I’m gonna be an old man yelling at the clouds for a moment, so bear with me.
I miss pre-9/11 air travel. I’m not hugely fond of the TSA and their shoe carnival (although paying for TSA Pre✔️ has made that ordeal bearable), but mostly, it’s the ridiculous pricing changes to air fare that irk me.
The nickel-and-diming of air travel has gotten out of hand, especially with the rise of the so-called budget airlines, like Spirit or Frontier. I end up using these airlines often due to the destinations I frequent, and every time I end up wondering, was it worth it? Did I actually save any money by using them?
Yes, the fare shown when you search is certainly low (although it’s lower of you sign up for their exclusive membership for a yearly fee), but then it starts, the extras that used to be standard. You want to choose your seat? Extra fee. You want extra leg room (ha!)? Extra fee. Checking a bag? Extra fee (and then another extra fee if it goes above whatever arbitrary weight limit they’ve imposed). Bringing a carry-on? Extra fee (more expensive than the checked bag fee!). Wanna talk to an agent at the airport or board first? More extra fees! But hey, they have some nice bundles of services that can save you maybe 10%, so they’re not heartless.
There’s obviously ways to game their system to get a truly reduced fare compared to, say, American Airlines, but as the guy in the middle seat next to me has found out, you do so at your own risk.
Me? I paid the extra fee to make sure I didn’t end up in a randomly assigned middle seat. So much for budget.
I still have D&D on my mind after the last twodays, so I’m gonna keep rolling with it.
One of the things that has me excited about the new D&D movie is that it’s set in the Forgotten Realms. I never understood why, with so many proprietary settings, they let the first version of a D&D movie be set in a made-up world. Yes, people get to create their own campaign settings at their tables, but if I’m gonna watch a movie (and spend millions making it), I want to see the worlds that have made the game famous. I’m glad they did the right thing this time, and tickled pink that they chose the Forgotten Realms.
From the moment I first read through the Cyclopedia of the Realms, the Dalelands became my favorite area, with Highmoon, the capital of Deepingdale, becoming my fantasy hometown (thus why my handle has been Highmoon since I first got online in 1996). Until I visited Europe in 2001, it was hard for me to properly visualize what a medieval-ish town like Highmoon would look like beyond whatever artwork appeared in the D&D books. Once I visited York in England, and Rothenburg in Germany, however, I was able to develop my own mental picture of the town, borrowing visual elements from a variety of places, perfectly in keeping with the mish-mash of cultural and geographical sources that inspires D&D.
As much as I like to create worlds in my mind and stories, I’ve never developed my own fantasy setting or my version of a fantasy village/town like most gamers do. When I think of D&D-type fantasy gaming, I simply think of the Forgotten Realms, and of my little big town of Highmoon, nestled along the road between two larger settlements, surrounded by lush forests inhabited by hardy country folk living in harmony with the land and with the sylvan peoples in the woods.
I love to imagine being a traveling adventurer going down the East Way, waving at the regular traffic of farmers and merchants on their way to the other Daleland markets, to Sembia, or Cormyr. The road is well-traveled and packed flat by generations of travelers, carts, and countless draft animals, making the journey not entirely uncomfortable, although, cresting a hill, the sight of Highmoon in the distance fills me with joy.
Since I talked about Dungeons & Dragons yesterday, let me ride that wave for today’s post as well.
I started playing RPGs with the D&D red box, and that genesis set the foundation upon which the rest of my gaming life has been built. That box informs what I think of when I speak of “old-school” role-playing, what I think a “dungeon crawl” is like, and what I feel a fantasy RPG is and isn’t, even to this day.
Much has been said about the OSR movement, whether you read the R as Renaissance, Revival, or Revolution. I’m not going to rehash any of that here, but instead, I refer to this quote from business author, Seth Godin:
When we switch media, or time zones, or cultures, or technology, it’s up to us to make the idea what it can become, not simply an unpalatable simulacrum of what it was over there.
