Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rambling - Dancing With Endful Machinations

Fake Shepard isn't as badass as my Samantha Shepard.
But she'll do for now.

If everything goes right, then eventually everything will change.

Whether incrementally, as is the norm of things from what I can tell, or as an aberrant massive sweeping change or series of changes, everything will eventually be different.  On a long enough timeline, nothing is recognizable.  Why people seem to fight this baffles me on a regular basis, even as I occasionally find myself guilty of such stupidity.  Change is the true unstoppable force, and this particular linear meat sack is as yet incapable of imagining the immovable object that might contrast it.  It has been said that death comes to all things, but even death would not come but that it is carried on the wings of change.  Or do they just fly together?

Regardless, it comes to everything, and in some places I want it to arrive sooner even as I lament the loss of what once was.  As an example; tabletop RPGs.  On the one hand, I am very much a loving fan of books in their physical form.  I love holding a book; the tactile feel to me brings to mind thoughts of wizards' tomes (and, given my cherished nickname of "wizard," and my favorite class having always been the spellcaster, I am fond of these thoughts).  I love the smell of old books; it puts me in the mood of history, and the older the book the more pleasant the feeling.  I love the sight of a well-stocked library; it feels to me like the physical manifestation of knowledge.  I fully believe that tabletop RPGs must leave books behind.

I will miss books, don't get me wrong.  Terribly.  Yet I do not think they can give our hobby the adaptability and flexible power that is offered by the online format.  The most obvious example of this shortcoming comes in the form of updates or errata, a thing with which many gamers who like to play the most up-to-date versions of our favorite games are very familiar.  Many gamers are, I am quite sure, very happy to buy their core books and play that game as it is for quite some time.  Others however, and I am among them, quickly jump upon each update and errata posted and apply them to our existing campaigns as we go.

These updates can be a pain, as they are rarely ever added to future publications of a game's core rulebook.  Even if and when they are, purchasing new copies of the rulebooks we already have is onerous at best and a waste of money from any viewpoint.  What's more, implementing these changes can be aggravating, as it involves either constantly flipping to the updates document and contrasting it with the core rules to find changes, or taking the time to scribble notes throughout the core books (or at the very least leave marks indicating a particular rule or element has been changed).

Much more significant than rules updates however, are genuine rules changes.  Fundamental changes to a game system are inevitable; as the players discover flaws, loopholes, or weak points in the rules that no game designer can ever anticipate; as the game's design philosophy changes, matures, or undergoes revision; or as any other event brings about a significant change in a rules system (which is inevitable, and usually for the better), owning a previous version of a game's core rules book or books becomes a bit of an issue.

It has been said by some that any significant change in a rules system (whether a fundamental change like 3.5 or Essentials, or a full-on system reboot that is a new edition) renders the previous books obsolete, useless, or other more colorful terms.  While I wholeheartedly disagree with such an assessment (in fact, I recently played a 2nd Edition AD&D game, and had a blast), I can definitely share the frustration of being forced to buy yet another set of books if I want to keep playing with the most recent version of a rules system.  That shit gets expensive, and most gamers aren't rich.  Yet from a business perspective, the purchase of books is of course the most important thing any gamer can possibly do (thus facilitating yet another reason that rules system changes and edition changes come about).

All of this--the problems caused by updates, the expense and occasional frustration of fundamental changes or new editions, and the inevitability of each of these occurrences--leads me to the conclusion that the printed format is just something that the tabletop RPG hobby should move beyond.  Much like hit points and experience points (both of which are things I believe the hobby has matured enough to leave behind), I believe printed books are something that will only hold the hobby back if we do not actively choose to move forward.

Obviously, Wizards of the Coast has taken a great step with D&DI.  I believe this can and should be taken further, however; much further.  I envision a tabletop game released entirely via software that can be downloaded (or of course purchased on disc if someone is really tied to physical media), and accessed by paying monthly fees.  These fees can be extremely small (smaller than even those for D&DI), and supported by a system of micro-payments similar to those that are becoming ever-more popular among most console and computer games.  Updates could be made in real-time, new sourcebooks could be released and downloaded without any hassle, fundamental changes and edition changes can be applied without any fuss or replacement of previously purchased books, and everything moves along smoothly.  Hell, off the top of my head it would even be possible to enable user preferences such as "I want to look at the 2nd Edition rules today, not the 3rd Edition rules," or "I only want to reference material from these select sources."

This is my pipe dream, and something I hope to do with my own game system one day in the future.  I just felt like talking about it to you, my throng of beloved readers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fiction - Immortal Darkness

Consciousness began to slowly brighten in the darkness, like the first light of creation in empty nothingness.  So gradual was the change that the creature did not realize exactly when it began to understand that it existed.  Nor would the creature care about this knowledge if it were inclined to think about such things, at least not yet.  The only thing it knew for now, for quite some time, was that it did exist.

