Today is My Birthday

After a certain point in high school, I haven’t been super fond of my birthday. To be honest, I never really dissected that. I don’t know if I ever spent any energy on why I’m decidedly neutral on the subject of my birthday before today. I’m all about other people’s birthdays and throw myself into celebrating them as much as I can with my limited means and social energy. But not mine. I like to mark them, sure, but mostly by gathering my friends around me to do something like we’d do any weekend. Hang out, go hiking, play D&D, maybe watch a movie or play a game together. Hell, last year I got a cake to celebrate moving day two weeks after my birthday and otherwise pretty much forgot on my own birthday.

If I’d had to say why I wasn’t very interested in my birthday before a couple of years ago, I’d have said that I’d rather celebrate personal achievements. Sure, birthdays are a celebration of life, but I’d rather just do that as a part of living it rather than taking a day to specifically celebrate a particular life. I didn’t really want attention back then and I much preferred to do things on my own terms than try to accommodate people’s desire to mark my birthday. I wouldn’t stop them, of course, I was never that much of a Grinch, but I wasn’t about to encourage it.

Now, I see that birthdays are a chance to let people celebrate you. Structure is super nice and while we should let people we care about know that we appreciate them all year long, it’s still nice to use their birthday as a bit of an excuse to make a production of it. To kick it up a notch or do something special just for them. Which is why I’m more interested in other people’s birthdays than my own. I like letting people know I appreciate them. Any resistance I currently feel to celebrating my birthday is because August has never really been that great of a month for me and I don’t really keep track of my life in terms of years. Sure, I know my age, but that stopped being a measurement of my growth a long time ago and now I keep track of time since big events.

My life has had a lot of big events and there are definitely a few that are sort of definitive moments that I know had a big impact on my life. Looking back on them, I can see how my life would have been incredibly different if I’d made a different choice and how the choices I made contributed to me being the person I am today. There’s a wide variety of events and while reflection on my life is the purpose of this birthday post, I’m not going to go deeply into all of them. Some of them were moments I don’t want to share because they mean more to me for being private or because I don’t feel ready to share them.

The first one, and one that actually was two forks disguised as one, was my parents telling my three siblings and I that they were going to have another children who would wind up being twelve years younger than me. I fell out of my chair laughing and wound up being almost a third parent to my younger sister since my dad worked a lot and my mother was homeschooling us at the time so she needed all the help she could get. I eventually realized that this was the moment that I decided to deal with the crazy randomness of life and (mis)fortune by laughing instead of crying. There’s more behind that, but this isn’t the post to go into it. I also realized that I enjoy taking care of and teaching people. It really helped me to learn to cope positively and how to be patient and compassionate.

The second is not something I’m willing to write about in any detail online, but I learned how I respond in a crisis and that there’s a certain part of me, beneath the compassion and desire to just love people that will stay firm and act when I feel like I don’t have any other choice.

The third was the college I chose. I grew more than I thought possible, in ways I never expected, and learned things I never knew I didn’t know. I met a lot of amazing people, a handful of terrible people, and discovered that we’re all the heroes of our own narratives but sometimes that means we’re the villains of someone else’s. I made mistakes and I hurt people. I made mistakes and hurt myself. Like I said, I learned a lot. Without the place I chose, I’d have been an incredibly different person, to the point of it being useless to try to guess what or who I might have been. I’ve got no frame of reference for who that other Chris could have been, so how could I ever guess? The other side of my college choice is that it also resulted in a giant pile of student debt due which has left me feeling like I’ve been forced to put my life on hold until I pay it off. Even though I don’t regret my choice and think that the choice I made was the right one, I still struggle with the prospect of all my student loans and how much of my money I’ll have sunk into them by the time they’re paid off.

After that, there’s my move to Madison and my first job after the move. It didn’t go well, but I really figured out what was important to me and what my limits were. Tied to that is another thing I don’t want to share online, from two years ago (almost to the day), that irrevocably altered my life. There are some questions you never want the answers to and, throughout my life, I’ve gotten two of them I’d prefer to have never come across. But it reinforced my resolve and sense of self. The two experiences, my first job and the thing from two summers ago, weren’t positive influences on my life, but I learned a lot from having made it through them. “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God” (Robert F. Kennedy on hearing of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.).

It’s been a long twenty-seven years. I’ve hopefully got many more years ahead of me, but I wouldn’t mind if they were a little less eventful. I’d prefer if my next major life event was something good, like being able to write full time, getting married, or buying a house. Those would all be nice, even if there’s less to learn from the happy moments than the difficult ones.

Despite the Bumpy Road, I Haven’t Forsaken Destiny 2

Destiny 2, despite the hopeful and positive review I gave it in December, has had some major struggles during its first year. There have been numerous controversies and even damage control didn’t manage to do anything but limit the fallout of the problems. From the numerous bugs breaking the Player versus Player elements of the game that cropped up every time something big came out to the discovery that the game was specifically programmed to rarely drop ammo for the gun you’re using, the first year of the release was a series of ambitious ideas that ultimately fell flat. There were out of control power-balance issues that made it difficult to succeed in PvP unless you did very specific things people shared on the internet so literally everyone could do them. There were frustrating bugs preventing a lot of the more interesting unique armors and weapons from performing as they were supposed to. There were even a few instances were doing events the way you wanted to became impossible because getting kills with your character’s special power (their “Super”) didn’t count toward the goal of getting X kills with your character’s Super. I ran into that one and had to change how my character worked in order to complete the objective. Sure, it was an easy change to make, but it’s so incredibly frustrating to only realize that the game wasn’t counting my kills after getting what should have been half the kills I needed.

I’ve fallen through platforms, used a piece of armor that literally didn’t work the way the description said it would work, had to deal with ineffective grenades because enemies could just run away after they exploded and ignore the secondary damage effects, had a gun whose special effect wouldn’t trigger half the time despite its trigger literally being “is being continuously fired,” and gotten stuck in loading screens for more hours than I’d like to count. The game has crashed at random only to give me reasons that had nothing to do with why the game actually crashed and I’ve had horrible moments where clicking out of the game has caused it to fail to finish loading the activity I’m about to do.

