Thursday, July 31, 2014

Institutionalized or Not, A Duck is a Duck

     Picking up the ball and running with points made in a recent post by our lovely Overlord Erin, I'd like to throw a few words at the screen on the topic of racism and generalizations. One of the favorite go-to's of the Social Justice Warrior is to claim that anyone in a social minority (that word itself being a difficult one to define, as women are considered a minority, and yet make up roughly 50% of the population pretty much everywhere short of a few outliers – seriously Oman, Qatar? What's up with that?) cannot be racist/sexist/etc. How can this be, you ask? How can someone literally not hold a certain type of attitude? Are they some ascended being of higher enlightenment? Possibly a lower life-form incapable of such thought? Of course not.

     Well, here's where things get interesting. A lot of current Social Justice language originated in Academia, and thus even out in the real world the proponents of these ideologies tend to persist in the usage of this language. Even in situations where it doesn't apply. To them, there is no such thing as just plain old racism, for example. The only racism that exists, or at least that matters, is institutionalized racism. This is where existing political or governmental systems can seem or even actually be stacked against a person or persons of a certain ethnicity or sex. Regardless of how they came to be or the reasoning behind these appearances, such things exist. The black population in the prison system is far higher than white population. It's difficult for trans-individuals to have their gender identity recognized. All valid examples.

     The problem happens when a person of this mindset refuses to believe that individual racism exists, or can be anything significant. The same people who will call out a fallacy of relative privation when addressing the standards of living for women in the western world versus those in the middle east will steadfastly refuse to believe that someone who is not a minority can be discriminated against, or cannot be discriminated against to a degree that will significantly impact them. Just because you feel someone's plight isn't relevant doesn't mean it isn't relevant to them. Human beings, in all their diversity, are built from the same chemical building blocks on the same basic template. To suggest that someone is incapable of holding discriminatory beliefs is to strip them of a part of their humanity, even if that's an unpleasant part to imagine of them. Humans deserve to be considered capable of both good and bad acts.

     The most amusing part of this mindset that I've seen is where they will unconsciously be racist themselves by lumping together many nationalities and ethnicities, assuming them to be one pure, innocent whole, and ignoring cultural attitudes like Korean anti-Japanese racism (and vice-versa), tribal/ethnic conflicts in various parts of Africa, or how North-East Indians are discriminated against by other parts of India due to having more Asian features. The world is full of diverse and beautiful people who are flawed, complicated, and cannot be generalized with one broad sweep, regardless of how noble you think your intentions may be. **coughtumblrcough**

     So while your Sociology 101 course may teach you all about cultural oppression (believe me, I've taken the course), and your academic definitions may work for some situations, they don't work for all situations. The world is a lot more complex than slapping labels on things and tweeting a hashtag. Generally, what we can do as individuals is remember to never be an asshole to someone based on the circumstance of their birth, and never forget that people are capable of being assholes to one another based on the circumstance of their birth. I openly admit to being an asshole, but generally I'm only an asshole to people based upon merit.

     I feel this really should end with a musical number. Lighten the mood and all that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] Doctor Who RPG Reviews

Every once in a while, the stars align and my nerd interests correlate in a moment of glorious synchronicity. Some kind-hearted soul saw fit to provide me with access to FASA's mid-Eighties Doctor Who RPG; like me, it was born during the terrible year of 1985, in which Colin Baker was taken off the air for perceived crimes against television (and one day, when I'm sufficiently drunk or cross, I shall regale you all with my explanation of how this accusation is both one hundred per cent true and absolute codswallop), and like me, it manages to combine a fundamental sense of elegance with a tendency toward rambling on unnecessarily.

I laid my paws on it at the implied request of a Mage player; we'll call this person Khaos, since all the cool kids use pseudonyms around here (I'm assuming Salem is either using a pseudonym or not cool). Khaos essentially wants to play a Time Lord, let's not mince words here, and their excitingly fizzy brain tends to disgorge thoughts about Doctor Who at roundabout the same rate as most people's autonomic functions. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that while Mage is still on the cards, the impression was given that a Who RPG would be a fitting follow-up... and so I promptly acquired the FASA book, had a read through, scratched my head, and looked up the other forms of roleplaying in the Whoniverse to see what they had to offer.

Over the next month I'll be talking about each of them in turn, and trying to playtest each one to boot. There'll doubtless be some dribble about the adventure design and GM style wrapped around it, but essentially we're looking at the system as a means of enabling a game. I might round up by cooing over some Doctor Who miniatures for those who like their square paper and playing with toys.

I'll also be eliciting input from my players, as is generally the way with my reviews. Khaos' comments will appear in Prydonian red; Erin's in Arcalian green; Hark's in the ghastly heliotrope of the Patrexes.

This post is going to serve as the index to the whole affair:

  • The Doctor Who Role Playing Game (FASA, 1985)
  • Time Lord (Virgin, 1991)
  • Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (Cubicle 7, 2012)
  • Miniatures... if you like that sort of thing.
Forgive the slight brevity of this instalment; I'm on holiday and off the grid. Normal service will resume next Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why I Hate Traveller 5 In One Easy Concept

It's the return of Traveller Tuesday!

Most of you know that I and several confederates savaged the Traveller5 rules last year. Perhaps some of you (I'm looking at you, Faoladh) felt I was being unfair in my assessment of it.  At this point, I believe I wasn't harsh enough, and will explain how I came to this conclusion.

T5 introduces the concept of Extensions for planetary systems. Those Extensions are listed as Importance, Economic, and Cultural.  A picture is included for the Kinorb system from The Traveller Map as an example of how they are used. (and that's why I am ranting about T5 again; I use the Traveller Map quite a lot in my game, and when I saw these odd numbers crop up I needed to know what they meant.)

I will explain these extensions, using the definitions within the game itself, and you can actually see the point where this data stops being useful and is simply an exercise in mathematical masturbation.

This is an example of a useful bit of data. It explains what the extension is and what the numbers mean. You have to read eight pages ahead to find out how to calculate it, but it's an easy case of  "+1 if this, -1 if that"; for example, a Starport of class A or B merits a +1, and Starports of D or worse earn a -1. Add up the values, and if it's 4 or more, it's an important world. That's a good thing to know both data-wise and as background information for role-playing, aka "fluff". I can use this extension, and therefore I like it.

Oh-kay then. I'm not really sure why I'd need to calculate this (and yes, there are calculations involved, this is T5 after all); between Importance and various trade codes (rich, industrial, hi-tech, etc) I can probably figure out if this planet is an economic powerhouse or not, which is really all I'd need for a typical game of Traveller. Maybe I'd need this if the PCs were playing planetary rulers and the planet was theirs to administer (in which case it's a Traveller-themed version of Birthright, but hey, I wrote a game where you can play pre-pubescent talking ponies, so who am I to judge?), but in general I don't need to know (after calculating) the numbers for Resources, Labor, Infrastructure and Efficiency, and then multiply those to get its Resource Units -- in other words, its budget.

