Tabletop Highlight: All Praise to RNGesus, Who Metes Out the Rolls We Deserve

All praise to our lord and savior, RNGesus, he who delivers unto us, his miserable, blasphemous supplicants, the rolls we deserve. He who ignores our unworthy pleas for mercy or luck and instead grants us the true Numbers of our heart that only he can see. He who delivers unto us the incredible moments of power when we prove ourselves worthy of his light and love. He who strikes us down with moments of pure failure and pain when we shirk our duties as his servants, bathing us in his wrath in order to cleanse us of our sins so we may once again live in the polygon of his love.

These past few months, I have walked amongst you. I divested myself of my ministerial robes, set aside my clerical headdress, and removed my comfy loafers so that I might know the troubles you face. It had been long since the last time I had tasted the bitter tang of defeat and struggled with acknowledging my failings before RNGesus and my fellow tabletop companions, but I had not forgotten you. As I moved through you, I directed my attention toward the sore spots within the community, both those you bring before our altars and those you prefer to hide away from the light and healing of our open forums. I have learned a great many things, my faithful, and I am saddened to report that the faithful are not quite as devout as I had once believed!

Is it not one of the core tenets laid down for us by RNGesus, when he himself walked amongst us and rolled bones as a Human, to begin each day with a roll of your most favored dice as a sacrifice to RNGesus? I see you all nodding in agreement, but when I walked as one of you, hidden by the lack of my ostentatious garments, I heard you ascribe more to this roll than the precepts allow! This is not some sign from on high as to the contents of your day! These rolls are meant to be a sign to our lord and marshal that you hold him in your heart and dice bags at all times! You cannot sacrifice a roll to RNGesus if you use it for something. If you have intent behind your roll, then those numbers are consumed by you! They stay on this mortal plane and do not ascend to the Greatest Game Master to be doled out amongst the lesser dice gods. You are starving the origins of all luck and happenstance of the one thing they need to survive!

And it is clear in your games that they are displeased with us! A plague of critical failures has settled on all of our games. Even the electronic gamers with their programmed random number generators that are but a mockery of true chance are feeling it! Has a one of us caught a single shiny Pokemon in the past six months? Aside from you, Jeremy, most blessed of all followers amongst RNGesus, for you are a true statistical anomaly. Even the games where chance plays little part are feeling it! The entirety of the Destiny 2 community has been cursed with a lack of new Exotic weapons and though some seek to place the blame on the shoulders of the developers, I have seen the truth!

Not only are your morning dice rolls trapped here on the mortal plane for selfish reasons, but players no longer roll all their dice before a game begins! They take out their favored set and simply set it aside to wait on the moment their game requires a roll! Gone are the days of idle rolls sacrificed to the dice gods, RNGesus foremost among them. Gone are the days when a bored or frustrated player would dedicate several rolls at once to please RNGesus, our Greatest Game Master, simply for the sake of slaking his hunger for unburdened and unassigned chance. Gone are the great spills of dice from dice bag, done to herald the beginning of a game and to find the dice most loved by RNGesus, that show his sign of the natural maximum upon their first glimpse of light all day, for we are a fallen flock. An abandoned flock, soon, if we do not change our ways and give RNGesus his due!

Fear not, my faithful followers, for there is yet hope at redemption. All of you, take out your dice bags! Take them out and in the trays provided roll them! Let the hall be filled with the musical clatter of dice as we show our thanks to RNGesus! Show him that we are a changed people who will not forsake his teachings again! Though the path will be long, trap filled, and likely to result in pain and suffering no matter our modifiers, we are brave enough to walk it because we know RNGesus waits for us on the other side! Show him the faith I know lives in your deepest heart! Show him the trust and love I know you all feel for him! Let not the worries of failure or success impeded you, just place the dice in RNGesus’ hands and blow on them for good luck! He, the hand on the scale of fate, will show you your true Number and then we can begin the healing and repentance!

Thank you, my brethren. Now, find the most common number in your pool of dice and go to the matching stations. I will make my way through the groups, visiting each in turn so we may figure out what RNGesus requires of us so that we may roll in his light once more. What penance we must pay in order to deserve the forgiveness he has already granted us in his infinite mercy and love! No price is too great for the grace of our lord RNGesus, so come, let us pay it all together.

Praise him, my faithful followers! Praise him and may you all soon walk together in the realm of critical luck!

Wanderlust

James heaved himself out of his car and staggered to the trunk. He looked at everything he owned scattered on the forest floor for a moment before gathering up his backpack, his messenger bag, and whatever else he could fit into his already stuffed bags.

He grabbed a few bottles of water and wrapped his blanket around his shoulders. Once his messenger bag had been shifted so it hung under his backpack, he looked around the woods one last time before starting off at a forty-five degree angle from the direction his car had been going.

He managed to walk for about fifteen minutes before he got light-headed and had to sit. He let himself take five minutes to rest, drink some water, and make sure he wasn’t losing too much blood. Once his five minutes were up, he carried on.

When the sun had set, he’d crossed half a dozen roads, changed directions ten times, and taken a short nap hidden under a pile of leaves. After a brief dig through his backpack, he pulled out his headlamp and carried on, stopping only once to hide his light when he saw a line of flashlights bobbing in the distance.

The next morning came late, hidden behind a light rain, but he still walked until his legs refused to carry him any further. A short rest got him back on his feet and then his feet got him to a dry spot to set up camp. As he ate a protein bar and set out his collapsible cookware to collect water, he hummed a song to himself. As he curled up under his blanket, he sang a few lines as he drifted off.

“And everything must end so something new can start. And I’m on my way back home.”

Saturday Afternoon Musing

National Novel Writing Month is coming up. That’s a bit of big deal for me because I’ve at least participated every year since 2013 and won every year but 2016 when I was applying and interviewing for a new job. I also created a challenge for myself, to raise the stakes, every year since 2014 when I found myself a little bored with just writing 50,000 words again. The year after that, I wrote an entire story in a month (which is big deal for me since I am anything but concise). Last year, I wrote 50,000 words of a new story that wound up being more foresight than fiction, ran a support group for my friends who were trying National Novel Writing Month, and updated my blog every day of the month (which was a part of the support since it was stuff about writing, about what inspires me, and some prompts to help them push through when they feel stuck). This year, though, I’m struggling with what my extra challenge should be.

