Fixing Spiders

Last night, I was running my Dungeons & Dragons campaign, diligently rolling off the chart I laid out for myself over a month ago. They’d made it to the penultimate part of their journey to find the magical monastery that could be able to turn one of the player’s character’s hearts back to flesh from the stone it had been turned by a medusa. The fact that they call the race of serpent-haired women whose gaze can turn you to stone medusa instead of gorgons is a rant for another time, but my frustration is great enough that I feel the need to mention it. And everyone seems to be into it and having a good time. It’s honestly the best game we’ve had in a while.

The party completes a couple random encounters, one involving a treant that was universally hated, though they did a quest for him anyways and got a cheap amulet back from a universally loved bugbear thief with the bad habit of announcing his plans out loud. The part of the forest they were in was largely non-hostile and they went through many encounters without fighting anything but some Doppelgangers they were wise to a bit too quickly. Then I rolled a 15, and they got lost in the spider woods. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “Some action.” And then I rolled a one on that chart and thought to myself, “Nevermind, it’s just a bunch of giant spiders.”

I informed the group they were facing a bunch of giant spiders. Two of the three players looked fine, but the third noticeably prickled. Then I started laying out the scene, and one player asked for a description. The player who was on edge immediately noped on that suggestion. I teased him a bit, beginning to describe the creature. He threatened to punch me and I realized that he was deadly serious. D&D can be therapeutic for some, but that’s not the point of the game and I wouldn’t risk losing a player, much less a friend, over some petty bullshit so I fixed the spiders. I began describing them as if they were actually, secretly clowns. The player told me that wasn’t exactly better, but it was clear they were relaxing. The web turned into cotton candy. The spiders had strange make up on their faces. The spiders splashed the players with seltzer water shot from a plastic flower on their lapel. The one piece of loot they left behind was a tiny horseless carriage out of which they had come.

Just remember that the game is about everyone having fun. If something is making a player uncomfortable change it so that everyone will have a blast.


How to Couch Surf

In this modern day and age where money is tight and vacations expensive there are some people out there that would be more than happy to mitigate some of those fees if you don’t mind sleeping on their couch. Or perhaps you’ve lost your home and don’t know what to do but you have a few good friends, so you ask to sleep in their living room until you can get back on your feet. All of this is well and good, but leaping into such an exciting sport as couch surfing can be dangerous. Be sure you’re completely ready to face the dangers and ride those waves all the way onto the sleep beach.

The first thing you will need to do is practice. Try taking a nap on your couch. If you don’t have one, most couch surfing outfitters will have one. They will often list themselves under confusing titles that only real couch surfers will recognize. Look for businesses with keywords in their names like Furniture, Warehouse, and Dolphin. If you get in and all you see are mattresses, you’re in the wrong place. Mattress surfing is what skiing is to snowboarding. The only real risks are STDs and running into a tree while playing football.

Once you’ve located a practice couch determine the type of couch. Is it a pull out? This type is great for beginners as most beginners are familiar with mattresses and the pull out can ride as either type. Is it a lounge? this type is good for people with issues snoring as it elevates the surfer above the waves, opening up airways. Is it a sectional? This one seems like it might be easy, given the general length but there are pitfalls of which a novice must be wary, lest they crash and burn. Try to avoid love seats as these are a much more advanced form of couch and generally reserved for pros. The most important thing to look for in a practice couch is one that will reflect the couch you’ll be taking out for a good eight hour run. Try to match it as closely as possible. Do this, and I guarantee that you will be couch surfing like a pro in no time.

Discovering the Trenches

Valiant HeartsValiant Hearts: The Great War is a game that has been sitting on my Playstation 4 uncompleted for over a year now. It is that certain type of game that gets under your skin, and I didn’t complete it until a couple of days ago because I didn’t want it to be over. I didn’t want those characters to stop existing there. I didn’t want their stories to be over. The game is a journey and one that I would ask everyone who will listen to me to embark and embrace the story. It’s easier than ever, being available on your phone, with apparently the first episode being free and the other three being available with in app purchases.

