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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pellatarrum: Gods?

This is a funny subject to be talking about, since the original impetus of creating Pellatarrum was to make a fantasy world where there was a semi-monotheistic dualistic belief system like Europe had in the middle ages -- "Mother Church vs. Those Godless Heathens/Devil Worshippers" -- but side-stepping the entire awkward religion thing because how do you get Dwarves and Elves and Orcs to agree on the same god?  So I created the Church of the Light, the Cult of the Dark, and the Cabal of the Gray and rationalized everything with veneration of life, privacy, and nature, respectively. And I think it turned out pretty well, if I say so myself.

And then I got the bright idea to run a Pathfinder game set in Pellatarrum, and I started to explain the cosmology to my group and went "...oh, crap." Not because my players are dumb, mind you, but because half of them are old-school D&D grognards who are all about mythology, and the other half had never played before and didn't grok things like energy planes and how you could worship a concept instead of a god. Also, I *suck* at making dungeon crawls and prefer to use pre-published ones, and those (especially at higher levels) depend pretty heavily on Outsiders as enemies.

So with my usual charm and aplomb I took a metaphorical chainsaw to my own idea (kill your darlings, says the aphorism) and went with a modified Pellatarrum that incorporated deities but tried to preserve the weird flavor of the setting.

It is still an experiment, but here's what I've worked out:
  • Everything in the Pellatarrum creation myth still happens: chosen ones hidden on elemental planes, destruction of the outer planes, the four elder races trigger the Engines of Creation to manufacture their own Material Plane. 
  • Those heroes who literally create the world ascend to godhood, along with some of their closest compatriots (for example, Torag brings his family with him into divinity). Therefore the oldest gods in Pellatarrum are -- or rather, were -- dwarves, elves, dragons, and orcs. 
  • Other races can be elevated through heroic deeds to demigod status and then achieve greater divinity through worship (which is earned by doing divine deeds, which gets more worshippers, etc). So far -- as in, this could change if I change my mind -- only humans have achieved divinity. 
  • This gives racial pantheons based upon themes but allows for some cross-overs. For example, the god of magic is/was a dragon, but wizards from nearly all races revere him; people who do nature-y things gravitate towards the elven gods; etc. I'm still hammering out the specifics, but the general idea is:
    • Dwarves: community, creation, and defensive war. 
    • Elves: nature, arts, and emotion. 
    • Dragons: secrets, knowledge, and power. 
    • Orcs: warfare, passion, and strength. 
    • Humans: anything that doesn't fit these categories, or bridges them. 
  • This does however mean the orcs are cast in the role of "perpetual bad guys" and one of the things I've tried to avoid with Pellatarrum is the lazy "This race is always evil" trope. Humans are complex and neither wholly good nor wholly evil, so why should dwarves or elves or orcs be the same way? I don't like that. On the other hand, it's not like the elves would worship an orc god of war (or a dwarf god of war), so trying to round out the orcs into a "not wholly evil, just alien and misunderstood" race then causes more problems, like where are all these evil gods coming from? Who is worshiping them? I'm probably over-thinking these things.
  • I'm still not sure where the various deities live. I don't want to put them on the elemental planes because that would set up a weird state of affairs where the souls of the faithful return to the realm where their ancestors were slaves. I can put one pantheon in the positive energy plane, but putting another in the negative energy plane seems a bit cliched in a "These are the bad guys" style. I like the idea of the gods living on the same plane as their worshippers, because that seems very Greek and isn't done much in fantasy, but then I have to decide what happens to the souls of the faithful.
  • Speaking of cliches, I also want to avoid angels and devils and demons. I'm thinking of going with D&D 3rd edition energons, because they're  nicely elemental like everything else in Pellatarrum, and they're weird and alien. I'll need to bump up their stats, though, and likely change their names, because while Xag-Ya and Xeg-Yi are okay-ish, I have no freaking idea how to pronounce Xac-Yij and Xap-Yaup is just plain stupid.

Sigh. This is a headache I wanted to avoid, which is why I originally made my campaign setting agnostic. I've never found a "universal pantheon" which I liked, especially given the multitude of fantasy races out there, and "multiple pantheons" just strikes me as annoyingly redundant. 

If anyone has suggestions on what to do, I'd love to hear them. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Unwelcome Defender

I think this might count as a definition of irony: being asked to leave an Active Shooter Seminar by one of the deputies teaching it, right as it gets to the fight portion of "Run, Hide, Fight", because the pearl-clutching pastor saw the bulge of my gun under my clothes.

I shall expound:  A local church was hosting an active shooter (they called it "active killer" because as we've seen, murderers are using more than guns these days) seminar and because I'm a prepper who likes training and learning, I decided to attend.

I am of course carrying, because I always carry when I leave my house. I'm printing through my clothes, but I don't worry about that because 1) Florida law says "Keep it concealed" rather than "Thou shalt not print", which is good because cover garments in 80+ degree weather suck, and 2) churches aren't prohibited places in Florida and there's no posted signage on the doors about guns not being allowed.

It's a 2 hour class, and I'm sitting on an uncomfortable chair, and I've never been able to sit still in my life, so of course I'm fidgeting and trying to get comfortable. I know for a fact that I don't expose the gun, because it's covered by my shorts pulled up and my shirt pulled down, but the bulge on my right hip is probably obvious when I put my weight on my left as I try to keep my butt from falling asleep.

One of the deputies comes up to me and says "Can I talk to you for a moment?" and gestures to the back of the hall. I of course follow him.

