Category Archives: Rants

Rants. What more need be said?

A Musical Interlude…

With apologies to REO Speedwagon, and in tribute to E. Gary Gygax, who believed that the entire room should be against you…

I can’t fight this piercer any longer
And yet, it clearly will not let me go
Its grip upon my innards has grown stronger
And the danger that I’m in is gonna grow
Cause the piercer was itself stuck to a lurker
Above, and it is coming down below
And it’s bringing with it some darkmantle buddies
And my hit points are about to reach zero…
But even as I stagger, I keep the priest in sight
He’s got some healing magic, and we just might win the fight
But he’s backing out the doorway, running off in fright

And I just can’t fight this ceiling any more…


(This was done in about 10 minutes, once the wretched pun hit me, so it might not be up to Weird Al standards. Pay me what he gets, and you get work of his quality. Pay me nothing, and you get this.)

This Is A Sacred Relic

Playing at the World: Gary Gygax’s 1973 D&D Working Draft.

All I can say is, “Holy Frak.” I am going to be poring over this site. These are some of the earliest proto-D&D fragments, the Dead Sea Scrolls of gaming history. Just wow.

A Personal Update

Most of the people who might want to know about this are on Facebook, but I realize there’s people who aren’t, and who might still be interested, so I’ve written up a summary.

About nine months ago, Beth was strongly encouraged to look into gastric belt surgery. Her medications and other medical conditions make it effectively impossible for her to lose weight, and her weight was causing severe physical and mental consequences (which tended to require more medications and treatments, which induced more complication, etc.)

She went through an extended battery of tests, forms, classes, forms, required approvals, forms, evaluations, and forms. Finally, around early November, we were told everything was good, all they needed was final approval from the insurance company, and we’d be off. The doctor wanted to do it by Thanksgiving.

Then followed three weeks of not hearing anything, despite repeated calls. Finally, we discovered the doctor’s office had never sent the forms to the insurance company for approval. According to them, they’d never received them. Now, they were gathering information from several different medical offices and doctors. It is hardly implausible one of those many might have failed to fax, send, or otherwise follow through. It’s extremely implausible every single one of them did. So, point blank, the office lost or misfiled them all.

Beth fortunately did not have to repeat the tests, but did have to contact everyone involved and get them to send in the paperwork all over again.

Beth has suffered severe depression for years; the only drug which even partially counteracts this is Nardil, an MAOI inhibitor that is rarely prescribed, despite its effectiveness, because it requires strict adherence to a dietary regimen. One of the many effects of depression is a very poor tolerance of frustration; if something is at all difficult, it will often be abandoned. Getting through all of this rigmarole was not easy for her, myself, or her mother. We kept pushing at it because we believed it was absolutely necessary for Beth’s long-term health, physical and mental.

So we finally, after far too long, got the final insurance approvals, and a surgery date.

(In the meanwhile, the company I worked for was being transferred to another company owned by the same uber-corporation. When this was announced back in August or so, we were told it would be mostly a matter of changing who signed the checks and moving the code over to the other company’s servers. Can you guess where this is going? Everyone in my division was a telecommuter; we were all over the place. The new company didn’t want telecommuters. They wanted us to re-apply for our existing jobs, and, if hired, to move to White Plains. Basically, they just tossed the entire accumulated knowledge base and skill set out the window. So, in addition to everything else, I am now unemployed.)

Friday, December 20th, I got Beth to the hospital at 5:30 AM. (Anyone who knows me will consider this proof of divine intervention, as “not a morning person” doesn’t begin to cover it. Then we got our first Fun Shock. Since Beth hadn’t hit her out of pocket maximum, the hospital wanted us to pony up over two grand, right then, minutes before her scheduled surgery. No one has told us this; it apparently wasn’t something anyone knew until they input her admission data. Fortunately, we had an “In Case Of Extreme Emergency” credit card.

