Why Twitter Has Made This Blog No Fun

Twitter has had a weird effect upon me; it’s made my blog less fun.
Because for Twitter, I have these weird little toss-offs that I put in there – things like wondering at Mitt’s airplane comments, or discussing fall’s inadvertent gift-giving, or delighting in wretched combinations of alcohol that shouldn’t work but do.  They’re fun, they’re often goony, and they’re in love with the world as I am. I think my Twitter feed is reflective of my personality; an odd mixture of strange takes on life and political links.
My blog has become where I put my “big” thoughts, and those tend to be weightier.  Also less funny.  Looking back over the past two weeks, it’s all “Here’s media bias!  And forgiveness!  And Republicans!”  Not a laugh in the bunch, I tell you.  It makes me appear even more bloated and gasbaggy than I tend to be.
I’m not sure how to deal with that.  It doesn’t help that LJ’s app is terrible, whereas Twitter’s app is very good, so if I have a weird idea on the fly or in the bathroom, I just fire up the Twitter client.  But it has segregated my thoughts into Big Serious Thoughts and Fleeting Silly Thoughts, which makes this appear ponderous and lumbering.
Dunno how to fix that.  I used to post four, five times a day, which drove many nuts.  Now I just flood Twitter, but that’s normal there.  So how does this site feel more like me?  Do I just post seventy times a day here, with silliness? I don’t think so.
There’s all these weird things I kind of want to do with the blog, but haven’t.  I kind of want to start an advice column.  I’d like to review magazines again, but I’m too sporadic to do that regularly.  But whatever I’d do, I’d like to make this feel a little lighter than the collapsed-souffle feeling I get when I read my archives.
Ah, weird problems to have.

For Thee, Not For Me

If you’re interested in polyamory, today Shadesong is giving some fascinating and detailed looks into how she does polyamory.  Which gets into her now-closed relationship, how it became closed, the issues she had with other people and sex, why she doesn’t make out with people, and so on.
When I first started beekeeping, Neil Gaiman told me that I should get not one, but two hives – mainly because if I got one, I’d think that’s how all bees were.  And lo!  It’s true.  Our second hive of bees is positively mean, and a major reason we’re less in the hive these days.  (We’re going to requeen come spring, if these vicious little sonsabitches survive.)  The danger of reading me as Your Poly Representative is that the way Gini and I do poly is not the way everyone does poly, and it’s useful to look into other long-term stable relationships to see how thing works for them.
As for us, it’s a moment of change.  In the wake of the breakup, our whole dynamic is changing somewhat – as it should, with the loss of a major partner, as we reexamine what needs we now have as a smaller group.  Though I’ve been on an unofficial six-month-that-became-ten-month hiatus from new partners, we may discuss opening my possibilities for new physical partners.  It’s not a rush, exactly, because I’m sufficiently happy that I don’t need to run out and get some.  It’s all about keeping my two main partners happy and feeling loved as I explore other relationships, which involves learning to rein in my own all-too-willingness to try for capital-L Love when, perhaps, I should be looking for little-L love.  (With the accent being more on “healthy friendships” than my usual regret of “ZOMG THIS IS INTENSE LET’S THINK OF FOREVER.”)
Which is a way of saying that I’m in a transition zone, just as Shadesong is hardening her boundaries.  Good poly relationships, I feel, are always in a bit of flux – just like good relationships in general.  Anyway, go read her.  I’ll be here, answering questions as usual.