Darkness was all that the creature understood for a time that could not be measured.  There was nothing but the endless dark, not even any thoughts to break the still silence of eternity.  The dark void was all encompassing and impenetrable; it provided no space yet it had no boundaries.  It was everything the creature understood, and there was no thought that the creature could ever understand more.  Nor, for that matter, was there any thought that there was more to understand at all.

Whispers broke the darkness, stirrings within the creature’s mind.  They came unbidden, rising to bubble just beneath its consciousness from an ancestral place the creature could not comprehend.  The creature’s conscious mind knew only that it was and that the darkness was eternal, and these whispers attempted to intrude upon the serene quiet.  Stubbornly the creature ignored these whispers, thinking only of its existence and the surrounding darkness, but the whispers were more stubborn.  They were relentless.  They grew louder.

In time the creature could no longer ignore the cruel, intruding whispers, and new thoughts seeped into its mind like mist.  There is more; that was the first thought.  This confused the creature beyond measure, but the thought was inescapable and brought strange ideas.  Ideas came into its head such as existence other than the darkness, which made no sense.  Somehow the creature understood now that the darkness was not eternal and that it did not have to remain here.

Memories began to grow from the whispers.  Strange visions of things that were not darkness assailed the creature’s mind.  Images flashed by quickly and confusingly; some strange solid surface that existed in the same direction in all places, a surface on which the creature knew it could travel; the hard, rough interior surface of some sort of chamber; objects that protruded out of the traveling surface and pointed sharply up towards…something that was not the darkness but still seemed to go on forever.  It was a strange color…blue, the memories called it.

No longer tormented by these images, but fascinated, the creature journeyed for some time through each and every memory that bubbled up from that ancient place in its brain.  It learned from these memories, and even began to experience new sensations.  These memories had strange vibrations that were not the same as experiencing the blue of that empty space or the rough surface of the chamber.  Everything made these vibrations, when the something interacted with them or sometimes on their own.  The memories called it sound, and it was fascinating.

More!  The creature began to deliberately sift through the memories, rather than waiting for them to come on their own.  It drew them from the ancient part of its mind and dove into them with complete abandon, eager to learn more.  These memories were so much better than the darkness, they were everything and it was nothing, they were eternity and the darkness was empty nothing.

The creature ran gleefully through clusters of the large pointy objects; forests of trees that it could search without end.  It explored the rough surface of the chamber; the cave walls were dry and very warm.  Finally it soared up into the endless blue expanse; stretching its wings the creature glided effortlessly through the open sky, flitting through cloud banks and zipping around mountain tops.

More!  The creature dug up memories of vast oceans, swimming to their depths and seeing that down there were also forests, caves, and mountains of a different sort.  There were types of land other than forest as well; mountains that went up and down, the same kind he’d flown around when in the sky memory; deserts that were hot and harsh, the sand difficult to walk in; disgusting swamps of moldy water and rotting trees.  All these places and more the creature explored, from the hottest oceans of lava to the most frigid plains of ice.

Time did not matter to the creature as it explored these memories, and it was pleased.  Then came a day when it was exploring the memory of an endless expanse of ice when it discovered there was another creature following it.  This memory was very cold which the creature did not like, and it was about to go find a different memory when it chanced to look down and see the other creature.  When the creature really thought about it, it had seen this other creature before but had simply never taken notice.

It was very dark, this other creature, and it seemed to move when the creature itself moved.  The second creature seemed to be flat along the ground, and it was very long.  Annoyed, the creature tried to get off of its pursuer so that it could get a better look, but when it moved so too did the second creature.  Thinking it must be quick, the creature took a very long leap across the ice and immediately turned to look behind it; but the pursuer was not where the creature had once been, it was now underneath again.

The creature began to grow truly perturbed and tried hopping from side to side in an effort to confuse the pursuer.  This did not work, as the pursuer seemed to know exactly where the creature would hop and always went to exactly the same place.  So the creature hopped faster, and much more randomly.  Sometimes to the left, sometimes the right, sometimes back or forward.  It took short little hops and big giant flying leaps, but always, no matter how far or in which direction, the dark pursuer on the ground was always there underfoot.  The creature grew angry and began to run as fast as it could, trying to escape the pursuer.  The pursuer was just as fast as the creature.

