Character Creation Idea

I was thinking on the way players in some of my games have fallen into tropes during character creation that were a bit embarrassing. For example, in one game, there was a space on the character sheet for grade – the characters were in high school. Like, four people initially wrote that their characters had skipped a grade. Much weirder, two separate players came up with an idea of an uncaring father owning an expensive stringed instrument that their character stole during the course of the game. Violin boy ended up breaking the instrument in a teenage rage. Guitar girl just strolled and strummed, as one will. Those players had practically no interaction and came up with that stuff wholly independently. Wild.

So I had a two part idea for how to escape some of these tropes, or at least make characters less baroque and more dramatically resonant: One, come up with everything you think is distinctive about your character without looking at a character sheet at all. Two, when it’s time to fill out the character sheet, intentionally fill in any information you hadn’t thought of (character age, family, eye color, whatever) with something boring and bland.

Your character’s “bastard son of the duke” detail becomes less interesting the more bizarre details you add, and I think character sheets are where people go wrong. This is about RPGs, but the same could be true of fiction writing, if you’re using a questionnaire during character development.

The theory is that no one would have thought to have their character skip a grade if there had not been a question about which grade they were in on the sheet. As soon as you ask a question, there is a temptation to come up with an “interesting” answer. Make a character stand out by having fewer important traits. Hold off on the questionnaire, and round that thing out with bland. That’s the idea.


The American Bastille

The current system of AmeriKKKan slavery is conducted through the prison industrial complex. That’s a system of Bastilles long overdue for a smashing. This Bastille day, nearly at an end here in the continental USA? Not the moment. But it will come.

Wish I had something more to say on this. I add sentences and subtract them. It’s all just words for their own sake. The point remains simple: Destroy AmeriKKKan prisons. Free the slaves now.


Hey Richies – Cure Poverty or We All Die

Hey we might already be a dead species walking. Ocean acidification, a climate change pattern that will continue even if we magically stop producing carbon 100% this instant, treatment resistant diseases with a pool of billions of specimens in which to evolve. Something can get us, may already have us in its sights. That’s all of us, not just the poor, whatever you rich people are imagining.

Given these problems, all the class war the rich are perpetrating against us poor folks? Huge waste of time and resources. The clock is ticking. Keeping the poor in a state of desperation and suffering is great fun for you, we know, but it also makes the world a chaotic, useless place.

We can’t get a goddamn thing done. Education of the next genius to save us? You’re choking the actual merit out of the Ivy League with legacy nepotism, and demolishing the ability of cheaper schools to actually teach. Having a robust competent workforce so we can build our way out of at least some troubles? We’re getting crippled from preventable health conditions, incapable of practicing job skills because employer-friendly legislation has us unemployed or changing jobs constantly, that kind of shit.

You don’t have to give up your palaces, your demonic lifestyles, your vampiric destruction of everything beautiful in nature, your inhuman loathing of us. Hate us all you want. Just let us have what we need to be healthy. It can come out of the military’s budget SOOO easily.

Think what we could accomplish with a world full of healthy people*, without minds and bodies being shredded like lettuce in the struggle to survive. With universities that had actual professorships instead of hordes of homeless itinerant “adjuncts” living like zombies to teach classrooms of fifty and more. With an industrial sector full of hearty Bruce Willis in Armageddon – styled people, able to live up to the national myths we cling to.

And then you can sit there at the top, bathing in the blood of the last rhinos and drinking the jizz of extinct fish, or whatever it is you like to buy with your gold bricks. You can sit there thinking about how your magnanimity is the only thing that allowed the human species to survive that shit show early millennium situation.

You’ll be right. You’ll be as god-like powerful as you are now, but with the added pride of actual moral leadership instead of this insecure self-delusion you’re spitting now. Noblesse Oblige as a good thing instead of a bad joke.

Live the dream, baby. Because something is coming that your money won’t help you escape. You’re going to need us to live through it. Throw us a goddamn bone here. We’re dyin’.

