Thursday, February 28, 2002

I just got back from social dance, and even though I'm a little bit sweaty owing to the fact that we were learning the hustle today, I'm feeling quite good. I feel really quite confident in the basic step, but that's not the only reason I'm feeling good. I also got to dance with the Alaskan. I'm trying not to seek her out too much, since I just don't feel right about that, but I do so like dancing with her. (Because some of you will ask - "you" being a euphemism for M'lakMavet - yes, she's pretty. Big green eyes in a heart-shaped face with this fluffy light brown hair.) It's not that she's the best dancer in the class, though she is pretty good. It's that when I dance with her I feel like she enjoys it because she enjoys being in my presence. The way she looks into my eyes, the way she chats with me while we dance, gives meaning to the fact that we dance well together. That's a part of "dancing for your partner" that not all the girls in the class understand. It's more than just being where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there, like you can read the guy's mind. That's nice, but the other part is the connection between the two of you as people who are dancers, in addition to the connection between dancers who also happen to be people.

Speaking of dancing, the Viennese Ball is tomorrow. Kathelia (kah-thay-lee-a; th pronounced like the th in "priesthood") says she's excited for me. Probably more excited than I am, truth be told. Now don't get me wrong - I am looking forward to spending the night in the company of the congenial Dr. Lear. It's just that it hasn't really hit me that the Ball is tomorrow. I wish that Deirdre and I could have gone to one of the waltz lessons this week. Not that we don't waltz together fairly well as it is, but we could definitely use some more practice. Maybe I'll seek her out today and we'll work on our rotary.

Classical Phoenix Earth is definitely happening. I'd like to hold my first session over spring break (end of March), but that will be a little tricky to swing. The party will consist, initially, of Twilight, Ayudaren, Lionell, Islington, The DM, Kharmak, and Maclaeden. My sister is welcome to join if she likes, and I'd like to have Kathelia over to observe a session, followed by a provisional invitation to join the party. What that means is an invitation to join the game without any understanding that she will continue to play in the game; it's a trial period. That's pretty much standard practice for most roleplaying games, for the simple reason that you can never tell if someone is going to click as part of the party until they've actually joined. And Kathelia has never played before in anyone's game. Now, I don't actually anticipate any problems on that score, but it's better to be safe than sorry and it would be very awkward if I were to start the game with her, find out against all odds that I didn't really want to play with her, and then have to kick her out.

Things I still have to do to get ready for a spring break session:

1). Finish the equipment list. I've finished and balanced the armor; weapons will be hopefully be finished today. I still have to do throwing weapons as well as self, composite, and cross bows. After that I'll have to review these various implements and make sure they're balanced enough that every weapon has a good reason for existing.
2). Finalize the rules for human magic and devise a spell list. I originally hoped that the party would start sending me spell ideas, but it seems I'm going to have to take the initiative on that and come up with some prototypes to give them a feel of what I want. Elven magic may be able to wait, assuming nobody decides to play an elf.
3). Figure out what this world looks like geopolitically. I've got Darios (dar-ee-os) pretty well down, and I'm starting to get an inkling of what Celahui (sell-ah-wee), the City of the Gods (as ever, Phoenix Earth owes a huge debt to Tamora Pierce) located near modern-day Venice, feels like as well. There are a number of human kingdoms left to figure out, though.
4). Figure out what this world looks like religiously and ethically. Orcish morals I've started to figure out (thank you, Blake Hutchins), and ogres are already modeled pretty strongly after the ancient Greeks so I might just do a cop-out there and model their morals after Greek ones. Elven morals and religion I understand quite well; trollic and dwarven not so much. Goblin and human, not at all. I should talk with Antilles about that. The two major human religions I've started to figure out, as well as the possibility of a third. Non-human mythology is something I'm slowly getting a handle on.
5). Get a party of characters from my players. The DM and Ayudaren seem fairly well set for characters; Lionell has an idea I'm told (goodness news gets around fast!) but I need to talk to him about it.
5). Figure out a plot. This actually isn't as important as you might think. In the apocalyptic game I got away for about a year and half without plotting more than a few sessions in advance. That's the beauty of a game where the players are actually asked to decide where things go (the modern game didn't do that nearly as much as the apocalyptic one, which is something I didn't like about it). However, I should have a vague idea of what it is the players will be asked to do, so that if the players get stuck I can move them along.

Right, so off to those throwing weapons. Talk to me!

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

I hate Macs. I just deleted a very large portion of text because I hit "Control-C" instead of "Open Apple C." Fie on those whose keyboard shortcuts are nonstandard, and on all their children unto the fourth generation. To recap:

I am happy for five reasons:

1). I had lunch with a bunch of Tmony people today, which was very pleasant. It was especially pleasant thanks to the presence of Shanah Van, who doesn't eat at Stern all that often anymore. I really am very fond of that girl. I hope I don't come across as sketchy. I don't mean to be, but sometimes I think I am anyway. It's just that it's so nice to have another SoCal country-loving romantic around, you know?

2). I just had an extremely exciting game of MechCommander 2. Good single-player experiences are a rare form of art. Honestly, I could just feel the scared determination of my last two MechWarriors, knowing they were good but knowing that their three compatriots who'd gotten their 'Mechs shot out from under them had been good too, and dreading most of all that their ragged patched-up machines wouldn't last long enough to carry the day no matter how determined they were to take out that last orbital gun.

3). Blue Rose is evidently feeling much better. I am extremely glad. Enough about that.

4). Classical Phoenix Earth is looking like it will become a reality.

5). I've been talking more with Kathelia (so far as I know that isn't a real Greek word, but Perseus is giving me trouble looking up "sunset," so this will do for now), which is also quite pleasant. I look forward to meeting her in person over spring break, when I also hope to start Classical Phoenix Earth and get my sword and sorcery on. I think that our circle of friends will be the better for her inclusion in it.

So that's not nearly as poetic as the last post was, but it'll have to do. Off to go read some Greek now.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

Life has been fairly good over the weekend. I am most definitely in love with Jennifer Knapp's "Undo Me" and "Hold Me Now," as I imagine poor Simba can attest despite my fairly frequent use of headphones. I hope my listening habits don't annoy him. As you might expect for a twentysomething female CCM artist, Ms. Knapp's lyrics have a type of poetry which appeals to me a great deal. Two examples from "Hold Me Now:"

O foot of Christ, would you wait if her harlotries known?

Now, one could argue that this is simply bad grammar: switching verb tenses in "would you wait" (as opposed to "would you have waited," which is what is meant) and leaving out a whole verb between "harlotries" and "known" (i.e., "were"). However, I doubt any of you had any trouble divining the meaning of this slightly laconic line. Furthermore, fudging the rules of grammar here does two things, both constructive. One, it stays tightly within the meter without sacrificing clarity of meaning. Two, it gives the speaker a very colloquial - and very emotion-choked - tone; people's grammar generally doesn't deteriorate unless they're feeling a great deal of emotion, feeling very comfortable with you, or both. Second example:

So point your fingers and laugh if you choose
To say my beloved is borrowed and used
She is strong enough to stand in my love!

I suppose there is at least one lady reading this who is of the opinion that I don't really understand what it means to be "borrowed and used." That's as may be, but I understand it well enough for that line to give me shivers. And that is I think one thing that Christian music ought to strive to do; that is, inasmuch as nearly every Christian song out there functions as a teaching, it ought to present the teaching in a way that makes sense, and this makes sense to me (and you too, I hope) in a very visceral way. In this case what Ms. Knapp has done is both explain the very sound doctrine that Jesus loves us despite the fact that we generally don't consider him to be the most important thing in our lives (actions put the lie to what we tell ourselves!), and open up to the general understanding one of the most important Old Testament metaphors: that of the Chosen People as a slut. That's supposed to be a very strong metaphor, and I think Ms. Knapp has done the church a great service in phrasing it in a way that makes sense on the gut-reaction level that the original metaphor is supposed to make sense on.

The Family came up yesterday to see Testimony's show at Mountain View Chinese Christian Church. The show was good and the family was favorably impressed, which means a lot to me since they're the most discerning critics of performances that I know. Of course I predicted they would be, but it was pleasant to see that I was correct. I also predicted that they would have a number of telling critiques to level against us as a group, and again I was correct although their emphasis was not quite on what I had expected. I don't think this is really the place to go into that, but if you're curious you can certainly ask me, and naturally I'll be bringing up the issues they raised with core (i.e., the four members of Testimony who officially lead the group).

I had a good time on Friday learning the Congress of Vienna (a choreographed waltz) with Dr. Lear. We've worked on our cross-step waltz some, and she really does learn quite fast. We haven't gotten our pivots down, but I suspect that's something that will improve as our rotary waltz improves.

Despite this, I certainly know better waltzers, which may lead some of you to question why I asked her to the Ball when there were certainly other prospects available. Which will have to serve as a segue into a short digression about why I waltz at all. I talked with Shanah Van about this a month back or so (aha! How many of you caught that Shanah is the same girl as someone else in this blog, whose official title is a bit cumbersome for everyday speech?), and I ran into a conclusion at once interesting and mundane: the follow's subjective experience of the waltz is subtly but significantly different than that of the lead. This is something the Dance Master has pointed out to us on innumerable occasions - namely, that the lady is much more in tune with the music and simply dancing than the man - but it is curious to discover it for myself.

