Friday, December 28, 2007

MORE Christmas!

When I said I wasn't thrilled about getting the first season of ALIAS on DVD for Christmas, I intended no criticism, honestly. I merely wanted to note it, to discourage future gifts of Seasons 2, 3, etc. I tried to watch ALIAS many times during the original broadcast of its first season, and a few times intermittently in subsequent seasons, and never could get into it much. I don't know why. It just wasn't my thing.

I appreciated the thought and the generosity embodied by the gift very much, though. Nobody hits the bullseye every time; I myself am only indifferent decent at giving gifts people will enjoy.

So it came as a surprise to me to find that Tony had gone out and sent me a back up gift, which I got in the mail today. And it's one I like much, much better -- the new S.M. Stirling anthology, ICE, IRON, AND GOLD.

So thanks for that, Tony. It was totally unnecessary, but I very much appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


It's... I... chaos! Okay, randomly --

* * * Couple weeks ago Nate came over and put a wrapped package roughly the size of a Cadillac Eldorado under our tree. "It's for the whole family," he smirked, and even under the most extreme torture, he would not tell me what it was. (What made this especially irksome was that SuperWife knew what it was; apparently he had consulted with her on technical details when purchasing... whatever it was.)

So, after waiting weeks, and then through all the other presents this morning at Nate's insistence, we finally opened it. Within?

A fucking Wii, dude.

Also, Guitar Hero III. Also, SoulCalibre: Legends. Also, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Also, some frickin' cooking game for SuperWife and Super Adorable Kid.

It's... like... brllhhh.... nbbblllggg... ::gibber gibber::

It's a fucking Wii, dude.

* * * Before that, I got... well, clothes for work, and some cool slippers with memory foam soles, and then, see, there's this list I keep of books I want that are out of print. Stuff like Andrew Sugar's THE ENFORCER series, which I read when I was a teenager and have never been able to find since. Stuff like COBRA TRAP, the most recent and last Modesty Blaise book. Stuff like STAR BARBARIAN by Dave Van Arnam, which I read the sequel (LORD OF BLOOD) to decades ago, and still own that copy of, and it's one of my favorite books, and I have always wanted to read its precursor, but never really thought I'd get to.

So SuperWife got me all of those. Plus a replica Green Lantern power ring. Plus Marvel Masterworks Editions featuring Captain America and the Hulk. Plus a Tobler Chocolate Orange. One must never forget the Tobler Chocolate Orange.

Also, she bought me the new Joe Haldeman book. I did not even know there was a new Joe Haldeman book. That SO rocks.

Apparently S.M. Stirling has a couple of new books out, which, once some bills get paid, I may look into obtaining, as well. Not that my in stack isn't already high enough, given that we'd stopped at Book and Music Exchange to get Nate some books for Christmas and I picked up about five paperbacks there for myself, too. But a true bibliophile's Want To Read in stack can never be too high, short of mortal diagnoses.


And, um... there was this cool little box from Mike Norton, and it had HeroClix in it, which, despite the fact that I'm not collecting HeroClix anymore, still utterly delights me. All four of the Silver Age X-Men from the latest expansion (the lack of a Silver Age Angel in the set annoys me no end, but never mind). A Leader (not that stanky Peter David Leader from more recent times, but a real honest to jebus Silver Age Leader with some of his little android minions on his base). A Super Adaptoid. An Absorbing Man. A Zzzzaax. A Gorgon. A first appearance Hulk. A Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy duo fig!!! Aaaaaaaand... a Mastermind, which is especially (but far from uncharacteristically) generous of Mike, as it's a Super Rare piece. I love them all, even if I will never get to play any of them.

Also, I got this cool Christmas themed t-shirt from my mom and stepdad which has little colored bulbs in it that actually light up.

The Colletts gave me the first season of ALIAS on DVD, which is a very nice thought on their part, although to be honest, I've never had any real interest in the show.

* * * Christmas dinner was tremendous. Ham, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, dinner rolls, broccoli casserole, green beans, deviled eggs on an olive tray, and something else I'm leaving out. Home made apple pie with double vanilla ice cream for dessert, later, while we're watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

* * * Not too many Christmas pics this year. I should probably list what everybody else got, but honestly, my brain is aswirl. Super Adorable Kid got a lot of toys, including a new Bratz doll complete with snow bunny ensemble and remote control snowmobile that goes well with her Bratz ski lodge. Super Dependable Teen found her most expensive gift in her stocking; a Nintendo DS. She also got a booster box of Magic cards (SAVIORS OF KAMIGAWA, one of the cheaper boosters boxes available on Ebay) and a really cool STAR WARS pop up book. Super Drama Teen got mostly clothes, as she's a grown up now and that's what grownups get, but she liked the clothes we got her, and she also got an inexpensive digital camera and some badly needed CD/DVD storage shelves.

SuperWife mostly got useful everyday items she'd mentioned wanting or needing over the past year -- a rolling pin, a new purse, a food processor. On the lighter side, I also threw in to her haul the new Scene It game, the first season of HEROES on DVD and a nice snow globe -- every year I try to get her some kind of Christmas decoration; last year it was also a snow globe. I tossed several boosters of Magic cards into her stocking along with a lot of candy, a Simon & Garfunkel CD, and some goofy little stuff like a miniature Etch-a-Sketch. I also got her a leather jacket, but she didn't like the style and is going to return it... just as well, as it's really more money than I probably should have spent on her, with our car needing repairs.

SuperWife got a gift card for Panera Bread, perhaps her most favorite fast food ever, from Mike Norton. In addition, she loves the cool little green velvet-finish box Mike put my clix in, and immediately confiscated it after I took the figures out of it.

The Colletts sent gifts for everyone else here as well, and showed fabulous judgment in what they got for everyone who wasn't me. Super Adorable Kid loves her new teddy bear, the two older kids loved their fleece throws, and Nate was over the roof about the two t-shirts the Colletts sent him.

However, on that subject, the best t-shirt given this Christmas season was a black shirt SuperWife and I made for Nate using iron on transfers. Now, in order to understand just why this t-shirt was The Best, you have to understand that Nate is an avid WORLD OF WARCRAFT player.

Then, you have to look at the actual graphic I created for the t-shirt using graphics from the SOUTH PARK episode about WORLD OF WARCRAFT, in which a mysterious super-player who 'had no life' showed up and started easily slaughtering every other character in the game. We only saw that player a few times for very short periods of time:

Finally, you have to realize that, well, this is Nate:

Best. Geek-shirt. Ever.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Here's something I wrote on a previous blog during a previous football season:

I frankly admit it: I am a bandwagon Bux fan.

Yes, I'm that worst of all things, that thing most sports fans will struggle endlessly to deny being: I'm a fair weather fan. When the Bucs are winning, I'm right in there screaming, watching their games avidly, talking it up at work, reading the sports pages, checking out websites on the team. When they lose, I bail. And I bail fast.

I used to try to justify this. I'd point out to people (I've done it on past blogs) that while I only became a Bux fan at the beginning of last season (at the end of which the Bux won the Super Bowl) it wasn't that I was a fair weather fan, I simply hadn't liked Tony Dungy. (And I did not.) When they traded in Dungy for a coach I found more charismatic, I finally allowed myself to invest some hope in the franchise, and I hung in there all through the first half of last season, because, well, the Bucs WON. They won ugly, they looked really bad and inept and terrible winning, nobody thought they could go the distance because their offense was mostly prostrate and the defense was doing all the scoring, but still... they won. You could get to the end of a Bux game and not feel as if you'd been run through an emotional mangle, because, well, for all the ups and downs and for all the sheer frustrating lack of anything remotely like a break out offensive performance the Bux put on, nonetheless, they WON.

Now, there are a lot of fanatical Bux fans out there, who have stuck with the franchise through thick and thin, who are there every week regardless of whether the team is winning or not, who gamely wore their Bucs jerseys out in public even when the Bux were the joke of the NFL, and they have nothing but contempt and odium for me at this moment. And to them, I can say only this:



Look, you mooks... a sports franchise is
not your friend. Let me say that again. Your local sports team is not your buddy, your brother, your parent, or your spouse. It does not reflect well on you when you are loyal to them for better and for worse, through sickness and in health. Why? Because they are not loyal to you, similarly.

A sports franchise is owned by someone who is running it for a profit. He, and everyone involved with the franchise, wants your money. To the end of getting your money, they deliberately foster this notion that the local team is your pal and there is something deeply wrong with you as a human being, something horribly flawed about your essential character, if you are letting your buddy down by only supporting him when he is on top.

Well, I'm here to tell you, that's specious and stupid. The actual deal is very simple: when the team wins, I support them. When they lose, I do not.

I am not married to the Bucs, I am not dating the Bucs. I don't owe them any loyalty; as far as I know, none of them are willing to lend me money or help me move. So they get my support when they make me feel good, and they make me feel good when they win games.

Now, if you want to give your loyal, avid, partisan support to a bunch of mercenaries who don't even live in town most of the year and who only play in Tampa because Tampa pays them the most money, and who will pack their shit and git in a heartbeat the instant their agent negotiates them a better deal from some other franchise somewhere else (ask Lawyer Malloy if you don't believe me), well, that's on you.

But I'm a bandwagon Bux fan. I'm a fair weather friend to the team. When they win, I'm right there screaming with the best of y'all. When they lose, I'm nowhere to be found.

You, on the other hand, the dedicated devotee to your local sports franchise who is there no matter what, day in and day out, spending your money, wearing your merchandise, diligently changing the names on your home made fan banners to match up with whatever the latest business dictated roster shifts may be... you, mon frere, are one of those folks P.T. Barnum once pointed out that there was one born of, every minute.

Adding to that:

Today, I am not a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan.

It's not just because they lost yesterday. It's because they didn't have to.

