Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Netflix Horror, 2 Watchable Things

            I have been watching more and more horror movies on Netflix.  I was doing this in preparation for a 30-day blog challenge for October which would be horror themed because I am a hack and will do things with seasonal synchronicity to drive appeal.  However, I got a real job and have serious doubt that I will bother with a full complement of 30 entries next month because I have the ability to prioritize things.
            To make use of the brain space I would have otherwise wasted by watching these movies I am instead going to do a couple quick reviews.  Yesterday I wrote about the movies that should be avoided, today I move onto the movies that are good enough to watch but I could not imagine them being on anyone’s list of favorites.


---WATCHABLE---

A Dark Song” (2016)
Runtime: 100 minutes
Director: Liam Gavin
Writer: Liam Gavin
            This is a pretty simple premise for a movie, a woman hires some neckbeard wizard to help her perform a demonic ritual to contact her dead child.  As the ritual goes thru its various phases reality starts to break down around them, with mysterious behavior by animals, flowers appearing, and voices in the dark of the night.  Along the way, she comes to grips with her inner demons and ultimately communes with her better angels.


            If you have seen “Jacob’s Ladder”, that is the better version of this premise, as the protagonist’s worldview deteriorates with demons and strange happenings.  If you want more of that premise but with fewer characters, locations, set pieces, and it being generally less scary “A Dark Song” will kill some time.
            My biggest complaint was the character of the neckbeard wizard who alternates between nasty, perverted, mean, and jocular to the point where he comes off unevenly written.  He is too unlikable, and they could have made the movie with an actor and writing that would pull more sympathy from my stony heart.


Death Note” (2017)
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides
            I feel obligated to defend this movie because there is a never-ending chain of weebos clamoring to point out how this is some kind of abomination.  It isn’t that bad.  In fact, I prefer it to the source material.
            If you don’t know, this is the latest adaptation of a Japanese work to be made into a live action presentation in the United States.  The plot concerns a lesser death god named Ryuk (pronounced Ree-youk) who gives his magical notebook to a guy named Light, anyone whose name is written in the book dies, so Light sets out to kill as many evil people as possible, the number of inexplicable deaths draws the attentions of the world’s greatest detective, who goes by the pseudonym “L”.
            Ultimately Light becomes consumed with his own power and starts killing innocent people robbing him of any sympathy, while L is (to me) a Mary Sue character who’s bullshit detective work bumbles into the correct solution and he is hailed as a genius by dipshits in the audience who identify with his bizarre behavior instead of seeing it as a learning disability that holds him back (much like Sherlock Holmes or Doctor House, L is an asshole wish fulfillment character, someone so good at their job they can treat everyone around them like trash and get away with it).


            The original “Death Note” was (to me) bogged down in its own bullshit rules about how the magical killer notebook worked and was kind of a chore to watch.
            This version does not focus on those rules and is more about characters being given the power to kill and seeing what they do with it (I am sure some fans of the anime will semantic me, that is the plot of the anime, but what I am saying is that what the anime was ABOUT; the emphasis of the show was the clever manipulations of the rules and the mind games and deductions surrounding those manipulations, the characters were just vessels for that).
            This movie has, ironically, the exact same issues that the original anime has.  The super detective L has intuitive leaps and lines of reasoning that simply do not track.  I know fans of the original anime like to think that L is some kind of genius, but honestly his conclusions are just as contrived there as they are here, they just have more time to BS an explanation for them in the series, and those explanations do not hold up to scrutiny.


            Since the Netflix movie is about characters who happen to be using a magical book, rather than the anime which is firmly about BS-magical-book-murder with the character's existing as a way to play with rules I am able to enjoy the dynamic/conflict of this movie without having to sit thru long explanations of how smart L and Light are which is the constant focus of the anime.
            It is a matter of emphasis.
            This is by no means perfect.  I think that it should have been a 6-episode series rather than the compacted narrative we got.  I think that more time being spent of the fun gory deaths, psycho-romance, actual detective work (can we please clean up the messy “genius” of L), and… yes, some more looks at the rules and how to use them, would have made the story better overall.  As a whole I think this movie works just fine, truncated as it is.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Netflix Horror, 3 Things to Avoid

            I have been watching more and more horror movies on Netflix.  I was doing this in preparation for a 30-day blog challenge for October which would be horror themed because I am a hack and will do things with seasonal synchronicity to drive appeal.  However, I got a real job and have serious doubt that I will bother with a full complement of 30 entries next month because I have the ability to prioritize things like a paying career and promising future.
            To make use of the brain space I would have otherwise wasted by watching these movies I am instead going to do a couple quick reviews.  Let’s start with the movies that should be avoided, and then tomorrow move onto the movies that are good enough to watch but I could not imagine them being on anyone’s list of favorites.

