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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why I Hate Traveller 5 In One Easy Concept

It's the return of Traveller Tuesday!

Most of you know that I and several confederates savaged the Traveller5 rules last year. Perhaps some of you (I'm looking at you, Faoladh) felt I was being unfair in my assessment of it.  At this point, I believe I wasn't harsh enough, and will explain how I came to this conclusion.

T5 introduces the concept of Extensions for planetary systems. Those Extensions are listed as Importance, Economic, and Cultural.  A picture is included for the Kinorb system from The Traveller Map as an example of how they are used. (and that's why I am ranting about T5 again; I use the Traveller Map quite a lot in my game, and when I saw these odd numbers crop up I needed to know what they meant.)

I will explain these extensions, using the definitions within the game itself, and you can actually see the point where this data stops being useful and is simply an exercise in mathematical masturbation.

This is an example of a useful bit of data. It explains what the extension is and what the numbers mean. You have to read eight pages ahead to find out how to calculate it, but it's an easy case of  "+1 if this, -1 if that"; for example, a Starport of class A or B merits a +1, and Starports of D or worse earn a -1. Add up the values, and if it's 4 or more, it's an important world. That's a good thing to know both data-wise and as background information for role-playing, aka "fluff". I can use this extension, and therefore I like it.

Oh-kay then. I'm not really sure why I'd need to calculate this (and yes, there are calculations involved, this is T5 after all); between Importance and various trade codes (rich, industrial, hi-tech, etc) I can probably figure out if this planet is an economic powerhouse or not, which is really all I'd need for a typical game of Traveller. Maybe I'd need this if the PCs were playing planetary rulers and the planet was theirs to administer (in which case it's a Traveller-themed version of Birthright, but hey, I wrote a game where you can play pre-pubescent talking ponies, so who am I to judge?), but in general I don't need to know (after calculating) the numbers for Resources, Labor, Infrastructure and Efficiency, and then multiply those to get its Resource Units -- in other words, its budget.

And that's all it says on p 427, the same page as the other entries I'm quoting. That's literally all it says about culture. Full stop.

Eight pages later, you get a bit more detail:

There's quite literally nothing further said about it. Not in the main book and not in the errata. Can you see what's missing?

Let's look at the Cx entry for Kinorb again:

What in God's name does any of this MEAN? There's no explanation anywhere in the book. Is a 6 in Symbols a good thing or a bad thing?  Is this culture very homogeneous, or is it very non-homogeneous? And while I see the lowest bound is a 1, what's the high end?

This tells me NOTHING. What's worse is that this is information I could really use: Traveller, at least the way I play it, is about voyaging to exotic locations and getting into trouble with the local inhabitants. Knowing if this is a planet full of superstitious racists is critical, gameable data.

I distinctly get the feeling I am being trolled.

Well done, Marc Miller. I mean it; golf applause all round. You can micromanage the GDP of a planet, but you can't be bothered to tell me anything useful about the people who live there. You've actually managed to transcend George Lucas and have become the RPG publishing equivalent of a cocktease.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Things I Won't Countenance

Okay, ranty time.

People who follow me on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, read the comments on posts here) probably know that I'll tolerate a lot of bad behavior. I know full well that I take thing personally -- perhaps more personally than they are intended -- and so my guidelines pretty much boil down to "You can disagree with me all you want, you can dislike me all you want, you can even refuse to accept my arguments, but the moment you start insulting me, we're finished."

I'm even going to go a step further and clarify this:  If, while disagreeing with me, you call me blind or stupid or irrational, I will let that slide because I have probably been guilty of expressing a similar sentiment.

So that said, there are some attitudes prevalent on the internet that I regard as such a slap in the face that they're pretty much conversation-killers and friendship-enders.

1)  All men are rapists/ All women are victims

I'm not even going to get into the whole "rape culture" scrum, although you can probably guess what my feelings are about it. No, my biggest problem with this line of thinking is that not only does it unjustly criminalize an entire gender -- "All men have penises, and penises are used to rape," goes the 'logic', "so therefore all men are rapists" -- but it also removes agency (in the philosophical sense) from the female gender.

Claiming that "The way to end rape is to teach boys not to rape" is akin to saying "Women are utterly unable to defend themselves against rape, and therefore must rely on the goodwill of men not to rape them."