Desperate now, the creature began leaping from memory to memory.  It flew from the ice memory into a memory of a giant mushroom forest, and the dark pursuer was still there.  Again the creature leaped, this time into an endless sky with only to see the dark pursuer leaping from cloud to cloud, so it flew to a memory of a fiery mountain.  The dark pursuer was even there, stretching up the side of the flowing mountain, and the creature continued its flight away, determined to best this enemy.  It flew to a memory of a valley with lakes, soaring over them as fast as…

The creature came to a dead stop where it was midair, not moving the slightest bit, just staring at its pursuer.  The pursuer had changed somehow.  It was no longer dark and long, though it was still along the surface of the lake as it had been on the ground.  Rather than dark and insubstantial now, the pursuer was made up of a powerful body with four strong legs, a long and sinewy tail, two massive wings, a mighty neck that stretched up to the pursuer’s fierce and impressive face.  The whole of the creature was covered in…scales…except for most of the wings.  Most of it was a fierce crimson color save the belly, and its claws and horns.

Slowly the creature approached the surface of the lake, and the pursuer seemed to draw nearer from the other side of the water.  Finally it was attacking!  The creature surged forward with wicked joy to end this silly game, and plunged headfirst into the lake until its head buried in the thick mud at the bottom.  Confused and angry, the creature burst back out of the water and looked around for its pursuer, only to find it again on the surface of the lake, now churning with waves after the creature’s emergence.

Not about to fall for the same trick twice, the creature immediately landed on the shore next to the lake, glaring down at the pursuer who glared right back with its impressively intimidating face.  Hoping to intimidate the pursuer, the creature decided to grow larger, increasing its size tenfold to frighten this opponent away.  The pursuer did the exact same thing!  Now something clicked in the creature’s mind, and it cocked its head to one side to think.  The pursuer mimicked the action.

Deliberately, the creature very slowly moved its head to turn to the left, watching as the pursuer did the exact same motion.  With great suddenness the creature jerked its head away from the water and back to it, and again the pursuer mimicked the action perfectly.  Strangely, this now made sense.  The whispers of the memories spoke to him, trying to tell him, and he listened intently for their lessons.  The pursuer, in its dark form…was a shadow; and in the lake’s surface…a reflection.  Me.  The creature blinked.  Me!  What is me?  Who is me?

New whispers came to the creature now, and these were not the whispers of the memories.  These whispers had always been there, just as the memories, but they were not from his mind.  They were from somewhere beyond the darkness, and for an instant the creature found itself back there in the darkness instead of in front of the lake.  Angrily it wrenched itself back into the memories, to the side of the lake, and looked at its reflection as it heard the whispers.

Dragon.  It was not a creature, it was a dragon.  Majestic and powerful, it was a dragon.  Not it…him.  He.  Me.  Not me…I.  I am a dragon.  Mightily the dragon let out a roar of triumph, a roar that echoed throughout the memory of the valley with lakes and came back to him magnified.  He was proud, and he would never again be simply “the creature.”  Yet the whispers from beyond the darkness were still there, they still had something to tell him.  No, they had yet to tell him.  The whispers of the memories said dragon, but the whispers beyond the darkness were saying something else.  They were saying something very different.

It echoed in his mind for long moments, and he could not quite hear it.  The words came from beyond the darkness, wafted through the valley like searing summer heat, and flowed across the dragon’s mind and soul like the caress of the darkness he used to know.  They were everywhere, and yet he could not make them out.  He grew frustrated and angry again; desperate to learn what words these new whispers were trying to teach him.  He began to thrash about in his anger, tearing at the earth of the lake’s edge and sending it flying.

He flew from memory to memory, seeking a place where he could better hear the new whispers.  He dove into the memory of endless ocean, but among the thick water and the colorful coral mountains he could not hear the whispers.  Striking one of the mountains in anger, he sent chunks of coral floating down to the bottom even as he flew then to the memory of a tremendous underground cave with a forest of mushrooms.  Here again he could not quite hear the whispers, but they seemed closer, and so he traveled to another memory.  Mushroom trees collapsed as he barreled through them to the next memory, and he emerged in the fiery mountain.

Fire arced into the night sky forever here, raining tiny soothing droplets onto him just as the heat from the nearby lava flows brought comfort.  Here the whispers were strong, and he surged to the top of the mountain, desperate to hear more clearly.  There, next to the eternal pillar of lava that rained down around him in tremendous gouts of flaming stone, at last he heard the name.  Aersventh.  I am Aersventh!  Pride surged through his veins like a fire in itself, and Aersventh threw back his head to roar with tremendous might.  The mountain shook with his power, and even the other memories trembled at his call.  The darkness shifted.

His throat burned with the fire of his pride, and Aersventh let loose with another roar of triumph.  Fire, burning pure and raging true, surged from his roaring mouth into the night sky.  It dwarfed even the pillar of lava that spewed forever from the mountain, igniting even the clouds that floated far above.  This was power!  Aersventh roared defiantly at everything that was not Aersventh, spewing flame on a whim and reveling in his own tremendous might!  This was exactly how things should be, and how they would be forever.