*Not to leave out the disabled. You know poor able-bodied workers love sick people, right? So watching ’em die in your heartless hellworld is bad for our health. Help people who need help. I know the inherent dignity of a human life is something you’ll never understand, so do it for the venal reasons I’m suggesting. Pretty please?


A Conspiracy Would be Better

A conspiracy would be better. All you’d have to do is bust it open, out the Illuminati, take down the Lizard People, whatever. In real life, the conspiracies aren’t like that. They are shortsighted arrangements made by petty animals, not the superpowerful world-dominating enterprises we hear about from the paranoid.

They are “think tanks,” board meetings, organized crime, third world juntas, first world Strangelove war rooms. They are just groups of assholes trying to do asshole things for power and money, and in so doing they are trapped, serving the same animal instincts that have had us rocketing toward extinction.

They don’t control shit. Of course they control their fiefdoms. They can make like Mitch McConnell’s fuckboys and kill thousands of us to save a few bucks for their corporate fam. But at the end of the line? They’re owned by nature.

Not in the “mother earth will get revenge” hippy sense, but in that they are driven to eat up every resource like locusts, vie for every advantage until everyone is fucked and nothing is left, just like everyone else in this hellworld we’ve created.

A conspiracy, in the Alex Jones sense, would be better, because it would mean someone, anyone, has control of what’s going to happen to us. Someone would be able to finagle their way through the ongoing ecological calamity, hide out in the hollow earth or move to space in arks, whatever. But a giant pile of animals fucking animals fucking animals? No control, no quarter, no safety for anyone.

Xtian fundamentalists are fond of referring to backslides toward the Dark Ages as “Awakenings.” Social justice activists – particularly African Americans fighting racism – use the slogan “Stay woke.” And of course, conspiracy bros have their classic exhortation to the “sheeple.” Who is awake and who is asleep? Safe to guess what I think.

I think a lot more people than ever before are starting to wake up to the realities we’re dealing with, the danger we’re in, and what will ultimately need to be done about it. But is it too late? I feel like there’s still room to hope, but it’s slim as fuck. Long live the fighters.


RPGs: The Truest Test of Character?

Why is it that role-playing games seem to bring out the worst traits in people? Even people you would never have guessed had it in them, people you may have liked before, but come out liking less. I wish the inverse was true – that players displaying good morals would be surprising or have a nice impact – but it’s far easier to be outlandishly awful than it is to be pretty decent. There are millions of ways to harm people and only a few ways to nurture or protect them. Either way, RPGs keep turning into morality tests, no matter the GM’s intent.

I’ve run situations where all a character had to do was say hello to an old friend, and before long the friend has been encouraged to shoot heroin for the first time with a dirty needle. Where all a group of characters had to do was walk down a sidewalk, have a funny interaction with some randos, then one PC goads another into viciously assaulting them.

And I’m sure most of the fellowship of Game Masters have encountered similar. The adventurers pass a travelling show and end up killing everybody for XP and a few silver pieces, or because the entertainers didn’t sufficiently stroke the PC’s demonic egos. The encounter was just meant to breathe life into the setting, give the PCs a chance to experience a different world. Turns out the life they want to experience is that of homicidal warlords.

You often hear the lament on forums, how do I deal with this terrible player? He’s my best friend in real life, so I can’t tell him to fuck off. How can I rein him in? Sometimes, if it’s extreme enough, the bad player’s friend may wonder if there’s something seriously wrong with them. Is my best friend a potential serial killer?

There are a number of reasons, some addressed in my Pitfalls of RP series, that lead players to behave worse in a game than they would in real life. The most obvious reason is that it is just a game, so depending on how real it feels, one could feel no more responsible than they would to video game NPCs. The flipside of this is that some nice people would never dream of killing the jerk rat-pelt collector in Everquest, let alone a character voiced by a present living person. Still, failures of imagination can be understood. The best of us get big body counts in GTA.