Sorry, no. I don't buy that for a second. I'm enough of a feminist to believe that women are perfectly capable of defending themselves against rape, and while of course it is a good and worthwhile thing to teach our male children good manners (especially regarding "drunk doesn't mean consenting" as they approach college), it's also equally incumbent upon us to teach our female children how to avoid situations where they are vulnerable.
I particularly hate it when proponents of this theory trot out the hoary old "A woman should be able to dance naked at a party full of men and not be afraid of rape."  Well, yes, and I should be able to walk through the roughest parts of town with money sticking out of my pockets and not be afraid of someone robbing me, but -- NEWS FLASH! -- the world doesn't work like that.  If it did, we could simply tell our children "Killing people is bad, mmkay?" and end our nation's murder problem within a generation.

Humans are predators. We aren't going to change millions of years of evolution with a few thousand years of civilization.

2)  All [Race/Nationality/Religion] are [this horrible thing]

I'm perfectly okay with people loathing me because they find some aspect of my personality or lifestyle loathesome. I won't necessarily like it, mind you -- my attitude is likely to be "Screw those judgemental assholes" -- but I'll respect their right to that opinion and take comfort in the fact that their dislike of me is based on something I did, and therefore to some extent I deserve their distaste.

However, I go absolutely bugnuts with anger whenever someone hates me because of something over which I have no control. Saying "Of course you'd think that, you're white" is just as goddamn racist as "Of course you'd think that, you're black."

Which isn't to say that discussions about privilege, as tiresome as they can be, don't have a place within our society. But, more often than not, those discussions (usually on Tumblr, the Mos Eisley of the Internet) turn into "If you don't agree with me, I will insult and harass you until you go away."

For more on this topic I direct you to some people who have written far more and far better on the subject: co-blogger Salem MacGourleythis fellow right here, and this lady here.

3) All Gun Owners are Law Abiding (Until They're Not)

And today, this happened, which is what triggered this rant. Someone who I thought was my friend quite literally told me "And so many gun owners are law abiding, responsible and trained, until they're not." I took great and immediate exception to this. At the risk of being pedantic, I shall explain why:
  • His statement essentially says "Many, if not all gun owners, are untrained and irresponsible and criminals waiting to happen."  
  • I am a gun owner, and he knows it.
  • Therefore, he is accusing me of being at least potentially untrained (which is provably false, as my range reports show),  irresponsible (I have been carrying for over 2 years now and not only have I not shot anyone or had a negligent discharge, I haven't even felt the need to draw my pistol) and law-breaking (I haven't gotten so much as a speeding ticket since I started carrying). 
  • This loops around to my first point. "All gun owners are law abiding... until they're not" is factually the same as "All men aren't rapists... until they rape" or "All women aren't whores... until they prostitute themselves."
  • I'm pretty sure this is a variation on the One True Scotsman logical fallacy, i.e., "Only people without guns can be considered law-abiding, and any law-abiding gun owner clearly is a criminal just waiting to happen, so therefore they aren't law-abiding." 
It's lazy thinking and it's infuriating and it's WRONG. The arguer is essentially asking me to simultaneously prove a negative ("Prove you aren't a criminal")  and prove something in the future ("Prove, today, that you aren't going to do something wrong in the future")  before I'm allowed to exercise my Constitutionally-enumerated right. 

It's like saying "All bloggers don't commit libel and/or plagiarism... until they do. Prove you aren't a plagiarist or libeller, and prove you aren't going to do so in the future, before you can own a blog."

I swear, the next time someone uses this line in a debate I'm going to reply with "And you aren't a pedophile... until you are."  Yes, it's a cheap shot, but if I'm in a fight and someone goes for my eyes, I'm definitely kneeing them in the crotch.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Someone pinch me, I must be dreaming:
In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny, there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny. Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and enjoins Defendants from enforcing the home limitations of D.C. Code § 7-2502.02(a)(4) and enforcing D.C. Code § 22-4504(a) unless and until such time as the District of Columbia adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.4 Furthermore, this injunction prohibits the District from completely banning the carrying of handguns in public for self-defense by otherwise qualified non-residents based solely on the fact that they are not residents of the District.

Alan Gura did it again.  I never thought I'd see the day that handgun carry became legal in D.C.

I do especially like the addendum of "Oh, by the way, you HAVE to recognize the rights of non-residents to carry as well." That's a lovely bit of boot-in, that is, and having lived in the DC metro area, it's a big deal. Hardly anyone who works in DC actually lives there; they live in MD or VA instead. Reducing it to "residents only" would have denied rights to -- oh, let's say 75% of the people who are in the District during the working day.

