Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adventures in Adventureland, part deux

Back in Adventures in Adventureland, I stated my intention to write up our gaming sessions in my blog.  Clearly I have fallen down on the job, as we've played quite a few sessions without a single blog post from me chronicling our activities.  This post won't completely remedy that, but it's a stab in that direction.

The latest news is that we've added a sixth player.  Our party now consists of the following:
Tajah - aasimar oracle
Landon - dwarf alchemist / ranger
San'Kari - elf fighter
Silverleaf - elf cleric (me)
Thim - halfling ranger / rogue
Garrick - human inquisitor / monk

...and Grizzly, a sentient, talking worg.

We had previously discovered that someone called the Stag Lord was leading bands of humanoids to raid local farms and communities.  Then our stronghold at Oleg's Trading Post was attacked by lots of undead and some humanoids, and we learned that there was a necromancer named Nerisa (sp?) involved.  We've done what we can to get rid of a lot of the Stag Lord's followers, but the necromancer is clearly way out of our league, and we have no idea where she is anyway.

We also managed to clear some cursed bears out of the ruins of an old temple, so that a priest can re-establish it.  That has unfortunately made the priest a target for Nerisa's minions, who are trying to bring despair to the area by eliminating anything that could give the locals hope.   We managed to infiltrate a gathering of her followers (or at least, Garrick did) and learned of this, so in our last session we ambushed the party she sent to assassinate the priest.  Minotaurs are tough.

Unfortunately Nerisa is giving all her minions some kind of potion that mind-controls them, so it's a real challenge to get much information about her since people who are freed of the potion's effects don't remember anything they did while they were under its control.  But we have managed to discover (again thanks to Garrick's infiltration of their camp) that the Stag Lord is just a figurehead. 

When we have our next session we'll be fifth level.  I'm looking forward to that (third level spells, woohoo!), but it won't be until July.  Our GM is taking a break, and another GM will be running a sci fi campaign that I've chosen not to participate in.  I bowed out originally to have more time for other things and because I don't really like sci fi games.  But if someone started up another Pathfinder campaign, or D&D 3.5, or even Fantasy Hero, I'd probably be willing to give up my free time to play.  I'm a sucker for a fantasy game.

I Owe My Soul to the Company Store

 "You load sixteen tons, what do you get
   Another day older and deeper in debt
   Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
   I owe my soul to the company store"
("Sixteen Tons", Tennessee Ernie Ford)  

This morning I had a conversation with one of my coworkers about various social and economic issues affecting the US currently, and it dawned on me:  Our capitalist society is the equivalent of the truck system era, where employees of factories and mines bought their necessities from the company, using company scrip that they were given in lieu of wages, and lived in company-owned housing.  That was a form of debt bondage - the workers could never leave because they could never save any money. 

Likewise many of us today can never stop working for the banks that hold our debts.  We're all slaves trying to buy our way to freedom, because we've bought into this American capitalism:  Own a house, own a car, send your kids to college.

How did we get here?  What happened in America that made us think we have to have all this stuff - and go into debt to get it?  In other parts of the world most of the population doesn't own homes.  Many countries have no mortgages.  If you don't save enough money to buy a house, you don't own a house.  If you live in an urban area you rent a flat.  You don't have a bathroom for every member of the family, and the kids might have to share a bedroom.  Your flat isn't big enough to host a party of 40 people, you don't have a backyard or a garage or even any built-in closets.  And people presumably don't sit around feeling like their lives are incomplete because they don't have granite countertops in the kitchen.. 

There are some European countries where higher education is free.  That's right, you don't have to pay $30,000 a year to go to college, let alone have student loan debt for the rest of your life.  I don't know what kind of limits those countries set on who can get a university education, but I do know that not everyone goes to university or is expected to go.  Somehow in the US we've reached a situation where we think a university degree is a requirement to get a job, any job.  My own opinion is that a lot of the current emphasis on getting a degree is encouraged by banks that give student loans, because those are guaranteed sources of income for them.  It was determined by the financial institutions that not paying off your student loan is a high crime, because there's not much you can do to escape it besides die - and I'm not sure even that will free you.

Of course, the biggest difficulty of all is the way our political system has responded to this situation by giving up our modified representative democracy in favor of treating corporations as people.  As long as politicians pay more attention to what the corporations want than they do to what their constituents want, we won't see any improvement in our debt bondage.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

What I'm Writing

I'm a writer.  I write all kinds of things, including this blog.  I'd like to be a fiction novel writer, too.  But most of the fiction I've written in recent years has been journals of roleplaying games.  I used to keep copious notes of all of the campaigns I participated in, and frequently I would convert them into the form of letters from my characters to their families back home, or private journals kept by the characters.  I published these in the form of emails or on an RPG forum site for the entertainment of my fellow players and others.  Originally I didn't think of this as "real writing", or as fiction.  I've come to realize it doesn't really matter what I'm writing, as long as I'm writing.