For my own part, waltzing is fundamentally about the girl in my arms. I hope that doesn't sound sketchy; it's really the soul of gentility. I am afraid that I may lack the words to describe what I mean in my wonted level of precision, but I will try. What I mean is that the point of waltzing - the thing that makes it worth my time - is giving my partner the best waltz I know how to give. I have, as you may or may not know by now, rather old-fashioned ideas about the relationship between men and women, and this means that I believe it is my solemn masculine duty to be as gracious, gentle, and genteel as possible - in short, to "show a girl a good time." If a girl will let me focus on her - not how she dances, not how I dance, but just on the fact that she is honoring me by consenting to be held in my arms as we spin about the floor and is for those few minutes the queen of my universe - then we have the core of the waltz. If you haven't waltzed before, by the way, not all girls will give you that consent - they might be in your arms but they refuse to let you adore them by means of the smile on your face and the way you sweep them by and let them dance. Few girls seem to understand how much that means - perhaps because their own experience of the waltz is apparently quite different from what I have described. And I admit that letting a guy adore you is usually a dangerous thing. That is what I love so much about the waltz: it is a societally sanctioned, safe time in which you can do that. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I waltz.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

I just finished the first draft of my second paper for Classics 171, which analyzes three documents from Ptolemaic Egypt and explains what those documents can tell us about how the Ptolemies went about attempting to legitimize their reign. In about eight hours ... not bad. And I've even got tomorrow to revise.

Apparently, though, I looked "like death" after dinner when I ran into Dr. Lear and told her what I was doing. So she comes up here with a check for her half of the Viennese bid and is feeling all sorry for me, and I'm feeling quite chipper because I just finished. Quite amusing, really, though probably not for you because you weren't there. Unless you're Simba, in which case you were here.

I've had several good conversations with The DM regarding classical Phoenix Earth. That's been good for two reasons. One, a lot of the development work for this game occurs in conversations when I have a vague conception of what the world feels like and people ask me questions. I think they assume that I already know the answers. Ha! Well, sometimes I do. But probably my greatest strength as a DM is my ability to improvise, which ability gets honed in conversations like this when I make up an answer while appearing to have known it all along. A lot about the relationships among races, and particularly among mountain trolls, goblins, and dwarves got pinned down in the course of talking to The DM. Two, he's already got a character ready to go (a liberated goblin slave named Skiviyt). That's a little scary, seeing as how the 2081 game isn't even close to done, and I feel bad about skipping around so much in the timeline on my players (the 2131 game was also aborted mid-game). But it is flattering that he finds it so exciting. I admit to finding it exciting too - as he put it, the classical period lets you have a real sword and sorcery fantasy game. And in a system that we all know and trust to be fun (as opposed to D&D, which most of us have serious problems with).

He's so excited, in fact, that he's helped me work out the basic rules basis for human magic. Which means I should probably lay out a few principles about Phoenix Earth magic now, both for interests' sake and because I'm not so down with roleplaying games that define their magic systems in a way I would find objectionable in real life.

So to begin with, one of the things Phoenix Earth says about the world that modern physics does not is that there are in fact two forces in the universe. I'm not talking about the electronuclear and gravity (as you may or may not know, the electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear forces were unified several years ago). As far as Phoenix Earth the electronuclear force and gravity get unified in 2043. The Second Force in Phoenix Earth is what most people refer to as "magic," but it's just as much a naturally occurring phenomenon as the electronucleargravitic force.

The second force is not carried via particles, which is one reason why it will never be unified with the first force. Inasmuch as there is such a thing as a "particle" (which there isn't) versus a "wave" (which is also an arbitrary human label which only vaguely describes reality), the second force is carried by waves. There are different waveforms associated with it, which more or less correspond to the various types of force-carrying particles associated with the first force (electromagnetic force is carried by photons; gravity is carried by gravitons, etc.). Different types of magic (human, elven, dragon, asil) fundamentally differ only in that they utilize different waveforms of the second force.

What's particularly special about human magic is that a mageborn human (that is, a human being who's able by force of will to manipulate the second force) doesn't use the force directly. The waveform associated with human magic actually has nothing to do with interacting with the physical world (as opposed to the dragon magic waveform, which is capable of producing all sorts of effects in the world). The human waveform is only good for manipulating a noncorporeal substance called by the five Mage Orders "ether." Ether is held together by another waveform of the second force (analogous to the way you and I are held together by the mesons and photons of the strong nuclear and electromagnetic forces) which is quite potent in contact with the physical world. The human waveform is used to manipulate the ether into a particular "shape" (inasmuch as a noncorporeal construct can be thought of as a solid) which sets the ethereal waveforms into a particular pattern. The effect produced varies with the pattern of the ethereal waveforms.

If you found that interesting, good for you. If not, thanks for reading, or at least skimming. If you haven't noticed by now I'm extremely touched when people find Phoenix Earth worthy of discussion. The larger point of explaining that, though, was in response to the very strong Biblical injunction against magic. I think there are two possibilities for that:

1). Biblical "magic," involving as it does a heavy religious element, is prohibited because God isn't down with his people consulting the demon deities the Bible puts behind that kind of magic.
2). Biblical "magic" refers to anything which can't be accomplished using the four forces\\first force.

As you've probably figured out by now, there's nothing at all supernatural about Phoenix Earth "magic." The question is: does God prohibit magic because it's supernatural and not from him, or does the prohibition have nothing to do with the supernatural?

If the first case is true, then God would have no problem at all with the heroes of my Phoenix Earth campaigns using "magic," any more than he'd have a problem with them using a computer which harnesses the power of the electromagnetic force to do things it would never do without human intervention.

If the second case is true we have to rationalize a bit more. And we rationalize that by the fact that in none of the Phoenix Earth time periods is there a functioning church (if you're curious why contact me personally), and in such a situation one would expect the rise of practices which are seemingly innocent but in fact God is not okay with it. Kind of tragic, really.

So that's my little mini-treatise on Phoenix Earth magic and the second force. In other news, should I link to other peoples' blogs? I can't decide. Comment and vote.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

I just finished listening to Jennifer Knapp's Kansas and am in the process of listening to her Lay It Down, and I have discovered that I really like her music (sorry, roommate dear). I'm not sure I can explain why. However, I think it is worth noting the following two statements and the similarities between them:

1). There is more than a bit of the office of prophet in the office of the Christian singer.
2). The common thread that ties my roleplaying characters together (for those of you who know them, I'm thinking of Llandyne, Sharalyne Dewfall, Kalaraen Shadrea, and Danielle Meroit) is that they all want to be heroes, and are usually female.

One of the things you should realize about the roleplaying my friends and I engage in is that our characters generally have some essence that ties them all together and reveals something about ourselves as individuals. For me, obviously, it's that I want to be a hero (not a military hero, just a hero). And since prophets are really rather heroic figures, is it any wonder that I identify so strongly with lyrically strong female Christian singer-songwriters? Granted that doesn't explain anything, but it's interesting to note, quiaff? Thanks to Antilles for providing me with the mp3s that comprise these playlists and for introducing me to Ms. Knapp.

And speaking of Antilles, I just finished reading about his latest escapade in world travel and it left me feeling oddly content. Partly I just like reading about his life, because he's a good guy. But that's not so surprising, and I said "oddly" content. What's odd about it is that reading about Antilles and Selene (who will remain Selene until I either get to know her better, somebody gives me an aesthetically pleasing and meaningful alternative, or somebody can tell me that the real Wedge Antilles had a girl) sets me at peace. And besides, I've never seen him as happy up here as he looks in the pictures next to Selene.

It's not that I always think he makes the right decision - most of the time (and especially where Selene is concerned) I don't feel really qualified to judge how right or wrong his decisions are, either from insufficient good counsel on the subject or [more often] plain lack of data. It's that I trust the people who have counseled him and I trust him as enough of a man to be trusted to make his own decisions. I wonder if this feeling is akin to what my parents feel towards me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Hmmmm. So I should figure out a way to do this archive thing, since people are starting to read my blog who haven't been doing so from the beginning. Shout out to M'lakMavet, the DM, Twilight, and his girlfriend, for whom I have no codename as yet but hope to soon. Anybody wanna give me a hand? Been to the instructions, read them, didn't quite catch it all.

In other news, as Archimedes so rightly pointed out last night, I have a pretty good life. Sure I'm missing certain things that stereotypically accompany the good life of a twentysomething male who's a product of the conservative middle class, such as a girlfriend and a career track to a prestige job. But I was talking to the aforementioned young lady last night, and I reminded myself of something: dating is optional.

And isn't that what I've always believed? The university is a funny place; its only real reason for existing (as M'lak maintains, and I emphatically agree) is to produce cultured, self-educating individuals - and yet it makes you forget so much of what you knew before. Dating is a case in point. If there aren't any girls around who are suitable candidates for me, why bother?

Such was the belief of the boy who wrote about the "beauty of a girl's smile, / borne on keyboard chords to God, / worth more than a lifetime of kisses." Not that I don't want a lifetime of kisses, but I don't want just any kisses. I don't even want halfway decent kisses. I want the kisses of my Moon-and-Stars. And until those are available, why should I want anything less?

And in the meantime my life is pretty good. The night sky of my love life is still as empty as a Los Angeles night sky, but there are lots of other good things going on in my life. I don't have a girlfriend but I am surrounded by pretty girls (and really, why should I be created in a way that I find girls pretty when I probably only need to find one girl pretty? Thanks, God). I've been waltzing a lot, which of course has potential for being a huge blow to my self-esteem but really is just a good time. All the girls I know who understand//appreciate gamers are back in LA, but at least I have the time to pursue the gaming side of my life, and the general level of interest in Phoenix Earth in those around me has risen appreciably, which always makes me feel loved inasmuch as Phoenix Earth is pretty inextricably tied to my identity as a storyteller. I don't really feel satisfied as a performer, but at least I have performers like the Dixie Chicks and Point of Grace to listen to.