The support group could be fun to do again, but the only people I know who are doing National Novel Writing Month are people who have been doing it as long as I have been, or longer, and who don’t really need support to write. A space for us to connect and talk about writing is always good, but I won’t really need to actively support them. I still plan to do the blog posts, but that’s just the same thing as last year. There’s nothing new to this challenge, which means it isn’t challenge. It’s just the same thing all over again and that means I’m not actually going to try my best.

I could make the argument that I’ve never been this burned out, worn down, and just all-around-exhausted when starting a National Novel Writing Month before, so it’ll be difficult enough for me to get anything done on time or according to whatever plan I come up with (as evidenced by the fact that half my blog posts are “late” these days, showing up in the afternoon instead of their typical nine or eleven in the morning time). That feels like a cop-out. I dislike cop-outs. It gets to easy to let them slide in the future if you start using them now and I am all about staying firm and focused on my goals. I didn’t get to almost a year of writing every day and posting on my blog every day by letting myself compromise, so doing that literally the day after I hit 365 consecutive posts would feel like I was spitting in the face of my own accomplishment.

One of my friends suggested I write a humorous romance novel and, upon hearing that, the rest of them took up the call. Suggestions from something involving characters from a D&D campaign that ended a while ago to a romance novel about a modern male protagonist trying to live his normal 20-something modern life while his girlfriend is someone out of a highly-sexual romance novel that pokes fun at the sort of contrived situations involved in a lot of cornier (and absolutely amazing sounding) romance novels. Seriously, there’s a whole series about some vampire/angel/insert-monster-template-here brothers who kill vampire demons and are actually immortal vikings who sometimes time travel. How is that not a story you gotta hear? I can’t find the link my friends provided while trying to convince me to write a romance novel, but it was a riot. It would definitely be a challenge since I’ve read only a handful of romance novels and it isn’t something I’m normally interesting in writing. Being able to stay focused and working on a project that isn’t something I’m terribly interested in would be a good skill to have, though, since a lot of good writers wind up writing what the publisher wants rather than strictly what they want. Being able to do “made to order” fiction would be a good skill to work on.

All of my other ideas have something to do with my blog. For instance, I could keep up with daily posts with National Novel Writing Month support and encouragement posts, but also include my serial science fiction story and reviews. Maybe even throw in my flash fiction updates, too. Basically just keep up the popular part of my blog, the fun part of my blog, and the only story I’ll have ever finished if I keep at it. If I keep that up, I’ll probably finish Coldheart and Iron on Christmas Day and post the epilogue on New Years Day, which feels like a damn fine way to start 2019.

Of course, I could also do this regardless of my National Novel Writing Month. If I work my ass off over during the rest of October, I could have all my blog posts written. That’s only 50,000 words in addition to the 14,000 I have to do for this month’s blog posts. Totally possible to do all that in eleven days. I mean, that’s only six thousand words a day! Easy-peasy! No sweat! I could do that in my sleep! I mean, I’ve basically signed up for 50,000 plus 30,000 plus whatever my extra challenge is for next month unless I find a way to work ahead this month. All on top of my normal work hours, my usual obligations, and the fact that I’m going to need to work out or at least go on a long walk every day so I don’t turn into a pile of pudding. I really suck at taking it easy, don’t I?

But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? This isn’t supposed to be easy. I’m supposed to be working on stuff in order to grow as a writer. I want to widen my horizons, improve my skills, and try things I wouldn’t normally try. Fifty thousand words is all well and good, but I’ve done that five times so far. I want to do something new, try to push myself in a new direction, and maybe lose myself in something bigger than my own problems. I’m going to struggle with my mental health, but I always do. I may need to find better ways to cope with what’s going on in my head, but that also means I won’t be able to let it have as much sway as it does on days like today since I won’t be able to spend four hours writing a blog post that’s just over one thousand words.

As I’ve learned throughout my live, and during the past year especially, I work best when I don’t have room for error. Pass or fail scenarios are my jam, even if the chances of passing are small. I’m going to pick some dumb, ridiculously huge goal, try to cram a month’s of writing into eleven days so all my blog posts are written ahead of time, and then I’m going to create a made-to-order romance novel in order to force myself to improve my ability to write things that aren’t necessarily something that thrills me.

To that end, here are my three ideas:

  • Something based on some D&D characters from a really old game (that happens in a D&D world, with quantifiable numbers and stuff, rather than a “typical” fantasy world).
  • Aggressive Romance Novel Woman meets normal 20-something dude and worlds collide. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Astronaut/Werewolf/Demon/Mole-Person man meets Basic “Becky” and falls madly in love, but only during Pumpkin Spice season.
  • Air-Force Pilot/Old-School Vampire/Faerie/Lizard-woman falls in love with a hipster trying to French press his coffee in his yurt in the woods.

Comment your preferred option(s)! You can pick as many as you like.

She Waits

She waits,
Like a mountain reaching for the sky,
Pushed up by unseen plates in an embrace
It will never know or feel,
She waits for a call
To hear a voice she knows
She may have already heard
For the last time.
She waits for comfort,
A desert cactus counting days
Since the last rain,
Pinning hope on each passing cloud
As the little water it has slowly drains.
She waits,
Breathing deeply, fighting anxiety
As each buzz of her phone,
Each ping on her computer
Resurrects hope she abandoned
When it pulled out her hair
And chewed her nails to the quick.
All I can do is stand by and watch
While she waits,
Useless words weigh down my tongue,
Empty gestures tie my arms,
And the knowledge I cannot fill
The hole she feels bows my head.
She waits,
Knowing what might be lost
Cannot be replaced,
Like a dried up river
Leaves a furrow in the earth
That will linger on until
The entire world has changed.
So she waits,
Living the best she can
With one ear cocked for a sound
And one eye watching for a face,
And a smile to hide them both.

