Friday, May 30, 2014

SHTFriday: More reviews of camping stoves

Over at Blue Collar Prepping, I review a trio of stoves from Bushcraft Essentials: The Bushbox, the XL, and the EDCBox.

If you desire to leave a comment at BCP but do not wish to deal with Google+, I encourage you to leave your comment here instead.  All questions will be answered and all statements considered. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Having trouble collecting my thoughts this week. Wonder why.

So sometime in the last week or so, some rich kid with too much money and too much time on his hands did a terrible thing, and between that and the internet's general knee-jerk reaction has put me in such a terrible mood that I can't really focus my thoughts terribly well.

That, and I realized far too late just how much fiber is in trail mix and spent most of the week with terrible cramps.

I have a few scattered thoughts to share while a much more positive message forms for next week.

  • 4 young men and 2 women are dead, and there are people using them to push their political agenda. Someone's life should not be political currency, even if you think you're the good guys.
  • If you're going to point a metaphorical shotgun with a wide spread at a crowd of people, don't be shocked if people in the crowd are offended when you pull the trigger, whether you were specifically aiming at them or not.
  • You've got one voice. You're entitled to use that voice to speak for exactly one person. You start saying everyone has the same experience as you, and that erases the experiences of people who've had it worse, better, or just merely different to you.
  • At the risk of being called an 'ableist' or just plain insensitive, the words of a crazy person are just that.

Coherent thoughts next week. For now I've lost my Ability Toucan and must replace it. I leave you with the internet's current version of logical thought for now:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Things Which Surprise and Confound Me #1d20

Given that most role-playing games are built around combat -- with killing being the main means of character advancement, and weapons & armor being glorified both as prizes worth killing for and epic upgrades to make my glorious character even more lethal -- it's always a surprise to me how so many RPG designers and publishers are staunch liberals who, when they aren't designing games about killing, want to pass laws that would disarm the populace and turn us all into zero-level serfs.

In related news, my political beliefs pretty much guarantee I will never be hired by traditional RPG publishers to write anything, ever.

[AFHOTWTTGS] Kapt. Von vs. The Generic D&D Setting

"Look at us. We're an age so steeped in escapism that we manage to find mundanity in something that doesn't exist, and never will, no matter what your Otherkin friend might say. Why is it accepted fact that elves fire arrows and commune with trees? That was Tolkien's thing - without him, elves would just about be qualified to sell Rice Krispies - and he made dwarves all wear braids and beards and have battleaxes... Are we all but children, playing on the same swing set while J. R. R. is the grumpy dad watching from the park bench and trying not to get aroused?"
-- some other British beardy-weirdy gaming type who is funnier and more successful than me because he's into console gaming and yellow backgrounds

Libellous comments at the expense of Professor Tolkien aside, the man has a point. One of the things that's always ground my gears about D&D is the rather slavish adherence to Appendix N - and yes, yes, there's nothing inherently wrong with the four Tolkienan races, Vancian magic, stealing all your best lines from Robert E. Howard or any of the other flim-flam that fantasy indulges in. I can see the argument for them being the default choice for those players out there who are not in and of themselves predisposed to arguing about the novelty or otherwise of fantasy settings, for whom 'fantasy' is either Middle Earth or, I guess, in these modern times, Westeros.

(As an aside: I'll take a setting with politically interesting humans, ominous armies of undead or whatever amassing on the far side of a capital-W Wall built by our ancestors and patrolled by bastards of all stripes, and dragons that actually do things, thanks. Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for, not least the sudden rise of everyone sticking 'of House' between their characters' names and incompetently running political storylines all over my WoW-RP server... but Westeros itself has potential. ANYWAY.)

There's already quite enough buy-in crap with RPGs - a hobby where you have to fill out forms before you can participate is always going to impose buy-in problems, and if you have to recruit newbies as often as I do you become very, very good at streamlining that process of getting people into the game - without asking people to negotiate a quagmire full of unfamiliar choices. A player like this one is not going to have the patience to wade through your setting bible before they even choose who they want to be - hell, I'm not going to and I am naturally predisposed to playing these games.

'Elf', 'dwarf', 'orc' and - sigh - 'hobbit' have a certain cachet. They are recognisable: they are, as some smug bastard who nevertheless says halfway clever things about D&D now and then puts it, things you can refer to and generally expect people to recognise and have some idea about, regardless of what those people get up to at the weekend.

However. The new players I tend to recruit are people who already know Fantasy and are often in similar positions to me; they look at post-Tolkien generic 'elf' and 'dwarf' and bloody 'hobbit' as concepts, yawn hugely, and ask why we can't play Race for the Galaxy instead. Right now, as I snuffle around the prospect of doing a spot of D&D over the summer holidays, I find myself wondering about how to handle these core notions and the concept of buy-in. My instincts are pulling me every which way. My options, as I see it, are as follows.

  1. Roll with the generic D&D experience, regardless of my contempt for it, and save any bright-eyed ideas I might have about My Fantasy Setting for some more appropriate medium.
  2. Keep the elves and dwarves on board, mechanics unchanged, but alter their manifestations within the setting. My elves are urbanised and virtually extinct, bred in with humans (lots of half-elves), but pure-blood ones occasionally pop up as a kind of parasitic supra-aristocracy in 'high magic' parts of the setting, with playable ones being minor scions on some eldritch elf business of their own; my dwarves are heavy metal theocratic fascists who live in an infernal underworld, summon fire demon things to do their dirty work, and occasionally throw up someone who's not a complete gobshite and runs off to be an adventurer instead. My hobbits are absent without leave because this isn't Middle-Earth and I insist on drawing the line somewhere.
  3. Say 'sod the lot of them' and maybe allocate the same niches to things I find more interesting, or maybe not. Rakshasa are interesting; they wander into your reality from their own and act like they own the place. Goblins are interesting; the little blighters get everywhere and anyone who's seen and likes Labyrinth should see the merit in a playable one. Hamakai (vulture-headed geezers I might have stolen from Fighting Fantasy and who did something catastrophic and stupid to their civilisation a long time ago) are interesting. Even drow are quite interesting (matriarchal, highly stratified but still 'chaotic' society, murder as legitimate tool of advancement, deranged theocracy, slave-taking... I can work with that) and are more uniquely D&D than anything nicked from Tolkien. Humans are... not especially interesting but feel more or less mandatory so that there's something pretty familiar, something to contrast the fantasy elements against.
1 would be accessible and reassuringly 'this is the D&D thing I've always wanted to try' for the newbies' sake, 2 seems like an unfortunate compromise since the whole point of having elves and dwarves is that you know what they're like, and 3 is intrinsically cool but I worry about creating buy-in issues.