I bring up these points because I have been working for a while on Project Legacy, a project that has me both excited and full of dread. Unlike the OSR movement, I am not aiming for any kind of return to the “golden age,” nor is it my intent to build “D&D, but better”—you just can’t out-D&D D&D.
Instead, I want to look at my foundations, borne out of that iconic red box, and see what did those rules teach me, what implications they’ve had in my gaming/designing life, and how can I express those foundations with the language I know today.
I don’t aim to build a hack of, a retro-clone of, or even an homage to D&D. I don’t aim to be a part of the OSR in any of its permutations. I do not aim to build an “unpalatable simulacrum of what […] was.” I aim to build something that speaks to what came before in a language that is of the present, something that acknowledges the past, but is a product of the now, and sets a road for the future. I aim to create something that is built from, and in turn, establishes a Legacy.
The new Dungeons & Dragons movie is out now for home streaming, and it’s been on my mind since I’m looking forward to watching it, which explains why last night I dreamt I was running a D&D game at what looked like to be a convention.
The group I was running the game for in my dream were experienced players, almost jaded and slightly uninterested, and they were doing quick work of every obstacle and combat I threw at them. That’s when I paused and asked a few questions, looked at their character sheets (all things best done before starting the game), and realized I was running a 4th-level adventure for a group of 13th- to 15th-level characters. Ok, got it, time to switch gears. At that point I scrapped the printed adventure and started throwing new challenges at them, not necessarily combat-related (although there were a few), but situations that tested what each of the characters was supposed to be good at, giving each of them a chance to shine. Time was compressed in that way dream-time works, but I know when we finished the game, the players were all happy and excited about how much fun they’d had.
Sharing my nerdy dream aside, let’s use that to talk about balance in role-playing games.
There is no balance in role-playing games.
It’s made up, a construct.
“Balance” also comes from the gamemaster providing each character with something to do. Tailor encounters to specific characters’ abilities. Make it about spotlight time.
Some systems try like heck to achieve it, but ultimately it’s an ethereal concept. I’m not talking about mathematics here, though. Balance truly exists in a role-playing game when all the interacting elements are operating in harmony with each other, with each having a chance to show its worth. To have balance in a game, all the players (including the GM) have to be equally challenged to their particular skills and needs so they can each shine by providing a productive contribution to the whole.
A combat encounter may be “balanced” in terms of the Challenge Rating math, but if it’s only the fighter, rogue, and cleric bashing the monster while the wizard sits twiddling their thumbs because they only have burning hands left and the monster is immune to fire, then that encounter is not truly balanced. There are ways to make it balanced so that each party member can productively contribute, but that takes work that goes beyond simple math.
Find the thing each player does that makes them cool, and make sure they have a chance to do it. Give each player a chance to have the spotlight on them. That’s how you achieve balance. It’s not necessarily about the numbers, it’s about the fun.
My goal is to always have a post ready to go at seven in the morning of each day. That way the post has populated to social media via autoshares and is there for when people are scrolling at the start of their day. I’ve never done any kind of deep dive into my metrics to see at what time my posts are read on average, but anecdotally speaking, early morning is a good rule of thumb.
Things don’t always go according to plan, however. This post, for example, is being written and published around nine thirty in the morning while I take a coffee break at work. And this past weekend I had two posts that I ended up publishing late in the evening. I used to beat myself up about it, but I’m working on being nicer to myself, and that includes acknowledging that sometimes, the posts are gonna go up later than my goal time, and that living life is more important than publishing a daily blog post.
Now, so far I’ve always found the time to write a post, even if late in the day, but it’s not a practice I want to make a habit. I realize that scheduling posts isn’t always a possibility, but I’m okay with ‘morning’ being a realistic goal if I can’t hit the seven AM bullseye. It helps to keep me regular in my writing, and to keep readers knowing what to expect and reading with regularity.