---AVOID---

Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Oz Perkins
Writer: Oz Perkins
            I am disappointed to say that this movie is in the Avoid section.  It is a Netflix production, it has a tight little venue where all the action takes place (the titular house) and a good actress (Ruth Wilson) serving as the fulcrum for all the narrative action.  I would even go so far as to say, “I could see someone liking this if it is your kind of thing”.  All of that middling praise out of the way, this movie is cosmically boring.


            I found this film punishingly long.  There is maybe enough material to fill out an hour-length episode of “The Twilight Zone” but this thing is 90+ minutes.  Every scene is stretched past what it needs to be, every action is focused on just a bit too much, and ultimately the lack of “action” (that is to say evolution of the status quo driving the story forward and eliciting the interest of the audience, not explosions or loud noises) keeps me from thinking of this as anything other than a great big waste of your time, and more importantly mine.
            There is no mystery solving, no exploration, and no relationship material happening.  There is no arc.  Boring.  Maybe if you liked the movie, “Under the Skin” (which I hated) you might find the appeal here.  Otherwise, I recommend staying away.


Demonic” (2015)
Runtime: 83 minutes
Director: Will Canon
Writer: Max La Bella, Will Canon
            This movie has a good gimmick.  A detective and psychologist are investigating what happened to a group of ghost hunters who are all either dead or missing after having spent the night in a haunted/cursed/notorious house.  The execution of everything feels weak.
            The movie feels broken, like they had a short film about ghost hunters being killed by what they were investigating but they had to bring it up to feature length.  The scenes with the Detective and Psychologist feel like a studio mandated framing device added to make the original movie (about the ghost hunters) longer and to include some stars for it, as both Frank Grillo and Maria Bello are slumming it big time in this and are the only actors of note (hold on, I just looked up the Asian guy, Aaron Yoo, who is a good character actor and should get more work, I did not recognize him initially though).


            The ghost hunter group is presented in a mix of found footage and regular camera work, which again makes the whole thing feel broken, pick one style and go with it flipping to and away from a gimmick style just makes it weaker.  The ghost hunters are also not distinct enough, there were two thin white guys who blended right together in my mind.
            Beyond that there are lots of little issues, like the house, which is supposed to be abandoned (I think) having lots of furniture in it, including a big rug covering up a demonic seal on the floor (call me crazy, but if I were going to try and flip that house I wouldn’t throw a rug over that, I would sand it off or paint over it… Not something you want the realtor trying to spin to potential buyers).
            The twist ending was middling.  This is the sort of boiler plate, hacked out horror movie that you put on in the background at a party for the people who are more interested in sitting and vegging out instead of mingling.


The Black Room” (2017)
Runtime: 91 minutes
Director: Rolfe Kanefsky
Writer: Rolfe Kanefsky
            This movie is trash.
            Trash.
            I have no idea what tone they were going for, because this thing oscillates between unironic gory horror moments, nasty sexual humor, dumb-childish sexual humor, and unintentional narm.  It feels like a failed parody of the kind of softcore direct to VHS spank material that would clutter the shelves of a local video rental shop in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Utterly without redeeming feature.


            This is the sort of movie regular access to internet pornography and internet humor should have killed off for good as it is obsolete and unworthy of the time taken to manufacture it.  This movie should be avoided entirely.  If you want a violent sexploitation horror movie watch “Species” instead and do not watch this.  If you want a movie that cunningly moves between horror and comedy watch “Cabin in the Woods” and do not watch this.
            Do not watch “The Black Room”.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

"In the Ruins", a Poem

            I have decided to once again rewrite a poem that I liked but wanted to “fix” by using my own word choices and breaking up the structure a bit.  That poem is “in the ruins” by Mark Conway.  I did this as a writing exercise and I hope people enjoy it some.
            Feel free to say in the comments that you like the original more.  Or post a link to your own poetry.  Have fun with poetry.


In the Ruins
We toasted in the remains
ruined buildings providing
cover from the wind and rain

As we sat in caves or wrecked houses
on farms given back to the banks
the sound of current carrying
what was ours away

Listening to men who’d been raised
in ways of rearing that were lost
and we strained to divine
the use of their views
tossed on the pyre of time

They were crazy or passed out
those who could not bear
parting themselves from memories
of a world gone
of a time now nowhere

They came in from the rain
inflamed and dismayed
calm and arcane
they drank to dull the pain

The least one seethed
then wept at tasting the dregs
we drank and waited
waited for something to drop

Gazing and sifting
for signs written in wax
we were young
we knew how to die
but not how to last

A small man raged
he had god in his sights 
white signs and glyphs glowed in his eyes
his fingers moving thru the wet dust
patterns not unlike the stars
that shone on clear nights

In the ruins
to the sounds of rain
they spoke

Like a choir of seraphim
broken winged and fallen
their speech glowing
with gnosis and erudition

We sorted their mad sacred words
these broken minded guides
to the life before
and the life after that

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Audible Review, "The Cold Dish"