Another failure of imagination is just misunderstanding the scene or the world and its rules. In cinema and in many games, a blow to the back of the head will knock someone out harmlessly. In real life and realistic games, unconsciousness isn’t guaranteed but brain damage is certainly a possibility. Likewise, a PC could read an NPC as more dangerous than they are, and end up shooting unarmed characters.

Excuses aside, many players genuinely feel fine playing characters as utter bastards. Can you play evil? Do you like to? I’ve found that the only way I can deal with that is playing a character who is meant to be disliked, meant to be unpleasant and probably doomed. The aforementioned rando-bashing and heroin needling was conducted by a character that was pretty well defined as a jerk, so it wasn’t too jarring, even if it was gratuitous and ugly.

What blows my mind is that people will write a character as all sunshine and light, cutesy woobliness, then turn around and have those characters commit atrocities. I’m sorry, Braden, but blushing boy band-lookin’ sensitive sighs Oliver comes off like a David Lynch villain the second you make him party to a serial killing. His loverboy styles are instantly upended into depraved creepiness, his looks corrupted by the dark light behind his eyes.

It could be a problem of people playing characters beyond their own natural abilities. We don’t physically lift the castle gates when our characters do, but we do have to make words happen, make actions happen, within the limits of our own real life ability. Playing characters as more intelligent or charismatic than we actually are? Very difficult. Playing characters more compassionate than we are? Maybe it’s impossible. How would you even know you were fucking up?

If that’s the case, then the key is knowing yourself and playing within the limits of your ability and imagination. And if you’re paying attention while you’re playing, you might learn a lot about what those limits are.


Lady Actors Doin’ All the Work

As I mentioned in passing in my post the other day, I’ve noticed lady actors often have to work harder than men. Men in acting are allowed to “go subtle,” probably because the directors have heteronormative notions about what looks cool from masc characters. I think that sucks. Men flipping out have been very memorable and cool in cinema history. Se7en Brad’s “What’s in the box?!,” young Mel tremblin’ and shakin’ in Lethal Weapon, lots of guys in Hong Kong cinema.

High key moments aside, even being expressive in casual scenes is surprisingly amiss in dudes. I feel like a big reason young Bruce Willis was a sex symbol was that he bothered to fuckin’ smile in his movies. Arch an eyebrow, look at someone sideways. Use your facial muscles, guys.

I’m mostly noticing this in TV. Steven Amell‘s tiny eyeballs would be hard-pressed to register an emotion, so maybe he has an anatomical disadvantage compared to the rest of the cast of his show. I’m watching all the episodes of Dead Zone I missed back when it aired, and as much as I want to like Anthony Michael Hall, he is usually dead-faced as hell. This was at its worst in the episode when he had a one-night thing with his ex. All the tension and drama throughout the season, Nicole de Boer looking at him with a face brimming with intense feels, and AMH was just kinda standing there bugging his eyes out.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that due to cultural expectations and dramatic conventions, they just gotta play it cool 99% of the time. They still need to let it out of the bottle when it counts. The aforementioned scene in Dead Zone? Way undercut by the man’s acting.

The most comical example ever had to come from the otherwise pretty decent Sam Waterston early in his run on Law & Order. There was an episode where a lady he’d worked with in the past got busted for an ethical violation, which she said she did in his name, because they were having hawt romantical naked torrid hawt affairs. That actress – Laila Robins – was falling all over herself to show that she had some kind of intimate connection with Sam’s character Jack McCoy. Bedroom eyes all the time, slouching around like Mae West. And for all that? Waterston wobbled uncomfortably in his starched collar like an asexual quail.
 

Laila Robins as Diana Hawthorne on Law & Order
too hawt for quails

 
Not that there’s anything wrong with some quails being asexual, but they seem miscast opposite a siren. It was unintentionally funny, but also emblematic of the prob. Men need to work harder in the acting game. And not like Jared Leto.