And really, how many people can say all those things? So I have no cause for complaint. Life is pretty good.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

To begin with, a quick supplement to the Phrase of the Day. When I said "heart-attacked," I didn't just mean getting a tastefully decorated black paper heart, although that was nice (and, if I may say so, whoever did mine created quite the pleasing product). The meat of the heart-attack was the sign on the wall next to the door saying "[insert name here], you've been heart-attacked!" and the eight little paper hearts next to that, one from each girl and containing some nice thing to say about us. And of course there was the signature on the inside of the valentine itself: The Tmony Girls. I thought that was a very classy way of saying "we're doing this in response to what you did for us" without harping on the subject.

Last Friday I went to Jammix in the company of Dr. Lear, whom I have so far found to be a thoroughly congenial girl. She used that word at some time during the night - "congenial," I mean - and it struck me as very appropriate to describe her. For one thing, she is congenial, or anyway her company is. For another, the fact that she would use a word like "congenial" in everyday conversation suggests one of the reasons why I like spending time with her.

And yet, I admit to harboring some latent dread where she's concerned. I'm not entirely sure why. Is it because I'm afraid she really will turn out to be the Deirdre Lear to my Kai Allard-Liao? I'm sure that's part of it, but I don't think that's a really satisfactory explanation. Is it that I fear we'll end up in a situation where she's interested in me as a boyfriend and I don't return the sentiment? That's a possibility too - and I admit that the news of her suitor doesn't really allay that fear any. Perhaps the missing element is that I fear we'll never move past the bantering//flirting stage to actually become friends. Yes, that strikes me as right.

In gaming news, I finally cracked open MechCommander 2 the other day. It lacked the cool cinematic opening of the original MechCommander, which I think is a shame since historically BattleTech computer games have had exceptionally good cinematic openings. Despite this failing, the game has not proven to be a disappointment. I attribute this to two factors: immersiveness and game design.

One of the reasons I continue to buy BattleTech games despite the fact that I don't like the direction the storyline has turned is that they have historically had that special something which makes you feel like you're there. In MechWarrior 2 the pre-mission fiction drew you into the Refusal War and placed your puny mid-'90s six-'Mech engagement within that epic larger context. Who will forget the experience in Mercenaries of watching Col. Holly die in the opening sequence and then getting her death letter, or your first encounter with the Clans? Or how about the first moment of MechWarrior 3 where you push your Bushwacker out of the sea and onto land and realize that your senses have been tricked into making you feel like you're actually thirty feet in the air riding fifty-five tons of dripping BattleMech?

MechCommander 2 has this magic, without which no game, however well designed or commercially successful, can truly aspire to greatness. It's in the radio chatter: "Nobody move, we're in a minefield." It's in the audiovisual effects: the ruby-red fingers of laser beams springing into instant existence to connect your 'Mechs to the enemy's, the deep-throated "ka-thunk" as an autocannon belches fire. It's in the between-battles, where the pilots who talk to you during a mission and call out to you for help almost become people you genuinely care about, and your mind starts to make up their stories.

As for gameplay ... I can't decide if I like the gameplay here or if I like the game in spite of it. The new way sensor contacts are treated is great: as polygonal icons on the 3-D map, with varying levels of detail depending on how good your sensor operator is at interpretating his or her data. That's just fantastic, and when you lose your sensor platform (as I did a few missions back, much to my dismay) you realize just how important it is to be able to see over the next ridge without poking your head out. That's the major improvement. Tactically speaking ... on the one hand, despite the absence of battlefield heat management and cover, the game really does feel like BattleTech. You can absolutely feel why the Inner Sphere developed its tradition of concentrating fire, and the utter dismay IS soldiers felt when they encountered an opponent who didn't do that because he didn't have to. The damage model reproduces the feel of the board game in a way that the MechWarrior first-person sims never will, which is extremely pleasant.

At the same time, I feel like the tactical skill involved in this game mostly happens before the shooting starts, and I can't decide if that's good or bad. On the one hand, it feels grittier and more realistic. For anyone who's ever played a halfway reasonable tank sim, you know that the skill in armor combat is in the positioning and the maneuver, not the shooting. The shooting is almost elementary. Of course there is some skill involved in managing your forces once the triggers start getting pulled, as I witnessed dramatically the other night when I managed to pull my team out of a very bad ambush. At the same time, having played all of the MechWarrior games except for the original and the MechWarrior 4 expansion pack, I can't help but feel like there ought to be more movement once the shooting starts. In short, I instinctively look for the ubiquitous Circle of Death, where one 'Mech circles another with torso turned inward. Now, being a reasonably experienced veteran of the board game, I know that the Circle of Death is a feature of BattleTech that the video games introduced to compensate for certain things the video games left out; in short, it's a foreign element in the universe. So I look for it instinctively but I don't really want it.

What would be nice is some better computer AI. Granted this game is two years old, but it seems to me that first-person shooter AI has gotten better than third-person tactical AI, and that galls me. When you can lure individual units into following you to the ends of the earth for an ambush, two things are wrong. First, you know that the enemy soldiers aren't talking to each other ("Charlie, you're five klicks out from base ... Charlie, come back, you've chased him off ... Charlie, at least wait for some backup ... Charlie!"). Two, you know the enemy is stupid, because he's following you like an imprinted duckling instead of a soldier with a wife and children who wants to do his job, yes, but also wants to live. People who want to live fight smart, and the MechCommander 2 AI is not smart. Very good level design makes up for this to a large extent, but I admit that this is a major failing of the game.

I guess that's enough blogging for now. I should go do some poetry for Wednesday's class.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Okay, a few quick thoughts before I go to bed. First, a thought occurred to me today at dinner while talking with JTT. I remembered when the Players would pray before every show ... those weren't the best times of prayer, but year after year one thing happened at all of them that I think I will remember for a long time yet: seniors who had decided to do drama for the first time in their last year always - always - said "this is the best thing that's happened to me at Chaminade. I wish I'd decided to do it earlier." This from the same company which had all the problems, mismanagement, favoritism, and interpersonal drama that I've alluded to. That memory reminded me of something else: whatever its problems, Testimony is a good thing. It's a performing group, and performing groups will be riddled with drama until the end of time. But that doesn't change the fact that it's a good thing in my life - in many of your lives too, I believe - and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Secondly, thank you to all the Testimony girls who heart-attacked us (and thank you to Archimedes who informed me that we'd been heart-attacked). I don't know how the rest of the seven feel, but the black paper heart on my desk tells me that I'm loved by some very dear girls. Not that I wouldn't appreciate this anyway - or the fact that I didn't realize Blue Rose was heart-attacking us even though I ran into her while she was doing it - but the fact that this came on our day to do nice things for you ... well, if I wasn't feeling so terribly content like now I think I'd cry. Thank you all.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Okay, it's time. I'm two posts late, but that's okay. No hurries, right? I'm sure you guys have enough of my stuff to read as it is. But in keeping with the basic purpose of this blog - to let you know about things that are important to me which you probably don't or won't ever get personally involved with - I think it's time I explained for those of you who don't know what exactly I mean when I say roleplaying.

To begin with, I'm not talking about anything even vaguely computer-related. If you walked in on a session of the Phoenix Earth roleplaying game what you'd see is myself and seven of my friends seated around the dining room table. The lights would be on and the table would contain three things: snacks (the traditional roleplaying snacks are soda and pretzels, though we like to be good hosts and provide more varied and/or healthy munchies when possible), pencils and loose sheets of paper, and a pile of dice.

The game is played through a mix of improvisational acting and oral storytelling. Every player begins the game with a role to act out, a "character" (to use the technical term). Exactly who a player's character is gets worked out before the game ever begins, and is preferably a fairly personality that the player understands in some detail. Consider Twilight's character in Phoenix Earth, Kevin Barett:

Kevin Barett is a young twenty-something who lives on Mars in 2081. His father is Cornelius Barett, older brother to the president and CEO of Ares Arms, Inc. In the 2080s Mars is a mob town, and it is Kevin's uncle Alistair who supplies most of the mob families with their guns. Kevin's a bit of a punk and a wise guy, who thinks he's tough because he's a Barett and drives an expensive sports car with a big engine. He owns a jazz club in the American quarter called the Saxy Lady, which in Kevin's opinion is the height of wit.

When coming up with a character the most important thing to keep in mind is that the character must be interesting. Twilight's a veteran roleplayer and I think Kevin is definitely an interesting character. He's a punk kid who's a bit of a coward, which leaves him plenty of room to grow as a person and discover new depths of courage in himself that even he didn't realize he had.

That personal growth is one of what I would consider to be the three main draws of roleplaying. The players all start off with a character to play, but they have only the vaguest idea of what will happen. At the start of the current Phoenix Earth game I told my players that they would be starting on the third international spacestation, GSS Olympia, where Paramount Pictures would be opening its remake of The Matrix (the first major motion picture for several decades which was shot with human actors). We worked out plausible reasons for each character's presence aboard Olympia, but nobody had any idea what would happen once they were aboard. It's fun and exciting to see how these characters react to new situations - that's where the improv part comes in - and a large part of how "good" a player is is defined by how well he or she can know how his or her character would act in a given situation and play accordingly.