What would you do if you were me?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Palette's Quick & Dirty Grammar Clinic

Herein are some useful tips on how to improve your grammar. I have attempted to make these rules "fast and fun" rather than "painfully accurate", because I understand that some folks' eyes glaze over when they see terms like subjunctive case or subject/verb agreement.

Instead, take it for what it's meant to be:  a lighthearted romp through some minefields of English grammar, using shortcuts that I've either been taught or invented myself, in the hope that we can have some fun while learning at the same time.

If at any time you are confused, comfort yourself with this quotation from James Nicoll:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
And now, let the Grammar Clinic commence! (And if you heard that in Shang Tsung's voice, you're doing it properly.)

Remove Yourself from the Equation
Not sure if you should say "me and him" or "he and I"?   Remove yourself from the sentence and the answer will reveal itself.

Example 1:
  • Me and him are going to the store.
  • Me and him are is going to the store.
  • Him is going to the store?  No, this is clearly wrong. 
  • You can double-check by leaving yourself in and taking out the other person: Me is going to the store is also clearly wrong. 
Example 2:
  • He and I are going to the store. 
  • He and I are is going to the store. 
  • He is going to the store.  That's clearly the right answer. 
This also works with proper names, i.e. "Jane and I."

Protip:  If you are still confused, use "we" whenever possible.

Put Yourself Last
All right, but is it "He and I" or "I and he?" As the title says, your pronoun should always come last.

I'm not sure why this is, other than "The English language was carefully cobbled together by three blind dudes and a German dictionary."

Lie About Getting Laid
When to use "lie" vs. when to use "lay" is a source of constant confusion for many folks. Let me break it down for you:

Lay is an action you do to another.  A chicken lays an egg, a mother lays her baby down, you get laid by your lover. 

Lie is an action that you take.  You lie down for a nap. A baby refuses to lie quietly. Let sleeping dogs lie. 

You lay a shirt flat, but you lie flat on your back.  

Whom? Him.
Not knowing when to use "whom" is another common error. The easiest way to remember it is "If the answer is 'him', then you use 'whom.'"

  • To whom does this belong?  It belongs to him
  • Who was at the door? He was at the door. 
Sometimes the easiest way to detect proper grammar is to reverse the order of the sentence.  Not sure if you should say "This is her" or "This is she?"   Switch the order around and you should be able to hear the difference:
  • "Her is this."  No one talks like this. (I hope!)
  • "She is this."  This is correct grammar because it sounds correct!
Author's note:  Nowhere in English exists the rule "If it sounds correct, then it must be correct." I am simply using this technique as a shortcut to help a reader quickly determine which pronoun to use while hoping that their knowledge of spoken English will see them through the rest of the way. 
Similarly, reversing the order of the sentence can help with "was vs. were".  Let us consider the classic sentence "If I were a rich man."
  • "Were I a rich man" sounds like a statement. 
  • "Was I a rich man" sounds like a question, which this sentence clearly was not. 

Let's do it again, with "I wish I was young again."
  • "Was I young again" sounds like a question. 
  • "Were I young again" sounds like a statement.
What do both of those sentences have in common?  They're both wishes. Fanciful desires and fantasy use were.  

Conversely, conditional statements like "If it was Tuesday, I was in Belgium" have an inherent question -- in this case, that question is "Was it Tuesday?" 

To conclude this post with a bit of levity, I leave you with this classic Lewis Black line:  If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college. This one is a bit harder, because it's a negative.  But don't worry, just use the same principle:
  • Was it not for my horse
  • Were it not for my horse
I leave the answer as an exercise for the student. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Memorial Day almost always makes me feel sad and incompetent. I grew up in a military family, so I feel a kinship for my brothers and sisters in arms, but not having myself served (I was medically DQ'd from ROTC in college) I feel like I'm not qualified to properly comment on the somberness of the day.

Oh, I know that I'm allowed to comment; I just feel like I lack the proper vocabulary for it, as I've never served nor have I known anyone who died in service. The best I can do is say "I wrote a science fiction story in honor of this day,", and even then that feels like I'm Kermit-flailing my arms in the vague direction of propriety.

Over at Blue Collar Prepping, however, Chaplain Tim offers a soldier's perspective on Memorial Day.  It's worth a read.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Perfect World Doctrine

[The Perfect World Doctrine  is a story idea that I came up with some time ago, and scribbled into something resembling an overview. I may or may not do something further with this at some point, but for now I'm letting the idea into the wild]

     There is a theory that for each decision made, another reality is created from the branch that decision makes. Another world, very much like our own, but sideways. One simple difference separates us from our own brethren on a very similar world.

      Going by this theory, there must, then, exist one perfect world, where every single decision made by every single being capable of making decisions chose the "correct" option. In one such reality, some decision was made, now lost to the annals of history, that resulted in the Many-worlds theory being accepted as common belief. The natural pride and arrogance of man's society clung to the irrational belief that they, in fact, were existing in that reality.

      As that belief spread, so did an equally irrational fear that any perceived misstep in reality would immediately result in that world no longer being considered perfect. Ordered societies quickly formed, with laws formed to ensure continued perfection and law enforcement dedicated entirely to upholding the tenants of this perfect society. There was, initially, resistance.