You can read the opinion in PDF form here.

Hat Tip to Joe Huffman for the link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

SHTFriday: Making a Paracord Rifle Sling

Between the weather, barfing dogs and squabbling parents, the universe has made it clear that I am not to get any writing done today.

Go enjoy a guest post by Firehand about how to make a paracord sling.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."

     Hellblazer is a series that has always been held dear to my heart. I've got the first 5 or 6 trade collections of the comic, and a few later volumes. One day, I'll get around to picking up all the collections, but it has been a rather long-running series. It'll take a while. In the meantime, there's been the occasional adaptation that's cropped up. There was a film about a dark-haired and dark-coated American man named John Constantine that had some rather good points to it (save the presence of Shia LeBouf, whom I maintain there has not yet been built a bus large enough to properly run over), but was certainly no Hellblazer film. I even made a valiant effort to play through the terrible licensed game that was made said film. Rumour has it Castiel from Supernatural was originally supposed to be John Constantine, but licensing fell through, and we got Misha's charming rogue Angel instead.

     Now in the interests of plausible deniability, I'd like to say that while I am aware of the leaked pilot floating around the internet, I certainly haven't seen it, as that would imply some less-than-legal and certainly immoral ways and means, and I would never ever ever partake in such activities. Just so we're clear. Officially, anything I discuss here has been gleaned from various publicly available video clips and discussions. Honest. If you get my drift.

Walked right off the pages, he has.
     Let's get the giant demonic elephant in the room out of the way. Unlike Keanu, Matt Ryan nails the character of John Constantine. The new John is an asshole. He's selfish, lazy, reluctant to get involved, dripping with gallows humor, and prone to answering questions with truths so audaciously unlikely that people assume he's lying. But he's charming, charismatic, trouble that you just can't say no to, and knows that he's probably the only person equipped to deal with the things that he sees. It's a perfect reflection of the way John's been written in the books for decades now. One of the most important details is covered in the very beginning of the pilot episode, that being Newcastle. Years and years ago, John and some of his more irresponsible and experimental occultist friends accidentally damned a young girl's soul to hell, and he's dealt with crippling guilt since. Everything he's done since Newcastle has been motivated by a conflict between his instinct to avoid responsibility and his desire to redeem himself.

      The other characters are a mixed bag. Chas returns, Constantines hapless but faithful friend. He's American now, like he was in the film, but is portrayed by a gruff, bearded Charles Halford instead of the aforementioned (and afore-cursed) Shia. Visually and performance-wise, he hits the mark so well you don't even miss the original nationality. His omnipresent taxi cab is back, but this time it's a classic 50s Chevy instead of the London Black. Again, much more suitable than a 90s Caprice. The cast is rounded out by the angel Manny, played with a menacing charm by Harold Perrineau, and Lucy Griffiths as Liv. Manny's a fantastic character, but I was sadly disappointed by Liv. I have fond memories of Lucy Griffiths in the BBC's cheesy Robin Hood series, but she just falls flat here. Fortunately, I hear there's recasting afoot, and someone will be taking her place, but playing existing character Zed instead, opening up the possibility of an adaptation of the Damnation Army arc from the books.

     The show has a very interesting feel, a mix between more modern exorcism/possession films and higher-quality horror/adventure shows. The special effects are low-key but believable, with what appear to be a lot of practical effects. Lots of shouting in cod-Latin, as you'd expect from pulp horror. The setting was in interesting choice, being not New York or Los Angeles as you'd expect, but Atlanta of all places. Always knew there was something weird about Atlanta. Due to this (and I mean this in nicest possible way) I half expected to see a Winchester brother wander past in the background. The pacing was a bit odd, and the story didn't flow terribly well, but that's something you'd expect from a pilot episode, and doesn't worry me. Sherlock, for example, has a frankly amateurish pilot episode compared to its premiere.

     Overall, I have high hopes for this adaptation, based on the very limited materials I've seen of it so far, having totally not seen the actual leaked pilot episode. It's certainly better than previous adaptations of Hellblazer that I've seen, and I'm encouraged that Matt Ryan really feels like he understands the character. I honestly thing even my pick, Marc Warren, wouldn't have been better for the role. I've got a feeling this could, if properly handled, be at least as good as DC's other successful television property, Arrow.

     And yes, that was Dr Fate's helmet. I have to go squee now.

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