The conversion goes roughly like this:
Him: "Are you carrying a weapon?"
Me: "I am a licensed concealed carrier and I have a lawful firearm, yes."
Him: "You can't have it in here."
Me: "Churches aren't prohibited places in Florida."
Him: "You can't have it in here,  in this particular church."
Me: "Sir, I didn't see any posted signage to that effect. If I had I wouldn't have entered."
Him: "Would you mind taking your weapon out to your car?"
Me: "I'll just leave."
Him: "I don't want you to leave. I want you to take this class. You can come back if you leave your weapon in the car."
Me: "I want to take this class as well, but I will not disarm to do it. I'll leave. Thank you."
He was very polite about the whole thing, and I could tell he was enforcing something he didn't want to, so I didn't put up a fight. He walked me to the door, and once outside we had a conversation like this:
Him: "I really don't want you to go."
Me: "I understand that, but I refuse to disarm. Since I'm not welcome here, I'll leave."
Him: "You really feel that strongly about it?"
Me: "I really do."
Him: "I'm really sorry about that."
Me: "I understand. You're just doing your job. I bear you no ill will. I think it's bullshit, because there's no posted signage, but I won't disarm and I won't make a scene, so I'll just leave."
I volunteered to show him my permit, and he looked at it. "Oh, you're local!" "Yes, sir."  He apologized several more times, and I could tell by the look on his face that he knew it was bullshit and that he didn't want me to go. He explained that people were on edge because of the shooting, and the pastor was anti-gun, and she had seen the bulge on my hip.

"I understand that, sir. Please tell her that she asked a lawful carrier to leave, and that she really needs to post signage." He nodded and I left. I sincerely hope that when it was his turn at the podium again, he said something to the effect of "If you have an active killer and you can't run or hide, the best way to fight them is with a lawfully carried concealed handgun," but I rather doubt it.

I swear, I do not understand this mindset. My pistol was concealed, but the deputies were wearing theirs openly, so she clearly wasn't afraid of their guns. And the deputy clearly wasn't afraid of me, because our interaction was conversational rather than confrontational. So she's one of those people who would rather have a quasi-professional caste created to be her absolving wet workers rather than accept personal responsibility for her own safety... which is ironic, since the entire point of the seminar was that in an active shooter situation, you have to take steps to protect your life because the police aren't there.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Pellatarrum: Summon Monster 1

Summon Monster I summons a variety of... not entirely useful creatures, and then tries to make them more interesting by applying the celestial, fiendish, entropic, or resolute template to them. This is all very well and good, except that Pellatarrum is a world where the outer planes no longer exist, and there are no angels or demons, and so these templates really make no sense within the setting.

There are however two easy fixes to this:
  1. Replace the aforementioned templates with Aerial CreatureAqueous CreatureChthonic Creature or Fiery Creature and say that the various critters are being pulled from the elemental planes instead of the outer ones. 
  2. Take the Elemental (Small) which is summoned with Summon Monster 2 and apply the Young template to it, making it weaker and dropping its challenge rating, thus making it suitable for a level 1 spell. 
Or heck, do both. Just not at once, because a fiery fire elemental is redundant, and an aqueous fire elemental is stupid. 

Given Pellatarrum's elemental connection to the seasons, GMs wishing a bit more crunch can give bonuses (nothing higher than a +2) to Base Attack Bonus and Armor Class if that particular element is in season, and similar penalties when it is in opposition.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Gunnies Helping Gunnies: Athena Burkhead

Hi. I’m Athena Burkhead, the daughter of David Burkhead, the Writer In Black.

My parents are going through a divorce right now. My father wants to keep custody of me, and I want to stay with him for very good reasons that I cannot legally talk about.  Due to the lawyer’s fees involved, my father and I are financially struggling.

Our family of two needs money in order to be able to support itself, which is why I’m starting this fundraiser. $6,000 ought to cover the costs of the custody and divorce.

We need help immediately. My father has gone into debt to keep custody of me. I love him and don’t want him to go bankrupt , but I don’t want to live with my mother, either.

I don't want to be taken away from my father. Please help us.
I don't know all the details (it's none of my business), but what I do know of the situation has convinced me that Athena needs to be with her father instead of her mother.

Tell you what, I'll just quote the other people who know more.

Key words: Rescue Operation. 

Key words: Athena needs to stay with her father, at all costs.

Key words: The mother is best described as a monster.

Please help keep a teenage girl with her loving father. You can do this in the following ways:
  • Donate to their GoFundMe campaign
  • Give directly via PayPal to (the misspelling of his last name is intentional; this is David's earmarked PayPal account set up expressly for legal fees). 
  • Buy David's books on Amazon. He gets money and you get a book! 
  • David's books* are also available on Kindle Unlimited. That means if you have a KU account, you can read them for fee. (Don't worry, he still gets paid.)
  • Share this fundraiser so that other people see it!
In only 48 hours we've managed to raise half of our goal! I'm certain that we can raise the other half over the weekend. 

Plus, if you donate $100 or more, you get to pick an 8x10 print from Oleg Volk's gallery to be drop-shipped to you (where available - Oleg can't drop ship to every country).

If you donate $200 or more, you get to pick a 16x20 print from Oleg's gallery!

So please, donate and share today! Thank you!

 *All of the ebooks over which he has control, that is. The Sword & Sorceress anthology is the only one not available in KU because it's the only one over which he has no control.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Salem (Finally) Watches A Movie: Black Panther

Well, I finally saw it. After all the hype, the backlash, and the culture wars going on around Black Panther, I finally got to see it and make up my mind for myself.

That's all I really wanted, world. I wanted to make up my mind for myself. I didn't want to be told that Black Panther was a cultural milestone or that it was racist against me (somehow. I'm not quite white enough for the ethnostate, sorry guys). I wanted it to be a good movie.

Our story starts on Sunday, the day I'd originally planned to see the movie. I woke up reasonably early for me, just in time to catch the last matinee at 12:30. I made it with time enough to spare, taking into account missing most of the pre-show commercials and preview trailers. I pulled into the parking lot of the Winrock Theaters, and... just kept driving. And driving.

There were no parking spots. I'm not sure if the movie was sold out or not; I never even got a chance to ask. Every single spot in the Regal Winrock theaters of Albuquerque was filled. I'm not even talking about "It was too full to park my unreasonably large van because I haven't figured out how to fit in a space without two empty ones on either side" full; I'm talking "Every single spot was full and I'd have had to park at Toys R Us a mile away just to see if there were still seats open" full.

So instead, I took the day off Wednesday, slept in late, and caught the 3:45 IMAX showing, which was damn near empty. And here's where my thoughts begin:

You're all wrong.