The game is a mix of action/adventure and puzzle solving. While mostly being 2D there is a multi planar element to the game. Everything is detailed in an endearing art style designed to make you think of graphic novels such as Maus.  The story centers on four protagonists each with their own backstory and motivations. Karl just wants to get home to his wife and child whom he was forcibly separated from by the French government at the beginning of the war. Anna, a field nurse, just wants to track down the man who kidnapped her father and is making him build outlandish war machines. Karl’s father-in-law, Emile, is drafted into the French army and endures several hellish landscapes, each worse than the last. Freddie is an American who joins the French army to get revenge for his wife who died in a German bombing raid. While not a character, there is a dog that is present for nearly the entirety of the game as both a key gameplay mechanic and a supporting character. Yes, you can pet the dog and give it belly scratches. All of the characters have a surprising depth to them even as their purposes are single minded. Even as certain points in gameplay were over the top, the game has an oppressive sense of reality that grounds the game. By the end of the game, I was in tears.

If my tears are not an indicator of goodness, however, just of how a piece of media might be intermediately adept at plucking the heartstrings. In this case, I’d argue that the story is excellent, and the narrative perfectly illustrates the frustrations of World War One. However, the illustrations at several points don’t hold up. When the illustrations are at their initial resolution they look fine, but any larger than that and they quickly become a disorderly mess of pixels. This is not an issue a game made by a huge game publisher like Ubisoft should have been having in 2014. There are also a few too many times in the game when I found myself losing because I was given a timed action event in the game that I would have to know the ins and outs of to complete. For some of these I would have to play through the section three or four times before completing it.

It is not a perfect game, but it is a great one. It’s well worth the very small price tag.

Fantastic Reality

The other day I titled an article Reality Before Fantasy, and as soon as I did the gears began to turn and I began to think. I thought about what made good fantasy, or sci-fi, or general fiction is often a firm basis in reality. Even surreality banks on the readers hooks upon the real points of the story. It’s easy to think about what is real and what isn’t, but the things that make up the more real parts of a story aren’t things like trees or bushes, they aren’t character reactions, they aren’t any one thing. The real part of the story is the way that it feels real.

The real feel is hard to define, but, much like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart does with pornography, I know it when I see it. This isn’t to say I don’t know how to get it, but my method for attaining a sense of reality will be widely different from one you might develop, or one that I might use for a secondary story. It can be any sort of part of the story that lends itself to the reality of the story. Is it the setting that is realistic? Does the scenery come alive with just the right detail at just the right time to make the whole thing feel more concrete? Are people reacting in normal ways to the goings on of the story? Do these characters feel more fleshed out? So many more questions remain and each can be answered in turn by the way you write things. If you’re looking for a great sense of realism, read The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and watch how he explains magic, at least in the later books.

Then there’s the other part of the equation, the fantasy. All writing starts as a fantasy, whether we want to admit to it or not. The act of putting it down on paper is what turns it into reality, and sometimes they go back and put a bit of fantasy back into it. That is a discussion for another post, I feel. I’m going to puzzle away how I can make the characters in my novel feel more real.

Easier Looking Back

There have always been those people who think they were born in the wrong generation. That some other era would have been more fitting to their personality. These people always assume a few things, not least of which is that the people talking about the times might have some vested interest in glamorizing that part of their lives and overlooking other not so great aspects. Aside from that, there is a tendency to get the idea of what these times were like from books, TV and film, ignoring the fact that several of the problems of the past are either not represented, or remain unsolved to this day.

I would love to see one person with this mindset but a thorough grasp of history. Someone who wouldn’t expect to be in the main thoroughfares of the time any more than they are now. Where are the people who think, man, this data entry job just isn’t for me. I long for the days when I could go out and work with my hands and bring home enough money for my family. Ah, the good ol’ days in West Virginia, where a man could do a 14 hour shift in the coal factory without having to worry about anything, except for dying in a cave in, getting killed by a union buster when it inevitably is revealed that I don’t make enough money and what money I do make is paid out in currency specific to my current employer’s company store and isn’t even enough to live on given the company store prices. The good ol’ days. And if I survive to ripe old age, I have dying from black lung to look forward to, because I certainly won’t have adequate health care to come close to treating it.