For time immeasurable Aersventh traveled from memory to memory as the whispers taught him more new things, but simply exploring these places was no longer enough.  He began to exert his mastery over them in any way that he could.  He reshaped the fiery mountain, carved a home in the side and made the mountain larger.  The desert he scorched to a blasted wasteland of glass so that he would no longer have to travel on difficult sand.  In the memory of ice he melted everything, and where once there was a frozen wasteland he left nothing but an endless boiling ocean.  In each memory he shaped things to be as he saw fit, he left nothing untouched.  He was in his own eternity; Aersventh had become a god, so told him the whispers of the memories and the whispers from beyond the darkness.

At last the master of his domain of memories, Aersventh traveled one day through the forest he had shaped to his will; trees once lush and green were blackened husks.  He found their withered, fragile shells entertaining to crush beneath his claws, for he now traveled in an extremely large form that towered over the mightiest tree in his memories.  On this day however, something struck him as he was trampling large swathes of forest, and it gave him pause.  Peering down, even deigning to reduce his size so that he might see better, Aersventh tilted his head to the side in thought, as was his habit.  The puny trees had shadows just like he did.

He had seen this all before of course, but he had never thought about it before.  Why did the trees have shadows?  They weren’t dragons, they weren’t Aersventh.  This simply would not do.  Annoyed, Aersventh leveled the entire forest to nothing and left behind an endless field of ash.  He sailed from memory to memory for some time, thinking about the trees with shadows.  Originally he had thought that only he had a shadow because only he was Aersventh.  Now though it seemed that things that were not Aersventh could have shadows too.  Did this mean there could be other things that had shadows that weren’t Aersventh?

Incensed at the idea, Aersventh traveled to from memory to memory now in search of shadows, and he found them everywhere.  Everything had a shadow!  It was unacceptable!  His raging destruction was stalled however, when the whispers began to speak again.  He had not heard them in quite some time, not since they taught him to move his mouth to make sounds that had meaning.  To speak, they had called it.  Now they told him other things.  Now they said there were other dragons.

Preposterous!  Outrageous!  This was getting far too ridiculous and Aersventh simply would not have it.  He flew through his memories, tearing chunks out of mountains and boiling lakes until they were nothing, angrily seeking to escape the lies told by the whispers of the memories.  No matter where he went however, he could not escape the whispers of the memories.  It struck him then that the whispers had given him the memories in the first place.  Exactly when it happened had faded with time, but now he remembered and the very thought galled him.  No whispers would control his domain!  He was the god!  Aersventh!  Not some paltry distant whispers!

Yet no matter where he went, the whispers of the memories were always there.  There are more dragons, they told him over and over again.  Aersventh raged and destroyed everything he could see, angered beyond comprehension at this idea.  If there were more dragons, then there must be more than one Aersventh!  At the instant this thought struck him, Aersventh ceased his destruction and became very still.  He did not calm, however.  Rather, his rage became internalized, and the mighty Aersventh began to collect his anger so that he may put it to good use.

If there was indeed another Aersventh somewhere in eternity, then it must also think that it is a god.  There can only be one Aersventh, only one god to rule over eternity, and so this other must be sought out and destroyed.  Aersventh knew he must seek out and destroy Aersventh.  He began to search every nook and cranny of eternity.  He searched through the ocean with the coral mountain, he dove into the boiling ocean that had been an ice field, and he crawled through every crevice of the fiery mountain.  Aersventh searched for an endless age, and still never found the other Aersventh no matter how hard he looked.

Finally, reaching the only possible conclusion, Aersventh decided that he would be able to find Aersventh if there was nowhere for him to hide.  With that thought Aersventh began to grow, and he kept growing, larger than he had ever been before.  He dwarfed even the fiery mountain and still he kept growing.  He grew until he was sure that he could consume all of the memories in one single gulp.  Reluctantly he reemerged back into the darkness and gazed down upon all the memories of his eternity.  Surely Aersventh was in there somewhere, and Aersventh intended to eat him along with all the memories.  That would put an end to this egregious insult.

The darkness was so uncomfortable, though.  He remembered a time before he ruled eternity, when the darkness was all that he knew.  Now however, after having flown through endless skies and experienced so many places, the darkness felt claustrophobic.  It enraged him now, to think that he was once so pathetic as to accept the darkness as his existence, and only fueled his desire to kill the other Aersventh.  His heart raging, Aersventh opened his maw to consume the eternity of memories and the other Aersventh…and found his maw closed by some gummy substance.

A trap!  Somehow the other Aersventh had trapped him in a black substance that was indistinguishable from the endless dark, and now he couldn’t move.  His limbs were curled at his sides, his wings pressed uncomfortably against his back, and his tail was coiled around him.  Unable to even turn his head, Aersventh began to heave with all his might to move something, anything.  His claws flexed, trying to grasp at anything to shred, and his tail began to thrash as much as he could make it within the confines of the darkness.  The more he thrashed, the more the darkness began to give way, and he began to feel himself shifting somehow in the endless void.  He could get free!