This season, the San Francisco 49ers are one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Bucs are Division Champions of the NFC South. The Bucs should have easily beaten the 49ers; the fact that the Bucs didn't beat the 49ers is utterly humiliating. Jon Gruden chose that humiliation for his playoff bound team by deciding to rest most of his starters for the entire second half.

What did he prove? That Tampa Bay's bench is unable to beat one of the worst teams in the NFL. Hey, that's a ringing battle cry to head into the play offs with.

I cannot tell you how much it disgusts me that Gruden chose to do the 'smart thing' and have his team phone this one in. I have to assume that it disgusts the Bucs themselves almost equally. The Bucs pulled to within three points of beating the wretched wretched 49ers; it could not be clearer that, had Gruden actually allowed his team to compete, the Bucs would have crushed the 49ers.

Had the Bucs crushed the 49ers, they would now be 10-5, which is very respectable. They could have gone on to finish the season 11-5, which is even better.

As it is, though, they are 9-6. Gruden has said we should expect more of the same 'strategy' in next week's equally 'meaningless' game against the Carolina Panthers.

Very likely, then, the Bucs will end up 9-7 for the season.

9-7 is fucking mediocre. 11-5 is awesome.

I put 'meaningless' up above in quotes. I don't think any game is ever 'meaningless'. How important is morale? I don't know, but I suspect it's pretty important, and I do know this -- a loss is always demoralizing. Two losses in a row, going into the play offs? When both losses were completely avoidable?

A few years ago, I wrote that I am only a Bucs fan when they win. Today I would add to that -- I am only a Bucs fan when they try to win. Going through the motions... putting on a show... this is fucking bullshit.

I don't know who the Bucs are going to end up battling in the first round of the play offs, Washington or New York. If it's Washington, and they knock the Bucs off, that will be history repeating itself, as it's exactly what happened two years ago. And the Bucs will deserve it; Washington has gone out there every week and fought for it's life, while the Bucs are just dancing.

Whoever it is, it won't matter. If the Bucs get by them, then in the second round they have to face either the 13-2 Cowboys or the 12-3 Packers. And here's what I do know:

9-7 teams don't win Super Bowls.

9-7 teams don't win conference championships -- not against this years Cowboys or Packers.

I will get to watch one, maybe two Bucs games on national television in the play offs this year.

The problem is, I'm not even sure I want to, right now.

Buncha fuckin losers.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Ur-Tree

Good thing we got such a big tree this year; look at all that swag we had to cram under it!

Here's one of my superhero tree, with some new ornaments --

Okay, that's all you get for right now.

Oh, I got a pdf. file of ASTONISHING ADVENTURES #2 in my email a few hours ago. I've only had a few minutes to download, open, and skim through it, but it looks great. As soon as hard copies are available, I'm definitely going to order a few.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Control issues

So Jim Henley had a pretty good discussion going on his (justly) much trafficked blog Unqualified Offerings about what the next generation of electronic games and game controllers might be like. I put a long comment in the thread --

Ramblin' (you have been so advised) --

The DREAM PARK books by Niven and Barnes delighted and dismayed me in equal parts. Delighted because, well, what RPGer wouldn't want to think that RPGs could become so legitimate, and such big business, in the future? Plus, the whole 'fully interactive' thing, with the actor NPCs and the holograms and all that. WAY cool.

Dismayed because I've done the LARP thing, once, and it sucked. You get all the bad stuff -- the heat, the humidity, the GOD damned mosquitoes, the sticking your foot in a mudhole up to your knee -- even the combat bruises, if you're playing with insane LARPers like I did the one time, with all their padded pipe weaponry whack-whack-whack-HEY-I-hit-you-right-in-the-head-you're-DEAD -can-I-get-a-judge-over-here nonsense. And you don't get any of the GOOD stuff; the high tech/magic/sweet elven kingdom/lost treasure stuff is still all imaginary and there may indeed be a hot chick playing the captured hot chick you gotta rescue part, but she's married to one of the guys DMing the scenario and besides your own girlfriend is there giving you the fish eye whenever the hot chick you gotta rescue is around, with all the 'what she can't wear CLOTHES while she's chained to the dungeon wall rashen frashen fricken fracken' and it's just a downer, man. Totally harsh.

The DREAM PARK stuff gets you around a lot of that -- you could actually have good real world simulations of the magic and the high tech gimmicks and the exotic back drops and if you do well enough in the scenario you actually make some real world loot, which is cool. But what dismayed me about all that live RPGing stuff the way they did it is that in order to be good at it, you had to be, you know, a JOCK. Imagination and quick wits weren't enough. You had to be in shape, you had to be able to jump around, climb ropes, swing on vines, actually wield a sword-shaped whatever at whatever. Me, I pull a muscle setting up the the artificial Christmas tree. RPGs are where I go to escape my tedious potato reality; an RPG where all the kids who used to beat me up in high school can still beat me up in Mordor isn't my idea of a good time.

That's one thing. Here's another --

For a long time I've had this idea for the next generation of interactive games. You'd have to set up some kind of collapsible circular dome-tent thing. The framework and the tent fabric would have to be some kind of material that can project images, and it would all plug into some kind of game console. So you'd stand in the middle of this tent thing on something like the dance pads from DDR, and you'd have wristbands that would relay your hand movements to the game console, and maybe the game would come with a big plastic chest full of accessories -- various weapons you'd use in different fighting games that would work like a Wii (with swords and stuff) or like a lazer tag weapon (with phasers and blaster rifles and like that). The panels that hold the weapons in the chest could be reversible; you could take them out and snap them together and you've got a Star Trek type console that you can fight starship battles from. Or a steering wheel/dashboard/stick shift for a driving game. Or whatever.

The tent around you would project the surroundings for various games, and you'd sit at your console (for a Star Trek bridge type simulation) or walk down corridors or wilderness paths or city streets (for nearly anything else). You could stop and talk live action to the others around you, or, using the weaponry, assault them. Or whatever.

It would be great for online interaction with other live players in the same game setting. Of course, they wouldn't see you as you are, they'd see you as the character you'd created...

If you don't like the projection-tent, sub in a VR helmet. Same thing. You still need the big bulky chest of weapons and other game accessories, though, and it could drive an entire industry, manufacturing other (better, more expensive than standard issue) accessories. Blasters with longer range. Class swords. Whatever.

That game might be cool, because, hell, you'd have to get off your ass and get in some kind of shape to play it at any kind of nominal level, but you wouldn't have to be the kind of Olympic level athlete that all the gamers in DREAM PARK had to be in order to excel. The game itself could be programmable to an extent -- yeah, you have to stay on your feet for as long as you want to play, but the game itself could be programmed to make your character faster and stronger and more coordinated than you actually are (I suppose by slowing down the NPCs you're interacting with, if nothing else).

I will note that in a DREAM PARK type set up, I'd want to be the DM, not the gamer. The DM, with that really cool computerized control center from which you can project holograms and order around volunteer NPCs and keep track of everyone with the security cameras... now THAT's DMing. The royalties you get from future use of a successful scenario are just gravy.

Obviously, if you've never read any of the DREAM PARK books this comment is near entirely wasted on you, but why should this comment be different from all my other ones?

The last paragraph may seem self pitying, and I probably respect that even less than you do. But Henley rarely acknowledges my comments in any way; more often than not, if I post something to one of his threads, the thread immediately dries up and blows away. Which is exactly what happened here. Still, I enjoyed writing the comment, and maybe one of you few people who actually read this blog will enjoy it, too.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quickly, now

* There sure are a lot of people I don't know who are sending me email about how small my dick is. Somehow, that just seems... rude.

* Mike Norton has apparently died. This makes me sad.

* This is my 475th post on this blog. God knows how many posts I put up on previous blogs, although, as they're all still floating around random corners of the Internet, I suppose I could go back and check. But that sounds like work.

* I've been rereading some Travis McGee lately. Often there's a McGee sitting out on my desk at work while I'm taking calls. People come and go. There's this special contempt I feel for people whose eyes pass right over PALE GREY FOR GUILT or THE QUICK RED FOX without hesitation, without comment, without what seems to me should be the near obligatory "Oh, wow, Travis McGee! I love John D. MacDonald's stuff, but the Travis McGee books are really amazing". Contempt for a fellow human is, of course, not a reaction that reflects well on me (or anyone else, really) and I'm aware it's completely unfair -- every once in a while I see someone else reading something else, and it's never anything I feel any urge to stop and admire -- but then, nowadays, if you see someone at work reading something, chances are it's going to be the Bible, or some religious tract. Nrrrrm. It's a strange world, where nobody gives a shit about Travis McGee any more, and the only other people besides me who carry books are Born Agains.

* On that subject, whatever happened to the King James Bible? If you're going to read the Bible, you should at least read those fine funky rolling pseudo Old English syllables. I go out on the web and type in a random search for Bible quotes and it gives me this:

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

This, I am meant to believe, is Jeremiah 33:3, but it is no such thing. Jeremiah 33:3 reads --

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

Frrmf. No wonder nobody cares about Travis McGee any more, in an era of watered down Bible verses.

And -- I'm sorry, but 'unsearchable'? What retard decided to replace 'mighty' with 'unsearchable'?

* I cleared my spam out before I sat down to write this post, and in the time it's taken me to type the above (not long, I type you like a hurricane) I've gotten one more email from Dr. Patty Carey, who seems to feel the size of my manhood is inadequate. I'll bet if John Holmes were still alive, he'd be getting email like this, too. But he'd just laugh at it.

Empty suits

Kevin Drum attempts to get two dicks and a pussy in his mouth all at the same time:

In 2004 Democrats really did have a weak field. I ended up supporting Wes Clark, knowing full well that his inexperience might doom him, and sure enough it did. Howard Dean was much more moderate than his fans gave him credit for, and didn't know how to run a campaign. Edwards was pretty green as well. So we ended up with John Kerry, a compromise candidate that lots of people could support but almost no one could love.