      Nobody remembers that resistance anymore, though. It was deemed as potentially disruptive to the cherished idea of perfection, as some could argue that the mere idea of resistance qualified as a decision made that threw that world out of balance as the perfect world. Perfect World Doctrine became a required subject at as early an age as it could be comprehended.

      There were upsides, of course, as there are to any decision. Poverty and sickness, were eliminated, as it was decided they were not characteristics of a perfect society. Construction projects were started in less developed parts of the world, with people that would otherwise be unemployed building homes and structures of aid, worship, and business for those in less well-off areas. Within a few generations, the idea of "third world countries" was completely eradicated. Everybody that could be accounted for had a roof over their head, a full belly at the end of the day, and a warm place to sleep at night. Technology was implemented to harness the weather, redirecting heavy rains from areas prone to flooding to areas prone to drought, increasing crops and food supply.

      Upsides, however, always have a dark lining. Single-party political systems gave way to conglomerate global governments. Free speech in general had less and less leeway with each passing generation. Personal liberties were repealed in favor of maintaining the Delicate Balance. The Ideal Enforcement Division was also one of these dark linings. Initially, jokingly, referred to as Men In Black, officers of the IED would investigate 'poor decisions' reported by other citizens. If you were found guilty of making a poor decision, you were persuaded to change your decision, with the justification that reversing a poor decision could restore the delicate balance the Perfect Society hung upon. One such officer, Anthony Clemens, was so persuasive, so determined, that he rose to the top of the IED. As Chief Protector of the Balance, he put those powers of persuasion to effective, if not necessarily altruistic, use. The IED gained more and more power under Clemens, eventually operating essentially unchecked, in the name of protecting the Delicate Balance.

      The IED began branching out from investigation to Imbalance Prevention. Film and television production houses were folded into their Balance Education wing, producing cheery generic sitcoms glorifying the status quo, and terrifying horror stories about the slippery slope that a Great Imbalance would bring. Citizens that objected to the message of these productions were often labeled dissidents, and at first simply disappeared. The IED would soon find a more subtle way of preventing even this messy, loud problem. Clemens argued successfully against the protests of the GFDA that water supplies should be silently laced with chemicals developed to make the population more pliant, and easier to persuade should they make a poor decision. With the population pacified, there were no more dissidents, no one that required 'disappearing,' and nothing to cover up.

     The IED had the ear of the world's official leaders, but even they did not know everything that happened in their perfect world. Despite the attempted pacification of their populace, there were still people that were dissatisfied with what their world had become, but unable to speak up either due to fear or from having their spirits chemically castrated. In the massive underground storm sewers of Tokyo, walled off by Japanese leaders before the country was absorbed into the one-world government, experiments with piercing the walls between realities had been taking place for decades with little to no success. Founded by brilliant misfits from the Perfect Society, scientists, engineers, and civilians worked together to find a way to escape what their world had become.

      Nearly 100 years to the day after the IED had implemented Imbalance Protection, a breakthrough had been made. Quiet joy moved through the underground communities, as people celebrated in a dozen languages the fact that they had found an answer. Recon teams were sent through, scouting each reality and gathering information, hoping to find a reality different enough that they could resettle. The theoretical mathematicians calculated they would need to find a reality approximately 1 billion decisions away from their own before they could be safe.

      Thus began the new underground railroad. People that would have been human traffickers, smugglers, criminals in a world not unlike our own now ferried people across the world, skirting entire nations and sticking to international waters and no-fly zones to bring people to Tokyo. Tunnels had been constructed, burrowing out from the storm sewers to concealed docks on the coasts of Japan, with the purpose of guiding in refugees from more 'civilized' parts of the world. At first, this was a one-way stream of people, inhabiting other dimensions that allowed them to make their own decisions. As more and more people were appearing in these alternate dimensions, their own officials started noticing. Refugees were detained, questioned. Scientific inquiries were made. Meetings were had, and important people made important decisions.

      Then, one day, people started coming back through from the other side.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] Iron Kingdoms: Three House Rules

Recently, I've been mulling over my experience with playtesting the Iron Kingdoms Role Playing Game, as reviewed on this very blog last month, and in my reflective trance I have hit upon a few things which I'd consider altering by default.

First up is 'Unconventional Warfare' - an Intellectual feat which enables the character to turn some aspect of the environment to their advantage, by spending a feat point and describing how they'll do it. This sort of thing is the behaviour I try to encourage in all my players - hell, it's the way most people with whom I play RPGs approach them by default - and having to tell the players who haven't picked Intellectuals and haven't chosen that feat that they're not allowed to be clever players because their character build doesn't include that sort of cleverness.

As far as I'm concerned, Unconventional Warfare should just be a part of the player character's armoury. I'll be keeping it as a Feat, in order to restrict it to player characters and important NPCs, and trusting the regular churn of feat points to keep up regardless. I suppose, for balance's sake, I should probably replace it with some extra doohickey for Intellectuals... perhaps a Moment of Genius feat which works like the Idea roll in Call of Cthulhu, to whit a 'reactivate the plot if the players get stuck' button?

Second up is an extra playable race. I'm a big fan of the Nightmare Empire of Cryx and quite a few of my players are big fans of the Satyxis - and why would you not be? I mean, look at 'em!

Fortunately, the Designated Monster Race here are in essence human; they just come with these rather fetching horn-like things. I'm thinking 'replace the free stat upgrade you get for picking Human with the Head-Butt ability, no prerequisites required'. That gives them their game effect - they nut you and you fall over - and the option to enhance that effect with extra STR and Unarmed Combat points.

And finally, there's the area of play. The notion of using squared or hex paper is nothing remotely new to RPGs, but to an RPG that's so heavily and directly derived from a wargame in which measurement - precise and frequently argued down to the micron - is so vital and failing to accurately calculate distances such a big deal, it's quite a fundamental shift.

