when they reach the afterlife they will have the fortitude to punch that fucker right in its fat gob!

Methods: Strathuz is a Cleric who believes that there is only 1 God, and that God is evil.  His divine powers come not from God granting them to Stathuz, but from Strathuz stealing power from God with the strength of his hardened heart and mind.  Strathuz uses the War domain, channeling his contempt for the divine and those that follow the divine into magical boons.
            The emphasis in on destroying any sight used for veneration, not just those of evil people.  If he is brought into conflict with a temple or church of a good deity he will not hesitate to oppose them, and will point to the conflict as evidence of the temples acting in ways that are contradictory or harmful (there is a lack of self-awareness here, the issue of thinking oneself absolutely right means that you see anybody who disagrees as being inherently wrong… and then using some poor reasoning will transfer that wrongness to that person’s advertised belief system).

Rating: 3/5
The inspiration for Strathuz is a continuation of my previous blog on the religion of Orcs.  That they are monotheists that believe the 1 true God is evil, and they oppose that God’s will on earth whenever possible.  This is a concept that is SORT OF explored in the Planeshift setting.  I could see Strathuz being a fan of the Lady of Pain and other powerful beings who are ostensibly in conflict with the gods’ plans.
The idea of an anti-cleric stealing magic from the gods has also appeared the Ur-Priest from 3rd editions “Book of Vile Darkness” and the Ur-Priest sort of fits the “Hermit” background.  Ur-priests rarely congregate, which is largely due to the fact that any gathering could attract unwanted and possibly lethal attention from the gods. They are frequently solitary, in fact, though they often find partnerships with other classes useful. And for obvious reasons, they rarely associate with other divine spellcasters, who see them as abominations of the highest order.

            However, while I have some clear influences within DnD and history with the ideas behind Strathuz via my own writing, there are reasons I think he is not as good as he could have been.  I often find it difficult to use the Hermit background.  In general, loner types are difficult to include in team game like Dungeons and Dragons, and being someone who has spent so much time in isolation that it is your backstory… Well, you kind of have to justify why you are no longer in isolation.
            The best I could come up with for Strathuz to not be a hermit is that he was in a self-imposed religious retreat to harden himself for a crusade.  It is a generalized call to action, very easy for the DM to give out a quest, lots of potential enemies, Kuo Toa are the easiest guys to pick on for this, their whole deal is creating weird cults to fake gods.  But at the same time, there is a lot of potential for the DM to have “Good” guys come into conflict with Strathuz for doing questionable things.
Here is a possible adventure that Strathuz could pull the party into: a church is offering aid in the wake of a natural disaster, but only to people who convert to their faith.  This conversion will include a pledge of service and conscription in a coming religious conflict with another temple.  This is immoral, even if the coming crusade is against a temple of Bane, Vecna, or another evil god.  Beyond that, the idea of a “natural” disaster being used as a recruiting tool adds to the, “God is cruel” idea.
There have been anti-religious movements in the real world of various flavors.  The Cult of Reason comes to mind (mostly because there was a pair of videos on the French Revolution on Over Simplified History recently and those are a scream).  But there are other movements like, the Iconoclastic fever which led to all the churches in the Netherlands having their statues crushed and stained-glass windows smashed out.
The potential for moral grey areas and the seemingly infinite number of evil gods oriented bad guys would allow for Strathuz to have lots of opportunities for adventures.  So many opportunities for adventure that he could pull the campaign in a coherent narrative direction.  This long-term potential makes him a good character in spite of the limitations I feel the Hermit background puts on him (and puts on all characters really).


Name: Talib the Student
Class: Barbarian
Race: Orc/Half-Orc
Background: Sage
History: Nothing makes a person angrier than knowing lots of things about the state of the world.  I know, because I am very knowledgeable and very angry.
            My people have been characterized as uncultured monsters for too long.  We are seen entirely in the context of being bandits, squatters, and raiders.  The idea that my entire race could be so characterized based on… what?  The testimony of brutal mercenaries?  Everyday my people are killed by knights and wizards seeking to make the land “safe” from us!
            I have traveled the land gathering stories of brutal conflicts against my people and our allies with the dubious claim that we were somehow trespassing in the lands where we were attacked.  Upon further research the only claim on that land is by the warlord ancestors of humans and elves who think that just because their current king claims fealty over an area then my people must be denied entrance!  Why are they allowed to bar us entry?  Who are they to make claim on the forests and rivers!

