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Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 2

Writing 150The first week of the Clarion Write-A-Thon is in the books! I’ve written 3,643 words so far, raised $145 in donations, and finished a grand total of 0 short stories! My word count is a pretty far cry from where I had hoped to be by now; I started off strong, but a series of social engagements and general exhaustion from work really slowed me down. I’m hoping to get my mojo back by knuckling down and making time to write in the mornings before work and during my lunch break. Donations-wise, I’m sure there’s a way to drum up more support — I’ll be personally asking a few folks if they can kick in a little. But thanks SO much to everyone who’s donated so far. It really means a lot to me that you’re willing to help!

Last week, I worked on a couple of blog entries and “Feedback Loop,” my story for Defying Apocalypse. “Feedback Loop” focuses on an inner-city college student as he tries to deal with the news that a runaway greenhouse effect will steadily turn the planet into a Venusian hell-scape. He must manage to deal with the crumbling world around him, his family’s issues and his own depression to find some way to survive the coming ordeal.

I’m really excited to write this story because it draws so much on my own experience and understanding of depression, and the scenario I’ve chosen is frighteningly close to reality. The story is flowing out of me when I have the time to write it, and it’s been a really long time since that’s happened. I don’t know if it will be good enough to actually be accepted, but if not I’ll at least have finished something. I can polish it and submit it elsewhere, at any rate.

This week, I’m committing to three blog entries this week — this one, a couple of thoughts about my Buddhist practice on Wednesday, and a small short story about a character I’ll be playing in a Star Wars campaign a friend’ll be starting up this summer. “Feedback Loop” will be finished, and I’ll head immediately into a short story for MegaMorphics. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it’ll follow the victim of a bio-terror attack and the rather unique difficulties he faces in recovery. That particular story won’t be available immediately, but I hope to have it floating around online by fall.

My word count goal for this week is 14,000 words. Fundraising goal for this week: $250. If you have a few dollars you can spare for a worthy cause, I would certainly appreciate it! Just go to my writer’s profile here: http://www.clarionwriteathon.com/members/profile.php?writerid=599479.

You can either make a straight-up dollar donation, or you can pledge a certain amount tied to my word-count. If going for the latter, one-tenth of a cent per word (or $.001) will work out to $50 if I hit my goal. $.0005 will work out to $25, and $.0002 will work out to $10. Every little bit helps, and I’m happy to accept anything you’re willing to give!

Now, on to making sure that goal is fulfilled. How about you fine folk? What will you be working on this week?

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2015 in Writing

 

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FurAffinity and the Realities of Capitalism

Fandom 150This week, FurAffinity decided that it would update its advertising policy to include “mature” ads on pages that included mature/adult work. It didn’t take very long for the backlash to come, which is pretty much what happens whenever FA tries something new. More users and artists distanced themselves from the site — if they didn’t leave outright — and more than a few furries tweeted their displeasure. As of Monday evening (when I’m writing this; I know that the story will have progressed quite a bit by the time it’s posted), they’ve rolled things back to retool the mechanism that serves ads, but I’m not sure they’re going to ever get the community on board with hard-core porn banners with explicit language.

One of the most fascinating things to me about websites these days is that there still isn’t a better way for them to make money with their content than ad revenue. And while I have all the sympathy in the world for an Internet company struggling to figure out how to make their site profitable, I also have less-than-zero interest in being served a bunch of advertisements for crap that I don’t need to buy. Especially when those ads include flashing, sounds, motion or whatever other mechanism they can conceive of to get to pay attention to them instead of the reason I’m on the page.

FurAffinity (and IMVU) is going to be in trouble if they’re going to be more aggressive with ads in the future. It’s just proving what most of the community thought about FA being acquired in the first place; that the site is being taken out of the hands of the community and put into the control of outside interests that see us more as commodities than anything. Of course, IMVU needs to find a way to keep the lights on for FA, so to speak — they’re in the business to make money, and at the very least FurAffinity needs to pay for its own operation. I get that. But a website that relies on advertising revenue, in my experience, compromises the value of its content by making that content increasingly painful to get to through the thicket of revenue-generating stuff. I know this is a slippery slope argument, but I could easily see FA becoming more trouble than it’s worth to navigate, stuffed with annoying (at best) or virus-laden (at worst) ads that make it impossible to have a good time looking at community-created adult material.

