How I Game Now

It finally happened.

For the longest time my friend and I wanted to run a D&D game of some iteration here in town. Finding players and finding time were all an issue.Well, with summer upon us we have done both. Although everyone we thought to ask said no, we still managed to find seven or eight players, including one of my grad school teachers. She’d never played before and upon starting had this to say:

“Holy shit! You’re making all this up. Cool!”

And she’s come back – and brought fresh baked fudge brownies with her too! So it’s all good.

For the grognards among you, we’re using Beyond the Wall as our skeleton system with skills being more story-gamish than crunchy. While everyone likes the BtW character gen mini-game it doesn’t quite suit the campaign, which is Ghostbusters of Lankhmar. Actually, maybe it does suit the campaign: young heroes go to the big city, where misfortune happens to them and no one cares that they were the village hero.

Anyway, since we’re all old and playing on work nights, my goal’s to have an adventure that we can get through and finish in three hours. This means rethinking some things.

1. No megadungeons. At most a dungeon will have 12 rooms or encounters.

2. No exploration phase. Kill me if I ever have to say or listen to, “you walk into an empty 10×10 room” again. Give the players a map, maybe not the exact map, but something where they have a general overview of where they’re going. And to hell with 10′ poles. I know we all grew up with this style of play, but nowadays it just brings me down.

3. Bonus XP. Your character drank three unmarked potions and survived. You said something funny. You drew a post-game picture. You brought rum-soaked dark chocolate cherries to the table. Bonus XP.

4. Adventure seeds. I give the players 5 adventure seeds (here’s what’s happening in town…), they tell me which one they want to follow up on. I make the adventure. Simple. Some remain from week to week. Some don’t.

5. Empty dungeons that “activate” once the party is in the middle of them. Getting in is easy. Getting out is hard.

And I wrote 5 more things but they were lame and obvious. You get the point. Overall the adventures have been fun and the players have come back from week to week and try to get their friends to come to, so that’s all cool.

Cyclops Has Nothing On Da Weed

20140529_114053This is David. It’s pronounced Da Weed.

Loren Eiseley

This book will be read and cherished in the year 2001. It will go to the MOON and MARS with future generations. Loren Eiseley’s work changed my life.”

That’s Ray Bradbury from the back of Eiseley’s The Star Thrower. Reading that quote made me wonder how many people I know (most of whom are readers) have actually heard of let alone read Loren Eiseley. I don’t even remember how I came about reading him. Maybe it was simply from romping around on wikipedia or maybe someone mentioned him. But when I asked friends if they had read him most people my age or younger hadn’t even heard of him. I guess his fame never made it past the 1980s (at least outside of his hometown), which is a shame because he’s amazing.

He’s a more humanist Carl Sagan. A nature essayist that writes like Thoreau by way of Weird Tales. An essay about foxes will start with a quote from Peter Beagle talking about magicians. It will end with Eiseley sleep deprived at dawn, chicken bone in his mouth, playing with a fox cub in the dunes. Maybe it’s the fate of science writers. Their work too tied to progress and the rate of technological advancement to be anything but doomed to oblivion. Maybe he straddled the line too much and wasn’t enough of a materialist. He spoke too often of miracles.

“Since boyhood I have been charmed by the unexpected and the beautiful. This was what had led me originally into science, but now I felt instinctively that something more was needed – though what I needed verged on a miracle. As a scientist, I did not believe in miracles, though I willingly granted the word broad latitudes of definition.”

Lexicon

A friend from home came to Korea for a visit. She was doing both the ROK and Japan in one Far East swing. I convinced her to leave Seoul and had down to the country. We met in Gyeongju the next city over from where I live. She was impressed by my Korean, which shocked me since I can’t speak the language. What I know is maybe a handful of phrases and numbers. Basically I can go into a store and ask how much something costs and know how much to pay when I’m told. But after living here for four years I’m also a lot more comfortable not knowing what people say to me and having a “conversation” regardless of the fact that I can’t speak the language. Either I’m listening for one word I know and reply with one of the hundred or so I know, or I’m just playing a rather involved game of charades, which gets you pretty damn far.

Sometimes I know exactly what’s being said in some scripted exchanges because I know the script. If I’m buying groceries and I’m asked a question, it’s probably about whether or now I want a bag. I get a lot of mileage out of stuff like that. Or it comes back to the comfort level. Some people, like the shop keepers in my neighborhood, I see everyday, and I’ve stopped and chatted with them where they’re speaking in Korean and I’m speaking in English, but we’re having a conversation that I can only imagine resembles that scene in Ghost Dog where Forest Whitaker and his friend that works in the Ice Cream truck and only speaks Creole are having a conversation about a man building a boat on the roof of an apartment building. Neither speaks the same language but they talk to each other just the same.

Or in other words you can get pretty far here simply by playing a decent game of charades.