Been A While Since One of These
            Recently, that is to say 4 weeks ago, I bought a daily deal on Audible.  This was “The Cold Dish” first of the “Longmire” series of Mystery/Western novels set in the rural areas of Wyoming, in this instance dealing with the interactions between the white community and the Cheyenne Indians native to the area kept on the nearby reservation.  This series has served as the inspiration/template for a TV show and it is on Netflix.
            Overall, I did not enjoy the book.  Nor did I enjoy the performance of the book.  I can see how this story would work better as a TV show as there are LONG periods in which things are described, having that as a visual, with actors moving and struggling would be more entertaining.  At it is in the book, there are times when paragraph after paragraph goes on and boiling it down amounts to, “I got lost in the snow”.  I have not watched the show and cannot speak to its quality, but I am going to log a big complaint for this book.  The mystery element to the story is WEAK.
 
The show does appear to be well cast and I imagine it is well produced, at least since Netflix picked up production.
How Mysteries Work
            Forgive me if this does not need explaining to you, but I want to define my terms before moving forward.  The key/core appeal of a mystery story is watching it get solved.  The reader/viewer is shown all of the clues, all the suspects, and the main character takes those pieces, and presents something about them that provides greater insight than the reader could be expected to get on their own.
            For instance, Sherlock Holmes being able to determine the approximate height of a person by where they wrote a message on a wall, or being able to see that the word “Rache” is not an incomplete “Rachel” but in fact the German word “Rache”.  The point of a mystery is for it to be solved via insight into the suspects prompted by the correlation of clues.  It is mental triangulation. 
            With all that in mind, imagine my disappointment when I managed to figure out who the killer was not by seeing clues in the story, but because SO MUCH TIME is spent exploring the character/perpetrator in the course of the narrative that I assumed the only reason so much of it was included was that ultimately the character had to be the killer.
            At first I was trying to give the book credit.  That maybe this was going to be a character that would serve to anchor the protagonist, or explore something about his character, or maybe just provide some key insight later on.  You know the type, you’ve seen it on “House MD” when he talks to a walk-in patient in the clinic and solving their problem gives him insight to solve the “real” case for the episode.  I figured this character could be one of those.
            You don’t include someone in the plot to this level unless they matter, ESPECIALLY when their inclusion is such a boring subplot.  Unfortunately, after listening for 5 hours of a 14 hour story the character all but vanishes and I couldn't think of why their scenes would be in the book unless they were the killer.

Voice Work
            Let’s talk about something not directly related to the story.  The narrator, George Guidall fits the character of Longmire perfectly.  His voice is old, craggy, and feels like someone who has lived in the world of the narrative.  He is perhaps a good fit for the book beyond that, as the story is mostly older sounding guys, but George reads it SO SLOWLY.  Listening felt 4 hours longer than what it was, and I listen to my books at x1.1 speed.
            To put in perspective how long it took me to get thru this book, after about 6.5 hours of listening to “Cold Dish” another book I wanted to listen to more, “All These Worlds” came out and I snapped it up.  I listened to the entire 8-hour “All These Worlds” in 4 days, and then swayed back to this one out of a sense of… Obligation?  I guess.

I feel like I should give a complete review of this series.
I kind of loved it, and it juxtaposes perfectly with a recent more successful book that I hate.
            A book that feels faster and more alive, that I can listen thru in a 1/4th or 1/3rd the amount of time I took on this story.  “Cold Dish” does not grab the reader.
            Almost all of my “reading” these days is done via audio books.  I am trying to get more in shape and the best way to do that is to go on long walks, and the best way to make those walks tolerable is to listen to a story.  I have listened to maybe 15-20 voices reading stories at this point and I know what I like.  If this sort of thing does not bother you, then feel free to disregard this criticism.

Backpedaling
            “The Cold Dish” is not nothing.  There are things to like, the characters talking about spiritualism, the history of the area, the folksy charm of a small town, and the challenges that comes with trying to go out into a hostile wilderness investigating murder.  Even the forensic aspects of the story are good even though I think the deluge of forensic programs that came out when I was younger demystified a lot of its charm.
            There are good things and good characters in the book, but god damn was it too long and the case was solved not by interesting clues aligning, but by me just being up on conventions of the genre.  That is weak.  That is fatally weak.
            I cannot imagine someone who has read numerous mysteries getting anything out of this story unless they prefer character drama to investigative aspects.  MAYBE you prefer the types of stories that are about the CHARACTERS and there is a mystery, rather than a story about characters solving a MYSTERY.  It is a matter of emphasis and taste, but for me this did not work.

Random Confusing Element
            Also, Indian Magic is real in this book's universe?  That seems to be more explicit than I expected.  There are ghosts.  They are alluded to in several scenes that make them more fact than hallucination/delusion.  I don’t know how to feel about that.


