Coldheart and Iron: Part 22


The first few days passed easily enough. I had trouble since my leg was only barely better and my muscles had weakened while I was recovering, but I still managed to stay on my feet the entire time. The two Wayfinders who couldn’t stay on their feet, though, were very grateful that we’d built the sleds a little bigger than we absolutely needed to. The Nomads had no trouble keeping up since we started out a little more slowly, but everyone was feeling worn out by our fifth day. After being able to rest in a warm and safe shelter for so long, even with the reminders of what we’d lost to get that shelter, it was especially difficult to be back to camping in the snow and constantly feeling cold.

I did what I could to keep morale up. I made a point of talking to everyone when we made camp, had very public conversations with Natalie about how great our progress was, and did everything I could to make our shared meals more interesting. However, there wasn’t much I could do since most of our rations where the light-weight, easily prepared kind and there wasn’t a lot of them to go around. We were all on full rations, of course, since we were moving, but there wasn’t much beyond the basic requirements. Nutritional supplements to make sure we got our vitamins, oatmeal, vegetable soups, and small portions of dried fruit and meat. Enough to stay healthy, but not enough to really feel like we were eating.

By the end of the first week, we were all sick of the food. There was no variety to be had, though, so there wasn’t much we could do aside from soaking the dried fruit in the oatmeal overnight and sticking the dried meat into the soup. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried that particular delicacy, but it’s basically a bunch of lumps of wet meat floating in soup. There isn’t much flavor mixing that happens. The whole idea is a lie you tell yourself to make the idea of eating the same food over and over again more appetizing.

Our only real stroke of luck as we traveled was finding a stand of fir trees right along our path on the second day. We took a bunch of branches to tie to the last sled so that they rubbed out some of the tracks we left. There were still signs of passage, of course, but it wasn’t clearly a sled and a bunch of people anymore.

At the end of the second week, we were all starting to get angry. We were still on track for rations and progress, but tempers flared every time we ate. There hadn’t been any scuffles and no one seemed inclined to start one, but the camp was a sea of sullen frowns that made it clear that no one wanted to talk to anyone. Not even my best attempts at charm could persuade anyone to talk or boost morale beyond the melancholic neutral it returned to between meals.

Midway through our third week, I called my first staff meeting. It was a little overdue, but we hadn’t really needed one until Lucas limped over to me at the end of the day and requested a private chat. Once we’d all gathered in our tent, I gestured for him to speak.

“One of the more injured Wayfinders, Morgan, slipped back into a coma today. I think the cold, combined with our general lack of access to proper food and more advanced medical treatment, is going to take them. They’re still responsive, but only barely. I couldn’t get them to eat anything but liquids.”

“Shit.” Camille put her face in her hands. “I thought they were fine?”

“Last I’d checked, Morgan was the more stable of the two.” I looked around at my friends. “What changed?”

“Eighteen days on a sled in the cold is barely enough rations to keep us going is what happened.” Lucas clenched a fist around his crutch and looked down. “It doesn’t help that we all feel useless riding along while you guys haul us around.”

“No, it probably doesn’t.” Natalie leaned forward and placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “Our only other options are to leave you behind or probably rip open your wounds by forcing you walk. Right now, we need to make good time since we’re already two days behind schedule and that’s not going to get any better if we make you limp.”

Lucas closed his eyes for a moment before taking a deep breath and sitting up, moving his shoulder out of Natalie’s reach. Natalie pulled her hand back and sighed. “C’mon, Lucas. It’ll be another ten days at the most. Then we’ll be there, we can take the time to resupply and wait. There’ll be enough space for all of us to get inside again and tons of food. This is one of our exclusive depots, so it should even have one of Cam and Marshall’s food bags in it. That means meat and bread, at least.”

Lucas shrugged and Camille crossed her arms. Before she could start tearing into him, I jumped in. “Lucas, what’s really the matter? You know we’re not leaving you behind and you know that you’re not going to walk for more than an hour before you’d be back on that sled with your recovery set back a week. What’s really going on?”

Lucas looked up at me, his face slack and his eyes more empty than I’d ever seen them before. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Marshall. I think that, when we get back to Chicago, I’m done.”


Lucas looked back down at the ground and folded his hands over his injured leg. Silence reigned for almost a full minute before Natalie cleared her throat, breaking us out of our stunned reverie. “I think that, at the very least, we’re all going to take a long break once we get to Chicago. You’ll have time to rest, Lucas, before you need to for sure make a decision. At the same time,” Natalie turned toward Camille and I, glaring, “will respect whatever decision you make.”

“Of course we will!” Camille nodded, looking indignant. “We all volunteered for this and we love you. We won’t even think less of you! We’re the oldest active Wayfinders by half a dozen years, at least. Most would have retired by now.”

Lucas smiled and a little of the life returned to his face and eyes. While Camille was forcefully positive and Natalie was quietly supportive, I sat back and took it in. Lucas, the best scout I’d ever had and one of my closest friends since I left my parents’ home, was retiring. He’d gotten so worn out that he wanted to quit the organization we’d built together and I hadn’t noticed it was happening.

I folded my hands in my lap and looked down at them, not sure how to feel or what to think beyond the first feelings of guilt for not seeing the trouble my friend was having and the vague, often-ignored thought that I didn’t really have a reason to be out in the tundra anymore. Just as my mind was latching on to that thought, as it started calculating the years everyone I ever knew had been missing and the likelihood of anyone to survive all that time without getting to an enclave where they would have surely heard my name come up as the leader as the most crucial organization to the post-Collapse world, Natalie pulled at my elbow.

“Earth to Marshall. This is Natalie, requesting a comment on recent developments for my story on real life.”

I blinked and gave my head a little shake. “Sorry.” I looked up at Lucas and smiled, refocusing my mind on the friend who’d stuck with me for two decades as I led us all on a fruitless hunt for the people we’d lost. He’d never pushed, but I knew he’d given up on finding anyone well over a decade ago. “Whatever you decide to do, Luke, I’ll support you. I wouldn’t dream of doing anything less for you.”

Lucas’ eyes lit up and he started chuckling. “You all heard that, right? He finally did it. ‘Luke.’ I’ve been trying to get him to call me Luke since the day I met him. Almost thirty years of friendship and he finally dropped his insistence on calling me by my proper name.” Lucas reached up and wiped a couple of tears away. “I love you, you uptight moron.”

