Roll Jerk-nitiative!

i’ve noticed a trend of late when i have the privilege of sitting around a table to play some D&D with friends… nearly everyone plays A-hole characters!

“i’d like to make a slight of hand check to steal the gem he just found from him”

“He’s passed out? i take his pants off and drag him outside.”

“i’m not burning my last heal on you, you can make death-saves if you go down!”

 

Why does this seem to be such a trend around tables these days? What happened to playing a group of companions? To working as a team? To being fantasy-friends?

 

Back in the old days we had some jerkish characters, sure. There were jerkish thieves who stole from their party, but they tended to be the outliers. Now even the good aligned fighter seems to want to snag treasure from his companions. Is it a reflection of our change towards each other in general in the world? Is it a case of art imitating life? Are we all frustrated by being worked over by others so when it comes time to escape into a little fantasy we want to be the jerks coming out on top at the expense of others? i’m not sure, but it’s food for thought…

 

In the meantime, “Adventurer seeks trustworthy and friendly companions to embark  on random quests with!”

i love D&D! (and the best lesson i’ve learned from it)

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i LOVE table-top RPGs!

i played them when i was young (often in secret, since the evangelical backlash against them had instilled a dread terror of them in the hearts of many who were authority figures in my life at the time)

i play them now, as a 40 year old man who’s primary function on this planet seems to be paying bills. Judge me, i don’t care!

Table-Top gaming is tied with Cycling as my top distraction from the day-to-day stressors of life and all that entails. i love most things about it and here’s some reasons why (plus the most important lesson it’s taught me at the end):

  1. Collaborative Story-telling: One of my favorite things in life is telling a good story. There have been MANY times in my life where i did something knowing it was a bad idea but my rationalization was: “This is gonna make a great story!” Table-top RPGs provide a scaffolding (the rules, sometimes voluminous amounts of rules) for a group of people to tell a story together. Granted the DM/GM holds more power than the others at the table in that process BUT a good DM/GM shares that power and lets the PCs actions, words, or even inactions influence that story. There’s something about any creative process that is rewarding, and when a collaborative endeavor is successful it’s often even more rewarding.
  2. The Escape: Life is life… by which i mean sometimes it gets tough. In those moments a little distraction can do the mind a great deal of good. When i was a young gent sitting around a table in some friend’s basement trying to save a world, or universe, or just pillage some village, i was an uncoordinated blundering mess. i fit the template for “potential D&D nerd”. Those long nights spent with the handful of good friends i did have were some of the best nights of those years. Using the theater of our minds to do heroic (or villainous) deeds sure beat wallowing in self-pity. It also beat the chemical escapes i dipped into a few years later… Today, though the nights spent around a table with friends are shorter (i’m too old to pull an all nighter and my brain gets tired after about 3 hours anyway) they are still just as welcome as an escape. Weather i’m playing a outlandish character bent on adventure, or juggling a detailed universe as DM/GM, i always feel refreshed when we pack up our dice and other implements of nerdom and head home.
  3. It’s Community Driven: Community is an idea that is a central pillar for my family. The life we live with others is often so much richer than the life we live alone (i could slip into a treatise about the dangers of “social” media here, but i won’t). It’s literally IMPOSSIBLE to play a table-top RPG alone! The minimum requirements are TWO people. (but 5-7 are ideal in most situations). i like that you sit around a real-life physical table with other people! It’s true that you can play online, using the digital world to connect over vast expanses, but i still prefer face-to-face play time. i love it all: the sharing of snacks & beverages, the laughter, the heated debating over the minutiae of rules. It’s good to see the same faces weekly (or bi-montly, or monthly, or whatever your gaming schedule for your regular group is). Also; It’s great to do something shorter and sit around a table with a group of brand new people. The main thing is the community, continuing or temporary, that occurs around that table.