            Overall, I give it a 2/5.
______________________________
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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Healing Items"

            Several months ago, I wrote a substantive blog on the topic of Healing in Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy games.  At the time the whipping boy was “Skyrim” and the golden boy was “Bloodborne”.
            Since that time, I have not only written 40 more blogs on the topic of Dungeons and Dragons but have taken time to play Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition and have decided to implement so of my mad ideas for Healing as a mechanic into the game.

Healing in 5e
            The base game of fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons has healing spells, some healing abilities, and healing potions.  For the most part though, especially at low levels, healing will come from relaxing.
            I kind of like this, 5e striped out a lot of the fluff from 3e and while I still think that healing surges from 4e were an unfairly maligned mechanic (and since they were only kept around in 5e as a small but useful ability for the Fighter I think they could have been used more) what 5e has is a good starting point (something I think many players and GG’s would agree with me on).
            Thing is, I want and play a game that has a slightly different tone than what 5e sold thru their thinner mechanics.  5e wants things to be a little more dangerous (maybe that is just me).  Monsters can deal a lot of damage and rest seems more necessary.  It is a slower game than I thought it would be, at least in the context of the world itself.

"Hang in there, Barbara.  I've got you.  I know this might be a bad time to tell you 'I told you so' about the sexy armor that does nothing to protect your midriff.... Uh... But, I told you so."
            It takes a good bit of time to heal back up to full and head out again.  This is mostly fine after level 3 as it allows me to send hordes of minions, but some Challenge level 6 monsters have more than 100 hit points and AC or Resistances that make them tougher still.  Facing them at less than full can be a deadly situation because even 2 good hits can put a player out of the action and situations like that tend to snowball from there.
            Even if a group is well equipped otherwise, a lack of hit points is the stopping point.  Having more healing is useful in this sense if for no other reason that it allows more challenging individual situations while not slowing the game down with a, “Okay guys, let’s go back to the surface, have a beer and sandwich, take some naps, take some dumps, and then get ourselves ready to come back down here tomorrow”.
            I went looking around for ideas as to how to add more healing to the game without unbalancing it.  I present these ideas to you, my readers in hopes that you can try them out and see how they fit in your world.  No pressure, even if you just want to eyeball these ideas and voice an opinion do so.

Affordable Healing
            This first idea was discussed back in that overlong blog about Healing, but I want to call back to it here.  In the game “Bloodborne” the primary healing item is the Blood Vial, an injectable healing potion that gives back a set percentage of the player’s total life, this allows them to remain consistently useful even as the player advances in level.
            The Blood Vial is a constant fixture in the game, numerous enemies drop them, they can be bought, and most importantly they are quick to use.  Taking a Blood Vial and jamming it into your leg takes all of a half second to restore health.  These items are cheap and fast, ideal for the fast gameplay of “Bloodborne” and a good starting point for speeding up the gameplay of Dungeons and Dragons.

"No surprise that most Yharnamites are heavy users of blood."
            Let’s adapt this concept.  I want my Healing Injections to be available consistently and cheaply.  I’ll start by looking at the typical healing potion which is 50gp.  In Dungeons and Dragons, a Healing potion costs more than a peasant will make in a year.  Sure, healthcare is expensive in real life, but maybe we don’t need that bit of reality seeping into the game.  I’m gonna make it cheaper.  A lot cheaper.
            In my game, Healing Injections are 5gp.  They still heal 2d4+2 hit points, but they only cost 1/10th what a potion does.  The obvious issue with this is, what is to stop my players from buying 100 Healing Injections and using them forever?  Simple, like all medicine my potions have a use-by date.
            After 1 week, the Healing Injection goes inert.  In “Bloodborne” the game limits players to only carrying 20 Vials at a time, but that mechanic doesn’t exist in DnD.  In a world with bags of holding the limit on how many easy to access healing items available has to be found another way.
            So, the only way to keep players from having unlimited healing is to make the healing go bad.  1 week gives the players enough time to get to a dungeon and use what they bought fighting monsters, but is not so much time that they will encounter enough monsters to justify buying a massive stockpile.

"Think we have enough?"
"Not like there is anything else to spend our money on."
            The idea that the players could buy more than they end up using exists, but since they are so cheap it is seen as an okay risk of loss.  In this system, you could buy 10 Healing Injections for 50gp, use 2, end up with the other 8 expiring, and still effectively come out ahead because normally 1 potion would cost 50gp.  For all intents and purposes they got a free potion out of the arrangement.  But, smart players will not want to waste money and a penny pincher player-accountant will be making sure to save up and not let them go to waste.
            This may sound insane, but the players will almost certainly end up spending more money on healing in this situation than they otherwise would and THAT IS GOOD.  Money is not real in the context of DnD, you can give the players infinite money and they will not have anything to spend it on, at least nothing of use, and it does have a bad habit of piling up.
            Making it so the players are throwing money away on something that is guaranteed to be useful means they will.  You will not end up with monetary inflation in game.  I bring this up because I saw a video a while back on the concept in “World of Warcraft” and still find it interesting.