As far as the mechanics of "playing" a character go, the game is played by talking. Because of that, and since most of the game is dialogue, it's conventional to refer to the actions of one's character as in the first-person. So suppose in the game Kevin walks up to a ticket counter at Six Flags Space Mountain to ask for a ticket. Twilight might say something like this: "I'm going to walk up to the ticket counter. Excuse me, Miss, ah, one please." The first sentence is Twilight telling everybody else around the dining room table what Kevin is doing; the second is Twilight speaking in Kevin's voice. Because Kevin has a pronounced Jersey accent (as many Martian Americans do) he'd probably speak the second sentence in an accent. You can see, perhaps, how roleplaying is half acting, and it probably won't surprise you to know that virtually everybody in my roleplaying circle of friends is (or was) a drama kid.

The second main component of roleplaying is the game master (or DM, from "dungeon master," by now an archaic term). This is usually the person who runs the game. Other players are only responsible for knowing their own characters. The DM is responsible for knowing every other human being in the game world, knowing the game world itself inside and out, and crafting a rough plotline for the story. Some of that knowledge the DM is supposed to share liberally, such as what the game world is actually like. My players like Phoenix Earth in part because they like hearing about my fanciful version of the future. They like hearing interesting tidbits such as what women's eye makeup looks like in 2081, or finding out that Timex's new flagship wristwatch is called the Chronometer (which is why everybody in the 22nd century refers to watches as "chronometers" - the Timex Chronometer was so successful that, like Kleenex, it gave its name to a whole category of consumer products). Besides being interesting, such details create the sense (which we deliberately buy into) that 21st century Earth a la Phoenix Earth is a real place.

Other details should not be shared. For instance, one of the primary villains in Phoenix Earth is a character I play whom the players know only as Karl. Karl is an enigma - he appears to be an international terrorist, who is at once convinced of his supreme power and yet is routinely beaten bloody by the players when he attempts to confront them (at one particularly memorable moment, one of the characters was beating him with a fencing mask while Karl screamed threats). Clearly there's more to him than meets the eye - the man can apparently disappear at will - but who exactly Karl is nobody knows. I am exactly sure of who Karl is (Eliani helped me refine that, though; thanks), and when the players find that out they will have reached a major turning point in the plot.

The plot is another enjoyable part of the story, because nobody knows what the plot of the game is, not even me. I have a rough outline of major events, but the players' actions absolutely determine what actually happens. My favorite example of this is from the last Phoenix Earth game, when the party decided to use its magical powers to play the stock market (again, more on Phoenix Earth "magic" at a later date). The characters had among them some pretty potent magical abilities, so they bought a bunch of stock in an obscure company which made skyboards (for use in skysurfing, an extreme-sport combination of gliders and trick waterskiing). They then visited the New York Stock Exchange and used their combined abilities to cause everyone on the floor to believe that it was imperative they buy stock in this company. Now, this is a perfectly natural thing to do for people who have the ability to change what others think, but I could hardly let the players become millionaires for so little effort. Or could I? Instead of thwarting them outright (Kharmak: "okay, I get up and go to the NY Stock Exchange." Me: "uh, no you don't."), one day on their visit to the stock exchange the characters noticed that their stock was mysteriously falling in price. Across the visitor's catwalk, a young woman dressed in "man shirt, short skirt" (to quote Shania Twain) gave them a smug smile. That young woman turned out to be a fun and important character, and she wouldn't have been introduced if not for the players' doing the unexpected.

I don't think this kind of souped-up game of "let's pretend" appeals to everybody, but without actually playing the game I think that's probably the best I can do to describe it - unless you have questions, of course, which is what the comment box is for. The last major part of roleplaying is the camaraderie. We're a bunch of good friends sitting around a table snacking, telling each other a good adventure story and acting (which we love to do anyway). That in itself is a good formula for a hang-out. But I shouldn't give the impression that we spend the whole time of a five-hour session (the length of an average session for us; completing a whole story arc can take dozens of such sessions) playing the game. The action is constantly broken up by catching up, commenting on the game, and laughter. Ah, the inside jokes ... I doubt any of us will ever forget "poisonous snake ..." or "I don't mean to be difficult, but ..." or the infamous black ball.

So that's about it, ladies and gentlemen. That's how you roleplay. And hopefully you can get an idea of why I love it.
One of my favorite songs to sing is "I Enjoy Being a Girl" from Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song. Not that I want to be a girl, mind you. Anyway, sometimes there are times when I just really enjoy being a guy. Today was one of those. Not because we rolled the girls out at 0730 with long-stemmed roses and breakfast. Not because we sang "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" for them. Not even because the girls were all beaming. No, ladies and gentlemen. As nice as those things were, what really made my day was taking a stroll around the Quad and finding flyers all over the place that said "Twain Boys - We Love You!"

One of the joys of being a guy in American society is that you're expected to do nice things for girls. (Guys, if you haven't discovered the joy of opening doors for girls, asking them to dances with flowers, or any of the other sundry kindnesses of action and attitude that comprise "being a gentleman," I highly recommend it. Fair warning, though - it's addictive.) Now of course those gifts are their own reward, but that just means that when a girl does something for you ... well. It's enough to send a fellow away from the Quad grinning like a fool the whole way.

So I alluded to a Testimony Valentine's Day escapade in my last post. Here's the whole story:

On Valentine's Day it is traditional to do something nice for the ladies in one's life. Naturally this includes the "eight gorgeous women" (as the song says) of Testimony. The plan we eventually decided on was to buy each girl a personalized stuffed animal. Now, as you might imagine, finding eight different reasonably-priced stuffed animals is hard enough, and nigh impossible when each is supposed to match up with the individual girls. So the Wizard and I ended up selecting eight cute little stuffed dogs, in two shades, one for each section of ladies. Then we purchased some red and white tissue paper and some red ribbon.

After that I took the raw materials back to Twain and whipped up some nametags, which I ran over to Ransom's for him to sign "- The Tmony Guys." That done, I darted back to Twain and commenced wrapping. One of the side-effects of my summers at Zany Brainy is that I can attractively wrap about 90% of the gifts out there. I can't guarantee that it will knock your socks off, but it'll be a fairly professional-looking package. For the puppies I did the obvious thing: using the X-acto knife from my paintball gear box (Dad told me I'd want an X-acto knife in my gear box) I cut slits into the nametags, which I passed a length of red ribbon through. Then I doubled up a sheet of white tissue paper and a sheet of red tissue paper, laid the red on top of the white, and trimmed them roughly square. The dog was then wrapped up in a bulb of tissue paper, white on the outside but red at the top where it opened up, and the whole thing was secured with a red ribbon having the girl's name on it in script and hand-signed, edges curled.

So far, so good. I carted the dogs to rehearsal Tuesday night in a cardboard box covered with my jacket, and after rehearsal was over we took the box outside to distribute dogs to each of the "seven handsome men" of Testimony ... only to discover that we only had seven dogs in the box. Rose's was missing. But I knew I'd wrapped hers up. It had to be in my room. The-person-for-whom-I-have-no-name-yet thrust his keys into my hands and I took off on his bike back for Twain.

It's amazing how fast you can move when you're doing something for a lady. I doubt it was five minutes there and back, dog in hand. And once I got back to the music center, the door was locked! Fortunately the girl who had just locked the door got the picture when I showed her the wrapped dog, and she let me in. Kale wondered why I was shaking and short of breath when we distributed the dogs ... ha! Well, I guess that means we didn't keep them waiting long enough for them to suspect what actually went wrong.

What about roleplaying? Well, I could talk about that now. Or I could finish my Greek so that I can spend my Sabbath in peace. Besides, I'm trying to limit the length of my posts to keep them readable. Next time, ladies and gentlemen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Okay, so I know I said I'd talk about roleplaying here, but right now it's 2350 and I really should be getting to bed soon. We had an entertaining escapade tonight (we being the gentlemen of Testimony, and myself specifically), which I will relate at a later date. In the meantime, something tonight reminded me of: as much drama as is going on in Testimony right now, the Players had more. I didn't need to be in the center of the drama back then, and I don't need to be in the center of this.

It's funny how when Twilight was taking care of someone I didn't feel the need to get involved - I mean, obviously I cared, but in a sense it was being taken care of. I knew that if I was required I'd be called in. To pray, to talk, to listen - whatever. For this reason I wasn't generally concerned if I knew there was a problem that nobody was talking to me about.

I haven't been as good about that sense of perspective up here. I feel like in a way I've fallen prey to one of the fallacies that we Christian bourgeoise intelligentsia are often prey to: the "I have to be involved in every problem" fallacy. In fact I think a military analogy is more apt: an infantryman trusts his buddy to watch his back, so he focuses on the area he's responsible for. In the same way, I don't need to be involved in every crisis - just so long as somebody is involved in every crisis, so nobody goes it alone. If I'm needed I'll be called. And if not, hopefully I'll be told about it after the crisis has passed.

So like I said, I haven't been as good about that sense of perspective as before. But hallelujah that God is re-teaching me. Sometimes the old ways are better.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Ok, so JTT thinks I misquoted him. It turns out that I didn't misquote him; but either he didn't mean what he said or I didn't take it in the way he meant it, or both. Apologies for that. However, what I said still stands in the absence of its convenient segue.

In other blog maintenance news, Wedge [Antilles] has requested that we compromise by referring to him in the future as [Wedge] Antilles. So Antilles it is.

Today has so far been very good. It started off with a surprise no-quiz in Greek, which was cool even though I spent yesterday in the studio studying for it. We spent the whole class reading a few sentences from Xenophon's Anabasis, which was cool even though I hadn't read those sentences ahead of time. I really want to read the Anabasis, which is Xenophon's firsthand account of how an army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries stranded in the middle of the hostile Persian Empire (Iran) made it back to Greece alive. My translation was pretty good, too; even though I actually read aloud a small portion of the text I generally figured out other peoples' stuff before they did. I'm hardly head and shoulders above the rest of the class, or even clearly the best translator, but I am fairly good. That's cool. I really like the atmosphere of that class, too. It's very friendly.