The thing is, though this isn't Warmachine. We're not playing a competitive game. We're not standing here shaking our heads and going "well, that's your fault for not knowing exactly how far 9.5 inches is and no, I don't have to divulge my intent to stay out of that range, second-guessing me is part of being good at this game" - we're supposed to be having fun, making cool action-hero-movie-stuff happen, and I don't think that failing your charge move by a sixteenth of an inch is part of that. Sure, sometimes it's dramatic to break cover and be mown down in a hail of bullets... but not, I think, by accident, in some random combat where you just happened to eyeball a distance slightly less than perfectly.

Lest it be thought that I am in some way pledging allegiance to the church of story gaming, let me sliiide gracefully in here with a closing thought. As a GM, my personal principle is this: I am not trying to kill the PCs. I am not opposed to the players. I am simply a referee. I administer the operation of the game system on an environment which I designed - an environment in which, through recklessness, or ignorance, or overconfidence, or lack of awareness, players might get their characters killed. I am not of the opinion that players who have been cautious, informed themselves, selected their challenges carefully and paid attention to their surroundings should be fucked over just because they can't eyeball distances down to fractions of an inch, or roll more than two or three on a few dice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Palette's Product Reviews: Michael's Custom Holsters (repost)

I'm reposting this review from Blue Collar Prepping because I believe this product deserves more attention than it's gotten. Seriously, Michael makes some amazingly beautiful and tough things, and he deserves your business!

Readers of my blog are no doubt aware that I am a big fan of Michael's Custom Holsters. In fact -- disclosure time -- not only am I friends with Michael and his wife, but I am such a fan of the holster and gun belt that he made me in 2012 that I've hosted an ad for his site here on my blog for quite a while now. (Look in the upper right corner.)

So when I tell you that I am reviewing another product of his, please realize that I am not an unbiased source in this matter.  I think he's a great guy who does great work -- fortunately, enough other people say similar things about his work that I know I'm not just letting my friendship color my opinion of his products.

One of the drawbacks of concealed carry is that you have to have your license to carry with you whenever you're carrying your gun.  Unlike a driver's license, where if you can prove you do indeed have a valid DL that you just left at home you can get the ticket reduced, if you ever get caught carrying without a concealed weapon permit, it's likely to result in automatic jail time and loss of carry privileges.

This was a source of annoyance for me, because I carry when I walk my dogs, and I don't like having to dig my CWP out of my wallet just for walkies, nor do I enjoy having my wallet banging against my thigh when I wear shorts or sweatpants when I walk.  The solution, of course, was to find a way to put the CWP on my gun belt so that I'd be legal whenever I had my gun on me.

But where to mount it?

Inspiration finally struck when I realized that the Ka-Bar TDI which I carried on my weak side had a flat area which was exactly the same dimensions as my carry permit.

All right, I had a location. All well and good. But how would I keep it there? Rubber bands didn't work (and looked terrible, to boot). What I needed was a custom holster (sheath, really) that could hold my knife and my license at the same time.

Enter Michael's Custom Holsters. I described what I wanted, and he flattered me with the comment "Most ideas for combination holsters are terrible. I think this is the first one I've heard that makes good sense."

After some back-and-forth regarding what I wanted, how it should work, and how I wanted it to look, we settled on a final design. Because Michael didn't have a Ka-Bar like this, I had to send him mine so that he could make a mold for it.

Time passed  (Michael is a busy man and this was a prototype custom job), but this week it arrived and I am overjoyed!

As you can see, it is an all-leather design with heavy stitching. My license is kept in a little pocket in the front, where it can be easily removed by either hand but held snugly enough that it isn't going to fall out. The back of the unit is the sheath for the Ka-Bar, which is also held securely while still facilitating a smooth release. Again, either hand may easily draw it.

The reverse of the unit.  You can see that this is a simple belt-loop design. I specifically requested this because I am a restless sitter, constantly shifting my position -- leaning back, slouching forward, twisting to the side, etc -- and a sheath in a fixed position (from clips) would result in the handle of the knife digging into my ribs.  By keeping it on a loop, though, I am able to slide it forward or backward as necessary for my comfort, and also adjust the tilt forward or backward by a few degrees.

To say that I am happy with this is an understatement. It is beautiful, it is rugged, and it does everything I want it to do. I do not have an exact price for this piece of art, as I did some bartering with Michael, but I believe he said something like this usually runs $100.  While that is not an insignificant amount of money, I can tell you that this is quality work that also comes with a lifetime guarantee.

I cannot recommend Michael's Custom Holsters highly enough.

Obligatory Middle Finger to the FTC:  I did not receive this product in return for a good review. Go away. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Gunday: Erin Shoots Cool Things

During my recent sojourn to the Land of Lincoln last month (prior to roadtripping it over to Indianapolis for this year's NRA Annual Meeting), I had the privilege of going shooting with Da Tinman and Snooze Button Ronin. In addition, I got to shoot some rare and unusual firearms I hadn't gotten to see, let alone fire, before then.

I apologize in advance if this post causes feelings of envy and/or covetousness. It's not my intention to go "Neener neener, look what I got to shoot!"... but it does kinda end up sounding like that. Sorry. :/

Also, fair warning:  This post contains pictures of myself. Hateful comments about my appearance will result in you being blacklisted from this blog.

Friday, May 16, 2014

SHTFriday Link Roundup

I have been notably remiss in updating my SHTFriday posts since my vacation nearly a month ago. Let me catch up:

Today's article is a review of another beautiful product made by my friend Evyl Robot Michael over at Michael's Custom Holsters.

Prior to that were the first two articles in an irregular series titled The Week Ike Came to Town (and didn't bring Tina), detailing what it was like to be completely off-grid for an entire week in the wake of a hurricane.

Prior to that I had two articles by Todd Gdula, professional bladesmith:  Steel Choices for a Bug-Out Blade, and its sister article Profile & Edge Choices for a Bug-Out Blade.