            I have found archaeological evidence to suggest my people lived in numerous areas as nomadic bands and in small villages for generations before being driven off by the brutal and violent actions of men and elves.  We are owed the use of that land just as much or more than those who try to drive us off.  Our freedom to move and live thru territories peacefully must not be infringed.  We deserve to build our camps and our houses in the lands of our ancestors.

Goals: With the records and evidence I have gathered, siege will be laid on the minds of all the thinking races of the continent!  And should the light of reason not illuminate their sense of decency then I shall bash their brains from their skulls!
            Ethnic violence has no place in this world, and I will fight to end its continued use against my people!

Methods: For the first time in this series of blogs I will be referencing “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” as I think that the best fit thematically for this combo is the “Ancestral Guardian”.  The idea that the Sage is knowledgeable of a heritage that is being erased so as to paint his culture as savage and the response to this is anger makes sense.
            Beyond that, the idea of “Consulting the Ancestors” with some deviation abilities fits a character that emphasizes learning.  The idea that Talib’s “Sage-ness” is his ability to listen to ancestral spirits and thus he is less the Sage and more “The Student” hence the name also adds another level to it.
You could also look at the idea that he may not entirely understand what he is fighting for.  That while Talib thinks his people are being unfairly oppressed and he is mad about it, that he might not have an end goal beyond punching people who disagree until there aren’t any left.


Rating: 2/5
            This is one I really had trouble with as I consider the Sage and Barbarian to be nearly antithetical.  Keep in mind, the whole concept of Barbarian is a stereotype used to dehumanize foreigners.  They are uncivilized, and that means whatever it needs to in order to make fearing and killing them easier.
            By contrast, a Sage is the pinnacle of civilization.  Having knowledge that could only exist in a society with the resources to gather that knowledge together and have a person whose defining characteristic is knowing stuff.
            So, when making a character with these two diametrically opposed ideas you have to deconstruct the archetype embodied by the words themselves.  I could only think of two ways to go about that.
            The first idea was the Incredible Hulk.  A scholar who is the embodiment of knowledge warped by a product of that knowledge and turned into a rage monster.  The idea there was to have someone who was a Sage in some kind of capacity but was driven to a form of madness by learning something not meant to be known… And… That would kind of work…
But, the idea of the Hulk in this way felt more like a Warlock tho… And looking at the current run of “The Immortal Hulk” with the Green Door in Bruce Banner’s mind… Well, he is starting to look more like a Warlock too.  So, I decided to kick that idea down the road a bit.  If you are reading this and thinking that you want to make that character, please do, and post a link to it below.


            The other side is what I went with.  That the idea of a barbarian is not from a primitive culture, instead plays on the root of the word “Barbarian” which refers to ancient Greeks thinking that foreign languages all sounded like “bar-bar-bar” in a sort of racist cartoon.
            I decided to run with the idea of a character that was foreign, from a race that was considered Barbaric but was a learned member of that society… But was still all about getting angry and punching things… because he is mad about stereotyping?  I guess.  Look, I set out to make pairings and oftentimes they just go together like orange juice and gravel.
            I am grading myself on a curve.  By all means do a better job of trying to buckle these two ideas together.

Outro
            What do you all think?  Do you have a request for a class/background combo?  Did you play one of the combos I have featured and want to share your spin on it?  Post in the comments.
Listed below are the past episodes of this blog for your reading pleasure.  If you want to read more Dungeons and Dragons stuff from me, here is a 3-part diatribe on the Celestial Warlock from “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
If you want to read about my world’s version of Orcs (I am giving this a sequel at some point), my Dwarves, or my Kobolds.
Otherwise, Have Fun.