Despite all that incredibly frustrating crap, I’ve continued to play the game. Either my roommate or myself has figured out a way around the bug we encountered and we kept playing. I got better at the game so I could more easily tell when server lag for the PvP matches was to blame for me missing my target and I even helped set up a raid that took forever because some of the mechanics for a particular portion of said raid are incredibly obtuse and stupid. I’ve stuck through it for an entire year, keeping at least one character near the maximum power level so I could stay relevant and it is finally about to pay off.

As is now tradition for a Destiny game, the first year of its release is an absolute train wreck. Once that year is over, the live team takes over and will take care of all development for the game until the next one comes out. In Destiny 1, the live team fixed all the problems, managed to quickly fix most of the problems they introduced, and actually gave the player community what they wanted. By the time Destiny 2 was imminent, Destiny 1 was actually a really fun and successful game. As is evidenced by the announcements we’ve gotten ahead of September 4th’s expansion and the patch notes from the groundwork update we all downloaded today, it is entirely clear that the live team actually took the lessons they learned to heart the first time. It is equally clear the core team did not. To be entirely fair, the core team tried to entirely bypass the issue by doing something new but it ultimately failed. To make matters worse, it often felt like no one had actually tested out the software before they sent it out to the players and the proposed solutions generally felt like someone was pretending to listen to your problems while planning to just do what they want in the end.

Now, the live team is swooping in to give the players what they want, fix the balance of the game, and literally give the protagonist of the voice, The Guardian, their voice back. Seriously, the core team didn’t let the protagonist speak at all, instead using the little magic/holy-powered robot orb that made you into the unkillable killing machine you are as the voice for the protagonist. It was rather frustrating to have the orb, your “ghost,” constantly talking at your character or cracking jokes with other people. In addition to a bunch of quality-of-life updates and fixes, they’re adding a new game mode, a huge new expansion, something they’re calling the biggest raid ever, and a whole host of new weapons, armor, and unique items in order to revitalize the game so that everyone isn’t running around with one of four guns in each of their three gun slots. Hell, now you don’t even need to worry about the gun slots as much because now it’s almost possible to have a gun of any type in any gun slot, with the exception of some of the most powerful ones, like swords and rocket launchers.

While it remains to be seen just how much this power shift breaks the game, I think it’s a far better way of fixing the game than the core team’s strategy of trying to pull back on the power. Just give everyone godly powers and then no one will complain because they’re just as stupidly powerful as everyone else is. To paraphrase the villain from The Incredibles (the first one, not the second one): “If everyone’s super OP, then no one will be.” It’s a good strategy for a game where you’re essentially supposed to play an immortal, god-killing terminator of all that would stand against you. Seriously, your character killed a god-equivalent creature in the first game and I’m pretty sure we killed one of its almost-god children in this one. There’s nothing wrong with being a little OP if everyone else is, too.

It’s really been a mixed bag, this first year of Destiny 2. All signs point toward things improving, but I think I’m going to remain cautiously skeptical for now. I don’t really want to get my hopes up after they were crushed when I moved from playing Destiny 1 on my friend’s PlayStation to playing Destiny 2 on the computer. As much as I’ve enjoyed the game, there’s always been this sense of missed potential hanging over it because of how good the first game was by the time they stopped updating it. Hopefully this new expansion will help it finally reach that potential.

UnEpic Was the Opposite of Mundane

Do you like RPGs? Do you like the idea of having a fully customizable character you can turn into a super-specialist or a jack of all trades without having to sacrifice character effectiveness?  Do you like Fantasy that is aware of the typical tropes and has a delightful mixture of falling in line with said tropes and standing them on their heads, both in such a way that it makes even the most tired trope feel fun an exciting? Do you like all of those things and side-scroll action, too (AKA, a “Metroidvania” style game)? If you answered yes to all of these questions or found the potential combination of them intriguing, then I have a game for you to try out!

UnEpic is all of those things and more. It is a side-scrolling RPG starring Daniel (at least, that’s the name he gets in the promo materials, you get to name your character when you start the game but that’s mostly for save file reference), a typical video gamer who got transported into the game when he went to the bathroom during one of his first ever tabletop gaming sessions. He finds himself in a castle and, deciding someone must have slipped something into his drink or food, decides that he’s hallucinating so blithely wanderings further into the castle. After a few rooms, he happens upon an evil spirit (AKA Zera) that tries to possess him, but it fails to do anything more than get stuck in his body. As he moves deeper into the castle, slowly becoming convinced he’s not hallucinating, he eventually figures out what he needs to do in order to get home. As he does, there are a number of humorous scenes as he and the dark spirit sharing his body try to trick each other. Daniel wants help navigating the castle and the spirit wants to kill him so it can leave his body and inhabit another that it can actually control. Daniel usually comes out on top since, ultimately, it is up to the player to decide whether or not to follow the Spirit’s advice, and the spirit is initially only trying to get Daniel killed. As the game goes on, the Spirit starts mixing in actual help with the incorrect instructions, making it much more difficult to figure out what is good advice and what isn’t.

As he explores the castle and learns more about what it’s going to take to get him home (and it’s fairly early that he learns he has to defeat the lord of the castle), he find money, items or gear, and magic to help him on his way. A lot of it is fairly typical fantasy fare, stuff like swords, bows, heavy armor, and more specifically named stuff like “Tunic of the Ranger” that makes you better at using bows and even unique stuff like Excalibur and an axe you get for, uh, helping out Goblins during mating season. Did I mention this game requires you to enter your age when you navigate to its page in Steam? Definitely not a game for young children, what with the references to sex, alcohol, and drugs. Fun fact, it’s also on the Switch now and plays even better on the handheld, wide-screen glory that is the Switch than it did on the computer.

Anyway.  As Daniel explores the castle, he discovers he needs to defeat the lord of the castle and, in order to do so, must free 8 light spirits from their prisons. From there, it’s all finding keys, exploring secret rooms, trying not to get murdered by traps, and finding the right gear so you can kick as much ass as possible while trying to figure out how to make it through rooms that randomly drop rocks on your head and through dungeons where every door you find is locked by a key that isn’t the one you just picked up. For the most part, in terms of gameplay, it’s nothing special. It’s fun, light-hearted take on dungeon delving is what makes it stand out. There are games with smoother controls, more intuitive interfaces, better layouts, and better levels, but this one hits the “satirizing fantasy” niche better than most similar games I’ve ever played.