  • Black Panther is not "alt-right." Yes, Wakanda is xenophobic. Yes, it does have barriers and walls and hides from the world. It's an ethnostate, if not on purpose. It's a bit violent, especially its ritual combat for the throne. Wakanda could have been considered "alt-right" about two generations back, but T'Chaka, late of Civil War's catalyst event, had begun outreach programs, notably in Lagos. Sure, no one had been invited to Wakanda, but it was progress. Progress that was carried forward under T'Challa. 
  • Neither is the movie about you. It's an excellent portrayal of a deeply traditional society that had a massive technological advantage, but as the villain of the piece shows, it's a society with no real connection to American culture. As a movie based around a culture, though, it works very well. To the hidden disappointment of many, it is neither documentary nor fantasy.

With that out of the way, was it good? Did it stand on its own merits? In a word, yes. It's a very good movie, and a very worthy induction into the MCU canon. Visually, it was very striking, and my only complaint was that the movie shifts very, very quickly between dark and bright scenes, and these tired old eyes don't adjust quite as quickly as they used to. Set design and art direction deserve all the applause they get in this film. The movie's story is not overly complicated or simplistic, and flows well.

The cast is mostly excellent.

  • I make no secret that I was disappointed at Chadwick Boseman's casting, as I was rooting for Chiwetel Ejiofor to be cast as T'Challa. My consolation prize of him appearing as Mordo in Doctor Strange was satisfying, at least, and Boseman has won me over. He seemed almost too confident in Civil War, but in his solo debut, he has a lot more range on display, showing youthful vigor and moments of self-doubt that perhaps Ejiofor wouldn't have delivered on as well. 
  • Of special note is his chemistry with Letitia Wright's Shuri, his little sister and Wakanda's science whiz. Their playful bickering lent for the most authentic brother/sister combo I think I've seen in this genre of movie. 
  • Andy Sirkis was hamming it up, almost like a villainous Drax (see Guardians of the Galaxy) and was having waaay more fun than anyone else on-screen... it's a shame what happened to his character. 
  • Danai Gurira is excellent as always, and has a scene-stealing moment during a fever-pitched battle near the end of the movie. 
  • And finally, the memes are right about Michael B Jordan: this is the second Human Torch that Marvel has redeemed, as his Killmonger chews the scenery maniacally, almost out-hamming Sirkis at times. I wouldn't go so far as to call him a good villain, but he's certainly on the higher end of MCU villains; better than Ronan or Stane, but not quite to the level of a Loki or Hela.
  • While Martin Freeman turned in a standard Martin Freeman-level performance, I couldn't help but wonder why he was there. Aside from the obvious ties to Civil War, there really seemed to be no purpose for his character. Even the one time he actually did take action near the end, it's something that Shuri easily could have (and basically did) done earlier. 
  • As for Forrest Whittaker, he was... well, he was Forrest Whittaker. I suppose Morgan Freeman wasn't available.
Was it perfect, though? No, it wasn't. It deserves the good reviews it's getting, but it's certainly not flawless:
  • The opening is very weak, with literal narration providing the backstory of Wakanda with some tech that you don't even realize until later in the movie is Wakandan showing a sort of sand-sculpture representation of the warring tribes that formed Wakanda and the events of the world around it. Fortunately, the movie rights itself and spends the rest of its runtime showing and not telling, even if that runtime does seem to stretch on longer than it needs to. 
  • The pace is good, but it easily could have been 20 minutes shorter or so and been even tighter.
  • Some of the effects missed the mark, and Panther does not look nearly as fluidly realistic as he did in Civil War, and the battle between he and Killmonger, both wearing panther suits, had little impact as neither of them looked very real. The CGI at times felt very unpolished and reminded me of Blade II or the Matrix movies.

The movie could be criticized for having an inconsistent message to it, but I like to chalk that up to different characters actually having different motivations. I respected greatly how, on the whole, it takes a rather moderate view. The traditionalist characters strongly believe that Wakanda should not become involved at all in the outside world, and when Killmonger comes on the scene, he's very clearly parroting activist talking points in a cartoonish manner, wanting to use the resources of Wakanda not to uplift others but to destroy the world and rebuild it to his will. Neither of these views ultimately win out, as at the end of the movie Wakanda seems to have a new goal: benevolent outreach programs, to share its tech and resources with those in need.

All in all, this was a satisfying movie. It earns its place amongst Marvel's top films. It's not going to change the world, and it doesn't really need to... unless you're one of those people with an irrational need to see yourself represented physically on-screen (a viewpoint which I don't understand how anyone who enjoys sci-fi or fantasy can hold), you'll like it. If you were a fan of Avengers-related comics, you'll like it. It respects the source material and translates it very well.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Spread It Far. Spread It Wide.

In February 2017, I made a comment that turned out to be so popular it was even quoted by Kathy "Fight Like a Cornered Cat" Jackson on her Facebook page:

I had largely forgotten about it until today, when my friend Jacob Miheve tagged me in a Facebook comment because he remembered the quote but not verbatim.

Since the subject was once again relevant, I decided it needed to be made into a picture. My own meager talents were insufficient, but the help of Jacob and Kathy turned my words into this beauty:

Spread it far, spread it wide.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Gun Control? No. People Control? No. Tragedy Control? YES.

I've been getting a lot of mileage out of this post in the past week. I can't claim credit for it; my friend Matthew House came up with the concept. I only prettied up the words and have been posting it wherever it's relevant. 

In any crime, there are three components: Means, Motive, and Opportunity. In this case, the crime we are discussing is mass murder.
  • The Means could be anything from guns to bombs to poison gas to fire to running people over with a truck.
  • The Motive is complex, mostly non-rational, and very emotional: pain, hate, fear, isolation.
  • The Opportunity is access to an undefended area full of people.

Only looking to restrict or control guns is to only pay attention to a single Means of mass murder. This isn't productive, as the number of means of killing people is only limited by the human imagination: guns, knives, poison gas, fire, running people over with a truck. The Boston Bombers used a kitchen appliance, yet we can all agree that implementing controls on pressure cookers is a terrible idea.

Motive is also a tough one. Sure, there are the usual terrorists and people out for revenge, but there are also the mentally disturbed people who don't have a real motive; the voices in their heads just told them to do it. Then there are the spree shooters, of whom we can say that most, if not all, of them suffered from a profound sense of disconnection and isolation from society. A half-dozen psych papers could be written about this and it would barely scratch the surface. The sheer variety and complexity of motives is what makes this factor difficult to account for.