______________________________
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Sunday, May 26, 2019

My Writing Output


Limping Along
“It may shock you to hear this, but just sitting down and writing can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a topic already in mind, especially-especially if you are not required to do it for grades or pay…”
I wrote that 2 years ago and since that time I have had significant changes to my life and my writing has completely changed in output and type since then.  I got a career in September 2017 working for my hometown’s city hall and that dominates my time.
While I do not consider my job especially difficult, once you get passed learning how to navigate the bureaucracy it is only a needlessly complicated series of checklists and meetings that could be emails.  However, the job is so time consuming and so lacks creative elements that I find myself unable to write for my own benefit.  Sure, there are exceptions and I have pressed myself to write at least one entry on this blog each month, but it is a side effect of such gainful employment that I do not have the creative spark while working there.
What I do have is a small but regular trickle of work that allows me to write in a professional environment.  It does not stretch my abilities, it is not mentally rewarding, but it is required and has consequences.  I have check what I am writing to make sure I am not breaking the law; while at the same time having no metric to follow; and having to interpret what I am told so as to tell it to other people.
Playing “telephone” via email is its own sort of writing exercise.

Not this Year
            Last year I didn’t bother to give an update on my goal of writing 1,000,000 words, nor did I give an update on my goal of writing a blog for everyday of the calendar year.  I have certainly tried to advance each and have made progress.  I only have 16 days of the year without an entry, and I have crossed the 750,000-word goal.
 
October and November, why are they my weakest months for output?
My writing has never been stronger (at least according to standardized testing, something everyone should question the validity of) as last October I retook the GRE and scored a 5, putting me in the 92 percentile on the writing portion of the exam.  I took the test in order to apply to Doctorate programs and am pleased with the results. (I will be writing more about my decision to do that and the results in the days/weeks to come.)  And let’s be clear, I don’t ever want to take the GRE again.  Two is two too many.
I have had plenty of ideas for what to write, and have a folder of “Draft Zeroes” with ideas for short stories or novels and have written out an outline for a book that is only a couple thousand words but represents something I haven’t done before, a plotted out story with a beginning, middle, and end.  There is even a rough set of chapter breaks along the way for all the shenanigans that I might want to slide in.
New ticks and quirks have emerged, with my tendency to use, “So, …” to start off paragraphs and sentences.  A reliance on evidence, citations, and stating my suppositions causing me to preface everything and then explain my point.  Trying to mix this up with the occasional, “It follows then…” or a “Taking that as a starting point…” could make my writing stronger, but that also makes it more verbose.  SO, I am unsure as to how to tackle that habit.
There are other issues I have that I have never been able to overcome.  My inability to name things is perhaps my biggest weakness when playing Dungeons and Dragons (which yes, I do credit as part of my writing.  While DnD is a game, there is tons of creative work that goes into it and issues from it, just look at the multitude of novels that surround the property).  Names are not my forte and the fact that I made two different recurring characters’ names, “Kevin” shows this sort of wekness.
I like plot and I like setting and I like dialogue, but ask me who is saying things, the name of where they are saying them, or what they call the events they are talking about… and I just don’t know what to say.  Often falling back on the blandest of proper nouns or portentous uninformative claptrap (like “Destiny” a game I dislike specifically because it does something I see as my biggest weakness).
Maybe you all see some other aspects of my writing that need improvement, be it a matter of style, content, or just that I have a number of typos in everything.  I have no editor.  I do my best… or as I mentioned at the start, I do what I can.

The Future
            My writing will continue to mutate.  I hardly ever do movie reviews anymore, not because I stopped watching and having opinions on movies, but because I did movie reviews originally in order to further an aspect of my writing.  And I see my abilities in movie reviewing as sort of complete.  Movies were something I could trust a certain number of people have seen and have tastes in, they have a language that can be understood, deconstructed, and evaluated based on a criteria of both personal taste and technical acumen.
            Essentially, movies are something I could pull apart in multiple ways and in doing so practice my ability to pull ideas apart.  I could teach myself to recognize foreshadowing, metaphor, and visual presentations of information.  I can look at a movie like “Hereditary” and see how the movie planted ideas in the mind of the audience and how well those ideas were capitalized later in the narrative.
            Being able to catch those turns and flourishes is something I think I have down well enough that I am just no longer all that interested in picking them out.  Sure, from time to time, and if I had the time and creative spark, I am sure I would have just written movie reviews for the sake of a creative outlet, but in my current state of not having the time or drive they just do not have that pull on me.
            Honestly, what I want to pull apart more than anything is the old opinions I have on this blog.  My personal world view has changed so much in the last 10 years that I feel the need to write the rebuttal to my younger self.  I feel like I did not become an adult till I was 27 and even then, I was not informed enough to hold a real substantive opinion.
Now that I have degrees, work experience, and have just had to stand by while the world around me became various flavors of strange or hostile, I am a changed man and having the young me’s writing out there informing other people’s opinions of who I am now… it is misleading to them.
SO, it is likely that this blog will have a few dozen entries where I look back on who I was and how I thought at the time and just take myself to task.  Hopefully, I am not just so how much better I am now, but the act of doing this makes me better still.  Maybe I can even show other people why I felt the way I did at the time, why I changed, and why the change is for the better.  Help them change for the better too.