Aersventh threw himself into this battle wholeheartedly, adding vicious movements of his head to shred anything he could with his horns.  The darkness before him began to give, and he could move his upper legs.  Frantically he began to claw, desperate to destroy the darkness and end the claustrophobic feeling.  Finally something gave, and the darkness before him erupted in a bright light that stabbed Aersventh’ eyes, causing him pain he never could have imagined.  Part of him wanted to recoil from this light and retreat to safety, but the rage in his heart only pushed him on further, to escape the darkness so that he might destroy this painful light.

Screeching in agony and fury, Aersventh let forth a burst of flame that melted what was left of the darkness before him, and the dragon came tumbling out of his dark home onto a collection of hot crushed stones.  For a second or two he lay there, stunned and confused, unsure of what had just happened.  Weakly, he turned his head back to see the darkness…instead he saw an oval shaped object, dark crimson and thick, torn open and burnt from his escape.  Aersventh looked around to see that there were more objects, half a dozen that he could count and probably more behind them.  The clutch was grouped on a pile of obsidian rocks, surrounded by a sea of lava within a massive cave.

Life, the whispers of the memories told him.  They were fading in his mind now.  They had served their purpose, had taught him all they could and would be needed no more.  Their last message; this is life.  It continues until death.

“Death,” Aersventh spoke for the first time.  It bothered his throat; he never had a throat in the dream.  He blinked his eyes, still gummy from the substance in his dark void, upon realizing that it had all indeed been a dream; the dream of birth, before life, where he had learned from the memories of his ancestors.  Yet how real it had all seemed!  How clearly he remembered it!  Looking down at himself, Aersventh became highly annoyed.

Where in his dream he had been a large and powerful dragon, now he was puny and weak.  His scales were thin, his claws were tiny.  The legs he stood on were weak from the exertion of escaping his darkness, and his whole body was covered in the strange gummy substance.  His tail, in the dream long and powerful and beautiful, was now short and trembling.  Aersventh flexed his wings to find that they were small and flimsy, still too weak to carry him in the air.  Infuriated, the wyrmling turned on the darkness from which he had emerged and reduced the oval object to a ruined heap.

A sound behind him caused Aersventh to whirl around, and on his unsteady legs he immediately fell to the ground.  Frustrated and humiliated he lunged at whatever had made the sound and caused him to fall.  He caught the other wyrmling just as it was breaking free of the shell.  The fight was quick, the other wyrmling clawed and bit fiercely, but Aersventh was mightier.  In seconds he had his jaws around his brother’s neck, and the dragon tasted blood.  Never in his memories had he eaten; it wasn’t necessary.  This was instinct.

The meat of his newly born brother was so delicious, and Aersventh found his stomach rumbling so fiercely, that he gorged himself on the fresh kill without even thinking.  So involved was he with this new experience that he didn’t hear the heavy sounds behind him until a deep and rumbling voice spoke from above.

“I certainly named you well, didn’t I?”  The speaker chuckled at the rhetorical question.

Looking up, Aersventh saw into the eyes of his mother.  She gazed upon him with pride and chuckled again when he tried to bristle in an intimidating fashion.  Neither of the two spoke a word for quite some time, until Aersventh looked back down to his brother.

“Death,” he said again, and looked up at his mother.  She nodded and Aersventh knew he was right.  This was death, the end of life.  It was to be avoided at all costs, and sown throughout the world to any creature that got in his way; to all who opposed him; to the other Aersventh.  Deep within the wyrmling’s mind, coiled amidst his growing knowledge of the world, there lurked the endless dark from whence he came.  Somewhere in that darkness swirled the eternity of memory, and in the mad little dragon’s already broken mind, the other Aersventh waited.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rambling - Giving Promised Gaming Sanctions

Lovely Knight - Cleavage Armor
(Follow the link on the pic)
As hopefully known by those who are close to me, I generally make a conscious effort to embrace change and support new things.  Normally, I don't even have to make that conscious effort, as I am a genuine fan of things that are new and events that bring change.  As my gaming group would hopefully be able to tell you, this extends most powerfully into my love of tabletop RPGs.

I grew up playing 2nd Edition AD&D, and it was incredible fun.  Samus the barbarian and Aerial Teshlin the wild mage were two characters from that era who still hold places in my dark little heart.  Aerial, for that matter, maintains a prominent role in my own fantasy setting.  THAC0 and negative AC values still bring me fond chuckles, and I even ran a 2nd Edition game recently for two people who never got to experience it.

