Monday, February 19, 2018

Poem, "Ice"

Here in the electric dusk, a sky black with the glow of endless light pollution
You, naked, allow condensation to drip on your skin, the cold sensation
The glass lined with rivulets and filled with crushed ice
Promising the ache of touching against your teeth.

You are beautiful, your hair twisted and deranged
A finger dragging thru rings of wet on the end table
You are steaming with hatred of the heat

As the music fades and the anticipation of the next tract hangs in the empty air
To break in, to speak, seems wrong, there are no words
Such a long last night—full of “o’s” from erogenous zones

You're not an erotic hallucination,
Not a feverishly scrawled poem,
You are a reality of splendor

You are you serious
You are severe
You are larger than life in the night

This box, sweltering,
This exhaustion, from passion resembling madness
The absent moon of gentle magic

You hold my eyes, enraptured
In the half second of complete quiet, you smile
Sweaty, hot, messy, with your glass of ice

Ice, ice... You know the rest of the lyrics.

            This was inspired by a friend of mine who came to mind when I read this poem, “Heat” by Denis Johnson.  As always I am hesitant to say, “I wrote this about you,” as that always feels a bit forward.
            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.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Audible Review, "Michael J. Sullivan"

            This book review was written for “Erikson Presents” a recurring book review series on a Facebook group I frequent called, “The Tavern at the End of the Internet”.  It is a nerdy fucking place.  That being said, here are some of my thoughts on the work of Michael J. Sullivan.

The Author and Their Strengths
            For the last year+ I have been delving into audio books.  I recommend this as a hobby as combining an audiobook with a lot of walking leads to being both well read and much trimmer.  The reason I bring this up has to do with how many authors I have discovered during that time, one of which I will be talking about today with a recommendation.  Michael J. Sullivan, who I would point to as a true success story in the self-publishing market.
            Michael, as he explains in one of the forwards to a series tends to take an interesting position on how to write a fantasy series, he writes the whole thing up front and then edits it for clarity, foreshadowing, and theme as he does the re-write, insuring that the whole thing hangs together better.  The second entry in one of his series was delayed to account for greater clarity to be put in at the behest of his main editor, his wife, and as the rest of the series is released I will see how that banged out.
            Enough about method, let me explain to you why I am recommending Sullivan’s work to you, prospective reader.  And it mostly boils down to two strengths that I feel define what I have read of his work, good dialogue and good group interactions.
            Different authors have different strengths, when I list what I like about JK Rowling or Ray Bradbury I point to the almost melodic quality to their writing.  When I want to tell someone what I like about Dennis E Taylor’s work on “We are Legion (We are Bob)” I point to how thoroughly he explores the premise of the work.  Heinlein is good at philosophizing, Tolkien at mythologizing, and Neil Gaiman at somehow making fairy tale logic feel real and even brutal.  This is not to say that Gaiman can’t write great dialogue (he does) or Tolkien can’t write beautiful prose (he does), but when I want to single out their true virtues that is what I point to.

            Sullivan has great dialogue.  People quip, stammer, affect socioeconomic standing, or betray prejudices thru (what I consider) subtle language usage.  They are also frequently funny.  Two men are lost in the wilderness, hungry and cold, and one of them relays a story about fairy creatures that lure in lost travelers with delicious food and then keep them forever, to which the other rightfully questions why that is something to be feared.  It has a timeless quality and the humor comes from the word play and observations.
            Which leads to the next strength, group interactions.  There are scenes where a half dozen characters are all talking in a room and they all have different points of view, experiences, and goals, and you are able to understand where each are coming from.  The way they address each other, challenge each other, and try not to tip their hand all while enticing, threatening, or tricking each other is clever.  They are fun conversations to read.

The World of “Riyria”
            As of writing this I have read 5 of his novels, the beginning potions of each of his series.  I also read them in a unique order, making me see different hints and foreshadowing in a different light as I went.  For simplicity sake, I will talk about them in the order they are “intended” to be read.
            “The Riyria Revelations”, this is Sullivan’s first series, following the work of two legendary outlaws as they become pawns of a grand conspiracy.  They are framed for murder and must work with a series of colorful characters in a quest to first clear their names and then to unravel the conspiracy as it threatens their friends, livelihood, and you know… The lives of many-many innocent people too.  Riyrie (pronounced Rye-ear-uh) is the elven word for “Two” and is the name of their thieving enterprise.
I do not know who made this fan art, but I like it.
The only source link I can find goes to Goodreads.  If you know this person send them a compliment.
“The Riyria Chronicles” is a prequel series, showing the various adventures that Riyria went on to become legendary outlaws.  These novels are a paradox for me.  They are all standalone adventures, but they are also filling in blanks in the personal mythology of the heroes and their supporting cast, so at the end of the first book, I guess I was supposed to say, “Oh, so that is how that all went down” but (as I read the first book in this series before reading “Revelations”) I ended up just saying, “Wait, what?  Why did it just stop?”  This is most sequel-prequel series I have ever experienced.
“The First Empire” is a prequel to the other books in much the same way 3000Bce Ancient Egypt is a prequel to 1990 Desert Storm.  This series takes place in the mythologized past and shows how humanity moved from a disparate group of stone age tribes to an iron age empire battling the dominate Elf Empire and coming out on top thru the rather brutal strategy of “Keep fighting, we’ll choke their rivers with our dead I we have to!” Zerg Rush.  This is the first series I started with and aside from certain characters in this book being the people important places are named after in the Riyria stories, Alexandria style, this might as well be a standalone series.