Great Shows with Nowhere to Go

HBO’s Westworld and SyFy’s 12 Monkeys. I’ve liked those shows a lot. Westworld was laughably edgy at times, seemed like it was trying to reach a quota of F bombs and tiddies in some episodes, but had several excellent to truly great things about it. 12 Monkeys played with a lot of sketchy mental illness tropes, had all the time travel related foolishness you might expect, and used a child as a character motivation in a way that felt emotionally dishonest and a bit ridiculous to me. And the lead actor looks like a tired otter. But it had a bad-ass two-fisted style and some sweet moments of plot payoff. I love the first season twist ending about The Power of Friendship, and Kirk Acevedo is sexy in a way that I find hard to explain. Plus the lead actress (as usual) does all the heavy lifting on the show, and does it well.

I’ve liked both of those shows a lot, but I have such big doubts about future seasons that I’m unlikely to tune in unless I get very positive spoilers. The places they left off promised nothing good. Spoilers below the fold. Anyhow, do you ever get like this? Find yourself bouncing on a show because you can’t imagine it sustaining the same quality going forward?
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On Mother’s Day

Today as I was in a drive-through to get breakfast, I saw a crow get its breakfast. Right in front of me, just as I was saying something nice about crows (I’d recently seen one using a proper tool and it warmed my heart), a crow flipped a sub-adult pigeon off the roof and started pecking it to death slow like. Up on the roof, a mother watched its child murdered. Portentous?

The driver of the car was herself a mother, and more upset by the scene than I was. Dismal business, if natural on all accounts.


Uncomfortable Positions

Some people occupy uncomfortable positions in culture. Ladies that are into video games, when gaming culture is overrun with misogyny. Ex-muslims who want to denounce islam, without playing into the hands of racists and xenophobes. Atheists that care about their fellow humans at all, apparently. For all of us, there’s a lot of choosing your battles, choosing your allies, choosing your enemies, and – worst of all – having those options taken away from you by circumstance.

Some of my favorite bloggers in progressive atheism have gone silent in the face of this horrorshow world kicking it up all of the notches. Unrelated, maybe. I think some people are considering the path of least resistance – scaling back their approach to social justice issues, tolerating some skeevy fools more than they would have a year ago. Maybe for some of us, that’s really what we would have preferred all along – not getting into an ideological corner box where one must fight the world.

That isn’t me. I’m in the corner box, no interest in playing nice with people I fundamentally disagree with about hugely important issues. If you want more discourse with people who don’t see you as fully human, there will be blogs you can follow. If you’d rather not see that, this place is going to remain clean as a whistle. I don’t care if people see me as a jackbooted enemy of all freedomz amurrica holds dear, but I have no intention of loosening up moderation here in any way.

Certainly, I have no intention of cutting slack to half-assed allies and NPR liberals either. If you’re 95% in favor of the progressive agenda, but feel the need to condescend about bellicose radicals, don’t bother to comment. I can take criticism, I know I’m not always right, but I won’t take it from someone who has to be an asshole about it. Already banned one fool over that. Step up to the plate if you like, you’ll get the same.

Anyhow, I find running this kind of show makes my personal uncomfortable position a lot easier to navigate. There are a few battles I’m avoiding, you can guess at. But within the blog? It’s the SJW-dome. For me at least, fuck anything less.

All that said, as much as I have a powerful distaste for the nice guy approach, can’t hang with it, I really don’t want anyone to think I begrudge them for going that way. We’re all in uncomfortable positions, some worse than others, and it’s far from the worst thing one can do, morally. There’s even a place in the world for people too peaceful to punch nazis. It’s a different path. Good luck with it.


LGBT Lingo and Pronouns in Europe

I understand there are a lot of borrow words from the American movement. One thing I don’t know about is if folks of non-binary genders have terminology for themselves in various non-English languages, and if they would prefer some different pronouns, how they handle that. I know we have that international audience here. Let us know how you do.