Fast Healing vs Slow and Steady Healing
            Currently in my game I am favoring a faster sort of healing.  Right now, using a Healing Injection requires an action, but I am thinking about making it part of a move action to further speed the game up (and to make it more like how it is used in “Bloodborne”).  Keeping people who have taken hits in the fight dealing damage and adding to the win.
            HOWEVER, there are always other ways to change healing in 5e to work with other play styles that want things to be a little faster than the current system, but not so fast as to remove challenge.  Maybe you don’t want healing to be so instantaneously helpful to the players.  For this I look to “Dark Souls 2”.

Here is a link to an 80 minute video talking about the mechanics of "Dark Souls 2".
There is a large section on Life Gems.
            Life Gems are a healing item that is fast to deploy, as fast as Blood Vials, but the healing they provide is a slower trickle.  They were provided as a supplement to the slow-to-use but far more effective Estus Flask that is iconic to the “Dark Souls” series.  Life Gems are broken and heal you slowly over a longer period of time, it is possible to use one while only mildly damaged, take additional damage from a fresh hit, and continue to heal back up while dodging around.  Using a Life Gem can serve as a preemptive defense against attack.
            To adapt Life Gems for 5e you might allow your players to break a Healing Gem and roll healing, but only allow them to regain 1 hit point each round, and only allow one Life Gem to work on a player at a time.  In this instance, you might want to tie how potent they are to the character’s level so that they are not completely useless at higher levels.
            For example, let’s say Drailin the Elf is level 8, he has taken 15 points of damage, but has 35 more hit points.  As he is not in fear of death immediately, he decides as part of his move action to crack a Healing Gem and over the next 8 rounds (a number of rounds equal to his level) he will get back 1 hit point on each of his turns for a total gain of 8.
            Drailin will still be vulnerable from having been hit, but is recovering and will continue to recover as the fight progresses.  Life Gems could also be made more powerful, but more expensive.  Instead of 1 hit point a round, maybe 1d4 hit points each round.  Roughly the same hit points regained overall, not too slow, but not all at once.
 
I would have posted an image of a Life Gem, but they look SUPER Unimpressive.
This is an Estus Flask, a massively recognizable thing from the series.
Possible Limitations and Other Healing
            It is easy to say, you can only use 1 Healing Injection or Life Gem each day.  You might say that a short rest is necessary before using another.  That a body can only metabolize so much of their magical healing juice.  You know, you have to rest a bit at a bonfire?  Is that a reference anyone will get?  I feel like I am being too obvious.
            You could tie those limitations to other things too.  Much larger healing items, akin to a Full Restore in “Pokemon”; things that remove temporary status effects like Stunned, Confused, or Poisoned; or potions that can remove ability score damage.
            Perhaps providing cures to conditions that should require rest and TLC is making the game too easy.  I don’t know.  I like the idea that the players can hit more than just a half dozen dungeon rooms before being totally spent.
            Going back to the Healing Injections having an expiration date, you could do something else.  There are other ways around having the things last forever or quickly becoming completely inert.  For instance, if you are using the Taint/Corruption/Sanity rules found in many horror campaigns, having a typical Healing Injection carry no Corrupting effects but an older Healing Injection run the risk of making the player more monstrous gives a tactical dimension to longer campaigns.  The characters might be put into a situation in which they have to sacrifice some of their humanity to stay alive, or refuse to make such a sacrifice.  That is classic drama.
 
I wonder why "corruption" is the first thing I think about as a restriction.
Was there some theme of corruption in "Bloodborne"?
I can't remember.
Some Example Items

Healing Injection- 5gp
Used an action this heals 2d4+2 hit points.
After 1 week of ownership the Injection loses its magical healing properties.

Healing Injection, Greater- 20gp
Used as an action this item heals 3d4+ (your level) hit points.
After 1 week of ownership the Injection loses some potency and becomes a typical Healing Injection (which will lose all healing properties after 1 week).

Healing Gem- 2gp
Used as part of a move action crushing this gem allows the user to begin healing 1 hit point each round for a number of rounds equal to the user’s level.  Healing gems do not expire.

Healing Gem, Healing- 8gp
Used as part of a move action crushing this gem allows the user to begin healing 1d4 hit point each round for a number of rounds equal to the user’s level.  Healing gems do not expire.

"Makes your muscles rigid!  All of them!  Wink!"
"Did you just yell 'wink'?"
Atlas’ Brand Muscle Cream- 20gp
This requires a short rest to apply and take effect.  The cream removes 1d4 points of ability score damage to each of Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution.  It can only be used once each day.

Mr. Mental’s Mind Tonic- 20p
This requires a short rest to ingest and take effect.  The tonic removes 1d4 points of ability score damage to each of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.  It can only be used once each day.