Some Weaknesses
You might be asking now, “Well, what is the bad side of these stories?”  I am not one to shy away from offering criticism even to authors whose work I love and respect, so here are a couple.
I think that the foreshadowing can be a bit much.  You see twists and Revelations coming from too far off in the distance.  Not a bad thing really, you are following the key characters closely and hear much of what they are thinking, feeling, and remembering.  If something doesn’t surprise them then it shouldn’t surprise the audience.
Sometimes plot development happens too fast and is then resolved too quickly and neatly.  The most egregious of these happens in the second half of book two in “The Riyria Revelations”.  A creepy, violent, inquisitor has suspicions about one of the heroes and plans to get him lynched by revealing this information.  The villain decides to make a pact with a witch doctor to accomplish this.  Now in most stories this dark pact would be hanging out in the background, always just on the edge of springing.  It is the ticking clock, Sword of Damocles, (third literary term) that keeps tension in the story.  When is it resolved?  The next chapter, in like 10 pages.  Shrug.
The last issue might be the world building.  While I don’t have any issue with it, Sullivan does jumble some elements from history that lead to a somewhat patchwork appearance.  Some kingdoms look like Skyrim, others like London just before the Industrial Revolution, and others have the feel of Renaissance era Italian City States.  This is fine for me, I like juxtaposition of elements (same reason I like Conan stories) but other people might find the clashes jarring.
I will however indulge my PETTIEST complaint ever right here, in book two of “The First Empire” one of the subplots involves the creation of the first writing system.  That is an interesting story to tell.  HOWEVER, at one point a character uses the phrase “this underscores” to provide emphasis.
What is the issue?  “Underscore” means to underline something.  A society that does not have writing would not use that phrase.  That being said I invented my own head canon to explain this discrepancy.  In this underscore refers to scoring the sole of a shoe or boot to give it traction.  That makes enough sense to fit as a metaphor to turn colloquial.  Fight me.
(No joke, I actually sent Sullivan a fan e-mail explaining this issue and this solution to it.  I think that is the only time I have actually sent fan mail to an author.  I really hope I didn’t hallucinate that use of the phrase.)

In Conclusion
Okay, that is my recommendation, I hope that if you like fantasy that emphasizes good dialogue between groups of colorful characters you will consider reading this one.  If you have Audible, my preferred method of consuming books now, then the narrator is Tim Gerard Reynolds.  I consider him a gifted voice actor and he grants a distinctiveness and mood to each of the characters, his Royce Melbourne (the cynical rogue) sounds different from Hadrian Blackwater (the dashing swordsman).  His versatility is appreciated for those scenes with lots of characters.
If you would like to try out a story for free on Audible, here is “Professional Integrity” which is a clever little (1 hour and 20 minutes) story staring Hadrian and Royce, the two main heroes of the whole thing.  And here is another one called “The Jester” which is basically 1 clever trap room in a Dungeons and Dragons game turned into a story, I loved the cute little moral to the whole thing.
I hope you enjoy your reading.


            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, February 4, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons, "Coal Dwarves"

I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have been playing regularly as a DM, but even when I can just keep zooming out on the map and slap down another one of my ideas, I still have things that I want to just throw out onto the internet to see how other people can make use of it.
This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

What Have I Got: A New Dwarf Civilization
            While I do write about Dungeons and Dragons a lot on here, the last time I did a blog like this one was all the way back in August with “Religion of Orcs” (though that one wasn’t in character), before that it was “Wild Elves”, and the first one was my take on “Kobolds”.
            Today I figured I would introduce you all to my take on the main Dwarf Civilization in my world, the Coal Dwarves.
This image is from the 3rd edition monster manual.
Can you tell I don't have photoshop and can't make a convincing image of a crowd?