I had a very mellow hangout with Sweatshirt Girl, Blue Rose, and JTT this afternoon before poetry. That was cool, since I generally don't hang out with them much as a group - well, heck, I generally don't hang out. It did prevent me from doing more Phoenix Earth work, but I think it was a good tradeoff. After all, the rules and tables will still be here when I'm done socializing, and I don't socialize very often. And as long as I finish the rules revision by spring break I'm in no hurry. That is sort of a deadline, since the first Phoenix Earth session since last summer will take place over spring break. I'm very excited about that: not only will it be the first time I'll have seen Kharmak and Maclaeden for a while, but it will also be good to get back in the DMly saddle. Next post I think I'll talk some about roleplaying, in case some of you can't envision precisely what I'm talking about or why I care.

Oh yeah ... about the whole Empire Earth thing. Now, you may be saying to yourself, "why can't you and Antilles just get together and play something? Why do you need to buy a whole new game?" If you are saying that you're quite correct: there's no logical reason why I have to buy a new game to play with him. But I think it will facilitate our getting together, and in addition it's a game I want anyway. So I think I'll get it, if not at the end of the month then at the beginning of March.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Okay, so it's been requested that I explain the Wedge thing. As Wedge himself pointed out in the comments to the previous post, fantasy names are far more in keeping with his personality. The reason I refrained from using the obvious choice is that I decided as long as I was going to arbitrarily flip on the "code name" toggle (which names fool none of you, I'm sure), I might as well choose names that are meaningful to me. So where does Wedge come from? Wedge Antilles, naturally, the only man to survive both Death Star runs and the leader of Rogue Squadron for most of its existence. Wedge is both the consummate wingman and the consummate squadron leader, a man whose compassion for his fellow Rogues inspires their loyalty at the same time while remaining incredibly intense - "hard core," you might say. This is why Wedge is Wedge. If stringent objections remain I will switch to the obvious choice, as the code name thing won't be fun if it honestly bugs him.

I just got back from the studio, where we recorded "Let Me Show You The Way." I think it will sound very good when we're through with the mixing and so forth, which naturally is good. I intend to be there next time the core goes mixing. Why? Not like I'll ever need to know how to mix tracks myself, right? Not like anybody's ever suggested that my mad musical skillz are needed. I'll tell you why: I wish that Testimony had the kind of leadership that commanded my loyalty, but it doesn't. So what's the proper response to that? Support core even more. My presence at these mixing sessions, so long as it remains tolerated, will be a show of support. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

JTT brought up a recurring theme in Testimony on the way over to the studio: the idea that performing excellence and worship excellence are in practice mutually exclusive (that is, the more you have of the one the less you'll tend to have of the other). I know that I'm in the minority here (or anyway the minority of people who express that opinion) but I really don't think it's true that practically speaking the two counterbalance each other. To a certain extent of course I'm forced to think that, because if performance art can't be shown to glorify the Father then there's really no justification for making performing such a big part of my life (or American culture). Acknowledging that, though, here's how it seems to me:

When I was in the Players, the Director always stressed that you go on stage for the people who come in out of the night to see you. You don't know where those people are coming from, or what they're going through in their lives, but for the two hours that they're watching you it doesn't matter. Your performance will lift them out of their troubles and give them the gift of a light heart from curtain to curtain, and probably a little after, too. In short, even secular performance art exists to bless//love on the audience. All of our hard work was devoted to making those two hours the best gift we could give to our audience. Of course some people were in it for personal glory, but those were not the people who reflected the spirit or values of the Company.

So what about this spectrum with performance at one end and worship at the other? Well, I admit that a performance is not worship in the sense that we usually use the term. When I perform I am not doing the same thing as I am on Sunday mornings when I raise my hands to the ceiling and loose my voice to exalt the Lord. Frankly I don't think Testimony has any business doing that. In identifying ourselves as part of the Stanford a cappella community (and by performing at the a cappella fests during Admit Weekend and Orientation we very clearly place ourselves on a level with the other a cappella groups) we advertise to people that we are going to entertain them. I doubt very strongly that anybody comes to a Testimony concert looking for answers to spiritual questions; if I had a spiritual question I'd go to someone I trusted, or a pastor, or a fellowship, or any place where people dialogue. Certainly not a concert. I would argue that people come to our shows for two reasons, and two reasons only: either out of loyalty to their friends, or because they expect to have a good time (or both). They did not come for a worship service, where they get to sing with the band on stage and be led in songs praising the Father. Frankly, I think it would be rude if we got up there and pretended like we were just going to worship God and if people wanted to watch, great. But that's hardly the only meaning of worship! Isn't it worship when we do things for the sake of loving other people (let's not even bother to talk about whatever evangelical aspects Testimony has or doesn't have!)? Or if not worship, is that not still a worthy pursuit for believers?

How does that tie into justifying professionalism? Two ways off the top of my head. One, the essence of professionalism is reliability. If you deliver a reliably good performance you offer a reliably good gift to your audience night after night, instead of making the quality of their gift dependent upon which night they happen to see your performance, or whatever personal crises are going on in your life the night you perform. Two, the professional heart is one that keeps in mind why it performs and doesn't let itself get caught up in personal gain. I'm using "professional" here as an ideal; obviously there are performers who get paid ("professionals") who don't at all embody these ideals. But who's the real performer? Those petty selfish people who think art is for them or the kind of person I just described?

This is why I want Testimony to be professional. Because in my view it is the professional performer who is actively seeking to submit his art to the service of the kingdom. I realize that most if not all members of Testimony would agree with my second point above, even if they haven't been trained to think of that as part of what it means to be professional. I wonder how many of my fellows understand why I believe it is an act of worship to seek reliability in our performances, and that is embodied in my first point.

This issue of mutual exclusivity kept coming up over the course of the day. I had a nice snuggle time with Kale in the studio, which definitely recharged me - even I get slowly drained after too much time recording, and I don't even spend most of my time doing anything related to recording itself; I generally spend most of the day (as I did today) doing Greek. That put three Testimony couples in the room (well, Kale and I don't count really, but we were snuggling, so we count for purposes of establishing an atmosphere). It occurred to me at the time that that probably made certain people feel uncomfortable (I'm not quite sure but the Wizard comes to mind as a possibility) ... but nobody said anything. So presumably they meant that as an act of love to let those of us who need our touches to get them. What are we supposed to do in that situation? Say "no, that's okay, we don't really need to snuggle" at the same time as everyone else is saying "no, really, go ahead?" I mean, somebody's got to give eventually, right?

Likewise on the way home, when Kale and I at various times started singing "Let Me Show You The Way." Rose requested that we not sing that, and actually requested that we all sing something else. I believe this is part of her recording studio cool-down ritual, her way of getting the song we just recorded out of her head so she doesn't get sick of it and can still appreciate it later. Except nobody else in the car seemed to be in the mood to sing something else. And I'm pretty sure both Kale and I felt like after recording the song we needed to actually sing it to get some closure. Singing a song a cappella for so long doesn't really count as singing the song itself. So again, we're left with a peculiar situation: either she can be nice to us and let us sing the song, or we can be nice to her and not sing the song. If Rose had offered to let us sing the song, who'd have the better claim? She didn't, so naturally we ended up not singing the song. Funny question to think about, though.

Saturday, February 09, 2002

Okay, I just finished writing the family, but I'm going to do the irresponsible thing and stay up and blog since tomorrow I probably won't get the chance.

I figured out the comment problem by myself, but thanks to the person I suspect is Wedge (the other name was just too obvious) for telling me anyhow. He probably posted that comment before I figured it out, or else just after, and I just didn't notice. Anyway, thanks. If you're who I think you are (and really who else would you be?) it's kind of a warm fuzzy feeling to know that even though it's been a long time since Margaret dished out any righteous justice you've still got my back.

Hmmm ... you know, actually, that'd be a good reason to get Empire Earth ahead of schedule. Wedge and I haven't played any together this year, and even though CS has become kind of passé (read: insufficiently tactical\\realistic) I miss playing with him. But he's playing EE right now, and Phoenix Earth is all about mixing the ancient and modern, which puts EE right up my alley even if it was produced by the Company Which Has Forgotten How to Make Immersive Games. Not that I'm bitter. Especially since Arcanum was incredibly immersive (as JTT could attest if he wasn't sleeping right now - yes, I changed his name), and EE looks to be as well - at least judging by the thrill it gave me just watching. Ok, so it's just Dynamix that was evil, and they've been axed. Bitterness has passed. Anyway, what do you think? It would be good to play with Wedge again. Especially now that he's got his own blog I'm realizing that I miss spending time with him.

I'm listening to Michelle Tumes' Dream right now, which is fun because I really love that woman's lyrics. Consider from "Heaven's Heart:"

How can I resist such gentle love
Whispered on the evening breeze?
Love as soothing as the moonlight
Let your love shine down on me.

Heaven's Heart was written in the stars before the mark of time
Your heart and mine were destined to entwine
You're calling (calling) calling to me
And I'm falling into love, sweet love
So heavenly.