Then, we got another problem. Despite the aforementioned many months of tests, surveys, forms, and so on, and despite the fact her long list of medications was always, continually, given to every doctor, nurse, orderly, and passing stranger during all of this, suddenly, they decided that they wanted her off the Nardil before surgery. This would take 10 days, minimum, and would lead to a Catch-22 of epic proportions. She was only approved for surgery because she had not been hospitalized for mental illness for a full two years prior. (This is close to a record for us for the past decade.) Without the medication, she would need to be hospitalized within 3 to 4 days, tops, based on what had happened the last time she’d had to go off it — which would mean no surgery. The doctor explained that if there was any indication of  problem with the anesthetic, the surgery would be halted, and we were fine with that.

There were no problems with the surgery. The doctor said everything went fine. I stayed until she was out of surgery and was waiting to be placed in a room. At the time, she was groggy, but seemed to be doing alright.

It took a long time to get her into a room. Since this was ostensibly an outpatient procedure, we were worried she’d be there longer than 23 hours from admission, which could cause some hassles with insurance.

I spoke to her later than evening. The painkillers had worn off, she wasn’t being given more. She was in excruciating pain, and was pretty much in tears, saying she wished she hadn’t done it, that she just wanted to go home. I told her it would be for the best.

Later the next day (12/21), she was discharged. Tests had been performed that showed there was no leakage in her stomach, that the surgery had gone well. She was still in overwhelming pain, and could not keep down anything, or swallow. We hoped bed rest at home would help.

The next morning, after a miserable night of vomiting and pain, we called the hospital, which told us to bring her back in, as this didn’t seem normal. So she was re-admitted on Sunday, 12/22. That was, and trying not to be too melodramatic here, the last time I saw her conscious, as of this writing (12/28/2013)

On the 23rd, she was an a BiPap machine, and we were told she was severely dehydrated, was not getting enough oxygen, and between the surgery and her being unable to swallow, she’d been off her meds for several days.

On the 24th, I called the hospital, and was transferred to her ward, and I got the following response when I asked for her:”Oh, you didn’t know she was transferred to the ICU?”

No. I didn’t know. Oddly, no one seemed to think that was worth calling us about. Funny, that.

She was having difficulty breathing and was running a 102.something degree fever. She was basically unconscious, though from painkiller or the fever or the lack of oxygen, I am not sure. They were still trying to figure out what was wrong with her.

Early in the morning on the 25th (Anyone who says their Christmas was “ruined” because they got the wrong color iThing, please, come over here and say it to my face. I’ve got some repressed rage to work off.), we got another call. Beth had “coded”. She’d stopped breathing. They intubated her, got her going again, but obviously, whatever was wrong with her was very serious and getting worse. We went to the ICU and stayed there.

Midway through the day, they finally found the problem. Her sutures had been torn out, probably from her vomiting. So for several days, she’d been leaking stomach fluids, etc, into her body. They performed more surgery, to remove the gastric band, and to insert drains into her stomach. The damage done by tearing out the sutures was severe enough that they couldn’t just repair it, or at least that’s the impression I got. I assume they did something to close it up, but they needed the drains because it wasn’t sealed completely.

She still wasn’t conscious. There were no indications of brain damage (no blood clots, no signs of anoxia), but the doctor was “concerned” she wasn’t waking up.

We got home, tried (and failed) to relax. I was just barely getting around to accepting that while her recovery (from what was supposed to have been routine outpatient surgery) may now take several weeks, we were probably past the worst of it.

Then, we got another call. This was from the kidney specialist. We need to give permission to put her on dialysis, because her kidneys were not working. We’d been told there were some issues with her urine, but nothing had indicated she was suffering kidney failure. Then we got a call again, a few minutes later, saying we needed to give permission for something else dialysis-related; Beth was so weak they needed to do the dialysis slowly, through a tube in her neck, to see how she was handling it.

That was a bit of a breaking point. I’m now at the stage where every time the phone rings, I panic, because I have no more confidence things will either stay stable or get better.

We are visiting her every day, even though she’s not aware of us. She occasionally partially opens her eyes, or seems to react, but there’s no way to tell if it’s due to our voices or just random neural action. Supposedly, she is showing slightly more responsiveness; we’re going back again tonight (12/28) and we’ll see.

We don’t know if she’ll have long term problems, short term problems, or no problems. We don’t really know why she’s unconscious. I have no idea, really, what’s going to happen now.