But I'd still like to write a novel, or several.  I have multiple novel plots in mind, though I haven't finished any of them and have written very little of a couple of them.  I've decided  to take the risk of telling people about them and see if I get any kind of feedback.

The novel I was most invested in finishing - and have the most written for - is a wuxia novel, a genre I'd like to introduce to a broader Western audience.  I am having a lot of problems with the development of this one.  I can't decide if I want to set the story in historical China, an alternate history version of China, or a fictional setting that resembles China.  I can't decide if I want to introduce elements of magical fantasy into the story.  I've been watching a lot of wuxia films and tv series, and I find that I start trying to incorporate what I watch into my story, which is making it a derivative muddle.  So I've decided I will set that story aside for a while, until I can make some final decisions about the setting and the plot elements I want to retain.  I'm also going to read more wuxia fiction.  Not a lot of it has been published in English, but what I've read has all been by the same author and I hope reading some material by other authors will give me a broader perspective on what constitutes a wuxia story. 

The second most developed novel in my collection is a traditional fantasy.  As in many a fantasy novel, the invented world setting of the story is threatened by a Great Evil, and the protagonist is the Chosen One who can vanquish the evil.  I ran my hero through The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test to ensure that I'm not creating a Mary Sue. I've tried to differentiate the character from other Chosen Ones in fantasy as much as I can.  The Great Evil isn't a person but an entity that isn't really evil in the sense that it's made a choice to do bad things; the things it does that are bad are part of its very essence and it couldn't change if it wanted to.  So the hero's task isn't to kill it or make it surrender or take away the McGuffin that gives it its power.  He has to lock it away on the other side of an interplanar barrier so it can't get back into the world where he lives. 

He's done this before, or rather helped to do so, centuries ago when this entity first slipped through a crack between worlds.  At that time he was one of a whole army of people who fought to help their mother goddess hold the entity on the other side of the door.  The goddess has been holding the door shut all this time.  But when the entity manages to slip part of itself past her, she has to use a little bit of her power to send just one of her long-ago worshippers into the realm of the living to warn the inhabitants of the world and recruit help to block up the opening for good.  My protagonist is a man out of his time, unable to even speak the same language as the people he meets (I've got a plan to get around the language barrier).  He has to convince strangers to listen to him and help him.  He also has to deal with some personal issues created by the method the goddess uses to send him into the world of the living.  I hope this doesn't end up being too much like every other 'Chosen One defeats the Great Evil' story out there.  I have no intention of making it a trilogy/quadralogy/endless series.  It's one book, and when it's over it's over.

Novel Number Three is also a traditional fantasy.  The premise of this one is pretty simple:  It's basically a traditional D&D adventuring party.  A group of characters get together - though not at an inn - and set off to achieve a goal.  The world setting is inspired by Hyborea, and my intention is to avoid using anything that is too obviously D&D-derived.  I'm trying to imagine how to take the tropes of D&D and other fantasy roleplaying games and make them seem rational and realistic.  There will not be any elves or dwarves in this story, though there will be beings that somewhat resemble those common fantasy fiction races.  There will be wizards and priests and monstrous creatures, but I hope I'll be able to devise things that, while recognizable as traditional fantasy elements, aren't too obviously derivative of D&D rules.  I don't want to get in trouble with the publishers of any roleplaying game or roleplaying fiction.  I am not basing the story on any RPG campaign I've been involved in.  I just wanted to write a story about the kinds of things that happen in the roleplaying campaigns I've participated in, without being tied to the events of an actual campaign or characters that were created by my friends.  I admire my friends characters, but I don't want to write a novel about them.  I wouldn't do them justice.

Novel Number Four currently exists only in my head.  This is the first time I've actually written something down about it.  It's an urban fantasy.  The premise is that magic and the fey have been cut off from the material world for centuries, but somehow the fey were able to reach into our world and kidnap a person.  After several years of mortal time, they release him, but he has no memory of his time in the fey realm.  At the same time he returns to the mortal world, the fey re-emerge into the world as well, in a cataclysmic magical event.  What does the kidnapping of the protagonist have to do with this re-emergence?  What did he experience during his time with the fey, and why can't he remember anything?  These are the questions that I hope to answer eventually.

You may have noticed that all of the protagonists I mentioned are male.  When I think of a story it emerges from my imagination pre-populated with a protagonist of a specific gender, and all of these have emerged with masculine heroes.  I don't know why that is, but I find that if I try to force a change of gender it doesn't make me feel comfortable with the change.  I may be able to change the gender of the character in Novel #4 because I haven't actually written any of it yet, but the protagonists of the other three novels will all continue to be male. 

Well, there they are, the offspring of my imagination, all still in a fetal state.  Perhaps if I talk about them a little here, it will help them to grow and develop into something that you can read someday.