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I’m back. Unfortunately, I did not come back alone — I have brought some sort of a bug along with me… so I have taken to my bed. Surprisingly accurate image of my current cirmstances at the right, minus the haloes, wimples and saints. And, rather than being surrounded by loving attendants, I’m just an unshaven slob in an unmade bed with dirty socks on the floor, luggage not yet unpacked and a sink full of dirty dishes.

Hope to become more active in the coming days/weeks… and the Fridge is empty so I know I need to at least venture out to the store for supplies. But I feel like crap.

Happy Holidays!

I’ll be hitting the road for about a week and will probably be away from the computer for most or all of that time. Have a good Holiday; speak to you in the new year!

Thoughtcrime 1.0

Philip Greaves, the man who wrote a ‘how to’ book on pedophilia that was briefly for sale on Amazon, has been arrested in Florida even though he lives in Colorado. Greaves wrote and self-published the book, “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct,” in Pueblo, Colorado. It was briefly carried on, but, after considerable protest, removed from Amazon’s list of products for sale. Detectives in Polk County, Florida, apparently purchased the book from Greaves through the mail, had him arrested by the Pueblo police and are now seeking to have him extradited to Florida where he will be charged. Sheriff Grady Judd said, “The message is very clear: If you write a book, if you sell that book, if you transmit that book to anyone in our jurisdiction, then we will investigate you and arrest, because our goal is protect the children.

I would never say that I like the idea of someone writing a book like Greave’s book. There is no doubt in my mind that pedophilia is wrong. But I’m extraordinarily disturbed that a Sheriff in Florida would first ask someone in another state to send him a book and then seek to arrest that person for having sent them the book. The arrest hinges on the fact that such a book is illegal in Florida (Mr. Greaves may have been ignorant of that fact), but Mr. Greaves did not violate the Florida law until detectives in Florida wrote to him and asked him to send them the book. The Sheriff is arresting Mr. Greaves for a crime that law enforcement officers encouraged Mr. Greaves to commit. Aren’t there any actual criminals in Florida in need or arrest?

The other part of the story that disturbs me is that Mr. Greaves isn’t being arrested for commiting acts of pedophila. He is being arrested for writing about pedophila. I think that’s an important distinction. I’m certain that rape is wrong and I think rape should be illegal, but I don’t recall anyone having suggested that it would be right to arrest Ayn Rand for the rape scene she wrote about in “The Fountainhead.” On a practical level, I am very uncomforable with laws that don’t limit themselves to what the criminal does, but instead extend into what the criminal might think or write about. Reading books about murder or fantasizing about murdering someone or even writing a book about killing someone is not murder. And yet, Sheriff Judd claims that he wants to protect the children by arresting someone in another state who wrote a book. Should the authors of ‘Lolita’ and ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ also be arrested since those works of fiction contain references to pedophilia?

The entire story worries me because it makes me wonder what the next logical progression of this event might be. If Greaves can be arrested for writing a book in Colorado that is illegal in Florida, where does Florida’s juristdiction end? If writing the book is illegal, how about owning or reading it? (and, honestly, I don’t know how anyone could judge the legality of the contents of the book without reading it) If writing or reading about certain matters is illegal, then shouldn’t thinking about them be wrong as well? And, if so, how do you enforce that law?

In the end, the issue isn’t pedophilia because, as far as I know, the author is not going to be charged with physical sexual misconduct. The author wrote a book in which he apparently described how one might go about seducing children… which, no matter how distasteful we might find that, is much different than actually doing it. If anyone deserves to be arrested on the basis of the Florida law that makes it illegal to import ‘pedophilia instruction manuals’ across the state line, shouldn’t it be the detectives who caused the book to be shipped to Florida by ordering it?

When did "roleplaying" become a suicide pact?

Some players seem to come up with an idea for a character and then want to stick with that idea through hell and high water — being ‘true’ to the idea that they originally generated the character becomes the way in which they ‘are’ that character. So, before hand, the player might decide that the concept of their character is that the character is an elf hater. They might generate some sort of backstory where the corpses of their parents were found riddled with elvish arrows, making the character a kind of Charles Bronson: Deathwish’ guy who just hates elves. Should an elf show up in the game, the player will have his/her character react with hatred, attacking or refusing to cooperate with any elf (whether NPC of PC).

Unfortunately, the player will argue that his/her character’s maniacal hatred of elves will allow no other action. If objections are raised, the player will say, “But I am just playing my character.”

