Reading Your First RPG Rulebook

If you are new to Pencil and Paper roleplaying games picking up one of the 400+ page rulebooks can be daunting.  Don’t worry, you won’t be reading this left to right top to bottom! You’ll be on your way to blasting fireballs and slaying dragons soon.

The Player’s Handbook

Step 1: Breath (and consult other warriors if necessary)

Don’t worry about more experienced players not liking you if you don’t know all the rules. RPGs are very social games. The more heroes there are in these worlds, the better the game is for everyone! We want to see your character because only you can add that to the game. Meetup, Facebook and Warhorn can be great places to find games. Furthermore each game publisher has resources for finding organized play.

Step 2: Races, Classes and “the Chill”

Raia, a mighty technomancer from Starfinder

In games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Starfinder and other D20 inspired systems, your Race and your class will be the most important choices you make for your character. Don’t worry about trying to “maximize” your stats. This is a role-playing game, not a straight wargame. Get a grip of what the general “vibe” of each character choice is. Rogues like dexterity and intelligence. Playing a clunky and brutish Orc as a rogue may not work so well. On the other hand, classes that value strength will work well for orcs.

What you are looking for here is that feeling of “that’s cool!”  Does the idea of summoning nature’s power as a Druid send a chill down you spine? Or in StarFinder, can you visualize a ruthless Android Operative? Finding your class is a bit like Harry Potter holding his wand for the first time. Once you find that niche and you are off and running to making a good character.

Step 3: Don’t miss the story for the rules

Flip over the sections in the book that describe the story setting. You will be more inspired to make a character to fight for this realm and learn the rules of the game if you have a sense of what sort of strange and wondrous place your hero lives in, and what he is fighting for! What riches can your character find if successful? What factions are warring for influence over the starfleet? Dungeons and Dragons is about Dungeons, epic heroes, monsters and FIRE BREATHING DRAGONS.   Not mere stats.

Step 4: Step Through The Character Creation Process

There will be a section near the beginning that numbers out each step of how to make a character. If you feel ready, go ahead and step through it. If you want some guidance on choices you can either A. Play a pre-generated character for your first game and use what you learn to guide making your custom character later or B. skip to step 5 before making your character. Don’t worry too much about being “wrong.” If you are playing at home, you and your GameMaster can figure out rules for adjusting characters as you learn. Many organized play systems allow you to adjust your character freely at low levels. And even if you feel the need to start over you won’t lose much experience when you are just starting out. Experiment! That’s how you learn.

Step 5: Familiarize Yourself With Combat

This is one where sometimes it may be better to just play a pre-generated character with people who already know how to play and learn by doing as combat rules can seem daunting at first pass. That being said, sometime in your evolution as a player you really should read through how combat works. There is strategy to it! Learn the effects of catching the enemy of guard, the importance of positioning for maximum strategic impact, how to avoid attacks of opportunity and the like. In the game it is good to have a healthy dose of caution. Let the “tanks” (characters with high HP and/or self-healing properties) go first. Stay hidden and quiet when possible…until its time to strike! Also know that there is no shame in using diplomacy or trickery instead of brute force. In fact Gamemasters respect more creative players who refuse to be simple “murder hobos” hacking and slashing their way through things.

Step 6: Have Fun!

Roleplaying games are only limited by your imagination. Find a group and give it a go! Your characters name will soon be whispered of in myth and legend…

For more resouces check out Paizo.com, and dnd.wizards.com.

And since I am Lawful Good here is the legal stuff:

For the picture of Raia:”This blogpost uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Inc., which are used under Paizo’s Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This [website, character sheet, or whatever it is] is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Inc. For more information about Paizo’s Community Use Policy, please visit paizo.com/communityuse. For more information about Paizo Inc. and Paizo products, please visit paizo.com.”

For the DND Pictures:
Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons, The Player’s Handbook and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © 2015 Wizards. All Rights Reserved. This Web site is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. This Web site may use the trademarks and other intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast LLC, which is permitted under Wizards’ Fan Site Policy. For example, Dungeons & Dragons® is a trademark[s] of Wizards of the Coast. For more information about Wizards of the Coast or any of Wizards’ trademarks or other intellectual property, please visit their website at (www.wizards.com).

A Problem for Science Fiction?

Science fiction is potentially facing a big problem.  Much of sci-fi is predicated on exploring the possibilities of science and technology…but technology has recently been giving us diminishing emotional returns.

For example, when most people think of the airport, they think of long lines, the annoyance of the TSA, the possibility that a passenger will be sick, and other inconveniences.  The fact that they would have had to risk life and limb to transverse the same distance not that long ago never inters their mind.