So, the only component we can work on with any certainty of success is Opportunity. We need to deny the shooter the opportunity to kill his victims. In this most recent occurrence of mass murder, we need to find ways to deny murderers access to our children, and we do that by securing our schools against violence in the same way that we secure them against fire: not by declaring the school a fire-free zone, or by passing regulations against matches and gasoline, but by designing the layout to prevent tragedy.

We need to make it harder for killers to get to our children. I guarantee you every gun owner in the country will be all for that.

Now I don't have any specific suggestions on how to harden our schools*, because I'm neither an architect nor a security expert, but I know there are people out there who are these things and who can make our schools secure without turning them into prisons. We just need to stop worrying about the means and the motives of these tragedies and instead concentrate on preventing the opportunity for them to happen.

* I like the ideas of bullet-resistant windows and classroom doors which are both armored and lockable, but there may be reasons why those are not feasible for schools.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reaching My Limit

I will put up with a lot of crap on my Facebook wall. So much so, in fact, that my friend David Blackard has told me that I have "the patience of a saint" for putting up with people for as long as I do.

What's ironic about his statement is that I am inherently impatient and don't like it when people disagree with me such that my first reaction is to go "No, you're full of crap, go away"; but because I am aware of my impatient, dismissive nature, and because I do not wish to live in an echo chamber (the first rule of Dunning–Kruger Club is that no one knows they're in Dunning–Kruger club), I tend to let people disagree with me -- no matter how much I find it grind-my-molars irritating -- until they breach certain pre-defined "no go" zones. And when that happens, I take swift and decisive action, which can range from deleting the post and telling them "Don't ever do that again" to blocking them.

One of those limits is verbally attacking my friends. Names which I'd allow against me aren't allowed against my friends, because I figure it if hurts my feelings perhaps I'm just sensitive, but if it pisses me off to see my friend treated that way, you're done.

Another such limit is to go out of your way to misgender me. While it can be difficult to get my pronouns correct in person if I'm not looking my best, it is entirely another thing to look at my female name and my feminine portrait and go "You know, it would cost me absolutely nothing to be polite in this text-based conversation, but I shall make an effort to be insulting."  I've actually had people argue with me over what I actually am!

The third limit is the one which prompted today's post, and that is when someone makes a blanket "You are X and you should feel terrible for being X, you worthless person" statement. Usually these have been people telling me that I'm mentally ill because I'm transgender (I beg to differ, and prefer to think of myself as having been born with a birth defect and am trying to make a difficult life more pleasant for myself), but given the most recent tragedy there's a fair amount of name-calling and finger-pointing at responsible gun owners.

Here is what pushed me to my limit today:

Why, how dare I want the means to preserve my life against violence! How dare I kill another who wishes harm upon me! Why, if I were truly enlightened like Jd, I would offer myself up as a human sacrifice before the criminal who wanted me harmed, because my death would be moral. And if I disagree, why then I shouldn't sully the title of American by claiming it as my own; I should rather emigrate to a less-enlightened country or else exile myself to death in the outermost darkness.

Needless to say, this raised my ire to such a degree that I briefly lost my composure and indulged in some very un-ladylike f-bombs:

Any morality which requires me, a non-criminal, to die because it makes people feel better is a direct threat to my existence and I won't tolerate it. I probably could have continued to debate this... person... but the moment someone outright tells me that they prefer my death, I cease to give a shit about anything they do or say.

One of these days, people will push me until I get so upset that I will actually answer the question "How many people have to die before you will embrace gun control?", and they will be horrified at my response. But that, dear reader, is a subject for another day.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Past Two Days Have Been Terrible

I'm not just talking about the tragedy in Florida over Valentine's Day or the sadly-not-surprising revelation that the FBI had not one but two hot tops about the shooter, one five months ago and one a month ago. Those things are awful, yes, but the past two days have been terrible for me, personally.

Wednesday was bad because it was Valentine's Day, or as I like to call it, Singles Awareness Day. I have a long track record of not liking the Hallmark Holiday and being reminded that I've just spent another year romantically fallow.

But Thursday was even worse. I had an appointment with the plastic surgeon in order to see what could be done about the scarring. I was worried because he had said that the swelling would have disappeared in January, yet the wound had stopped shrinking by Christmas but still looked pretty big. Still, I went in with hope. Perhaps he could stick a needle into the puffy bits and drain them?

Instead, he was very dismissive about my feelings and my appearance, and basically told me that there's nothing he can do. It's still swollen because it's all  scar tissue, you see, and surgery would just cut into it more and create another scar, and it's so thick that a laser wouldn't do anything for it and there are no drugs which can shrink it.

The only thing that he says can be done is for me to massage it as hard as I can several times a day and just hope that it breaks down the scar tissue.

In fact, here's a quote that summarize the entire appointment:
Me: So what you're saying is that I'm stuck looking like this...

Him: Uh-huh.

Me: ... and that I'm screwed.

Him: No, not screwed! You still have full function!
In other words: Everything works, so who cares how it looks? Again, the feeling which I had from him -- and my mom agrees, because she was with me -- was that he really didn't much care, like I wasn't worth his time. Perhaps I was cutting into his lucrative face lift and boob job schedule?

And so this entire experience of being told that my face looking like a chew toy was just the way it was going to be, too bad so sad get out of my office, left me feeling like ugly, worthless crap. I pulled out my bottle of Emergency Rum and started drinking until the evil thoughts went away, and then I went to bed at like 4 am.

I got up around noon to drink some water and use the bathroom. Then I went back to bed (not because I was hung over, but because I just didn't want to deal with anyone or anything) and didn't get up until 5 pm, because I needed to get dressed and walk the remaining dog.

I still feel like ugly, rejected, spoiled meat. I don't know if I'm ever going to feel better again.

The only thing I can do at this point is to go find another plastic surgeon and fill out more paperwork and pay another first-time patient fee, just so I can get a second opinion and maybe find a doctor who gives a shit about my face, because I cannot believe there is nothing which can be done.

I think I'm going to finish off the rest of the rum and then sleep some more. At least I don't feel hideous in my dreams.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Black Panther: An Addendum

This is inevitably going to be a three-part series, as the review will be up once I've seen it. 