But here’s the thing that us folks who like browsing websites has to keep in mind: in our capitalist society, nothing is free. If we’re not paying for the sites we browse in money, we pay for it some other way — with the time it takes to navigate around pop-up or pop-under ads, or with the attention those ads draw from us. Sometimes, we pay for it with information we give those sites, who then turn around and give that information to third parties who, in turn, use it to target us better for advertising. It would be a good idea for us, as readers, to think about how we’re paying for the sites we visit. These guys have to make their money somehow — either through donations and charity, through a paywall, through advertising, through our personal information. Once we determine how a website charges for its services, we have to make a decision on whether or not we think that payment is fair.

Like most Internet-savvy denizens, I fortify my web-browsing experience with Flash blockers and anti-adware. I’ve been burned by Flash ads automatically downloading viruses to my computer and I’m not interested in taking chances with any more. If a website shows me potentially interesting and unobtrusive ads, I consider it fair payment for accessing their content. The Ad Blocker goes off. And in some cases, where I feel like I get enough value from a website and they offer me the choice, I’ll just straight-up pay for access.

That’s what I did with writing.com, where the advertising had brought me viruses a few times. It’s for that reason I can’t direct people there in good conscience, even though there are a few great writers and stories in the interactives. The interactive community is kind of the dirty sewer of the site, though, and the website operators will only get the worst kinds of businesses willing to run ads for those pages. Because of the content of those pages — which includes eighteen different kinds of fetishy stuff — only porn sites and disreputable places will pay to advertise there. So it’s either put up with those awful ads or pay for access — and since I like the interactives and have been going there for years now, I feel it’s a better value to pay with money.

I think FA is in the same position. There are all kinds of terrible stuff in the adult sections of that site; hard vore, crushing, watersports and scat-play, Sonic fan art (just kidding, don’t be mean to me Sonic fans!). I’m not sure that they’d be able to get too many sites outside of the community willing to advertise on those pages, and sites and services within the community probably wouldn’t be able to pay the rates that “professional” places would.

So they’re stuck in this place. If FA is going to be a furry site run by a non-furry interest with the aim of making enough money to justify its existence, it’s either going to have to turn to some sort of formalized payment plan, an aggressive advertising policy, or trading our personal information. Instead of reflexively shouting down any way it tries to raise revenue, maybe we should think about what we would be willing to trade for our porn-browsing experience. Money? Ads that aren’t quite so terrible? Sensitive data? Once we figure it out, let Dragoneer know. We actually have a chance to barter with the operator of the site; that’s not something many audiences get. Using the opportunity to make the site better, instead of bashing it, would be a great thing.

I have a lot of sympathy for Dragoneer and the predicament he finds himself in. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to the demands of IMVU (which I assume is to make money, but might be something else to be fair). He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a fight between the demands of capitalism and a populace that really doesn’t give a shit about it. Good luck getting out from between that rock and a hard place.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Furries

 

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Clarion Write-A-Thon 2015: Why Am I Doing This, Anyway?

Writing 150The sixth annual Clarion Write-A-Thon is underway! I’ve already explained just what the heck the Write-A-Thon is in Friday’s entry, so I thought I would take a little bit of time to explain just why I’m doing this anyway.

I’m not a rabbit who likes to pass the hat around and ask for things. I grew up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the long weekends I’ve spent trying to get people to read our literature and sign up for bible studies really ground whatever fundraising drive I’ve had out of me. Asking friends, acquaintances and strangers for money is one of my least-favorite things, so I wouldn’t do it for just any old thing.