But this year is different. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are all solid liberal candidates; all of them are pretty good at inspiring their own base; and all of them seem to know how to run a campaign. I'm still dithering about who to support, but while I have issues with all three of them, I'm mostly dithering because
they're all really good and the differences between them are, frankly, pretty small. Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And he's got something like 156 responses, nearly all of which argue vociferously over which Democratic candidate is the most or least liberal.

To all of which, I respond:

Nearly 200 comments, and what do they have in common? Everybody looks at every major candidate and sees something different.

What does this tell us? These people are chameleons; their public facades are carefully crafted mirages, calculated to reflect back at each viewer as close to exactly what that viewer would like to see as public poll politics can feasibly attain.


In such a sea of smoke and mirrors, I'm looking for some points of objectivity to base decisions on. Every major presidential candidate for the Dems is a Senator; every single one is in a position to show leadership on any number of major legislative issues. Here's what I want to see MY next President trying to get done --

*** The War in Iraq, over, NOW. We have no right to be there. Every dead Iraqi is not simply collateral damage of an illegal invasion, they are victims of state sanctioned murder. We cannot bring back the dead or undo the damage, what we can and MUST do is STOP DOING ANY MORE. This is a moral imperative. We MUST stop murdering, raping, torturing, enslaving, and stealing from these people.

*** Bush and Cheney impeached, NOW. Please cry me a river at this point about how useless this is and how pointless it would be to spend political capital trying to do this, and while you are whimpering so gutlessly about political expediency and practicality and how we all have to live in the real world now, and therefore we should continue to ignore the rampant corruption, the deranged level of lawbreaking, the completely unprecedented level of blatant, brutal criminality that this entire regime embodies, I will puke all over your shoes.

*** Universal healthcare, NOW. No bullshit, no bibble-babble. Every American citizen gets access to solid, useful, effective, affordable health care coverage by flashing their Social Security card at their provider. How do we pay for it? How about we stop spending 20 billion dollars a month in Iraq, for starters? After that, we can start confiscating CEO bonus packages.

*** Repeal the PATRIOT ACT. Once again, NOW. Repeal that crappy Medicare Part D plan, too, and get rid of that insanely corrupt bankruptcy bill while you're at it. And as long as you've got the repeal pen out, why not undo every single encroachment into my basic civil guarantees enacted over the past century? Why does the FBI have the right to read my email without any kind of warrant at all? Why doesn't anyone even talk about this stuff any more? Bill Clinton did it, so it's okay? WTF?

Show me a viable Presidential candidate who has demonstrated ANY leadership on ANY of these issues and I will fall into line; show me one who has done anything on any two of these and I'll write them a check. Show me someone who is on the correct side (and not afraid to say so in public) of ALL these issues and I will get out there and campaign.

But there is no such candidate, and it's wildly unlikely that any candidate who tried to fight for these positions COULD get elected... not because these positions would be unpopular to a majority of Americans in and of themselves, but because these positions can be spun in such a way as to make them unpopular with idiots who can't think past buzz phrases like "socialist medicine" or "the Constitution isn't a suicide pact" or "nanny state" or "kill the ragheads" or "what do YOU have to hide, citizen" or "we have to live in the real world, politically".

If you think ANY of the Big Three Dem candidates are really liberal, you have lost your mind. All this is just the necessary sideshow; they all have to flash a little bit of progressive posturing to get past the primaries. In the general election, watch how fast the anointed Dem candidate runs back to the middle, and then past it, to try and pick up 'the undecideds'.

They'll be able to do it, of course, because all the liberals and progressives like you will be locked in... you'll all just shrug and say "well, sometimes you have to hold your nose and pull the lever anyway" and, um, "we have to live in the real world".

Here's the only shot we have at getting anyone into office who will actually try to do ANYthing besides continue to the corporate status quo --

BOTH big parties fragment because BOTH their candidates cannot hold their far right and far left wing bases. We get a Repub candidate who is trying to appeal to enough moderates to pull a win, we get a Democratic candidate doing the same thing, and at both extremes of the political spectrum, we get independent candidates. The right wing independent candidate will be truly, truly scary, but the left wing candidate might for once be someone we could actually vote FOR, instead of, you know, someone we'd push a button for as a vote AGAINST Guiliani or Huckabee.

In this scenario, an independent candidate might really have a shot at winning... and honestly, I think it's the only real hope we have of getting a White House that isn't 'business as usual'.

But the Big Three you like so much? None of them will shake any trees once they get in, and if you want proof of that, just look at how carefully they'll kept their hands in their pockets to date. I want a President with the guts to take on the entrenched interests, and who is genuinely concerned about the out of control growth of the central security state. What we have this year, however, are a bunch of sorry ass wannabes who clearly just want to take over the controls. Sorry, that's not working for me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Things I've figured out (#1)

When I was in college, there was a hypothetical question that made the rounds -- would you rather live in a developing civilization, or in a decadent one? How you answered was supposed to reflect significantly on your essential character, or something.

You wouldn't see a question like that going around on MySpace today, mostly because hardly anyone under the age of 30 understands what the word 'decadent' means any more. Which is regrettable and ironic simultaneously, because, well, it's pretty much the best word the English language has for describing our current culture... such as it is.

Or so it seems to me. If you go to an online dictionary, you'll find that decadent means

1. Being in a state of decline or decay.
2. Marked by or providing unrestrained gratification; self-indulgent.

Which is all well and good, but, honestly, how are you supposed to tell whether your surrounding cultural matrix is really in 'a state of decline or decay', or, for that matter, 'marked by or providing unrestrained gratification, self indulgent'? I mean, sure, any Republican Presidential candidate, and all those family values dipsticks, will nod like little bobbleheads when asked if American culture has become decadent, but you can't trust anything those guys say... especially since many of them probably couldn't even spell the word correctly, much less articulate to anyone what it actually means.

Still, much as I hate to end up agreeing with conservative dimwits of any stripe or station, well, I already did, three sentences into this entry. The civilization we are living in is (in my opinion) near-entirely decadent. Why do I say this?

Because, as a culture and as a people (whatever those words may mean) we spend billions if not trillions of dollars a year entertaining ourselves.

Entertainment is, by and of itself, decadent. Why? Well, what is entertainment? Think about all the things you and everyone else you know entertain ourselves with. Movies. TV shows. Board games. Collectible card games. Video games. Roleplaying games. Sports, either participatory or observed. Hedonistic sexual activity. Pornography. The Internet. Books. (Yes, a very very few of us, percentage wise, still do actually entertain ourselves with books.) Puzzles. Listening to music.

If you look at all of this, every bit of it, it's all designed to do one thing and one thing only -- artificially create, and then release, tension.

Straight up. That's all we're doing when we watch a movie or a TV show, or we play a game. Or we go dancing, or we work a puzzle, or we look at porn and jerk off. Even sex, if we're not doing it for purposes of reproduction -- in other words, if it's for the physical, sensual pleasure of doing it -- is, at base, a physical process that creates, and then releases, tension.

This is essentially why we regard a particular movie, or game, or TV show, is being either 'good' or 'bad'. A good movie/game/TV show creates tension in a way that we find interesting and even pleasurable, and, more importantly, releases it in a way that is equally acceptable to us. If a movie creates no tension in us while we are watching it, then there is no release and we don't like it ('man, that flick was really boring'). If it creates more tension than we want it to, we may not bother to finish watching it; if it creates tension and does not release it satisfactorily ('the ending sucked!') then we won't like it. Games are the same way; I enjoy KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC enormously up to the climactic fight with Darth Malek at the end. I rarely even bother to finish with that fight, because, frankly, it bores me -- you're supposed to run around and trash all the captive Jedis that Malek is going to drain life force from over and over again, and only after you do that can you actually beat him in a stand up fight, but I find all that extremely aggravating and stupid, so I don't bother doing it. The build up of tension takes too long, and the eventual release (finally killing Malek) isn't worth it to me.

Contrariwise, when a movie works, it really works. THE USUAL SUSPECTS builds tension throughout its entire running time, mostly around the central question "Who is Kaiser Soze?" When you finally find out who Kaiser Soze really is, well, the release of tension is perfect (unless you guessed beforehand, which I very nearly did when I noted how the one character kept successfully manipulating all the other characters into doing whatever he wanted them to do, but the fake flashbacks kept making me doubt my own conclusions, so I was still surprised when the big reveal hit).

Here's the thing -- expanding civilizations are, essentially, frontier societies. People living in a frontier society do not need 'entertainment', which, let's remember, is simply the creation and release of artificial tension. Frontier dwellers don't need no artificial tensions; they have plenty of the real stuff in their day to day life. People who live in expanding civilizations spend their time dealing with real honest to jebus life and death situations. They may not survive the winter if they don't get a good crop in. They may get eaten by a b'ar if they leave their cabin. They may get scalped by murderous heathens. They could catch the flu, or smallpox, and die. They could break a leg and die. They could die in childbirth. All of these very real tensions are very much matters of mundane, everyday reality for such people. The last thing they want is artificial tension, a little faux stimulus to get them all tense, excited, and frustrated, just so those feelings of tension, excitement, and frustration can be artificially satisfied by a well crafted fictional climax and resolution.

When you live in a frontier society, here is how you have a good time -- you relax for a couple of minutes behind barred, solidly built doors and shutters. You close your eyes. You enjoy the (momentary, always fleeting) peace and quiet. There's meat in the smokehouse and grain in the cupboard. You have enough firewood cut to get through the night. Nobody is beating a war drum anywhere nearby. Nothing is on fire that shouldn't be on fire, there's no nasty little critters gnawing on any of your limbs, nobody is throwing anything lethal at your head.