Let’s Talk About Pokemon Go’s Newest Adaptation

There’s a new Pokemon game coming out for the Nintendo Switch, called “Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!” If you aren’t aware, it’s basically a remake of the original Pokemon games with a few changes. The biggest ones have to do with wild Pokemon and the player’s interactions with them. In previous iterations of the standard style, you would wander around in the grass until you spawned a random encounter with a Pokemon from wherever the grass is located. Then you fought the Pokemon until it was weak enough to be captured or you defeated it. Now, you actually see the Pokemon walking around and can pick which ones you encounter.  Additionally, you catch them like you do in Pokemon Go. You use a berry if you want to, select your ball, wait for the circle to be the right size, and then attempt to throw the pokeball so it lands inside the circle. Then you either catch it or you don’t. There’s no battling involved, except with the occasional trainer.

This was one of the first things we learned about the new game and it upset a lot of people. More so even than the fact that it was a third remake of the first generation of Pokemon games. The change is a pretty big departure from the core games. Battling wild Pokemon in order to gain XP and level up is such a core element of the game that felt like spending money on this game would be a waste. Wandering around, training Pokemon, and collecting XP has always been a core aspect of the games for me because I use them primarily as a way of shutting my mind down for a few hours or as a way of quieting my mind when I can’t sleep. That’s going to be a lot harder to do when I actually need to look at the game and employ motion controls with any degree of accuracy since you only get XP if you catch the Pokemon. How am I supposed to just cruise through the game with an overpowered team if I can’t dedicate a few mindless hours of battling wild Pokemon to each area between cities or gyms so my Pokemon stay above the curve by five to ten levels?

Thinking about it like that, it made it clear that this wasn’t a game for me. News that has come out since then, about other things that will be different about Pokemon: Let’s Go has made it clear that this game wasn’t meant for me or anyone like me. This game was meant for people getting into Pokemon for the first time. Children who have had to try to pick up the games that are always at least partially targeted toward older audiences, casual gamers who want a quiet couch game that doesn’t involve a lot of meta-analysis, or people who haven’t really played many games before but have started now that Pokemon Go has proven so popular and accessible. It’s a reintroduction to the series that somewhat mirrors the way the first game was simpler than all the ones since then.

For instance, Let’s Go won’t have eggs or breeding. All of the highly competitive aspects of the game that stem from that won’t be present either. There will be no breeding for natures, IVs, or EVs. Egg moves, secret abilities, TM/HMs won’t get passed down through generations to create the perfect Pokemon after a dozen hours of breeding, walking, and hatching. Now you need to catch the Pokemon or send them over from Pokemon Go if you want to try for a specific nature and all of that is more or less random. Sure, there are elements the game has that the originals did not, but it’s stuff like playing little mini games with your Pokemon to make it like you more or handing over surplus Pokemon for candies that boost your Pokemon’s stats (which actually maps pretty well to IV/EV stuff and the various stat-boosting items you could get when you inevitably wound up with more money than you knew what to do with).  Everything they’ve added fits within the relatively simple and less competitive framework of the original game. Your only real competition are the friends you battle against using the system link or the game itself, most of which is pretty optional.

In order to entice the older, more competitive audience as well–and I’m willing to admit that this idea has gotten me interested in buying the game again–they’re adding “Master Trainers” to the game. These trainers are the specific master trainer of one type of Pokemon and you will have to battle them with that specific Pokemon as well. Your Charizard will have to battle their Charizard, and it’ll actually be a tough fight since their Pokemon will allegedly be specifically geared toward fighting its own species. Gyarados has been able to learn thunderbolt for a long time, but trying to beat one that knows that with another Gyarados? That sounds like an incredibly tough challenge that would require me to not only level up my Pokemon, but maximize its potential stats and find a way to give it an unbeatable set of moves. Which is exactly what most of the super-competitive Pokemon players where saying this set of games lacked. I’m not that competitive, but the idea of being declared a Pokemon Master after all these years sounds incredibly tempting, especially for my favorite Pokemon.

I’m still curious about how the game’s going to go once it comes out, but the twin powers of nostalgia and disposable income have convinced me it’s worth buying. I doubt I’ll try to get anyone else to buy it and just make up for the lack of a trading partner with Pokemon Go, but I expect it’ll be a good time now that I’ve started looking at it the right way. This isn’t a remake, it’s a reintroduction, and I think that’s a great thing. I hope more people online start to see it for what it is as well.

You Should be Reading “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”

If you are a Human who uses social media, grew up on the internet, are a part of modern society, have regular access to the internet, or sometimes wonder how the world has become as angry and loud as it currently is, you need to read Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.” Ideally, everyone should read it. I doubt it’s the first book of its kind, but I don’t know if any other book like it speaks with as much experience, is written with as much clarity, or delivers as powerful a message as Hank Green’s does. This Science Fiction/Coming-of-Age-For-The-Modern-Twenty-Something novel is the beginning of something big that I can’t really put my finger on, but everyone I know who has read it agrees with me so I’m inclined to believe my gut on this one. You should read this so you don’t fall behind. Also, if you someone miss that feeling of something on the horizon or don’t really get what I’m talking about, you’ll at least have read a good book.

Even though this book doesn’t really fit into any of the modern genres, I still think it’s useful to talk about it in those contexts. This is a science fiction novel because it involves a world much like our own with a few changes, all of which could be explained by technological advances. It also talks about the way technology (in this case, social media) impacts civilization and offers some wonderful, insightful commentary on the lives of Humans and on Humanity as a whole. It is a Coming-of-Age novel because it involves the growth of a character from a more “childlike” mindset to a more “adult” one, even if all it really does is show an adult, albeit one in their early-to-mid-twenties, becoming wiser and more responsible as a result of the challenges they face and overcome. The book, at its core, is both of these things done in the best ways possible. The story focuses on a young woman who suddenly finds herself going viral and what she does as a result of that. She makes mistakes, she learns a more about how the world and Humanity works, and she ultimately makes a statement about the Human Condition.