The past is a quagmire of fantasy that gives way as soon as any pressure comes out. I was fortunate enough to learn of the relative recentness of splinter-free toilet paper at a young age, so it’s never really held a torch in my heart. That said, I get that some people live lives that aren’t great and escapism is something that knows no age, race, or gender. Sometimes, the escape is from a life that is hard to manage. Other times it is because there is a genuine desire to be a part of change, to be on the right side of things unquestionably. With hindsight being twenty twenty, it’s easy to confuse the past for a black and white picture with out the muddled colors of self-interest. There is still plenty of change to be made, plenty of fights to be won. You just have to find the ones you connect to enough to fight. All said and done, it’s okay to indulge in escapism, so long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

Reality Before Fantasy

I once read a writing prompt that said that one day, I woke up back in my five year old body with all the knowledge of my life. This struck some kind of chord with me, so for days I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What would I do? I had never been one for those kinds of fantasies. I never dreamt about the good ole days and never had a thought that I would. Yet, here I was. wading into the waters of nostalgia and regret. It’s a familiar swamp that so many people have rushed into headlong.

It’s an easy thing to do. I, like everyone else, have regrets. I’ve made more mistakes than I could count. I hope they aren’t too numerous I can’t repent for them. Beyond that, think of the riches I could bring to my family just going off the stock market. I got so deep into this fantasy that I actually began looking up old Superbowl outcomes to feed into the inevitable day when I would be magically transported back to being a child, where I could live up to all the child prodigy stuff that I knew about. Where I could take seriously the stuff I was doing in school. Where I could have been successful by now. Where I could have lived a perfect life, hurting no one and being hurt by no one. Then, one day, the spell broke.

The fantasy didn’t contain the things that are important to me now.  I would have missed out on the friends I made and the way those friendships ended. I would have lived it all before and some things that I couldn’t change would be all the more devastating. I wouldn’t be able to stop any of the school shootings or terrorist attacks, as I was a child. I could have said all the right things in all the right ways to all the women I was ever interested in, but I wouldn’t have the perfect woman. My life’s trajectory would be too altered to have my girlfriend. No fantasy I could have would be complete without her. I’m happy with where I am, because I’m happy with where it’s going to take me. I just have to stick it out along this road.

By A Hair

There have been a lot of people getting haircuts around me recently, and it has made me realize that my hair is getting longer. First it was the poodle, and then it was my girlfriend, and that generally means that either I or my father is next on the chopping block. I don’t know why that is making me so anxious, but it always does. I hate taking the time to get my haircut. I always feel like there’s something I’d rather be doing, be it writing, video games, reading, or whatever. Don’t look at me like that, I do things.

I think it goes back to my childhood. I was ticklish as a child, to the point that I was told by multiple stylists that if I didn’t stop moving they were going to cut my ear off. To this day, I’m not sure if that’s just a tactic they employed for all children, or if I was special to have received this threat multiple times. I was also a tall child, so whenever there was a cool seat to be had that other five year olds would be sat in, I was informed I was too big and be put in the “big boy” chair. This was not a consolation because I was not big enough to be in the “big boy” chair by myself. I had to sit in an uncomfortable booster seat. Frankly it didn’t help my squirming.

Maybe because of that or simply the fact that it costs money and time have become deterrents in adulthood. More often than not, I have my mother cut my hair, and she’s pretty good. Other times, I’ve had mixed results having my hair cut by stylists. It has certainly proven, at least in my area, to be a point of the more you pay for it the better the cut you receive. I’m not willing to spend 880 ounces of copper on a hair cut every two weeks like some of my friends. I’d rather spend that money on things I need to live, like books or food.

NPC State of Mind

The sun has returned to the land, like some adventure has gone and been completed. It was hardly a thousand years of darkness and rain, but we all know how much fantasy authors like to exaggerate. It had me thinking about all the NPC’s in all the games, and all the villagers and non-heroes in the books and movies, and how they all react to the overwhelming dangers of the evil overlords, or the dragon beast, or any of that doom and gloom that covers the land.

In particular, I always found it weird how cheery some of them were, in spite of the world around and outside. They were usually powerless in their circumstances and had little to nothing going for them. I used to think of them like they were all Pangloss from Candide by Voltaire, but I’ve learned better. We look at things as being the sole problem and having a singular solution. Perhaps this is partially due to the way we’re taught in school, or perhaps it is just the way people are wired that we need to simplify things to a state where we can manage them. There are some fortunate people that are unswayed by the state of things, The problems facing the hero don’t really effect them so much, and when they do it’s manageable and dealt with like an adult.