And that brings us up to the present!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Supernatural is My Little Pony for Girls

     Wait, wait, wait, come back! I can back that up. I have sound logic behind that bizarre statement, I promise!

     So some years back now, Hasbro rebooted the My Little Pony franchise for its Hub network under the supervision of animator Lauren Faust. It was full of rounded, varied female lead characters, lots of bright colors, and stories with warm and fuzzy morals. It was also pretty well written for what was supposedly targeted at such a young crowd. And despite being targeted at young girls, it caught on with older viewers of both genders.

     Some years even before that, a show called Supernatural was launched. It's a show focused around a brotherly bro-mance, hunting monsters, going on adventures, and driving around in a classic Impala listening to classic rock. It's dark, violent, and full horrific imagery. It also caught on like wildfire among the female demographic.

     On paper, each of these shows could not be more different, but the way they've been embraced by viewers and fans not only outside of their intended demographic, but the nearly polar opposite of that intended demographic, is startling. On paper, you couldn't convince me that pastel ponies having non-violent adventures would appeal to grown men, and you couldn't convince me that the bloody, bro-fueled horror adventures set to AC/DC and Kansas would be such a hit among women. Even if Sam and Dean are amongst the prettiest men on television.

     The resemblances don't stop there. We've all heard of the more questionable side of MLP fandom. The plushy with the "pocket" in the rear end. The Rule34 fan art. The people that don't make it into the brony documentaries. But the Supernatural fandom can be... well..

     So one of the main draws of the show is the brotherly chemistry between Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, and in later seasons the cameraderie between Jensen and Misha Collins's Castiel. The deeper parts of Supernatural fandom are full of slash fiction of of Sam and Dean, and the Castiel/Dean slash shippers have gotten vocal enough that Ackles himself refuses to address the issue anymore, earning him the ire of such esteemed 'news outlets' as DailyDot and pretty much half of Tumblr.

     That's not to say it's all unpleasant fandom, though. Both shows have pretty dedicated following, and some of the fan-art and music to come out of the MLP crowd is pretty impressive. There's a long running joke that the Supernatural fandom has a response gif for any situation. MLP has brought together some otherwise unpopular and awkward people and formed some friendships in the real world.

     But when it comes right down to it, these are two shows which were clearly marketed to a specific demographics that defied odds and became a hit in a completely other demographic. So, back to my original point: Supernatural is My Little Pony for girls. Makes sense now, at least to me. Is this just a pair of successes in marketing and development for the respective programs, or is it a triumph in fandoms bucking what's expected of them and showing love for something not necessarily "created for them?"

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

[AFTHOTWTTGS] The Fantasy Encyclopaedia and the Taste of Crow

Recent events, with which I shall not bore you on this blog upon which I am a guest, have led me to look askance at my collections of various rules systems and ask myself "Self, dear boy, why when you espouse the virtues of this and that, do you persist in playing the other at great expense?", and do you know, I've come up flummoxed every time I grope and scrabble for an answer.

As a result, I've been perusing my various sources of campaign guidance; that's M. A. R. Barker's excellent essay on creating religions for fun and profit, the last half-dozen things I read*, a handful of rulebooks and the archives of Some King's Kent.

Whilst abiding by Kent's advice to simply cram everything in which you're interested into something of a potboiler and then sweat over it until it makes a sort of sense - it also worked for Alan Moore when he was working on V for Vendetta, apparently - I'm beginning to see why RPG writers take the approach they do, often beginning with the cosmology of the world if it's going to be anything unusual, and producing all those scads and scads of fantasy encyclopaedia text in which the world is given the depth and... not 'realism' as such, but verisimilitude, the sense that it's an actual living, breathing, inhabited, dynamic place rather than just a series of elements thinly nailed together to justify dungeons.

Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, of course - I've played enough Diablo in my time to accept that sometimes all you want to do is get down in the catacombs and bash some skellies - but the pretentious oaf and thwarted writer in me are both demanding a game world that's a bit more than that, and if truth be told, a bunch of mates gathered around the table for some skelly-bashing might as well just play Talisman or Descent or something of that ilk. I sort of feel like the RPG, as distinct from the board game, demands something that makes the R worth Ping, as it were - something engaging and broad.

None of this means that I'm going to go out and recant my convictions or anything. I'm still of the opinion that everything that's worth knowing about a game setting should be expressed in gameable terms. I am, however, seeing the merit in doing the fantasy encyclopaedia as a means of thinking the world out, of knowing it in the depth and detail necessary to answer player questions confidently and generate the world as a played space.

I'm still not sure that needs to be shared though. The thinking and world-building are, to me, essentially personal - they are Your Thoughts On Yaoi Everything, where You are The Master Of Games, and attempting to calcify them into a setting bible that I can pick up and run, void of the thought processes and interests that have made you make your world this way seems... somewhat doomed, to me.

It's the process that counts. I think that's what I want to see demonstrated. I want to see your setting and your gameables and your inspirations for them as a demonstration of how to build gameable worlds, rather than because I necessarily want to play in your gameable world.

That's what I'm gearing up to do.

* - This month's Appendix N contains Fight Club; Sharon Penman's The Queen's Man; E. R. Eddison's The Worm OuroborosMen At Arms; Michael Moorcock's The City in the Autumn Stars; and about a fifth of Yggdrasil and the Cross in the North, a non-fiction work on the Christianising of Scandinavia which I have to review at some point over the summer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Words of Wisdom from my Ballistic Guru

I am not getting involved in THEIR drama. I don't see you participating in it either. You are conducting a punitive expedition and I'd like to tag along and kneecap some retards.

If somebody offends you, thank them in your heart. They just made it easier to know who gets ice cream and who gets the boot. Mark them for future reference and move on.

Many people are idiots. Many are unkind. Sift through the dirt to keep the gold nuggets and surround yourself with them. I live in a world full of *my* choices.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Gunday: Travelling with a Gun

Last month, as you probably know, I attended the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. To do so, I broke my longstanding rule of "Not flying so long as the TSA is in power" because this was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me.  (Special thanks to both Snooze Button Ronin and The Jack for making this trip possible!)