June Books

I read a Henry Miller book this month. Afterwards to get the taste of Miller man-funk out of my system I made it a point to read more women. For July I plan on switching tracks again and reading only nonfiction. I realized how much I miss libraries. In the USA if I wanted to read a book about some topic I’d take it out from the library rather than buy it, but with no decent English language libraries nearby if I want to read a book about earthworms then I really, really, really better want to want read it, because I’ll be owning it. Now on to the books…

bird Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

An enjoyable writing book that was thankfully light on the enthusiastic woo. Lamott does come across as a bit of a kook, but she’s a charming writer with an insightful eye for telling details. Yes, this book is geared towards realism rather than speculation, but all the same her advice and her reality checks are welcome. As is her personality – or at least the constructed personality that comes across in these pages. There’s something pleasant in reading a book by an author you know is a bundle of neurosis and prone to eating their own foot at time.s

doll Doll Bones – Holly Black

This book’s about three kids on the edge of adolescence going on an adventure at the behest of a ghost-possessed doll. It’s middle-grade horror with a straight-up quest in the middle of it. As someone well far beyond the target range of the book, it did take some intention on my part to give a damn, but overall an enjoyable read. The depictions of old American milltowns, in this case those in Pennsylvania and Ohio, rang true.

lud Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirrlees

A “classic” fantasy novel from the 1920s the reads a bit like Tolkien’s Shire mashed up with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The town of Lud-in-the-Mist once had regular communication with the Silent Folk (the fairies) beyond the western hills, but that was long ago in the bad old days of Duke Aubery. His days ended in revolution and the current people of Lud have banned all commerce with the fairy folk, yet the strange narcotic fairy fruit arrives in the town just the same. When the fruit wreaks havoc in the household of Mayor Nathaniel Chanticleer the good man decides to track it to its source, including a trek west to the land from which no one has ever returned. This book’s by turns twee and sinister, and sometimes in the span of the same sentence let alone paragraph. If you like Dunsany’s Elfland’s Daughter or Charwoman’s Shadow you should enjoy this.

taleA Tale of the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A woman finds a diary floating in the ocean. The diary belongs to a Japanese girl named Nao who’s the victim of intense bullying. She plans on killing herself, but needs to tell the story of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, before she does it. Later the universe collapses into fragments and multiple realities, and people go on dream quests to solve all their problems. I enjoyed the ride despite the lack of closure, which might very well have been the point.

time The Time of the Assassins – Henry Miller

This book’s a long meditation/rant by Miller on the life and works of Arthur Rimbaud. It’s short. It’s dense. It’s ranty. It’s a Henry Miller book. And that’s good, as long as you can overlook the fact that he writes with his dink on the table.

PBB GRID.inddWhite Is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

There’s this part near the end of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House where the haunted house begins to possess Eleanor and alter her perceptions of reality. This book is like that chapter all the time. Miranda Silver is a young woman with an eating disorder living with her brother and father in a house haunted by four generations of women, and they have chosen Miranda to join them. This was a surprising book, and thinking about it now I feel as if there was a whole layer of commentary present in it regarding Britain’s history of ethnic persecution that I barely grasped. Not that you have to, really, as the book does hold up as a stylish haunted house story.

The Ghost Hunters

Once more ghost hunting became fashionable. People met online and discussed preferred methods. Mediumship wasn’t so lucky. No one could simply channel spirits any more. Electricity was the stuff of life, especially when coupled with water. Appointments were made. A clandestine meeting in a coffee shop, then a parking lot, finally ending in a neon-decorated motel’s VIP suite with a view that overlooked the all night express bus terminal. They took turns in the bath tub, the soap suds dissolving into the sound of hydraulic brakes. The hairdryer failed to spark in their wet hands. Maybe next time. Paracelsus for morons.

May Books

Here we go. For full effect read this post aloud in a halting monotone.

aliAli’s Smile – William S. Burroughs (1985)

Burroughs flirted with Scientology during the 50s and 60s only to end up disillusioned by it. Feeling some compulsion to set the record straight and to rectify whatever damage his support for the organization might have caused he set about writing a series of letters and articles attacking Scientology. This collects them all along with the titular story, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable as the non-fiction parts.

Here’s a link to the PDF.

Untitled-1Confessions of a Bangkok Private Eye: From the Case Files of Warren Olson – Steven Leather (2006)

I found this book in an ex-pat bar. It’s trashy and loathsome, but compulsively readable like a tabloid, and I suspect it or books like it might have influenced Lavie Tidhar’s Osama. There’s a certain type of Anglo-expat guy you meet in Asia that’s obsessed with which women are or aren’t sex workers. This book’s like spending 270 pages listening to that guy regale you with his adventures. In every way he’s a guy standing atop the smoldering wreckage of his life, but the captivating part is hearing how proud of it he is.