Or the internet.  Is it a vehicle for right-wing hate speech?  Is it building a mob mentality in our politics?  Is porn a health crisis (yes, it is)?  Would we be better without social media in our lives?  These are the questions people ask.  The fact that science can produce faster now that people all over the globe can communicate with each other sometimes falls by the wayside.  Sometimes we forget how lucky we are that we can share photos with loved ones several states away. laptop_computer_woman_stress_apple

The first smart phone was a breakthrough.  This years model…is just another in a long line of upgrades.  Sadly, the wonder is dropping off.

For all technology gives us, we are incredibly ungrateful.  This doesn’t mean technology doesn’t have its problems.  What it does mean known is that the visions of new technology that sci-fi offers are going to be perceived in a very different light than they were several years ago.

It’s also worth noting that certain technological limits are being run into.  No one expects hoverboards soon.  And space travel of the sort imagined by Star Trek or other sci-fi entries might be fundamentally impossible.

So what is a sci-fi writer to do?  One path is the route of dystopia, taking all the problems we see tech creating and inventing a nightmare.  A perfectly legitimate path, and, as I have discussed earlier, the willingness of sci-fi to imagine dark realities is one if its strengths.

That being said with the possible exception of horror, no genre should plan on being all dark all the time.  Stories should warn us…but they should also elevate us.

What sci-fi may need is a brand of science fiction more close to home (no teleportation or warp speed) that imagines how human beings might be able to make our now commonplace tech meaningful again.

Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed. -G. K Chesterton (kinda)

What applies to Fairy Tales can apply to sci-fi if we try.  And as our home planet starts warming up, we need to double down and fight for a better world.  The world has lots of problems, and tech is involved in a lot of them.  But that is why overindulging in pessimistic stories is a luxury we cannot afford.

Potential Writing Prompts:

  • What does a society that has solved global warming look like?  Who loves it?  Who challenges the new world order?
  • A scientific finding is unpopular, but the fate of a world (Earth or otherwise) depends on people accepting it.  How does your character bring people to the truth?
  • What does social media look like 200 years from now?  How do people keep it from being a vehicle for hate?

For all the problems our current world may have…its amazing what we have accomplished.  Sometimes we just need to pause and remember that.  If we do, we can build a better world.

I write Sci-Fi at MartianMuckraker.com

 

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Above Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Image of Woman with computer by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

 

The (Vague) Science of ASMR

If you type ASMR into YouTube, you will find a plethora of videos that can strike people as quite odd.  Strangers whispering into the camera for long periods of time, a woman tapping on a chocolate bar for nearly an hour, or producing sounds from slime or lotion are some examples.  The name stands for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response,” though that mostly is just a name that was put together so that the little-known sensation could have a name (the history of the term is briefly discussed here).

Many who use the videos say that they have had an incredibly positive impact on their lives by reducing stress, anxiety and causing sleep.  Most ASMR enthusiasts believe that capacity to feel the ASMR sensation is something you either are or are not born with.  The ASMR sensation itself is often described as a pleasant tingling sensation in the head that can spread down the body.  Many viewers though say they don’t understand the attraction.  Some people react to the ASMR craze with a disdain either because the videos are deemed to be simply weird or are deemed to be a kind of fetish.

Situations in ASMR videos can include haircuts, doctor’s visits or android repairs-situations where someone is allowed to act in close proximity to another person (or robot).  It is this aspect of many ASMR videos that can creep people out.  The charge of that the videos are intended to be sexual deeply angers ASMR creators though since they do not wish do be viewed in that light and, furthermore, should public opinion turn too sharply against ASMR videos, demonetization will become a bigger threat for ASMR YouTubers than it already is.   Interestingly, one survey of ASMR enthusiasts found only 5% reported interest in the videos for sexual stimulation.

But is ASMR real?  According to research done by the University of Sheffield, it is, but only in some people.  Participants who reported that they experienced the ASMR feeling were shown to have lower heart rates when exposed to ASMR content in a lab.

“What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness,” Dr. Giulia Poerio who lead the study.

As it is though, very little is understood as to what causes people to love videos depicting such simple stimuli so much.  Some compare the phenomenon to synesthesia while another hypothesis links the videos to the way we receive affection while young. Whether you love the trend, or are repelled by it, it seems the brain still has some more quirks we are yet to learn.

And who knows what the Internet will produce next.


Feel free to check out my other blog The Martian Muckraker or see this fun little “text an alien” webpage I made to learn a little PHP.

3 Strengths of Science Fiction Over Fantasy

Science Fiction.  Fantasy.  Horror.  Superhero.  Every geek proudly defends his chosen genre.  While art is always subjective, it can be interesting to explore how each genre has its narrative strengths…and pitfalls.