FUNDRAISING
The Clarion Workshop is an amazing experience; when Ryan went last year I got to hang out with the class of 2014 for a night, and they’re an amazing group of people. They came from all over the world to spend six weeks with each other and their instructors, and most of them weren’t well off enough that leaving their day jobs for six weeks and sinking thousands of dollars into a workshop didn’t come with a tremendous amount of sacrifice. But they believed in their writing enough to make it.

There are scholarships, of course, but in order to offer them Clarion has to rely on donations from folks who want to support it. The Write-A-Thon is a great way to do that — it provides writers who hope to one day get into the workshop (this guy!) with an incentive to push themselves towards a lofty goal for a good cause. It brings visibility to the work that’s being done there, and allows me to help in some small way by drawing donations to their scholarship and teacher’s fees.

I’m hoping that I can raise $500 this year for the Workshop. The top fundraisers will have a work of theirs critiqued by either a teacher (top three) or alumnus (top ten). It would mean an enormous amount to, say, have the story I’m writing for Defying Apocalypse critiqued before I sent it off. A donation from you, dear reader, could help make that happen!

WRITING
The big thing about the Write-A-Thon is the opportunity to write. There are so many things going on in all of our lives, and sometimes the demands of the day make it impossible for us to follow things that we want to do. When you have to work and run errands and be with the people you love and wash the dishes and do the laundry and cook dinner, it’s so easy for something as nebulous as writing to fall by the wayside.

For the next six weeks, I want to remove the distractions and excuses from my life. I want to dedicate myself to my writing the way the 2015 class at Clarion have done — well, almost. This is my chance to get just a taste of what it is to be a Clarionaut, to put myself into a pressure cooker and produce. In order to keep up with my word count, there isn’t much chance for me to second guess myself, give in to doubt or fatigue. If I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to need to write. Every day. A lot.

And unlike other events like NaNoWriMo (not to knock that fine, fine crucible) I get to do this for a cause I believe in. It also pretty much forces me to talk about myself, which is something that I don’t like to do for a number of different reasons. Part of being a successful writer is self-promotion, in its way. I prefer to think that you’re so excited about the stories you’re telling that you can’t help but talk about them. I’m hoping that this immersive experience will re-awaken that passion within me, that I’ll be so excited about my stories it will overcome my natural aversion to talking about them — and by extension, myself.

So, in summary — this is a cause I really believe in. An international group of students who might not be able to afford to have this experience might just get to go because of the money we raise here. I get to immerse myself in the writer’s life for six weeks, clearing aside all distractions and personal hang-ups to push forward, engage with my creativity and be an advocate for not only my own work but this awesome workshop. That’s why I’m doing the Clarion Write-A-Thon this year, and that’s why I’ll be asking all of you to make a donation through my writer’s page.

If you’re interested in helping me out, go here: http://clarionwriteathon.org/members/profile.php?writerid=599479

I’ll be sure to post updates on my projects here on the blog and on my writer’s profile!

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2015 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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Clarion Write-A-Thon 2015 Is a GO

I was going to re-introduce Friday Fiction today, but it occurred to me that the Clarion Write-A-Thon is starting this Sunday! So instead I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about the projects I’m planning to work on over the next six weeks in hopes of drumming up support for it.

A bit of a recap about the Write-A-Thon: The Clarion Workshop is a six-week intensive experience where rising sci-fi/fantasy writers are invited to workshop their stories with each other and their instructors, who are typically folks who have made a name for themselves in the genre writing community. A couple of furries are Clarion alumni — one of them being my dear husband Ryan! This year, the Clarionauts will be taught by such esteemed writers as Saladin Ahmed, James Patrick Kelly and Karen Fowler.

It’s an amazing experience, and it can really give a leg up to writers who are just starting out by helping them understand the demands and pressures of being published, what it takes to polish their work until it gleams and fostering relationships with fellow great writers at all different points of their careers. But it’s not free; it takes money to attract top talent for the workshop and accommodate writers who would like to attend but need a little help getting there. Clarionauts come from so many different countries and backgrounds, and not all of them can swing the expense.