Coal Dwarves: Mass Production
By Professor Farrowdel Malanar,
Vizier to the Marquis of the Southern Oasis
            On the continent of Lum, the mightiest and most economically flush of all the Dwarven civilizations is that of the Coal Dwarves.  Having centuries ago mastered the art of standardized parts and mass production after the inventor Ell the White created the first machine to mass produce screws, nails, and springs.
            The ability to create parts that could be easily replaced (should they break) created a civilization that fell away from the artistry that defines other Dwarven nations and instead embracing a philosophy of uniformity, disposability, and utility.
            Gone were the days of a Dwarf metalworker spending days to create the gold inlays on a sword that was meant to last 1,000 years, replaced with 100 swords all of uniform size and appearance, each to last a decade before being cast back into the metalworks to be remolded.  Gone was the Dwarven armbands of infinitely complex patterns and runes, replaced with jewelry that all glittered with the same images, the same runes, to be worn for a fashionable period and then cast back into the works to be melted down and recast.
            The Coal Dwarves have turned their keen minds from the age of fine artistry and instead harnessed it toward industry, they have moved past wood and pitch furnaces to harness the power of coal and steam, they create bellows that stoke the hottest fires in the mortal realm.  Creating metals harder than that of any other kingdom.

            And while the great stacks extending up from their mountains work tirelessly (some human communities believe that dwarves are the inventors of clouds now, for all the steam the stacks release) there are downsides their people have encountered.
            While they produce more shovels, picks, hammers, hoes, axes, and all other manner of tools faster than anyone else, they have little food.  They import everything, hundreds of tons of grains, meat, fruits, and vegetables, all to feed a population that is (humorously described by gnomes who have visited the urban core of the Coal Dwarves’ lands) packed shoulder to shoulder at all times with dwarves who look so similar in identical dress with identical equipment that they can’t be told apart from one another.
            They also have no wood, cotton, or leather, which requires another massive import business.  They can’t sleep on a pile of shovel heads, and so they export metal products in such volume that to the Dwarves these products are practically worthless, while the luxury of a goose down pillow might be treasured for a decade as a product of relatively great rarity.
            Beyond the constant need to ship in so much, a deeper concern has been noted by Elf allies.  Elves, being the only group that lives long enough to see first hand the sociological change occurring, believe that the soul of the Dwarf people is dying in the Halls of Coal (The non-Dwarf name for the capital of the Coal Dwarves).  Without the art and craftsmanship that used to serve as a creative outlet for the Dwarven spirit, the Dwarf’s natural sense of clan and community is overwhelming them.  The Coal Dwarves are moving away from a tightly bound group of individuals and instead becoming a horde of uniform parts.
Where once the Dwarves would see each member as a single person, an indispensable part of a community that saw each member as having a unique view and skill set to contribute, now each dwarf is like a nail.  Useful, but just like every other nail, replaceable.

            Much like how I took inspiration for my “Wild Elves” from the Sioux Indians of North Central America, the inspiration I started with for the Coal Dwarves was modern day China and Slave Era Southern United States.  And I know how racist that might sound.
            A civilization known for mass producing disposable products with little artistry or distinguishing features with a collectivist mindset that threatens to override what was once a culture know thru out the world as the greatest producer of fine manufactured goods.  That is not a glowing portrayal of modern China.  Let me step back a bit.
            China was once the single most powerful economic force in the world.  The term “Kowtow” comes from the practice of foreign nobles from all over the Indian Ocean sailing to China to offer up lavish devotion and praise to the Emperor of China so that they might be granted permission to trade for China’s untouchably great products.

            When European powers started trading with China the demand for their goods was so high (and the only thing they would trade for was Silver) the Western powers had to start selling the Chinese addictive drugs just to offset the trade imbalance.
            China is kind of awesome at various points in history for lots of reasons, but I also have to point out that Modern China has some REALLY BIG ISSUES related to being the workhouse of the world.  Pollution, inhumane working conditions, and a lack of worker protections that would make any communist scholar look on aghast at the whole process.  Having these issues of people being dehumanized and turned into replaceable parts, that is something worth exploring in a fantasy setting, and commenting on how harmful it is.
            The real issue is the “They all look alike” thing which is racist when applied to Chinese people, but that is kind of what drew in the inspiration and made it come together in my mind.  The “They all look alike” concept in relation to the mass production is an interesting metaphor.  And while I do think this is starting in an inherently racist place, that is kind of the point, you take the characterization and you move it to a fantasy setting, divorcing it from the harmful real-life implications to explore the concept of a civilization losing itself to industry.
            That is a lot of talk about how modern China inspired these dwarves, but what about he Slave Era Southern United States?  Well, let me start with the most obvious one (to me).  Ell the White is a reference to Eli Whitney, who invented the Cotton Gin and revolutionized (mechanized) the production of cotton.