I HATE buying clothes. I’ve had short periods during my life when I’ve been motivated, but in general, it’s not an activity I enjoy or look forward to.
It’s me, I know this. It’s my own insecurity about my size and weight. It’s having to go to a special store to get clothes that fit me and pay twice or three times the price. It’s not wanting to face the number on the sizing chart.
But I need to get a few new pieces for the summer, which means I gotta face my insecurity and go to the big & tall store.
I’m not the most organized person. I’m not necessarily a messy person, but organization has always eluded me. The problem is, I’m getting older, and my memory, not great for small details to begin with, needs all the help it can get.
I’ve been trying a few techniques at work for about a month, and it has helped. Something as simple as writing down my to-do items, especially as they come up during meetings, has been an incredible help. I used to rely on my memory to keep all these tasks straight, and it was just not working anymore. Also, sending myself emails with reminders, and (politely but firmly) requesting people email me with their questions or requests so I can see them when I’m at my desk, has been huge.
Now I’m working on organizing myself at home. I’ve started following some cleaning and organization accounts on Instagram and YouTube, and I’ve picked up a few great ideas on how to better make use of space in the kitchen, how to clean more efficiently, and how to stay motivated when it seems the mess will never end. This weekend, I invested some money on items that will help me on this journey, and I look forward to the results.
Marina was weak, tired, and holding on to consciousness by sheer force of will. And anger, definitely anger at this maldito engreído who thought he could do with their lives as he pleased. All she’d wanted was to make a delivery, get her payment, and be on her way to a nice vacation. Instead, this young rabbi had crashed into her life, and now she was either gonna die or let someone else die instead. She didn’t blame Yehoshua, though. He had just wanted to escape, to live. It was fate that had brought them together.
No, not fate. She knew better, even if it’d been years since she thought in those terms.
Marina closed the channel to Montalvo, and turned her chair to face Yehoshua. “You know you didn’t just run into me. You know it was hasgacha pratit.”
Yehoshua’s eyes widened in surprise. It was one thing to know that Hashem was used when referring to the Almighty, but to know about divine providence attested to more than a passing knowledge of Torah. Who was this woman? And she had a point; meeting Captain Marina Estrella when he did was absolutely the work of the Almighty, and if that was the case, he had to believe that there was a reason for it. Something in his gut told him that whatever was going on here, right now, was only a preamble to the real reason their paths had crossed. “I believe it was hasgacha pratit, yes.”
“In that case,” Marina said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “you’re not going anywhere. We fight.”
Both Brick and Yehoshua strapped themselves to their console chairs. Marina checked her console screen, saw that everything was flashing red, and took a deep breath. The engines were about to burn out, and the ship’s structural integrity was downright critical. Marina rerouted power from shields to structural integrity, buying them a little more time. “Brick, any ideas, suggestions, opinions?”
“My apologies, Captain. As you sometimes say, I got nothing.” Brick’s tentacles flew over his console and nearby panels like a blur, data scrolling around the glass dome of his helmet at speeds that only Brick’s brain could comprehend. “I’ve been studying the composition of the beam that has us locked down. It isn’t magnetic per se—the Star’s outer hull has enough ceramite and plasteel in the alloy to make a true magbeam useless. It is, however, indeed holding on to our hull, as you guessed. Theoretically, if we could get rid of the ship’s outer hull, we’d be able to escape. We’d probably die as the ship’s torn apart into pieces the moment it hits hyperspace, but we’d be able to escape.”
“It’s never the easy solution, is it?” Marina needed to do something quickly. She could feel herself slipping away and it was getting harder to stay focused. She didn’t need to look at her leg to know there was a substantial pool of blood at the foot of her console. They had one, and only one, chance to make it out of this alive, though not necessarily in one piece. “Say a prayer, rabbi, ’cause we’re gonna need it!”