The protagonist’s video gamer roots show in the way he tries to address his problems and the game’s mechanics catch him and any similar players off guard when it starts to introduce a lot of rules more commonly associated with tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. For instance, skeletons take (slightly) reduced damage from swords and spears, but extra damage from blunter weapons like maces or clubs. Bows require targeting for enemies that aren’t straight in front of you, which can be a little frustrating because you might have to cycle through available targets before getting to the one you want, but the fact that you can miss a slug crawling across the ground when firing straight ahead is the first real evidence you get of the game’s excellent hit-box management. Never will you take a hit you feel you shouldn’t have taken and never will you hit something unless you see your weapon enter into the enemy’s model. It can be incredibly risky to use a close-range melee weapon since that requires getting within striking distance of most of the enemies in the game, but they usually do more damage and have better bonuses or stats than spears and bows.

It’s a fun game with relatively simple mechanics that don’t take long to pick up and really start to flow smoothly once you get used to swapping between items in your shortcut menus and rapidly targeting enemies with ranged attacks while avoiding the enemies closing in on you in melee. It even has a ton of fun little references to other games and media liberally sprinkled throughout. Some of them have been a little obfuscated in the Steam and Switch versions (the only versions I’ve played, but I read a few articles about it while trying to figure out if the spirit’s original name was a reference to something) for copyright reasons, but most of them are still there. There’s even one a few minutes into the game, when you fight your first enemy. I won’t spoil it, but it really sets the tone of the game.

If you’ve got ten bucks (or less, if you get it during a Steam sale event) burning a hole in your pocket and want several hours of relaxing dungeon exploration, I recommend checking out UnEpic. It’s not going to blow your mind, reveal the secrets of the cosmos as they relate to your inner-most heart, or make you acknowledge the secrets hidden deep inside that you won’t even admit you’re hiding to yourself (we’ll leave that to Celeste), but you’ll have a good time as long as you don’t mind a bit of a bratty protagonist who keeps getting shown up by the evil spirit possessing him.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 26

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


We woke the next morning to a light snowfall and Natalie’s reminder that we had only twenty days before the next blizzard. That would be plenty of time to get into the Chicago enclave barring an encounter with the army of monsters that might be wandering around what was left of the northern suburbs of Chicago. Bearing this in mind, I sent Lucas and his scouts ahead as soon as they’d all eaten breakfast and then busied everyone else with breaking camp and following them north as soon as possible.

The day passed uneventfully, with only one tense moment when one of the Wayfinders spotted a glint of light being reflected from the top of one of the local buildings. Thankfully, it turned out to only be some old weather monitoring gear, but it cost us an hour as Camille snuck up to the building and investigated it. When we finally caught up to Lucas, he guided us toward what looked like an old park and had us set up camp under some of the aging picnic shelters. While people set up tents and attending to their evening meal, Lucas pulled me aside to report.

“We’re on the edge of the bandit territory. They match the description Camille gave me, mostly blunt weapons and one person with a handgun or rifle in each group of five. Pretty good thermal gear, from what I can tell, so they obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to avoiding monsters. Might even support Natalie’s theory that they got pushed out by whatever came out of the Waukegan landing area.” Lucas waved a hand in the air before I could chime in “Either way, there are tons of them and their patrols are thick enough that we’d have trouble sneaking through, but they’re nothing we can’t handle.”

“Any chance they’ll spot us out here if we give Camille a couple of days to sneak in and neutralize their leadership?”

“None.” Lucas gestured to the line of trees at the edge of the park. “The trees and playground equipment make the shelters practically invisible from the street and they don’t have regular patrols more than a mile from their base. They have a group that walks around the perimeter once a day, from what I’ve seen so far. Just checking for anything new or signs of someone encroaching on their space. As long as you’re gone before noon tomorrow, you shouldn’t have to worry about them and that’s even if they decide to check out this place”

“Okay. Keep an eye out for that tomorrow, but I’ll let Camille know what to expect.”

“Good.” Lucas rubbed his hands together and grinned. “And now we start my favorite part. Watching them all night long and tailing any patrols that operate at night. I hope they sent out a couple.”

“Just keep an eye out for any monsters. I want to know if we’re going to need to deal with any of them while we retake the Nomads’ home.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Lucas saluted and then headed off toward the treeline where he was joined by his remaining five scouts.

Camille walked over as he disappeared into the snow. “With him scouting for patrols and monsters, and with me leading a group to take the base, you’re only going to have four Wayfinders, counting yourself and Natalie, to manage the Nomads and Tiffany isn’t going to be much use if it comes to defending the group.”

“I’m planning to just vanish for a couple days. Your groups won’t need any support or supplies, so we’re just going to swing a little further north and drop off the radar for two days. After that, we’ll head toward the base and help you out or just waltz in because you’ve cleared everything.”

“Do you think you can count on the Nomads if it comes to fighting?”

“They did well enough when we were captured. You’re taking one with you, to answer any questions you have, so you must trust their abilities to some degree or another.”

“Yeah, but I can always leave them behind if they start becoming a liability. You won’t have that luxury.”

“I think they’ll be fine. They’ve come this far and haven’t gotten any of us killed.”

“They’re also half children at this point.”

“What do you want me to do, leave them behind while four of us sneak up on a building full of bandits and hope that we can manage if it comes to a firefight? It’s not like our skills are going to help much in an urban environment. The more guns we have, the better.” I pointed to the two machine guns mounted on the sleds. “Plus, it’s not like they need to be good with a gun to use one of those.”

“Fair.” Camille smiled and punched me in the shoulder. “Warm beds! Real food that hasn’t been dried out for years before we dunked it in snow to soften it up a bit. A chance to rest for a day, in safety and warmth, before we start preparing the way to Chicago! So much to look forward to!”

I smiled back at her. “Just don’t let visions of cozy pillows distract you from your mission. You can’t enjoy a bed if you’re a prisoner or dead.”

Camille laughed and gestured to the waiting group of Wayfinders. “With this lot, we’ll have them surrendering before they even fire a single bullet! They don’t bother Wayfinder duos, so they’ll probably run in terror when they find out there are eight of us.”

“Good luck, Camille. Stay safe!”

“Yeah, you fight monger. Get us some nice cozy beds and don’t let any of our people get killed in the process.” Natalie walked up and hugged Camille. “Think you can manage that?”

“I’ll do my best, mom.” Camille rolled her eyes but was still smiling as she turned to leave.

“Did Lucas leave already?” Natalie turned to me. “I wanted to give him a map I drew with likely routes the monsters might take if they’re wandering around.”