Let’s all be honest with each other for a moment, we aren’t usually the optimistic NPC’s. We’re generally the doom and gloom villagers feeling the ever present growl from the great overlord. Maybe you’re not, but I know that I am. The problem was, the overcast and rain was something I enjoyed immensely, but clearly some adventurer went off and killed the rain wizard that was creating this beautiful landscape and there’s no more rain. Still, that does nothing for the racial and gender inequality that plagues the nation, the threat of nuclear war hangs over our heads almost as heavily as our trillion dollar debt. But hey, at least we can suffer in the sun. When I was a kid I played a game that I don’t remember the name of, I just remember that upon completing it there were several people happy, and one person who was non-plussed because his problems weren’t magically fixed.

I miss the days when the rain going away was the one thing I needed to feel that all was right with the world. I’m trying to move toward a tomorrow where that will be true again.

Plain Oatmeal for the Eyes

Peter Rabbit Poster

I was racking my brain this morning, trying to figure out what I’d write about this morning. I couldn’t remember seeing a single movie over the course of the past week or so. Try as I might, nothing would come to me, and I was beginning to try and think of some backlog information that I could come up with and discuss. Then I remembered that my girlfriend and I went and saw Peter Rabbit. We had been seeing previews for it for months on basically every platform imaginable and my girlfriend insisted on seeing it. So, we went while we were on a weekend trip for Valentine’s day.

I have a good memory and once I recalled I’d seen it, I remembered the movie fairly clearly. If I didn’t I’d need to get checked for early onset Alzheimer’s because I’d seen the movie less than a week ago. The thing is, it was rather bland in retrospect. In the moment I remember laughing and feeling sad all at appropriate moments, but I can’t think of exactly why I felt those things other than that was what I was supposed to feel. The CGI was impressive, at least to my untrained eye. The camera work was amazing. The acting was on point, for the most part. The movie just was rather bland. There was nothing that sticks with you afterwards. No jokes, no lines, nothing. It satisfied everything a movie should in the moment but left nothing lasting past that.

The one thing that did stick with me was the experience. My girlfriend and I watched the movie in a small theater with amphitheater style seating and a strangely curved screen. I sat waiting for my girlfriend while she fielded a call from some number I didn’t recognize until the movie had almost begun. I recall sitting there and thinking, I don’t even really want to see this film, this is incredibly awkward, when my girlfriend came and sat down. Sat behind us and to the right was a woman who must never have seen a film before because at every instance of something with the remotest sense of tension occurring, she would utter one of three phrases. Either, “oh no,” “oh my god,” or ” oh lord.” I may not remember the film in the next ten minutes, but I will remember the way it made this forty year old woman beam after it was over.

Muted Days

It has been raining here all week and I love every moment of it. I love cold and dreary weather that gives other people seasonal affective disorder (which has one of the most fitting acronyms of any I’ve seen thus far). Perhaps it’s because I’m fat and also a furnace of body heat, so that having the cold weather makes it so I can operate without fear of overheating. It’s like I’m an automaton, but this secret is so well kept even I myself do not know the truth of the matter. What I’ve been assured is water my entire life is actually coolant and meals are simply fuel and resources being pushed into my body. Not in the metaphorical sense but literally. Perhaps rain is just relaxing to me, firing across my synapses, reminding me of snuggles I had with my first dog who was sensitive to thunderstorms.

I had a huddle of dogs on my bed, staring out the window at the gray sky and nearly motionless, nearly lifeless landscape from my bedroom window almost every day this week. To say there was a sense of anticipation among the group would be to ignore the quietness of the activity. We barely stirred among the sheets as we lay there and stared out the window. In the other room I could hear my older sister listening to CD’s teaching her Spanish a world away. These are quiet moments that don’t require thinking, just the feeling of warmth set against the cold. A somber consolidation of love on a mattress.

I never feel like there is more to do than I can do on days like this. I know that I’m limited in what I can accomplish that day, but the freedom that brings to a person is something we can relish. I know what is possible to achieve and I don’t have to fight my way through each and every obstacle. I know how fast I can go, and I feel encouraged to take a steady pace, rather than try to rush through things in short bursts. After all, there’s only so much that can be accomplished before I retreat to my bed and watch a static world with a multitude of dogs.