One has to be very careful when picking one's words when talking about something like Black Panther. What was just another high concept super-hero movie in a universe already extraordinarily well-established has, thanks in large part to the cultural critics that have been chapping my ass for the past few years, quickly become an exceedingly commercialized rally point for a puzzling social movement.

Marvel, to its credit, has very little blame in this aside from introducing an already-beloved character in a giant movie and translating him very well to the screen, putting out the requisite toy line, and picking a strategic song for the trailer.

One must be very careful, for example, these days not to imply that "collectivist identitarian" is a flattering term for someone that someone else would rather prefer to call an "asshole Nazi," regardless if both terms apply.

Inside joke, dear readers. I apologize.

But can we talk about Black Panther for a moment?

You're right, we can't. We can't, for example, bring up the fact that Wakanda is a stupendously rich nation in the middle of some very poor nations. We can't bring up the fact that Wakanda is an xenophobic ethnostate with possibly the strictest immigration laws outside of Dr. Doom's Latveria or that, in the MCU, it had no outreach to poor countries despite its wealth until Civil War. We can't talk about how Wakanda zealously defends its borders, notoriously slaughtering intruders, or how T'Challa himself is the ruler of a Patriarchal society, having literally inherited his powers, tech, and position from his own father.

But I suppose if one side can twist things in its favour, the other can do so just as well.

Did they, though? Have we asked actual
Africans how they feel on this?
That'd just be awkward, though. Not that that first side isn't finally getting around to not-good-enough-isms.

In that spirit, I'd like to make it very clear that when I review Black Panther, I intend to hold it to its own merits: Did it tell a good story? Did it fit well in the greater MCU? Did it work well on its own as a movie as well as setting up story threads for future movies, as I expect to see it represented heavily in Infinity War? Does it tie up loose ends from previous movies?

What I'm not going to do is blame any shortcomings on "Trump's America." Seriously, it makes me ashamed that 3/4 of me comes from the same place as you, Ed Power.

When I go see Black Panther, I'm going to see what I hope to be another highly-entertaining entry in the MCU saga, one that I can appreciate as a fan and as someone who has been reading books  starring that character since I was a teenager. The last thing I want is for the movie to fail, because that's going to basically be Ghostbusters 2016: Round 2, and I've had just about enough of that.

I want it to succeed. I want it to be good.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Courtier-ing Perfection

Thanks to all the wonderful feedback I've been given since last week, the "made on a dare" Courtier class is well on its way to being a polished, playable bit of gaming.

Significant changes include:
  • Shield proficiency added and use of shields does not interfere with Suave Grace. 
  • Suave Grace also provides an AC boost at certain levels, like a monk. 
  • Rapier Wit is now a swift action, inflicts precision damage, and causes the Shaken condition instead of a flat penalty. 
  • Strong Convictions now fully adds a courtier's CHA bonus to all saves. 
  • Equestrian Invocation has a greater overall duration. 
  • Chivalrous Sacrifice has been reworked in a manner that is hard to summarize. Lots of clarification has been added and (hopefully) the broken elements removed. 
  • Odor of Ardor's DC has been rewritten to make it have a chance of success. 
  • Stunning Display has had its duration modified to be more in line with other abilities. 

Big thanks to everyone who helped out. Keep them coming -- I think we're about ready to stick a fork in this one!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Pathfinder: Morale in Combat

I remember back in the day (Get off my lawn, etc etc) when monsters in D&D had a Morale stat that the DM would check to see if they fled combat past a certain point. 3rd edition did away with that, which means that Pathfinder did as well.

Now some people might say "That moves whether or not the monsters retreat into the ream of the GM where it belongs", but I say "Fer cryin' out loud I'm dealing with running an entire world and trying to mangle six PCs, maybe I just want a quick and dirty way of deciding if a critter runs away that is a little more developed than flipping a coin but less brain-intensive than a case-by-case judgement call."

So I present to you my quick and dirty morale rules for Pathfinder.

NPC Morale Rules
Undead, constructs, oozes and the like do not make morale checks.

When the following occurs:
  • A leader/ champion/ cleric/ pack alpha is killed
  • One of their number is brutally killed by PCs (such as being one-shotted)
  • Several of their number are badly hurt (reduced to 1/2 hitpoints or less)
  • Several of their number are killed by flashy magic (like Fireball)
  • They are clearly outnumbered (2:1 odds or more)

Then have the next creature in the Initiative order make a Will save against DC 15.
  • If it succeeds, it continues to act as the GM feels appropriate. 
  • If it fails, it runs away (withdrawing if possible) and the next creature on its side to act has a cumulative -1 morale penalty to its Will save.
Does this mean that the more wise opponents are, the less likely they are to run away when clearly outmatched?  No. A successful save doesn't mean it will act suicidally; it means that it won't panic and rout. A fighting withdrawal is still possible, as is surrender.

A leader can try to rally its troops with an Intimidate check, DC of 10 + number of creatures which have already run away. Regular success stops the need for further Will saves; each 5 over the DC returns 1 fleeing creature to combat.

As a rule of thumb: If the PCs reduce a creature to half its hit points or less, or actively try to make it run away through demoralizing tactics and good roleplaying, it counts as a defeat and grants XP. But if PCs are steamrolling through everything in sight and sensible monsters would think 'I would rather run away than be slaughtered' then the PCs get no XP, probably because it wasn't enough of a challenge.

Friday, February 9, 2018


It would appear that the Courtier, my version of the Old Spice Gentleman, has prompted some questions from D&D grognards. I decided to post them here so you could see what I was thinking when I designed this. 

Why Appraise and not Perception?
I picked Appraise because the character ought to be able to know quality when he sees it. After all, the Old Spice Man says "The tickets are now diamonds!" and he probably know how many carats they are.

Perception isn't a bad choice, but it's not very common. It's not like the courtier spends a lot of time looking for traps or ambushes; he's more "sense motive" than "perception", if you know what I mean. 

It really doesn't make much sense for the Courtier to have any armor proficiency if wearing it completely gimps him (we're not just talking losing the Charisma modifier to AC; per Fancy Clothes, he has to wear nice outfits to use ANY of his abilities).
He has to wear nice outfits, yes, but that does not preclude wearing armor; you wear armor over your clothes, you see.