Hippocrates’ Handy Medicine Bag- Wondrous Item, Rare
This satchel is able to hold 3 cubic feet or 30lbs of material.
Up to 8 Healing Injections can be kept in small holders within the bag, akin to the slots of a bandolier.  Healing Injections kept in these holders within the satchel do not degrade in quality after 1 week but instead last a full month without losing their potency.
Three times each day the bag can be used as a Healer’s kit to stabilize a dying person.  One of these uses can be expended to remove the Stunned, Confused, or Poisoned status from someone suffering such a condition.
Medicine such as Mind Tonic or Muscle Cream kept in the Satchel restores 1d4+2 points of ability score damage rather than the usual 1d4.
            Placing an object in the Satchel follows the normal rules for interacting with objects. Retrieving an item from the Satchel requires you to use an action. When you reach into the haversack for a specific item, the item is always magically on top.
            If the Satchel is overloaded, or if a sharp object pierces it or tears it, the Satchel ruptures and is destroyed. If the Satchel is destroyed, its contents are lost forever, although an artifact always turns up again somewhere. If the haversack is turned inside out, its contents spill forth, unharmed, and the haversack must be put right before it can be used again. If a breathing creature is placed within the haversack, the creature can survive for up to 10 minutes, after which time it begins to suffocate.
            Placing the Satchel inside an extradimensional space created by a Bag of Holding, Portable Hole, or similar item instantly destroys both items and opens a gate to the Astral Plane. The gate originates where the one item was placed inside the other. Any creature within 10 feet of the gate is sucked through it and deposited in a random location on the Astral Plane. The gate then closes. The gate is one-way only and can’t be reopened.
 
There are a lot of magic bags in this game.  What is one more?
Feel Better Faster
            Looking back over how long this blog got, and spitting in the face of my stated goal of making my entries about DnD shorter and easier to read, I think I should have broken this into two entries.  If you have any topics you would like me to talk about feel free to post a comment.  Please post a comment if you end up using any of these and would like to give feedback on how well they work or suggestions on pricing these things.
            These are just some ideas I have been kicking around and I haven’t done a full-on RULES blog for Dungeons and Dragons in a while so I thought I would take a swing.  If you would like to read more of my Dungeons and Dragons entry here is one on how Orcs behave in my game world, here is one on Cursed Items in the game and Fantasy as a whole, and here is one on Evil Fantasy Races.  If you want to look over a complete list of the 30 entries I did in July, you can just click here.
            If you would like to read more of my writing about other things, here is a self-reflective blog I did for the 10-year anniversary of me taking the GRE, here is one about my thoughts on Diversity in my life and the events in Charlottesville, and here is me complaining about issues I have with how leaders are written in fiction.

            Thanks for your time, and have fun.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Higher Education, part 3 (final)

            This is continued from part 2 which was yesterday, and that was a continuation of part1 from Friday.

Internship
            At this point I was half way thru year 6 of my degree program.  Fail to finish an internship for the Planning degree or one level three foreign language for the International Affairs degree and it would all be for nothing.  Since I had no more courses to do otherwise I could no longer justify staying in Tallahassee to finish that foreign language class while looking for an internship.  I headed home.
            Again, I must point out that my parents had been lending me a lot of support thru this.  I was twisting in the wind too often and now I was heading home with 27/10ths of a degree, but only one of them actually being whole.
            For 6 months, I was throwing out applications to every planning and “this could pass for planning, I guess” position I could find in the state.  I ended up with 3 interviews for 50 applications and no takers.  I know that my professor advisor was furrowing her brow at all this because I was a nervous wreck, ticking clocks are not fun to listen to when they are in your own head.
            I ultimately only got noticed because my father works for the government of my hometown, and he told me who’s trees to shake to get me noticed.  I got an unpaid (and previously nonexistent) position with the city’s neighborhood development department.
            I think they made out alright in the exchange.  While I did not have the practical knowledge of someone with years’ experience, they were really in need of staff (they continue to be 1-3 people short of the sort of staffing they would prefer).  I was a graduate level writer and researcher and was able to tear thru several things while over there that otherwise might have been pushed off to another year or just dropped as being beyond what they could furnish.
            My biggest accomplishment was helping to compile and write an Economic Development chapter to the city’s comprehensive plan.  It was apparently so well written that it was dubbed a “shadow government” by the building/planning council.  Being a literal expert in politics and planning, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can say conclusively they did not know what that term means.