If you are a member of an expanding civilization, dwelling on the fringes of the frontier, and you DO undertake some optional recreational action more active than simple relaxation, it is generally social, interactive, and often creative. You make something, or help someone else build something. You play an instrument. You sing. You make a baby, not because it's a lot of fun, but because in a couple of years that baby will be big enough to help out around the place and take turns standing watch against the murderous heathen.

In other words, every effort you make, every ounce of energy you expend, is going into your survival, or the survival of your family/extended clan/village/society. Even your recreations, few and far between as they are, specifically serve this purpose -- not individual survival, but to help a social unit -- your family, your village, your tribe -- work together better towards the goal of mutual survival.

Only in decadent societies do people get bored, and require constant stimulus that simultaneously simulates and mocks the very real hazards, perils, and dangers of more primitive lifestyles. Only a spectacularly decadent society could come up with so many and varied and, in the context of individual and even cultural survival, utterly useless (or even contra-indicated) ways of generating that kind of faux excitement/release. Millions of people in the world starving, dying of curable diseases, suffering from thirst, miserable and wretched, barely eking out subsistence level existences... and our society spends billions of dollars a year on professional athletes, on video games and platforms to run them, on reality TV, on movies, on books and comic books, on collecting little glass and plastic and metal doodads that have no useful purpose whatsoever.

Why? Because we're bored. And this is what we do when we're bored.

For what it's worth, whenever anyone asked me that 'what kind of civilization would you want to live in' question, I always answered 'a decadent one', because, of course, decadence is way more fun.

But I have little illusions as to how long I'm going to survive in post-Apocalypse America.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Dreaded Undertoad

A few years back, Mark Evanier got his car towed. I was reading about that today (Evanier's blog is one of the few that isn't blocked out by my job's new firewall, so I've been catching up on a lot of his archives lately) and it brought to mind the following:

I have, in my life, had two memorable experiences with tow trucks. One was recent, and is mostly vicarious. A week or so ago, SuperWife and I were pulling out of our driveway as we do most weekday mornings, with two kids in the back seat, on our way to drop offs at two different schools and then downtown to two different office jobs. On this occasion, that process was interrupted by an act of no doubt drunken idiocy; to wit, sometime the night before, some no doubt drunken idiot had parked their car next to our driveway, in such a way that their vehicle was canted 30 degrees away from the curb, and, more to the point of our topic, jutting out about three feet across our right of way.

This necessitated SuperWife cutting the wheel to the right and backing our car out across the strip of verge grass and curb in order to get into the street. We were pissed, as you can imagine, but week day mornings are always high velocity experiences for us and we had no time to do more than mildly curse ('mildly' as there was a 7 year old in the back seat) whichever drunken idiot had inconvenienced us while going about our business.

It never would have occurred to me that that very same vehicle might still be in exactly the same position when we returned from work and school pick up (for the 7 year old; our 17 year old makes her own way home from school in the afternoon), and yet, there it was, 11 hours after we'd last seen it, parked in exactly the same place and at exactly the same 30 degree slant from the curb. Obviously, whoever had parked it there hadn't been back all day long; to add annoyance on top of annoyance, that entire side of the street was now empty -- had the erring driver bothered to check their vehicle at any time during the day prior to our return, they would have had their choice of valid parking spots to move their car into, and wouldn't have still been closing off a third of our access to our own driveway.

But clearly they hadn't troubled to do that. Having no idea who the car belonged to, and being more than a little pissed off now at having had to drive across the grassy verge strip twice in one day to use our own driveway, SuperWife and I decided to call the local police substation and see what could be done.

What could be done was that a cop rolled up within fifteen minutes, put a ticket on the car, then knocked on our door to explain to us at great and tedious length that the car might get towed sometime within the next 48 hours, or it might not, as it was considered a low priority item. He didn't seem apologetic, but actually, rather resentful of and irritated by the necessity of advising us of this. I myself was rather bemused; we live in a pretty high class, high income neighborhood, but we ourselves are at best very lower middle class. We snuck into this neighborhood by renting an apartment owned and managed by a former employer of SuperWife's; without her connections, we'd be living in some much less pleasant neighborhood and the cops would be pretty much ignoring any complaints we might make short of a home invasion. Still, I don't mind being mistaken for prosperous and potentially influential if it gets us official attention when we want it.

So after explaining all this, the cop went away, and I got ready to go out for some take out with Nate, as SuperWife didn't feel like cooking that night. A few minutes later, as Nate and I were heading out the back door, SuperWife called me to the front of the apartment in a very excited tone. I looked out the window where she was indicating, and saw a tow truck hooking up the offending vehicle. Guess it was a slow night for whoever had the city contract, which was, of course, fine with us.

So Nate and I went off to DQ for a couple of bags of anti-health food, and when we got back forty minutes later, SuperWife advised us that the owner of the offending vehicle had showed up knocking on our door five minutes after the tow truck departed with her car. Yeah, it was a her. According to SuperWife, it was a young woman, not un-pretty, with beautifully styled hair, reeking of Old Milwaukee, who insisted, in turn, that (a) the car had not been parked illegally or in any way that would inconvenience any reasonable person and (b) that she had just moved to the city and couldn't afford anything like this and (c) her grandmother was dying RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.

Then she asked SuperWife if there was anyone living in the building that she could do some work cleaning or something for to pay for the tow charge. Now, of course, what you want more than anything else in the world is for the inebriated dumbass who left her car parked at an angle across your driveway for an entire day and who then showed up five minutes after you had the car towed away spouting bullshit rationalizations and self justifications and outright lies, to actually come into your house and have access to all your stuff under the pretense that she is going to do some sort of 'work' for you.

Despite the obvious attractiveness of this proposition, SuperWife demurred, at which point, according to SuperWife's account, this fine woman became profanely abusive. Now, I myself would not become profanely abusive with SuperWife no matter how intoxicated I might be; the amount of alcohol I would have to imbibe to become that brave would put me into a stupor or flat out kill me first. And before I'd start throwing profanities around at SuperWife in front of SuperAdorable Kid, I suspect I'd just take some kind of fast acting poison, at least that way, my demise would be relatively quick.

SuperWife did not admit to any violence, but she did say that after this, the young woman departed our premises very quickly, and if she had one or both of SuperWife's bootprints on her ass when she did it, I would not in any way be surprised.

I will note here with some bemusement that this woman did not trouble herself about her vehicle for at a period of at least 12 hours, probably longer, after she parked it on a street in a neighborhood which she herself insisted she had only recently moved into... but she showed up like a summoned efreet within minutes of said vehicle being towed away by the city wreckers.

I guess everybody has their priorities.

Anyway, that's one brush I've had with tow trucks. My next anecdote regarding such is much, much longer --

I'm going to guess this took place in the summer of 1985. That was the summer I got out of Army Basic Training, which would fit, because in the course of this anecdote, me and three other people end up hiking from one side of Syracuse to the other, and that's not something I could have easily done at any other point in my life besides while I was still in the fabulous (never to be equalled) physical condition I enjoyed briefly after Basic, before falling back into rack and ruin from, you know, continuing to eat a lot of crap while not exercising. Also, one of the people involved, a woman I'll call Amy, was near to graduating from college when this happened, and a date of 1985 would fit that time frame, too. Besides all that, my relationships with most of my college era friends didn't long survive the watershed life event that Basic Training turned out to be for me, so, again, summer of 85 sounds just about right.

Actually, given that Amy was living in Lawrinson Hall when this occurred, but the weather was nice (that I do remember) it was probably autumn of 85 rather than summer. But whatever. It was a long, long time ago, yet, despite that, most of the salient details are still burned into my brain over twenty years later.

What had happened was this: my old buddy Slappy, for some reason, decided to swing through Syracuse for a quick visit. I imagine it was in some way work related, and I think by 85 he was writing professionally and more or less regularly for both Marvel and DC. (My memory blurs that far back. Slappy would have graduated around 1982, I believe, and then he was gone from Syracuse for a year or so, living in New York City, and then he returned to Syracuse for another year or so, when he lived on Dell Street and wrote a lot of POWER MAN/IRON FIST scripts and introduced me and a few other guys we knew to the Champions superhero roleplaying system, after which, he moved away again... so... yeah, call it the fall of 1985 and be done with it; it's not like anyone is going to contradict me anyway.)

Anyway, Slappy had borrowed his mother's car (I think) for the trip. He planned to come in and pick up me and Jeff Webb (who was Great, but not yet Late, at that time) and we'd go out and get something to eat and reminisce and maybe play some Illuminati (the portable version with the little cards you can't find anywhere any more that predated the current, boxed up, tabletop version Steve Jackson Games put out several years later). At the last minute, somebody suggested adding Amy to the roster, as she was the only other member of our college clique still around at the time. This meant Slappy had to pick me and Jeff up at our off campus digs, and then swing over to campus to get Amy, who was still living in Lawrinson Hall at the time. (Amy lived in Lawrinson Hall the entire time she attended Syracuse University; I'm pretty sure she was in her last year at this time, although it may have been her fifth year, as she changed majors at least once.)

Now, back then (and I doubt this has changed, but I don't really know) you could not legally park on campus without a parking sticker, and those parking stickers were among the most zealously guarded perks Syracuse University had -- students found it nearly impossible to get them; in fact, many faculty members had a difficult time procuring them. Slappy certainly didn't have one, and even if he had, it wouldn't have been on his mother's car, and it was very well known that if you parked your car on campus without a sticker, campus security would descend like winged velociraptors and have your car towed within seconds. (Campus security was notorious for taking their sweet time responding to pretty much any other kind of complaint, but unauthorized parking got their attention fast, most likely because it generated money for the University to have cars towed, and I'd imagine that somehow or other some of that money stuck to the security department itself.)