After a few hugs and some surreptitious eye-wiping, we all settled in for the night. First thing in the morning, I went to Morgan’s tent to check on them, but I couldn’t find anything I could do to improve their condition. I checked on them throughout the day, but their condition continued to rapidly deteriorate. By midday the next day, they were dead. My pre-lunch check found Morgan with no pulse, so we delayed an extra hour to bury them.

That night, things got worse. A sentry on patrol discovered an open tent flap and, upon investigation, realized that the three occupants were nearly frozen from the cold sweeping in through the gap. We managed to bring them around again, but all three of them, two Nomad children and one of the injured adults, wound up getting incredibly sick. Without the medical supplies the bandits had trashed, we didn’t have anything we could use to treat them. They lingered for a while, a day past when we were supposed to arrive at the depot and three days before we would have access to the medicine they needed, but they all passed away as well. When we finally arrived at our destination, it was a tired, dispirited group of people who finally walked up to the our target, a system of caves, a few hours into the morning as a light dusting of fresh snow started falling from the sky..

After telling the Wayfinders to set up a small perimeter and the Nomads to start unloading our supplies into the first chamber of the caves, I gestured for Natalie to lead the way. In the back of the winding cave system, following a path on a map Natalie produced, there was an old hi-tech bunker that used to belong to some millionaire “prepper” from before the Collapse. The prepper had never used it and, a few years after the Collapse, we’d found it still stocked with food, medical supplies, gadgetry, and batteries. We’d taken all the useful tech and distributed it around the Midwest, but we left all the food and medicine alone. It eventually became our main supply depot, with a group filling it back up once a year and every Wayfinder group that passed through taking stuff from it to resupply the various way stations we’d set up along our travel routes.

The only reason it was still viable at all, though, was because of the caves. The fact that they burrowed deep into the ground blocked all signals from entering or leaving the cave and it’s only connection to the outside world was a solar-powered keypad that unlocked purely mechanical blast doors. Whoever had funded this thing back in the day had been prepared for nuclear fallout and the dangers of EMP. It always amused me that, not only had they failed to use their bunker, the prepper had done everything right for all the wrong reasons.

When I chuckled as we walked finally made it to the bunker doors, Natalie just rolled her eyes. “Every time.”

“Every time. Like a squirrel forgetting a stash of nuts.” I smirked and shook my head. “But let’s just grab the keypad so it can get charged up. I’d like to get inside tonight.”

Natalie punched in the release code and the controller popped off the wall. The battery was dead, but the solar panel on the front was still clean and undamaged. A few hours of charging, maybe less with some direct sunlight, and we’d be good to go.

By the time we got outside, though, the light snowfall had turned into a blizzard. Everyone, even the Wayfinders, had retreated into the cave as powerful gusts of wind whipped the snow up into the air and obliterated any sign that we had passed through the area. It was impossible to see more than ten feet out of the cave and the only light we had came from the LED lanterns a couple of the Nomads held.

“Looks like we’re camping in the caves, tonight.” I sighed as Natalie started directing the Wayfinders. “Grab everything you can carry and follow me into a larger cavern that should be a little warmer. We’ll have to wait until the blizzard has ended to get into the bunker so, until then, make yourselves comfortable.”

A few hours later, after the Nomads had settled in and the Wayfinders had verified the cave system was entirely empty, I met Natalie, Camille, and Lucas in the entry cavern. “Is there any point to leaving that outside?” I pointed to the keypad in Natalie’s hand.

“No.” Natalie shook her head. “And what’s worse is that we’ve only got five days of food if we go on three-quarters rations. If the blizzard doesn’t end before then…”

“We’ll need to forage.” Lucas leaned against the wall of the cavern, looking at the snow. “In a blizzard.”

“Without our best hunters.” Camille folder her arms and joined Lucas is staring at the driving snow blowing past the cave’s entrance. “I could do it, but killing people is my specialty, not sneaking up animals.”

“We’ll figure something out.” I clapped Camille and Lucas on the shoulder. “We’ve got five days. If we start hunting now, we’ll turn up something to augment our supplies. And we’ve still got two scouts in good enough condition to go out if they’ve got someone with them. Don’t make more problems than we already have.” I smiled at them and pulled them back into the caves.

“He’s right.” Natalie made her way to the front of the group. “All we need is a bit more visibility and we should be good. If push comes to shove, if we can’t find any food and the blizzard is still going, I’ve got some ideas we could try.”

“See?” I skipped ahead a couple of steps to catch up to Natalie, wrapped my arm around her shoulders. “We’ll be fine. Let’s get back to where it’s warmer and rest for a few days. Even if the food is still bland, it’ll be nice to catch up on our sleep.” I gave Natalie a quick peck on the cheek and then let go of her. Camille picked up my positivity and Lucas laughed as Camille all but shouted cheerful aphorisms at him. I let the smile linger on my face as it vanished from my mind, replaced by thoughts of Lucas’ impending retirement and my own doubts about continuing as an active Wayfinder.

As we joined up with the rest of the Nomads, I pushed the thoughts out of my head again. This time, they didn’t leave completely. They stayed on the periphery of my mind, waiting for a quiet moment they could sneak into. That night, as everyone but the sentries slept around me, I lay awake and contemplated the past and the future.

Tabletop Highlight: Slogging Through Open War

I’ve always been interested in the idea of a D&D campaign focused around participation in a war. A lot of “classic” D&D campaigns usually include participating in a war, but that’s often tangentially. In version 3.5, the recommended method for including players in a war setting campaign is to give them specialized missions. Stuff like being a strike team sent to seize an important asset, protecting important figures, or capturing important enemy figures. There’s a feat that can be applied to building an army, called “Leadership,” but it is one of the feats that can be most easily abused by an unscrupulous player and all it really does is provide a character with a small army of a few hundred people.

What I’m looking for is to make the players participate in the actual war itself. Giant, sprawling battlefields filled with magic and mighty heroes like something out of an anime. Great battles with terrible consequences for all the poor souls who survived the battle. Rules of conquest, for conquerors and the conquered. The important moments and decisions that are the only things that separate success from failure. Diplomacy to end wars and failure diplomacy to start them. I want something enormous in scale that dice alone don’t really support all that well.