My original idea was indeed "no non-masterwork items" but considering that masterwork armor costs 150gp plus whatever the armor cost, I felt that would be unnecessarily gimping a 1st level character. After that, PCs usually upgrade to MW and then to magical, so it was kind of a non-issue there.

What I might do is, since I stole this idea from the monk (just replaced WIS bonus with CHA) that I also steal the "AC bonus per level" idea. Plus there are all sorts of magical items which would help: Bracers of Armor provide armor bonuses but don't count as armor; Amulets of Natural Armor provide another bonus; and of course Rings of Protection provide deflection bonuses.
UPDATE: I have since decided to add an AC bonus per level, like monks get.

Shields? Medium armor too. It is a frontline character and needs to be able to survive. Should at least be able to wear what a cleric can.
Nah, I disagree. The whole idea is basically "Armor? Why would I wear armor? It prevents people from appreciating my fancy clothes!"

Assuming a CHA of 18 (+4 bonus) and a DEX of half that, we're looking at a base AC of 16, which is about right for a first-level ranger. But you've convinced me somewhat; I will allow the courtier proficiency with all shields, which will give an additional +2 AC. 

For Rapier Wit, I'd suggest starting at -1 penalty and increasing by an additional -1 every 4 levels to a max of -3. 
That's not a bad idea. I shall consider it. 

I'd suggest that Strong Convictions simply adds Charisma bonus to saves like the paladin. That's a real bonus. This is a dexterity and charisma character. 
I considered that. I was worried it might make the character too powerful and/or steal some of the Paladin's flavor.
I'm actually rather torn on this. What do the rest of you think?

Instead of Equestrian Invocation being a 1/day spell, give it a duration in hours based on the Courtier's level. 
That... is a very good idea. I think I'll change that. 
What do you think of "At 5th level the courtier can summon a mount, as per the spell, with the duration being the courtier's level in hours and dismissable at will (minimum expenditure of 1 hour/summoning)" ?

The only thing I see unbalanced is the 4x move for Chivalrous Sacrifice. I'd put it at 1x move. Maybe scale it up to 2x, then 3x with the improved and "not dead" versions
That's not a bad idea. I did it the way I did it because I wanted the Courtier to be able to use Chivalrous Sacrifice despite having already moved that round (because otherwise we're introducing unnecessary bookkeeping into the game). I figured a 1/day ability which hurt the character would balance out the "nonmagical teleport" aspect of it.

This is another of those "I need to think about it" things. 

How about letting Chivalrous Sacrifice be performed 3 + CHA modifier times per day?
Assuming a CHA of 18, that would be 7 times per day. Seems a little too "battlefield teleport-y" to me.

Perhaps if I let each use of Chivalrous Sacrifice  be just the full move, like suggested above, with additional uses increasing its range by a full move?

Hell, I should probably change the wording on Chivalrous Sacrifice because as written it can already get past guards and work through cracks and bards. This wasn't too much of a problem with the 1/day, but if I increase the frequency that's going to be abused.

Yeah, it's definitely going to need some work. 

Chivalry Is Not Dead is way overpowered. 
Perhaps. It's a capstone ability, though, and as written it's not terrible with the 1/day limit. More uses than that, though, and it probably is. Perhaps I'll limit the "no damage" to just once a day with other charges being half damage?

Post your thoughts below!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Courtier: the Character Your Character Could Act Like

Because ONE of you demanded it, here is my attempt to bring the Old Spice Gentleman class into balance with the Pathfinder RPG. Unfortunately, this will mean some of the humor of the original is lost to seriousness. I apologize for this and have done my best to keep the original fun tone of the Gentleman.

To differentiate between the Old Spice class and my re-work, I am calling my version of this class the Courtier. This is because it has courtly skills and is adept at courting (wooing) romantic partners.

I have no idea if this is balanced or not. It might be underpowered in some places, but I don't see anything in there which would make a GM say "Aw hell naw". And hopefully it maintains the flavor of the Old Spice Gentleman while being more playable.

UPDATE: I am actively soliciting feedback on this class. Suggestions have been made in this post, along with my responses; I'd like to know what others think about them. Please leave a reply with your thoughts!

At the intersection of the mind, the body and soul lies the heart, and this is the battlefield of the courtier. More martial than a bard, more romantic than a cleric, and more (ahem) earthly than a paladin, the courtier not only fights for what is beautiful but also struggles to bring more such beauty into the world... usually in the form of relationships.

Role: "Hello, orc horde. Look at your leader, now back to me, now back at your leader, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me, but if he stopped pillaging and bathed once in a while, he could smell like he’s me. Look down, back up, where are you? You’re on a battlefield surrounded by enemies. What’s in your hand? Back at me, I have it, it’s your battle standard, Look again, the standard is now a flag of truce. Anything is possible when you believe in the power of love. I accept your unconditional surrender."

Alignment: Any.

Hit Die: d10.

Parent Classes: Paladin and Bard.

Starting Wealth: 5d6 × 10 gp (average 175 gp.) In addition, each character begins play with an outfit worth 10 gp or less.

Class Skills
The courtier’s class skills are Acrobatics, Appraise, Bluff, Climb, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Knowledge (geography), Knowledge (nobility), Linguistics, Perform, Profession, Ride, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Swim.

Skill Ranks per Level: 4 + Int modifier.

Class Features
The following are the class features of the courtier.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: The courtier is proficient with all simple and martial weapons, as well as light armor and bucklers.

Fancy Clothes: The courtier must be wearing a Courtier's outfit (30gp), Noble's outfit (75 gp) or Royal outfit (200 gp) in order to make use of the class' extraordinary, spell like, or supernatural abilities.

Suave Grace (Ex): When unarmored and unencumbered, a courtier may add his Charisma modifier to his armor class and CMD.  In addition, a courtier gains a +1 bonus to AC and CMD at 4th level. This bonus increases by 1 for every four courtier levels thereafter, up to a maximum of +5 at 20th level.