Marina abruptly cut the Star’s engines, the sudden silence in the cockpit almost deafening. She heard Yehoshua say out loud, “Ribbono shel olam,” before continuing his prayer under his breath. She wasn’t expecting him to take her literally, but in all honesty, they could use all the help they could get.
Marina keyed into the console a number of orders to fire off sequentially when executed, hoping the gamble would pay off. Saving the bare minimum power for life support, she rerouted all power to the systems they would need to make it out alive. After looking around, and making sure everyone was strapped to their chairs, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and maybe, just maybe, muttered a prayer of her own.
The Star shook and lurched backward as the cruiser began to pull it back to New Madrid. Marina counted to ten, opened her eyes, and hit the execute button on her console. “Let’s do this.”
The Star’s reverse thrusters came to life at full power, pushing the ship in the direction it was being pulled at increasing speed. Either the Star would slam into the cruiser towing them, or they’d release the locking beam as they tried to evade the ramming ship. Either way, Marina gambled, they’d get a chance to blast off if she timed it right.
“Three hundred meters and closing, Captain,” Brick announced, having figured out Marina’s plan and monitoring the scanning system. “Two fifty. Two hundred. They’re not letting go, Captain.”
“Brace for impact, people,” Marina said, bracing with what little strength she had left, her hand on the console ready to hit execute on her next set of orders the moment they hit.
“One Fifty. One hundred. Still locked on to us. “Fifty.”
The Star shook suddenly as whatever was holding her in space suddenly let go. The cruiser had cut off the locking beam, but they were still a very real danger, especially this close. Marina’s finger pressed the execute button again just as she felt the world close in around her.
The Star’s engines roared to life like a twin-headed fire-breathing dragon, pushing the ship’s inertial dampeners to the brink as it accelerated forward at a dangerous speed.
“Ten seconds to hyperspace,” Brick said, his tentacles flying all over his console at dizzying speed. “Hang in there, Captain!”
Marina had no strength left. She felt herself slide down the console chair onto the pool of blood on the floor.
It’d been a good ride. A short one, but good.
She felt a hand slip under her neck, her head being cradled. Strong hands. Yehoshua.
The Star came to an immediate halt, throwing Marina and Yehoshua against the forward viewscreen. Laying against the panel, her shoulder dislocated from the impact, Marina realized that the cruiser had locked onto them again. It was all over. “Coño,” she muttered weakly, her eyes closing.
Marina opened her eyes as much as she could and looked at Yehoshua, slumped next to her. A gash across his forehead was dripping a river of blood over his eye, but his mouth was moving. What had he said?
“Ufaratzta yamma v’kedamah v’tzafonah v’negbah.”
Her Hebrew was rusty, but she felt she recognized the words. A verse? A song? It’d been so long ago.
“Ufaratzta yamma v’kedamah v’tzafonah v’negbah!”
Somewhere in the distance she heard the alarm blaring. The engines were about to blow, structural integrity was critical. A few more seconds and it would all be over. She closed her eyes, and prepared to let go.
Yehoshua’s scream made her eyes fly wide open. No, not the scream itself, but his voice. It wasn’t his voice. Or it was, but not just his voice. It echoed within itself, like there was a stronger voice that was also him, but not him. It made no sense, but it made perfect sense. In that word he’d spoken there was power, and she’d felt it flow through her, through the ship, through space itself. In that instant, she remembered the meaning of the words: you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. Ufaratza; we’ll break forth.
Had Marina been able to see the Star from Montalvo’s ship, she would’ve seen how a wave of light had burst from within the hitherto doomed starship, then how most of the outer hull panels of the Star peeled off as one, freeing the trapped ship from the locking beam, its already hot engines immediately taking it into hyperspace before anyone could truly understand what had happened. Inside the Star, however, all Marina knew was that there was a flash of light, then the ship hit hyperspace. Then she passed out.