I also decided to fly with a firearm, because what's the point of going to a gun convention with a bunch of gunnies if I had to leave my heater at home? This required some research on my part, as I wanted to make absolutely sure what I was doing was legal and authorized and wouldn't end up with me being detained by people with suits and badges.

As it turns out, flying with a firearm is dead easy, at least between Orlando FL and Springfield IL. All you need to do is the following:
  1. Make sure that your weapon is unloaded. 
  2. Put it in a locked, hard-sided container. The TSA, per their own regulations, cannot have the key to this lock, so do not use a TSA-approved lock for the container. 
  3. Depending on the airline, ammunition may -- or may not -- be allowed in loaded magazines. Many airlines require that ammo be packaged in boxes where the cartridges cannot touch each other. 
  4. Any magazines you have must also be inside a hard-sided case. 
  5. When you check in at the counter, declare "I am legally transporting an unloaded firearm."
  6. The agent may ask you to open your luggage, usually to confirm that it is indeed unloaded. They may also have a TSA agent look at it. Under no circumstance are you to give them the key to your locked case.  If they want to look at it, they have to do so in your presence, and you are to keep the key on your person at all times. 
  7. You will be required to sign a form that says, essentially, "This is my firearms and I certify that it is unloaded and that I have packed the ammunition in accordance with airline regulations etc." 
  8. This tag goes around the hard-sided case inside your luggage.  Don't let them put it on the outside!
  9. They will then take your luggage and check it as per usual. 
  10. That's it!  

Since I am also somewhat prone to worry and over-thinking things, I quite deliberately over-engineered my packing scheme so that not only would it pass TSA muster, but also to make it as difficult as possible for any baggage thief to make off with my carry gun. So here's what I did:
  1. I took the gun lock that came with my pistol and ran the cable through the magazine well and ejection port. Not only would this demonstrate the pistol was unloaded and unable to fire, it would serve as an additional "screw you" to anyone who took my luggage. I then put that key on my keychain. 
     Not my pistol. The picture I took of it looked like crap.
    This is from,glock26/Interesting
  2. I locked my pistol inside a NanoVault, and put that key on my keychain. 
  3. I then got a lockable plastic ammo box and put the NanoVault inside. Then I put my ammunition, magazine, knives, and other valuables (like electronics) inside. 
  4. I ran the steel cable that came with the NanoVault around the central pillar of my luggage (I was using one of those rolling bags) and locked each end to a padlock that went through a hole in the lid of the ammo box. Then I put that key on my keychain. 
For those who have lost count, that's two hard-sided cases and three locks on the gun itself. 

When I arrived at the counter, my exchange with the agent went something like this:
Me:  "Hi, I'm legally transporting an unloaded firearm. What do I need to do?"
Agent:  "Please put your luggage here and open so I can see it."
Me:  "No problem."  [unzips suitcase, revealing large box with locks.] "Now, there's a bit of a procedure to this..." [begins unlocking padlock]
I'm honestly not sure if the locked case satisfied her, or if she thought  "Good God, this will take forever, let's just get this asshole out of here before the line backs up any further."
Agent:  "No no, that's fine. Do you have any ammunition?"
Me: "Yes, and it's in original containers, per airline regulation."
Agent: "All right. Please sign this form."  
She had me tie the tag to the box and zip up my suitcase, and then she took it to the TSA agent to be scanned. Clearly I passed, because she said "Everything is fine, your luggage is on the conveyor belt."

When I arrived in Springfield, my suitcase was one of the first ones off the plan. Handy, that. 

Departing from Springfield for Orlando was even MORE painless:
Me:  "Hi, I'm legally transporting an unloaded firearm. What do I need to do?"
Agent: "Is it unloaded and in a locked hard-sided case?"
Me: "Yes."
Agent: "Good. Sign this form, tie it to the case, and hand it to the TSA agent over there for scanning."
The guy didn't even LOOK at it. He just took my word for it! When I took my luggage over to the TSA agent, I said "Transporting an unloaded firearm,"  she said "Okay," x-rayed it and loaded it onto the baggage carousel.  That's it.

Remember: this was in the airport of the capital of Illinois, the same state that has some of the harshest gun laws in the country. Needless to say, I was pleasantly shocked by this.

My suitcase was first off the plane in Orlando!

I have to say that despite all the horror stories I have heard, flying with a gun was absolutely a non-issue for me. I didn't even get singled out for an "enhanced search", so not only did I have a pleasant flying experience, I actually made it to my destination and back unmolested! If I hadn't had to take off my shoes for screening, I could have believed I was flying in a pre-9/11 world.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Owning It

Warning:  In this post I talk about gender and identity issues. Folks with nervous dispositions or Victorian levels of morality may not be comfortable with what I have to say. 

It has come to my attention that some folks took exception to my presence at the NRA Annual Meeting. (No, I'm not going to link to the post(s) in question as I don't believe in feeding the trolls, but those who are suitably curious should be able to find it without too much trouble.)  Sure, the words are couched in terms of "We don't like how Erin acted in this situation," but I find it a bit curious that:
  1. No one said anything about this to me, personally, either while I was "disturbing them" or afterwards.  All of this only came to light once people were safely ensconced behind their computer screens, miles away. Since no one communicated their displeasure to me until well after the fact, despite me being right there, I can only assume people are upset that I can't read their minds. 
  2. The words "attention whore" are being bandied about by people who weren't even present.
  3. These same people are calling me "he" -- in one notable case, right on my Facebook page. I even gave her the benefit of the doubt that it might have been a typo and asked her to "please change that pronoun, thank you very much."  I was told, quite specifically, "Not going to happen."
And yet they claim that it's my behavior which is inexcusable. Harrumph, I say. One does not descend to this level of rudeness out of dissatisfaction with my sense of propriety.  Instead, I say it's pretty clear to me that these people are disgusted by my mere existence. It's the only reason I can think of for people -- who have not met me, and to the best of my knowledge I have neither offended nor interacted negatively with -- have decided to eschew basic human courtesy by insulting me and choosing to use terms with which I do not identify.