I’ve tried making my own rules. Role-playing through plan making sessions, mixing in a few strike missions to give them something immediate and impactful to do before sending them off to roll a bunch of dice to emulate a day’s worth of combat. Trying to send them into large encounters to have them act as a rallying force to either break through enemy lines or patch up their own lines. Showing how much difference a bard can make by letting them affect as many allies as can hear them over the din of battle and then watching as the relatively minor boost literally turns the tide. Watching the bloody hell that is a wizard or sorcerer unleashed on a battlefield of basic soldiers. The problem has always been that it inevitably breaks down into some rather boring math. There’s no real tension or suspense since the end is pretty much decided from the outset.

For instance, the tank in my current campaign has over 100 HP (the “average” human warrior has 8) and his armor class (how hard it is to hurt him in combat) is 27. Most average human warriors who appear on the battlefield are going to have a spear and a +2 bonus to hitting things and will do 2-9 damage per hit. Which means that, when they roll their die to attack, they will never get a high enough number to hit. If you’re using “natural 20’s” as “critical hits,” then that hit automatically beats whatever AC it’s up against. Statistically, my current campaign’s tank will get hit once out of ever twenty attackers. On the flip side, the same character has a +20 to hit, can hit more than once, and does a minimum of 8 damage per hit. He’ll hit the average warrior every time and kill them every time. If we assume the tank never gets healed, gets hit once every twenty attacks, and is in a position where he can only get attacked once per round of combat (which lasts six seconds), then he’ll get hit once every two minutes for an average of 5 damage, which he’ll be able to do for about an hour before he needs to stop or dies. If he has any kind of protection from damage, which he’d be sensible enough to get in this scenario, he can easily get it down to an average of 2 damage a hit, which means he could keep going about two and a half hours without a break before being overwhelmed. With the healing he can do on his own, he could get himself another hour, at least. With a little pre-planning and the right allocation of magic, he could double all of that, for six hours of fighting and killing. During all this time, he’s killed almost 2,200 enemy soldiers.

The numbers sound nice, but that’s just a talk through of what happened. I could tell him that he did those things, but they wouldn’t really mean much to him because there was no real risk to him and he did nothing terribly exciting. He just slaughtered a bunch of mooks. The same is true of archers. They can stand behind the tank and, with the right boosts, kill a target for every arrow they get to fire. Right now, if the tank’s ally did that, he’d kill almost 5,000 people and that’s without taking a single hit point of damage. After he did that, he could take the tank’s place and then fight for about four hours, bringing his total up to just over 6,000. Throw in a wizard of the right kind and he could probably double that number, over the same ten-hour period. Only the rogue wouldn’t have that level of combat efficacy, but you could easy send him to go kill officers because not even luck will save them from his sneaking abilities. He could easily kill one or more officers or important figures every five minutes. In ten hours, that’s 120 officers or leaders. That’s most of the army’s command.

Throw it all together and you’ve got a pretty typical D&D party taking out an entire army on their own. But it’s boring as hell and there’s no real tension. It’s just numbers on paper. I want more than that. I want to give them a reason to be excited about victories, rather than have them be a foregone conclusion. I want them to feel real fear as they figure out if their character will live or die. Unfortunately, as you can see here, having to chop your way through a bunch of mooks even when you’re already beat up isn’t a big deal. The only tension comes later when you have to fight the guys giving the orders.

Matthew Colville is producing a book for the fifth edition of D&D that’s supposed to include rules for warfare. He apparently uses them in his own games and, after seeing the internet’s response to some of his home rules, he’s now going to share them with us. Having not actually watched any of Colville’s games, I don’t know much about his rules. I’d really like it if they had solutions for the problems I’m facing because I sure as hell don’t. All I’ve got is math and one-off missions that miss the true scope of a war.

In the mean time, I’m going to just stick to large, unwieldy encounters segregated by rooms in towers or castles in lieu of effective warfare rules. It makes it a lot easier when it’s just a bunch of waves for the players to beat down.


The Portal

Timeo stared at the portal, uneasy with the wash of pale light that emanated from it. He’d heard from Gellis there was nothing to fear on the other side of the portal, but Gellis had been through it so many times that he seemed immune to the odd feeling of the light as it lingered on his skin.

Gellis also didn’t seem to notice, but he was a little different after every trip to the outer realm. It was hardly noticeable unless you looked back and saw how much changed happened.

The first time he noticed, Timeo started monitoring everyone who want through the portal. Anyone who was gone for a significant amount of time came back changed in a similar way. The degree of change tended to vary by person, but it was always the same type of change. Timeo was surprised that no one cared when he pointed it out.

“It’s fine. Nothing to worry about.” they’d tell him. He wanted to believe them, but he’d done his research and new that what they told him wasn’t true. His presentations and appeals fell on deaf earths. Fennrel actually laughed at him.

Today was the day, though. Timeo could no longer put off going through the portal. If he did not contribute to the enclave’s well-being, he would be cast out. And then they’d force him through the portal, anyway. Today, he had an appointment with his destiny.

After making sure all of his gear was prepared, Timeo took a deep breath, opened the glass shield, and stepped through the portal. The sun beat down on him, various creatures screamed into the air, and Timeo took his first breath of fresh air. Resolute despite the cancer-causing orb in the sky, Timeo strode off toward his first day of college.

Saturday Morning Musing

No matter where you live, what you do, or who you are, there’s a lot going on in the world these days. The only way you can escape it is if you’re being willfully ignorant that the world is going slightly (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bit of a tendency to understate things) crazy and that only works for upper-middle class white dudes and rich people. Even then, it probably still intrudes on your life because global politics and the constant stream of fear and anxiety pumped into the world by modern “journalism” are almost impossible to get away from unless you cut off all human contact, including the internet. Especially the internet.

I don’t really want to go into all of what’s going on, because I honestly can’t escape it and I don’t have anything new to add to it. All my thoughts and feelings have already been said and probably been said better than I could with the energy I’ve got right now. It’s really wearing me down to be spending the vast majority of my time trying to keep track of what’s going on from as many sources as possible so I can hopefully uncover the truth of what’s happening. Even then, I know it’s mostly impossible without being a first-hand witness to most of what is going down because there’s bias not just from individual sources, but from entire groups of people based on what kind of group they are or if they’re reacting to something in particular.