And that's all it says on p 427, the same page as the other entries I'm quoting. That's literally all it says about culture. Full stop.

Eight pages later, you get a bit more detail:

There's quite literally nothing further said about it. Not in the main book and not in the errata. Can you see what's missing?

Let's look at the Cx entry for Kinorb again:

What in God's name does any of this MEAN? There's no explanation anywhere in the book. Is a 6 in Symbols a good thing or a bad thing?  Is this culture very homogeneous, or is it very non-homogeneous? And while I see the lowest bound is a 1, what's the high end?

This tells me NOTHING. What's worse is that this is information I could really use: Traveller, at least the way I play it, is about voyaging to exotic locations and getting into trouble with the local inhabitants. Knowing if this is a planet full of superstitious racists is critical, gameable data.

I distinctly get the feeling I am being trolled.

Well done, Marc Miller. I mean it; golf applause all round. You can micromanage the GDP of a planet, but you can't be bothered to tell me anything useful about the people who live there. You've actually managed to transcend George Lucas and have become the RPG publishing equivalent of a cocktease.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Things I Won't Countenance

Okay, ranty time.

People who follow me on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, read the comments on posts here) probably know that I'll tolerate a lot of bad behavior. I know full well that I take thing personally -- perhaps more personally than they are intended -- and so my guidelines pretty much boil down to "You can disagree with me all you want, you can dislike me all you want, you can even refuse to accept my arguments, but the moment you start insulting me, we're finished."

I'm even going to go a step further and clarify this:  If, while disagreeing with me, you call me blind or stupid or irrational, I will let that slide because I have probably been guilty of expressing a similar sentiment.

So that said, there are some attitudes prevalent on the internet that I regard as such a slap in the face that they're pretty much conversation-killers and friendship-enders.

1)  All men are rapists/ All women are victims

I'm not even going to get into the whole "rape culture" scrum, although you can probably guess what my feelings are about it. No, my biggest problem with this line of thinking is that not only does it unjustly criminalize an entire gender -- "All men have penises, and penises are used to rape," goes the 'logic', "so therefore all men are rapists" -- but it also removes agency (in the philosophical sense) from the female gender.

Claiming that "The way to end rape is to teach boys not to rape" is akin to saying "Women are utterly unable to defend themselves against rape, and therefore must rely on the goodwill of men not to rape them."

Sorry, no. I don't buy that for a second. I'm enough of a feminist to believe that women are perfectly capable of defending themselves against rape, and while of course it is a good and worthwhile thing to teach our male children good manners (especially regarding "drunk doesn't mean consenting" as they approach college), it's also equally incumbent upon us to teach our female children how to avoid situations where they are vulnerable.
I particularly hate it when proponents of this theory trot out the hoary old "A woman should be able to dance naked at a party full of men and not be afraid of rape."  Well, yes, and I should be able to walk through the roughest parts of town with money sticking out of my pockets and not be afraid of someone robbing me, but -- NEWS FLASH! -- the world doesn't work like that.  If it did, we could simply tell our children "Killing people is bad, mmkay?" and end our nation's murder problem within a generation.

Humans are predators. We aren't going to change millions of years of evolution with a few thousand years of civilization.

2)  All [Race/Nationality/Religion] are [this horrible thing]

I'm perfectly okay with people loathing me because they find some aspect of my personality or lifestyle loathesome. I won't necessarily like it, mind you -- my attitude is likely to be "Screw those judgemental assholes" -- but I'll respect their right to that opinion and take comfort in the fact that their dislike of me is based on something I did, and therefore to some extent I deserve their distaste.

However, I go absolutely bugnuts with anger whenever someone hates me because of something over which I have no control. Saying "Of course you'd think that, you're white" is just as goddamn racist as "Of course you'd think that, you're black."

Which isn't to say that discussions about privilege, as tiresome as they can be, don't have a place within our society. But, more often than not, those discussions (usually on Tumblr, the Mos Eisley of the Internet) turn into "If you don't agree with me, I will insult and harass you until you go away."

For more on this topic I direct you to some people who have written far more and far better on the subject: co-blogger Salem MacGourleythis fellow right here, and this lady here.

3) All Gun Owners are Law Abiding (Until They're Not)

And today, this happened, which is what triggered this rant. Someone who I thought was my friend quite literally told me "And so many gun owners are law abiding, responsible and trained, until they're not." I took great and immediate exception to this. At the risk of being pedantic, I shall explain why:
  • His statement essentially says "Many, if not all gun owners, are untrained and irresponsible and criminals waiting to happen."  
  • I am a gun owner, and he knows it.
  • Therefore, he is accusing me of being at least potentially untrained (which is provably false, as my range reports show),  irresponsible (I have been carrying for over 2 years now and not only have I not shot anyone or had a negligent discharge, I haven't even felt the need to draw my pistol) and law-breaking (I haven't gotten so much as a speeding ticket since I started carrying). 
  • This loops around to my first point. "All gun owners are law abiding... until they're not" is factually the same as "All men aren't rapists... until they rape" or "All women aren't whores... until they prostitute themselves."
  • I'm pretty sure this is a variation on the One True Scotsman logical fallacy, i.e., "Only people without guns can be considered law-abiding, and any law-abiding gun owner clearly is a criminal just waiting to happen, so therefore they aren't law-abiding." 
It's lazy thinking and it's infuriating and it's WRONG. The arguer is essentially asking me to simultaneously prove a negative ("Prove you aren't a criminal")  and prove something in the future ("Prove, today, that you aren't going to do something wrong in the future")  before I'm allowed to exercise my Constitutionally-enumerated right. 

It's like saying "All bloggers don't commit libel and/or plagiarism... until they do. Prove you aren't a plagiarist or libeller, and prove you aren't going to do so in the future, before you can own a blog."

I swear, the next time someone uses this line in a debate I'm going to reply with "And you aren't a pedophile... until you are."  Yes, it's a cheap shot, but if I'm in a fight and someone goes for my eyes, I'm definitely kneeing them in the crotch.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Someone pinch me, I must be dreaming:
In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny, there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny. Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and enjoins Defendants from enforcing the home limitations of D.C. Code § 7-2502.02(a)(4) and enforcing D.C. Code § 22-4504(a) unless and until such time as the District of Columbia adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.4 Furthermore, this injunction prohibits the District from completely banning the carrying of handguns in public for self-defense by otherwise qualified non-residents based solely on the fact that they are not residents of the District.