Even though you can’t really separate it from those genres, it still shouldn’t be lumped into them without an asterisk. Instead of the usual coming-of-age story about a child becoming an adult or leaving behind the carefree days of youth for the responsibilities of adulthood, this story is about the uncertainty modern twenty-somethings face and the way that we struggle to find a place to exist in the world. Above all else, though, it’s a story about the internet and how Hank Green feels about it, as told through a fictional setting making use of hyperbole to make a point. If you don’t know who Hank Green is, he’s the younger half of the Vlog Brothers and the person who has most relentlessly pursued a pro-internet agenda. He’s started dozens of companies, or at least started dozens of big projects, like various educational shows with their own YouTube channels, a side channel for his process and projects as a whole, 2D glasses for people like me (well, people like his wife) who get headaches when we watch 3D movies, at least one charity, multiple conventions, and so much more. He has been a huge part of internet culture for a long time and he has firmly advocated that the internet is a good thing.

If you went to one of his book events or have read the book, you know he doesn’t really believe that anymore. Now, he seems pretty clear that the internet is a tool. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on how it’s used. He has a lot more to say on the topic, but I don’t trust myself to properly recall the talk he gave at his book event and I will update this review with a video about it if he ever posts one (or if I find one he’s previously posted). To summarize, though, we basically failed to establish rules on the internet and that has allowed a lot of very angry and very loud people to have influence we should have denied them. Unlike physical societies or communities, there aren’t strict mores governing how we treat each other on the internet. Closely tied communities like the Nerdfighters (what the fans of the Green Brothers call themselves) might have some, but the internet at large does not, nor do a lot of internet communities. All of which is an important part of understanding what Hank Green says in his book during the times the protagonist, April May, interacts with her fan communities. Or strangers on the internet. Or the communities that sprung up specifically to oppose her. There’s a lot of really good social commentary that feels particularly relevant after the shitshow that was 2015 and 2016 wound up deciding to carry on through the present. There are entire characters, antagonists mostly, who map to some of the negativity and hate that we’ve seen crop up since then, and it’s all shown to us by someone who knows what it is like to be an internet celebrity, to be able to influence thousands of people with a single tweet. Someone who knows what that power can do to people has reached out and shown us what that power can do to the person who has it and wants to use it for good.

Even without all that, it’s still a really engaging book that addresses the age-old question of “what would it look like if we had an encounter with an alien species?” The story is about a young woman who finds what looks to be a new art installation in New York City when she’s heading home from work late one night, and how her life changes as she becomes the official face of what the world has taken to calling “the Carls,” which are the exact same art installation that appeared in cities all over the world at the exact same moment. There’s romance, heartbreak, violence, and even a bit of heartwarming friendship all mixed into a plot that could carry the book on its own. April May has to figure out what the art installations are and defend her beliefs about them in front of an international. audience before the people who are senselessly promoting fear and hate get ahead of her, or else she’ll lose what she believes in one of the best opportunities she has to be a force for good in the world.

The writing itself is clean, pleasant, and easy to follow. It reflects the way Hank thinks and talks in his YouTube videos. Hank tends to keep his sentences brisk and direct, heading directly toward his meaning like they’re going to lose out if they don’t get there quickly. It works really well for a book like “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” a story told as if the narrator were speaking to us or writing an informal blog post. There are a few places where that backfires a bit, ending in some grammatically correct but difficult sentences were the verb tenses combine to make a tangle of words, but there’s literally no way to avoid this in the English language if you’re writing a first-person narrative in the past-tense about events that happened but are still sorta of a part of life when the story is being told and specific things might even still be happening the day the reader picks up the book. I don’t really ascribe to the whole “English rifles through the pockets of other languages for loose grammar” derision a lot of people express (I literally studied the languages that combined to become English and the history of the English language, so I’ve got a view-point that most people don’t have), but I will say that past tense talking about events still ongoing is a pain in the ass to write. These moments that no one can avoid are the only burrs in the story and it wouldn’t have been as powerful any other way. Just keep going if you hit them. The meaning of each sentence is clear enough, they just sound weird in your head or out loud.

While we only see one character in detail, we get enough of a picture of the other characters for them to all feel incredibly real. Even the bossy, sorta nasty PR woman who basically takes on all of April May’s publicity and contacts stuff seems like a real person you’ve met even if she’s only in the story a handful of times. The main antagonist, who sees The Carls as something to be feared and hated rather than as something that could unite Humanity, even gets the same treatment. Despite appearing as a caricature of hate (like a lot of internet personalities), Hank Green manages to make it clear that this person has depth to them, even if all we see if their caricature because the narrator doesn’t spend much time on them. More than any one character, though, Humanity as a whole gets one of the best depictions I’ve ever read. We’re depicted as beings who want to simplify and who often define ourselves not by what we support but by what we fight against. Some of whom will embrace hate or fall prey to fear when we’re up against something we don’t understand instead of taking a chance on hope and love. It’s honestly kind of refreshing to see someone who regularly witnesses the best and worst of humanity as an online media presence show us in a truthful and complex light rather than just one extreme or the other.

You should read this book. Everyone should read this book. I’ve bought three copies and am planning to buy more, just so I can give it away to people. If you really want it but can’t afford it, I will try to buy it for you, finances permitting (I can’t afford to buy one for everyone, though I totally would if I could). Buy it for yourself and then treat yourself to an afternoon of reading. Knock it out in one sitting and then bask a book that is the start of something much bigger than itself. Maybe in a few more years, there’ll be an entire genre for books about finding meaning in the twenty-first century and trying to grow as a twenty-something. I can’t wait to see what comes of this movement and I’m going to do my best to be a part of it.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 33

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


Five Years Later

“Next, please.” I grabbed the paper application and scanned the top for a name. “Felix?”

“Yessir.” The man before me nodded his head and then clasped his arms behind his back.

“You want to be a Wayfinder.”

“Yessir.”