I spend so much time and energy trying to follow what is going on, picking the battles to fight, and doing everything I can to advocate for human decency and respect of all non-shitty life (sorry, shitty lifeforms, I’ve got no time for you) that I barely have the energy left for doing my daily writing. Things were different when I had a significant other. The world would fade away a bit when we were together and I couldn’t help but forget everything else for a bit. Now that I don’t have that, I’m relying on myself to take breaks when I need them and I’m actually really bad at that. If I do not have something that requires me to take a break or to rest for a while, I will not take a break. I will keep working or procrastinate until there’s no point in working and then feel terrible about not having done any work. In the past three weeks, last night was the first time I consciously decided not to do any writing work and just read a book instead of fretting about my blog or the book projects I haven’t touched in months.

I realize this isn’t healthy. I need to be able to rest and I shouldn’t rely on someone else to pull me away from my work long enough to unwind. I need to figure out how I can pull myself away from my work and to find ways to rest. Video games, reading, and TV don’t always work and sitting around by myself is often more likely to be a recipe for anxiety and stress than rest. Even meditation isn’t a sure-fire help these days since I’m still caught up in the feelings of my breakup and struggling with the daunting task of trying to date again. Any time I try to quiet my mind, thoughts of what I used to have or of how much I struggle to meet new people intrude. It’s daunting and frustrating.

Even when I do manage to relax or to avoid thinking about my relationship status, the news inevitably intrudes. I’ll get a phone notification that someone tweeted something about someone doing something dumb or that some government official is now royally screwed because something leaked except they’re totally not because all the people who give a fuck are spineless or powerless. The few times that doesn’t happen, or that I remember to silence my phone, thoughts about the very scary potential futures ahead of the world intrude. There’s no escaping just how shitty the world is when it affects me and all of the people I care about on such an enormous scale that it’s nearly impossible to contextualize just how screwed we all might wind up being.

It doesn’t help that so many people are constantly reminding everyone that being scared or tired or feeling unable to cope is exactly what the shitty people want. Sure, taking a rest is a good idea and we should probably all do that, but so many people lose urgency when they rest and people giving up is actually what the shitty people want. They want us to stop. If we’re intimidated or worn out and stop, that’s what they want. If we’re resting and miss something important, that’s also what they want. I’d love nothing more than to be able to constant rage against the shitty people with the burning passion of a million stars fueled by the wildest dreams of poets and artists across the universe, but that’s a bit more than I can manage. No single person could contain that much power and, so far, even the best coordinated groups have proven themselves unable. Someday, someone might be able to channel that amount of strength into their righteous fury and wipe away the taint caused by shitty people, but that day is not this day.

It’s a nice mental image, but that’s all it is. If things are going to change, it’ll take a lot of people working together toward a common goal. In the mean time, I’m going to try to figure out how to rest up on the few days I can’t fight for my goals and human decency any further. I don’t think the problem is working up to the point of wanting to collapse that’s the problem (and no, that’s not me trying to justify working myself ragged), I just really need to figure out how to actually rest on the days I’m not working on whatever.

Anyway, try to not be a shitty human today and every day. Work towards the common good. Rest when you need it but don’t forget there’s a fight going on. And so on. Keep it up.

Chasing Down Words

Some days, I just run out of words.
I watch them flee like a flock of birds
Thrown to wing by some hidden fear
As deafening silence draws near.

Some days, I only catch a few.
The rest stay just out of view
As I spend my time hunting down
That one specific hidden noun.

Some days, I catch all I could want.
I walk away feeling nonchalant
Only to eventually find
The empty pen they left behind.

Some days, I build elaborate traps.
I make complex plans and draw maps
So I can make sure I get my fill
Even if they’re mostly swill.

Some days, I catch words with ease.
I can have as many as I please
Because they cluster around me
As if they just want some company.

Some days, there are too many to stand.
They tug and pull and angrily demand
Everything I have to give,
Like they don’t care if I die or live.

Chasing down words is a lot of work.
Even if I choose to wait and lurk
Instead of constantly giving chase
I always wind up in a race.

Eventually, I have to make do
With whatever words I could accrue
In my day’s painstaking labor.
Some days, I just run short.

The Overwatch League Finals Approach!

Tomorrow evening, at 6pm local time, the team I’ve supported since their very first game, the Philadelphia Fusion, are going to be facing off against the London Spitfire in the first of three possible matches for the title of Season 1 champions of the Overwatch League. After an unexpected strong first round and a shocking sweep of the top-rated team in the league in the second round, the Fusion are facing against the next-lowest ranked team in the championship. That’s right. The two lowest seeded teams, Fusion and Spitfire, are facing off in the championship. I’d say it was a surprising turn of events, but such upset are honestly kind of common place in season 1 of the Overwatch League.

Time and time again, the general perception of the best teams, the favorites to win each stage of the season, has been thrown aside as some underdog or another rises up to shake up the top ranks. The only exception to that has been New York, who has sat at the top of the league for the entire season and has made it into the stage finals every time. It got to the point where I stopped watching because there was no longer any consistency. Every match was a giant ball of suspense because almost every team had a surprising victory or record-altering streak of victories. In fact, the only thing about the league that has been consistent is that New York wins a dumbly high number of matches and that the Shanghai Dragons never won a single match. For instance, the initial favorite to carry the league was the Seoul Dynasty. That expectation ended rather abruptly in the first stage and they never even made it into the playoffs. Even my favorite team, the Fusion, couldn’t manage to do more than jog up and down the standings as they won against fearsome foes like New York (they were the first team to actually beat New York) and then lose to some of the lowest ranked teams in the league who have only a handful more victories than the Shanghai Dragons.

It has been an intense and harrowing journey, let me tell you! Sure, the reason we watch sports is because it gets us fired up about something we care about. Suspense is good! We love it when we see our team land a win that could have easily been a loss. But most sports don’t occur with as much frequency as e-sports do and even then we have certain general expectations about our teams performance that help us set our expectations for what we’ll see. No one expects the Browns to go to the Super Bowl and so their fans don’t really feel as beaten down when they eventually lose. In the Overwatch League, a high-performing team can wind up sitting at the bottom of the roster from one stage to another. They can absolutely kick butt against one team and then get absolutely destroyed by another team despite there not being much of a shift strategy. There’s not even a consistency in their wins and losses. Players change all the time as certain people are bench so a new approach can be tried, but that’s still a poor indicator of success or failure. An individual player’s stats don’t even mean that much because they could carry their team to victory on one map and then wind up holding them back on the next one. There are too many factors at play to spot patterns.