The problem with this approach to roleplaying(at least from my point of view), is that it tends to make all interactions with elves ‘about’ that one player character’s pathological hatred of elves. Any time an elf steps into the game, the player will grab center stage by acting on the object of their character’s wrath. Unfortunately, this seldom seems to leave much room for other players to ‘play’ whenever an elf is around because the violent dislike of elves ‘built into’ the one player’s character will preclude all other action on the part of the group.

I would suggest that generating a character with an impossible personality trait (like an unreasonable hatred of elves) can serve as a ‘poison pill’ for any hope of cooperative play. Instead of just being a ‘quirk’ of one player’s character, the player’s choice can become that which all of the action revolves around and the rest of the players need to either spend their time making sure the player character in question avoids elves or be content to having every elf NPC or PC get hacked down or driven away. My suspicion is that creating a player character that, by design, cannot cooperate with the other player characters is perhaps a passive-agressive power move on the part of the player. He or she selects a role that insures that the action will almost always revolve around them.

Blackmoor: Return to the Origins

One of my art teachers used to like to say, “The essence of originality is a return to origins.” At the time, I think he was trying to tell us something like, “All ideas come from somewhere, so if you like the way a given artist uses leaf shapes or animal shapes, etc., then, instead of imitating that artist, go look at leaves or animals.”

It is in this spirit that I have dug out my old copy of the medieval miniatures game, “Chainmail” and my copy of Dave Arneson’s “First Fantasy Campaign.” I’ve been thinking about running a continuing campaign with fantasy armies battling for supremacy in a fantasy continent reminiscent of Tony Bath’s “Hyboria” campaign for a long time. A few years ago I tried to jump start interest in a D&D campaign that switched back and forth between players RPGing adventurers going on adventures and generals running armies with mixed success by surprising the players with a war game one night. I don’t think the players liked it that much.

Instead of trying to sell others on the idea, I have begun to think about just doing a ‘minis’ campaign for my own amusement, and fighting pitched battles where I can play the part of both generals and allow fate (or the dice) to decide the course of empire.

I already have a fairly substantial collection of minis, including lots of orcs, goblins, humans, etc. I have some scenery (including scratch built buildings) although the terrain in my photos (link above) is long gone. I originally wanted to do this with my own fantasy maps, but recently I came across my copy of “The First Fantasy Campaign” and think I will just use that.
The rules will be Chainmail, with certain modifications (I think Chainmail’s morale system is impossibly complex and want something simpler).

My basic idea is to set up the fantasy kingdom as it is described in “The First Fantasy Campaign” at the start and establish each kingdom (Blackmoor, Egg of Coot, Duchy of Tehn, etc.) with a baseline of resources, including armies, monsters, etc. Then I would like to write the general motivations for each kingdom/power. The Egg of Coot, for example, wants to conquer all others on the map and convert them to his/her/it’s territories. Then I need to come up with random event cards (there are about 50-60 already in the First Fantasy Campaign) which randomly indicate viking attacks, diesease or plagues, storms, invading orcs, etc.

Hopefully, when I am done, like a ‘low tech’ game of the “Civilization” computer game. I can set events in motion and see how they develop. If Egg of Coot conquers or destroys one of Blackmoor’s villages, then Blackmoor is less able to regenerate/replace troops or supplies.

Although given everything else on my plate, I need another project like a hole in my head… but I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and have always delayed because “the time was not right” or I couldn’t find others interested. Enough. I’ll try to keep the general public informed and maybe even set up a blog/site with battle reports once I get going.

The Giant’s Adventures: I love them

I love some of the earliest adventures published by TSR back in the day, but my absolute favorites are what I call “The Giant’s Trilogy” (includes “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief,” “Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl” and “Hall of the Fire Giant King,” (later the three were gathered into one adventure called “Against the Giants”)).

By the current industry standards of Wizards of the Coast or Paizo, these would probably considered pretty lame — the first two adventures average around 8 pages each, the last in the series is two or three times as long. There aren’t very many important NPCs other than lots of giants who need killing and a few NPCs who need rescue… no nuanced non player characters, or involved plot points or adventure hooks that modern players have come to expect from published adventures like “The Adventure Path” series from Paizo. But after really trying to like the ‘adventure path’ style of adventure (and failing), I’m wishing I could return to the gonzo blood-and-guts D&D of my youth where we killed things and took their stuff.