“Yeah, just a couple minutes ago. I can catch up to him if I run, though.”

“Don’t bother. He’ll figure it out. He always does, somehow, even if he always forgets to map them afterwards.” Natalie patted her pocket absently and then looked over at me. “So we’ve got the tent to ourselves tonight. I think neither of us are on first sentry shift, so we should head to bed right away.”

“As you command, so shall I do.” I bowed and gestured toward the bag that held our tent. “However, it’ll take a little bit before we can busy ourselves with resting. I’ll have this ready to go in a few minutes if you wouldn’t mind grabbing food for our dinner.”

“Very well, Marshall. You can play house and I’ll bring home the bacon. See that you’re ready by the time I get back.” Natalie winked and then sauntered off toward the supply tent. I tore my eyes away from her and hastily set up the tent. Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I missed a couple stakes and one of the tent poles slipped out of its socket halfway through dinner, we had a pleasant night, even if we didn’t get much sleep.

The next morning, we packed up and consolidated everything we had to one sled. We hid the other one under a snowbank next to what were probably bathrooms once upon a time and then hurried north. Natalie led us toward a place she knew of that used to be a bandit hideout before the Chicago enclave drove them out and I focused on covering our tracks. The light snow would help, but it’d still take several hours before our tracks were completely covered unless I did something to help it along. Simply smoothing the snow out was enough, though, since the falling snow would quickly mask any traces of human intervention.

We made good time and didn’t find so much as a trace of other humans, so we managed to get to Natalie’s temporary hiding spot in the late afternoon without being spotted. While I put a little more work into concealing any trace of our passage into the build, Natalie took our thermal sensor and made sure our little hideout was secure. Once we were both done, we joined everyone else inside and started passing the hours. At first, we all slept. This was our first time with more than a bit of nylon between us and the snow, so it felt nice to be able to move in and out of out tents without worrying about letting snow in as we moved from sleeping to guard duty.

After the first twenty hours of resting passed, people started getting squirmy. I broke out the cards and got a few games going while we waited, but those only lasted another couple of hours. When people started arguing, I got everyone together for a meal and we shared stories as we sat around in the cold, abandoned office building. Since there hadn’t been much opportunity before, due to me keeping on eye on the Laborers, I shared my story about the beginning of the Collapse and listened to the Nomad’s leader, Brianna, share her stories of life before the end of society as she once knew it and how she missed the brief golden age when it seemed like Humanity was going to prosper until the universe ended.

It was really interesting to compare her perspective to my own. She was about twenty years older than me, so she had a very different take on the world I knew growing up, seeing more of the good in it than I had. Even though she saw the Collapse coming from the same time I did, she reacted slower because she believed that Humanity wouldn’t be taken down that easily. It made me a little sad to listen to her as wistfulness and a sense of loss crept into her voice as she talked about the potential that we had squandered.

Once her voice fell silent, one of the younger adult Nomads pulled the kids aside and started telling some more fun and light-hearted stories. Everyone else stayed in the circle and talked about Humanity’s current potential and our likelihood of long term survival. When that headed down a dark path, Brianna started talking about all the food she missed and how excited to she was to go into an Enclave where some of that food might still be available. From then on, everyone shared a story about their favorite foods or fun events that had involved food.

After all the stories were told, everyone settled down to sleep again. I took the last watch and woke everyone up at about ten in the morning on the day we were supposed to meet up with Camille. While everyone got ready, I went over our little group’s fighting and scouting plans with Brianna, Natalie, Tiffany, and Gregory–the Wayfinder Camille has left us to help protect the group.

It was a simple plan. Brianna would keep the Nomads organized and enforce my commands. Natalie would pick out route, making sure no detours took us too far from our path. Tiffany would scout ahead, since she was the stealthiest, even without her hand, and Gregory would stay a little bit behind her, ready to spring into action if she needed help or if there was someone who was in our way. I’d stick with the sled and focus on relaying communication between everyone and taking care of any small, isolated threats that poked their head out while we were in motion.

It was a tense four hours as we walked through the snowy city to find Camille and the other Wayfinders, but it went smoothly. There was only one scouting patrol we had to take down, and Gregory handled the whole thing by himself after Tiffany had alerted him. When we got to the rendezvous point Camille had set, we found her sitting out in the open, gun on her shoulder, as she smirked at us.

“What did I say, Cap? They ran without firing a single bullet!” Her smirk grew larger.

“Really?” I looked at her and took in the fact that she still hadn’t really taken her attention off the area outside past her seat. “Looks like you’re making things up so you sound more badass.”

“I’ll admit they shot a few bullets at us, but the they certainly didn’t hurt anyone. We snuck in the back entrance the Nomads had escaped through, killed their commanders, dealt with a little bit of wild shooting once they realized their bosses were dead, and then chased them out. We won’t find much by way of supplies since they grabbed most of the food as they went, but it’s safe and warmer than anything I’ve felt in what feels like years.”

“Sold.” I stepped forward and hauled Camille to her feet. “Let’s go get us some well-deserved rest. You especially.”

“Did they have actual beds?” Natalie took Camille’s pack and slung it over her shoulder.

“No, just giant bundles of feathers that aren’t really beds. They smell kinda funny.”

“That’s what a feather mattress is, Camille. A funny-smelling gigantic bundle of feathers. Though I thought they only came in pillow variety.”

“You’d be surprised at how literal I’m being.”

“You’ll have to show me. It sounds more comfortable than a sleeping bag and the ground, though.”

I watched the two of them walk off for a moment before signaling everyone else to follow. As we walked toward the Nomads old home, I could see their spirits lift and I found myself praying to all the gods I’d ever heard of, once again. This time, I prayed that they wouldn’t be horrified at what they saw when they got there. And that Camille had the foresight to clean up the mess she must have made for a bit before we departed. Whatever happened, I was looking forward to being able to walk around without my thermal gear on and actually sleeping without a tent around me, for once.

Tabletop Highlight: When You get a Little Minmax in Your Roleplaying

As a player of Dungeons and Dragons, I prefer to roleplay. I like the idea of coming up with a novel character concept and sticking to a personality I’ve devised to fit that concept, no matter what. What can make me frustrating for other GMs, though, is my propensity for focusing on excelling at one or two particular things. Given my understanding of the game, I’ve found it relatively easy to maximize my potential for a couple specific things that fit my character concept, such as the 3.5 edition Scout who could move 210 feet as a move action (that’s 120 miles an hour in 3.5 rules) or the fifth edition rogue who couldn’t fail a search, perception, or trap disabling check thanks to high modifiers and the skill that lets you get no lower than a ten on your check for a certain set of skills.