For Those Reading This
            I cannot emphasize enough how important writing is to who I am.  How important it is to my growth as a person.  I cannot recommend it enough to everyone out there.
            Find something you care about and write about it.  Don’t just write for yourself either.  You have to put it out there.  Even if no one reads it.  Even if those who do call you a talentless asshole.  All of that is part of it.
            Writing something that no one but you will read is masturbatory and does not help you grow, and it does not temper your skills.  You have to have some standard that exists outside yourself that you are trying to meet and surpass, even if it is the imagined judgment of potential readers.
            Write.
            Please.
            Trust me, it is worth it.

______________________________
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Micro Horror Story, "Martians"


            The first human trip to Mars was seen as the most important event in history.  Funded by a coalition of nations to set down near the southern most patch of ice that had been located by previous satellite missions in a space craft that was the largest ever constructed.
            It was an accomplishment, spectacle, and dream all at once.
            Drifting thru the space between worlds observations of the sun and the stars were conducted and every aspect of the landing was discussed again and again.  Every part of it was down in their minds.  When it came time for their little science orchestra to play, they would hit every note.
            They were smart, brave, and heroic.  All the things you would want the rest of earth to aspire to.
            They orbited Mars, gazing at the tiny moons and letting out little pods to gaze down on them, to await their return to the main ship in a matter of weeks.  Bits of the ship that had been packed for months snapped off and drifted down to the planet, some piloted by the crew, some trusted to land near enough to the target sight to be picked up later.
            The landing was gentle, measured, and went off without a hitch.  The work back home and on the way had all come together.
            The first walk out on the red planet was done with suits made for the mission, carrying tools created for their experiments, in vehicles designed for the area.  They took photos and video of each member of the crew standing on the edge of a glacier dozens of acres wide and along dry river beds hundreds of miles long.
            The world was unspoiled, beautiful, and scary in a way that none of them never would have anticipated.
            It was in the caves that they found it.  Where they found them.  Bones.  Human bones.  They were wearing a suit that had been made for the mission.  They held in their hand a tool that had been used to leave a message on the wall.
            “It is happening again.”


______________________________
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.


Sunday, March 31, 2019

My Picks for "What’s the strongest 3-song run on an album?"


            I would not consider myself a music guy.  When I was in middle school, I took Chorus and I do have an ear for hearing and recall lyrics, but I did not get and substantive training in an instrument and did not stick with music as an extracurricular.
            I didn’t own any CD’s growing up and I still do not buy music to any level.  I think I occasionally get a copy of a video game soundtrack as a bonus item, but that is so rare as to be mythological in occurrence.
            This is all kind of moot, as today I am talking about my reaction to an AV Club article from April 2018.  The premise had to do with what is the best 3 songs back to back on any album.  I kind of hated the article, because aside from the Michael Jackson entry they start off with and the Kanye entry a little later… I had not heard of any of these songs.  I kind of know about Pearl Jam… But who the hell is Matthew Sweet?  What music nerd put this… Whatever.

Kudos to the AV Club's graphics team, this is a fun image.
            I decided to put together a few song lists that I feel represent great 3 song combos.  It was sort of a fun exercise, because I am a singles guy, so going to Wikipedia to find the track listings of albums I recall liking to pick the best 3 pack combo was a really different way to look at music.
            Who knew Albums could have such unique feels when looked at as albums as opposed to collections of singles?  Probably lots of people.

Might as well give my unasked-for opinion.