I skimmed through the application for his aptitude test score and suppressed the urge to whistle. The kid had passed, but only just. His scores were all at the cutoff point. Even one more mark off in any of the tests and he would have failed. I looked up at him and his head snapped up so he was staring at the wall instead of me. I sighed.

“Why do you want to be a Wayfinder, Felix?”

“Sir.” Felix cleared his throat, glanced down at me, and then resumed staring at the wall behind me. “I want a taste of the open air. I want to wander between Enclaves, free to see what’s left of the world my parents lost, and I want to do my part to help Humanity keep moving forward.”

“Did you just read that off the poster behind me?” I turned to look at the wall behind me and found his exact words printed there, on one of Natalie’s old recruitment posters. I turned back to Felix who was suddenly incredibly interested in the edge of my desk. I watched him for a moment before shaking my head. “You’re good enough, Felix. With training, you could be even better. It’s clear your heart really isn’t in it, though.”

“I know, sir.” Felix met my eyes for a brief moment. “I just… It’s the only thing that would get me out of here. I want to get away and be a hero while I’m at it. Learn to fight monsters, kill bandits, and save people. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. Everything else feels pointless in the face of this unending winter.”

I stamped the application in my hand and gave it back to him. “Like I said, you’re good enough. I don’t know if wanting any kind of meaning in your life will get you through your basic training and then three years of shadowing as a trainee, but I’m not going to stop you from trying.”

“Thank you, sir.” Felix saluted and then walked off toward the clerk’s desk, where he’d be assigned to a training group. I watched him for a moment before turning back to my desk and the line of waiting people, all hoping to become Wayfinders.

After well over fifty rejections, two more admissions, and a handful of people I managed to convince not to join, the line had emptied out and I was able to get to work on some of the paperwork I had to file with the Enclave for bringing on new Wayfinders. The new training program was great, and we were seeing a higher rate of trainee survival during the four years I’d been running things out of the Chicago Enclave, but it meant paying Wayfinder trainees for a year before we could use them for anything and that meant leaning on the Enclave a little.

They were completely fine with supporting us, of course, since our training programs kept the area free of bandits and monsters, but it did mean a lot of paperwork. It also meant Camille and I got paid instead of living off our savings, which we both enjoyed. Lucas was the only one who had actually retired and it was increasingly clear that he was glad to be sharing a living space and food with the rest of us since it kept his bills low.

After I finished the paperwork, it was about mid-afternoon, so I decided to call it an early day. Anyone who came after I left could stick their applications in the drop slot in the door of the office I rented, or leave it with Will, the man I’d hired to take care of scheduling and organizing the training programs. He made sure each of the Wayfinder instructors had a full class and kept track of when each new group was full enough to start being taught. He was an ex-Wayfinder as well, missing an arm and a leg, so he was all too happy to demonstrate what the job could cost you even if you were good at it.

It helped get rid of all the people signing up just because I was still popular as one of the heroes of the last monster attack five years ago. Natalie had kept me in the spotlight for a while, letting me ride fame for a bit to get more Wayfinders and to get the Enclave some good will after their last plan resulted in a bandit and monster attack. No one really blamed them, but there’d been a lot of resentment to go around back then and a few almost-riots.

After I’d waved goodbye to Will, I left the office and made my way through the office park to the main road. A couple miles of walking, interrupted by a few conversations with people I walked by every day, got me to the center of the Enclave and the laboratory where Natalie worked. I waved at the same people, made the same comfortable, old jokes, and was waiting on the comfortable, ancient couch in Natalie’s office fifteen minutes after I got there, rifling through the same old science journals she’d been hoarding since someone found an intact library.

At this point, I’d opened them more than her, all while waiting for her. My job was fairly casual since I was mostly just pushing paper for the Wayfinders as a whole and processing applicants after they’d take their tests. Natalie was part of a group of scientists who were trying to figure out a way to beat the monsters for good. She wasn’t able to talk about her work much, but it was clear they were on to something given how excited she’d been lately and how late she’d been working most days.

I wound up taking a short nap while I waited and only woke up once Natalie had plopped down beside me, sighing. “Marshall, sweetie, how nice of you to drop by.”

I blinked and shook my head a bit, trying to clear the sleep from my mind. “Today was slow so I thought I’d come by to make sure you ate dinner.” I yawned and slipped my arm around here shoulders as she got into a more comfortable position on the couch.

“Oh, is that all?” Natalie leaned over to give me a kiss that lasted a bit longer than I expected. “It’s been a while since we’ve both had a few moments to ourselves and are awake enough to put them to use.” Natalie pulled me a little closer and smiled up at me.

“Oh.” I blinked, trying to pull my mind together still and suddenly fighting the battle on two fronts. “What about the offices next door?”

“Everyone’s in the lab.” Natalie pressed a little closer to me and I cleared my throat.

“What about the hallway? That door isn’t very sound proof.” I swallowed. “Or lockable.”

Natalie leaned back and laughed. “You’d think we’d never had to be quiet before! We used to have nothing but the walls of our tent separating us from other people.”

I laughed too, a little less loudly. “Sure, but I’ve kind of gotten used to having privacy.”

“Alright. Let’s go get dinner then and I’ll make sure I’m home before it gets too late.” Natalie winked at me and pushed herself to her feet.

I stood up and stretched, trying to get my heart rate back down again. “How was work?” I grabbed the water bottle off of Natalie’s desk and took a few drinks to clear the sleep taste out of my mouth.

“Fine. I wish I could tell you what I’m working on.” Natalie smiled and gathered up her bag. “You’d love the idea of it.”

“Yeah?” I set the bottle down and followed her into the hallway. She led us through the labyrinth of tunnels, making our down to the cafeteria on one of the bunker levels. Any of the scientists could eat in the cafeteria for free since the Enclave wanted to keep them working here, but the tradeoff was that they were required to report in, with as many family members as they wanted, any time there was an alert. The bunker could house all of them and their laboratories, so they could work on solutions to whatever problems plague the surface.

There’d only been one alarm since Natalie started working here and it had been a real pain to have to haul myself out of bed and into the bunker instead of rising to the city’s defense like last time. It had turned out to be a false alarm, thankfully, but I still didn’t much like the idea of having to choose between defending the city and staying with Natalie.