Previously, the South had several bottlenecks on their ability to produce cotton.  The first was soil quality, growing cotton depletes soil at a fantastic rate, requiring more and more land to be cleared and set up to grow the plant.  The second is picking the plant, a labor-intensive activity that is hot and unpleasant.  The third is picking out the seeds that are in the cotton.
The acts of picking cotton and picking out the seeds were all done by slaves, but the seed extraction was so time intensive that it wasn’t all that economically viable.  Some predicted slavery’s decline due to this, and I recall my middle school history teacher explaining that Whitney was hoping to deal slavery a death blow by replacing the slaves with cotton gins, a machine that could remove the seeds just by cranking a handle.
Eli was an engineer, not an economist.  See, by making the most time intensive part of the product and making it a breeze it allowed the South to move slaves entirely into the picking stage of things.  Making the desire for slaves (the least expensive of all labor) to skyrocket.  Whitney’s grand answer to the textile industry’s reliance on slavery had just made slavery 100 times worse.
Slaves are people, but they were seen as disposable people.  They were worked or beaten to death and more were found.  The profit margins of slavery raising cotton were huge.  People, reduced to their most basic of functions were seen as interchangeable parts in the great machine of capitalism.
            My intention with this and all other explorations of things in a fantasy or science fiction setting is not to caricature a place or people by taking inspiration from the real world, but I sometimes worry that might happen.  I mean, I don’t want to use the same line of thinking they used in “Bright”.

Real creative name for the bad guy.  You know, Voldemort, Sauron, and Satan all have names.  They are not just Dark Lords.
            What do you all think?  Is this another instance of me over thinking things and sucking some of the fun out?  Is this something you might want to put in your own worlds?  Is this an interesting break from all of the Tolkien type Dwarves that define Dungeons and Dragons (to say nothing of fantasy as a genre)?

            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, January 28, 2018

My Favorite Music of 2017

It is the Grammys, so I wrote a blog on the music I liked in 2017.
            I don’t listen to a lot of music.  I have the Pandora app which I utilize for a solid 5-12 hours a month (I am more of an audio book guy), and regardless all of the stations I listen to trend in two directions depending on starting point.
If it is post-1990 it trends toward The Black Keys (which is odd, as I own none of their music).  If it is pre-1990 it all gravitates toward Blue Oyster Cult (less odd, I grew up as a classic rock guy).  There are of course times when I take deliberate sidetracks into Michael Jackson style pop, but I think that is because he is the star in the center of that pre/post 1990 split.

It is a "Pop Star".
I don’t drive much and the radio in there is often just plugged into… again audio books.  My contact with I Hart Radio (the death rattle of culture set to a steady rhythm) is limited.  As such, the only time I really listen to pop music is on youtube when I am at work.
            I often fall into tasks that require too much focus for me to simultaneously listen to a book, but are boring enough that if I did not have some other stimulation… I would probably walk myself into traffic…  Who can relate?

            SO!  Youtube....

Decided to slap together a short list of songs I liked last year.  I tried to pull only from songs that came out in 2017, though not all of them are hits I am sure you have heard a few and… liked them?  I don’t know.  Feel free to say that I focus too much on populist tripe.  I do.
            In no particular order, here are some songs I liked.

Praying” and “Rainbow” by Kesha
            Let’s continue with two songs that kind of make me feel sad when I listen.  This is because of the ridiculous and unpleasant air that swirls around them at all times.  At least, it has a bad air if you know anything about the life and times of its creator.
            Kesha, even when she created the kayfabe esc character of the brain-dead party girl to play some cosmic bit of performance art on the world has always been operating on another level.  It was clear she had the mind that was able to shift and evolve as music shifted to something new.  It was only a matter of time before she changed from party music to something deeper and richer.
            REALLY wish she did not have to suffer a massive criminal victimization and lengthy legal battle in her life, but it is NOT AT ALL HARD TO SEE those events having an impact on her work and artistic voice.  I am a firm believer in this quote by John Green, “I don’t subscribe to the notion that suffering is somehow ennobling; it sucks.”
            It sucks that Kesha went thru what she went thru.  I hope that the sentiment of these songs, that she is moving on to make art and healing, is a legitimate sentiment and not a brave front.

Obsession” by Ok Go
            And to dramatically shift tone away from sexual battery… Because this was supposed to be a fun blog about pop music…  Let’s talk about a band that I kind of have nostalgia for.
Ok Go won a Grammy for “Here it Goes Again” back in 2007, the year I graduated from under grad.  I recall walking to Target to buy that CD, and I think a season of “Justice League Unlimited” on DVD.  Probably different days.
            Regardless of the Justice League’s involvement, I listened to that album a thousand times and still from time to time drop into the world of Ok Go to watch their latest music video… ALL OF WHICH ARE GOD DAMNED MASTERPEICES.  “Obsession” carries on that trend.

            To mix discussions of Kesha evolving and Ok Go nostalgia.
I am kind of nostalgic for Paramore.  They were always on the fringe of my awareness.  I think I confused them with Evanescence strangely enough.  But when I look back at their stuff it is hard to look at “crushcrushcrush” or “That’s What You Get” and say it is from the same band as “Hard Times”.  Their older stuff feels more angry and full of bravado, while “Hard Times” sounds floating and upbeat.