Opening to the Beatle's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

There is also the debut of the Police with Outlandos d'Amour,
2. "So Lonely"
3. "Roxanne"

I am also an angry white boy so there are 2 runs of three songs from The Eminem Show
3. "Business"

and this one from the same Eminem Show is broken up by a skit, so I don't know how that counts,
10. "Without Me"
11."Paul Rosenberg" (skit)
13. "Superman"

Anybody else like Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory?
6."Runaway"

This one is a little less remembered, but I loved the hell out of Gnarl's Barkley's St. Elsewhere,
2. "Crazy"

And before he became a public crazy person, B.o.B. had B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray,
4. "Airplanes
            (Just for the record, B.o.B. has come out a “Flat Earth Truther” and is perhaps the most famous person to have such… Beliefs?  Suspicions?  Delusions.  And he released an antisemitic diss-track aimed at Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  It is called “Flatline” and it would be catchy if it were not such toxic garbage.)

Also, if we want to make it a 5-track streak, there is the opening to the Killer's debut album Hot Fuss,

Another 5 run, CCR's side 2 of Cosmo's Factory,

            As I said, I am not a music guy.  There are better critics for music online, and I am sure that my various lists here would make a music nerd call me a pleb.  I have talked about what I like in music before, but that is just an unordered list of personal favorites.
            If you liked reading this and want to make your own list of things, do so in the comments, or put it in your own blog and post a link here.  And I mean… If you liked reading this, by all means share this with your hipster music snob friends so they can call me a piece of shit and then turn me on to “real” music.
            Or whatever.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons, "Character Ideas" episode 5


Ideas for Future Characters
            A while back I wrote up some short biographies for characters I thought about using in a 5th edition game of Dungeons and Dragons.  While I ended up using only one of them and have since moved on to running a game rather than playing in one.  However, and let’s be honest here, the most fun there is in Dungeons and Dragons is making a character.
            Since I like doing it, I figured I would make a chart in Excel and start checking off class/background combinations, by the end of this writing exercise I will have 156 character ideas.  I have decided not to include races, sub races, sub classes, or the backgrounds from supplemental materials.  Just the Players Handbook… FOR NOW.
            For fun, I will also give a numerical rating for whether I think something is “Interesting”.  There are characters that are so common as to be arch typical or even cliché, but maybe there is a reason they are so common, because they are just that intriguing.  Feel free to disagree or offer your own suggestions and objections in the comments.
            If you would like to share some of your own unused character ideas, do so in the comments, maybe use this format (maybe get it to catch on, I like its simplicity) and try and keep to a shorter length, you don’t want people to “tldr” your stuff.
            One more thing worth mentioning, I will make an effort to include a variety of different fantasy races in my character creation.  I have written before that I could run an entire fantasy world with just humans and see most fantasy races as too bland to be seen as meaningfully different from humanity (elves, to me, are too often played as just tall humans with pointy ears).  I also know that this is not an opinion shared by most and I want to try and expand my own horizons.



What Have I Got?
            Good Heavens, it has been 11 months since I last wrote up one of these entries.  Maybe it has something to do with my full time job and that this entry was so large and themed that it always seemed just a bit too big to get done.  Whatever, it is hard to be creative sometimes... sometimes for a long time.  On to the subject.
            I recommend as a DM, that if you have the luxury of having your players making characters as a group, picking a theme of 1-5 words to serve as an inspiration seems like a good idea.
What is the theme?  I decided to make this an all Acolyte section.  I invented a fantasy religion (not atypical for DnD, you can read it here) called “The Five” based on Mother Nature, Father Time, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, the Ladies Fate, and the Grim Reaper.  To fully explore this religion, I decided to make this full 5 guy adventuring party, each member is an Exemplar of one of The Five.  Even though The Five are all worshiped as one pantheon unit, some choose to emphasize one aspect over the others.  The real strange part about this, no Clerics.