I love fantasy.  The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest epics of all time, and, yes, I am a member of a Dungeons and Dragons club.  #WaterdeepDragonHeist #NoShame

But, I do feel that science fiction has some narrative strengths over fantasy, which is why that is genre I am currently dabbling in for my creative writing.  These are general patterns, there will always be outliers.

Strength #1:  Sci Fi Avoids the Messiah Complex (When Done Right)

Fantasy stories frequently have a messianic character.  Frodo.  Harry.  King Arthur.  The Pevensies. These “chosen ones” are a very common fantasy trope. There is a time and place for this type of storytelling.  I am a Christian and I do think that sometimes Providence calls people to certain missions.  These fantasy characters (at least in Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) can serve a christological function if done right.

However, it can be hard to relate to these characters.  I don’t have a prophesy telling me what my role will be.  History is not micromanaged by prophecies or chosen ones.

Consider Star Trek.  Are the characters gifted?  Yes.  Are they in a unique position given the technological eliteness of the Enterprise?  Yes.  However one can more easily see oneself becoming a psychologist, like Troi, or an engineer, like Shorty, or a captain (albeit not of a Starship) like Picard than one can imagine being marked for greatness like Harry Potter.

Yes, some Sci Fi falls back on fantasy tropes (Star Wars, I’m looking at you). However Science Fiction generally does not need a “chosen one.” That makes the characters more relatable and raises the stakes.  If there is a prophecy, we can trust it will be fulfilled.  If a character is just one member of the crew among many…well they don’t have fate to shield them from danger.

Strength #2: We Can See Science Fiction Coming True

Wizards, as fantasy understands them, are not real and never will be real.  The crocodile is as close as we are ever going to get to a dragon.

On the other hand, the communicators of Star Trek have come true in cell phones.  The book burning world of Fahrenheit 451  is all too real in some countries (and will come to our own if we are not careful).  And while we may not have cyborgs, like in Ghost in the Shell, human beings are becoming more and more attached to technology and that technology is providing a new platform for warfare.  We may not be able to reanimate dead corpses like Victor Frankenstein, but the history of science is filled with less-than-ethical science experiments.

When we read fantasy we have to suspend disbelief.  When we read science fiction the scenarios are often all too real.

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Strength #3 Science Fiction’s “What If…”

Fantasy’s “What if” is often well…a fantasy.  People joke all the time about how they are “still waiting for their Hogwarts Letter.”  People wish they could go to Narnia.  People wish they were a wizard.  People wish they could find a genie.

With SciFi…it ain’t so simple.  Do you wish you had an X-gene?  Where your powers may be unstable, may cause you to kill your boyfriend if you kiss him, and will cause you to have to live in hiding from the fearful human population?  It may be cool to be an X-man…but not completely.

We don’t wish to be Katniss from the Hunger Games, or the humans under attack in War of the Worlds.  We don’t wish to be a Loonie from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Science Fiction makes it easier to pick “what if’s” that are blessings…and curses.  This can make it all the more exciting and believable.

Furthermore, fantasy often falls back on recycled Lord of the Rings knockoffs.  Elves, dwarves and dragons again and again and again.  Science Fiction’s need for novel “what if’s” has spurred a great diversity.  Just see the range from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Deep Space Nine, from the optimism of Star Trek to the crushing despair of Frankenstein. There is a massive difference between Xenomorphs and Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still. 

I will go back to Narnia soon.  But for now, I will hear the prophets warning and celebrating an all too close future.

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Robot Image by Comfreak on Pixabay

Fantasy Image above by peter_pvw on Pixabay

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Battle Brews over Supervised Injection Sites

Many US cities, such as San Francisco, New York City and Philadelphia, are considering opening Safe Injection Sites for drug users, despite the open anger of the Federal Government.  The defenders of these sites argue that drug use is a reality, a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.  These sites would try to reduce the harm addicts face by providing clean needles, health information and medical care in the event of an overdose.  It is also argued that a more compassionate approach to the drug problem will be more effective at bringing people to recovery.

“We know from every other city and country-Australia, Canada, Europe-every other place that does this-has succeeded.  Safe injection Sites lower crime rates, lower infection rates, get people into recovery.  This is exactly where we should be going…We are urging our great friend Governor Brown to sign AB 186,” California State Senator Scott Wiener said in a press conference.

Despite his optimism, at this time there is no strong scientific consensus on how effective these sites are.