I wouldn't consider this to be Ms. Tumes' most impressive piece of songwriting, but I'm using it as an example because Testimony is going to be singing it. Two things I think I'll point out in this excerpt. First is the imagery of the verse. The whole I-see-God-in-nature thing might not do anything for you; it certainly doesn't normally do anything for me. In Ms. Tumes' hands it does, though. Never mind why; instead c.f. the love whispered on an evening breeze with the voice of God speaking to Elijah in a small wind (1 Kings 19:11-12). This is more than a simpleminded Old Testament allusion; by connecting "love" with the still small voice it's a statement that the God of Israel is the God of the Christians - a theme you might also see in Pastor Keith's use of the Aaronic blessing at The River, or even when Testimony sings TLBY; notice that this blessing was given to Aaron and his sons for the children of Israel, with whom we identify ourselves spiritually when we sing that song. Think about what would happen if you told Violet that Jews and Christians worship the same deity and you'll get an idea of how big that statement is.

Second thing is the use of the word "heart." In the first line of the chorus "heart" carries its Old Testament meaning of "desires or intentions of the inmost being" (again notice the implication that the Christ of the Christians is rooted in the Old Testament). In the second line it carries the contemporary meaning of "seat of the soul." Two similar but importantly different meanings; as a wordsmith myself (and someone whom as you've probably noticed is obsessed with word meanings) I find that very satisfying. Also notice what has happened to the figure of Jesus in the song: in the first line of the chorus, when we're still in Old Testament mode, Jesus\\Heaven are one thing, and it's the desires of Jesus\\Heaven which are written in the stars. In the second line, when the changed meaning of "heart" jumps us to the 21st century, Jesus is you - and it must be Jesus, as the rest of the song makes clear. I love good lyrics.

I had yet another excellent talk today, this time with the-person-to-whom-I-will-refer-as-Taboo-until-I-come-up-with-a-better-name (naming guys is hard; I guess I just don't have as much practice). I know I've already said it, but I give mad props to Blue Rose for this whole prayer buddy thing. And yes, I just said mad props. To miquote Principal Skinner, "that's right, I type words I would never speak." Why are prayer buddies a good thing? Many many reasons:

1). I know Rose felt at the beginning of this year that God was going to use her to improve Testimony's character as a fellowship, and I definitely think this is a way in which He's doing that. It's always good to see the Father at work, and always good to see brethren walking in obedience when He wants to use them as His tools.

2). I don't know about the rest of Testimony, but I admit to not always being consistent with my prayer requests calendar. I haven't missed a prayer buddy meeting yet (that's why I met with Eliani yesterday; we missed our appointment last week), and I certainly don't intend to! The meetings are too good!

3). The meetings really are too good! After programs like Crossing the Line it's common to hear the sentiment expressed, "I wish we didn't have to institutionalize heart-to-heart sharing in order to talk on a deep level." But I think the truth of the matter is that you do have to institutionalize it if you want people to share with anybody but their absolute closest friends. And it can help even then, in providing a sense of safety in which people talk. The early church had a [quickly abandoned] experiment with communism, but Christians today still look back on those early days of total community with serious nostalgia. That may or may not be justified, but if we're going to want to be like the church we see in Acts, sharing everything, we've got to institutionalize it or it won't happen. And after all, who says institutionalization is an inherently bad thing? Certainly not yours truly.

4). Related to the last point, Testimony has somehow gotten it into its collective head that we should all be very close friends. Now, maybe we should and maybe we shouldn't - but it's certainly nice to be close to people, and this prayer buddy thing is the first practical way of effecting that goal that I've seen proposed. And I think it's working: who would've thought that I could have had the conversation I had with Ransom two weeks ago? But I did. And who would have expected when Eliani and I met on the Oval that she'd not only want to hear all about Phoenix Earth but give me feedback on it, until lo and behold I stumbled on a dramatic and satisfying explanation of the First Mage War upon which the entire history is based?

One of the many sobering truths attendant upon the office of the performer is that everything you do will affect the legacy of your company, group, ensemble, or whatever noun you use to describe that part of your organization which transcends the individuals who compose it at any given time. Performances exist to bless the audience, but a group's legacy exists to bless the group itself. Whatever Rose decides about coming back next year, I pray that prayer buddies become a permament part of the Testimony legacy.
Quick Greek lesson and an addendum:

First, the more I think about it the more I realize it's unfair to say that Rose never complimented me for my physical appearance. That's just not true, and given that such things seem to mean less to her than they do to me it's actually quite sweet that she has done it at all. So my previous statement isn't really true.

And now three Greek expressions regarding love:

Agapó se (the o is pronounced "oh;" the e in se is pronounced "eh"): In English, "I love you." This is the same verb (agapáo, final o pronounced "oh")) for love used to describe how God loves us. This is the kind of love that is behind all the Protestant rhetoric about love being a verb and not a feeling, and how loving someone is an act of will instead of a state of affection for them. This kind of love is an act of will, a deliberate benevolence that seeks the other's good.

Philó se (same o pronunciation): Also "I love you." This verb for love (philéo, e pronounced as in se) refers to an emotional affection. It's a warm kind of word which has connections to other words in Greek like "beloved" or "dear."

Eró se (again, the o is pronounced "oh"): "I'm in love with you." This is pretty self-explanatory, really, and means in Greek pretty much what it means in English. Connected to words like "eros," the sort of love that means physical desire.
No denying she's a funny one that Belle =)

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, February 08, 2002

I just had a very pleasant conversation with Eliani. I really like this whole prayer buddy idea (Blue Rose's, if I recall correctly). I think this definitely should become part of the Testimony legacy.

As an added bonus for the conversation, in the course of explaining to Eliani about the whole history of Phoenix Earth I figured out at last what was really going on with the First Mage War. Perhaps I'll explain later; but since some friends from home might be reading this I think I'll keep it a secret for now. Especially since the history of the First Mage War has significant bearing on the course of the current game, and it would be a shame if the party was denied the chance to discover too much.

Rose came to the bass sectional today, which I thought was nice. It's a little intimidating singing around her, since I've never been as bad at singing as I am in Testimony, either relatively or absolutely speaking. But then again I've never done a cappella either, so it's kind of to be expected. Anyway I appreciate it when she comes to sectional, since we definitely benefit from her expertise. I think I am going to start dropping in on alto sectionals when I can. I'd probably learn more about teaching singing by talking with Dad, but Dad's not up here. And I'm sure I'll learn some valuable things about section leading from observing Rose in action.

Many people are at Twain's Screw Your Roommate right now, although I obviously am not. That is not at all a bad thing; I really have no desire to be there right now. That kind of dancing still scares me, but more importantly I don't particularly enjoy it intrinsically. I certainly enjoyed it last year, when there was a girl involved. I've decided that's neither a bad nor a cowardly thing. After all, as I was relating to Ayudaren today, I don't enjoy dressing up for the sake of dressing up. But I definitely enjoy dressing up for the sake of a girl. Likewise with non-social dance dancing.

Speaking of Ayudaren and dances, it seems that he and a bunch of other folks back home will be skipping the Vice Versa dance tomorrow (on account of not having dates) to smash tomorrow night. "To smash" is a technical term in Natalie, which means "to play Super Smash Brothers or Super Smash Brothers Melee." If you haven't been fortunate enough to play either of those games, Super Smash Brothers is Nintendo's tribute to itself: a game that pits all the licensed Nintendo characters against one another (and I mean all, from classics like Mario and Luigi, Link and Zelda, to characters that I hadn't even heard of before, like Mr. Game and Watch, the character from a series of handheld Nintendo-released LCD games which predate even the original NES). The game is quite easy to pick up but allows for a great variety of individual skill and style development within that very simple framework. That is part of the essence of good game design, and I applaud Nintendo for returning to it. Twilight, Ayudaren, Lionel, the DM, myself, and even my sister have all had good bonding and hanging-out times over nights of smashing. I miss you guys.

I watched the eighth episode of an anime series called "Hellsing" yesterday, which while not quite at the level of the previous seven was still fairly jaw-dropping. It was mostly a setup episode, though, so I can forgive its comparative mediocrity. Hellsing is the only anime series I have ever found (and with friends like Twilight, Kharmak, Maclaeden, and Selrahc I've been exposed to a fair number of anime series, at least in passing) which both contains absolutely nothing objectionable (gratuitious nudity is extremely common in most series) and has remained cool even though I've seen all the episodes translated into English. For this I must give it props.

The basic premise of Hellsing is that there are a number of religious organizations throughout the world dedicated to the eradication of the undead and the preservation of humanity. The Vatican has one, and in England it's the Knights of the Round Table, whose fighting arm is provided by the Hellsing Agency, run by the Hellsing family. And now, because I enjoy theatrical criticism, characters of note and why:

Integral Wingates Hellsing. The head of the Hellsing Agency since her father died, Integral is more or less your standard elegant, no-nonsense female leader character. One of the things that makes her interesting is that despite her veneer of competence, Hellsing is suffering under her leadership and she knows it. Is that because she isn't the leader or protector of Britain that her father was? Or just that times are particularly bad? We don't know yet, and Integral goes back and forth. This gives her an air of both mystery and humanity that make her attractive to me.

Victoria Celes. A former British police officer, Victoria was part of an investigation in the first episode which left her in the clutches of a vampire. She was fatally wounded in Hellsing's rescue operation and saved when the Hellsing agent involved turned her into a vampire. Victoria is the series' token sexy young woman who's generally innocent but can still kick butt when it's time. Victoria struggles for several episodes with the prospect of being a vampire for the rest of her life, which makes her eventual devotion to the vampire who created her very touching instead of stupid. In addition, I find the innocence/competence dichotomy to be believable in her as I do not in many other characters of her class. One of the basic things about Hellsing that appeals to me is that even though (like all anime series) it relies heavily on cool-factor, the character development is still very real.