I really hope the league gets a little more consistent in the future. And I’m not talking about places in the rankings so much as overall performance. If a team starts rising, they should get to a point where they’re more or less bumping up against similarly skilled teams on the rankings. The best teams should rise to the top and the teams who can’t get it together should sink.

That being said, e-sports are relatively new and it would be kind of foolish to expect the same analytics, predictors, and measures of strength to apply to Overwatch that people would used to measure baseball. I prefer consistency and dependability, but that’s not really the point of video games. Since they’re still so new and rely on every-changing physics, rules, and worlds, any team that can figure out an edge first can get an upper hand against their opponents. Any team can go from the bottom of the rankings to the top because there’s just so much that changes from time to time. Imagine how crazy baseball would get if one team figured out how to double the speed of their runners or how to identify when the pitcher was throwing a slider every single time without fail. That team would probably rise up before people figure out what they were doing an either adopted their skills or found a way to negate them.

I expect that, given time, the Overwatch League will eventually sort itself out. As more teams are added and the e-sport grows, I’m sure it’ll fall into a comfortable groove with reasonable expectations that still allow for surprise upsets and some teams occasionally shifting ranks around. That, or I hope they wind up spacing the matches out so I’m not committing six hours a night, four nights a week to trying to watch them. I wouldn’t have minded as much if they’d done a total of six or even eight matches a week instead of the current twelve. There’s just so much constant suspense and surprise that I can’t really stand it. Even when I watched more closely, I usually just had it on the background as I worked on something else. It’s so exhausting to get caught up in the energy of a match only to have it suddenly reversed when a team that should be winning suddenly loses with no clear reason as to why. As someone who has watched a lot of Overwatch, played a lot of Overwatch, and is really good at finding patterns, I can say that sometimes teams just lose and it isn’t necessarily because they’re performing poorly or their opponents are performing well. That’s usually the reason, but not always. Sometimes, they just do one dumb thing and they lose momentum. Or their tank dives in only to die instantly (literally a thing that used to happen to the Fusion more frequently than I could stand).

I like the way the championship competitions have been organized. Fewer matches a day and often with skips in between the days. I’ve been able to enjoy it a lot more when I don’t have another entire 3 match set, at two hours per match, to watch the next day. I’ve been able to focus more on the strategies the teams have used, what tricks have worked for them and what daring ploys did not. You can really learn a lot if you watch the pros play and know enough to really grasp what they’re doing. I know I do.

Regardless, I’m super excited to watch my team take a shot at the title and million-dollar prize that comes with it. I’d love to see them win after all the hard work they’ve put in to get this far into the championship. If they do, I might finally spend some tokens and get a second Philadelphia Fusion skin in Overwatch. They look kinda gross because they’re a deep, glossy orange, but I gotta show my love for the team that’s come way further than I ever expected them to.

U.S. Football in the Future

It all started with a tweet. I’d been browsing Twitter while waiting for my pizza to finish cooking and one of the people I follow closely had retweeted Jon Bois’ tweet (the one linked above, if you haven’t looked at it yet). Curious about what some random guy though the future of football (specifically, U.S. football which shall be referred to as “football” in the rest of the review) would hold and interested because of what seemed like a bit of a weird comment in the retweet, I decided to click the link. I caught a glimpse of something weird further down the article and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to scroll down for a look and, instead, started reading the article to figure out what was going on. When I finally started scrolling down, I had a moment of panic followed by several long minutes of confusion. Thankfully, everything became clear in time.

Honestly, I recommend you go look at that link if you haven’t already. Just go, read through the first bit of the article linked in the tweet, and then follow through until you’ve got to click on something to get to the next part. The first steps of this journey were so much fun to discover on my own that I don’t want to take that away from you. Go, click the link, and then come back here once you get to the end of the first bit and you can then read the rest of my review without worrying about having anything spoiled for you. Seriously. I’ve only got so much ability to take up space here before I run out of things to say and get down to writing the rest of this review which will include spoilers. Well, spoilers for the first part. After that, I won’t be revealing any further spoilers and, honestly, this story doesn’t really have spoilers. There’s no major mystery to be uncovered, no real plot to develop. It’s an article. A think piece. Something to make you wonder.


Because the entire thing is a story about the purpose and changes to football for an imaginary future set some 15,000 years in the future after Humanity suddenly stopped aging, being born, and dying.  All of which is relayed to you through characters who turn out to be satellites that, through the millennia, gained sentience and now just kinda hang out in space, chat with each other, and check out the games people are playing on Earth. Turns out, football changed a lot after people became effectively immortal, what with the end of entropy (so no one ages or dies of “natural causes”) and the installation of a nano-tech safety net that keeps people from accidentally dying or intentionally killing people. It is no cross-country football and some games take decades to complete. Part of the story even covers a game going on for over 10,000 years. The first game is shown as one of the players runs toward a tornado. As it turns out, their strategy was to get sucked up into a F5 tornado and then thrown in a random direction in order to lose the defenders that had been closing in on her. She wouldn’t get hurt because the nano-tech safety net would cushion her fall and keep her safe from getting hit by debris in the tornado.

There are a lot of rules in football that are still the same, such as tackling, turn over, downs, etc, but a lot that clearly aren’t. There’s a whole section devoted to discussing how the rules changed and how they have kept changing. It turns out that the first huge changes happened during an NFL game where one of the teams discovered they had the legal ability to claim ownership of part of the field. That led to teams fracturing into smaller teams who then claimed ownership of other parts of the field, which lead to a game that can’t end because no one can reach an end zone, no one knows where the football is, and there are residential buildings, skyscrapers, and grocery chains in the way. And people still show up to watch. The interesting part is how the game is used as a metaphor for the development of humanity. The rules started fairly simple, but they grew more and more complex as people tried to wring more specificity and personal benefit out of the rules until it got to the point where people were outright exploiting the overly convoluted rules for individual gain rather than to support their team or the sport as a whole.