Yet when 3rd Edition D&D came, I was excited and I embraced it.  My excitement was not misplaced, as the new edition was versatile, intricate, and just as fun as any of the games I'd had in the old days.  The staggering changes were readily apparent; reversal of AC values, change from THAC0 to Base Attack Bonus, the addition of feats, and the creation of a skill system are easy and readily apparent changes.  These were so significant that, while translatable to 2nd Edition, their inclusion rendered the new books into a truly new edition.  It was fun, and I embraced it whole-heartedly by devouring as many books as I could get my hands on.

Later, there came this strange 3.5 thing.  At first, I admit to a little confusion.  Was this a new edition?  Was it a simply reprinting to include errata?  After a brief perusal at my local game shop, I quickly came to realize that this new publication was exactly what it advertised to be; 3rd Edition plus.  The changes were fundamental and significant, but not staggering.  The alteration of class features were a change to the way the game played, the inclusion of weapon damages by the size of the wielder altered the way many characters worked, the functionality of damage reduction changed the face of combat.  These changes and more meant that the game now functioned in a different way...yet all the rules were in every sense compatible with the previous 3rd Edition publications.  One could (and we often did) lift something from 3rd Edition and plunk it down in our 3.5 games with only the most minimal effort.  I was happy, and I embraced the change by devouring every book I possibly could.

Then, came the latest change in the form of 4th Edition D&D.  I watched the development of the newest edition as closely as I could (being an industry outsider), and I grew more excited with every morsel of information.  Once the books were finally released, my excitement was palpable and it was not without cause.  The new edition is amazing, and I thoroughly enjoy it.  Heroes are heroes from the get-go, everyone has something to do in a fight at all times (magic users don't end up standing there with nothing to do), non-magic users have interesting things to do (they don't get outshone by magic users anymore), and in general everyone can have fun through the whole of an adventure.  My gaming group dove into the new edition, and barring social and geographical shifting since then we've been playing steadily ever since.

Coming down the pipeline, something that is causing as much consternation among the D&D fanbase as any of the previous bits I listed, are the D&D Essentials books.  I will admit that I am not entirely happy about this.  The mere mention of the Essentials line actually makes my stomach twinge just a little.  My roommate constantly shouts the praises of Essentials from the mountaintops, and I am occasionally forced to ask him to be quiet about it just to give myself a break of peace.  That being said, I have no problems with Essentials.  My problem is that WOTC won't just admit the truth.

Essentials is D&D 4.5.

It is!  You can't deny it!  Fundamental and significant changes, but not staggering changes.  This will still be 4th Edition, but it will be as different from 4E as 3.5 was from 3rd Edition.  Fundamental changes to the way the core classes work, alterations to some of the most basic feats, new inclusions to the way magic items are categorized; all of these represent changes that push the edition forward without changing it.  There is nothing wrong with it!  I am excited for the changes!  The new rules for classifying magic items in particular sound fun to me and seem to make sense.  I am really excited about the return of the schools of magic (wizard has been and always will be my favorite class).  I am glad the core classes will be getting upgrades to the current standards of class design.  Every single bit of Essentials--thus far--sounds good to me.

I just wish WOTC would admit it.

On one hand I genuinely do understand that they kind of painted themselves into a corner when they released 4th Edition.  I seem to remember there being many very clear, loud, repeated declarations that "there will never be a 4.5."  I didn't entirely buy that at the time, in fact many people didn't, yet now WOTC has a problem on their hands.  If they come out and admit that Essentials is 4.5, they'll have a wave of fans descend upon the forums calling them liars and frauds, bitching and complaining about how "all the books I bought are worthless now," and other such ridiculousness as was spouted upon the release of 4E itself.

The problem is, those people will always be there.  Perhaps not those specific individuals, but there would be other people filling the role of "angry dissenters."  There will always be angry dissenters.  I'm sure that somewhere out there can be found a mathematical formula to determine the percentage of a fanbase that will be put off by a change to the medium of which they are fans, and I'd love to find it.  If you change too many things, you'll piss off some of your fans.  If you change nothing, you'll piss off some of your fans.  I just find myself annoyed that WOTC chose to listen to the specific group of fans that subsequently frightened them into saying "there will never be a 4.5."  Because now look where we are.

"Hey look, here's the Essentials line!  It's as significant and fundamental a change to the game as 3.5 was, but it isn't 4.5, we swear!  It's just...a significant and fundamental change.  That's all."

I'm going to buy the books.  I'm going to support my beloved hobby.  I just wish WOTC would admit it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fiction - Uncomfortable Meeting

Cold, annoying little drops of water pattered down onto Marina’s forehead as she lay perfectly still.  Mustering all the patience an eleven-year-old could ever possess, she managed to keep from moving.  She endured the annoying drops even as she cursed the ill-crafted water trough under which she was hidden.  Tilting her head very slowly so that she could see out from under the trough, Marina looked around for any sign of her brother Ciro.