Whatever the case, Slappy knew better than to try to park an unauthorized car anywhere on campus, including in the Lawrinson Hall parking garage. So, we needed someplace we could park that was within an easy walk of Lawrinson, and Slappy eventually decided to use the parking lot of a nearby, very small, enclosed mall we'd frequently cut through on our way downtown to buy comics at Dream Days, back when we were all living on campus in Lawrinson Hall. (Dream Days, owned and operated by the always colorful Mike Sagert, switched locations several times while I was in Syracuse and finally went under sometime in the early 90s, leaving me to the tender mercies of more predatory comics shops like Twilight Book and Games. Since I've moved out of Syracuse, Twilight has also gone under, which leaves me to think that the Syracuse I once knew and loved must be pretty much as dead as the dinosaurs... which is just as well, since I'm happy in River City.)

So Slappy parked his mom's car in the lot and all three of us got out and walked the four blocks or so up to Lawrinson Hall, where we met up with Amy and all four of us walked back, chattering amiably back and forth about various the kind of stuff that is only ever important to you when you're young and geeky and you're still under the impression that not only are you never going to age or die, but you're also just a few years away from complete success and fame and wealth in whatever field it is you'd like most to achieve same in -- said amiable chatter which cut off as if shot by a rifle as we reached the southeast corner of the mall parking lot just in time to see Slappy's mom's car heading out the northeast corner at a pretty good clip, attached to the back of a red and white painted tow truck.

At which point, for perhaps the very first time ever, we all noticed the pretty prominent sign stating that this parking lot was for mall patrons only and any others parking there would be towed.

Buh buh buh BUMmer.

Slappy sprang into action immediately, turning to all of us and advising us that we had parked, gone into the mall, and had been shopping. He rattled off quickly which stores we had gone to and specifically told us that we'd decided not to buy anything and upon coming back out to the parking lot, had been horrified to see our car being towed away.

Having gotten our collective lies firmly set in our minds, Slappy then led us inside. Inquiries took us to the mall office, where a long haired fellow with a walkie talkie barely listened to the beginnings of Slappy's schtick before chuckling, shaking his head, and leading us all back outside again into the parking lot.

Lifting his walkie talkie, he depressed his send button and said "Hey, Luke, gimme a wave". At which point, another long haired guy who was sitting on a car at the corner of the lot (whom we had walked right by, coming and going, to and from the lot, without paying any attention to him at all), waved laconically at us.

After Luke waved, and at no point up until that point, I noticed he also had a walkie talkie. It was right there in his lap and I'm still willing to bet twenty two years after the events that it was right there in his lap both times our party had walked right by him. We just hadn't even noticed him, or it.

"He watches everyone park," Longhaired Guy standing with us said, his voice nearly toneless, but his eyes unmistakably sparkling with the unabashed pleasure nearly any of us would get at proving a bullshit artist to be a bullshit artist with irrefutable evidence right to his bullshitting face. "If you park and then leave the lot without going into the mall, he walks over to your car and gives me a shout on the box and I write down the plate number and call for a truck."

He paused, then, looking at Slappy invitingly, no doubt waiting to see if Slappy would renew his protestations of injured innocence. Slappy remained silent for several seconds, although his face was just about as beet red as I have ever seen a human visage turn. Finally, he more or less squeaked (obviously forcing his voice through a glottal wall of choked outrage at the enormous injustice of a universe where there were actual consequences for one's acts that a man of enormous innate charm and charisma could not immediately bluster, bully, and bullshit his way out of) "So how do I get the car back?"

Long-hair whipped out a badly beat up, rather dirty business card and handed it to Slappy. "That's the address," he said. "You go there and it's" -- here he named some figure for the tow and an additional figure for storage per day (or part of a day); I can't remember what it was, but I remember being stunned by the amount, although back in 1985 or so, when I would have been paying a rent of something like $225 a month and living off around $130 a week, anything north of $100 or so would have struck me as being exorbitantly expensive.

Longhair also gave us directions; as it turned out, we would have to go through central Syracuse (downtown) and then head on out to the west side; a walk of a few miles, at the very least. But it was lovely weather and we didn't have any other wheels and it wasn't like Slappy was going to go back to Boston and tell his mom her car was stuck on an impound lot in Syracuse, so off we went.

As we went, Slappy fulminated furiously on the rank injustice of the situation we were in, bitching endlessly about how unfair it was that people would actually have a 'racket' like this where by just because somebody parked illegally in a clearly marked private lot, they might actually get towed and have to pay to get their vehicle back. It was outrageous. It was ridiculous. It should be illegal.

I finally got tired of listening to him and told him (probably rather shrilly; 22 years ago, I didn't have much sense of humor about such things) that he was just embarrassed, first at getting his mother's car towed, and then, because he'd tried to bullshit his way out of it and been completely and totally busted doing it. That set him off into another long tirade about how he wasn't embarrassed at all, he was just indignant that people would take advantage of others this way and a civilized society shouldn't allow this kind of victimization etc, etc, etc.

I have to admit something here -- while I was as inconvenienced as anyone except Slappy (who was going to have to actually foot the bill to get his mom's car out of hock), and wasn't at all thrilled to find myself walking three or four miles across Syracuse into a not particularly great neighborhood on a day when I'd planned to be sitting in Hungry Charlie's drinking Pepsi and playing Illuminati with some old buddies, still, I was also digging on Slappy's humiliation. Digging on it in a BIG way. I say this with no illusions; it was small of me then and it's small of me now, but, still, I was totally into it. He was my friend (or so I genuinely believed at the time) and I was sorry for him, but, more than I was sorry for him, I was wildly exultant at seeing him finally, irrefutably, objectively and completely unfuckingdeniably, lose a goddam argument with someone.

You have to understand (well, you don't have to, but I'll try to get you there anyway if you'll hang in with me a little bit longer) that at this point, I had been reasonably close friends (or whatever it was it turned out we actually were) with Slappy for six or seven years. I'd lived in the dorm room next to his for two semesters, shared a house with him for a year, collaborated with him on many, many stories, precis', plots, and scripts, DMed him in countless roleplaying sessions, played in several RPGs he'd DMed, and played alongside him in many, many others DMed by other people. I'd written letters to comics with him, read comics with him, had classes with him, typed papers and POWER MAN/IRON FIST scripts for him, ghost written MARVEL UNIVERSE pages for him, and I'd even stayed at his family's house with him for a week over winter break back in January of 1980, when he and I and several others had gone to First Night in Boston together, among many, many other occasions I'd shared with him. I'd stayed up late bullshitting with him, shared hundreds of meals with him, gone grocery shopping with him, watched movies with him, gone on long walks with him, talked to him endlessly on every conceivable subject, been there for him when girls had dumped him, and he'd been there for me in similar circumstances.

And, throughout all of that, I'd argued with him endlessly about everything, and in all that time, I'd only ever won one argument with him. It had been when he and I were brainstorming supporting characters for some superhero concept we were working on together. I'd created a private investigator I wanted to call David Gallery, and Slappy had looked at me, snorted derisively, and said "You've been reading too many Don MacGregor comics; real people don't have names like Gallery."

So I'd gone and gotten a phone book and opened it up to the Gs and after flipping a couple of pages, pointed silently to three entire columns of people named 'Gallery' in the Syracuse metropolitan area. And he'd glanced at it, then flipped the phone book shut and changed the subject, and I had no idea he actually considered that I had won that argument until nearly a year later, when I was bitching about how he thought he was completely infallible and nobody could ever, ever win an argument with him, at which point, he refuted my point by mentioning how I'd won the previous argument about David Gallery. Which encompasses an enormous irony (Slappy won an argument with me about how he never lost arguments by admitting he'd lost an argument to me that he hadn't ever previously admitted I'd won) and also pretty much summarizes my entire experience being friends with Slappy (he was never wrong and I was never right, unless me being right and him being wrong at some point in the past would actually mean that yet again I was totally wrong and he was really right in the present).

Mind you, it wasn't just me. Slappy never lost arguments with anyone in all the time I knew him... not because he was always, or even often,, actually correct in his views and/or opinions, but because he could and would bullshit, bluster, browbeat and/or bully anyone into believing anything, or, at least, into saying they did, if only to shut him the hell up. To Slappy there was no agreeing to disagree and there was never any chance he might learn something from someone that he hadn't known before and, well, as I said, the only time in my life I ever heard him say he'd been wrong about something was when admitting that he'd been wrong about something allowed him to win an entirely separate argument.

Slappy, more than anyone else I have ever met, absolutely embodied the inability to admit to error. He could not bring himself to say that he was wrong about anything, and I don't think he was capable of emotionally grasping that some things were not objective, some issues had no absolutely correct answer, and some disagreements simply weren't worth arguing about. With Slappy, any discussion on any subject was all out war, there were no rules (for him; he would, however, insist that whoever he was arguing with follow an entire array of arcane debating requirements, like never ever interrupting him, always qualifying their statements as to whether they were fact or opinion, and always requiring opposing statements to be fully supported with citations of unimpeachable source material, none of said requirements which he ever felt any inclination to adhere to himself) and he was going to beat down the opposition no matter how much or how long it took him to do it.

And if you wanted to stay friends with him, or even on anything like amicable speaking terms with him, eventually, you just learned to give in to him.

And I have to tell you, seeing him balked for the first time -- seeing him forced to back down, seeing him have to swallow his own bullshit, seeing him confront someone and actually lose, seeing him objectively proved to be in the wrong in a manner that was entirely irrefutable -- well, like I said, I was digging that shit in a big, BIG way.

That may have been why we stopped being friends, although, as I say, Amy was also present, and those few of you who are actually reading this thing all the way through have probably already figured out that Amy was indeed the mutual college friend of mine and Slappy's who eventually, a few years later, ended up becoming Mrs. Slappy.

Whatever the case may be, it has been my experience, born out by both of these occurrences (recent and long ago) and now, by reading Mark Evanier's description of his own run in with a towing company, that this is one of those instances where there is simply no possibility of compromise or empathy or sympathy across the divide between two entirely opposing viewpoints.