While this falls short of outright min-maxing–the act of using the game’s rules in such a way to sacrificing things of minimal importance in order to maximize your character’s more important abilities, also known as “optimization”–it can still be a little jarring for people to deal with. Sure, I don’t do something crazy like sacrifice my character’s ability to spell their name right or make friends on purpose in order to increase their total skill, but I’ve clearly found some loophole or another I can exploit in order to game a rather ridiculous benefit. Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons did a good job of cutting down the potential for loopholes, but 3.5 is the best edition for it since there are so many wonderful ways to break the game if you really want to.

For my part, I don’t really mind it when my players do a little bit of minmaxing so long as they can justify their reasons for doing it or how their character got it. The paladin wants to take a special feat that lets him add his Charisma bonus to his damage in exchange for his ability to use Turn Undead? Sure, we’ve already established he’s got a close relationship with his god since he’s one of a select group of Paladins who serve that minor deity directly so it makes sense that the god would direct him toward being able to better slay evil. The rogue wants a sword made of a material I’ve never heard of, that can only be found and forged on one of the deep layers of the lower plains which technically doesn’t exist in my world thanks to the customization of the planes. Sorry, no can do since the very material itself would be counted as evil and the current laws of Heaven and Hell prohibit the export of materials to the mortal plane. If he wanted to make a trip to one of the layers of Hell in order to get that material, then we could talk. But there’s no way some random shopkeeper in the capital city of a federation pretty much run by a lawful good religion is going to stock a material literally made out of compressed evil. The black market might have it, but then how can you trust it is what you want? And it’s likely they’re not just carrying it around, so you’d need to go on a minor quest to get it and then you have to deal with the Paladin who is already one his last straw thanks to the Hellhound you bought on the black market and trained to be your hunting dog.

Hell, my party’s Scout has the highest Armor Class in the party because his main attribute is Dexterity, the rules allow scale mail to be made into light armor if you’re a particular prestige class (some dragon champion thing that I’m forgetting the name of because I tweaked it to fit my world), and he got reincarnated as a Bugbear the last time he died. He got really lucky and a bunch of stuff came together to put his AC through the roof. If he’d down it on purpose, I’d have taken him aside and told him no since no ninth level character should have an AC of thirty-one (or thirty-five if he’s moving), but it was just the culmination of chance and some custom stuff he and I’d put in the game.

In this case, role-playing and minmaxing work out since the whole theme of this game is to make the players feel like they’re ridiculously over-powered. They’re supposed to be able to reshape the world by tenth level because I want them to eventually fight gods or demons and Ancient Dragons. They’ve encountered plenty of powerful NPCs as well, which helps them feel like their extreme power is more in line with the rest of the world. My big rule is we can work out pretty much whatever they want so long as they can justify it in-game. Which means the Paladin is basically an honor guard of a god, the Scout is the chosen champion of an Ancient Dragon, and the Rogue/Assassin has a dagger that can cut through anything and potentially drain souls, in addition to becoming a business magnate between dungeons. To be entirely fair to the rogue, he’s probably stuck the most to role-playing since he’s not sure how he can make his character as powerful as the Paladin and the Scout, but they all do it really well. The Paladin has been on his current course of serving this god since before first level and the Scout has setting himself up to be a slayer of evil dragons since his conception. The Rogue has had the most change in his character’s journey throughout the two and a half years we’ve been playing, so it makes sense that he isn’t as hyper-focused as the other two are.

As long as your intentions are good and you’re not doing it to break the game or mess with the GM, I don’t really have a problem with character optimization or minmaxing. There’s a fine line between breaking the game and minmaxing, but it’s there and I’ve known plenty of people who have managed to walk right up to it without crossing it. The best ones have always been people who were in it for the roleplaying. I wonder if that’s a coincidence or a startling insight. Let me know if you’ve had cases of good roleplaying going hand-in-hand with character optimization or if your experiences have differed! I’ve love to hear your stories!

Babysitting

“You sure you’re going to be alright watching our little girl for a week?”

“I’m a professional!”

“But you’re an accountant.”

“Yes, but I did this throughout high school and college.” I smiled and walked inside, suitcase in tow. “I’ve got everything covered.”

“If you’re sure…” Felicia smiled and stepped aside. “Anthony will be back shortly, so I’ll give you the run-down.”

I took the piece of paper she handed me. “Doctor’s office, insurance information, and allergies?”

“All there, no allergies.” Felicia tapped the paper. “There’s plenty of food in the fridge, she likes her wet food. If she gets fussy, there’s some dry stuff in the cabinets, but she’s rarely fussy.”

“Sounds like she’s an ideal baby.”

Felicia smiled. “She’s a doll. So well-behaved, loves to talk but never cries, eats well, and never has accidents.”

“She’s potty-trained?”

“Of course she is. She’s over a year old. Why wouldn’t she be?”

“Wow. That’s incredible!”

“I guess.” Felicia looked over her shoulder. “I just cleaned everything, so you should be good for a week. If she makes a mess, there’s some supplies in the bathroom.” She pointed to a door. “She still throws up sometimes, but not as much as she used to now that we switched to her current diet.”

“Sounds good!” A car pulled into the driveway. “Tony’s here.”

“Right! Suzy is in her room, sleeping. I said goodbye a minute ago. Go check on her in a bit and let me know if anything happens. Bye, Jordan!”

Felicia grabbed her suitcase and ran out the door. I waved as she rode away with Tony. A few minutes later, after I unpacked my bag, I crept into Suzy’s room to check on her. A minute later, Felicia picked up her phone and I screamed “Suzy is a cat?”

Saturday Afternoon Musing

Some days, what you really need is to hang out with a new friend online and repeatedly punch each other in the face during a custom PVP match only to eventually betray each other with ridiculously over-powered guns so that you both wind up fighting over who gets the ammo for the over-powered guns by returning to punching each other once again.