 

The most important life-lesson i’ve learned around a gaming table: Don’t Yuck someone else’s Yum! Its an adage that i’ve heard the most in RPG circles. Someone wants to study for hours to build the most ideal character; tuning every stat and ability for maximum effectiveness within the structure of the rules (or exploiting a loop-hole in said rules)? Good for them

Someone else makes a character that can do a certain feat extremely well… and then NEVER does that thing because they feel like that’s not the personality of their character? Good for them

Someone builds a warrior straight out of high-fantasy honor-bound to break the bonds of tyranny that oppress the less fortunate; someone else creates a bumbling wizard who’s main contribution is comedic effect… its ALL GOOD! At the end of the day people play RPGs to HAVE FUN! That looks different to different people. If someone’s Yum doesn’t make sense to you, that’s ok. Let them have it!

How does that translate to the real world?

Well to quote myself fourteen words ago: “If someone’s Yum doesn’t make sense to you, that’s ok. Let them have it.”  Yum-Yucking is often the easiest reaction to something we don’t understand or don’t like ourselves. But i’ve learned a lot from people whose interests were vastly different from my own over the years so…

i won’t Yuck your Yum if you don’t Yuck mine!

#98: Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

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Perdido Street Station is quite the Tome!

The Good:

Mieville builds a rich world filled with amazing sights and peoples. New Crobuzon, the city in which the action takes place, is so very well developed! Bustling with a kaledescope characters,  districts, artifacts new and old, and what feels like a deep history that undergirds the setting.

Mieville also throws in quite a collection of races, beyond just the human characters there are:

  • Garuda: Basically Bird folk
  • Khepri: Insect people, the females are sentient, but the males are smaller and seem to exist only for mating.
  • Wyrmen: Gargoyle-esque knuckle-heads
  • Vodyanoi: Frog-like folk who have a really cool innate “watercraeft” that allows them to temporarily stabilize the structure of water. Made for a very cool dock-worker strike in the book.
  • Cactacae: basically cactus people… i wanted to like them more but they never really seemed as neat as the other races.
  • Also of note: The Remade (mostly victims of the criminal justice system, their bodies are “enhanced” with freakish modifications like pincer hands, or their heads turned around, etc etc.); the Construct Council (a group of mentally linked sentient machines); the Slake Moths (the baddies of the story); and everyone’s favorite The Weaver (an inter-dimensional shifting giant spider beast who talks like a beatnick poet spewing a never-ending stream-of-conciousness performance)

Every race seems to have it’s own unique world view and sub-cultures that paint how the communicate with and move through the world.

The Meh…

Honestly the story-line wasn’t the most compelling. For a world as complex as this one i kept expecting the story to come together. Instead of feeling like a piece of story-craft it instead felt like a window into something happening in a different universe. Here’s what i mean by that: Stories have conflict and conclusions, there are story arcs, things often resolve somewhere along the way and you reach the end realizing that you’ve reached The End. The story line in Perdido Street did almost none of those things. It was a mass of tangled threads all thrown into this beautiful world-building basket together. Some things were left hanging that left me thirsting for some completion, things happened that hinted at deeper workings that we never get to see, the book ended and it didn’t feel like a “The End”…

The more i think about it the more i start to like what Mieville did with that… The story feels more like “Real-life” (IF real life had nightmare moth-men, crazy giant spider things, cactus people, and insects that sort of poop out art…) than many sci-fi/fantasy stories.

A few real plusses for me were: The “resolution” of Yagharek’s (a disgraced Garuda who has been de-winged as a punishment) and Isaac’s (the main protagonist) storyline/relationship was very interesting and well-done. Another high-point for me was the evolution and complexity of Isaac and Lin’s relationship through the story.

I’d give Perdido Street Station a C as a book (admittedly though it gets better the longer i chew on what i read. If it was shorter it would be a B-) , but an A+ as a setting. Reading the book really felt like reading the campaign notes from an amazing tabletop RPG. In fact if anyone ever turns Mieville’s world into an RPG setting, sign me up!

The setting is so rich and deep that although i wasn’t blown away by the story-line i do hope to one day read the other two novels in this series: The Scar, and Iron Council. They’re set in the same world (Bas-Lag) as Perdido Street Station and i’m interested to see what other great sights await us in Mieville’s universe!