If you are a person who is being inconvenienced by an illegally parked vehicle, then you call the tow trucks and are entirely satisfied when the fucker who parked across your driveway or in your private lot taking up valuable parking space without paying for it is towed away. It seems entirely just and correct and right to you that said person should be so inconvenienced and have to pay to get their vehicle back, because they damned well shouldn't have parked where they did and then gone off and left their vehicle there and they knew it and you know they knew it. So fuck 'em, they got what they deserved and that's just how that goes, baby.

On the other hand, if it's your car that is getting towed away and you're the one who is going to have to find some way to get to a lot halfway across the city and shell out some big wad of cash to get the car back, and this is totally going to fuck with all your plans for the evening or maybe even the next several, then it does not matter if the place you parked in was clearly marked as private or it was illegal to park there or you were making it difficult or impossible for other people to get legitimate access to their own driveways or parking spaces or homes or businesses. None of this means a thing to you; whoever called the tow company is a bastard and a prick and a motherfucker and you had no idea and you're sure you weren't really parked blocking anything and you were only there for a little while anyway and this is a travesty and it's terrible and it's wrong and it's unfair and it should be illegal and it's ridiculous and it shouldn't be tolerated and it's an outrage.

I get that, and I'm willing to admit, if I'd parked somewhere I probably shouldn't have and then left my car there for longer than I really should have and I got back just in time to see my car heading off down the road on the back of a tow truck, I'd be pretty pissed, too.

Here's what I wouldn't do, though -- I wouldn't immediately turn to three buddies of mine and start rehearsing the lies I wanted them to tell to get me out of it. Maybe I'd go in and try to lie myself, but I don't think I'd immediately try to implicate my friends in a conspiracy to defraud, especially when I knew damn well I wasn't supposed to be parking where I was parking in the first place. (In fact, I doubt after the car was already towed I'd bother trying to lie at all. I might go up and try to say whatever I felt I had to to keep a tow truck in the process of hooking up my car from completing the process, but once the car's gone, it's gone. At that point, I'd just be looking to get the situation resolved as quickly and as cheaply as I could.)

I also wouldn't go out to the street where I'd illegally parked my car and start pounding on doors asking if anyone knew anything about where it had gotten to. Or if I did because I genuinely had no idea (and given how quickly the drunken idiot got out there after her car was towed, I have to assume she either looked out her window and saw it happening, or was tipped by a friend or neighbor who had seen it happening), I certainly wouldn't have started screaming profane abuse at the person who advised me that my car had been parked blocking her driveway for over 12 hours, in front of her 7 year old child.

And I certainly wouldn't write a 3,351 word blog post fuming about how the homeowner's association that posted their street private are 'master villains', how the laws and regulations that allow it are at fault, how the tow truck service that hauled my car off from a street that had been posted private was 'crooked' and how they have 'a lovely racket here', or how terrible it would be if some doctor got an emergency call and came out to find his car towed, and sum it all up with 'it's a real sleazy way to earn money'. I especially wouldn't write such a blog post after I'd taken hours out of my life to call up various different cops and other 'law enforcement officials' to confirm that, yes, indeed, this 'scam' is actually legal and the cops can't do anything about it.

Why wouldn't I do any of this? Because, well, it seems to me that the best way to avoid having your car towed is, you know, to not park anywhere you're not supposed to park in the first place, and if you absolutely have to do it, well, get your business done as fast as you possibly can and get your ass back to your car and get your car the hell out of that dubious parking spot.

If you don't do any of that and your car ends up getting towed, well, okay. Maybe you didn't see the sign saying that this perfectly normal looking street was actually private and had restricted parking and violators would be towed. That's a legitimate excuse to bitch about your shitty luck, but at some point, it seems to me, a reasonable person who is spending several thousand words bitching about having his car towed in public to a presumably sympathetic audience might want to own the fact that they made a mistake, they paid a fee, and now their life is moving on. (I have no idea how much money Mark Evanier makes, but I'm reasonably sure that $125 is to him roughly the equivalent of what I'd spend on a this month's issue of BIRDS OF PREY, if I were still buying BIRDS OF PREY.) And if instead you spend 3,351 words endlessly raving about how every single other factor involved in the situation is at fault, sleazy, criminal, immoral, stupid, mean, or flat out wrong except you, the doofus who parked your car on a private street in the first place, well, I think you're kind of being a jack ass.

You're also being an ass (jack or jill, as the case may be) if, after parking your car in a drunken haze and staggering away to sleep it off and ignoring your illegally parked car for 12 hours or more, you see the car being towed out your window, hastily throw some pants and a shirt on, run out on the street and start pounding on doors, and upon finding the person whose driveway you were blocking all day and who therefore had your car towed away, you start screaming abuse at them in front of their 7 year old child.

Finally, you're being an ass if, upon seeing your car heading on down the road attached to a tow truck, you immediately embroil your friends in a conspiracy to deceive, and when that conspiracy fails, you then spend the next hour whining about how unfair it all is, and if one of your friends tells you to man the fuck up and quit bitching, you start screaming at him about how you're really a victim, here.

Yet, again... this doesn't seem to be uncommon behavior. Many, many people seem to respond with absolute screaming outrage when their car is towed (or, for that matter, when their car is in any way interfered with without their express permission) regardless of the circumstances, enough so that I have to suspect that it just goes back to the insane, near-worshipful devotion and awe that contemporary humans regard their motor vehicles with.

Even Adam Arkin's WEST WING character once admitted that if there was any one law he could break with impunity, he'd "park anywhere (he) want(ed)". So maybe it's simply that, at base, most people will not admit that on a deep primordial level beyond all sense or reason, they absolutely believe that they should be allowed to do anything they want with their vehicle no matter what, and anything that interferes with that absolute natural right is hateful, vile, and intolerable.

I don't know. What I do know is, when you mess with someone's ride, even the most reasonable people (like Mark Evanier generally seems to be, or, at least, as Mark Evanier generally portrays himself to be in his own writing) get really, REALLY pissy about it.

I think if I were a crooked tow truck driver, or even a legit one, I'd carry a gun.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Spruce almighty

So this Boy Scout, couldn't have been older than eleven, is holding up this kinda chubby looking Scotch Pine. It was.... ehhhh... okay. "I kinda like it," I offered. It wasn't as tall as I was yearning for in my heart of hearts, but it was well rounded and had good needles and wasn't all dried out yet. At around 6' tall, it would have fit nicely into our living room and posed no challenge to angel topping. It did not exactly make the strings of my heart go zing!, but...

It would do.

"It's a cool tree," the eleven year old Boy Scout said, tasting a sale, eyes as bright as a school of piranha flashing through the sunlit shallows towards a blissfully unmindful back-floating koala.

"I like it," Nate opined. Bear in mind, Nate was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and his entire experience with Christmas trees had begun seven minutes prior to that statement when he stepped onto this Boy Scout Christmas tree fundraising lot for the first time. "It's a good tree."

"Yeah, yeah," I allowed. "Okay, I guess we'll... GREAT JUMPING JUPITER! LOOK AT THAT BEAUTY!!!"

'That beauty' being a glorious nine foot blue spruce of such transcendent power and awe inspiring glory that I was helpless before its puissant visage. The blistering aura of its savage piney beauty grabbed me in an illegal full nelson, hurled me to the ground like a bag of old rags, knocked the wind out of me, and sat on my chest beaming in triumph.

I was stunned and speechless. The neckerchief clad gamin, sensing a sale, gulped gamely and grabbed for its mighty trunk. He struggled valiantly to get it away from the fence it was leaning on and standing upright so I could take a good long gander at it, but he clearly was not equal to such a Herculean task. Another plucky urchin hurled himself into the fray and between the two of them, they wrestled the forest giant upright for me to inspect.

This was no mere scrub pine, no piddling little Xmas tree. This was a tremendous tree, a tree titan, an Ur-Tree, a veritable Ent of the Modern Saturnalia. If Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse legend, were a blue spruce, it could hardly outstrip this tree. This was a tree of legend, an Atlas of trees, a Brobdignagian tree, a veritable woodlands colossus.

"How much?" I inquired reverently, yet doubtfully, expecting an answer somewhere north of $60. Mind you, for such a tree I would have been prepared to pay nearly any price, but Superwife had instructed me firmly that I could not spend $60 on a Christmas tree. Of course, I could have advised her that it was not, in fact, a Christmas tree, but was in actuality a fully functional ballistic missile shield, and I would hardly have been lying... give that tree a kitchen knife and send it to Iraq and I have no doubt it would win the war by New Years single-handedly... or branchedly, as the case may be. Still, one does not defy SuperWife in matters of the pocketbook; so I braced myself for the answer that would turn me regretfully away from the Monarch of All Christmas Trees, and prepared to move on.

"$42," said the jocular adult who had sidled up whilst I was admiring That Beauty.

"Sold," I gasped.

So they gave it a fresh cut and roped it to the roof of Nate's car and off we went home with it, where we dragged it inside and attempted to stand it up.

For two hours.

Only to discover that the wonderfully sturdy and amazingly strong all-metal Christmas tree stand we had employed with excellent results for the past three Christmases had by some arcane alchemy been transmuted into cellophane and chewing gum wrappers. We would lower in the tree and screw in the screws and tentatively relax our grips on the trunk and the tree would sway to the left, or to the right, deforming the metal of the Christmas tree stand, bending and twisting it all out of true, as if it were no more than cheap aluminum foil, or perhaps, some sort of medieval sealing wax.

"We need... ANOTHER Christmas tree stand," I opined, grimly. "A better one. Better... faster... stronger."