A Minor Diversion Into Artsy English Major Stuff

I’m doing another editing pass on Rogue Planet, in preparation for the final push to print. One of the interesting things about writing is when you set aside a document for a while, and then return to it, you can see things differently. Your brain is no longer filling in gaps automatically, and you have a distance from the text that enables you to approach it more objectively, as a reader more than as a writer.

I have read articles from writers that describe how they agonize over symbols and tropes and themes, how they decide that they’re going to use the Burger King Star Wars glasses their protagonist got as a 12 year old as a recurring symbol regarding hope and loss and memory and blah blah blah (I wish I still had mine, they’re apparently worth a bloody fortune now). Me, I don’t do that. I may agonize over extremely trivial details absolutely no one is going to care about, often just to add flavor text to a throwaway bit of dialogue somewhere. (For example, I just now looked up if it was “dialogue” or “dialog”, and the answer I got was “Meh, no one knows.”) I have often said I am not so much a world builder as a world explorer, and when it comes to writing, I am less author and more chronicler. The characters do what they do, and I write it down. When I find writing is difficult, when the words dribble out in the way molasses didn’t in Boston, 1919, it’s because I’m trying too hard to write a story as opposed to report a story.

Any symbolism, patterns, or themes that might appear in my work, therefore, are a total surprise to me, and yet, they’re there. Some literary type reading my work in the future (yeah, right) might see purpose or planning, but my writing, like the universe itself, is a thing in which someone may perceive patterns, not a thing in which patterns were placed. Any apparent order or purpose, in either reality or in my books, is entirely illusory.

Warning: Some extremely minor spoilers for Rogue Planet and the bonus prequel story follow.

In the first chapter of Rogue Planet, I have tossed in a minor bit of characterization regarding a character’s disbelief of living testimony vs. a handful of paperwork. The Official Word As Printed On The Official Form ought to trump any corrections from the actual subject of the document. (One sees this also in Wikipedia editing, where the actual subject of an article is not considered an authoritative source.) Much later in the book, a chunk of plot turns on this same concept, on a larger scale, where automated systems follow their orders to the letter, any contradictory facts be damned! This can be considered “intentional” in that I consider bureaucracy to be both hilarious and tragic, depending on how much hold it has over someone’s life, but I never consciously thought, “I’m going to echo this theme from the beginning to the end of the book.” It’s a trope I am drawn to, so it’s going to show up unless I go out of my way to avoid it. (Trying to write without tropes is a moronic thing to do, but you always get people who think you can tell a story, or create a character, without using any number of established tropes; this is like trying to build a house without using any tools or construction materials.)

Likewise, the cultures of Rogue Planet, descended from “social deviants” (as the characters in the prequel story (currently titled “Approval Not Required”) refer to them) tend to be very focused on deals, bargains, honor, and suchlike. Debt, obligation, and duty are all regularly referenced. A larger part of this is due to genre tropes: Vows, oaths, loyalty, and bonds of honor and friendship are all major aspects of this type of story. Backstabbing weasels are the villains. Today, when I was thinking about “Approval Not Required”, it occurred to me that all the main characters are engaged in plots, counter-plots, manipulations, etc. Without ever consciously intending to do so, I’d created an interesting thematic contrast: The criminal descendants are more concerned with honor and duty than the governing authority that sent their ancestors there in the first place. If I’d sat down and decided “Oh, I’m going to make a Big Statement here”, I think it would have been ham-handed and dull. I didn’t realize that there was a Statement until I looked over the two stories from a bit of a distance. In both cases, the characters, and their actions and values, grew out of the general tone of the story. At the time I was writing Rogue Planet, I had no plans to write the prequel story; as I wrote the prequel story, I was most interested in adding details and background to established facts. I never thought much about “theme” or “concept” or “meaning”.

So my point? Not sure, really. “Don’t believe everything your English teacher tells you” would be one, I suppose. “One of the best parts of creating is being surprised by your own creation” would be another. If I had any shred of religious sentiment, I would argue that this is why a deity would create a universe: To be surprised. As a GM, pretty much the same thing as being a god, only without any hint of respect or admiration, that is definitely one of my motivations: To create a world and then see what players do to it. Being an author is like that, but without the players. You’d think it would make as difference in the degree of surprise, but surprisingly (heh), it doesn’t. The imaginary people that live in my head are nearly as confusing as the presumably non-imaginary people that live outside my head.