Alan Gura did it again.  I never thought I'd see the day that handgun carry became legal in D.C.

I do especially like the addendum of "Oh, by the way, you HAVE to recognize the rights of non-residents to carry as well." That's a lovely bit of boot-in, that is, and having lived in the DC metro area, it's a big deal. Hardly anyone who works in DC actually lives there; they live in MD or VA instead. Reducing it to "residents only" would have denied rights to -- oh, let's say 75% of the people who are in the District during the working day.

You can read the opinion in PDF form here.

Hat Tip to Joe Huffman for the link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

SHTFriday: Making a Paracord Rifle Sling

Between the weather, barfing dogs and squabbling parents, the universe has made it clear that I am not to get any writing done today.

Go enjoy a guest post by Firehand about how to make a paracord sling.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."

     Hellblazer is a series that has always been held dear to my heart. I've got the first 5 or 6 trade collections of the comic, and a few later volumes. One day, I'll get around to picking up all the collections, but it has been a rather long-running series. It'll take a while. In the meantime, there's been the occasional adaptation that's cropped up. There was a film about a dark-haired and dark-coated American man named John Constantine that had some rather good points to it (save the presence of Shia LeBouf, whom I maintain there has not yet been built a bus large enough to properly run over), but was certainly no Hellblazer film. I even made a valiant effort to play through the terrible licensed game that was made said film. Rumour has it Castiel from Supernatural was originally supposed to be John Constantine, but licensing fell through, and we got Misha's charming rogue Angel instead.

     Now in the interests of plausible deniability, I'd like to say that while I am aware of the leaked pilot floating around the internet, I certainly haven't seen it, as that would imply some less-than-legal and certainly immoral ways and means, and I would never ever ever partake in such activities. Just so we're clear. Officially, anything I discuss here has been gleaned from various publicly available video clips and discussions. Honest. If you get my drift.

Walked right off the pages, he has.
     Let's get the giant demonic elephant in the room out of the way. Unlike Keanu, Matt Ryan nails the character of John Constantine. The new John is an asshole. He's selfish, lazy, reluctant to get involved, dripping with gallows humor, and prone to answering questions with truths so audaciously unlikely that people assume he's lying. But he's charming, charismatic, trouble that you just can't say no to, and knows that he's probably the only person equipped to deal with the things that he sees. It's a perfect reflection of the way John's been written in the books for decades now. One of the most important details is covered in the very beginning of the pilot episode, that being Newcastle. Years and years ago, John and some of his more irresponsible and experimental occultist friends accidentally damned a young girl's soul to hell, and he's dealt with crippling guilt since. Everything he's done since Newcastle has been motivated by a conflict between his instinct to avoid responsibility and his desire to redeem himself.

      The other characters are a mixed bag. Chas returns, Constantines hapless but faithful friend. He's American now, like he was in the film, but is portrayed by a gruff, bearded Charles Halford instead of the aforementioned (and afore-cursed) Shia. Visually and performance-wise, he hits the mark so well you don't even miss the original nationality. His omnipresent taxi cab is back, but this time it's a classic 50s Chevy instead of the London Black. Again, much more suitable than a 90s Caprice. The cast is rounded out by the angel Manny, played with a menacing charm by Harold Perrineau, and Lucy Griffiths as Liv. Manny's a fantastic character, but I was sadly disappointed by Liv. I have fond memories of Lucy Griffiths in the BBC's cheesy Robin Hood series, but she just falls flat here. Fortunately, I hear there's recasting afoot, and someone will be taking her place, but playing existing character Zed instead, opening up the possibility of an adaptation of the Damnation Army arc from the books.

     The show has a very interesting feel, a mix between more modern exorcism/possession films and higher-quality horror/adventure shows. The special effects are low-key but believable, with what appear to be a lot of practical effects. Lots of shouting in cod-Latin, as you'd expect from pulp horror. The setting was in interesting choice, being not New York or Los Angeles as you'd expect, but Atlanta of all places. Always knew there was something weird about Atlanta. Due to this (and I mean this in nicest possible way) I half expected to see a Winchester brother wander past in the background. The pacing was a bit odd, and the story didn't flow terribly well, but that's something you'd expect from a pilot episode, and doesn't worry me. Sherlock, for example, has a frankly amateurish pilot episode compared to its premiere.

     Overall, I have high hopes for this adaptation, based on the very limited materials I've seen of it so far, having totally not seen the actual leaked pilot episode. It's certainly better than previous adaptations of Hellblazer that I've seen, and I'm encouraged that Matt Ryan really feels like he understands the character. I honestly thing even my pick, Marc Warren, wouldn't have been better for the role. I've got a feeling this could, if properly handled, be at least as good as DC's other successful television property, Arrow.

     And yes, that was Dr Fate's helmet. I have to go squee now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] It's Constantinople, Not Istanbul

Since Erin's doing it, I thought it was high time that I raided the 'inspirations' file and showed off some of the things behind my long-serving Dark Ages Vampire game - the one into which I've put the most effort in terms of resourcing, showing-rather-than-describing.

The following are a series of pillagings from my various folders, which may illustrate something about how I devise and run my settings, or may just be an excuse to look at some pretty medieval (mostly) things. Who knows?

The chronicle (yeuch) began with the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade; theoretically that's twenty-five or so years before the setting date for Dark Ages Vampire, but screw that - why start after the world-shattering cock-up when you can drop players right into the middle of it, have them lose everything they hold dear, and then casually slide in with "oh by the way you're a vampire now"?

I'm a big fan of vaguely medieval maps, too, at least for showing to players. It's a gesture that has a certain verisimilitude about it - modern, Ordnance Survey style maps with grids and scales lead to a sort of modern way of thinking, whereas this kind of thing sort of... grounds people in the moment. This one creates the illusion of a crowded, crammed city, without being overburdened with details or crowding out the larger features (I can easily spot the Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Mese, Varangian Palace, dockmaster's mansion, Jewish and Latin quarters, and all the ways in or out - and that's all that's really needed).

I do use more modern ones with things like gradients and all the churches and distances staked out for planning - this one is the in-game resource. Among its other virtues, incidentally, is its resemblance to the hyper-detailed map from Sold Down The River, which is one of my favourite RPG supplements ever and one I wish I'd kept hold of during the Great Nerdstuff Purge of '08.

The refuge of Lacadaemonia. Just imagine that the land you can see in the background is water, and you'll get there. On this one small slice of land in the middle of the Med, Cainites are safe; they're not obliged to conceal their nature, and they're encouraged, nay instructed, to leave their politicking at the door, on pain of having a pair of Brujah jump up and down on their faces.