My favorite part of this whole series of articles was that it was more of a story about human potential, the quirks of humanity, and the way we all search for meaning even when it seems like ever self-assigned meaning is meaningless. In this distant sci-fi future, humanity rose to their utmost potential and hit a wall. There was nowhere else for them to go now that all of their problems were solved (since immortality and sustainability mean there’s no reason to compete and living forever really gives people the incentives to take care of their world and the whole race) and it turns out that there’s not much in space but distant chunks of rock covered in various non-intelligent stuff. Sure, immortal humans could travel the universe since their speed doesn’t really matter, but they don’t want to, just like they don’t want flying cars and perfectly peaceful, easy lives. Humanity doesn’t want everything to be super easy or always new. They want old, familiar things for the most part. They want the life they’ve known and to eventually reach a point where things don’t change that much. They want to watch weird football games, have a decent day, and struggle with relatively minor problems like stubbed toes and disgusting hamburgers at Burger King.

The whole piece, disguised as a discussion about futuristic football, is really a think piece about meaning and the future. There’s plenty of football references and the like, but it’s mainly used as a widely available reference for metaphors about trying to find meaning in existence. Immortal humans created a set of rules for a football game that has been going on over 10,000 years, but that hasn’t majorly changed in years because all the players are stuck in a gorge, unable to climb out because the cliffs are too steep to climb when you’ve got people trying to pull you back into the water. There’s a guy who is hiding in a cave for ten thousand years so his team wins by default since their score is so far down that there’s no chance of them making up the difference and he keeps himself entertained using those little handheld sports games from the nineties. There are humans whose goal is to meet everyone they possibly can. They create all kinds of games and rules, giving themselves difficult, time-consuming goals to pursue so that there’s some point to every day they will live through.

The whole piece, whose inner depths and interpretations I’ve barely scratched, will take you a couple of hours to experience. There are videos, long bits of text, doctored images, 3D modeled bits, and a lot of big thoughts to consider, all told through the story of Pioneer 9, the spacecraft, finally achieving sentience and wondering what the hell is going on after all this time. The multimedia presentation of the piece can be a bit difficult to take in all at one, so I suggest taking your time with it rather than trying to read it all in one go like I did. Despite that, it is still an incredibly clever bit of writing and arrangement that was a ton of fun to read and experience. I suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 21


Ultimately, we weren’t able to come up with a better solution than to tie our injured people to sleds. We had plenty of great ideas, even without Jonathan’s encyclopedic knowledge to guide us, but we had a severe lack of any kind of materials. Before the Collapse and the ensuing winter, this town had been mostly residential, catering to people passing through on their way to larger towns and the mega farms that used to coat this part of the midwest. There wasn’t a single electric engine to be found in the city and, even if we’d had gasoline, a combustion engine would make us the target of literally everything for miles around, so none of the tractor repair shops could help us.

All of our great ideas were useless, so we stuck to building light-weight wooden sleds with wide runners. They were much bulkier than our typical supply sleds, but we needed to put children and injured adults on them so they had to be. The upside of this was that multiple people could now pull a sled, allowing us to put a little more weight on them than we’d been able to do with the supply sleds. There’d be no mistaking the trail for anything but a large group of people, but we had enough guns and ammo to spray bullets at every problem until they went away.

Material gathering and design took a day, and sled production began in earnest three days after we buried our friends. I’d done some carpentry when I was younger, so I was able to lend our engineer, Jackson, a hand with overseeing the rest of the Wayfinders. We also had a Nomad who used to be a construction carpenter, so we finished the sleds a week before we had to leave.

It felt nice to be able to limp into the small storage room Natalie, Lucas, Camille and I used as our command center with good news. As I hobbled in the door, I smiled at my three friends and waved my free arm triumphantly. “All of the sleds are finished and have passed their preliminary drag tests. We can get four people on a single sled and we should be able to pull all of the Nomad children on one and the injured Wayfinders and supplies on the other without straining ourselves.”

Natalie looked up from her maps and reports. “Eight people? We’re not going to get much in the way of rotation if we need eight people per pulling shift.”

“Sure, but that should mean the shifts can be longer.” I stroked my beard for effect before tossing out the plan I came up with during the drag tests. “Or we can create two groups of two pullers per sled, so we can have five groups per sled rather than just the two. Two hours of pulling followed by three hours of just walking means that they only have to pull four hours out of our ten-hour schedule.”

Natalie absently nodded. “Ten hour days are the minimum, but they should get us there with a week of three-quarters rations to spare, even with the children sticking to full rations.”

“Plus, we won’t need to keep injured adults on the sleds the entire time.” Lucas leaned forward and gingerly tapped the swath of bandages around his leg. “I’ll be good to go about a week out from here, at the latest. Tim and Miles probably won’t be good to walk until after we get to the depot, but everyone else should be by the time I am.”

Camille snorted. “If you’re healed enough to walk before the depot, I will literally kiss my own ass.”

“I’m telling you, this isn’t as bad as it looks!” Lucas slapped his leg waved his crutch at Camille. “I’m just babying it so I can heal faster. Better than Marshall who is up and walking on his leg constantly.” Lucas stabbed his crutch at me and I shrugged. “He won’t even sit down for the end-of-day briefing.”

I shot a guilty look at the chair Camille had set out for me, but shook my head. “I have been sitting all day in the woodshop or the yard. If I have to sit through this, I’m going to gnaw my feet off in frustration. Plus, I haven’t accidentally burst my own stitches twice since getting sewn up and I didn’t get all the muscles in my thigh shredded by a poorly made bullet.”

Lucas opened his mouth to retort, but Camille cut him off. “Tiffany and I have been keeping watch. We haven’t seen any signs of the bandits and Laborers we sent away and I wasn’t able to find a trace of them in the city less than four days old. I’m guessing they moved somewhere else. I couldn’t tell you where, but I know it isn’t the direction we’re going.”

I took a deep breath and nodded. “Good. Did you still want extra guards? Now that the sleds are built, we won’t need as many people to finish up our last few building projects.”

“Yeah. Even just two people would be great. I’d like to cut down on the length of the shifts Tiff and I are taking and I’ve got a personal project I’d like to work on before we leave.”

“Yeah?” I arched my eyebrows.

“Yeah.” Camille crossed her arms. “It shouldn’t take more than a handful of days, even if I don’t lose any sleep or shifts to it.”

“What is it?” I waggled my eyebrows, trying to get a reaction from Camille. Lucas chuckled as he always did, but Natalie didn’t even look up from her papers.

“You’ll see.”

“Am I going to regret giving you permission?”

“Probably not. I think you’ll enjoy the end result, even if it’s going to be a little dangerous.”

“How dangerous?”