So off Nate and I went to Lowes, humming the theme song from THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (She's breaking up... I can't hold her! seemed especially appropos to our situation). There, we inquired after Christmas tree stands, and a fellow advised us, in badly broken English, that there was "unny wun Kreesmas tree stan leff, ova deah, on de sheff." So we went ova deah, and on de sheff, dere was indeed wun Kreesmas tree stan leff, which I purchased with alacrity, before speeding victoriously home.

Upon entering, I brandished said Christmas tree stand at SuperWife and said, in my best SCARFACE tones, "Say hello to my leetle fren'".

SuperWife's eyes bugged out of her head as she beheld a Galaxy Class Christmas tree stand, a Christmas tree stand that might have been designed by Tony Stark to send blasting at high velocity straight through the helmeted head of the Titanium Man, a Christmas tree stand that looked much as if our old Christmas tree stand had shouted "Shazam!" and been magically transformed into Treestand Marvel. This was a Christmas tree stand of supreme power, a Christmas tree stand such as God might have handed down to Moses on the mountaintop, constructed from the indestructible mithril bones of a fallen archangel, flash-welded in the heart of a nuclear holocaust, clobbered by gamma rays and bitten by a radioactive spider. This was the Last Christmas Tree Stand From Doomed Krypton. Such a Christmas tree stand as this, when first spotted by Han Solo or Princess Lea, might well have surprised a squeaked "That's no moon!" from their stunned, awestruck lips.

"Okay," SuperWife said, "that looks like it will work."

And it did.

So, our Christmas tree is up.

UPDATE: And now, it's decorated! Photos as digital photography apparatus presents itself. But I did find a graphic of the Norse God of Christmas Tree Stands, see above.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Everybody is excused from commenting on this one. Hell, you're all excused from READing it. There are few things more boring than watching other people roleplay, but one of those things is doubtless reading about it.

Okay. Because the greeks don't want no geeks... or... something... Dungeon Run Blogging --

I've been running my World of Empire campaign again sporadically since Nate moved down here, for a very small family party that always consists of Nate and SuperWife's characters (Gory and T'Cheyne, the last is pronounced like 'machine' if you sub in a 't' for the 'm'), and that often or even usually includes one or sometimes both of the older two SuperKids' characters (whose names I cannot remember right now -- well, Super Dependable Teen's is something unpronouncable like S'Keeaaa, and she's on this kick of sleeping with every male NPC she runs across because she knows it aggravates her mother, so the rest of the party all just call her 'Skank', and Super Drama Teen's is something like 'Gara', but as the other PCs are members of a very dark skinned race known as Northarks, and Gara is a very paleskinned Sothark, she's mostly known as 'Token' -- hey, we're all SOUTH PARK fans around here, deal with it and move on).

I tried to set up a 'get your feet wet' scenario that would be simple and straightforward, without the choking layers of political intrigue and behind-the- scenes machinations I normally plaster every adventure liberally with, all of which is usually pointless anyway, because none of my players ever pay any attention to any of it. To that end, I contrived a way for the party to come into possession of an old stone tablet that supposedly contained a vital clue to a centuries old, long hidden pirate horde.

The gimmick was, the stone tablet was actually magically preserved by a stasis spell, and inside it, there was a scrap of vellum on which was written a detailed map. The party had to (a) figure out there was a stasis on the tablet, and then (b) get it removed, after which they would have to (c) figure out that there was something hidden inside the tablet and get it out. (With the stasis off, that last could be accomplished as easily as dropping the tablet onto a hard surface from a few feet in the air.) Then they'd have a treasure map, which would lead to a big horde of goodies guarded by a fairly low level monster (for my campaign, anyway; basically, a giant worm, called, in a fit of brilliant dungeon master originality, a wurm).

As always, nothing went as planned, but eventually, the gang managed to access the map and with some backing from the Temple of Silver and Gold (in exchange for a 50% cut of any eventual loot) they headed out of Sottli Ban to a nearby city/military base called Safeharbor. Now, Sottli Ban is a pretty wide open town, at least, in the outer area where the foreigners all live it is. (The inner area, known as the Secret City, is something quite different, but only high caste Sottles get to go there, so it doesn't much matter to the vast majority of player characters.)

The Sottle Merchant's Council handles all interactions between the Sottle race and non-Sottles; they prefer to hire a crew of non Sottle mercenaries to handle the dirty work of actually patrolling the outer city streets and keeping the thievery, arson, rape, assault, and murder to a reasonable minimum (mostly because thievery, arson, rape, assault, and murder tend to interfere with the orderly collection of tax revenues and trade tariffs). To be honest, I'd have to check my notebooks to see who the current mercenary captain "King" of Sottli Ban is, but it didn't matter, as the player characters didn't interact with anyone on that social level.

The thing of it is, is, this basically boils down to one law in Sottli Ban -- don't fuck with a Sottle under any circumstances, and don't fuck with anyone who has more money than you if there's a chance you might get caught doing it.

After the freewheeling near-chaos of Sottli Ban, the players found the rather more disciplined atmosphere of Safeharbor (which is, essentially, a military outpost of the very lawful Kingdom of Ona-Tengu) to be a real buzz-kill. Having to be rigorously questioned by Tengish Knights before they could even enter the City Gates was a bummer for the PC gang after the 'anything goes as long as you've got bribe money handy' ambiance of their previous base of operations. Once inside the city, the party's search for a ship that would take them to the little island in Lake Safeharbor where the hidden pirate horde lay ran into a snag when T'Cheyne stopped a very well dressed Sottle and his equally well dressed male offspring to ask for directions.

Sottles are a race of prickly bastards under the best circumstances. Short, fat, hairless, and possessed of bright yellow, always oily looking skin, Sottles know full well that they are the laughingstock of the River, even if few are foolhardy enough to ridicule one of them to his or her face. T'Cheyne, however, had little experience in my RPG, and wasn't up on the niceties of social intercourse with the annoying, but generally very powerful, little butterballs. Plus, she completely ignored my wise DM cautionary advise about taking the negative attribute Smart Ass ("you'll die if you do"), all of which led to the following exchange on the Safeharbor waterfront:

T'CHEYNE: Say, can you tell me how to get to the local Temple of Silver and Gold?
SOTTLE: Certainly. My price for that assistance will be ten pieces of gold.
T'CHEYNE: WHAT? Ten GOLD?? Are you and your monkey going to carry us there on your backs?

The 'your monkey' reference accompanied by a hand gesture indicating the Sottle's son, of course.

Now... well, where do I start? Sottles think of themselves, with no irony or sense of humor at all, as 'the Great Race', because for all their inborn physical inferiority to every other human subrace, they tend to be extremely intelligent, intuitive, and strong willed, which they think is more important than simple brute force. In addition, Sottles are all born with the otherwise expensive Magical Talent attribute, meaning they all have at least some measure of natural ability as mages. This makes them bad people to offend, although, as noted, every other race on the River laughs at them relentlessly behind their fat greasy yellow asses.

In addition to this, Sottles feel they themselves are 'the brains' of the human race, and as such, are above all physical labor -- such tedium is for the lesser races, of course. So, you know, in addition to the sheer effrontery of daring to talk back to a member of the Great Race, T'Cheyne had also added in (a) a direct racial insult (the monkey reference) and (b) the implied insult that this Sottle would stoop to do manual labor, as a non-Sottle's beast of burden.

Naturally, this Sottle immediately tried to blast T'Cheyne (and everyone around her) into carbonized fragments with a pretty impressive fireball; fortunately, doing spells quickly in my magic system increases the difficulty significantly, and takes its toll in other ways, as well. The Sottle fumbled the spell, and then failed his succeeding pain roll, collapsing to his knees.... which gave the party time to hastily beat feet. (Nate was very nearly paralyzed with laughter, having never in his life seen a player character hand such a grievous insult to a Sottle, but he managed to sputter out instructions to the effect that he was running away with the rest of the party, so I let him retreat with the gang.)

Of course, the Sottle remembered where they had asked for directions to, and by the time the group finally made their way to the Safeharbor Temple of Silver and Gold, there was a pretty big party of heavily armed mercenary retainers waiting for them outside. Fortunately, the Temple wanted to protect its investment to date in the loot-recovery mission, so some priests snuck the PCs in through a secret tunnel.

Then the politics started. Sottles have their own weird religion, precluding worship of any of the 'pagan' gods (like the Goddess of Silver and Gold) which was a break for the PCs, since the Temple would not have been inclined to turn worshippers (the PCs are all baptized to the Goddess of Silver and Gold, natch) over to heathens. However, the Temple of Silver and Gold does a lot of business in Sottli Ban, and they like money a lot (go figure), and T'Cheyne's brazen insult had started attracting high level pressure from the Sottle Merchants Council. So, first the priesthood of Silver and Gold offered the party the opportunity to become martyrs to the Goddess, guaranteeing them very high, very cushy spots in heaven. Astonishingly, the party turned this opportunity down, after which, the Temple hired a boat to take them off to the treasure island, and smuggled them on board it.... while noting that all of these additional expenses would have to be taken off the top of any loot recovery, before it was divided into shares.

Thus and so, hi ho, hi ho, it's off the party goes to Wurm Island.

Where, after various misadventures and malfeasances, they managed to get into the underground loot chamber and fill their backpacks with goodies and get back out again without ever laying eyes on the big guardian monster itself. (Figures.) Eventually, they made their way back to the Temple of Silver and Gold in Sottli Ban (there were other complications intended to make this difficult, like a rival mercenary group working for the Temple of War waiting out in the bay on a ship of their own, but the PCs used up one of the major magical items they found in the horde to bypass all that crap -- again, it figures) where after expenses and the Temple taking its share, each party member ended up with around 50 silver pieces ($500,000) and one fairly powerful magical item each.