That was my evening. Well, the end of my evening. Played a lot of other games before than and actually did some more progress-oriented stuff in Destiny 2 before inviting a new clan member to a private PVP match so we could punch each other more effectively. I mean, you can totally still punch people when they’re on your team and you’re wandering around a planet shooting bad guys, but there’s never a winner. It doesn’t do damage. No friendly fire in Destiny 2, thank goodness. My clan’s favorite pastime, while we’re waiting for an event to start or for someone to complete a platforming puzzle, is to shoot each other or try to knock each other off of stuff using melee attacks. It’s a good time.

Really, though, what helped the most last night was being able to just relax with my friends and do something that engaged my attention. Additionally, since I don’t have any plans for this weekend, I was able to just read until I finally felt tired enough to sleep. If I’d had plans today, I’d have stressed out about the fact that I couldn’t sleep until about half past one in the morning because I would have needed to wake up and get out of bed at a certain time. Sleeping in and having a leisurely, quiet morning that ended in me playing a few hours of World of Warcraft was so relaxing. I didn’t need to think about anything, there was nothing going on for me to plan or anticipate, just the calm meandering from one task to another that is a big breakfast, kitchen cleaning, and using up all the bonus XP my character in WoW got because I didn’t play for almost a week (which is a great feature, by the way, I really enjoy the fact that I basically got a free level’s worth of XP for not playing).

It’s been almost twenty-four hours since I gave up trying to process how I’m feeling and started focusing on just escaping for a bit. Coping instead of dealing with it, really. I can still feel it there, sitting inside me and demanding attention, but it’s sorta like the feeling your eyes get when you’re tired. It’s easy to ignore as long as I’m staying focused on something. At this point, though, part of me wants to move on to processing it. I’ve taken a bunch of time away from it, gotten a lot of sleep, and recharged as much as I can in a day. I might go for a walk first, as well, just to solidify my peace of mind by spending some energy on a relaxing activity. The weather never got as bad as they predicted it would, so today’s warmth and sun would be quite enjoyable.

That being said, I’m living in a city that’s been devastated by the flooding. I don’t really think I could go on much of a walk without running into signs of the damage. Dealing with it on foot, though, when I’ve got the ability to just pause and consider what I’m seeing rather than just the glimpses I catch in my car as I drive back to my unaffected home, might make it easier to handle. Or perhaps even help me process it. Walking has always helped me work through things and maybe that’d be the ideal venue for processing this feeling rather than meditation. Meditation can be isolating and a lot of my feelings are tied up in a sense of disconnect from the problems plaguing my community, so maybe entering more fully into it would be good. Plus, I haven’t gone into town since Tuesday afternoon, when everything was settling from “dangerous” to “safe, but still destroyed.”

I kind of miss the places I used to walk when I was in college. The town was small, like my current town, but more developed. There were sidewalks everywhere and streetlights often enough that I never worried about being unable to see my environment. Plus, that neighborhood was entirely suburban. It sprawled out, taking up a huge amount of space, because it was a suburb of Green Bay and most people commuted to work in the city rather than anywhere in their town. Plus, it had all the benefits of being a college town without being constantly full of students. I went to a small college, some twenty-five to twenty-eight hundred students, so I was pretty much the only person wandering around late at night when I couldn’t sleep and the few quiet stargazing spots on campus weren’t doing the trick. It really was such a peaceful town. I miss it.

I miss a lot of things about my life before I moved to the Madison area. I miss the sense of peace and possibility I had back then, when it seemed like I’d be able to do anything if I just worked at it long enough. I miss the confidence I had when I considered my future and the ultimately naive way I thought everything would be alright in the end if I just pushed through. Now, I know things will always work out in the end, but frequently not in the way we wanted them too and all too often in a less-than-positive way. I don’t know anything about my future or what I really want out of life, so I just focus on what I think is best for me and what goals I want to accomplish now. I know I can’t do everything, but I’m also much more certain of my ability when it comes to things I know I can do, like writing.

It’s been a long four years and eight months, but this place is home now. Even if I do miss where I went to college, I’ve got a lot more invested in this city. Maybe I’ll eventually find places to walk that I’ll love as much as De Pere, Wisconsin, but I know I already enjoy being able to walk around downtown or through the numerous parks in Madison. Or just through the “downtown” parts of my little suburb. There are plenty of sidewalks there and a bunch of benches that should no longer be submersed. Maybe I’ll bring a book and sit on one of those for a while. That’d be pleasant.

 

Sometimes, I’m Still Sick a Week Later

If you read last week’s post, you’ll remember that I stressed myself out to the point of actually making myself sick. Well, with everything that’s gone on since then, I haven’t actually gotten much better. I can breathe through my nose, now, but only as a result of a steady application of DayQuil and tea. I’ve been sleeping more and resting way more than usual, but the flooding happening in my area has erased a lot of the benefits of the rest I’ve been getting.

Thankfully, I’m completely safe. I got a little water in the basement and was unable to go to work for a few hours, but that was it. What’s been stressful (and I recognize this is an extremely privileged problem to have during a natural disaster like this one) is trying to figure out how I feel about everything that’s happened. People down the street from me had to rip all the carpeting out of their basement because they had standing water. Go less than a mile away and there are people whose entire basements filled with water, people who had to be evacuated from their home, and streets that have been destroyed. There’s even a bridge that’s been half washed away. And I’m fine. I live at one of the highest points in the area so I escaped entirely unharmed. the biggest inconvenience was the loss of power while I was trying to make dinner on Monday night.

There’s nothing I can do to contribute to the flood relief efforts because I’m sick and my depression is at its worst so far this year. I can’t contribute money because I’m basically broke and I barely have anything useful to spare in terms of item donation. I replace most of my crap by asking for it as presents. I wish I could help but I’m effectively powerless other than writing something about it and even that isn’t working very well because I spent all night and day trying to come up with something for today’s poem post but ultimately failed to finish anything because I feel like all my creative energy has dried up. I feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel and nothing I can come up with is any good. I’ve got five stanzas of something that’s clearly unfinished but I can’t even tell what’s wrong with it because my insides shrivel up every time I look at it.

Poetry is about emotional expression to me. Something I’m feeling captured in words and brought out where I can look at it outside of myself. Right now, I can’t even figure out how I feel. I know I’m feeling something and that I’m feeling it strongly, but every attempt to confront it or start processing it accomplishes nothing and leaves me more drained than before. It’s like trying to lift a heavy lead blanket off of something when you’re already so tired you can barely keep standing and you’re only this tired because you’re carrying whatever’s covered in the lead blanket.