Alucard. Alternately "Arkard," depending on who did the translation of the episode in question ("Arkard" is supposedly more correct, since "Alucard" is just "Dracula" spelled backwards. But I don't speak Japanese so I wouldn't know). Alucard is the enigmatic super-powerful character ("power" is a curious theme to recur in an animated series, but it's definitely a staple of anime), in this case an independent vampire who for mysterious reasons works for the Hellsing family. Alucard created Victoria deliberately, because, for all of his power, he's lonely. Much of the series' cool factor comes from Alucard, but his understated affection for Victoria redeems him as a character.

SG, BR, Simba, and Silver (who actually was wearing black and silver, just like one of the Shiny People) just came by. Rose was looking excellent in one of my favorite dresses of hers. She smelled nice, too. Both she and Thea have a very distinctive smell that I am extremely partial to. I almost had an emotional crisis when she complimented Simba on his dressing style, but I avoided it. Rose rarely if ever complimented me for physical attractievness, so there's no point in getting upset about it tonight. Probably that's just a feature of her dialect. If it's not I don't want to know.

Does anybody know how to get my comment boxes after the post they refer to like everybody else's? If you do please let me know.
I'm listening to "Belle," from the Beauty and the Beast Soundtrack, and thanks to the miracle of two working speakers I'm listening to it without headphones and the benefit of my subwoofer. That is, in my opinion as an actor-singer, one of the best songs of all time. And Belle herself is just so sexy ... she's a nerd who loves fantasy, for goodness' sake! How many Disney princesses can say that? That's right, only her.

Listening to music like this makes me wish I was living in Belle's town, in Belle's time, when everything was a little brighter than it is today and the world worked a little better. A very Greek sentiment, that: as Prof. Morris put it, the Greeks generally thought that everything was great just a generation or two ago, but now it's all going to hell in a handbasket. Well, I know that's not true, and I don't actually wish I was living in any time period other than the one I'm living in. But sometimes it sure seems like the past was better. That is one of the alluring things about fantasy: the longing for a time when people were little nobler, life was a little simpler, things were a little better.

Which brings me back, for the third post in a row, to the subject of my dear Blue Rose. I think she would probably appreciate it if I mentioned that I misconstrued her statement about flirting: the more flirtatious I got the less attractive she found the flirting, which was more or less contemporary with her declining level of attractedness to me, but there's not some sort of cause-effect relationship there. Now of course that's still a little disappointing, like sending somebody a fruitcake every Christmas for ten years because you thought they really liked fruitcakes and they just didn't want to hurt your feelings by telling you they don't, or something. But I should also point out, both to you and to me, that apparently "attractive" means different things in Rose and Natalie. The Rosean sense seems to be something along the lines of "desirable as a romantic partner." The Natalian sense is closer to kalós (I hate it when people give words in foreign languages without telling you where the accent falls, so all of my Greek transliterations will include an accent marking): not only desirable as a romantic partner, but also good\\excellent\\noble. Yet another example of me not speaking Rose and her not speaking Natalie.

If you read between the lines there you'll have picked up that, according to her, she still finds me an admirable\\likeable individual. And I meant what I said when I called her my dear Blue Rose. So, you ask, why are we so estranged? I don't know precisely, actually. But the dialect problem points up an instance which may give us a clue: Rose has been feeling down for a while now, and naturally I want to love//support her. But I don't know how to do that. When I'm hurting what're the things in the world I most want from my friends? To snuggle//be held, to sing//act, to talk about roleplaying or stories that stand for better days. That's how I prefer people to say "I know you're hurting. I'm here for you" to me. But I don't know how to say that in Rose, and when I ask if there's anything I can do the answer is generally "no." Which is very frustrating because I feel certain that there's something I could be doing; I just don't know what it is - heck, she even seems uncomfortable praying with me. What about just being in proximity, like Violet used to do? Well, that's a possibility, but somehow I don't think it would be the same thing to her.

Now I shouldn't give you the impression that all the problems are on her end; that's definitely not true. I'm sure she could give you a more comprehensive account of the ways that I've been obstructionist or unloving than I can, but the most obvious example that springs to my mind is ignoring her when she comes to visit. Now of course sometimes that's because I can't think of anything to say, but honestly, that's no excuse to not stop trying. And let's not forget instances like when she and Simba were talking about musical stuff that was way over my head, and when she realized that she suggested we three start waltzing together (well, I mean, taking turns). That was extremely sweet of her. Why can't we have more encounters like that?

And that, I suspect, really does hold the answer. As Mother in her psychiatric nursing wisdom pointed out, so long as we continue to relate to each other in contexts that call to mind last year, of course we're going to feel awkward. Whatever we in our blithely self-assured collegiate youth may think about how over each other we are, the reality of the situation is that we need to form a new friendship relationship. Which has to be done in new contexts, or else the old ones are going to keep sabotaging the work. Why wasn't it painful to waltz together? In part, no doubt, because our waltzing together is removed from last year (since we only learned how last quarter). And partly by Simba's presence as well, no doubt.

All of this brings me back to the liner notes committee, which both Blue Rose and I are on. The Sweatshirt Girl suggested that if in fact Mother is correct in her diagnosis of the problem (and I suspect that she is) the liner notes committee is an obvious candidate for working together in a new context. And as an added bonus, the CD is something bigger than ourselves for people other than ourselves. I have always found that when people come together to pour out their lives for others - that is, to perform - they come away the better for it, and the closer to each other. I hope that this may be true of my Blue Rose and I as well.

Why am I so bent on this? Why not just say forget it, there are other fish in the sea, one girl's friendship shouldn't matter that much? A couple of reasons. One, because this isn't just any girl. I firmly believe that my Blue Rose is the latest in a long line of girls stretching back even past the Dragon Girls whom God has brought into my life as an instrument to shape me more into who I am supposed to be. Two, because I also firmly believe that this disconnect between us is more than just the results of a prolonged breakup, that there is demonic activity here exacerbating the problem and seeking to deceive both of us into believing that the problem is so big that it's insurmountable. In Phoenix Earth the Order of the Ivory Crown spent centuries studying the asil and uvore without figuring out that there was a difference between the two, or that human beings could confront them. But here in the 21st century we know better, and I am absolutely not giving up my relationship with my beloved Blue Rose to the enemy.

And why am I writing all this? Again, two reasons. One, it's on my mind, and what is this thing for if not to post what's on my mind? Two, because I know she reads this, and I want her to know where I'm coming from next time I ask if there's anything I can do, and when I suggest that the liner notes committee get together.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

To begin with, my right speaker has mysteriously started working. So far I can't tell if I did anything, unless plugging in my speakers again counts. Well, score one for God's small blessings.

The helmet issue has been resolved. I decided to let the 2.00x damage multiplier express the lack of suspension in ancient helmets for me, rather than compounding all of that by reducing the armor classes fo the helmets, too. Additionally, I have almost finished the selection of shields available to the classical world, and I am quite pleased with how it's turned out. One of the great problems with dice-based roleplaying games such as Phoenix Earth is that certain items of equipment always end up being useless. In AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd ed.) there was literally no reason to use the khopesh or the scimitar (both of those are curved swords, the former short and the latter fairly long). In classical Phoenix Earth I am determined to make each and every last piece of equipment useful. In the case of shields this is exemplified by the inclusion of two large shields, which I call "bowl" and "tower" and are directly modeled on the Greek hoplite aspis (which, contrary to what you might read elsewhere, the Greeks did not call "hoplon") and the Roman scutum, respectively. The tower shield weighs less than the bowl shield, and it provides better coverage for the body. However, because it lacks the radical concavity of the bowl shield, its ability to turn blows is reduced and it makes an inferior ram. One of the things that kind of surprised me about ancient warfare is that people routinely used their shields as weapons, even to the point of using them to literally bowl the enemy over. Of course if I were engaged in a melee I'm sure I too would use everything I could lay hands on as a weapon; it's just that we don't tend to think of ancient soldiers as desperate people. I think it's good to remember that.

I promised a little bit about flirting in this post, and a little bit about the [fantasy] history of the classical period. I'm going to take those in reverse order, since chances are you care more about my thoughts regarding flirting than my thoughts regarding fictional events in 2400 BC. But hey, it's my blog, and I should probably talk about what's important to me. I trust that you're reading this because you're interested in what I think is important, since you probably already know what you think is important.

To begin with, Phoenix Earth does purport to take place on the Earth that you and I live on, in the universe that contains that Earth, and so on and so forth. Which means that God is still God of everything, somewhere between 4 BC and 6 AD Jesus Christ still comes down to redeem mankind, Satan is still Satan, angels are still angels, and demons are still demons. So far as I know nothing in Phoenix Earth contradicts Scripture, although it does add some stuff (this is where the allegory comes in). Chief among those additions is that in Phoenix Earth God created four immortal races, not two: in addition to angels (Phoenix Earth asil) and humans, God also created dragons and elves. The first three of these "Old Races" ("old" because they're immortal, not because they've been around a long time) all fell after their first generation: hence only some of the angels are demons, only some of the dragons became kites, and only four of the twelve elven tribes became kioa (key-oh-a, pl.; singular key-oh). Humans are an exception in that we fell in our first generation, leaving the entire race of man fallen. The other old races are aware of that, and as you might imagine that puts interspecies relations in a difficult place. All the same, God only told the humans to hold dominion over all the Earth. There is of course quite a bit of activity between the angels\\asil and the demons\\uvore as each species attempts to promote its master's own agenda in the physical realm. However, as you might recall from passages such as Daniel 10:13, both asil and uvore are apparently perfectly capable of delaying and perhaps even thwarting one another, at least in the absence of divine intervention. In Phoenix Earth this manifests itself in the fact that asil and uvore can only interact with the physical realm by means of magic (more on Phoenix Earth "magic" in a later post), and the casting of such a spell consumes the caster so completely that it leaves him totally open to attack in the spiritual. That tactical problem accounts for the relative rarity of physical angelic or demonic activity despite the omnipresence of the spiritual conflict. Anyway, by 2400 BC most of the dragons have left Earth for the astral plane (most of the remaining ones keeping to themselves in the deserts of the Middle East) while the remaining eight elven tribes (or elrasha - el-rash-a, take off the a for the singular meaning "elf") are content to stay mostly within the forests of Germany. It is the humans, in all of their sinfulness, who have expanded to cover the inhabited world, and this is where the trouble starts.