And you know what?  Good.  This means I stand for something they find uncomfortable, and rather than attack my position and look like a bigot,  they have chosen to attack me personally and couch their petty hatred in socially acceptable terms.

There's a saying that you can judge someone by the quality of their enemies, and given the levels of pettiness to which my opponents are stooping, I'd say I come out looking pretty good in comparison.

I could argue the applicability of being called an attention whore by other bloggers (who, by definition, are just ordinary folks who expect other people to look at them, follow them, and read what they write -- pot, meet kettle), but instead of refuting their points I'm going to do something they won't expect:  I'm going to own it.

Hi, my name is Erin Palette, and I'm a genderqueer attention whore.

Squeaky still needs our help, by the way. 

I want people to look at me, listen to what I have to say, and think about my words. What's more -- and this is probably what is chafing everyone's buttocks -- I am an effective attention whore. When I came out last year, I did so specifically to raise money for a member of our community who needed life-changing surgery.

This attention whore raised over six thousand dollars, bitches. 

When is the last time you helped anyone so significantly? I'm guessing never, and with your attitude of "Let's make fun of the people effecting positive change within our community rather than do anything about it ourselves,"  I doubt you ever will. Did any of you so much as post a link to Squeaky's fundraiser?  No? Then your opinions are quite frankly irrelevant.

So that's the attention whore part settled -- now we get to the fun part of identity politics.  Last year, as the deadline for revealing my face (and therefore my genderqueer nature) loomed, I had quite the freak-out. I was terrified that people would react with disgust and horror, and they would mock me and make me feel like a freak. I was frightened that I would be rejected by the community that meant so much to me.

To their credit, 90% of the gunblogger world replied with a shrug and a "So what?  You're one of us. As long as you aren't trying to drag me into your bedroom, what your gender and sexuality is and how you display it is none of our business."  And when you think about it, this makes sense; when a community is founded on the principle that the individual is important enough to defend with lethal force, it also follows that the other rights of that individual are similarly sacred. For this, and for the acceptance I was shown, I thank everyone who offered support.

But as I've discovered over the past week, apparently there are some people who did not accept me, and have been nurturing resentment towards me for the past nine months or so, just waiting for an opportunity to bash me. I am particularly fond of one commentor's suggestions that "If he wanted attention so damn badly, he should have worn a damn tutu."

Well, you know, I suppose I could have. It really did occur to me to bring along some of my feminine clothes, but I decided not to because I didn't want to make things weird for those people who are uncomfortable with that kind of in-your-face expression of alternate sexuality.  In other words, this attention whore decided to dress in a manner that would make OTHER PEOPLE comfortable. What a terrible person I must be.

So here we are, a week later, and people are taking cheap shots at me for, essentially, being someone they don't like in too close a proximity to them.

Well, guess what, folks?  By mocking me for being me, by not accepting me for who I am and reacting with contempt when I don't fit into your rigidly designed mold, you've fulfilled my worst fears. This means I have nothing left to lose at this point. You took your best shot, and not only am I still here, I know who my friends are. What's more, I'm pretty damn sure my supporters outnumber my detractors.

So since the worst has already happened, I might as well be fully out and proud and post things like this:

You thought you'd seen whoring before?  You haven't seen anything yet. Perhaps I will become the poster girl for all the queer, transvestite and transgender gunnies out there (oh, they do exist, and probably in greater numbers than any of you imagine).  And once again, I will be doing it to promote our cause, showing that gun owners, as a whole, are accepting of alternative sexualities and genders and lifestyles. What's deliciously ironic is that YOU are the ones who empowered me thus:  by fulfilling my worst fear, I have gone from running away from it to running straight towards it, with the express goal of knocking that fear directly on its ass and then trampling it as I run over it.

So now, my dear detractors, you are faced with a decision:
  1. You can continue to mock me as I continue to promote our cause, in which case you end up fulfilling every negative stereotype about gun owners (being insecure, bigoted, intolerant, etc) that the Brady Campaign, CGSV, Moms Demand Action, et al. perpetuate;
  2. Or you can quit the high school drama and get out of my way.
Do whatever you like, darlings. Just keep in mind that doing the former gives aid to our political opponents, and doing the latter paints us as an inclusive, non-kneejerk community. It's your call.  Just remember what happened to Dick Metcalf and Jim Zumbo, and what gunnies do to folks who hurt our cause...

But above all, you need to realize that no matter what you choose, I WIN.   I am no longer afraid of what you may do or say.  In fact, I'm going to anticipate the vile hate I'll get for this and beat everyone to the punch:

Look at that. Give it a good, long look, and realize that I did this to myself.  I've already thought of all the horrible things that can be said, because I think them every time I look in a mirror.  Look at that picture and understand that you have no power over me, because you cannot possibly hate me any more than I hate myself.

And yet, here I am, unafraid, because I realize that I can be a force for positive change. And it was all thanks to you!

So in conclusion:
  • You cannot stop me
  • You cannot hurt me
  • You caused all of this by not being able to keep a civil tongue. 
So go on, talk more trash about me.  I'm dying to see what else I can do to make you uncomfortable in the name of tolerance and gun rights advocacy. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] I Think I'm A Retroclone Now

Retroclone, n. Role-playing game derived from and imitating an out-of-production role-playing game of years gone by, with similar mechanics and stylistic goals. Particularly common among, though not exclusive to, Dungeons and Dragons players comprising the Old School Revival movement (OSR).

Whether the goal is to resist the pernicious rise of a new edition (see also: "D&D 4 sucks because it's like tabletop WoW!"*), to evoke the memories of one's youth (see also: "I've never enjoyed any game as much as second edition AD&D...") or to produce something mechanically recognisable that wears its influences on its shoulder but isn't coasting on the nostalgia factor (see also... ummm...), retrocloning is a part of the roleplaying world now.