Sometimes, of course, the guest is a half-crazed Toreador Methuselah who's recently done diablerie par exellence, is also a closet infernalist, and who will not take "get out or be stomped" as an answer. Isabelle Adjani has exactly the right kind of haunted, fragile-yet-powerful beauty I wanted Mary the Black to have.

(Yes, she's a Toreador in my setting, because thirteen clans is quite enough and I prefer infernalism as a purely cultural practice. If this bothers you, I'm sorry. I also abolished the Ravnos because I hate Chimiestry... Chimerastry... that stupid reality-warping discipline. The Laibon are my thirteenth clan. I'm sure I've committed other blasphemies against canon at some stage.)

Varangian soldiers. Apparently there were, effectively, expatriate Vikings in Byzantium. I can roll with that. The Varangian Guard's keep in the north of the city is a desolate symbol of the Latin conquest, haven to a powerful Nosferatu, a resonant site for our Brujah (who's of Varangian descent himself) and will one day be the centre of resistance against the usurper Prince.

A view from the Med, on returning home from a subplot in Alexandria; a great city under a hunter's moon (yes, it is the moon; be quiet at the back there).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Berliner

The third and final installment of the "no shit, I was really there" series of tales about visiting East Berlin in the 1980s, this post would not have been possible if I hadn't found an old pamphlet while cleaning out the mess from Dad's room. This was given to everyone who rode "The Berliner," the British troop train which made daily trips from West Germany to West Berlin (and back) across the blasted landscape of East Germany.

Between 1945 and 1990 the British military train travelled daily through Soviet occupied East Germany to the British sector of West Berlin. All the train doors were locked, an armed guard was on board and the British military and civil servants would take about 4 hours to cover the distance of 145 miles.--

The pamphlet is a quad-fold design, with a map on one side and instructions on the other.

Technically the back of the pamphlet, this is still the first page as it is the one that would be put on display.

This is the reverse side, showing the name and rank of my father (blurred for reasons of privacy) and our dates of travel. From this page the pamphlet unfolds...

... to reveal this bit of history on the right and begin displaying the map (shown below) on the left. There's a fair density of history and geography in these six paragraphs.

Turning the previous page over, the map continues to unfold and this page appears on the right. This is where stuff, as the saying goes, begins to get real. The whole "We are traveling through hostile territory, no fooling" was driven home as armed (yet polite) British soldiers patrolled the train corridors while it was moving.

And here's the map. I have never been on a safari, but I have been on a troop train through terrain where I was told to "watch out on both sides for the guard dogs, barbed wire, minefields and watch towers" and where "tanks and armoured vehicles can sometimes be seen on manoevers".

I'm not sure why the engine was detached and searched twice but the rest of the train was not. If anyone knows, I'd love to be enlightened.

I truly wish I could remember more of the trip. I was ten years old in 1983, and everything seemed larger than life, and yet much of it is blurred.

  • As I mentioned previously, the landscape between Helmstedt and Berlin was a a gray waste as far as the eye could see. I imagine much of the grayness was due to it being late December in Germany, but still I must stress the fact that crossing the border was like was going from Oz to Kansas.  Far off in the distance I could see buildings that looked like they'd been bombed in World War 2 and never repaired. For all I know, that might actually be true. 
  • After all that grayness, being let into West Berlin was such a riot of color and sound and style that it made my eyes sizzle. I understand why West Berliners have such a party attitude; they were living on Entropy's Edge. 
"Berlinermauer" by Noir 
  • Graffitti on the Western side of the Wall was non-stop. I don't think there was a single section that wasn't covered in some way. So far as I know, the police encouraged (or at least tolerated) it, as it was a graphic "FUCK YOU" to totalitarianism. 
"Berlin-Memorial to the Victims of the Wall-1982" by Lyricmac
  • Crossing into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie looked exactly like you'd imagine it did. Guards with mirrors looked under the bus while guards with German Shepherds patrolled around us and guards with assault rifles came aboard and demanded "Papieren, Bitte." 
  • East Berlin, like the rest of the country, was primarily gray. Any colors present were desaturated, like they had been left in the sun for too long and faded. 
  • Yes, the Death Zone on the East side of the wall was as terrible as you think it was. We weren't allowed to take pictures, so these will have to do. 
"East Berlin Death Strip seen from Axel Springer Building 1984" by GeorgeLouis 

"Berlin Wall death strip, 1977" by George Garrigues (GeorgeLouis)

  • This is a really well-done animation of both the Berlin Wall and wall between East and West Germany. Even through the haze of 30 years ago, this feels accurate. 

  • After our visit, we stopped by a museum of of the Wall. The only thing I remember about it were the detailed and amazingly inventive ways people managed to smuggle themselves across to the West. 

And now for a final story:

At some point during our visit to East Berlin -- I think it was after Putin tried to pick up my mom, but I'm not certain -- we stopped at a gift shop that catered specifically to tourists (specifically because East Berliners likely couldn't afford what was being sold there, and probably weren't allowed inside anyway).

There I was, 10 years old and full of energy and bored to death of stodgy old gift shops, so I told my parents I was going out to the parking lot to explore and get some air.  I went outside and, because kids do that sort of thing, I decided to walk behind the building.

When I got to the back of the building - I crap you negative - I saw a semi-trailer parked there, with the rear doors open, and inside was what looked like electronic gear being manned by soldiers in uniform.

Being a good little American, I ran inside and got my father (who was in his full uniform, as required by international treaty), told him he needed to see something, and took him by the hand around the building.

The soldiers there might not have cared if a kid saw them, but one glance at a uniformed member of the United States Army and -- bam! -- they jumped up and closed the doors. I guess my being nosy meant they couldn't have fresh air in their stuffy surveillance trailer.

Of course it was a surveillance trailer. Of course the gift shop was bugged. If anything, the surprise was that they'd be so brazen about it instead of having a spy room in the basement.

That's all I can remember of my visit to East Berlin. It's weird to think that it no longer exists. Sure, eastern Germany exists, but not East Germany. I feel privileged to have visited a country that has passed into history.

Oh, one final bit of funny to wrap this up and bring it full circle to the post that started it all:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Gunday Product Reviews: the Snake Eyes Dead Ringer Sight

This is going to be a long review, so hold onto your hats folks...

Early in the year, I received a set of Snake Eyes sights from Dead Ringer for test & evaluation. This review has been a long time in coming, for various reasons:
  1. The sights are not easily mounted on a pistol. (More on this later.)
  2. I wanted to see if the ghost ring on the back of the slide would interfere with concealed carry and/or drawing from concealment. In order to test the concealed carry portion, I perforce had to carry it for an extended period of time. I daresay that 7 months of carry qualifies as a "long term" test. 
  3. I had picked up several bad shooting habits that I needed to overcome.
Now, I plan to address every single one of these points, but in this instance I'm going to skip ahead to a "good part" and do that before I get to the nitty-gritty.