While we ate, we talked about schedules and I let her know that Camille and I would be in the field starting next week while she let me know that they were shutting down the lab the following weekend, to force everyone to take a break and rest, so she’d have a few days entirely free. We made plans and just enjoyed each other’s company until Natalie’s watch started beeping at her.

“Sorry, Marshall, my test is done. I need to go check on the results.”

I picked up our trays and gave her a kiss. “I’ll take care of this and see myself out. See you tonight.”

“See you tonight.” Natalie slapped my butt as I walked away and I chuckled self-consciously as I tried to avoid making eye contact with anyone else in the cafeteria. Once I’d escaped the confusing tunnels of the Enclave research laboratory, I made my way back to the compound. There were fewer people in it now, but we’d done some remodeling so those of us who wanted larger rooms had them. The only other person who still lived there, besides Natalie, Camille, Lucas, and myself was Tiffany.

After she’d figured out how to do everything she wanted to with only one hand and had learned everything Natalie could teach her, she wound up staying in the Enclave, working with Camille as a Wayfinder trainer and helping the Enclave defenders to keep the city clear of bandits and monsters. She spent more nights out of the compound than in it, but she had no desire to find a place of her own. And she still managed to constantly scare me by hiding in plain sight until she wanted something. I just assumed she was around all the time now, even if I saw her walk out the door.

When I finished taking off my snowsuit and boots, I found Camille and Lucas sitting the in the lounge, talking about something quietly. When they noticed me, they both immediately fell silent and then started talking loudly about Camille’s training group. I sighed and just went to the kitchen to grab some water. I’d already tried getting them to talk about whatever it is they were up to, but Camille just played dumb and Lucas told me to talk to Camille about it.

Just as I was about to go find something to read while I made sure I was properly hydrated for the evening, Camille and Lucas sauntered into the kitchen. I looked at them, dreading whatever it was they were about to say. Camille opened her mouth to speak a couple of times, but it was Lucas who eventually broke the silence.

“I’m bored and I wanna go back to Wayfinding. Camille feels the same way and Tiffany won’t admit it to you, but she’s getting super tired of teaching trainees.”

I put down my glass of water, walked over to the kitchen table, sat down, and rubbed my face with my hands. “Is that really what you’ve been secretly talking about for months?”

“Yes.” Camille sad down opposite me, hands folded in front of her. Lucas leaned against the wall behind her.

“Why? What took you so long to say that?” I folded my arms across my chest and leaned back. “I get that maybe you’d be worried about how I’d react, but this doesn’t feel like it was worth months of quiet discussion.”

“It wasn’t.” Camille leaned forward a little bit. “We think you should come with us.”

“Oh.” I looked from one of them to the other. “And Natalie?”

“She won’t want to come.” Lucas stepped forward to stand next to Camille. “She’s clearly enjoying her job at the laboratory and she didn’t really want freedom like the rest of us did. She loved our mission, but she doesn’t feel the same need to be moving that the rest of us do.”

“Okay, that makes sense.” I shook my head slowly, incredulously. “But what makes you think I want to go? I’m perfectly content to take things a bit easier and I love being able to live openly with Natalie instead of having to hide our relationship from rules I created.”

“But you’re clearly just as bored as the two of us.” Camille shrugged and then folded her arms loosely on the table. “You do the same thing every day, putter around the compound every day, and it’s clear to anyone watching you that you’re trying to find comfort in routines that are slowly driving you crazy.”

“What?”

“Marshall, c’mon.” Lucas sat down on the edge of one of the other chairs. “Give us some credit. Natalie may be too busy to notice, but do you really think that we haven’t seen you keep up your Wayfinder training? Or not hear you throwing books around your room in frustration when your days at work have been particularly slow.”

“You’re a lot of things, Marshall, but you’re never one to sit around while things need doing.” Camille smiled. “You’ve fixed everything in the compound twice and would have tripled that number if Tiffany hadn’t taken you to task for fixing things that weren’t broken.”

“Maybe I am bored.” I shrugged, trying to ignore the feeling of being caught in what I’d thought had been a well crafted illusion. “But I definitely don’t want to go back to Wayfinding like we used to. I have a life here, now, and I’d rather stay with Natalie and be bored until the day I die that leave here without her.”

Lucas held up a hand, halting the tirade I was building toward. “What if you didn’t need to leave here?”

“How could I do that?”

“Single trip missions.” Camille pulled a map out of her pocket and laid it out on the table in front of us. “Tiffany has marked every Enclave we can reach and returned from between blizzards. There are even a few that are about a blizzard away that would be perfect for longer trips since we’d be able to easily manage them between blizzards and stay in an Enclave during a blizzard.”

“All the fun of Wayfinding with none of the hassle involved in finding and fortifying shelters. No traipsing across the entire continent for dumb clients who think their life will be better on the west coast than it is on the east coast.” Lucas leaned forward and started pointing out routes. “We could even do shorter trips, if you want time at home. Because of the strength of the Chicago Enclave and their anti-signal net, tons of other Enclaves are sending people back and forth to study it and figure out how to set up something similar in their city.”

Camille started reading off the numbers next to each route. “Thirty-two days. Fifteen days. Forty-five days. They’re all easily reachable in the time between blizzards. We take the jobs we want, stick to our small group, and we should be able to go back to Wayfinding like we used to without a problem.”

“You’d see Natalie at least as much as you see her now.” Lucas smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Maybe even more since she’d make time for you instead of basically ignoring you for six months while she’s busy with some project.”

Lucas was looking up at the ceiling while he spoke, so he didn’t see my face go from nervously interested to angry, but Camille did. Camille immediately whacked Lucas in the check, grabbed the maps, and stood up. “Sorry, Marshall. He didn’t mean it like that. We don’t expect an answer right now, so we’ll going to leave right now and give you some time to think it over.”