T'Cheyne also discovered she had a 25 silver piece bounty on her head, while the rest of the party had 15 silver apiece on theirs, simply for standing there and watching a Sottle be grievously insulted. As someone or other once noted, it's hard to live with a death mark, but, fortunately, the Temple of Time needed a group of idiots to go on a mission several thousand years into the past, to straighten out some kind of temporal disruption that was threatening to wipe out all of reality. The player characters were advised that if they would undertake this little errand, well, the Temple of Time would be happy to clear up their misunderstanding with the Sottle Merchants Council. Otherwise, they were on their own. Since nobody much liked the idea of being hunted to the ends of the earth by every bounty hunter in existence, they decided to do the time travel thing.

After a mad 72 hours of shopping, during which Gory pissed off, and then slaughtered, about half a dozen local Ulvane (a feral, somewhat wolflike human subrace), the party strolled up the street to the Temple of Time. On the way, several more Ulvane, along with their pet wolves, ambushed the party, and got killed for their trouble just like their friends. In the battle, Skank's dog, whose name I can't remember, but everyone called him 'Meat Snack', ran off, never to be seen again.

After all this, the PCs, accompanied by an NPC Priest of Temporos (who would have no clerical powers in the past, for reasons too complicated to go into here) all got sent hurtling back several millenia into the heyday of the Second Kingdom, sometimes known as the Age of Antiquities. Here they were promptly captured by the Council of Hierarchs (a religious predecessor to the modern day Merchants Council). Being powerful mages, the Council had detected some kind of disruption in the fabric of time and had assumed it must be the player characters (in fact, it wasn't; it was the time traveling Priests of the Samaqel that the party had come back in time to stop). Being unsure just what effect it would have on the pattern of space/time if they killed temporal travelers from the distant future millenia before they were born, the Council decided to put the entire party into stasis. After which, the time traveling Priests of the Samaqel went ahead with their plan, which involved using various stolen necromantic magic items to, basically, kill every living being in the entire campaign area. One particular Priest of the Samaqel escaped death by putting himself into stasis immediately after initiating the mass destruction effect.

Thousands of years in the future, the Samaqel (a huge, godlike, and very dislikeable dragon-creature) discovered the PC party, and one of its Priests, preserved in stasis, amongst the otherwise vast, lifeless wasteland that was the entire River area, and brought them all to an audience with It, to find out what the hell was up with them. Once out of stasis, the Priest claimed that he had orchestrated the entire holocaust, thousands of years in the past, because otherwise, the Samaqel would have been killed through the machinations of other player characters. Said event which is a large part of the relatively recent history of my campaign area, and this isn't the first scenario I've done where aggravating Priests of the Samaqel have tried to alter time in such a way as to prevent the big goddam lizard's death. They're always trying to pull some shit like that... although this was the first time I depicted one actually pulling it off.

The Samaqel found the priest's tale... well... dubious... but sure as shit, something had happened a few thousand years ago that had sucked the life force out of every other living creature in the entire Ancient Lands, so It opened up a wormhole through time in order to observe first hand this Priest in action.

At this point, for reasons as yet unknown to the party, they woke up from their own stasis, and promptly jumped down the wormhole leading thousands of years into the past to the very crucial actions/moments they had originally been sent back in time to prevent. Which they did, and in so doing, they erased the entire future timeline in which they had been put in stasis and the Priests had wiped out all life on the River resulting in them being taken before the Samaqel, thus restoring the original history in which the Samaqel had died. (Whew.)

With that wrapped up, the PCs had fully expected they would pop back into their present day (thousands of years in the future) -- the Temple of Time had indicated that according to their calculations, this should happen, or was likely to happen, if the original historical disruption was undone.

However, this did not occur. The PCs remained in the Second Kingdom, thousands of years before they were born. Even more interestingly, T'Cheyne discovered she seemed to have two sets of memories... one of a present day existence under the name 'Zara', and another of her future life as T'Cheyne. And her current incarnation seemed to be a pretty historically significant personage, as there was a well known 'Zara' who was a legendary Northark Queen from the Second Kingdom. (The Priest of Time NPC helpfully advised the party of this; he was chosen for the mission due to his comprehensive scholarly knowledge of the First and Second Kingdoms.)

After this, the PCs used up another powerful magic item escaping from some murderous vines in a ruined city, traveling by supernatural means to the Second Kingdom's Sottli Ban, which they found to be very different from the city they remembered in the far future. Wandering around aimlessly, gaping at the sights, they encountered a member of the High Guard, a sort of magical city patrol that flies around ancient Sottli Ban on mystical metal discs seeking out lawbreakers and other public nuisances.

Detecting an 'unauthorized' magic item on Gory, this High Guard rotter promptly confiscated Gory's glow-wood torch (a relic of the far future). At that point I made the players all roll dice to see if the Guard wanted to scan any of them for magic items (if he had, he'd have most likely set off every magic detection alarm in the city) and Super Drama Teen rolled very badly. She would almost certainly have had all her magic goodies confiscated (or, alternatively, the party would have had to fight a High Guard, which they did not want to do), so instead, she burned most of her luck points altering the result of the dice roll just enough to avoid a pat down. (The very real panic on Super Drama Teen's face when she rolled poorly and realized she might be on the verge of losing all her stuff was absolutely hilarious, although I realize it's very much a 'you had to be there' kind of thing. In fact, I suspect this entire entry could be described that way... but... anyway...)

The PCs had already realized that in this bizarrely and unpleasantly structured historical era, simply walking around on the streets in armor with weapons was enough to draw unwelcome attention from the Watch. Now, discovering that magic items were closely regulated and that any 'unauthorized' ones were subject to confiscation, they became pretty desperate to find some place they could lay low and make plans. So they ended up in a fairly crappy section of town, staying in a sordid little dive, trying to figure out what they were going to do next.

The PCs had also previously realized that in this historical era, most of their money wasn't worth very much (silver coins are muy valuable in my present day campaign area; not so much in the Second Kingdom, where silver is much more commonly circulated as coinage since most of it isn't being used for weaponry to fight Undead).

So I decided to help everybody out with another fairly simple mission -- if they'd rob a local warehouse at the behest of their new innkeeper, he'd let them keep anything they got other than a few specific items that he wanted. I figured this was fairly foolproof, as the warehouse didn't have a lot of security on it,and would probably lead to further adventures, since the loot in the warehouse belonged to the local equivalent of the Thieves Guild (known as the Eighth Guild in the Second Kingdom, although in the future/present day campaign area, the same outfit calls itself The Kinship).

For reasons that still perplex me, the group decided to trail around behind a couple of Eighth Guild enforcers who were out with a cart collecting protection money from all the local businesses. I think the PCs had some vague plan of trying to bribe or seduce one or both of these guys to get information on the warehouse's security. Whatever the plan was, it all went spectacularly pear shaped when the insanely overconfident Gory (DM Tip #2 when setting up characters in the World of Empire -- the Negative Attribute Overconfident will also kill you, don't take it) decided to walk up to these guys, and...

Well, here's how it went:

GORY: Hi. I'm from the 9th Guild. I'm collecting tribute. Pay up.
8TH GUILD GUYS: ::staring at the raving lunatic in amused disbelief:: WTF?
GORY: Okay, then. ::quickdrawing weapon, cutting a giant chunk of meat out of one goon's upper thigh::
CUT GOON: AAAAAAAAUUUUUHHHH HOLY FUCK HOLY FUCK AAAAAAUUUUUUUHHHHHHH ::falls to ground rolling around trying frantically to staunch the geyser of blood fountaining from his femoral artery::
OTHER GOON: WTF!?! ::unable to believe anyone is this fucking insane::
GORY: Right! ::slashing again, cutting a huge gash across the other goon's chest::
OTHER GOON: GYAAAAHHHHHH MotherFUCKER AAARRRGGGGHHHHH ::falling to ground bleeding profusely while screaming in pain::

All this, while the other three player characters, whose players had been under the impression only seconds prior to this that Gory's vaguely described plan of action had been something, you know, less completely fucking demented and/or retarded, stood there staring in appalled incredulity.

So then Gory drags both goons and their cart full of loot off into an alley. Apparently he was planning to torture the thugs for information, after which, he was going to run off with all the loot. The rest of the PCs were all standing around wringing their hands and going "Dude, what the hell are you DOing, you're going to get us all KILLED", at which point, an Eighth Guild archer on an adjoining rooftop shot Gory twice, once in the thigh, and once in the face.

This prompted the entire party to run like hell down the alley (well, Gorey was limping like hell, but, still, he was moving as fast as he could) where they emerged into a large open area behind several adjoining buildings... each of which has a currently undetermined number of Eighth Guild archers on it, ready to make a very dead example of my dumb ass player characters.

Which was where I said "To Be Continued" and ended the roleplaying for the evening.

Things aren't necessarily as bad as they look. A lot of how this comes out will depend on dice rolls. I've drawn a map and there are six rooftops, each of which has 1 to 3 Eighth Guild archers on it; the exact number on each will be determined by dice rolls. If the party manages to roll very low, well, there could be as few as six archers shooting at them. (Not likely, but, still, there's a chance.) After we determine the number of archers, then the PCs will start making Luck rolls to see which of them each archer is shooting at. (I don't assume that a group of NPCs possesses some ant-like collective consciousness; chances are, however many archers there may be, they're going to be picking their targets individually. Which could mean every player character gets a few arrows shot at them, or, one PC doesn't get any arrows shot at him/her at all, or one particularly luckless PC ends up attracting ALL the arrows. It's just how the bones roll.)

I've also set up a table to randomly generate the skill level of each archer, and what size bows each archer has, all of which will very much factor into the outcome. (If you have to get shot at, it's best if the guy shooting at you is using a short bow and isn't very good with it. On the other hand, you roll up a master archer using a recurve longbow, well, you'd better hope he's shooting at someone else.)

Personally, I think if the PCs just put their heads down and run like hell straight through it, nearly any of them have a measurable chance of surviving.

Well... maybe not Gory.