If you are accustomed to the modern “adventure path” style adventures, the first thing you will notice is how physically insubstantial the ‘Giants’ booklets seem in comparison. The older version comes in 3 skinny folders with maps printed in light blue on the inside (in the age of photo copiers, I think this color was chosen because 1970s era Xerox copiers had trouble reproducing it, thus TSR was probably attempting to prevent ‘analog age’ file sharing). There are no boxes of text to be read aloud to the players. Most creatures are not described with any more detail than their hitpoints (other details were to be found in the AD&D Monster Manual). The room descriptions mostly just tell you what (monster, treasure, furnishings) is in any labeled location and may include details like how they will react when player characters come strolling in or any traps or hazards that might be found in the area. Add a few wandering monster lists as well as some suggestions on tactics the giants will use as well as a ‘hook’ to get the players on to the next installment and that is it. The third in the series is a little more elaborate; it includes a couple of named NPCs who will be of interest (as well as introducing ‘The Drow’ to D&D players for the first time) and the suggestion that the adventure can be continued in the D-series of adventures.

The introduction to the first adventure, “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief,” consists of a pargaraph saying that giants have been raiding the lands of humans with greater frequency and unusual efficiency recently. The player characters have been ‘shanghaied’ into investigating; a greater plot is suspected and the player characters have been commanded to find out who is behind the attacks. If the players refuse, they are to be executed (how is that for motivation?). Any treasure the party can find is theirs to keep. The noble who gives the players this draconian assignment isn’t even named in the adventure. With that, players are led off to the nearby ‘Steading’ of the hill giants (kind of a stockade fort/cabin) and told to come back with answers.

If the players succeed in defeating the hill giants, they can move on to the icy caves of the frost giants. If the frost giants are defeated, then the players can proceed to the caverns of the fire giants. The giants have various pet monsters, traps and allies in their lairs, but the adventures consist of a lot of fighting.

So what’s to like about an adventure like this? I’ve heard fans of the 3e and later eras of Dungeons & Dragons dismiss this type of play as ‘hack and slash,’ and, if ‘hack and slash’ means killing monsters and taking their stuff, I suppose they are right. But other than being forced to deal with the giants, the players have complete freedom of action. From my limited experience, this is unlike the more modern ‘adventure path’ adventures where players usually have to first go to location A and talk to NPC B, then retrieve relic C and bring it back to NPC B, who will tell them that they then have to go to location D and defeat bad guy E… but bad guy E will escape, etc. The ‘adventure path’ reads more like a really long novel than what they thought of as an ‘adventure’ back in the mid to late 1970s. During that era, an ‘adventure’ was really just a location — and it was us to the players to provide the ‘inspiration.’

Those evil bastards!

Above is another new sample. I’d like to see more ‘fantasy’ art return to some of its less-than-savory roots… I don’t remember what year ‘Alien’ came out, but as a kid I remember sneaking into the theater to see it… and when that creature burst out of that guy’s chest I was terrified and delighted for a week.
So the theme today is “birth as a less-than-delightful event.” One of the things that made the Alien from the Ridley Scott movie so horrifying is that it implanted itself into the victim, like a fetus, and killed the host when it was ‘born.’
The evil high priest has just used his dagger to remove the demon spawn from the body of the woman chained to the altar… meanwhile the heroes (finally) bust in the door… too late to save the woman… but hopefully on time to save the world… we shall see. The Evil High priest’s ugly assistant attempts to draw his master’s attention to the impending interruption as guards with impractical looking polearms move to intercept.

Octopus Floor Update

This summer I started a tile and marble mosaic in our front hall that I wrote about in the blog earlier this year.

Since then, I made a bit of progress (see at right) although its been pretty slow going. This is, more or less, what you see when you look down as you stand in the front door.
I haven’t finished grouting between the irregular pieces of marble (the background) but the octopus himself (or herself) is complete.

The mosaic is between 5-6 feet wide and 10-12 feet high/deep. The octopus is made of glass mosaic tile (which you can buy by the pound). The border is made from a yellow Italian clay tile (which was rescued from a dumpster) and a cheap marble tile I bought from the Builder’s supply. The background is made from broken and irregular off-white/tan Italian unpolished marble (again, rescued from the dumpster) mixed with blue and tan glass tiles.

Once the floor is completely grouted, it will look much lighter than it does here. It also looks better under daylight; I took this photo by incandescent light.