Monopoly & D&D

OK, this is going to be very brief, because every second of spare time I have is devoted to looking at cute cat gifs on Buzzfeed writing Rogue Planet.

I’ve commented, often, that the perception of AD&D as being “rules light” has more to do with how many of the rules are ignored, vs. what playing the rules would actually be like. D&D 3e, and its successors, didn’t so much add in “restrictions” as provide rules for actions that were generally playable and well-integrated into the system. (As a simple comparison, using the unarmed combat rules in AD&D required information that, in many cases, the system didn’t provide — such as whether the hobgoblin you’re fighting was wearing a nasal helmet or not. No, I am not making that up. Go check your AD&D 1e DMG.)

Over time, the conflation of “how we played AD&D” with “how AD&D was actually written” has become so great that some people a)Get outraged when I point out, with quotes and page references, that they’re wrong, and b)Insist, and I swear upon whatever shreds of honor and self-esteem I have left that this is a near-virtual paraphrase, not in any way a distortion of meaning, “Playing AD&D by the rules was contrary to the rules.”.

Anyway, there’s a moment of faux-outrage going on over at Gizmodo over some new edition of Monopoly. What’s interesting and relevant is the comments thread, where there’s a debate over whether you collect rent while in jail. Many people insisted, loudly, that you don’t, and that anyone who says otherwise “playing wrong”. Sorry, no. Other way around. The RAW for Monopoly have always said you collect rent while in Jail. Not collecting rent in Jail is a house rule so common, people have confused it with the real rules, which they never read. The game is taught mostly by oral tradition, just like D&D was back in Ye Olde Dayse.

Before I discovered D&D, I was a big Monopoly fan. I bought books on Monopoly strategy — yes, they existed — and memorized various tables on the odds of landing on different squares. (Boardwalk/Park Place are for suckers. The violet-tan-red sequence is the best intersection of probability and ROI.) I took great delight in bringing up the letter of the rules when dealing with those who didn’t know them. (For example, other than in the early game, there’s no good reason to “get out of Jail” early — having three turns where there’s no risk of landing on someone else’s property, while you still collect rent, is great. Remember that, and get some sucker to pay you good money for your GOOJF card.)

Anyway, my point, such as it is, is how the same patterns of behavior assert themselves in countless contexts. People rarely verify their memory against source documents, and often act irrationally when confronted with the conflict — as if being human is a moral failing. The human brain evolved for a much more soft-edged world than ours. Our storage and retrieval mechanisms are “good enough”, because there’s rapidly diminishing returns in increasing accuracy at the cost of speed and storage space. Human memory is very fallible, and the more you reference a distorted memory, the more reinforced the neural pattern that contains it becomes. I suspect that people’s often hostile reaction to being shown that they’re wrong is due to the brain, in essence, protecting its investment in false information. It’s spent a lot of energy digging those neural channels, and to be told that it needs to tear them all up and start over triggers a “double down” reaction. (This is also why, the more implausible and ridiculous something gets, from conspiracy theories to Nigerian scammers to Ponzi schemes, the more fervently people believe. The brain, much like a con artist caught in a lie, can’t just admit the lie, and so frantically piles on one lie after another — except that it’s itself it’s lying to.)

Humanity is badly broken, and there’s no patch forthcoming.

The human brain is bugged.

Patch is not yet available. Please check back.

Kickstarter Announcement! Rogue Planet: Adventures On The Star Prison! With Exclamation Points! Lots Of Them!

Terrifying… I Mean, Good News, Everyone!

Following a lifetime habit of jumping on the bandwagon after the dead horse has left the open barn, I have decided to try to Kickstart a new novel. As both of my fans know, I have a deep and abiding love for pulp science-fiction, especially the genre known as “Sword & Planet” or “Planetary Romance”. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter, Alan Burt Akers, and Leigh Brackett, are some of the better known names in this area. Alien worlds, swordfights, rayguns, airships, strange allies, stranger foes… it’s an amazingly fertile genre for gaming. There’s been a lot of games and settings out lately that draw inspiration from this kind of space opera, but not a whole lot of new material in the genre — and I have decided to do something about that.