I'm not here to give a potted history of the retroclone, because I'm not a D&D archivist and I'm bound to get it wrong, but to poke and prod at the concept itself. Retrocloning fascinates me, you see. Not being old enough to have played the Original Game - I came in at the tail end of AD&D second edition - I'm curious about this strange, hoary artifact which, despite not being especially well written, or organised, or presented, ensnared the hearts and minds of millions for a while.

Insofar as I can work out, the idea of the retroclone is to take the essential mechanics and spirit of one's preferred roleplaying experience, run them through the editorial wringer a few times, bolt on one's favoured house rules, and then release same as a self-contained RPG in its own right. It's generally done for the earliest editions of D&D, though there is of course the small matter of Pathfinder (which derives from the windy, bloated, quite-elegant-at-its-core-shame-they-didn't-know-when-to-STOP Third-And-One-Half edition, but which is shaped by the same principle - the refusal to put down something you like just because the 'official' variant has changed).

Critics of the retroclone are swift to point out that this is often an exercise in copying, pasting and selling the works of others to a niche market that still has echoes of the gift economy about it, and will consequently feel obliged to buy any old guff if it looks like Russ Nicholson did the cover art. This is not an inaccurate observation, I feel; the essential business of cloning an earlier edition of one's favourite RPG is the sort of thing which only really needs to be done once. I don't think the world needs OSRIC and Labryinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Swords and Wizardry and argh. Nope. 

In terms of gameable, a lot of these are... very similar concepts. The devil's in the details, as one might expect - personally, I quite like Lamentation's upgrade to a Renaissance setting, drift away from conventional 'monsters', arcane summoning mechanics and focus on 'gentleman adventurers' who have the independent means required to pursue shenanigans like these. I also quite like Swords and Wizardry's options for a second-edition style pseudo-THAC0 hit system, or a third-edition style armour-changes-how-high-you-need-to-roll one. I also quite like... you get the idea, I'm sure. There are good ideas scattered all over these things, but each is embedded in a self-contained product, and I can't help but feel that if the OSR didn't keep reinventing the wheel, it could be doing something significantly more useful than copying-and-pasting the AD&D or OD&D rules again.

What I'd like to see instead is modules - good ones, mind you, none of that "this room contains d6 rats and d100 copper piece" malarkey, I can invent boring rooms all day long, you know- and above all setting books. Dungeon Master's Guides. Volumes which tell me how to run a game like yours, what alterations you've made to the core rules and why. Exemplary materials, not yet another self-contained RPG distinct from all others but demonstrations of fantastic imagination and inventiveness.

I'm not saying that major alterations shouldn't be made to one's preferred rules system in order to achieve one's goals (I am, after all, the Disintegrator GM around here), but why bother copy-pasting the rest? State your core system of choice, state alterations with brief justification (friends don't let friends write like White Wolf developers), demonstrate through example materials (NPCs, encounters, short adventure paths, dungeon environments - samples of playable content!) how your setting works, chuck in a reading list, but don't waste your time and mine on telling me, yet again, how a Fighting Man works and how much his bardiche costs.

And for anyone who's wondering about me putting my money where my mouth is; I'll be doing it the second I decide what kind of D&D I want to run.

ETA: I'd like it noted that I'm not ignoring the comments, especially not just because they disagree with me. I love being disagreed with. What I don't love is Disqus (and IntenseDebate) both deciding to lock me out and trap me in endless login loops. If anyone has a suggestion to resolve this, leave it in the comments - pat on the back from me if it works!

* - which is ironic, to me, since the bits of World of Warcraft which vex me most are... the most D&D-ish bits - random loot tables, obligatory 'fantasy' races etc. etc.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Mutant Question

     While we're on the subject of Marvel (see last week), there's a subject I'd like to touch on that I have never quite comprehended.

Why mutants?

     The Marvel Universe's Earth, much like ours, has had its share of growing pains and prejudices. We know that World War II and the Holocaust happened there, because one of its prominent figures, Magneto, was a first-hand witness. We also know that that have been divergences between this fictional world and our own, in the appearance of Mutants, and the almost predictable response to them.

     In the world of Marvel, there was a very different response to when the first super-powered heroes appeared to when the first mutants appeared. In the miniseries Marvels, for example, there is initial trepidation over the likes of Captain America and the Fantastic Four, but the masses are quickly won over by them. The X-Men don't fare quite so well, and that's reflected in the very public opinion of throughout most Marvel stories.

Why mutants, though?

     Why can the public rally behind Captain America, a medical experiment? Or Spider-man, bitten by a radioactive spider (who believes that story, anyway?). Or the Human Torch, who sets himself on fire and burns at near nova levels of heat? What makes them more acceptable than average, everyday people who are born different? Someone like Tony Stark, for example, I can understand the public rallying behind. He's Iron Man. He's the pinnacle of human technology and intelligence, basically. Cute little Jewish girl Kitty Pryde? She's a monster that can walk through walls and kill you in your sleep!

Why mutants and not super-heroes?

     Granted, the parallels are obvious. Your average Hispanic can't summon lightning bolts or teleport, and most lesbians (that I've met, anyway) can't shoot laser beams from their eyes, but the Mutant situation in Marvel is meant to represent prejudice against people who are different from the normalized majority. I was not, personally, raised with any sort of bias or prejudices, so I have a hard time empathizing with those who were, but that's always been the one thing I can't wrap my head around when it comes to the Marvel universe.

     There's been the explanation put forth that perhaps mutants are the next step in human evolution instead of an aberration, and that may explain some animosity. A fear of being replaced or going extinct. Given how irrational the reaction is, I have a hard time reconciling a rational fear like that, though, which leaves me with my original question.

Why would people fear and hate mutants and not other super-heroes?

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