A Newbie Review

I have a friend, Ian Ng, who lives in California and who is interested in gun ownership. However, due to California being, well, California, he had some difficulty in getting to a range in order to test-fire pistols to see which ones he like. Being a proper gunnie, I told him that if he ever found himself in Florida, I would take him shooting at my local range and he could shoot all of mine.

As it so happens, Ian was in my neck of the woods on May 22, and thus I had the privilege of taking him shooting. One of the guns he fired was my Glock 26 with the aforementioned Dead Ringer sights. I'll let him tell the rest of the story:
On my first real trip to a range*, I was given the opportunity to fire a Glock 26 with a Series 3 Snake Eyes sight from Dead Ringer, amid a field that also included a Ruger Bearcat (.22 LR single-action revolver), Kel-Tec PMR-30 (.22 Magnum semi-auto), S&W Bodyguard (.380 semi-auto) and Ruger LCR (.357 Magnum revolver).
As a very novice shooter, it wasn't surprising to find my groupings all over the place. I mean ALL OVER the place: high and left, low and right, low, really low, left, high right, hey a bullseye, low right, low left, did that even hit the target, right, high, high left. You get the idea.
Among other newbie mistakes like anticipating or dropping the wrist, I had to really work at lining up the posts on all the other guns and never really felt I had a good steady read on the target.
The Snake Eyes sights on the Glock made it really easy. I bought the gun up and there was the ring. Center the post and I was done. I found my focus was stronger and there was a lot less fuss around lining up my shot. 
I shot this gun in the middle of the field, so it was neither my first nor last for the day. My shooting sherpa noted that I was much tighter and closer to the center when using the Glock with the sights, with almost every shot inside the 9 ring. After that I went back to punching out a checkerboard on the target. 
Obviously, I'm not a practiced shooter who would have trained on and gotten used to the standard sights, so I have no idea what it would be like to transition to the Snake Eyes. As a novice, though, I like them a lot and would be looking to get a set myself when I purchase a gun. 
* I had previously gone twice to tourist ranges in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but that's another story for another time. Suffice it to say, they weren't good learning experiences.
This experience is rather common. When I went shooting with Da Tinman and Snooze Button Ronin in the spring, I asked each of them to shoot my pistol and tell me how they liked it. Both of them were enthusiastic about its accuracy and ease of use, and Tinman expressed a desire to buy one and refit it to a 1911. Noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that neither of them carry Glocks -- Tinman carries a Ruger SR9c and Snoozy carries a Boberg XR-9.

I think this information is relevant: when I first used the Snake Eyes sight, I needed several trips to the range to practice with it before I could use it effectively. I am not sure if I simply had picked up bad habits along the way (which is likely) or if Glock shooters need time to adjust to the new sight picture. Perhaps both. However, I think there is at least some truth to the latter, as I am 3 for 3 when it comes to people without preconceived notions shooting my gun and loving the Dead Ringer sights.

Mounting the Sights

This was an adventure in itself, as the product states (both on the website and product packaging) that the "Rear Sight is a press fit application and should be done by a professional gun smith to avoid potential harm to slide or sight". 

My thinking -- and remember, dear readers, why I call myself a Useful Idiot -- was that I could ask my buddy the Glock Armorer down at the Friendly Local Gun Shop to put the sights on and save myself the cost of a gunsmith. When I called him and asked if he'd do it, he was more than happy to oblige -- "I've got a rear-sight removal tool, should be a breeze!" -- and so I went over. 

The original sights came off without a hitch. The new front sight likewise went on without trouble. The rear sight, though...  well, as it turns out, it's just a smidge too wide for the sight tool he owned to get its arms around. 

I shan't detail the hijinks required to get the rear sight mounted and trued... but just to make conversation, did you realize that the Snake Eyes sights are made with "100% military-grade metals"? I don't know what that means, but I assume it means some kind of steel alloy.  Know what's softer than steel? Copper and/or brass heads on a machinist's hammer

I mean, I'm just saying

Obviously I would never endorse such a course of action. It might break the gun or the sight. 

Carrying It Concealed

I have carried my Glock 26 with Snake Eyes sights mounted to it for over 7 months now.  I have carried it under coats and under t-shirts, tucked into shorts and sweatpants and even jeans. I have carried it in the winter, the spring, and the summer.

Not once did I ever have a concealment or draw problem with the ring sight. 

It's simply not as large as the illustrations make it out to be (see picture), and its rounded form did not snag on my clothes. I also never had a problem with drawing it from underneath my cover garment. 

I can't speak for anyone but myself, of course. Perhaps some enterprising idiot will find a way to catch it on their clothes, but this idiot didn't. 

Shooting With It

Let's be honest here:  I have terrible eyesight. I'm nearsighted as heck, I have astigmatism in both eyes (and will probably need bifocals in a few years), and while I'm neither legally blind nor the bearer of Coke-bottle lenses, I will never EVER have 20/20 vision, ever. I think my personal best is 20/30. 

So on a purely personal level, I love the aesthetics of the Snake Eyes sight. It's a big fiber-optic ring that picks up ambient light from everywhere and naturally channels the eye toward the front sight. Finding the center is easy, as the fiber-optic has four "compass points" indicating the center, as well as two high-visibility dots to either side. (If you have the night sight version, these dots are tritium and glow with a brightness that's visible even in shadow.) The front blade also has a high-contrast dot on it. 

In other words, it might as well be a flashing neon "LOOK THIS WAY DUMMY" arrow on my pistol. And because I am a dummy when it comes to shooting, I'll take all the help I can get. 

I shot this today at the range.
20 yards, no laser, just the Snake Eyes sight.

The problem with these sights, as I mentioned earlier, is that they take some practice. I was used to finding the front blade within the U-notch of the back sight, and while I loved all the visual freedom of the ring, it took me a while to figure out exactly how to make it all work. I think the root of my problem was that I allowed myself to get distracted by the dots and arrows, and spent too much time trying to perfectly center the front blade that I neglected everything else, including proper grip and trigger pull. 

Eventually, I realized that I needed to focus on just the front sight and not worry so much about the indicators in the back.  By concentrating on putting the front sight on my target, the rear just naturally floated into place and I started to shoot much more effectively. 

In other words, I needed to find my zen center and realize that there is no spoon -- or in this case, that there is no rear sight -- and by ignoring it on a conscious level my unconscious mind would automatically center it. This, I believe, is why Ian and the others had such an easy time with it: by not being Glock shooters, they had no preconceptions on how the rear sight needed to behave, and so it snapped into place for them. 