I don’t want to repeat a lot of the information already on the Kickstarter Page, which, by the way, is right here. That page lays out my goals, hopes, dreams, and plans, except for the plan involving the dachshunds with plasma cannons. I mostly want to call attention to the page, as I think there’s a set of people that visit here who do not follow my Facebook page or Xanga site. If you like my game writing and/or my fiction, and you want more, please, back this project. If you back this project, please, tell other people about it. There are, I believe, many more people who would enjoy the book I want to write than I currently have any contact or connection with. I need to reach out to those people who do know me, and my work, and ask them to reach out to their circles of friends and like-minded individuals, and so on.

The real difficulty with Kickstarter, or any crowdsourced project, is standing out from the crowd. There’s a million things clamoring for the eyes, and wallets, of the masses, and as much as I generally dislike self-promotion, there’s no other way for this to work.

5e Design Goals, A Question Or Two

So, there’s another design diary up on WOTC’s site, and that means another chance for me to write an inchoate, off-the-cuff rant there, and then post it here, and pretend that it’s content.

I’m a bit confused as to how these lists are created. Firearms rules, for example, can be as simple as crossbow rules: They’re a weapon, they do damage, boom, done. They can also be complex, with rules for powder measuring, firing in damp conditions, wheellocks vs. matchlocks vs. flintlocks, etc. They’re an example of a concept or option that can be iterated through multiple levels of complexity.

The idea of “only one rules change at a time” is likely to frustrate those people most likely to want advanced rules, and it goes against the concept of modularity. If the core system is fine, then, grid based combat built on the core, and hit locations built on the core, work fine, because each replaces a different module — in programming terms, each is a subclass of a different root class. The grid rules that determine where you are and how this affects your chance to hit should not care what happens after you’re hit — if your armor is DR or if your hit location matters. If there are such effects, it is the “after hit” rules that should contain them, and inform the grid rules of what’s happened (“I’ve been hit in my legs, I’m at -5′ speed for 1d4 rounds.”) The grid rules only care about “your speed”, they don’t care if some other rule has modified it.

Likewise, if we use a spell point system, we can’t have hit locations? Why not? I really don’t see your underlying logic here, in terms of how you decide to wall off one section of rules from another, or decide you can only pick one option from column A, two from column B, and free egg roll if ordering for four or more.

Rabbis & Rules Lawyers

I just realized something. My love of complex rules systems may be due to my ethnic heritage. My ancestors, denied most opportunities to participate in academia, but from a culture which valued knowledge and learning, spent most of their time poring over immense tomes written by many people over centuries, arguing and debating the various things contained within, and, if they found any situation ambiguous or unclear, would debate until they made up a specific law to cover it. When I am at a table, surrounded by my fellow gamers, all of us with books open to different pages, each of us reading paragraphs to each other and debating which supersedes what, I am spiritually drawn back across the centuries to some Eastern European ghetto, where my forefathers did the same with books of religious, rather than gaming, lore. Latkes instead of Cheetohs, but still dressed mostly in black, with a tendency towards beards.

The Banality Of The Fantastic

Just a little something I wrote on that I thought ought to be here, as well.

I’ve found, in my fiction, that I tend to keep returning to the concept of the banality of the fantastic — how anything, no matter how baroque or strange, ultimately just becomes part of the background noise of daily life, and try to create worlds that are interesting to the readers but which are simply *there* for the characters. If the canonical Big Dumb Object story is “the guy gawking at things, and the guy who explains to him what he’s gawking at”, my stories tend to be “the guy yawning at things because he just wants to get home and watch TV and this is, what, the fifth giant radioactive monster this week?” And this, in turn, feeds back into my gaming preferences… I enjoy worlds where the characters do not marvel or wonder at golems or vampires, but run down their checklist of “What kills them?”, because they’re as much a part of their world as lions, tigers, and bears. They’re dangerous, they’re fearsome, they require special knowledge and skills to hunt effectively, but they’re not alien, unknown, or mind-bending.