Rallying Cry (Ex): As a move action, a courtier can shout a word or short phrase which inspires all  allies within 30 feet who are able to hear or see the courtier, granting them a +1 morale bonus to a single attack, saving throw, or skill check. This bonus lasts until used or the end of the courtiers next turn, another Rallying Cry is uttered, or combat ends (the effects last for 1 minute outside of combat). This bonus increases by +1 every 4 levels.

Rapier Wit (Ex): At 2nd level, a courtier may make a witty bon mot, savagely cutting critique, or an atrocious pun as part of an attack against a target who must be able to hear and understand what is being said. The target must then succeed on a Will save vs a DC of (10 + 1/2 courtier level + courtier's CHA bonus) to resist its effects. If the save fails, the target takes an additional 1d4 points of precision damage and is Shaken. Rapier Wit may be used without a weapon, in which case the damage is nonlethal. This damage increases by 1d4 every 4 levels.

Strong Convictions (Su): At 3rd level, the courtier has become so charming that he gains a bonus equal to his Charisma bonus (if any) on all saving throws.

After You (Ex):  At 4th level, the courtier can switch initiative order with any ally with a lower initiative score so long as they are within 30 feet and can hear him. This lasts for the duration of combat.

Spells: Beginning at 4th level, a courtier  gains the ability to cast a small number of divine spells which are drawn from the paladin* spell list. A courtier must choose and prepare his spells in advance.

To prepare or cast a spell, a courtier must have a Charisma score equal to at least 10 + the spell level. The Difficulty Class for a saving throw against a courtier's spell is 10 + the spell level + the courtier's Charisma modifier.

Like other spellcasters, a courtier can cast only a certain number of spells of each spell level per day. His base daily spell allotment is listed on the class table. In addition, he receives bonus spells per day if he has a high Charisma score (see Table 1–3 of the core rulebook). When the class table indicates that the courtier gets 0 spells per day of a given spell level, he gains only the bonus spells he would be entitled to based on his Charisma score for that spell level.

Courtiers must spend 1 hour each day in quiet exercise of what it is to be a gentleman or lady (shaving, putting on makeup, preparing the day's outfit, etc) to regain their daily allotment of spells. A courtier may prepare and cast any spell on his spell list, provided that he can cast spells of that level, but he must choose which spells to prepare during his daily meditation.

Through 3rd level, a courtier has no caster level. At 4th level and higher, his caster level is equal to his courtier  level – 3.

Equestrian Invocation (Sp): At 5th level the courtier can summon a mount, as per the spell, with the duration being the courtier's level in hours and dismissable at will (minimum expenditure of 1 hour/summoning).

Chivalrous Sacrifice (Ex): Once per day at 6th level a courtier may interpose himself between an ally and incoming damage as an immediate action. This ability cannot be used if the courtier has taken more than a 5' step this round.

The courtier automatically takes this damage, which cannot be prevented in any way. This ability affects even damage which auto-hits, such as a magic missile spell or a trap.

The courtier provokes no attacks of opportunity while performing Chivalrous Sacrifice, but the ally must be within sight and within a distance of 2x the courtier's move speed, and there must be a legal path to the target of this effect that the courtier can take.

Creatures do not count as 'blocking' the path and the ability does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

At the courtier's discretion, the ally may be knocked prone or moved 5' in any direction. The courtier must end his movement after taking damage.

Chivalrous Sacrifice may be used one additional time per day every 4 levels. At 16th level this becomes Improved Chivalrous Sacrifice.

Odor of Ardor (Sp): At 8th level the courtier gains the ability to cast the charm person spell 1/day, with the DC of the spell being 10 + Charisma modifier + 1/2 the Courtier's level.

Stunning Display (Ex): At 9th level, the courtier may take a full-round action to look, sound, and smell his best. After this display he gains a +5 competence bonus to all Charisma-based skill checks for the next minute.

Improved Chivalrous Sacrifice (Ex): At 16th level, Chivalrous Sacrifice becomes Improved Chivalrous Sacrifice, which works like the former except the courtier only takes half damage and can move up to 4x move speed.

Chivalry Is Not Dead (Ex): At 20th level, Improved Chivalrous Sacrifice becomes Chivalry Is Not Dead, which works like the former except the courtier takes no damage. This does not render the courtier immune to other effects, such as suffocation or immobilization.

* Designer's Note:  I admit that swiping the Paladin spell list wholecloth is a bit lazy. The Courtier should be an arcane class, and possibly even a spontaneous rather than a prepared caster. But I was pressed for time and didn't want to deal with the issues of crafting a new spell list and blazing a new trail for spontaneous 4-level spell progression.

Epic Levels of Awesome.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Hello, gamers. Look at your PC class, then back to me.

In a twist no one saw coming, ultra-manly Old Spice decided that an effective marketing technique would be to appeal to nerds by making a Pathfinder PC class called the Gentleman.

And yes, I do mean Pathfinder and not D&D; if you look at the class skills you will see that it says "Acrobatics".  3.5 edition D&D used Balance and Tumble; the were not combined into Acrobatics until Pathfinder.

So there you have it:  Old Spice decrees that Pathfinder, and not D&D, is the greatest role playing game of all time! ;)
For those folks who are having difficulty downloading the class due to its immense popularity, I've uploaded a copy to my own google drive for your convenience.

As observed by,
The Gentlemen class is basically a bard on steroids, with a few overpowered abilities mixed in. Not only does a Gentlemen get an increase in their Base Attack Bonus every level, something that's usually reserved for martial classes only, they also get to add their Charisma and Dexterity modifier to their Armor Class whenever they wear a fancy suit.
A Gentlemen's default abilities are the catchphrase and punchline - abilities that can either inspire allies or damage their opponents. As a Gentlemen levels up, they also gain abilities like turning into an intelligent dog, spontaneously summon a horse, or heal allies with their pleasing scent...which comes from a Gentlemen using Old Spice products, of course. Eventually, a Gentlemen also earns an MBA and has the opportunity to marry and can instantly level up his party by getting a new haircut. If a Gentlemen reaches Level 20, he becomes a being of pure energy and can make anything explode...but at the cost of ascending to a higher plane of existence.
This class is an odd beast indeed: far too much work has been put into it for it to be an unplayable joke class, but neither is it properly balanced (some abilities are too powerful and some are just jokes). I feel like with some work, this could be turned into a balanced (if weird) combination of Bard and Paladin.