From her position she had a fairly good view of the village blacksmith shop, and she could even see the feet of Mr. Mendez and his assistants.  None of the adults had seen her enter through the shop proper and sneak under the water trough, and now she could watch them going about their business with near impunity.  They were very busy these last few days, and though Marina couldn’t be sure she had some vague impression of hearing that something important was happening soon.

Looking past the bustling feet of Mr. Mendez and the three men who helped him with his work, Marina kept searching for any sign of her brother.  Today it was Ciro’s turn to seek and the other children’s turn to hide.  In the past, Marina had never been particularly good at playing hide and seek.  She had been patient enough, but never very adept at finding appropriate hiding spots or being very quiet.  Yet now, with Pavlina’s instruction, Marina had become one of the best hiders in the village.

Watching carefully for her brother, Marina noted with idle curiosity the bustle of many adults.  It seemed to her that there were more adults than the village normally contained, and she had been wondering for several days what might be going on.  The most likely explanation was that monsters were going to attack the village soon.  It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence; it had happened four times in her life already.  Sometimes gnolls attacked looking for food or other things, or maybe a pack of gremlins would be found in the village.  Once, the great dragon in the forest outside the village had threatened to attack…for some reason, Marina couldn’t remember.

Without warning (since Marina hadn’t been paying attention), the water trough above her suddenly let out a piercing hiss that sounded exactly like a dragon scream to the startled little girl’s mind.  Marina screamed in shock, which startled each of the men in the smithy shop, and everything just escalated from there.  Two of the workers dropped the weapons they had been working on, only startling Marina more, and she flew out from under the water trough only to run into the legs of Mr. Mendez.  It was only the elderly man’s decades of experience with metalwork that prevented anyone being hurt by the red hot metal he held in his hand.

“What are you doing in here, girl?” Mr. Mendez exclaimed in surprise and anger once things had calmed down a few moments later.  Marina looked up at him wide-eyed, at a loss for words.  Mr. Mendez shook his head and handed the metal he had been working on to one of his workers, then reached down to pull Marina to a standing position.  He was not rough, but neither was he particularly pleased.  “I swear by Temult I should deal with you here and now.  You’re lucky I don’t have the time.”

With that, he shoved Marina out of the smithy shop and glared at her uncompromisingly.  Clearly she was not welcome there, and Marina believed the smithy in his threat to punish her, so she took the unexpected good fortune to make her escape right then and there.  Whipping quickly between the bustling adults, she made her way away from the smithy shop and to the village square.  It took a few moments for her to calm back down, but by the time she reached the assembly area she was herself again.

The open area near the village’s outer wall, just near the small marketplace, was much busier than usual today.  Marina wandered through the crowd curiously, more interested now in finding out what was going on than in finding another hiding place.  Most interestingly was the fact that there were some people in the crowd that she did not recognize.  In a village this size, everyone could recognize everyone, and so encountering people that were unfamiliar was both exciting and frightening to the young girl.  Something important was happening.

Most of the unfamiliar people seemed to be wearing armor of some type, and this began to worry her considerably.  In all the previous times when there was trouble for the village, no strange people had been present.  The mere inclusion of people from outside the village during a dangerous time was something to be concerned about.  Marina began to look for someone she could ask; someone who could tell her exactly what was going on.

She wondered if she should go find Pavlina or Esteban.  Did they know what was happening?  Most likely, yes, Marina decided.  They were both privy to the happenings inside the keep, having frequent meetings with Baron Soto.  Having decided that her two teachers would know what was happening, the decision to go find one of them was rather a moot point.  Marina began to hurry through the crowd now, making her way back in the direction of the keep.

The going was not terribly difficult for her, given her small size, and she slipped quickly between the adults almost without notice.  She did not put much effort into using Pavlina’s teachings right now, she merely used her smaller size to her advantage and found openings in the crowd that an adult could not have used.  Within moments she was hurrying almost at a run through the crowd, her excitement and nervousness growing with each step she took and every armored stranger she saw.

In her excitement, paying little attention now to the people she passed, Marina didn’t see the heavily armored stranger step in front of her until it was too late.  The stranger also didn’t see Marina, facing the other direction, and so the hard thud as Marina’s face met the solid plate armoring the stranger’s back was inevitable.  She didn’t hit too hard, but the impact was surprising enough that she ended up sitting down quite suddenly, and the stranger’s conversation with another person was interrupted.

The armored woman turned around, and Marina knew instantly that she was looking at a paladin.  She had never seen one before, but everyone heard stories of the Gods’ enforcers.  In these lands, the paladins of the goddess Kelana kept divine law and protected Her loyal subjects.  The woman’s finely crafted plate armor, the heraldry she wore bearing Kelana’s symbol of five crossed weapons, and more importantly the holy symbol itself hanging from the woman’s neck all gave proud claim to her station.  She wore a large, clearly magical sword on her back, and carried a plate helmet under her right arm.