“Mean what?” Lucas rubbed his chest as he stood up, glaring at Camille. “I meant what I said, she basically ignores him, comes home late, leaves just before he does. If it wasn’t for the fact that they shared a room, I doubt they were in a relationship.”

Camille stuffed the maps back into her pockets and walked away, apologizing to me again as she went. Lucas looked after her for a moment, and then finally looked at me. He practically ran after her when he saw the stony look on my face and apologized as he went. “Sorry, Marshall. I let my mouth run away with my again. I didn’t mean it like that.” After he disappeared around the corner, he shouted back. “Think about it.”

I tried to stay angry for a while, but I couldn’t. I did feel ignored sometimes, when Natalie got caught up in a project, but I loved how much she cared about the stuff she did so I wouldn’t have wanted her any other way. Plus, they were right. I was bored. Routines were nice, but almost two years of the same thing with no variations aside from the occasional trip to hunt Monsters as part of the graduation ceremony for a trainee Wayfinder left me feeling somewhat numb. It would be nice to get out and doing stuff again. Leave the desk behind for most of the year and get back on my feet.

It was incredibly tempting. So tempting that I was still thinking about it as I lay awake after my evening with Natalie. I held her close to me as I thought about the logistics of the trips and how I sometimes wished to be back in my sleeping bag again, sleeping on the packed snow that was always the wrong shape when you went to sleep up perfectly molded to your body by the time you woke up. Small cook fires that made everyone huddle close, storytelling with the various travelers we guided, the dazzling white of a bright snowy morning in the tundra.

It was so tempting that I was still awake when Natalie’s alarm went off on her watch and she got up to get ready for work.

Tabletop Highlight: Converting Your Game to a New System

There comes a point in most Game Masters’ lives when the game they are running has outlived the system in which it began. Sometimes that’s the result of a new set of rules coming out that make the game easier to enjoy. Other times it’s because the old system is incredibly dense and difficult to get into whereas the new system is much easier on new players, who suddenly make up a significant potion of the people in the game. Maybe everyone got a little tired of the old system and agreed the new system is going to be much more fun to play. Whatever the reason, you now face the difficulty of helping your players transition from one system to another while also trying to change your notes for future sessions, bad guys, and house rules so they all fit into the new system. A monumental task that makes creating a dungeon seem like a simple job.

I’d recommend doing this during a hiatus or at least planning on missing two weeks worth of sessions since you don’t want to go into this half-cocked, especially if you have a lot of house rules. If you’re good at Fudging It, you can skip the house rules and the overall process will be easier, but you probably shouldn’t skip if you can avoid it. Having house rules the players depend on changed to the new system is important because it helps them set expectations for how things have changed. For a lot of systems, these kind of changes are pretty simple. Converting a Dungeons and Dragons campaign from edition 3.5 to Pathfinder is a simple task since Pathfinder was heavily influenced by 3.5 and most of the numbers are the same from one game to the next. Changing 3.5 to fifth edition is not nearly so easy, even if it seems easy on the surface. House rules about critical change because there is no rolling to confirm critical hits in fifth edition, but that’s easily resolved since you would just drop house rules about confirming critical hits. House rules about treasure, though could change. Fifth edition magic items operate on a very different scale than magic items in 3.5, and the same goes for pretty much any numerical roll. Skills have lower numbers and the difficulties of checks are lower since rolling high in fifth edition is rolling a thirty. If you’ve got a bunch of custom checks mapped out for skills or actions the players regularly use, you’ll definitely need to rework those.

Additionally, there are a lot of balance changes that happen from one game to another. In edition 3.5 of Dungeons and Dragons, fighters tend to be focused on combat skills or utility. In fifth edition, what they focus on changes depending on their specialization and they can wind up as anything from excellent tanks to damage-dealing monsters. Someone with a highly specialized build will need to do a lot of changing as well, perhaps to the point of basically having an entirely new character. If you have prestige classes in 3.5, chances are good that you won’t have them or anything directly related to that specific skill set in fifth edition. And that’s from one edition of a game system to a newer edition. At their core, they’re still the same d20-based game, but what if you make a bigger change?

If you’re running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that focuses mostly on roleplaying and storytelling, your players might find themselves frustrated with combat and certain skill applications since they tend to bog down a bit once it is time for everyone to start rolling dice. If your players don’t particularly care about the system you’re playing, it can be incredibly beneficial to switch to a Fate system since the skills and combat are much more narrative-based and tend to resolve much more quickly. However, there isn’t a clear class system and the conversion from class levels in Dungeons and Dragons to skill points(the main display of a character’s power) in Fate isn’t a super clear one since even the skills don’t really represent the abilities a Fighter or Wizard might have. It can be done with enough work and the thoughtful participation of all parties, but it definitely won’t be easy. There are other d20 systems out there as well, some closer to Dungeons and Dragons and some decidedly less so, that could be used to take the game in a more Sci-Fi direction, but converting to them is going to run into a different version of the same issue.

While you’ll be missing a couple of sessions while you work out how most of the numbers, power levels, and custom rules will convert, you should include the players in the process. You can use normal session time to do it, or you can start a texting group to get their thoughts. It’s good if you find a way to convert the numbers that makes sense to you, but you also need to consider the players and how they view their characters. No one is going to want to go from feeling incredibly powerful to feeling weak or useless. You can avoid that by working with your players and offering solutions to their feelings of powerlessness, even if it makes the character seem more powerful than they should be. For the most part, it’s fine if the players wind up with powerful characters and it’s even possible that something that seems incredibly powerful will wind up not being as useful as you thought once you start playing again. The best part of any kind of conversion is the knowledge that you can always go back to tweak things as the game continues since no one in their right mind would hold it against you.

Changing systems is a lot of work and, if you’re open and clear about it with your players, they’ll help you find solutions and be more ready to forgive any mistakes that crop up while you’re still ironing out the fine details.

All Natural

It was one of the parks in the city big enough to let you forget you were surrounded by concrete and glass. Lucia wouldn’t know he was there.

His phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket, saw her face, and silenced it as he fought down the rising panic. It was only three in the afternoon and he had plenty of time. As the panic started to win the battle, he hauled himself to his feet and started walking toward the parking lot.