The US Attorney’s Office regards these proposals both as unlawful and as bad policy. A statement regarding a proposed initiative in Vermont says, “As to policy, the proposed government-sanctioned sites would encourage and normalize heroin use, thereby increasing demand for opiates and, by extension, risk of overdose and overdose deaths… Such facilities would also threaten to undercut existing and future prevention initiatives by sending exactly the wrong message to children in Vermont: the government will help you use heroin.”

Scott Wiener in the aforementioned Press Conference that “[San Francisco is] not scared to push the envelope of public health policy even if…the Federal Government threatens us with criminal prosecution…We did it with needle exchange…we did it with medical cannabis…these are all situations where we were being threatened by the Federal Government…but we persevered…[and] down the line needle exchange is being done in a lot of places, medical cannabis is being embraced even in Republican states.”

Whether this idea ultimately triumphs or falters, there are sure to be many standoffs between the States and the Federal Government in the meantime.

 

 

 

Tokyo Ghoul

Sci-Fi Manga and Anime Review:

There has been a slew of “maybe the monster isn’t that bad” stories.  Manylike Twilighthave left some viewers disgusted with the genre, and yearning for a time when the only good vampire was one with a stake in his heart.

Tokyo Ghoul, however, is a cut above.  Kaneki, the central character, finds himself in a horrific situation.  He is a human, but, after nearly being crushed to death, was given an organ transplant from a ghoul.  Now he struggles with a newfound hunger which, left unchecked, could lead to him eating those he loves.  As the story progresses, he finds himself torn between the society of humans and the society of ghouls blending in among those they long to devour.

Kaneki is quickly taken in by a group of ghouls that try to minimize the amount of carnivorous damage they do.  Nonetheless, even their methods often make them do ethically dubious things…like scavenging for already dead bodies to eat.

What makes Kaneki’s journey fascinating is that he quickly learns to see the personhood of both the humans and the ghouls without succumbing to an easy relativism.  He soon realizes that he is uniquely suited to try and create a truce between the warring species.

What are you allowed to do if survival requires you to do something horrible?  The situation of the show may seem extreme, but there are plenty of real world corollaries.  What do you do if economic survival requires you to break the law?  What do you do if your country drafts you into a less-than-just war?  What do you do if you will be fired for doing what is right?

To enjoy the show one has to allow the ghouls some moral rounding, rounding that perhaps we would not grant in real life.  But the show does have a necessary moral core: those we think of as monsters are perhaps just people in a desperate situation.  And are we sure we would do any better?

The art and action are flawless.  Just make sure you have a strong stomach for some scenes.  Also be warned that the show can hint at some intense issues…as if its central premise wasn’t intense enough.  Overall this is a brilliant take on the “maybe the monster isn’t that bad” genre, and one of the finest animes out there.

Click Here to see beautiful animation of the show’s opening theme.

Note: At present I am almost through season 1.  I look forward to what unfolds next, and may write more reviews as I finish more of the show.  

You’ll Need to Save the Planet to Secure the Boarder

Too often climate change is seen as a nebulous intellectual theory that may or may not bring some sort of apocalyptic doom in a far-fetched future that never seems to come.  The fact is that climate change is having a real impact right now.  We are seeing it at our border.

This is worth reflecting on because today, June 30th, has been declared a National Day of Action Against Family Separation by a movement called Family’s Belong Together.  The event was called to criticize Mr. Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” which led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents.

What does climate change have to do with this?  According to Lauren Markham writing in the New York Times, rising temperatures are making it harder for Guatemalan farmer’s to make ends meet.  This exacerbates already dangerous conditions in the country and can make the highly risky and undignified journey north seem more attractive.

In fact 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate and weather related causes, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Center and the UN.  As climate change continues to accelerate, we may see more and more immigrants seeking asylum.

It would do well for the leader of the free world who has said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” to consider that it is perfectly natural for the hungry and desperate to move toward food.  And given that the USA is a major polluter on the world stage, we should do more minimize our impact to these people’s plight before we demonize them and rip their children away.

Trump’s immigration policies have led to international outcry and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights rebuked the policy saying, “The American Association of Pediatrics has called this cruel practice “government-sanctioned child abuse” which may cause “irreparable harm,” with “lifelong consequences.”  Trump currently seeks to continue a zero-tolerance policy and detain families together.

This is not to say climate change is the only cause of our current immigration crisis, but it is a cause that can’t be ignored.  Climate change deniers seek to make so much noise that no decisive action will be taken.  Time has officially run out.  We needed to get serious about this issue a long time ago.  To many people have already paid for our failure to act.


I highly recommend Lauren Markham’s article.  In addition to conditions in Guatemala, she discusses other examples from El Salvador and around the world.