Brick unstrapped himself from his console and checked on the two humans. He used one of the small hand(tentacle)held monitoring units to verify they were both still alive. The Captain was in bad shape, and would need urgent medical attention, but the young male, Yehoshua, would be well, if sore and bruised. Brick heard him mutter something before succumbing to exhaustion, his comm picking it up and displaying it on his helmet:
>> ברוך השם >> [Baruch Hashem] >> Earth language, Hebrew >> Translation: Blessed TheName >> Insufficient information at this time, downloading language data. <<
Blessed God, Brick thought to himself, remembering what Marina had said earlier. He filed the information for later reference, and went back to the main console to check on the ship. The Star was in terrible shape, but miraculously still flying. There were just enough of the outer hull panels left to keep it in one piece through hyperspace, though they would need major repairs when they got to a spaceport. Good thing they had actually gotten paid for that last shipment to New Madrid.
Brick laid in a course to the nearest off-the-beaten-spacelane shipyard with a medical facility where they wouldn’t ask too many questions, and set about stabilizing the two humans with what few medical supplies they had left, while putting together a list of parts they would need to repair the Star, and maybe make some remodeling as well. It was about time they had a proper galley in this ship.
The Star’s cockpit was fairly large for a freighter its size, having been expanded into a miniature version of a capital ship’s bridge. Marina’s captain console was right in the middle, a spot from which she could watch out the viewing panels in front, and monitor the piloting and navigation stations to her fore and starboard respectively. Her own console had been spliced together from a number of systems both relocated from their original location in the ship’s standard model, or salvaged from other ships, allowing Marina to operate the Star or any of its support systems all by herself as needed.
Marina hobbled into the cockpit and took her place at her station, rerouting all control over the Star to herself. The mainframe was already busy making calculations for hyperspeed, but it still needed some time. The main display showed the enemy cruiser and corvette right on their tail and gaining fast, the cruiser’s lock holding the Star practically right in place. Marina rerouted all available power to the ship’s shields and she felt the Star lurch forward; not much, but enough to give her hope.
“They’re not using a true tractor beam,” she said, almost thinking out loud, but knowing that Brick was nearby at the navigation station. “It’s almost as if it’s locked onto our outer hull. Magnetic, maybe?”
“The corvette is powering weapons as well,” Brick reported. “I’m helping the mainframe with computations, but we still need a minute.”
Yehoshua sat at one of the unmanned stations to Marina’s right, a glass panel with lots of numbers flying by showing a blue blinking dot in the center and two red dots approaching it. He had no idea what it all meant, but instinctively he knew that the red dots were not good news.
“Let’s buy ourselves some time, Brick. Open a channel,” Marina ordered. “Let’s see who we’re dealing with.”
Brick pressed a few buttons at his station, and a couple seconds later the forward viewscreens displayed a snarling face that both Marina and Yehoshua knew well by now: the nasty-looking officer from the dock.
“Hello, Captain Estrella. You have something that belongs to me and I want it back,” he said in a calm but menacing tone.
“I’m sorry,” Marina said shaking her head, “but I had these vambraces custom-made in Aldebaran Prime from the finest Pyridian leather and you can’t have them. I might be persuaded to give you the name of my nanotech tailor so you can get a pair of your own, if you ask nicely enough.”
“You definitely watch too many adventure holovids, with your banter meant to show off your wit and hopefully get a rise out of me, while buying you time until your ship’s computer finishes calculations for a jump to hyperspace,” the officer said, rolling his eyes, almost disappointed. “I won’t fault you for trying. It’s not a bad tactic if—”
“Joder!” Marina shut the channel off, the viewscreen reverting to a view of the New Madrid system. “This guy loves to hear his own voice!”
“Calculations complete, Captain,” Brick said.
“Punch the engines, Brick. Full power.”
The Star gave a sudden lurch as the twin engines kicked into full power, although it only moved a few meters before coming to a halt again, the ship now shaking under the strain of the engines.