Don't Make The Game So Deadly If You Want Big Damn Heroes: A Rant On RPG Design

As a GM, I’m cursed to endlessly fall in love with the wrong games.  I always, always want to play the games with the beautiful settings and the most awful mechanics.  And Deadlands was the worst of both worlds.
The wild west setting of Deadlands is, in many ways, the height of what roleplaying settings should be – colorful, vibrant, saturated with a rich alternate history.  In our world, the Civil War’s turning point came at the battle of Gettysburg, proceeding towards victory – but in Deadlands, that’s when the dead rose back to life and began devouring both sides.  Turns out some rogue Native Americans, absolutely sick of the white man’s interference, unleashed some havoc in the Hunting Grounds and created a literal hell on earth.  As such, it’s fifteen years later and the North and South are still at war, while lurking horrors grow in every corner.
Deadlands gets the tone perfect with the right word choices – a critical hit is “to the gizzards,” you have Wind and Vigor and Smarts as stats, and you don’t steal, you “Filch.”  The core of the game involves drawing a poker hand and chips from a pot.  You want to feel like you’re a crazy cowboy?  Everything in the game soaks you in that sensation, makes you talk like an old cowhand just to discuss your character sheet.  It is unabashedly brilliant.
And stupidly fucking deadly.
Just fighting other humans would be deadly enough – you only have about 12-20 Wind points, after which you pass out, and every wound you take not only gives you significant penalties to all actions, but you take 1d6 wind.  In my game, one lucky shot was often enough to knock a physically weak character right the hell out.  You have Fate Chips to help fix that, to some extent, but there’s still the very real possibility of going bust – all you have to do is roll more 1s on a couple of dice, and you’ve just screwed the pooch.
Plus, if you’ve got any kind of magic powers, you’re kind of screwed.  The Huckster (who casts spells by drawing poker hands – the better than hand, the more successful the spell, and how insanely awesome is that?) gets Backlash with every Joker he draws, which is to say often.  Mad Scientists have Reliability Rolls.  Your chances of your elaborate superpowers working without having a roll that does damage to you?  Slim.  (Hell, the Huckster’s powers were so unusable out of the box that they had to make an emergency rules change later just to have them survive.)
So you’d be fragile in a normal world… But then you have to face otherworldly horrors.  They make you make Guts checks, and if you fail those, you get permanent paranoias and significant penalties.  They all have superhuman strength, and their magic powers rarely have backlash.  And they usually have some obscure weakness that you can’t kill them permanently without a lot of research to figure out that this flaming monster killing off drunkards used to be a bum who was killed by being set on fire by gang members, so the only way to kill it is to douse it with liquor.
Don’t get too attached, in other words.  You’re going to run through characters like toilet paper.  Hell, even the opening sample of “How the game works” has the sample character die.  Horribly.  (Don’t worry, he comes back.)
If you’re thinking, “Why, this game is like Call of Cthulhu!  You avoid danger at every turn, using magical rituals only when you have to, creeping from place to place as you stay away from the monsters until you dope out the one way to kill them.”
Nope.  The game actually expects you to be heroic, despite all of these easy ways to die. In fact, it expects the GM will cheat, considerably, to ensure that you live.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with “being heroic against dire odds” in a game.  Sometimes, it’s even more heroic when you and your character do Big Damn Hero things despite the fact that living through three sessions is very unlikely.
But the problem with Deadlands is that the setting wants you to do Big Damn Hero things, but the mechanics treat your PCs like tissue paper.  Botching is easy, two wounds in an ambush is likely to take you out, you’ll shit your pants and run whenever the monster raises its ugly head.  The entire mechanics of the game are devoted to making you, as the PC, an incompetent – particularly at the early levels, which is where you all start. (One of our notable Deadlands adventures involved two gunmen falling off a horse, both dying.)
And yet the later adventures assume that your PCs are experienced!  How the hell are you going to get to be experienced?  You’ve given us a 1st Edition D&D campaign, where PCs are expected to die on a regular basis, and then give us a setting that assumes we’ve surpassed your challenges.  How?
Oh, it’s the old trick: You want the GM to save them.  Just have the GM fudge a few rolls, and keep these guys alive.
So why’d you make all of these elaborate rules for GMs to memorize, then?  Why did you make it so complex, with five kinds of dice and poker chips and decks of cards and different-colored paper clips, if in the end it’s all going to come down to “Just make it up”?
I don’t mind deadly.  If I’m running a WWII campaign on Omaha Beach, one gunshot should have the ability to kill.  But then you’re not expecting me to live through the session, either. You’re not expecting me to get through that fight, then fight through Germany, and eventually battle my way through the hordes of guards at Hitler’s bunk to grapple in hand-to-hand combat with a mecha-tank Goering.
As a GM, occasionally, yes, you’ll have to fudge if you want to keep a band of PCs going through a long-term adventure.  But the game system should not assume that you’ll have to do that, nor should it force the GM to fudge on a regular basis.  The mechanics of the game should jine up with the goals of the game – so if you want to have Big Damn Heroes doing impressive things, then you should have rules that encourage that to happen. You don’t have to make it butt-simple easy on the players, but you should make it so that every failed dice roll doesn’t include the strong possibility of death, dismemberment, or insanity – only some of them.
Sad thing, it wouldn’t have taken that much to fix Deadlands.  Making botches more difficult would have been a start, and making the Guts checks a little less onerous would have probably massaged the rest.  But as it is, Deadlands has a beautiful setting, and a game mechanic that’s designed to get in the way of that.  And the mechanics are so unique that I want to run a Deadlands campaign, but I’m not entirely sure which of the many, many mechanics should be shaved and altered to make it encourage what the setting so strongly wants us to do.
As for the rest of you, learn the lesson: have the mechanics of the game line up with your stated goals.