“If I set things up right, and I always do,” Camille leaned forward and looked me right in the eyes, face serious as she ignored my bouncing eyebrows, “it will be perfectly safe to all of our people and one hundred percent lethal to the bandits who come racing back in here as soon as they know we’ve left.

“Ah.” I stopped wiggling my eyebrows and Lucas’ chuckles cut off. “Let me know if you need more than two guards so you can get that done. I’d prioritize it higher, if you can.”

Natalie looked up. “Really?”

“Yes.” I glanced at Natalie. “I don’t want to run the risk that this place goes back to being a base for people preying on people traveling through here.” I turned my attention back to Camille, my face a match for hers. “Whatever it takes.” Camille simply nodded.

“Great!” Lucas hauled himself to his feet and settled his weight on his crutch. “Now that we’ve gotten everything sorted out for today, I’m going to grab some dinner and hit the hay. I’m bushed.”

Natalie nodded and started picking up her papers. I gave her a hand while Camille pushed all of the chairs to the side of the room. While I helped Natalie sort through the messy pile we’d made, Camille helped Lucas out of the room and shut the door behind her. Abandoning the pretense of being busy, I reached out and embraced Natalie. She hugged me back before firmly pushing me in the chair I’d been ignoring.

“Let’s get your leg checked out.”

“I can do it just fine, thank you.” I set my crutch aside and started rolling up my pant leg.

“No, you idiot.” Natalie slapped my hand away. “You’re going to pull all your bandages off if you roll it up. You need to take your pants off.”

“Only if you take off yours.” I winked at Natalie.

Natalie chuckled but shook her head. “Not right now. I’ve got to oversee rationing for dinner and check out our medical stores. I need to know how much longer you’re going to need bandages.”

“Oh, I see how it is.” I pulled my belt off and slid down my pants. “You’re just interested in what’s in my pants, not me.”

“Yep.” Natalie poked at my leg and peeled back a couple of my bandages to inspect the healing wounds behind them. “That’s me. Only interested in one thing. Definitely not concerned with your well-being at all.”

“I bet you say that to all the injured people who let you into their pants.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice. Now put your pants back on. We can check your injuries again later, once I’m finished updating all our stock logs with the supplies we retrieved today.” Natalie winked at me.

I sighed as I carefully pulled my pants back up and cinched my belt tight. “If you want. I’m still pretty wiped so I don’t know if I’ve got enough in me for more than jokes tonight.”

“Marshall!” Natalie gasped in mock surprise as she helped me to my feet, temporarily taking the place of my crutch as we hobbled toward the door. “You really are getting old!”

I laughed and hugged her tightly before stepping out the door and putting my weight back on my crutch. “Maybe I am! Only time will tell, if it hasn’t already.”

Natalie patted my arm and kissed me on the cheek before rushing off to the supply rooms and kitchen with her neat stack of papers. I hobbled after her, a bit more slowly, and waited in the mess hall for whatever dinner tonight’s cooks managed to cobble together.

The next six days passed in a blur. I took up a couple of guard rotations between shifts helping build crates, repair packs, and create tents to replace the ones that had been lost during our capture. Camille disappeared entirely for two days, only to reappear and refuse to answer questions about where she went. Lucas’ wound continued to heal slowly and the two heavily injured Wayfinders finally stabilized to the point of not needing constant observation. By the time we packed up to leave, it was our last night and we were all looking forward to our last properly cooked meal before we ventured out into the cold.

It was a somber affair, as it wound up as a cross between a memorial dinner for the people we lost and a last chance to eat well before the cold and snow forced us to live off of pre-cooked or dried meat and whatever grains we could soak in snowmelt. It was a quiet, sleepy group that set out the following morning, but I could tell everyone was ready to move on. We’d lost a lot, getting here, and everyone just wanted to find someplace safe they could rest until the pain of our losses had started to fade.

Until then, we had four weeks of travel between us and the depot with only five weeks of supplies. Five weeks beyond that lay the safety and shelter of Chicago. If we weren’t delayed, we’d make it with a week and a half before the next storm was supposed to pass. If we were delayed, we were probably going to get caught in a blizzard and wind up dead. It was a sobering thought, but I had faith in Natalie’s plotting. Nothing short of a complete disaster could affect her overall plan and, knowing her, she’d build in enough extra time to account for two such disasters.

I tried to project that confidence as we set out, but it was difficult to do that while strapping a few injured Wayfinders to a sled reminding them that they were responsible for watching our backs. My limp didn’t help, either. I didn’t need a crutch anymore and we’d replaced the few stitches I had with superglue, but it still hurt to move around too much so I was constantly fighting the pain. I’m pretty sure all I projected was a slight amount of frustration mixed with determination to get moving.

Thankfully, everyone seemed to be on the same page so we managed to get under way quickly. We had a long way to go, but it immediately seemed shorter once we got moving. I felt everyone’s spirits lift as we left the town and people saw how easily the sleds moved. In fact, as we completed our first mile outside the city, people started to seem downright happy.

Just as I was about to call out a shift change, though, there was a tremendous explosion behind us, followed shortly by the “whump” of the blastwave flying past us. Thankfully, all it did was startle everyone and knock a couple people over. As the Nomads ran to their children to quiet them, I turned to Camille.

“They didn’t wait very long.” Camille gestured over her shoulder at the giant cloud of smoke rising towards the sky. “They had a lot of dynamite stored up for digging out the underground areas. Now, there’s none left.” Camille shrugged and smiled. “And now there’s no more bandit base.”

I watched the cloud of smoke for a moment longer before turning my attention back to my people. “Alright, first shift change. Let’s get back to moving again. I don’t want stick around to find out what shows up to investigate that explosion.” I saw a few heads nod and, a few moments later, everyone was moving forward again, even faster than before. No one else wanted to find out, either.

Tabletop Highlight: Up For Interpretation

One of the things I’ve struggled with for my entire time as a DM is how to interpret what my players say. In this case, I mean everything from trying to parse vague statements so I can correctly describe my players actions to stuff like determining whether or not the player said the character did something versus having them assess the likelihood of success if they go ahead with that idea. Meaning has gotten fairly easy to ascertain at this point and I’ve learned how to ask them for clarification without giving them information they shouldn’t have, but I’m realizing more and more that the different between thinking out loud and making their character recklessly charge into a situation is mostly on me.