So, the Write-A-Thon is a charity event where writers set up goals for themselves (a novel written, or a short story a week, or a word count) and ask folks for donations to encourage them to meet them! I’ve participated in the Write-A-Thon for a few years now, and last year I helped to raise $550 for the Clarion Foundation!

This year, I’ve set a goal of writing 50,000 words from Sunday, June 22nd – Saturday, August 1st. That works out to 8,333 words a week, or about 1,388 a day for six days (one for rest, of course). Let me tell you what I’ll be working on during that time.

  • Beast: Animal Genius. This is something that’s been simmering for a little while, and now it’s time to pull the trigger. Beast of the X-Men has never had a solo ongoing series, so I thought it would be interesting to write a prose version of that. The plan is to copy the distrubition model of digital comics — one “chapter” released a week, with three to four chapters bundled up into an “issue” that’s released elsewhere. I love the idea of setting up Beast with his own heroic arc, a network of allies and his very own rogue’s gallery. Each chapter will be roughly 1,250 words, making each issue anywhere from 3,500 – 5,000 words long.
  • Untitled “Defying Doomsday” short story. “Defying Doomsday” is an anthology that features people with disabilities dealing with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios. I’m a sucker for that type of fiction, and expanding it to include protagonists with disabilities is such an amazing idea. I have an idea for it that I’m very excited to write, so this will be one of the projects I hope to bang out this summer.
  • A Stable Love. This is a commission that a friend of mine has been waiting literally years for; while I’ve made progress on it, it hasn’t nearly been fast enough. So the mucking around stops here — by the end of July, the rough draft of the story WILL be finished and sent to him. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.
  • The Big Game. This is a short story experiment that I started and abandoned less than a month into it. It was something that combined a bunch of different things I love — growth, gambling, audience participation. My perfectionist tendencies kind of sunk the idea, because the quality wasn’t up to where I wanted it to be. Hopefully, taking the time to sketch out the characters, relationships and arcs will help me keep up the momentum there.
  • The Cult of Maximus. If you follow my work over on writing.com (and I seriously don’t expect you to), then you might have seen the beginnings of this. Basically, a police officer is drawn into a shadowy conspiracy that aims to guide a world of intelligent animals to the next stage of evolution. This is smutty writing, pure and simple. But I like doing it, so there!

I’ll be updating The Writing Desk and my LiveJournal with thoughts on writing and my creative process, as well as snippets of what I’ve worked on every week. In exchange, all I ask is that you donate what you can to the Clarion Write-A-Thon through my writer’s page here. My fundraising goal this year is $500 — if I can get ten people to donate $50 (that’s a penny for every ten words!), that’s all it takes! However, any amount you can spare will be tremendously appreciated!
I’m really excited to be doing the Clarion Write-A-Thon again this year, and I hope you folks will join me in helping the cause.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Take a Trip to Wayward Pines

Entertainment 150There is a town in Idaho you can only get to by car accident. After you wake up in the hospital, you’re patched up from your injuries and given the location of a hotel you can stay at while you recuperate. A few days later, a realtor comes by and gives you a house. Then you get a letter that congratulates on the new job opportunity that’s just opened up. Your neighbors, perfectly polite people whose smiles don’t reach their eyes, provide a warm and inviting community for you to fall into. All that’s asked in return for this idyllic life is that you follow a few simple rules. Don’t try to leave. Don’t talk about your life before. And always answer the phone. Welcome to Wayward Pines.

I’m a fiend for a good small-town mystery, especially if it’s tinged with the supernatural. A seemingly perfect town surrounded by ominous, atmospheric woods, populated with a cast of characters who each harbor a secret? Sign me up! After Twin Peaks crashed into our collective consciousness some 25 years ago, there’ve been a number of series that have cribbed that template. Some have been successful (American Gothic!) and others…not so much (Persons Unknown!).