How A LEGO Video Can Teach Us What A Story Is, And Isn't

Here is a seven-minute video showing us several colored balls making their way through a gigantic LEGO-built factory.

The thing is, this seven-minute video is actually a story, expertly contrived to keep our attention all the way through it.  And yet let’s think about everything it lacks that we’re told we need:

  • Dialogue and characterization.  These are blue and orange balls.  They have no motivation as they work their way through the factory.  They don’t care.
  • Emotional progression.  Again, you know, they’re balls.
  • An antagonist.  There is no evil counter-machine trying to keep the balls from their destination.
  • Passion.  The balls have no intent; shoved around by external forces, they are literally as passive as you can get.

Yet there are two elements, both at the beginning, that take this absurdly large machine and hook us so we follow the balls through to the end: first off, the camera pans up and over the length of the machine, showing us how huge it is, and then showing us that there is an end to it after a U-turn in the middle.  This is the literary equivalent of a flash-forward; we now how how and approximately when it will end, but we do not know how we will get there. Without that, we’d most likely think, “This is cool,” but we’d be able to turn off the video at any time; with it, we want to see how it ends.
Likewise, we’re given someone to root for, or at least follow: the handful of differently-colored balls tossed into the machine at the beginning of the journey.  Without a specific set of balls to follow, we’d most likely get lost in the welter of tiny soccer balls, interested in the machine but unable to follow its many machinations.  With the balls, we we now have a protagonist to see how the machine affects an individual.
Those two elements make it into a story, which allows the third element to kick in strongly and lock everything down: there is a clear sense of progression and surprise.  Now that we know the machine has an end, we can see how the balls are kicked by various mechanisms up and down the machine, which is a constant sense of challenge: oh, they’re here?  How does this bit work?  How do we get from this tray up to that high level?  And sure enough, every ten to twenty seconds we’re shown some new and ingenious solution to get the balls out of their dilemma.  And because after about two minutes we become positive that nothing will ever repeat quite the same way twice, we watch to the end.
And as we watch all that, our minds are filled with hidden questions about the backstory behind this: who built this?  How long did it take him?  What kind of a house does he have, that he has all of this clean space to work in?  Why did s/he decide to do this?
The end result is a satisfying story with almost none of the traditional markers.  Which just shows how flexible a story is.  Sometimes, all you need is a literal plot device to kick your leads along, and it can be riveting.

Alternate Explanations

To everyone’s surprise, Joe Biden was the breakout speech at the Democratic National Convention, scoring the biggest Nielsen viewership in either convention.  Yahoo credits this to Joe Biden’s appeal with the elderly.
However, I have my own take on this, as I watched Biden’s speech and Biden alone: I said, “Oh, that convention’s on tonight, I should see what Obama’s going to say.”  Then I tuned in too early and got Joe Biden.  I said, “I’ll stay through Biden, and watch Obama.”  Then Obama came on, and it was the same damn speech I’d heard five billion times before, and I turned it off.
According to the Nielsens, however, I was there to see Biden.  Go figure.