Feel it Still” by Portugal. The Man
            For much the same reasons I have been listening to Bruno Mars’ music bringing a retro-funk feel to the world of pop music, “Feel it Still” flat out name checks the era of rebellious music it is channeling.  I can grove to this song, it makes me want to walk rhythmically down a hall while twirling a cane.

Whatever it Takes” by Imagine Dragons
            Most of the songs by Imagine Dragons were kind of pointless and thudding this last year.  That while I initially liked them they quickly wore out the welcome.  “Whatever it Takes” does not have that deficiency.  It starts with a gentle floating instrumental, then hard cuts into a racing delivery of lyrics, before building momentum, and a chorus that hits triumphantly.
            Some songs pull and push images in my mind and often times when I find myself creating my own montage to the music I feel that it worked.

            I like Halsey.  Especially when she wails like she does in this.  The idea that the woman in this had relationships with both men and women and they ended for a myriad of reasons makes for a good little story/reminiscing song.  It is not so much the character is bad at love, it is that she fell for people that it did not work out with.  That isn’t bad at love, that is bad at… picking targets?

The Story of OJ” by JAY-Z
            I am not a hip hop guy and I think that the music video sold this song to my white-guy sensibilities more than the song on its own.  BUT!  Let me emphasize that while I am not going to listen to this song for fun, I do feel that it has pushed a good bit of personal reflection on race and my place in it.  I admire Jay-Z as a guy who very much is the American Dream, starting from a low point and is now a king of his industry, artist and businessman.
            I would not have taken as much to this song without watching this review by the Rap Critic, a youtuber who did a detailed run down of the content and also links to reviews of the old style cartoons the music video uses as a reference for what it is presenting.

 “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran
            This is his best song.  It is perhaps the best song about nostalgia I have heard in a long time.  It is an earnest reminiscing about a time in one’s life that started a trajectory.  It feels real, and whether that is because it comes from a real and true place in Ed’s life, or he is just that gifted a performer, I do not know.
I have found myself rather nostalgic, not for when I was a teen/kid, but instead for recent history, seeing the multitude of little failings, little shortfalls that ate up so much time and so much effort and wanting to return to those moments, not wishing I could change them, but to grant myself peace over those mistakes, that I have felt guilt enough, that I should be allowed to move on.

New Rules” by Dua Lipa
            Maybe it is just me, but I think that most of music is about the positive aspects of being in a relationship and the worst aspects of a relationship falling apart.  The old expression, “You know you are in love when all the songs on the radio start to make sense”.
            But I think “New Rules” is a place I haven’t heard a catchy tune to before.  A person trying to get out of a relationship that is destructive, and it requires an act of will.  Bad relationships can still be fun, fulfilling, or just hot.  There are reasons people stay in those relationships and get back into them once out.  A song about making yourself stay out by recognizing the pattern you fall into and trying to break it… that is interesting.

            This is a strange song that seems to be about how deadening to the senses pop culture (and really all of Americana culture) can be.  The music video is explicitly about that and illustrates it thru a variety of cute visuals.  I find this song strangely catchy, and I suppose that irony pushes it up a notch for me.
            I liked her other single “Bon Appetit” too, but as it is her second song that is a protracted metaphor about sex and is not nearly as good as “Birthday” so I am not giving it its own call out.

Beautiful Trauma” by Pink
            One day I may get tired of this one type of song Pink has been releasing for the last decade.  I doubt it though, as she keeps putting a fresh spin and presentation on the ideas presented in it.  I like her.  I have never been the type of guy who gets celebrity crushes, but I find Pink to be super attractive, her look, her vibe, the fact that she clearly has lived an interesting personal history that she has grown thru and from.
            I also just find eclectic short hair on women attractive (to tie this in with Katy Perry and Halsey above).

1-800-273-8255” by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid
            I feel that the topic of self-destructive behavior and the idea that death is an escape needs to be addressed.  This song got a lot of play and while it is not the only song to deal with such a topic, and it is by no means a perfect song (Who can relate!? WOO!)  I feel that it has a haunting quality that makes the subject matter stick harder.
            Even the “WOO!” has a kind of layer to it.  Let me slow down and decompress that “WOO!” to illustrate all the subtext: “WOoooo I can only explore the topic of depression and feelings of hopelessness paving the way to my self-annihilation thru veils of irony because the stigma against suicidal thoughts is so ingrained in our culture that it contributes to the feeling of being trapped and death being a reasonable outlet oooooOOOOO!”
            There is a lot being said in that “WOO!”