I think it’s partly because I feel powerless to address what’s going on in the world. There’s nothing I can do to effectively contribute to the flood relief going on where I live, and there’s nothing I can do to address the severe weather that’s contributing to (and possibly causing) the flooding because global warming is a problem for all of humanity to address but all the people with the power to do anything about it are busy fucking around with their heads in the sand. The current administration of the US Government is literally marching us further and further toward destruction, they’ve abandoned the rule of law, they stand for nothing but personal gain, and just thinking about everything that’s happened in the past three years has made me want to vomit. Sometimes, it feels like the world is ending and I can’t tell what point there is in fighting it since my only weapons are words almost no one sees.

So much has happened since I graduated from college and moved to Madison and it’s all been a daily reminder that I don’t really matter and the power of words is ephemeral and fleeting when it can be felt at all. My old job, some of my relationships, old roommates, the current government, people leaving, the reasons people leave, and natural disasters that feel surreal because my life hasn’t changed but a guy has died and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, all of which is happening only a few miles from me. For the most part, I feel like my life is just a thing that’s happening and all I can do is try to keep my head up as it carries me wherever it goes. I know that feeling isn’t entirely true, but it’s hard to push that feeling away when my birthday present to myself is using the money I’ve saved up to pay off my car loan so I can start putting more money toward my other debts. Paying off my car loan is great, but all the extra room it creates in my finances is just getting sucked into my other debt. It’s exhausting to be working toward something for half a decade now and feel like I’ve made almost no progress. It’s exhausting to look at the enormity of the world’s problems and know that I can’t change anything unless everyone else agrees that we should change it.

I’m tired. I’m going to go to bed early and rest up this weekend. Hopefully I’ll be able to sort out my emotions over the next few days so I can finally get back to feeling productive again. This blog might not do much in the grand scheme of things, but my words are all I’ve really got and I believe that I can eventually effect some small change even if it takes me banging my head against a wall until the wall breaks. I’m not going to give up trying to change things, but it’s hard to keep hoping I’ll eventually be able to change anything when I look back at the past five years and can’t figure out what’s changed for the better.

Like All Gasses, My Steam Library Expands to Fill All Available Space

As a young, single adult with a modest amount of disposable income and a keen desire to get the most bang for my buck, I frequently took advantage of Steam sales to add a huge variety of games to my Steam library. Over the course of each year, I’d add any interesting games to my wishlist and, whenever I receive an email notifying me that an item on my wishlist is on sale, I buy the game if it is at least 50% off listed price. During big sale events, I will buy games with a smaller discount, but only if I’m out of big titles to play.  For instance, I still haven’t bought Dark Souls 3 because I haven’t even beaten the first one yet and I still occasionally dip into Fallout 4 since I’ve never actually beaten that, either. I’ve made it to level 100, but I’ve never beaten it because there’s just so much else to do. Which feels a lot like looking through my Steam library for something to do.

While I don’t have as many games in my library as some of my peers (one woman I know has over a thousand games in her Steam library), I’ve played maybe a dozen of them. I’ve installed well over 20% of them, but most of the time I wound up uninstalling them to make room for some other game on my hard drive. Every time I look through my library of unplayed games, I think to myself how fun they all look. Yet every time I’m looking for something to do, I invariably return to games I’ve already played or decide to put another dozen hours into Fallout of Borderlands 2. I started playing Broken Age a few months ago because I thought it’d be super fun to review, but I stopped playing to go hang out with my friends at one point and I’ve never gotten back to it. Half my library are low-commitment games, from 2-10 hours of projected playtime, so I shouldn’t have any qualms about committing to a new game since it’ll be over in a day or two of playing anyway.

But I do. I have tons of qualms. I’d like to chalk it all up to my depression and my habit of berating myself if I “waste” time when I could be doing something productive, but I feel like that’s just being unnecessarily harsh on myself. Sure, those things are contributing factors, but the real reason is that I’m a sucker for sales. A good demo makes me want to throw money at the people who made it and Steam is an excellent platform for introducing people to good demos and then providing them with an easy way to justify throwing money at it. “It’s on sale. If I buy this game, I’m only spending five dollars instead of twenty, so I should take advantage of this sale.” Never mind the fact that I don’t even really want a new game, much less need one. The whole idea of having sales works out perfectly, since it’s getting me to spend money I otherwise wouldn’t. Steam makes millions off of people like me who buy games they’ll never play and I’m sure the developers enjoy the income as well, even if it often doesn’t give them what their game is worth.

Honestly, I still plan to go through my library at some point and play all the games in it. The only problem is I choose not to do that now because I’ve got other things I’d like to do and I’m pretty certain I’ll have other things I’d like to do. I keep envisioning a future when I’m a successful writer and can write as my day job so I don’t have to cram it all into my evenings, leaving me time for stuff like regular gaming and exercise. I’d get so much more fun stuff done if I wasn’t spending all of my free time trying to work on my dreams. Which, you know, is fun, but it’s not the same kind of thing. Writing is still work and it always will be. It takes something out of me. Gaming only takes my time and, if it’s a good game, gives me so much more back. Which is why I always buy the games that look like they’ll do that for me when they go on sale. If I ever reach this hypothetical future I keeping envisioning, I want to make sure I didn’t miss out on the chance to buy a wonderful game for a bargain.

One thing I’ve learned after over a year of owning a Switch is that I’d much rather play games on a high quality mobile system than something chained down like a desktop computer. Even a laptop is more constraining that I’d like since I need a surface to put the laptop on and carrying a gaming laptop around can be a real pain in the back. If there was a way to play all of my little, low-requirement games on a mobile system, I’d probably play more of them. As more of them get re-released on the Switch, I’m starting to wish I hadn’t spent the money on them already. There isn’t much I’m willing to buy twice and anything I like enjoy to buy more than once is likely something I’m willing to sit down at my computer to play. Like Borderlands 2. I own the four-player console version and the computer version because sometimes people want to hang out together while hunting treasure and shooting bandits.