This is a good image.
Name: Tet the Firebrand, Acolyte of Heroes
Class: Bard (Valor)
Race: Dragonborn (Red)
Background: Acolyte
History: My clan was a race of nomads journeying thru the mountains, but when a flash flood obliterated them and left me the lone survivor.  Now I wander the world telling tales of my sad origins, my great deeds, and how my faith in the god of heroes inspired me.
Goals: My world is on fire and it is the job of people like me to fight fire with fire.  While I may come from a people with the look of great and terrible monsters, I wish not to inspire fear but to inspire hope and love.  I want those around me to look to the future where the conflagrations that surround us now have dimmed to candle and hearth around which the children of those who triumphed gather to hear stories of this age of glory.
Methods: I went with the tired cliché of a dead clan… OR DID I.  I wrote this character as a blowhard who is out to play the hero.  I would like this character to work with the DM to have two twists associated with it, without those twists it is a rather lame and thin setup.
            Twist 1, the clan is not dead.  There was no flash flood, the character just left the clan to go play hero to indulge their glory seeking mindset.  Twist 2, the clan is EVIL and is planning to go to war once they do something BIG, this could serve as a multi-session adventure that culminates in a choice for Tet’s player.  Try to be a hero by negotiating his people away from a brutal conflict (as a charismatic bard such negotiations are to be expected) or help the characters defeat the evil and be a hero like they always wanted but by bringing the destruction to his people he always claimed had already happened due to natural disaster.
            In regard to heroism, having the character use Bardic abilities in the Valor school means leading from the front in medium armor and passing around buffs when not breathing fire.  A big flashy character who shouts things like,"Come on you apes!?  You want to live forever!?" What I am saying is to play it like Michael Ironsides.

I just like this image from "Scanners".
Rating: 4/5 with twists; without twists 2/5
            This is inspired by a misconception I had about the super powers of a DC character named “Firebrand”.  The idea I had was that he not only had fire powers but also had an aura around him that caused his allies to feel more driven to do good.  Making them braver, more cunning, and more capable of making the “right” decision.  Turns out he just had fire powers.  Which makes a scene in which Uncle Sam says something to the effect of, “you’ll be my Firebrand” significantly less meaningful.
            I feel that the twists are a big part of what makes the character work from a story perspective.  Without them the character is just a bog standard big and loud fire themed character without any sort of ironic subversion.  I would encourage these sort of story ideas for players, as TO ME, AS A DM, this takes some of the weight of writing the game’s story off.  They provide enough framing and motivation for multiple sessions and can result in characters having interesting payoffs.  These things make for more interesting roleplaying.

This guy has some great art.
Name: Emanon, Acolyte of Time
Class: Monk (Open Hand)
Race: Halfling (Stout)
Background: Acolyte
History: What is history?  It is the attempt of those in the now to make sense of the world around them by assigning a narrative element to that which they were not there for.  They do this by observing the world around them for clues and using those clues to regress in their minds eye the world around them, creating scenarios to explain those elements, eliminating possibilities that seem too far fetched or strange to fit into a clean and clear story.
            This method is a good one.  Understanding how things might have happened helps someone to understand how things might proceed from this point.  I have spent a great deal of time, thinking about history.  Observing the natural world and the people in it.  Looking back thru their habits, possessions, and demeanor to construct a narrative for them.  I then forget it and do it again.  Forget and repeat.  Hundreds of times I look into the past, run the sand thru the glass, and turn it over once more.
Goals: I want to run the sand back up thru the glass.  I have dwelt heavily on the topic, and I think I can do it.  In small amounts I can rewind time, slow it down, and then move thru it faster.  I can go back, I can do it right this time.  I can then go home and go back, so I won’t have to apologize.
Methods: I think that manipulation of time and awareness of time is one of the best ways to explain several monk abilities: slow fall, faster movement speed, and deflecting ranged projectiles.  The Wholeness of Body and Tranquility abilities afforded by the Way of the Open Hand also could be seen as experiencing time at different rates.
            The Halfling luck ability can fit with this too, as it allows for a minor regression of time to try something again.  If I were to suggest some feats to fit this character, it would be Alertness and Lucky.  Allowing for a level of supernatural awareness of time and the ability to slightly rewind and manipulate it.
Rating: 5/5
            I think this is an ideal blend of rules and theme.  I think that there is enough shadowy motivation and cosmic weirdness to allow for character growth and hints at bigger elements as manipulating time upsets things like the Inevitables.
            This guy was inspired by a scene from “Earthbound” in which the tiny monk/ninja, Poo, meditates.  In so doing he is contacted by a celestial presence and is stripped of his senses and physicality to exist in a timeless void.  He is a halfling to simulate the diminutive stature of Poo, who is a child in “Earthbound”.
"Earthbound" also has a lot of Time Travel.
It also has a lot of good fan art.
            This also ties into the magic-fu present in “Doctor Strange” which (and you may have missed it) had a lot to do with the presence of TIME.  There is also “The Matrix” which blended martial arts and time manipulation like chocolate and peanut butter.
            The ultimate goal of “Going home without having to say sorry” is something that can be decided on as the game goes on.  The player can drop hints at having done something awful that they do not want to face but does want to undo.  A character arc of coming to peace with what they did, either by facing it down or moving beyond it could serve as a story element for the character gaining greater and greater control of there powers, “Stop living in the past, free your mind, and be something more than a person rewinding and reliving a mistake in their own mind.”