Half an hour later, his bugout bag in hand, he bought a greyhound ticket. Once he got to the state park, it was easy to find someone willing to sell him camping gear. He had plenty of money and most of the people he saw didn’t really want to be camping anyway.

It was early morning by the time he began setting up camp. There was no way anyone would be able to find him. He basked in that peace for two days, surviving off the fat of the land and drinking from crystal springs. But then he approached his campsite one night and heard voices.

Abandoning his gear, he immediately turned around and headed toward the nearby mountain. He walked through the night and didn’t stop until the sun had set again. When he gave up trying to sleep, the sun was rising. He walked toward a cliff to check his surroundings. As he admired the beauty of this national park, his phone rang. He pulled it out and answered.

“Hi, Lucia.”

“Sweetie! Where have you gone?”

Adam pulled the phone away from his face and bellowed. “You’ll never find me, you devil.” He threw his phone as hard as he could, watching it sail into the distance, and shouted after it. “I quit!”

Saturday Morning Musing

I read Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” earlier this week. I’ve got a review coming for Wednesday, 10/17, but there’s so much I wanted to say about it that it didn’t fit in one post. I couldn’t even figure out how to string it together in one post, so these are the bits that have less to do with critical analysis and more to do with my reflections on the book, all of which kind of built from when I started reading until long after I finished writing this post. And they’ll probably keep going long after this post goes up.

While I wouldn’t say that this book really presented any new ideas to me, thanks in part to my own moment of being semi-viral on a small subsection of Twitter and the excellent speech Hank Green gave at the book event I attended, it still changed the way I was thinking. I’ve always been aware of the idea of the person-as-a-brand thing creators tend to do with their social media and the way that we all tend to be specific parts of ourselves when we’re online rather than our “whole selves,” whatever that means. I’ve even spent a lot of time thinking about it and trying to find a way to make my “brand” fit as closely with who I am that there’s little real difference. The problem is, by sticking to being myself, I’m actually losing opportunities to grow my following. Brands are simpler than people are. There’s a message to stick to and an idea to form everything around. People are more complicated and some of us like to just listen or observe before weighing in. I am a listener and I tend to save my words for when I think they’re important or valuable, so constantly posting and trying to stay “On Brand” is super difficult for me.

Beyond that, there’s the whole idea trying to fit your content to your platform, what content does well on a platform, how to generate an audience on whatever platform you’re on, and then how to stand out from all the people doing the same thing that you are. Twitter seems to be the preferred platform for most writers, but it isn’t really a place that we can host our content aside from the people who produce content that uses fewer than 280 characters. Most of us go there to connect with an audience and other writers, but constantly send them away from Twitter to view our content. We’re essentially trying to use a platform that doesn’t really support us, despite the fact that (at one point) Facebook literally had a way to post large chunks of text or specifically formatted text on the platform itself. I mean, I like Twitter better than Facebook so I get why we’re there (easier to generate a new audience, especially after the changes Facebook has rolled out and then changed over the last few years), but it makes it really difficult to be anything but a sound bite, so to speak. There’s limited room for expression of the self, just like there is on all social media, but it feels even more constrained on Twitter. Facebook has never tempted to me to distill myself down to 140/280 characters but Twitter is constantly challenging me to see if I can (this is an expression of how I feel about the platform, nothing else)

The thing is, you are who you pretend to be. If you distill yourself down to a brand that can fit into the space created by a single tweet or by a habit of tweeting throughout the day, morph yourself so you can fit into the social media mechanisms and algorithms, then you eventually become that. If you’re doing it on multiple platforms, then you become all of that. If you read yesterday’s poem, you can see I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve talked with friends who work in social media and they’ve all said I need to “develop my brand.” The thing is, it’s super tempting. I have trouble connecting with new people a lot of the time, so the idea that I could find a way to be easily understood by people in a way that I also understand is super appealing. To be able to find a place I fit and have people support me because I fit sounds so great that it’s a constantly battle to hold myself back from fully committing to “Chris Amann: The Brand.” Because I could do that. It’s all a giant puzzle you can solve and I absolutely love puzzles. I could be good at it since I’ve got enough of an amorphous personality to pretty much fit into whatever space I want to.

But that’s a constantly battle. There’s no end to trying to stay relevant if you want to ride the social media train. There are exceptions, of course, people who managed to create their own niche rather than by conforming to the spaces social media creates, but that’s not really something you can plan on or prepare for. I mean, I’ve posted to this blog every day for nearly a year and I still have days with no views and struggle to break past the average of five or six views a day. Sure, I’ve had some big moments where I’ve gotten a lot of attention, but every single one of those has been from playing the social media game and leveraging other creators audiences. Or from that time I went semi-viral because it didn’t occur to me that Writer Twitter would go bonkers for someone who was willing to review books for free since it also never occurred to me that I could make money doing this.

I mean, this blog isn’t about making money. I specifically chose to not make money on this and had to actually do work to disable advertisements since I want this to be 100% about holding myself accountable for writing every day. I’m fine doing reviews for free since I want people to read good stuff and I know a lot of people who do great work but don’t necessarily have the money to pay for reviews and promotional services. Plus, I don’t exactly have a huge audience. I’d feel weird trying to charge people for reviews when 95% of the people who are going to see that review are their own twitter followers when they retweet my review.

All that being said, I still like social media and I’m still going to keep up my writing accounts because they’re a platform I can use for good things, advocating for positivity and kindness benefits from a platform of any size, and I can express myself however I want to on the internet. I may struggle to avoid reducing myself to a brand and I may get a little too addicted to feeding my anxiety by constantly scrolling, but I still think I benefit more from social media than I suffer from it. I’ve made some good friends, I’ve gotten exposed to some amazing media, and there’s a sense of community that springs up if you give it the time and space to grow. A lot of this same stuff can get used in crappy ways to spread fear and hate instead of kindness and connectivity (and indeed seems to be used primarily for those things), but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We just have to work a little harder.