Lately, though, it feels like the supernatural mystery show has been more miss than hit. There were at least a dozen shows that failed in the wake of LOST, and this latest offering from Fox (which seems to be trying to translate the success of the event miniseries to network TV) just looked like another high-concept series doomed to failure. M. Night Shyamalan featured heavily in the promotional material, and any marketer that doesn’t know not to use that guy as your big gun clearly doesn’t know what they’re doing.

But the pilot of Wayward Pines hooked me. Secret Service agent Ethan Burke woke up in the middle of the woods with no idea how he got there, and wandered into the sleepy town of Wayward Pines. Not only was he trying to piece together the puzzle of why he was where he was, he was also trying to find two of his own that have gone missing. The townsfolk are strangely vague about his direct questions, to the point that a sinister edge begins to leak from just beneath the surface. As Ethan becomes more frustrated, he begins to act out — and the power structure of the town escalates as well.

What follows is a series that is one of the best examples of pacing episodic television that I’ve ever seen. Wayward Pines is using the compressed nature of its run as a feature; knowing that there’s only so much space to work with allows them to move the story along briskly, while still being careful enough that the world feels grounded and the atmosphere is allowed to settle around its audience. Through the first five episodes, the tightrope walk has been managed just about perfectly.

Another thing that Pines has working in its favor is the fact that the story had been completed; the show is based on a trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, who is helping adapt them for television. There’s no holding pattern waiting for the ending, and there’s no waffling about the true motives of the characters; the writers know exactly how everything plays out, and they can use that knowledge to inform how the story is told.

So what you get is a show where Ethan is believable in his dogged pursuit of the truth; where he comes across as competent and resourceful even as he becomes increasingly desperate; and where his actions uncover hidden answers that actually look like progress. The antagonists within the town are certainly shadowy and menacing, but not omnipotent; they’re consistently surprised by what Ethan is willing to do to achieve his goals.

Each episode focuses on a more-or-less immediate goal that Ethan hatches, and moves through the planning, execution and success or failure of that plan. The stakes are clear, the consequences (both intentional and unintended) are revealed naturally, and the new avenues that are opened up feel well-connected to what’s come before. The series actually feels coherent, and the twists shock without feeling like they break the premise once you stop to think about them.

The most impressive trick of the show is its timing. It knows when to slow down enough to make the atmosphere oppressive, and when to ratchet up the action. There isn’t a scene that feels indulgent or wasted; they’re all imbued with a momentum that makes you want to know what happens next. And the revelations come at just the right time for maximum impact. It’s firing on all cylinders.

Wayward Pines is only halfway through its run, but barring a structural collapse in the story on the back half I feel confident in saying that a worthy successor to Twin Peaks has come along at last. If you’re like me and have been burned too many times by mystery thrillers that collapse under the weight of their own stories, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find in Wayward Pines. Shyamalan, Crouch and showrunner Chad Hodge are confident in the story and their ability to tell it, and it shows on the screen. I’m glad I gave the show a chance; hopefully, you will too.

Wayward Pines airs Thursday nights on FOX; the show is on hiatus this week, making it a perfect time for you to shotgun the first five episodes before it returns June 25th. Full episodes can be found on FOX.com.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Reviews, Television

 

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The Rachel Dolezal Moment

Politics 150Last week the parents of Rachel Dolezal announced to the media that her daughter was white. This normally wouldn’t be news; there’s nothing special about a white couple having a white child. But Rachel had been passing as a black woman for years — through her collegiate education at Howard University, through a career of social activism centered around issues facing the black community, through her tenure as the head of the regional NAACP. Rachel was a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, worked with the city government of Spokane to ensure fair treatment of minorities by the police, and passionately spoke about black history, culture and issues.