 
I like this mushroom cap idea, same with the snail on the staff.
This is cute.
Name: Dominic Bill Thomason, Acolyte of Nature
Class: Druid (Circle of the Land- Forrest)
Race: Gnome (Forest)
Background: Acolyte
History: I fancy myself a casual expert on all things to be found in the woods of the world.  Talking to the trees and the creatures to learn their paths and cozy nooks and crannies to wander thru, under, and into.  I am tied to the natural world and seek to share it thru poems that I tell those I help thru the forest.
Goals: I have heard of several distant forests that are in a state of decay due to various tree related diseases.  I would like to journey to each of these and spend time constructing druidic circles to help with the channeling of magical energies and combat the spread of such diseases.
Methods: The emphasis here is on being a healer that mildly disrupts the enemy and focuses instead on dealing with environmental issues.  Locate spells, Protection spells, and utility spells like Speak with Plants.
Rating: 1/5
            Woah, hold on a minute… A DRUID being all about NATURE?  Gee this seems exceptionally trite.  It is.
            Honestly, nature is one of the easiest things to exemplify in the game as Druids, Barbarians, Rangers, and the Oath of Ancients for the Paladin all fit this theme just fine.  My options for this one is binary between “Obvious” and “Disjointed”.
            Beyond that, fantasy in general has always had a nature vs civilization and a lot of it comes down hard on the side of nature, Elves and Gnomes both fit the trope of noble nature loving race… while paradoxically being the most likely to fit into the Wizard class, which is all kinds of civilization.
            In my opinion it is hard to find a fresh take on the, “I like nature” character, this is an attempt at it, but even I will admit that there was no creative spark when I hammered this one out.  Even his name is my brain warping beyond recognition Tom Bombadil of which he is a pastiche of (and I hate that character).

Look at this jerk off.
            Dominic is much more about cultivating life rather than combat.  This is a difficult thing to play in a game that emphasizes combat, but it is the only thing that puts this character off the typical path.  It is something to work with tho.  Having a character grow more violent and wrathful as the game goes on and goals changing toward tooth-and-claw nature is a potential character arc.

This art is great, and I think that more skin colors should be used for Tieflings.
I had an NPC Tiefling that had pale white skin with prominent white veins, good image.

Name: Melech the Precise, Acolyte of Fate
Class: Fighter (Battle Master)
Race: Tiefling
Background: Acolyte
History: I have always had a way with people.  Making sure they did what was best for them, helping them get on the right track and find what was right for them.  Not everyone knows what is best for them and it is up to those of us with the mind to play the long game to help them plan things out with simple plans and achievable goals.  I like the idea of fate, but people need help finding where their destiny lies.
            Just imagine how many kingdoms have fallen because the chosen one thought his destiny was to farm beats or run for mayor.  Just think of how many noble souls would have rotted away never realizing their full potential without some wiser hand guiding them.  Grab your pack and take my hand, I will be your guide as we go on your wild adventure.
Goals: It is my belief that I am a facilitator.  I help other people get to where they need to be.  Sometimes I am a bodyguard, or a teacher, and sometimes I just draw them a map if I know the way.  “Fate takes a hand” can be literal, reaching into a river to pull someone from the current, helping someone up off the mat during practice, or maybe it requires cutting off the hand of someone who would have taken something that someone else needs.
Methods: I think that the Battle Master’s Maneuvers fit thematically with the idea of Fate lining things up. The Feinting and Goading abilities somewhat, but the Maneuvering Attack is especially where I think this works as it helps with positioning someone else to take action.
Rating: 2/5
            While I think the Tiefling = Fire would more push the race toward the Thousand Faced Hero, same with the fire breathing dragonborn above, for whatever reason I brain thought of putting the vaguely demonic character in the role of Fate.
            The idea of pushing people to be in the right place at the right time as part of a scheme seems like the darker side of “destiny” in fantasy fiction and something I would more associate with evil machinations than divine providence.  But then showing that while the character is manipulative, they see themselves as helpful, in a sense having a bit of the Varys or Jon Connington from a “Song of Ice and Fire”.  That while they are manipulative, it is because they are trying to push someone with a big destiny into a role they need to be in, and to make them ready for that role.