Do I recommend this product?  It depends. 
  • If you are a new shooter and you are having problems getting on target, or if you have bad eyesight that is hungry for more light and visual cues, then I recommend this product -- just make sure you have secured the services of a gunsmith to install it for you. 
  • If you are perfectly happy with how your pistol shoots, then the time needed to learn to shoot pistols ghost-ring style isn't worth the effort. If your pistol is largely a safe queen, then I would say it's not worth the expense. 
  • But if you have picked up some bad habits and want to overcome them, then I enthusiastically recommend the Snake Eyes sights. Perhaps I am letting my own biases color my opinion, but I feel that these sights will highlight every mistake you make and drive you to correct your form. 

FTC Disclaimer: This product was given to me for free for testing. I was not paid to write a good review. If I didn't like I would have given it a poor rating, like other reviews I have done. Don't you have real crime to investigate?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Presented Without Comment

Link, for those who receive this via email.*

* Okay, technically that was a comment.

Friday, July 18, 2014

SHTFriday: Lots of Scary Facts About Hurricanes

Over at Blue Collar Prepping, I go on a bit of a tear about why hurricanes are really scary, why you should take them seriously, and why you shouldn't try to ride out anything larger than a Category 3.

In short: Nature is a Mother, so don't be stupid. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Have a new Salem

*Here, and I was worried a topic would not present itself for me to write upon this week..*

     So the other day it was announced the Marvel's Thor was now going to be a woman. Well, that was the announcement, but as you'll see in the linked press release, it's actually a bit more of a complicated situation than that.

     Thor is being judged unworthy (which has happened before) and the hammer is going to be wielded by someone else (which has also happened before). For a while, a horse alien held Mjolnir. Captain America, Storm, a few artificial life forms, and others have held the hammer in regular continuity. Outside of regular continuity, Superman, Rogue, Wonder Woman, and one of the various Spider-men have held it. Magneto even used it for a while (relying on his magnetic powers rather than being worthy of it). So I want to make it perfectly clear that I'm OK with someone else holding the hammer. I'm even OK with someone else headlining the Thor books. Some of the best stories were told when Hercules was headlining Hulk while he was off-planet being a gladiatorial emperor, and I can't think of something that would be more awesome than Valkyrie carrying around Mjolnir and headlining Thor for a while.

     Marvel's made a lot of (gasp) progressive changes that have resulted in some interesting outcomes. Hispanic Spider-Man over in the Ultimate U. The Fearless Defenders book. Ms Marvel being promoted to Captain Marvel, along with the flightsuit/mohawk look. Countless other little changes and seeds that show they've been playing a long game to make their worlds more diverse and interesting, and I applaud them for it. They've managed to make a lot of little changes that don't feel like “tokens,” telling good stories and making changes in the world that feel natural, all the while DC Comics has been trying to play catch-up and falling flat on their faces. Just like the real world, change is slow, painful, and gradual, but it feels natural when done that way. You can't change a world overnight without the entire thing collapsing.

     So with all of this in mind, I do actually have a problem with Thor being a woman, the way they've framed it. As I understand it, and these are from the words of the creative team, Thor is not turning into a woman. If Thor were turning into a woman, I'd be more OK with this, as he's a demigod. The rules are, always have been, and always should be, unclear on what limitations that can be placed on a demigod's physiology. No, this is a character that is in Thor's life, idolizes him, looks up to him, and when Thor is judged unworthy, he is stripped of his power, his hammer, and his name, and it is given to her instead. In my eyes, this is a total disrespect to both characters. You're taking a character's very birth name from him, the name given him by his mother and father (coincidentally, demigods themselves), and you're giving it to someone else. Not even Loki, who slept with a horse, gave birth to a baby horse, and brought about Ragnarok, ever had his own name taken from him. You're literally taking his identity away.

     And here's the part where I don't understand why more people concerned with diversity are upset. Why Joss Whedon and TheMarySue and all the other female-centric-viewpoint-friendly outlets aren't rioting. You're taking a woman, erasing her previous identity, and giving her a new one, based on an existing character. There was speculation for a bit that a previously existing female character, likely one of Marvel's super-powered blondes, would take over. Honestly, being a fan of both Valkyrie and Ms/Captain Marvel (likely candidates to stand in for Thor, based on appearance and power levels), I am certainly hoping that is not the case. Both of these characters have a pretty rich history and stand on their own merits, and to have all of that taken away from them and just have “THOR” pasted over it would be pretty insulting. There's a lot of really awesome pre-existing female characters in the Marvel U that I'm now worried about, because I want them to keep existing as who they are, and not having the identity of Thor pasted over theirs.

     Of course, this is all speculation. It could be a cynical publicity stunt. It could all be reset to status quo inside of 2 years. It could turn out to be a fantastic story that all makes sense once its taken in context with the events surrounding it. But from the information they've given so far, it's just.. kinda worrying. From some of my previous posts, I've made it clear that I enjoy stories with female protagonists. I've been reading some of Marvel's female characters for close to 20 years now. I want to see more and better things done with them, but one thing I don't want to see is a characterized game of matroyska dolls where someone like Carol Danvers or Emma Frost is swallowed up by another character.

Also, why was this announced on The View? Since when was The View considered a source of comic book news?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Giving Patreon a try

So, I've decided to do this thing that a lot of the cool kids are doing and join Patreon.  My reasons for this are twofold:

  1. I like being paid to write things.
  2. I need more incentive to get over myself and just write without worrying about how it will be received. 
Hence, Patreon. It allows you to support me so that I can consistently bring you quality weirdness (and I think we'll all agree that the past few months I haven't been as religiously weird as could be) -- and by contributing, it gives you the ability to say "Write more of this" and "Write less of that."

For example, here are the unfinished projects I currently have on my plate:
  • Curse/Or
  • Pellatarrum
  • The next iteration of Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome

And here are my regular features:
  • Monday Gunday
  • Palette's Product Reviews
  • SHTFriday
So for example, if enough of you said "Write more articles on prepping and fewer articles on ponies!" then I would probably do that.  Which isn't to say that I would necessarily stop writing about ponies -- you're not the boss of me, neener neener, etc -- it would help me accurately gauge the interest of my audience, and your opinions would matter because you've actually got skin in the game. 

And now, some answers to a few questions I think you're likely to ask:

If I pay you a dollar per blog post and you write 5 times a week, does that mean I'm going to have twenty $1 charges on my statement?
No. Patreon waits until the end of the month and charges you all at once. 

I don't think I can afford to give more than a few bucks each month. What if you write more than that?
No worries, you can set a monthly maximum. 

Am I going to be charged for guest posts?
Absolutely not. I have ethics, after all. I'm only going to charge for posts made by me, and furthermore they have to be creative posts. In other words, this post right here wouldn't count. 