But Rachel also straight-up lied about her background. She denied her parents, instead telling the university newspaper that her mother was a back-to-the-land hippie who gave birth to her in a tee-pee. She lived in South Africa for a time, where she was abused by her mother and stepfather with “baboon whips” “similar to the ones slaves were beaten with”. She submitted reports of racial discrimination and hate crimes to the police a number of times, claimed that she had been threatened by members of the Aryan Nation and received suspicious packages at the NAACP headquarters. So many of those claims have been disproven that it calls into question just about everything she’s ever said.

This story absolutely fascinates me. Rachel has managed to fool so many people for so long, rising to a position of prominence in the black activism community. Now that she’s been outed, the Internet has wasted no time in making her a laughingstock. And you know what, fair enough. Anyone who lies about being beaten by baboon whips in South Africa deserves to be clowned a little bit. But at the same time, Rachel lied about her background to…what, exactly? Put herself deep in the trenches for a fight that didn’t really need to touch her at all?

Why would a woman from an apparently comfortably-situated family forsake them to identify with a community that has a history of systemic oppression backed into its story? It couldn’t have been just to have a prominent position within that community, could it? The NAACP doesn’t bar white people from joining its ranks, or even holding leadership positions. So why go through this whole charade?

It’s too easy to dismiss her as crazy or attention-seeking. It’s also not compassionate. This is a woman who adopted a story of discrimination and suffering for herself — and while that ultimately diminishes the true stories that we live every day, I don’t think it was done with selfish or malicious intentions.

Let me be clear here: what Rachel Dolezal did was wrong. What’s worse, it hurt the cause she’s been working so hard to advance. Instead of talking about what happened in McKinney, Texas or the continuing stories of police brutality and murder in Ohio, Utah, Maryland, Missouri and so many other places, we’re talking about her. For God’s sake, we now have to explain to why “trans-racial” is not a thing and should never be a thing.

But when I think about Rachel, I find I just can’t be angry with her. While a lot of the clowning she’s gotten through Twitter is hilarious, I can’t join in. I feel nothing but compassion for her. She wanted so badly to belong to a world she wasn’t a part of she left behind a life of privilege and comfort to construct a crucible for her to be tempered by. And she didn’t do this to get a book deal or become famous; she did it to allow her passion for black rights a channel to be used.

One thing I have to say about us minority populations; we’re fiercely protective of our culture and history. The suffering of our ancestors is a birthright that we carry with us — the burden of it either breaks our backs or makes us strong enough to deal with the stuff that gets thrown at us today. It’s a complicated thing; it makes us sad and angry, suspicious about the dominant culture we must navigate every day. But it can also serve as the glue that holds our culture together, gives us a shared history that helps us understand the space we occupy in America today.

That attitude — the hyper-protectiveness of the space we’ve made for ourselves, and the suspicions of outsiders encroaching on that space — might make it daunting for allies who want to help. We can be tremendously insular, especially in our activist spaces, and I imagine it would be really easy for someone to feel marginalized even though they’re coming to us with the best of intentions.

Well, so what, right? We’re marginalized within just about every space we have to move in, and we don’t get a choice to retreat in most cases. It shouldn’t be our job to make someone else comfortable in our safe spaces.

But I think this is what happens when we take on that attitude. We get people who feel like the only way they can have a seat at the table is to fake their way to it. Imagine what a Rachel Dolezal could do if she didn’t have to build a fauxtobiography to build up her street cred? What could she have done if she actually had a healthy self-image and came correct to the black activism community?

We won’t know, and what’s worse is it’s quite possible we’ve lost a passionate ally. Of course, Rachel’s relationship with activism is going to need to be put on hold while she deals with herself for a little bit. But what lesson is she going to learn here? That she doesn’t need to lie to us to help us out? Or that her fear of rejection wasn’t entirely misplaced?

I don’t know that there’s an easy answer here. But I do think there’s a compassionate one, and that’s important to keep in mind. Rachel has a difficult road ahead of her, and the friends and allies she’s made through her activism, and the millions of eyes on her now, could either make that a bit easier or a lot harder. Why wouldn’t we lighten the load for someone if we had it within our power to do so?