“We’re not moving,” Yehoshua commented from his seat at the back of the cockpit.
“I noticed!” Marina retorted in frustration as she pressed different combinations of buttons and switches, trying anything and everything to shake free of the beam holding them in place. It was all useless, though. The Star wasn’t going anywhere, even with its engines at full power threatening to tear the ship apart.
The officer’s face came on the viewscreen one more time. “I take it you’ve realized your ship’s not going anywhere. Maybe you’re ready to talk now?”
“¿Que puñeta es lo que quieres?” Marina spat.
“I want the young rabbi, Captain Estrella. That much should be obvious to you by now,” the officer said as his eyes turned towards Yehoshua where he sat on the bridge. “I don’t care about your second-class ship, your borderline illegal shipping business, or about you for that matter. Hand over the young rabbi, and you can go on your merry way to whatever job you have lined up next.”
“That’s so generous of you, Mr…”
“You can call me Montalvo,” the officer said with a sneer, “As in, ‘Yes, Montalvo, I will hand over the rabbi to you.’”
“¡Mira que’ste hombre es engreído!” Marina muttered.
“I’m not un engreído , Capitan Estrella,” Montalvo said. “I’m a man who’s good at what he does, and knows when he has the winning hand. And right now, I have the winning hand. Your ship is all but disabled, and your only chance of making it out of this alive is for you to do as I’ve asked. So one last time, Captain, hand over the young rabbi.”
Marina sighed. She didn’t feel like capitulating to this conceited son of a perra, but he had a point: he had the winning hand. The structural integrity meter was flashing red, and she could feel the ship straining to its limits. The Star was a tough ship, but it wouldn’t be able to hold it together for much longer. Que mierda, she thought.
“Captain,” Yehoshua said.
Marina turned on her console to face the young man who was the cause of her current predicament. “Yes?”
“Captain, you’re bleeding. A lot.” Yehoshua pointed at the hole in Marina’s leg. Whatever she had done to patch it earlier had stopped working, and the wound was oozing blood at a disconcerting rate.
Marina looked at her leg, studied it for a few seconds, realized that she would bleed out way before they’d be able to get to any medical facility, and sighed once more. She looked at Montalvo’s smug face on the viewscreen, then looked at Yehoshua again. “So you’re really a rabbi?”
Yehoshua smiled timidly and nodded. Marina studied the young face hiding behind the short, scraggly beard. She wondered how old he was, and what his life had been like before ending up in a prison cell, and then in a starship. What could they want this young man for? What could this young rabbi from a podunk system, who up until today had no idea that his world was just one of many, and that space travel was possible, have that this Montalvo was willing to kill them for?
“Time’s up, Captain,” Montalvo said, turning to speak to someone off-screen. “Fire—”
“WAIT!” Yehoshua screamed at the screen. “Bevakasha… I’ll go. ”
Montalvo motioned to someone off-screen again before fixing the crew of the Star with the smuggest look any of them had ever seen on a living being. “Good choice, young rabbi.”
“We need some medical help for the Captain,” Yehoshua said, walking over to stand next to Marina, his hand pointing at her bleeding leg. “Por favor, tened misericordia con ella.”
Montalvo pursed his lips and rolled his eyes in annoyance, but acquiesced. “Fine, I’m not a heartless man.”
Marina tried to argue, but Yehoshua shook his head. “Captain, I thank you for all you’ve done, but I can’t let you die because of me. Hashem wouldn’t want that to happen, either.”
“Who?” Brick interjected.
“God, Brick. Hashem is a name for God,” Marina answered, drawing a raised eyebrow from Yehoshua. “You’re not the only one with secrets, rabbi.”
“This is all very touching,” Montalvo interrupted, “but let’s be done. Shut off your engines and we’ll tow you back planet-side. After the rabbi is in my possession, you’ll be allowed to leave. Are we clear, Capitan Estrella?”