I know that I probably could make it work. The question is, should I?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Brain Squirrels

Let me tell you about brain squirrels.

Have you ever been just doing your thing, minding your own business, when out of nowhere you get a crazy idea or mad urge to do something and your brain just seizes upon it like a drowning man grabbing hold of a rescue line and refuses to let go? And for the rest of the day (or longer) your brain is obsessed with it, working out the how without even bothering to wonder about the why?

That's a brain squirrel. Although mine often turn into brain hamsters because they just love to run on that squeaky wheel inside my brain, which is how I envision my mind trying to turn a weird idea into something actionable.

Why do I bring this up? I'm glad you asked.

You see, for several months now I've been having this nagging desire to run a Star Trek role-playing game. Now normally this would not be a problem, however:
  1. I already have a perfectly good science fiction RPG (Traveller) on the back burner. I really do want to finish that campaign before I start another one similar to it. 
  2. I haven't seen every episode of every series out there. This is a problem because, as we all know, Trekkies are HUGE canon mavens and someone will inevitably reference something I haven't seen. 
    • Best case scenario: I have to pause the game to look things up. 
    • Worst case scenario: canon conflicts with my adventure and I have to change things. 
  3. Speaking of which, the canon is inconsistent, sometimes even within the same series, and is often contradictory or flat-out nonsensical. 
  4. I'd go mad trying to reconcile it all, and if I force things to make sense I'll end up re-writing the universe so drastically that it will look like a cross between The Orville and Battlestar Galactica.
    • How drastically? If I go down that road, I end up with an alternate universe where the Klingons don't use Cloaking Devices, Starfleet divisions have a fourth color, transporters use quantum tunneling to briefly co-locate people rather than turn them into energy, replicators can't create anything more complex than macromolecules, and it's impossible to have battles at warp speed unless your warp fields touch.
    • Then I start adding things like "Every Starfleet vessel aboard a certain class needs a dedicated Diplomatic Officer" because being a good captain != being a good diplomat. This Diplomatic Officer might, or might not, also work for Starfleet Intelligence...
    • At which point it isn't Star Trek. It's at best a Trek-flavored knock-off.
And yet, despite these very good reasons why I shouldn't do it, my brain squirrel-hamsters have decreed that I must as the very least figure out how to run a Star Trek RPG. That shouldn't be so hard, right? There have been no fewer than four licensed and therefore official RPG adaptions (by FASA, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and Modiphius) and approximately umpty-bajillion unofficial ones, so I clearly have an embarrassment of riches from which I can select a game engine, right?


Hahahahah. I scoff at your logic. My brain squirrels have declared that none of the existing Star Trek RPGs are suitable for how I'd want to run things, which means that to make the squeaking wheel in my head stop I'll have to design my own. 

Gentlefolk, this is how Game Masters go mad.

Monday, February 5, 2018

State of the Erin

Last week was, in a word, craptastic. I referenced having family problems two weeks ago, and that drained me on a mental and emotional level, which bled over into the physical. In other words, I literally worried myself into depression and maybe even a little bit physically ill.

At this point I'm mostly better, but not 100%, as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing this post on a Tuesday but backdating it to Monday in order to get back on schedule. I don't know if it'll work, but I have to try.

So here's what's going on with me.

My Face
The last time I saw the plastic surgeon was... late November, I think?... and he said that the swelling on my face would be gone in ~2 months and that I should book another appointment then to see about reducing the scars.

It's now February, so enough time has definitely passed, but my wound is still swollen. Don't get me wrong, it's less swollen than it was, but I don't think it's gotten smaller since Christmas.

I've booked an appointment with the plastic surgeon to find out "Why the hell is this shitbitch still swollen?" Maybe it's just slow to heal. Maybe it's as shrunken as it's going to be. Maybe he can get a needle and drain the thing. I dunno. I'm just annoyed that it isn't better yet and worried because it isn't better.

By the way, to the best of my knowledge I am the first person to coin the term "Shitbitch". I've been using it since the 90s.

Marvel's Runaways on Hulu
Speaking of my injury, like I mentioned back in October, I find solace in escapism when life starts to grind me down. This has resulted in me watching a lot of science fiction and superhero TV and reading fantasy & scifi novels. I'll review some of those later, but for now I'm going to talk about Runaways. 

I started watching this because 1) it's Marvel and 2) it's short (10 episodes) so I could feel a sense of accomplishment for having watched it. I've also never read the comics, so I came in with no expectations other than "Marvel usually makes good stuff". (Although, to be honest, I haven't seen Iron Fist because people tell it's terrible, and because of that I haven't seen any of the other Marvel Netflix stuff either.)

Anyway, the first episode of Runaways is almost uniformly bad in that 90% of it is stupid teen drama, with it only becoming truly interesting in the last five minutes. Fast forward through the stuff that bores you (especially the rampant SJWing of the purple-haired one) and watch the parts that catch your attention.

Things get much better in the second episode, though, and the series turns into a cross between "an attractive yet non-threatening and racially diverse teenage CW show" and "Teenage mystery with weird shit that you know will end up being superpowers and/or magic and/or superscience because it says 'Marvel' in the title." They really should have combined and edited the two to make a stronger 2-hour premiere, because the truly shady shit that the parents are up to (as a mild spoiler, the end of the first episode involves them seeing their parents engaging in ritual human sacrifice) is way more interesting than the stupid teenage drama that the kids have going on.

I'm halfway through the series now, and while there's still enough teen angst to fill the aforementioned CW show, there's also some cool stuff: super powers, weird science, someone who I think might be an alien, hints of time travel, and a genetically engineered dinosaur.

So far, the goodness of the show outweighs the eye-rolling teen drama. And to be honest, considering the amount of crap these kids have stumbled into, they're allowed some angst about it.


For those who are curious, that is a cock with a 70 gram high explosive fragmentation device attached to it. According to my friend Boris, this was an actual pre-WW2 experiment conducted by the Russian Army, the notion being that you could train chickens to run up to humans (the chickens thinking they would receive food from them), and then the explosive would detonate.

This didn't work as expected because apparently chickens panic when they hear gunfire and explosions! Who knew, right?

But still, that would make a great name and logo for a punk band.

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