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Archive for July, 2008

D&D 4E Tortles

Shortly after the release of D&D 4E I began developing my own custom content, mostly PC races. My first (and so far only) “professional” release has been my 4E tortle, a race of anthropomorphic turtles (or tortoises) originally from the Savage Coast setting. This release includes PC race stats, weapons, feats, and monster blocks. (This is simply a transfer of the file and change log from my old blog to this one.)

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Change log after the jump.

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It makes you a man

My little blog got its first spam this afternoon. Three comments already. Some of them are interesting (i.e. apparently useless) methods of spam.

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This is a strange post.

First, a disclaimer: I don’t like grand statements about “our times”, how they’re different or more important than what came before. I think history mostly repeats itself, with minor variations, because despite all our percieved advances humanity hasn’t actually changed much since history first became history. Please keep this in mind, for while I try to avoid hyperbole, I’ll doubtless engage in some of it anyway.

The current state of the United States is–and here’s probably a moment of hyperbole–precarious. I won’t be so presumptious as to argue this is a recent change; the United States has never been a great country (except in the sense of important), and that recognition, too, is nothing new. In fact, that’s what concerns me the most about recent years. During the Bush administration the executive branch has become a bloated, corrupt arm that has seized as much power as it can, the legislature, even with a supposedly majority opposition, has laid over and played dead, and the judicial branch has publicly become a joke. The Constitution has been shredded, torture has become common-place, and prejudice, manipulation, smearing, and outright lying have become the order of the day.

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After something close to a two-month delay (I believe the original announcement heralded the upgrade at the beginning of June), the “new Facebook” has finally arrived, and it . . . sucks. At least, that’s the general consensus among people I’ve talked to, and I agree with them. It’s clunky, mesy, unintuitive, and just generally leaves you feeling mistreated and uncomfortable. (I’m going to set aside all the privacy concerns of Facebook and such, because this is a post for people who use Facebook.) However, as one who was intrigued by the original announcement, I decided to give the “new Facebook” a further look, and I realized that it’s not as bad as it first appears. Most of the issues are superficial, a matter of flow and convenience, which is immensely important in a website whose success is based on easy use, but at least the underlying structure and ideas seem to be sound.

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Having finished the first season of The Wire (and the first episode of season two), I think I’ve figured out what my problem with it is: I’m not engaged by the characters. I don’t mean to say that I don’t like The Wire; I think it is brilliant, and great, and powerful, but so far it isn’t the best show on television to me, because I don’t love it. That sounds cheesy and it’s about to get worse. There’s no beauty in The Wire (for me). I am cognizant of the quality of what I’m watching, but I don’t care.

As a writer I’m a character guy. My first priority in a story is always making the characters true and real; while of course I think about themes and motifs and structure and mechanics and what have you, if it undercuts the characters, it goes. On The Wire, I can’t help but feel that the characters are working for the story and not the other way around. A part of it is likely simply that the characters are for the most part quite pedestrian–McNulty, setting aside the quality of the series and simply looking at the substance of his character, is a character I’ve seen a thousand times before in nearly every cop show ever: self-righteous, arrogant, intelligent, divorced, battling with his wife for custody, fucking another woman. This is more-or-less the sum total of his character at the end of season one. There’s nothing interesting here. And the same goes for almost all of the characters. (I find Stringer Bell fascinating, but that may just be me.)

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If you somehow weren’t aware, season two of Mad Men premiered last night. The episode was everything I expected and hoped for and more, with a couple of surprises along with the general thoughtful evolution of characters that have aged more than a year since we last saw them. (Season two begins in February 1962; I believe season one ended Thanksgiving 1960, although I’m not as sure as I’d like to be.) What struck me–what has always struck me about Mad Men, since I watched the first episode, even as I have grown accustomed to it–was the pacing. Mad Men is a brilliant show, and while these are of necessity rare, it is by no means alone. I do believe, however, that Mad Men is unique, or nearly so, among television shows in its pacing. At the very least, I have never seen another show like it in this regard.

When searching for a way to describe Mad Men to friends who have never seen it, the word that almost always comes to mind is “pensive”. So much of the show it seems is not in the dialogue or the actions but in the inaction, the moments of quite solitude when characters simply stare off in the distance, lost in thought. Of course, describing the show like this usually makes it seem boring and dull, but because of the acting and the writing it’s not. Because Mad Men is a show about characters, more, a show about characters who are trapped in lives they do not want, in a structure and society they do not like but nonetheless uphold like some kind of nation-spanning Abilene paradox, we understand why they must take a moment, or many moments, to contemplate how fucked up their existences really are (and drink a hell of a lot of alcohol).

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Time

Note: I used to call this stuff “hastily written shitty fiction”. It’s officially lost the label, but it’s still hastily written, and as for the other part, well, I offer no guarantees.

Dim columns of light hovered over the black streets. Empty. The patrol officer leaned back against the hard leather chair and tapped the gas pedal, one hand lazily holding the wheel. He glanced at the clock again. Forty-five minutes until the end of his shift, patroling perfect suburbia. No crimes here, and certainly none at night. It was like in that movie his kids loved, Home Alone–any criminal worth a damn strikes during the day. Not that those guys were criminals worth a damn, but–“Damn.”

He sat up and grabbed the radio. “Officer Dunn,” he reported. “Runner on King. Standby.” He watched the figure as he sped up the patrol car. Tall, bulky, sweatshirt and sweats. Hood up. Maybe just a guy working off a bad date, or with a taste for the late night. Maybe. He flicked on his police lights once but left the siren alone. The figure slowed and turned.

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