Well, what does count?
  1. Anything creative:  short stories, my novel, role-playing game stuff. 
  2. Anything instructional:  product reviews, geeking about guns, prepping stuff. 
Everything else -- funny videos, guest posts, me whining about my life, me trying to get you to donate to charity, cheap attempts at humor -- does not count.  Unless, I suppose, tons of people tell me I'm hilarious and need to write more humor things. Or something. 

What rewards are you offering?
Now that is where I'm drawing a blank. My biggest problem is that I don't have enough hours in the day to do what I want to do. Part of that is because I have responsibilities to my family which I must fulfill, and part of that is because I do sometimes get distracted by shiny nerdy things. While I can't do anything about the former, I can definitely do something about the latter -- and so this is me, doing something. 

So when someone says "rewards" my reaction is "How do I write things as a reward when I can't even meet my own writing quotas?"  Clearly, this is a problem.  I bring it up specifically because I am actively soliciting ideas for rewards.  Maybe you folks are smarter than I am in this situation and you can think of something that's both really cool and really do-able. 

Do you really have a head full of bees?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pellatarrum in Photographs

As I try to get back into the habit of writing creatively more often (and hopefully finish up the dozen or so projects I have on my plate), I figured I'd ease back into Pellatarrum by picking some photographs that really spoke to me and then explaining why I feel they'd fit perfectly in my pet fantasy world.

The Disappearing Cove

(photo by Michael Marten)

Pellatarrum has no moons, and thus logically has no tidal action. However, as I have said before, science and logic is boring when it comes to fantasy.  Tides are interesting, so Pellatarrum has them.  Why?  Take your pick:
  • The water periodically drains away through caverns to the opposite side of the disk. However, the Water component of the Engines of Creation  (ancient artifacts which created the pocket Material Plane of Pellatarrum) notices the imbalance and pulls more from the Elemental plane to refresh the supply.  
    • Does this mean there is a MASSIVE underground sea about halfway through the disk?  Possibly...
  • There is a creature of epic, monstrous proportions  (think J√∂rmungandr ) asleep at the bottom of the sea. Each time it draws breath, it sucks seas into its lungs; every time it exhales, tides rush in. Storms at sea happen when this creature has nightmares and shifts restlessly in its sleep. 
  • This particular cove sits at a nexus of positive and negative energy. This nexus is usually netural, but the day-night cycle of Pellatarrum is enough to overcome that balance. When daylight strikes the cove, creation wins and water is generated ex nihilo. This lasts for as long as day is dominant; as night begins to fall (and necrosis begins to win against radiance) it becomes less and less. When night finally arrives, the water begins to dissipate into salt until there is nothing but a salt flat where once a cove stood... until daylight starts the cycle over again. 
    • Expect this area to be a riot of life and healing during the day, and then become incredibly haunted at night.

Mountain Shards

Winter in Pellatarrum is a time when Elemental Earth rains supreme. Usually that just means some soil comes loose and falls to the ground, its intense cold freezing the water around it, with the net result that fields get a few inches of rich fertile soil across them (and cities get that much muddier).  Sometimes larger pieces -- pebbles, really -- fall during a large storm, like hail. 

But every so often, something dramatic happens, and gigantic shards of Earth calve from its surface and plummet like falling spears. Pellatarrans call this Mountainfall, and when it happens it can drastically reshape the landscape:  the valley just over the hills can be buried by a newly-fallen mountain range, or a farming community's fields can be cratered beyond recognition. 

(Mapmaking is a vague art, not a science, in Pellatarrum. Better by far to take along a Ranger who can read the signs and get you there than risk death by taking a map you didn't realize had expired, and whose path takes you along watercourses that no longer exist, so that you die of thirst.)

These mountain shards occurred when a large chunk of Earth broke away and, while falling, broke apart like a cluster of spears. Locals call these the Javelin Peaks.


I wouldn't go here, were I you.  This looks like the result of a blue dragon arranging the landscape in a form it finds pleasing. Any trespass is likely to be interpreted as despoiling of a draconic masterpiece. 

If you must pass this way, bribe the local kobold tribes for safe passage; do NOT wander off the designated paths; and if your guide stops to show you a vista or give you an interpretation of what you're seeing, pay attention and ooh and ahh appreciatively. Dragon artistes do not take well to uncultured ruffians, and you never know who is watching....


Yeah, I wouldn't touch these flowers, either. This is clearly a forest at night (when the Dead Sun reigns) and these suckers are a bright yellow under negative energy. I don't know if they're undead (can plants be undead? Why not?), plague-ridden, vampiric or just really damn poisonous. This should be a big ol' NOPE NOPE NOPE from all sensible rangers and druids. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

SHTFriday: Hurricane Preparedness, part 1

Oy vey. That's twice in a row I've forgotten to post SHTFriday links on an actual Friday.  I can't find my ass with both hands and a flashlight these days....

Friday's installment is me talking about hurricane preparedness -- specifically evacuation (next week is about digging in). I may have missed some things as I have not had to evacuate, but since two of my other writers live in California, a third in Utah, and the fourth is somewhere in the midwest, I'm the only one with any hurricane experience whatsoever.

Then on Saturday, everyone at BCP decided to unanimously endorse MZW's Bail-Out Bag. Now, to
forestall the inevitable:

Yes, of course you can assemble your own bag for less money. But sometimes you don't have the time to hunt down all the pieces. Maybe you want a ready-made backup for your car, or perhaps you want your SO who doesn't share your prepping passion to have a kit. Buy this, give it to them, bang, they're set.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Assassination of Oengul War-Anvil by the Coward Justine of the Dawnguard

[I've got a busy day ahead of me, so I'm pulling something out of the archives. Wrote this while playing the Dawnguard expansion of Skyrim, during a particularly enjoyable questline. For the record, the timeline in which Dragonborn Justine remained a vampire was aborted, and in canon, she helped rebuild the Dawngaurd to battle back the Vampire Menace]

The stink of sulfur was carried out into the Stone Quarter by the heat of the blacksmith's pit, and carried further by the heat of the day. Windhelm was normally a bracing place, being as far North as it was, but this was an unseasonably warm month of Last Seed, the cold fronts simply unable to batter down the stubborn climate.

Justine chafed uncomfortably in the heavy Dawnguard armor, shifting the shoulder plates back into place. It was ill-fitting and hot, and she didn't like heavy armor to begin with. Her beloved assassin's gear was stowed in a hollow log a kilometer from the city gates, and she had approached in the Dawnguard armor, ostensibly on official business. The organization had been dormant for a good, long while, but people remembered what they stood for, and they remembered the menace that Vampires could bring.

Restlessly re-adjusting the bulky helmet, she had strode past the city guards confidently, and into the Stone Quarter, where she was met by the pungent sulfur of the blacksmith's forge. She glanced to her left, to the shadows formed against the wall by the afternoon's sun. Her companion, who had shadowed her progress, nodded back.