In more recent years, Steam has started edging its way into the hardware market with mixed success. I can’t deny their products are excellent in concept, it just often feels like their execution is lacking. Sure, the Steam Controller is nice, but that’s just another controller to use with your computer. Their living-room PC seemed really cool, but it seems to be suffering from a certain lack of interest from the general public. I know they dipped their toes into the Virtual Reality market, but there’s so much competition that they got lost in the crowd. The technology is still mostly in its gimmick phase, so it makes sense that there wasn’t really much Steam could add that some competitor couldn’t do better since hardware is still a side business for Steam. If they come out with a handheld or super mobile computer… then I think they might be able to break into the market. And possibly dominate it, since you’ll be able to play so many great games you’ve already bought.

Until that day, I’m probably going to change my rule to seventy-percent or more as my cut-off for buying games since I really need to slow down my acquisition rate to something I can actually keep up with. Otherwise, with how many good games are going to be going on sale soon, my Steam expenses are going to expand to fill all available space in my budget.

Exposition X And X Narration X The X Anime

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Anime Hunter X Hunter, the title of this blog post is reference to how the show titles all of their episodes. And also a reference to the two biggest parts of the show that might as well be characters. In terms of story, Hunter X Hunter is an adventure show about a young boy joining an elite group of dangerous people called “Hunters” in order to find his father who abandoned him when he was a baby. Gon, the abandoned hero, makes a few friends along the way and constantly impresses people with his superhuman strength and sense until he complete his exam, becomes a hunter, and is introduced to the world his father inhabits, a world filled with people far stronger than him which exists a step removed from the world he used to know. To be specific for those wanting to look up this anime, I’m reviewing the much longer series that premiered in 2011, rather than the earlier and shorter series. That’s the one my roommate introduced me to, the same roommate who introduce me to My Hero Academia, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of his taste in Anime anymore.

Now, to be entirely fair, he didn’t talk Hunter X Hunter up nearly as much as he talked up My Hero Academia. He admitted there are some serious issues with the later episodes and that it isn’t as strong as some of the other ones he’s recommended, but it has held a special place in his heart for a long time and it’s actually pretty fun to watch. It has frequently defied my expectation when it comes to the story and I’ve enjoyed watching a large number of the crazy characters in this show wind up being surprisingly sane. An assassin bonds with his son, a martial arts instructor acts to help a pair of young fighters who are in over their heads, and two incredibly strong children are actually children who play around and get up to trouble between being ridiculously overpowered. It’s very refreshing to see it stray away from a lot of the more frustrating adventure anime tropes and to create an insane world occupied by sane people.

If it weren’t for two things, I’d love this anime. As it is, they are making it difficult to enjoy the show at times. If it weren’t for the constant exposition, often delivered by going over events that just occurred multiple times, and the steadily increasing amount of narration, I’d definitely recommend this anime to everyone who doesn’t mind ridiculous fights, stupidly powerful characters, and a hero whose main weapon is a fishing pole with an apparently unbreakable line.

While the show is rather complex, introducing some really fun concepts like the Hunter organization, a plethora of unique animals who inhabit an incredible dangerous world, magical beasts of all kinds who live in the same step-removed world as the incredible strong people, and some rather complicated and open-ended powers called “Nen,” it gets really bogged down in the details. When Nen is introduced, they just go over it countless times. While initially peppered my roommate with questions about how Nen works and what it means, the Anime answered all of those questions and more. Multiple times. In one episode. There’s literally a point where we watch a fight, get one guy’s ability explained to us in exhaustive detail by his foe as a means of psychological warfare, see the end of the fight, get the other guy’s powers explained in excruciating detail as a flashback aside by a mysterious healer who came to fix him up, and then go over them again as the hero and his friend learn about Nen from the kind man who has taken them under his wing. I was so bored and the flashback felt like it took an entire episode. If this was the first time this had happened, where the show went over ground it had just covered, I’d forgive it, but this is becoming a theme.

In the same vein, the amount of narration is getting tiring. While there is a narratorial voice who sets up and concludes each episode, the show itself does a ton of narration through the characters. In writing, there’s this phrase, “show, don’t tell,” that’s supposed to help people keep in mind that they should show the characters acting rather than just narrate through a scene. This anime does both. It shows and then it tells like it didn’t show you just a minute ago. This is heavily tied to the exposition I mentioned since the worst of it, the flashback exposition, is handled by a character narrating whatever happened. There are much more natural ways to show what happened. Heck, if they’d just gone over the fight as the two young heroes learned from their teacher and explained it all that way, it still would have made sense and then it would have been explained in a place it made sense to talk about what happened. I’ll admit that I just watched this happen a couple of hours before writing this review, so I’m still a little frustrated and steamed with the show.

I’m still going to watch more of it, though. I’m willing to sit through some odious exposition and unnecessary narration in order to find out what happens next. While the characters motivations are fairly basic–finding a father, getting revenge for the death of your family, financing your education so you can become a doctor, and trying to find meaning outside of what you’ve always been told you’re meant to be–the show explores them in a rather novel way. Gon wants to find his father, but he’s not in a hurry and he is very much committed to living his own life even if that means setting aside his quest to find his father for a while. Leorio, the teenager who looks like an adult, is willing to risk his life and harm people in order to become a doctor who can afford to freely give out the medicine that would have saved his childhood friend’s life. The child assassin, Killua, will kill whoever he needs to in order to explore life as a normal kid with friends. Kurapika, the last surviving member of his clan, will sacrifice his own life if it means getting a shot at a member of the band of thieves called the “Phantom Troupe.” Of them all, Kurapika’s story is the most cliché and ordinary, but he’s an angry child trying to take out a group of the strongest people in the world and the show has already proven that it’s not afraid to let the stars get the crap kicked out of them so I have high hopes he’s not just going to “fighting spirit” his way to victory. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m a little bored of the trope. Just a personal preference thing, but it feels like it’s often used to let a character set up to be weaker than someone else win a fight they shouldn’t be able to.

I’d recommend watching the show for the characters, the interesting world, and the plot, but make sure to keep the remote handy so you can skip forward a bit once the boring exposition and narration shows up. Also maybe don’t watch every episode because I’ve heard the narration gets terrible toward the end. I don’t know for sure yet, since I’ve only watched thirty-four episodes. If the show changes a bunch before I stop watching, I might do a second review. There’s certainly been enough show in the episodes I’ve seen so far to justify doing a second one once I’ve watched more. I barely touched on the Hunter organization, the crazy exam people need to take in order to become Hunters, and the insane people who run it in a surprisingly formal and normal–if deadly–way. Let me know if that sounds interesting to you. I always need more stuff to review.