Heavy” by Linkin Park, featuring Kiiara
            Let’s end this light-hearted exploration of pop music from 2017 by keeping on track and talking about suicide.  Chester Bennington took his own life last year and it affected me more than I had anticipated.  While Linkin Park’s music had always had a dire element to it, I felt that was something that was to be overcome.  To fight back against.
            It is impossible to look at the ultimate fate of Chester Bennington without that event retroactively contextualizing the entire discography of Linkin Park.  Every instance of unbearable pain; lasting anguish; anger being thrown in all directions; and the ever-present sense of departure, divestment, and letting go.  All of these things are tied into songs like “What I’ve Done”, “Breaking the Habit”, or “Crawling in my Skin”.
            The song, “Heavy” serves almost as the last epitaph for the man whose songs often expressed the directionless teen and young adult anger and sadness that I just could not wrap my own head around.  Where do you go when you are your own worst enemy?  How do you deal with a world that feels like a load too heavy to hold?  I don’t know, and I am sorry that Chester did not find a way to deal with his inner demons a little longer.

            I am going to leave that there.  I hope that the Grammys are entertaining to those who watch them (I don’t) and I hope that they give awards to a variety of artists that are pushing the artform (I respect lots of performers while admitting that their stuff is not really my thing, hello Kendrick Lamar, I hope you are well, “DNA.” Is pretty good.)

            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.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Government Shutdown and Russian Bots

Government Shutdown
You know what is super ridiculous about the government shut down?  It is happening primarily over two programs, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Both of these programs are overwhelmingly popular with both parties.  Passing both in a massive bipartisan collaboration would be the most popular thing done by the federal government since the death of Osama bin Laden.

Remember this guy?  What an asshole right?
"The problem you’ve got is that CHIP is so popular that there is this thought process that well, anybody who has another bill that they’d like to get through, if they can get it attached to CHIP, they have a better chance of getting it through, which causes problems for CHIP," said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

So why is it failing?  Because rather than go for the easy win, Republicans decided to random these two programs (both of which are popular with their voters) for EVEN MORE STUFF.  In government terms this is as close to cutting off your nose to spite your face as it gets.

Here is a strategy, pass the two things everyone wants, make a big deal about it, and THEN make stupid and unreasonable demands and cloak them in honeyed words.

It is like these idiots don't even know how to be properly sinister.

Russian Bots
You know, sometimes I think to myself, "There is no way Russia is funding internet trolls to support President Trump."

Um... Till I go to the comment section of any news article talking about Trump and you start to see patterns. Points being brought up in just the right way. Things being hammered on, over and over.  Tangents that segway into crazy town.  And the one that is really easy to look up, accounts that have existed for a couple months (tops) that have 30,000+ posts, dozens of which are just hashtags to a conspiracy theory.

That "@" name looks super on the level.
And all of them are giving each other thumbs up.  The smart ones I've noticed conceal their posting history to make it slightly harder to justify reporting them. But I report a few, the ones that are most obviously just computers reporting the same block of text thousands of times.  And the ones using actual hate speech like,
Having looked at many of his comments, which mostly consist of him saying "Winning" or racist statistics.
I am certain this does not shame him.  I mean, his user name includes the word "Racist".

Guys... this shit is real...

            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.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons, "The Five"

Gods of Dungeons and Dragons
            I really liked writing up my unique take on Orcs a while back, that their society has a different take on religion that I think makes them more interesting than the simple brutal monsters they are often portrayed as.
            I also never really went anywhere with my discussion of Religion as an aspect of settings that I wrote about months before that.
            To that end I figured I would write up some of my stranger and off the beaten path religious aspects of my own campaign world and see what people think.

The Five
            The five are a Pantheon of gods that work in concert with one another, they each seen as aspects of a larger concept, the Cycle of Life.  None of them are in conflict and followers of the religion do not acknowledge the existence of other gods/faiths.  The Five are worshiped as a pantheon by most, but there are Exemplars (Acolytes) that specialize in one of the Five and seek to embody that aspect (Exemplars are not always Clerics).

"Is Mother Nature ever a MILF?"
"I guess if you are, like, Zeus or something."
Holy Symbol:
Pentagon (Faith as a Whole)
            Mother Nature: Circle
            Father Time: Hour Glass
            Ladies of Fate: Triangle
            Thousand Faced Hero: Sword
            Grim Reaper: Scyth

Cleric Domains:
When worshiped as a Pantheon, the Life domain is preferred, as it encapsulates the entirety of the religions aspects.  Much like the symbols Exemplars specialize in particular domains.
            Mother Nature: Nature
            Father Time: Knowledge
            Ladies of Fate: Trickery
            Thousand Faced Hero: War
            Grim Reaper: Death

"I have no idea what I set this alarm for.  Why did I make it such a catchy song?  Was that a clue?"