Last Class
            Internship completed, I now only needed one class.  ONE CLASS.  An Undergraduate class at that.  But I wasn’t moving back to FSU to take that.  I could not possibly justify the expense of living in Tallahassee for one class and even if I could justify that I wouldn’t be able to afford it, as taking only one class did not qualify as a full-time student and thus no loans.
            I decided I would take the classes as a transfer student at the relatively nearby Florida Gulf Coast University, my undergraduate alma mater.  An hour long ride out to school and an hour back twice a week to take a foreign language course.  I hammered away at Duolingo and Rosetta Stone software to prep myself, not the most formal of educations but I think it did a lot to gear me back up.
            TWIST, turns out spending a year looking for and then doing an internship does not count as being in class so I had to reapply to my programs at Florida State.  I then had to get approval from my department to take the class as a transient student, I then had to get approval from FGCU to take the class, and I needed the professor to approve of such a thing.
            Ultimately, I did manage to jump all those hoops in time to make the class (though they did charge me a penalty for being a late register).  What is funny is one of those steps involved a placement exam.  Even though I had been taking enough French in school to qualify for the class.
            I had at this point taken French 1 twice (once having failed to pass), then taking and passing French 2, and was trying to get into French 3 after having already failed to pass it.  All of that and I had been studying my old notes, and my old text book, and Duo Lingo, and Rosetta Stone.  I suck at foreign languages if you haven’t guessed.  I wish I had more affinity for mathematics which apparently, that is all I have a true knack for.
            At that time, I could read a newspaper article in French, I know I could because I did in order to study.  I took a placement exam and performed SO POORLY that I would have done better marking all answers “C”.  I did so bad that it said I was unqualified to be in French 1.  Luckily, the Professor understood this was my only class and knew that I was on the hook for a Master’s program and would be working hard on it.  She let me file, kind of out of pity.
            This is also where I started entering a “Twilight Zone” of sorts.  Going back to classes with people who were more than 10 years younger than me was surreal.  Even though I look younger than I am (so long as I shave), I don’t sound like a 20-year-old.  And while I got along with everyone in the class, I did not connect.  I was distant the whole time in spite of my efforts to talk to people about FSU and grad school should they consider it in the future.
            Ultimately, I passed the class.  Though I was so stressed by the end that the Professor was legit concerned and assuring me that I was doing fine.

Getting back in Shape
            I had during this time been slowly getting back down to the weight I wanted.  After ballooning up to 270 at the height of being a stressed out blob I had started walking more, and hitting the gym, but could make any real progress, getting down to 260 but staying there for 6 months.  The autumn before I went back to French I recommitted to change that.
            I bought a Fitbit that was on sale for Black Friday (or Black Thanksgiving Evening now s people could not wait for that sweet rush of buying things to fill the whole in them caused by the hollow core that is Neo-Liberal-Capitalism) and began walking daily thousands of steps and tracking my diet in order to lose weight.
            I lost 10 pounds in 50 days and another 10 pounds in the 2 months following that.  Since then I have only lost another 2-5, but I am back in the 235-240 area and have been going to the gym in addition to walking.
            I know this is not all that much to do with school and all but it is a big shift.  Learning to get in shape and stay in shape is something I never really mastered.  I worked in bursts my whole life, spurred on by random instances.  This last 10 months of maintaining so much regular activity is a major change to who I was.

Looking for Work
            During French and after I continued to look for work.  This time looking for permanent positions rather than having to advertise my need to finish out degrees.  I applied to 40 or so, and got 3 interviews.  Though much stronger interviews than in the past.  Needless to say, my perspective had changed, I was losing weight instead of gaining, I had my degrees instead of getting them, and I didn’t have to limit myself to certain types of work, I could apply to any government position that fit my skill sets and pivot from those positions as my needs and skills developed.  My ability to sell my skills had been augmented by having documented skills to sell.
            It should serve as a semi-poetic chapter to this blog that last Friday, the day that was 10 years after taking the GRE, I got my first job since finishing Graduate school.  There is of course the background check (makes sense) and the physical (something I find perplexing for an employer to ask for) and then I will slide in.  Finally having a wall to hang my freshly framed degrees on.
            My city is about to start its largest transformation ever, more development is expected in the next two years than during any period than the housing bubble which led to the great recession (this time it will be sustainable development and not a catastrophe the world over… Fingers crossed).  I will get to do what I was training for in some of the most intense conditions available for it.
            Good thing too.  I have a lot of student debt to pay off.  Just like everyone else my age.

Epilogue
            This should go without saying but this little outline of my last decade is shallow.  4,000 words does not include all the details, good and bad of my life over the last 10 years and there are some sections in these blogs that could be books unto themselves (the Police section and my Political Internship for my first Masters spring to mind immediately).
            Maybe one of these days I will write it all out for a book no one will buy called something like, “A Millennial’s Perspective”.  I will have to do it about 10 years after my generation becomes the one in charge, all of us wondering why all the younger generations keep killing off arcane social conventions and businesses.
            We’ll have lost touch with the protracted war that caused so many of our classmates to come back drained, the natural disasters that kept sinking cities, or the economic implosion that nobody got in trouble for and no one learned anything from.
            Maybe the next ten years will be better.

            Maybe I’ll be better.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My Higher Education, part 2

Continued from Yesterday.