There’s also something fascinating about well done sensationalistic hackwork. I could picture the author shuffling up the pages of this book and reselling it under some other title like Bangkok Streets: One Man’s Journey. Hell, even from story to story whole passages and sentences get recycled. So like I said it’s trash, but intensely readable.

createCreate Dangerously – Edwidge Danticat (2010)

The corner of the Internet where I reside made much of that Salon piece on Junot Diaz’s writing class syllabus. The article’s here if you want to read it. As someone always eager to hear book recommendations I made notes, which is how I learned of Danticat. Part memoir, part essay collection Danticat explores her role as a Haitian immigrant artist residing in the USA. It’s a great read and definitely worth tracking down.

“One of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you. The language you were born speaking and the one you will probably die speaking have no choice but to find a common place in your brain and regularly merge there.”

immobilityImmobility – Brian Evenson (2013)

I’ve liked other Brian Evenson novel’s quite a bit and think he’s a great short story writer. Seriously, read the “Ex-Father”. This book however was a disappointment.

A man wakes up in the dark with amnesia. Mysterious assailants torture him. He is tasked with a vague secret mission and must journey across a post-apocalyptic landscape to the place where the plot happens and all his (our) questions will be answered, except they’re not. So he has to journey back to the assholes that tortured him at the start and instead of answering his questions they torture him some more until they put him back to sleep and tell him all this will start all over again. At which point the book ends. It’s also one of those stories where the character’s intelligence appears to be dictated by whether or not the plot requires him to do something stupid or smart. It’s not good when books remind me of bad slush stories. This combined two types: “Character wakes in darkness. They have no memory. The torture begins.” And, “Character receives cryptic mission or message. They must journey to the place where the story is waiting for them.”

KeepThe Keep – Jennifer Egan (2006)

A literary novel that reads like a popular novel while commenting on popular novels, I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King as I read this. Two cousins reunite in Europe twenty years after a childhood prank changed their lives. Meanwhile a prisoner in jail for murder takes a creative writing class. The Keep’s multi-layered and metafictional novel, but also a decently plotted thriller. It’s worth checking out.

lastLast Evening on Earth – Roberto Bolano (2007)

Holy shit! This collection knocked my socks off! Plotless short stories that hinge entirely on mood, meandering character studies, and short cruelly humorous vignettes about a lost generation of Chilean expats. Great stuff! One of my favorites was the short character study “Henri Simon Leprince” about a disreputable writer in 1940s France who couldn’t shake his reputation as a shitty writer even as he helped political dissidents escape the German occupation.

requiemRequiem – Graham Joyce (1996/2006)

A man-pained widower fucks his way into a nervous breakdown. He then fucks his way out. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Mary Magdalene, and djinn are also involved. As with the Evenson above, I read this without liking it. Joyce’s How to Make Friends With Demons, which shares some of the same concerns and tropes, is much better.

tideStations of the Tide – Michael Swanwick (1991/2001)

I bought this book on the merits of the cover. Look at that thing. It’s great. Distracted man in suit with futuristic briefcase dwarfed by alien landscape. I love it. You can expect a 1 Book, 4 Covers post on this book. Anyway this is a weird, kinky science fiction novel about a bureaucrat hunting a renegade wizard on a planet that’s preparing for its regularly scheduled apocalypse. The ending is a bit fragmentary and hallucinatory but the ride is where the fun is. It’s also interesting to me that this books was exactly 100 page shorter than most modern SFF novels that I feel default to being at least 100 pages too long.

I think there’s an argument to be made that the shorter a novel is the more subversive, perception-altering potential it has.

vacuum flowersVacuum Flowers – Michael Swanwick (1987)

I read this book when I was 15 or 16. It made absolutely no sense. It also had this weird yellow Jane Fonda David Bowie Rebel Rebel cover. On reread this month, it only made a more sense because I’m better seeped in science fiction tropes. This is grand tour SFF set in a post-singularity transhumanist solar system of plug-in personalities, unbraked AIs, colonized comets, and other crunchy bit. Overall bewildering but enjoyable.

writeIf You Want To Write – Brenda Ueland (1983)

A quick, enjoyable read. This book was first published in the 1930s and while it’s pretty light on particulars (it doesn’t offer any exercises) Ueland’s style is quite enjoyable. She’s a down-to-earth author with little concern for what is and isn’t literature. From her descriptions of students I don’t think Ueland taught in a university, but in a more informal capacity or in a community center. Anyway, not a bad writing book of the inspirational variety.

And last, I read Fritz Leiber’s novella Horrible Imaginings. This is one of those Leiber stories people don’t talk about, written when he was an old man living in a San Francisco rooming house. Any Leiber fan interested in his later work (especially if you like the amazing Our Lady of Darkness) should read this post by writer Marc Laidlaw. Anyway this is a pretty ugly story of the “porn-guilt” subgenre.

An old man, Ramsey Ryker, lives alone in a modern day San Francisco apartment building where he has recurring nightmares of being assaulted by hordes of monstrous miniature penises while immobilized in darkness. Later we learn he occasionally visits peep shows, and he’s become infatuated with a woman he’s glimpsed in his apartment building, a woman who may or may not be a ghost. The end let me down, but the creeping inevitable of all the rest of it made up for it, especially all the digressions on apartment trees and empty space.

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