World View & Mythos:
There are five wise and powerful beings that like the facets of a gem, are each a part of the larger whole of Life itself.  These beings help and guide the mortal races, each of these five in turn having domain over an aspect of the mortal realm.
            The first is the life-giving power of Mother Nature, she is the keeper of life, the earth upon which all else rests.
            The second is Father Time, animating the universe, shifting between possibilities, and possessing the great knowledge of the future and wisdom of the ages.  Like the air he is all about us unseen, and like smoke and steam cloud our vision, uncertainty clouds our view of the future and our understanding of the past.
            Third is the Ladies of Fate, or the Three as One, those who weave into their designs a place and calling for all people, they are the water of the tide, to which all inevitably surrender.
            Fourth is the Thousand Faced Hero.  Not one being but all beings who face challenges and thru strength or guile persevere, he is the fire that tempers our souls.
            Last is the Grim Reaper, the final end to all things.  Bringing closure and rest to those who have passed thru the world, the Reaper is the void and aether from which nothing returns.

The universe is made of many different energies and forces that work in concert.  All of these things play their parts and have place.  Life springs forth, moves thru the ages, facing conflict as it goes, fulfills its destiny, and then passes on.
            While each of these parts deserves its own ruminations and there are innumerable virtues that can be embodied by any one person, it does not change the fact that all of these five parts are necessary for the world to exist.

I have written about this cartoon.  Have I reached a point where I have enough blog entries that I can regularly reference my deeper thoughts on various inspirations?  Maybe?

            This faith is most commonly known for its monasteries.  Spotting the map, they serve as way points for pilgrims and travelers form all over the country.  Harvest festivals, historical remembrances, star gazing, tournaments, and funerary services are provided by the faithful, and their monasteries often have large tombs or graveyards.
            As the faith, by their own thinking, has aspects in every facet of life they provide numerous services that tie into community life.

Superstitions and Taboos:
            Being rather disparate, the monasteries have no unifying set of superstitions or taboos.  They are big believers in hospitality, and that everything happens for a reason, so they do not put much stock in luck, but instead in the value of people doing positive things for one another, like feeding the hungry, giving compliments and encouragement, or just giving clear instructions.

I think a better illustration of this concept exists.
I just couldn't find one.

Social Organization:
            There is no single unifying church hierarchy.  While each cloister varies and has its own local flavor, they tend to be broken into two major camps, the contemplative, those that ponder the meaning of life often writing long philosophical treatise, and the communal, those that emphasize working with communities and providing a variety of services in exchange for donations and help around the monastery.

Cults & Heretics:
            While most other religions have a diametric opposite, by simply flipping the dogma from kindness to hate, freedom to tyranny, or life to Death, the Five do not suffer from this.  While they are not the state religion of any kingdom they are also not aggressive with their missionary work, so they are not seen as a threat.  No one persecutes followers of the Five, and they have no equivalent to “Satan worshipers”.
            The closest thing to heresy is that some orders believe that other gods exist and incorporate them into worship in a variety of ways, celebrating their holidays, incorporating the imagery into their burial grounds and structures, or citing their religious texts in their writings.

I liked this image of Death so much from my blog on "Celestial Warlock Patrons" that I am using it again.

            There are three pop culture inspirations for this religion.
The first is the Color Wheel from Magic the Gathering.  I tried to make each of the Five line up to a color, Green (Nature), Blue (Time), White (Fate), Red (Heroism), and Black (Death).  It is perhaps not a perfect line up, and some bleed between the elements because White, Black, and Green tend to not have elements tied to them.  I first started coming up with this idea for a religion when I wrote about Magic the Gathering’s color wheel being a better Alignment system.
Speaking of elements here is the other thing that inspired the Five, “Captain Planet and the Planeteers”.  I think it might be an odd choice for me to replace Heart with Death… I think I need to write something about the Planeteers in the future.  They are easy to mock, but as an adult I have seen new value it what the show was about, and have referenced it before.

Where is my dark and cynical reboot of this?
Where Hoggish Greedly is president and the fucking world is coming to an end?
Lastly, I was inspired by Piers Anthony’s “Incarnations of Immortality” series.  Each of the Five is taken right from that series, except he had War instead of the Hero with 1,000 faces.  While I do feel that conflict makes sense as a key aspect of the Five (his was really 7, as God and Satan are also in there), War just seems to inherently negative a concept.  To me, war is not an inevitable aspect of life, it is an unfortunate event that most people avoid direct contact with.  Heroism, which can be embodied in a number of ways felt like a more universal idea.  (I have mentioned this series before.)

What Do You Think
            Would this religion fit in your game world?  Do you think that the aspects are too generic and require sprucing up?  Would you like to see more detail about each of the Five?
            Feel free to put a link to your own fantasy faiths in the comments for contrast.  I am curious about how other people stretch things in their worlds away from the more common, “chose one from the list” style of pantheons in other games.
            And have fun.
            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.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Character Ideas" episode 3

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.  I decided that since I have a Cleric and Druid this week that a good theme would be, “Faith”.
(Originally, last episode’s Warlock was going to be included in these, but I took way too long to write these out).
I have found (while looking for an image that worked), Drow might be the most sexualized fantasy race ever.