No Longer a Cop
            After law enforcement, I went back to working at the bookstore part time while studying for the LSAT.  All that time hoping that my experience as a cop would translate well to law school (it didn’t) and ultimately, I did take the test.
            I say this with no hyperbole, the hardest part of the LSAT test was writing the honor code out by hand in cursive, which is required.  I had not written anything in cursive in my adult life.  In fact, my hand writing is all capital letters in block type so that it can be read with ease by anyone.  Cursive is one of my personal bugbears and I see it as a blight on education, a tremendous waste of time that has zero value.  My hand cramped, I couldn’t actually finish writing the damn thing with any legibility, and I was the last person to finish the task, holding up the room.
            I took the LSAT, and did fine, well enough to later be accepted to Law School.  This is a fun little turn of fate because it is another test I barely studied for.  I bought a test booklet with 400 questions, I did 40 in total, spending about 3 hours overall pondering the questions and looking over the answers.  The rest of the time I played Sudoku and read science fiction novels.
            I later dropped out of Law School after spending a year there.  It was an expensive way to figure out that I was not destined to spend my life filling out paperwork with really tight and precise use of commas and quoting other people’s arguments.  I am getting ahead of myself.

Grad School
            Rather than apply to Law School first I wanted to pursue a regular Master’s degree.  Ultimately, my goal was to go abroad with some kind of charity or NGO.  I looked into the International Affairs programs around the state, first at Florida International and then at Florida State.  What was the tipping point for the one I focused on and eventually attended?  The application process for FSU was easier.
            When I entered the program, I did a poor job of managing my time, I was still working part time at a bookstore, a decision I look back on as a waste of time, and I did not prioritize getting the most difficult aspect of the degree done (for me that is the foreign language portion, that might not be an issue for you, but it is for me).
            I got the opportunity to study abroad in Turkey (which used up all of my savings from being a cop), and was sold on doing Urban and Regional Planning as a joint program.  The Planning tie-in provided what I was really looking for with International Affairs via a Peace Corp program which would have taken me abroad to work on development projects.  Again, I did not manage my time and priorities well as I did not commit to the idea completely and just dipped my toe in.
            My second year of Graduate school, after returning from studying in Turkey I was miserable.  I felt like I was going in a dozen directions, I was anxious, and I was obnoxious.  I almost immediately wanted to bail out on Planning and again tried to go on a new more focused direction, I applied to Law School and jumped in.

Law School
            Law School was paradoxically one of the more rewarding parts of my life in that I met a lot of good friends, so much so that I feel their association with me elevates my reputation while they are taking a bit of a ding to theirs.  But, aside from those friends I was awful at Law School.  This might be my own personal philosophy getting in the way but I often disagreed with the logical founding of many Supreme Court cases, and I often became rankled by the focus on cases rather than focusing on the laws themselves.
            To me, logic is an absolute, case law seems to take to its core that you have to back up your own logic with the opinions of other more important and credible people otherwise your logical founding is not right.  I see this as a logical fallacy called, “argument from authority”.  This is more than likely a distortion of what Case Law is.  Obviously, I did not grasp the concept.  I left Law School after year one, once more taking on an entirely new direction.

MAAPP
            I entered the Political Science Department. Couple floors up from Planning, couple more from International Affairs and entered into the first program that I could get my head around completely and managed to commit to.  Master’s in Applied American Politics and Policy.  Research political opponents, research how to message to constituents, research people you want to ask for money, and then build a message.
            It is a cynical, practical, and functional use of political science.  It is one that I managed to get a hold one.  It is the first Master’s Degree I completed and I was done after 15 months of taking every class I could fit and going to an internship which showed me several levels of field work in a campaign.  The internship by itself could fill several blogs with interesting material and I would go so far as to say it would make an interesting TV show.
            Completing this degree was my first real accomplishment as an adult.  An adulthood that was previously rudderless and full of fail.  This kind of turned things.

Returning to Planning and International Affairs
            I was able to go back to Planning and International Affairs.  I did so initially to pad my schedule while finishing my MAAPP degree but then came to realize how little course work I needed to do to actually complete the degrees.  Fun fact, you have seven years to finish a program, at this point I was half way thru year 5 and was 90% done with one degree and 80% done with the other.
            I took aim at the Peace Corp program again but as luck would have it ISIS was in full swing and many programs in Morocco and the Philippines and anywhere that had a Muslim population became dicey.  I was aiming for Albania, but with the number of positions shrinking, there were more qualified applicants than there were open positions and I was not chosen.  I do see this as a missed opportunity in my life, I know that having multiple years of practical experience tied into my graduation would have been immensely useful, but things happen.
            I decided to keep hammering here at home.  I committed to foreign language courses; took the lab/studio/final project that would have been replaced by the Peace Corp but now was back on the table; took all the required classes that would have been replaced by the Peace Corp; and gained 40 pounds in 5 months, turning into a slug of a human being from stress.
            I actually did not pass a foreign language class and had that hanging over my head for too long as it became the LAST CLASS needed for me to get all my degrees.  But before that I needed an internship (another thing that would have been replaced by the Peace Corp) so I started to apply.

Continued again in a third part tomorrow.


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