Seeing that it was a young girl who had run into her, the woman’s stern and surprised expression softened.  She reached down a hand, gloved in protective cloth, to help Marina up from the ground.

“Forgive me little one, I must have stepped in your way,” she said kindly.  Her accent indicated she was from a different region, but her expression was gentle and, most importantly, the paladins of Kelana were known as kind protectors of the people.  Marina smiled and accepted the hand to help her stand.

“I’m sorry I ran into you,” she said, still rubbing her sore nose.  “I was in a hurry.”

“Just be careful in such a crowd,” the woman admonished gently, and then turned back to her conversation.

Marina gave a quick curtsy, at least as best as she knew how, then quickly moved off through the crowd.  Had she known that she would see that paladin again in the future, and just how those interactions were destined to go, she definitely would not have curtsied.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rambling - Writing Difficult Purple Successes

Art by mstrueblue (check DeviantArt)
(No, I don't know the artist)
I find myself in a strange and interesting situation, one that I never could have imagined in a previous age of my life.  It seems that my writing is now better than at any time before, yet it is more difficult to produce than at any other time.  This is progress and failure; it is joyous and frustrating; it is a nightmare of wondrous proportion.

In the past, I seem to remember that writing came to me as easily as playing a game.  I could, and often did, write for hours on end without any real difficulty that I can remember.  The sheer amount of fiction I have developed in my life is, I believe, staggering.  I have kept almost none of it, since that wasn't the point.  I simply enjoyed the process itself, and while I would have been happy to let people read my work that was never my goal and I never felt any loss when I deleted, lost, or otherwise did away with things that I had written.

Of those two aspects, ease and joy, the latter has not abated in the slightest.  I still feel a great love for my work (even as much as I complain that I hate it; the process is still a great pleasure for me), yet the production if any writing has become a difficult exercise.  To produce anything on a page has become now, instead of the easy flow of thoughts to words that I once experienced, an oft-frustrating battle to make anything happen well enough to even function on a page.  Yet, for all the difficulty, I fully believe that anything I write now is far beyond everything I ever produced when it was easy.

So I cannot help but wonder about the chicken and the egg.  Is my writing better now because I am trying harder and, from my perspective, making it more difficult on myself?  Was my writing in the past easier because it was of a lower caliber and therefore easier to spew?  To be honest, is my writing even genuinely better than it once was?  The dragon's hoard of my work has never been read by anyone other than me and, given that it no longer exists, it honestly never will be.  Yet now that I produce less work that I believe is a bit better, I wonder if perhaps I am simply so in love with the writing itself that I am overfond of what I end up producing.

Ever met a parent who loved an ugly child beyond measure?  Fuck I hate that.

Not to say I am complaining, or that I believe my work is dirt (which, of course, I occasionally do).  This is simply an observation that has given me cause to pause and ponder.  It used to be easy and low in quality, now writing is difficult but ends up better.  So I cannot help but wonder...which part determines which?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rambling - Maleficent Eats Your Lunch Cookies

I'm broke!  Hooray!

To say that the job market is bad is enough of an understatement to make me sick.  Most places simply aren't hiring, and when they do it is with the luxury of selecting from a veritable zerg rush of eminently employable individuals all just as eager as the next.  I cannot say I really hold anything against my competitors in this job market, but in all reality...fuck those guys.  I need to eat dammit!

When I originally quit working at the porn shop in December, it was a conscious decision because I just wanted to relax for a while.  I had deliberately saved enough money to live until mid August without changing my life style, and I did exactly that; I did not work at all, and my lifestyle changed not in the slightest.  Well, the good news is that my math was absolutely spot-on.  The bad news is that I stayed jobless incredibly longer than I ever anticipated.  I was supposed to have gotten a job in June, but here I am still looking.  Still competing with all the other equally desperate, equally competent people.  Even for the most pathetic jobs imaginable.

Thus, I am beginning to turn to alternative methods of generating positive cash flow.  Any pimps out there need another bitch?

More seriously though, since I want to get paid to write I figure I might as well let necessity be the mother of invention.  Necessity in this case being a looming rent payment that is greater in value than the current contents of my bank account, and invention being an actual attempt to get paid at writing instead of writing things I enjoy just because I love it.

As such I will alter this blog from what I had originally intended.  No longer will I spew random brain poops onto the internet for my own amusement / therapy / cries for attention.  From this point on the majority of this blog will (should?) consist of fiction.  Writing that, I hope, will entertain people to keep coming back regularly and, Hell willing, click on some damn ads and gimme mah mufukkin' monies.

That in mind, I go now to write fiction.