Name: Sverre Ashe
Class: Cleric
Race: Dark Elf
Background: Entertainer
History: I recall the time of my youth, when I wandered in darkness.  The cold and wet and miserable dark.  Stalked by beasts not of the night, but of dark.  True darkness.
My family, my clan believed that darkness was not just all around us, but within us.  From skin to skeleton.  From skeleton to soul.  That our goddess ruled us with cruelty, and that we deserved such treatment.  We were of the dark, in the dark, and we deserved nothing better.
It was in a time of wandering the wet stone halls of the underdark that I met someone.  I can only describe them as “someone” for they were many things.  Like a candle flame flickers casting shadows fantastic and macabre, the features of this someone moved and shifted.  Being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away.
It was there in that murky endless gloom that Someone spoke at length to me about the nature of them and me.  About the cost of cruelty, about the pain of living.  And in a span of time that felt like forever, a time that felt like home, sitting all alone beside this One.  This one asked, “Have you heard the good news?”
Goals: I am no longer under the delusion that cruelty is a fact of life.  Cruelty is an abomination.  I am no longer under the misconception that suffering is somehow ennobling.  Suffering is untenable.
I wish to no longer be part and parcel with the darkness of the world and instead bring the good tidings of that Someone who led me out of the darkness.  To share with people the news that they are not alone, that walking with them in the darkest times of their lives is someone who wants to tell them how much they matter and to not lose hope.
            And to that end I put on my show.  Prostilatizing before the masses as eloquently as I can about my own story, and asking for whatever contributions they can spare to help spread the word.
Rating: 3/5
            I know I leaned much harder on the “Cleric” side of things more so than the “Entertainer”, but I think that most religious entertainers tend to downplay their role as entertainer in favor of the religious aspect of what they are doing.
            I chose a Drow because I think that their having a religious turn that leads them away from Lloth is always interesting.  There is a reason Drizzt Do’Urden (spelled it right on the first try) is so compelling, same as the X-Men, Angel from Buffy, or Finn from Star Wars.  Being a good guy when the whole world says you aren’t and doing it because you believe in a moral right that guides you… That’s nice.
            This actually started out much more cynical, a parody of Joel Osteen, and his strange (even creepy) affectation.  But I am in a less cynical mood these days, so I toned it down.

Though, it might just be elves in general.  It is hard to find an elf woman who is not stacked.

Name: Fínín
Class: Druid
Race: High Elf
Background: Guild Merchant
History: I have spent a lot more time among humans and dwarves, far more than the typical member of my race.  I think that most elves can never get past the earthy smell of the other civilized peoples.  But I think that aversion has robbed my kin of a valuable perspective on things.  And this has made elves, as a society, terrible at trade.
            Humans have an almost singular grasp of the concept, something I have studied with rapt attention for decades now.  Simply taking the time to tend an ancient hedge near a human town along a river has allowed me to see trade at work and it is dazzling.
Take two groups, one loaded down with butter, the other’s coffers bursting full of dry bread.  Each sees the other as possessing a treasure, and each trades heaps of their own stores for a pittance of the other’s, along comes hungry tailors burdened by too many pants and shirts, a naked candle maker, a tanner in need of light, a thirsty smith, and a brewer who wants a bit of each.  It is magical that they, with such short lives, find the time to sort thru all of the wants and needs in such a manner as trade.  It is a beautiful madness.
            And all of it facilitated by the movement of little bits of metal with the words, “Taken in Good Faith” stamped on them next to a crown or an eagle.  Money is perhaps the key to human nature?  Who’s to say?
Goals: You know what I like about money?  I can stack it on a table.  I can hold it in my hands.  But what humans and dwarves and other races often forget is this, “you can’t eat gold”.  Wealth, real material wealth comes not from hording shiny rocks but from the creation of materials that everyone wants, but that don’t last forever.  I have the patience for such things.
            Being a druid gives me access to growth.  To the bounty of the natural world.  I can make things people eat by the bushel.  And as an elf I will live long enough to see my investments mature.  To investments I shall sow coins like seeds in the fields, and they in turn shall grow into orchards of golden fruits.
Rating: 4/5
            Call me crazy, but the idea of an elf druid, two concepts that scream, “one with nature” would become so infatuated to the idea of money, a concept wholly of civilization, that they would seek to exploit their magical nature powers for material gain… That is a total subversion of both those things and fits entirely with the Merchant aspect of the character.
            Maybe I went to far with a blathering endorsement of the free market, but as I am playing this more like a parody, that might not be as “endorsing” as you initially think.

Can you spare a little something for the faith?
How about for an apple?  Wanna buy an apple?

            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.

            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.