Positive Press from the Blog-o-sphere on Exquisite Corpses

OK, so I’m officially a shameless self promoter. Jonathan Bingham wrote a very positive review of my lulu monster-book, Exquisite Corpses, over at his blog, Ostensible Cat! Despite being allergic to cats, I like the Ostensible variety of felines.

If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, scoot on over to Lulu and get out your credit card and order one for the bathroom, one for the game room and one for the bookshelf! Lulu will print up a fresh one and ship it to you ASAP! Link to Lulu here!

Irreversible (Movie)

Irreversible (2002), by Gaspar Noe, has been on my ‘need to watch’ list for a long time and I finally got around to seeing it last week. Fair warning: if you don’t speak French, you will have to read subtitles… and some have found it to be an excessively brutal and disturbing film.

I don’t really know how to describe the film, other than to say that it presents the narritive of a woman being raped and brutally assaulted and then her boyfriend and a former lover attempt to take revenge on her rapist, but the entire story is told in chunks that are ordered backwards… so first we see the two main characters (Marcus and Pierre) being taken out of a gay S&M nightclub with the uncompromising name of ‘Rectum’ by the police — Marcus is on a stretcher and Pierre is in handcuffs. The next scene ‘chunk’ shows what happened right before that: Marcus and Pierre are searching the nightclub for a man known as ‘le Tenia.’ They find the man they think is ‘le Tenia’ and a fight ensues… Marcus gets his arm broken in the fight and Pierre beats the presumed ‘le Tenia’ to death with a fire extinguisher. Bit by bit, the film maker presents the story in chunks, each ‘chunk’ coming in reverse chronological order, so we see Pierre and Marcus discover that Alex has been raped as she is carried away by ambulance workers on a stretcher, we see the rape, we see the events at the party they attended that led up to Alex wanting to leave early, etc.

Not only is the film in reverse chronological order, but the scenes themselves are all composed of a single ‘take’ where the camera roves around at random at the beginning, then gradually settles on the main characters. The scene where Alex gets raped and then beaten into unconsciousness in a pedestrian underpass by ‘le Tenia’ is about 10 or 12 minutes long and appears to have been filmed with a single camera that just moves to follow the events (I subsequently discovered that many scenes were digitally ‘stitched’ together to make them appear as one long scene, but, if so, the effect is seamless). At the start of each scene the camera is moving around as if simply spinning freely through the air, showing the ceiling, the floor, the room, etc., in a manner that almost makes the viewer nauseous — I thought the director ‘overdid’ that particular effect, although with each scene the ‘free camera’ effect got less and less wild and shorter and shorter, so I suppose Noe was intending to show us how events had ‘spun further and further’ out of control as they progressed.

The film has been criticized for being excessively violent and disturbing, especially for the graphic rape scene and the scene where Pierre bashes in the head of the man he (wrongly assumes) assaulted the woman, Alex. Graphic sex and violence in films, however, are not deal breakers for me and while I feel it innappropriate to say that I ‘enjoyed’ the film (‘enjoy’ does not seem to be the right word), I found it very effective and would reccomend the film. I found the film making interesting enough, and the little details of the character’s lives compelling enough that I want to eventually watch it again. Not one for ‘family viewing,’ however.

Aside from what I thought were the excessively long ‘wandering eye’ camera shots, my only other complaint was that in one portion, a scene where ‘le Tenia’ held Alex down on the floor of the pedestrian underpass while beating her face with his fists didn’t quite look real to me. ‘Le Tenia’ appeared to be striking the air right next to the actresses’ face and the sounds of the impact were unconvincing… as if they were dubbed in. Obviously I don’t expect the actress to really be beaten into a coma in order to make the film convincing, but given how ‘hyper real’ everything else in the film appeared, a small detail like this really stood out as a flaw. Perhaps the beating didn’t work for me because I wasn’t prepared to accept the scene as ‘real.’ I don’t know.

I’m going to have to beg the question whether or not the violence in the film is ‘gratuitous’ or not, simply because I don’t know that I accept the majority’s definition of ‘gratuitous sex and violence.’ In the case of Irreversible, however, I think the director made a conscious decision to make certain scenes as explicit and disturbing as possible. Since the violence comes early in the film, and afterwards we only see what leads up to it, the film is much more about observing the events in these people’s lives that led up to this horrible series of encounters.