Before my current campaign, this wasn’t something that came up a lot. Since I preferred to run comedic campaigns, I just did whatever the group would find funniest so long as it was actually something they meant to say. Usually, players are pretty good at making it clear when something is a joke their character would never actually do and when it’s something they actually want to happen. Even if it is, most players in my shits-and-giggles campaigns understand that they might need to roll up a new character at any point in time and don’t get too emotionally attached to them. Even if it winds up costing them their character, they’re usually fine with it as long as it’s funny and I’m good at coming up with comedic but nonlethal consequences, so it usually doesn’t come to that.

In my current campaign, (which I’ve taken to calling “Broken Worlds” because the planes of my universe have been shattered by the war between the Good deities and the Evil deities so that only a handful are left in a precarious balance that could send all of existence spiral out of existence at the drop of a pinhead full of dancing angels), the stakes are a little bit higher and my players have more restrictive concepts for their characters. Laughter is always appreciated and silly situations make for excellent sessions, but they’re not going to break character in order to make a joke or exploit some comedic potential. They want to stay true to how their character would act and are more interested in the drama and risk of their current situation than a chance to make a joke. Here, my interpretation of their intent, when it comes to them discussing actions or plotting the course of action their character carries out, matters a lot. It is the difference between spending two in-game (and real-world) hours trying to burn down a wooden door and them spending a minute trying to unlock it.

If you started watching Matthew Colville’s videos on Running the Game, he says that he’s fine giving his players (and their characters) information that they either should know as a result of living in the world or that they’d be able to easily ascertain (that they wouldn’t need to use a skill check to know). I agree entirely, but I draw the line at redirecting their course of action when they’re making assumptions. For instance, anyone who looked at the aforementioned wooden door would have seen that it had a latch and a lock without needing to make a skill check. It is clear as day that the door is locked. To determine the type of lock and whether or not the door has any kind of magical or physical protection, they would need to make a skill check. If they decide that, upon hearing it is a wooden door, that they’re just going to build a bonfire in an attempt to burn it down, I won’t stop them. If I describe something they’re inspecting and they miss it because they aren’t paying attention, then I’m not going to stop them from doing something dumb. That’s an important learning experience for them.

Similarly, how they frame things is important. If they say they go do something, their character has gone and made an attempt at doing whatever it is they said. If they say they’re going to do something, I’ll cut them a little slack. For instance, if the rogue says he turns invisible, dives into the murky water, and positions himself at the last-known location of the octopus they’re preparing to kill, then his character has vanished and then jumped into the water. If he says that he’s going to do that, then I’ll let his fellow players stop him or tell him something the character would know that the player does not which might influence his decision.

I’m not an ass about it. I’ve made it clear to my players that their intent matters and they need to be more circumspect about how much time they spend dithering about or making plans. I even let it slide for the first five levels and gave them a little speech before I started. I was incredibly clear that I was expecting a little more from them and what exactly I was expecting. There’s no way they could spend two hours of real-world time discussing how to attack the next room without some time passing in the game. And if they take two in-game hours to burn down a wooden door they could have unlocked, then there’s a really good chance the people behind the door are going to be prepared for them. I could have just told them the door had a lock, but none of them checked the door for a lock and no one was listening when I told them it was a simple, locked wooden door with iron banding. As much as I love my players, I’m not going to take them time to re-describe something when they weren’t listening the first time unless they actually ask me to do so.

There’s no hard and fast rule about this sort of thing. If you’ve got more experienced players, they probably expect to be taken at their word. They’ll frame things as questions, ask for more details as needed, and try to make quick decisions–be warned: not all experienced players learn this skill. They’re generally good at making their intent crystal clear. If you have newer players, they’ll probably hesitate more and might not be good at policing their expressed intent versus their actual intent. Some players take longer than others and some new players just get it right off the bat. Some games don’t really care as much about punishing people for not being cautious and some don’t really require that much focus on people’s intent because the situations in the game don’t really leave much room for interpretation. There aren’t many ways you could misinterpret fighting a bunch of orcs.

As always, the big thing is to reflect on how it might fit into whatever game you’re running or how you play your character. There’s a lot of room in D&D for being a bit of a word-lawyer. My favorite point to make to DMs as a player is that you don’t need to make a bluff (the skill that lets you lie) check if you’re not actually lying. Most of my characters develop a certain amount of skill for skirting the true as it suits them and my favorite villains to play are the clever ones who get captured. Wordplay is one of my favorite games and not everyone spends their free time practicing how to artfully arrange words so I don’t really expect my players to take things to that level. I just give them a slap on the wrist when they do something dumb. I’ll never give them an impossible situation as a result of their poor decisions, but I will make things much more difficult for them.

After all, what’s the point of playing a game like D&D if doing something dumb doesn’t run the risk of getting you killed? There’d be no tension if they knew they’d be able to take back any wrong decision they make or that there were no consequences for taking too long. If you constantly leave the dungeon to replenish your spells and rest, then the dungeon is going to prepare for your return. They’ll be ready and waiting for you, this time, and heaven–or what’s left of it–help you if you leave again.

What A Headache

Ed woke with his head throbbing in pain. Someone was banging on something, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from, so he looked for the source.

His shelves held their usual dusty allotment of trophies and books. His dresser was covered in dirty clothes and the TV on it was showing the logo of his DVD player, as it always did after he fell asleep watching it. His desk was covered in junk mail he hadn’t gotten around to shredding and a neat stack of bills he hadn’t paid yet.

Guilt picked at him, but he dismissed it. He already tried to get extensions and they’d work it out eventually. It’s not like he had much they could take.

The banging hadn’t gone away, so Ed climbed to his feet to go looking for it. When he stood up, his foot caught on something. As he turned to look, his door burst open and his roommate flew in.

“Dammit, Ed!”

Ed winced. “Even if I don’t have rent yet, that’s no reason to break down my door.”

Matthew dashed past him and Ed turned around to see Matthew start giving CPR to someone. A wave of shock swept through him as he realized Matthew was giving CPR to him, but it quickly passed.

Ed watched, curious despite himself, and unable to muster up more than vague apprehension about Matthew’s attempts to save his life. After a minute, Matthew’s screams for an ambulance and demands that Ed stay faded to grunts. A few minutes later, when the EMTs arrived, Ed realized what had happened.

“Sleep apnea.” Ed shook his head. “I really should have gotten that checked out.” Ed drifted towards the window to watch his body get hauled away. “At least I don’t have to pay my bills.”