What do we want to happen to Rachel Dolezal? What kind of life do we want for her five years from now? When the jokes die down and the news cycle moves on and she’s left to sift through the wreckage of her life, do we want her to discard what hasn’t worked for her and keep what will help her to continue the good fight with us? Or do we want her to forever live with that shame, unable to do something positive with it?

I think it’s vital we remember that Rachel Dolezal is a person underneath the caricature she’s made herself out to be. And our reaction to her carries so much power. Now is an opportunity to teach someone how to interact with us, how an ally can work peaceably and effectively with us, how we can move past mistakes together.

Our response to problematic interactions with our community can’t be a “one size fits all” outrage. Rachel has built her life around trying to be a friend to the black community, and while it was horribly misguided the attempt counts for something with me. We need to learn how to correct our friends without alienating them. We need to think about the effect our words have on friend and foe alike, and whether it’s what we want. And Rachel is a perfect chance to do that.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Grappling Nightmares

Gaming 150I play in a Shadowrun game about once a month with a few local friends, and I’m enjoying it. My character’s concept — and if you know me, you know that of course this is how I roll — is that he’s a member of the Sioux nation who’s been goblinized later in life during puberty. His parents, being a fairly extreme “back to magic/nature” set, took this as a sign that he was destined to be a great shaman. He spent the next seven or eight years learning the finer points of magic, until his sister disappeared in Seattle and resurfaced in Tokyo.

Shadowrun is a pretty classic cyberpunk role-playing game, by the way. The idea is that a new age of magic has arisen somewhere in the early 21st century and the world has gone through a series of upheavals trying to incorporate it. The setting is a heady mish-mash of ultra-powerful mega-corporations, crazy cyber-technology and old-school magic mixing with near- and retro-future concepts. It’s insane, and that’s great. But one of the things I’m learning is that for a character like mine to hang, he needs to be really, REALLY good at the things within the niche he’s created for himself.

That may include things like “unarmed combat”, which turns my blood cold and makes me immediately apologetic to the friend running the game. I’ve played in any number of systems during my now two-decade (!!) tabletop gaming career — everything from D&D 2nd/3rd/4th ed to White Wolf’s Storytelling system to RIFTS/Palladium to FATE — and almost all of them share one common feature despite all of their differences. They all suck eggs when it comes to laying down rules for fist-fighting.

It’s such a simple thing to want. You take a look at a really great martial-arts movie or a gloriously ugly fist-fight in a gangster or action film, and you want to make a character who can do that. But in almost all of the settings you play in, the designers assume your standard adventurer is going to rely heavily on melee or ranged weapons. For some reason, introducing your bare fists — or Frith forbid, improvised weapons — introduces this extra layer of complication that either breaks the game or bogs the system down with so many situational rules it’s often just not worth it.

In RIFTS (which, to be fair, is a completely broken system anyway), taking martial arts beefs up your physical attributes to a potentially insane degree. In Pathfinder (an offshoot of D&D 3.5), unarmed combat is a labyrinth of rules that shifts depending on conditions. Entering into a fist-fight there is a lot of work for very little pay-off; the system is designed so that it’s way, way easier to just swing a sword and tally the damage.

The only system I’ve seen that deals with unarmed combat reasonably well is the FATE system, and that’s because it tries to be as malleable as possible. Everything you want to do has one or two effects: it either deals direct damage to your opponent, or places a condition on your opponent or the environment around you that lets you do something else a bit more easily. Done. It’s quite elegant, and works roughly the same as every other form of combat.

But that’s the exception rather than the rule, and it’s kind of amazing to me that the simplest form of fighting has the most complicated rule-set within the world of tabletop gaming. Why IS that, anyway?

So I’m throwing the question out into the ether. Why do you suppose unarmed combat is so hard to get right in tabletop games? What’s the best example of an out-of-the-box system of rules getting it right? What sort of house rules have you implemented to make unarmed combat less of a headache? I’m, um, asking for a friend.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in RPGs

 

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