If you managed to digest all of that, good for you and thanks for taking the time. Now out of the 25th century BC and back to the 21st century AD.

I had a talk with Blue Rose today which left me somewhat disquieted. As you may or may not know, last year we had a thing for each other, and that was terminated fall quarter. Now, I think that was totally the right decision, and I might even go so far as to say that I'm emotionally over her now. Might. Anyway, the point is that it came out during our conversation that she doesn't find me attractive anymore, in part because I've become more flirtatious. In order to understand why that's significant you should know that in high school I was something of a cold fish when it came to girls - not that I didn't like girls, or that I was rude to girls. In point of fact most people probably would have said that I was extremely nice to girls (I know the Dragon Girls would have; they did, repeatedly), which probably has something to do with the fact that I have a thing for honoring//admiring girls - the causes of which I will perhaps explore later. But I was definitely not flirtatious, whereas up here I have a - how did the Sweatshirt Girl put it? - very direct style of flirting. And I use it often.

Why? Well, I won't deny that it's fun. Unicorn can take credit for teaching me how much sheer fun it can be to flirt when both of you are only interested in flirting. But the real answer to why? is that my flirtatious behavior grows out of the aforementioned impulse to honor girls. To put it another way, I mean flirting like Clanners mean sex: there is a certain amount of intimacy involved in it, to be sure, but at its core the activity is a gift to be shared between friends. I don't give lady Testifiers unsolicited shoulder massages because I'm trying to pick up on them. I'm doing it by way of saying "I love you. I appreciate your friendship. I want to give you a gift, and I think you'll like this." Now of course it's true that, just like in dancing, one should flirt for the other person. If a back massage means "I want to get into a long-term committed romantic relationship with you" to one girl, obviously I shouldn't give her a back massage unless that's what I mean. Did Ranna continue to sleep with Vlad after she heard about Phelan's reaction to it? No, of course not. But I have digressed.

Why did the knowledge that my Blue Rose does not find me attractive anymore disquiet me? Two reasons. One, it's kind of disheartening to know that someone who used to find you attractive doesn't find the person you've become attractive. Two, I still find her attractive. Now of course I don't think we should be together; I think we'd make a fantastically mediocre couple. But I still find her just as beautiful as before, and while I know her too well to call her my Ivory Rose I still find her to be an admirable person. Of course I don't like everything about her, but I still find the package attractive\\likeable. And it's not exactly a nice feeling to think that she doesn't feel the same way.

Of course I should remember that one Blue Rose is hardly the whole of womankind, and by and large girls still seem to think I'm an attractive individual. So as with most things Blue Rose, and in the words of Twilight, I will not let it get me down. If the prognosis for our becoming close again doesn't sound good to you, I agree. But I feel like God still wants me to believe it will happen. So I will, until new orders come down.

Just so I don't end this on a dour note, I should probably relate my latest Viennese Ball escapade. Today I borrowed Dr. Object (you think that's a code name, but the car's license plate proclaims it to be Dr. Object - a little quirky but at the same time way cool) and drove him into Palo Alto to drop off Testimony's malfunctioning minidisk player at the repair shop and pick up a single long-stemmed yellow rose with which to ask a certain young lady to the Viennese Ball, which is Stanford's only all-campus formal dance and goes down on March 1. The Sweatshirt Girl will be performing in the Opening Committee, so I'm excited to see that, and a variety of Testimony folks will be in attendance as well. Plus there will be waltzing. Lots of waltzing. Which as Tom Stoppard said through the mouth of Tomasina is the "gayest, most romantical dance ever!" Or something like that. The point is that I like waltzing. A lot. Granted the girl I asked only learned how to waltz two weeks ago. So what was I doing asking such a girl to an event that's about waltzing? Why, letting her weigh the options herself, of course.

Unfortunately the florist was out of good-looking long-stemmed yellow roses; apparently I had picked up the last nice one three days ago. So I got a peach one instead. That was a breach of personal etiquette, but I decided asking with a peach rose was better than asking with no rose at all. The greenery included in the arrangement was also a little more elaborate than I had envisioned ... actually, I called it a "botanical peacock" to the Pirate Queen. Then I drove myself home and asked her after dinner.

Ooh, Terri Clark's "I've Got Better Things to Do" just came up on my playlist. Few thinks make me as happy as a fun, lyrically clever song that's fun to sing. It's almost 9:00 and time for the Twain Writers' Circle. Perhaps I won't go tonight. It is my sabbath, after all. Good night, ladies and gentlemen. Until next time.

Oh yes ... she said yes. =)
Well, this is it gentlemen. This is the moment you officially become ... blogged. If you know the real version of that quote you either live in the Valley or are extremely cool.

As I post this Natalie Maines just said "Bring it up, Martie!" whereupon the redoubtable Ms. Seidel cut loose with one of her famous fiddle solos. I'd call that an auspicious beginning for a venture I'm not entirely comfortable with. Not that I have a problem with blogs in general - as you may or may not know, I'm addicted to several. Then too, I have often wished that humans were telepathic (what sci-fi/fantasy geek hasn't?), and this is the next best thing. I guess I'm just a little wary about what I'll end up posting here. I don't particularly want to do this if I'm not going to be frank, and I'm not entirely sure that being frank is an acceptable mode of behavior for me. Nevertheless here I am, giving it a shot, in hopes that ... well, in hopes of what?

That last paragraph brought up two points which I should probably elaborate on. First is why this blog is entitled "Speaking Natalie." If you already know where that quote comes from, then you're either Tina or extremely cool. And that's probably the last time I'll use a proper name here, though I imagine that you will figure out my codewords soon enough if not immediately. In any case, "Natalie" is what I call my dialect of English. It comes from Charlie's Angels (the recent one); the expression "to speak Natalie" means quite literally "to speak your language," where "your" in this case refers to "me."

Which brings me to the second point: why am I doing this? One of the things Crossing the Line brought up last night was that I don't really feel like anybody at Stanford really knows me. Now that's not to say that nobody at Stanford knows a lot about me; several people do. If you're one of the first people to read this, odds are you're one of them. What I don't feel - and this is partially the geek in me speaking, admittedly - is that anybody really knows me in the sense of understanding//processing//consuming what makes me tick. My Blue Rose might have, last year, but ... well, I guess I just don't feel like that's true anymore. But I'm not going to start this thing off with a big whining session about that, especially since I've gotten through several paragraphs without whining. That's not a bad start. If you haven't seen anybody write in Cybrid yet then you must not have played Starsiege (don't, it's not worth it): the basic idea is that // and \\ form Venn diagrams. So understanding//processing//consuming represents that verb located at the point where all three of those verbs overlap. Forward slashes are used for verbs and adverbs; backslashes are used for nouns and adjectives.

So now that that's out of the way, where shall I begin? Let's leave aside the deep issues and begin with something that you probably don't care about but I hope you will come to: Phoenix Earth (if you already do, again, you're either from the Valley or extremely cool). In a nutshell, Phoenix Earth is my epic semi-allegorical alternate and future history. Hopefully one of the things this blog will do is let you understand why Phoenix Earth (I never abbreviate that, just because PE looks so stupid to me) is so important to me: and in understanding that you will hopefully come to understand more about me. At the moment I am engaging in the Great Phoenix Earth Rules Unification, which will produce the rules for a roleplaying game which can be applied equally to the classical (fantasy alternate history) or future (sci-fi future history) periods of the epic. I'll explain roleplaying at a later date for those of you who don't know what I mean by the term.

At the moment what is occupying my attention is helmets. Classical Phoenix Earth, circa 2400 BC, is more or less stuck in the Bronze Age - or anyway humans are. Less urban cultures such as certain human tribes, ogres, orcs, and dwarves are very much in the iron age, since bronze is difficult to get without a fairly well-developed international trade network. Anyway, the point is that most armor in Phoenix Earth is made of bronze, with iron a distant second and steel an extreme rarity. Now obviously there's a clear hierarchy of protective properties there: steel is better than iron is better than bronze. But what I've come to realize in my reading on ancient warfare is that a large part of a helmet's protective qualities is in its suspension: you can have your head encased in ten pounds of steel, but if the helmet is resting on your head (as most ancient and medieval helmets did) it's still pretty easy to give you a concussion through the steel. So how do I represent that in the rules? Just increase the armor class of the helmets? Or let the damage multiplier for head-shots take care of it? Fortunately I have a built-in playtesting group for the game. If you picked up that the point of this paragraph was to let you know that Phoenix Earth subscribes to the post-Heinlein sci-fi convention of plausible implausibility (i.e., everyone knows dinosaur cloning won't work, but Crichton can sure make it sound like it would), good for you. If you further picked up that the deeper point of this paragraph was to let you know that I have a complex about not appearing ignorant, ten bonus points.

I think it's time for me to get back to my rules-writing. Next post I think I'll talk about flirting, and hopefully give some more history about the classical period.