            This is a stretch, that I think uses a clever theme merging with the rules, but I am unsure how obvious that theme would be and whether that theme would come thru in the use o the rules.  It makes sense, but I think it lacks a certain “Neat” factor.
            Beyond that I couldn’t think of a way to incorporate the number 3 or the idea of water (both things I assigned to the Ladies of Fate) into the final build.  The idea is there, but I am not able to fully realize it.

I like the darkness around the hand.  Looks flowing in a cool way.

Name: Tepheroth the Grim, Acolyte of Death
Class: Wizard (Necromancer)
Race: Elf (High)
Background: Acolyte
History: When I was younger, I suffered a near death injury.  I was struck in the face by a horse hoof and blacked out for more than a day.  After waking up I was informed that I was suffering from a form of facial palsy and was no longer able to express emotions of any kind.
            My community found the condition unnerving and alienating.  I was ostracized when healers claimed that they had cured all the damage to my body and that I was, “Pretending”.  Why I would pretend was anyone’s guess, and they did guess.  After being called a liar and attention seeker for too long I left to go on a spiritual journey.
            I arrived at a chapel of the Five and for a decade worked on their grounds in exchange for lodging and use of their library.  It was there that I found kinship with the Grim Reaper.  The unchanging visage of a skull mimicking my own inability to express.  The fairness of death.  The indifference to all things.
            I turned to studying death in an academic sense.  The magic of necromancy allowing me to understand the inner workings of form and function better than I could have ever hoped.
Goals: Some would describe me as having a “Death Wish”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  My life is to explore and understand the world knowing that death is inevitable and impartial.  I will one day go to my death and will probably never realize when it comes, and I will great it as I have greeted all things, with a blank expression.
Methods: I am not normally one to say, “Ask the DM if…” but I think that the character story of near-death experience could be used to justify getting Spare the Dying as the free cantrip a high elf receives at first level.  While Spare the Dying is a cleric spell and not a wizard spell (oh no!  We are bending the rules!) it fits a lot better with the character’s history and motivation than Chill Touch does.
            As Tepheroth is more academic, utilizing Divination spells as a secondary focus makes sense.  Utilizing True Strike to line up attacks shows a cold deliberateness to her actions, if the DM doesn’t allow for the Spare the Dying variation, instead go for True Strike.
Rating: 4/5
            This was inspired by a character in my campaign setting, Claudius the Grim Necromancer, with “Grim” being a title denoting him being the head of his order, aka the Militant Mourners.  I did not however just take him over completely because the point of this whole series is to stretch a little creatively.
            The creative stretch came by making her a High Elf, definitely a curve ball for an elf to be a necromancer… Unless you are one of the few people in existence who remember the collectible card game, “Warlord”.  In that game’s setting the elves were short lived, sometimes only aging up to 10-12 years, being the product of mercurial nature magic.  The elves not wanting to extend their lives began practicing necromancy and becoming one of the primary antagonists in the setting.


            This all twisted into an idea of a long lived High Elf in the regular sense of Dungeons and Dragons still seeing centuries of life as not being enough.  Wanting to understand death on a spiritual level and ultimately seeing it not as something to circumvent in a literal sense, but in the sense that she does not see death as something to be feared.


Outro
            What do you all think?  Do you have a request for a class/background combo?  Did you play one of the combos I have featured and want to share your spin on it?  Post in the comments.
Listed below are the past episodes of this blog for your reading pleasure.  If you want to read more Dungeons and Dragons stuff from me, here is a 3-part diatribe on the Celestial Warlock from “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  Otherwise, Have Fun.


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