Justine surveyed the crowd in the market area. She had a target, but she wasn't sure which one the target would be. It was a high profile target, to be sure, but her source wasn't specific. Her eyes scanned slowly, past the woman at the grindstone and the man leaving the apothecary, past the market stall selling cheese wheels and the child playing with a tame baby skeever. Too many possibilities..

"Watch yourself, milk-drinker," the man shouldered his way past Justine, in a blacksmith's apron with a massive two-handed axe on his back. Bald and bearded like, let's face it, many of Skyrim's eligible bachelors, Oengul War-Anvil headed in the direction of the forge.

Justine glanced back in the shadows, nodded, and broke towards him, sending a fierce snap kick into the side of his knee. The man buckled, falling forward, as Justine caught him by the back of his apron, drawing a silver knife from the folds of the heavy armor and resting it under his throat. She called out to the denizens of the market.

"People of Windhelm! By the order of the Dawnguard, this man is a spy for the Vampires of Castle Volkihar! He must be put down for your safety!"

She drew the blade swiftly across his throat, and Oengul War-Anvil made a gurgling, choking sound as he fell, bleeding out on the cobbled stones of the market grounds.

"By the Order of the Jarl, stop there!" The hold guards had been fazed by the display, but no longer. They approached Justine, their blades drawn, when there was a flash, and a loud bang, as her companion Sarana stepped quietly from the shadow and tossed a smoke bomb at their feet. She and Justine took off, shouldering and elbowing their way through the gathering crowd. The two women jumped onto a nearby cart, then pulled themselves over the hold's walls.

"Back to Volkihar, then," Justine said, "Your father should be pleased."

"My father," said Sarana, "is a very hard man to please."

The sun was just setting, and Justine cast off the Dawnguard helmet. Her amber eyes glowed in the evening dusk that brought relief from the afternoon heat. The two vampires set off Northwest, towards Castle Volkihar, to report that the Dawnguard had been successfully framed for the murder of a prominent citizen of Windhelm.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

[AFTHOTWTTGS] Character Generation: the First Hurdle

I want you to imagine something for me, dear readers (both of you).

I want you to imagine, if you can, that you have no passionate interest in pretending to be an elf, or a vampire, or a space mercenary, or - le sigh - a squeaky cartoon pony. You're sort of aware that these things exist - you've seen The Hobbit or Only Lovers Left Alive or Guardians of the Galaxy (and as an aside, doesn't that look like a lovely little palate-cleanser? Also insert obvious commentary on bald blue space pirate Karen Gillan, "another sensual massage, Pirate Queen?", yadda yadda yah) or some resurrected apparently-for-children show which I honestly did try to watch once but didn't gel with me in the slightest.

(I'm not even joking. I'm sure that Friendship is, indeed, Magic, but when I say 'it physically hurt me to watch it', that's not fanboy rhetoric; I found the animation style and the sound of the theme music and the voices viscerally off in the same way that I find spoiled chicken not only inedible but repulsive - "do not put this in you, get this out of your environment". It's nothing personal, I swear. Anyway, back to RPGs.)

You might be interested in roleplaying because you have a slightly geekier friend who's into it, and you sort of like board games, and you figure it might or might not pass a few wet weekends in November, and so you agree to sit down and play for a bit - and someone hands you this piece of paper and the first thing you have to do when playing a game is, effectively, fill out an application form.

Think about it. You must fill in these boxes, declare these aspects of your 'self', complete the paperwork in order to start playing a game. I know board games have set-up time, some more so than others, but come on - filling out forms?

If I weren't already predisposed to roleplaying from having started shortly after my age hit double figures, i.e. before filling in application forms and doing sums and documenting my use of resources became the blight on my life that it is today, I wouldn't touch that shit with a standard-issue ten-foot pole. The first stage in playing an RPG is something which, to 'straight' adults, to adults not already locked into this stuff, is associated with work - often busywork, or the soul-sapping state of unemployment.

Over the years I've seen several ways of working around this big stick-in-the-craw opening... thing.

With my old Vampire group (which had a gamer or two, but where the common interest was 'theatre and art and stories and stuff about vampires' rather than 'playing games'), the workaround was to sell it as part of a theatrical process - you workshop the characters before you get into devising the story, and part of that is deciding what sort of person they are and what they can and can't do.

Quite often, the two-part nature of New World of Darkness gaming comes to my aid. Devise a human first, get a feel on a person you want to be, then play them for a bit, then apply your supernatural template. Yes, I'm aware that that might mean you don't get the full range of choice about where your Merits and freebie points and suchlike go, but we're talking about new players, and 'straights' to boot. I don't think optimisation is half the issue that entitlement and 'following the rules' are - again, the idea that the rules are guidelines and it's OK for only one person to know what's going on and you have to trust that person not to fuck you over just because are often quite challenging to people who are coming to these games in adulthood.

Sometimes, character generation is super-streamlined. Fighting Fantasy and Backsword and Buckler (my favourite of the OSR systems largely because its magic is elegant and low level and also because that whole Elizabethan-Lovecraft thing is very much my jam) both have character creation that can be over and done with in a few minutes per person. I like that.

What my mate Chris (who's a very good GM for someone who isn't me) does is to start you off in media res - you pick things like Nature/Demeanour, Virtue/Vice, race/class/alignment, and then accumulate your stats based on the choices you make during the first session. He drops you into a situation - someone's following you home - and if you whip round with a weapon in hand, he quietly assumes that combat will be your first recourse and advises you to put some points into combat stats and skills. If you turn and challenge them verbally, social stuff. If you try to lose them in the maze of streets, intellectual stuff. You get the idea. It works quite well, and it's my standard choice for experienced groups of roleplayers who know each other quite well...

... but right now, I'm gearing up to run Mage for a couple of journeyman tabletoppers, an experienced MMO-roleplayer who's never touched a d10 in her life, and a full-bore geek who, while roleplay-positive, is also quite difficult to focus and about as disinclined to paperwork as I am. Two pairs of players know each other well; I know all the players (one pair less well); we have no idea if we're going to get on as people who do a thing together.

For once, I'm feeling like the paperwork might be a blessing. It gives us a chance to sit around a table and get a feeling for the other players in the prospective group, become used to each other and comfortable with each other or at least over the initial awkwardness. And I suppose it gives me an idea for who their characters are, and what they're capable of, and what will be appropriate challenges for them (very important, I think, with Mage, where lacklustre adversary design results in something that can almost be handwaved away). Yet it still feels... dull, this asking people to fill out forms before they can play a game. You'd have trouble selling me on that, these days.

I'll let you know how it works out.

The Fine Print

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