Things Unseen, Chapter 42

For the preface, click here.
For the previous chapter, click here.

Edanu and Barro both waited in the hallway outside Endan’s laboratory. On reflex, I almost shoved the priest, now returned to his liturgical vestments, against the wall and choked him for what he’d done to Falla. But, with the House Meradhvor representative present, I had to restrain myself.

“Have you completed your investigation?” Barro asked. “Don’t you think it’s been quite long enough that the boy had gone without his rites, his spirit restless.”

“You’ll have to ask Endan,” I said. “I’ve gleaned what I can, but Endan’s the expert in this field. He didn’t seem to be finished entirely.” I didn’t share my suspicion that the doctor’s examination had turned from specific investigation to general medical curiosity.

“Why spend all this time on a corpse anyway?” Edanu smiled, as if he already knew the answer. “Once the rites are finished we’re done with the spirit, right? Ought to get that done before nightfall.”

“Which is fast approaching,” Barro added.

I pushed past him and continued on my way. Edanu drew up next to me, following along. “I know, my lord, that my House has not extended you much in the way of favor or courtesy,” he began.

I scoffed. Couldn’t help it.

He remained undeterred. “But we—I—would be very much indebted to you for your assistance.”

I stopped and checked down the hallway in both directions. We were alone. “With what?” I demanded, my voice sharp.

He grinned. “What the hell exactly is going on here?”

“You don’t already know?” I asked, suspicious.

“Unfortunately not. I’ve heard something about a second spirit, but that only raises more questions while answering none. You know why I’m here—”

“To make sure Lord amn Vaina’s daughter appraises at the value offered—or at least that everything that comes with her does.”

“Uh—if you must be so crass about it, yes.”

“I don’t have anything to do with that,” I told him. “Nor do I want to.”

“Look, my lord, I don’t have a whole lot of sway here, nor much to offer you at present, but you know the influence Meradhvor wields in Ilessa and the rest of the Sisters. You’re clearly both a skilled practitioner and investigator. Imagine getting jobs from us, and everything that entails.”

“I can, and I have. I’m no shadowman. There are already plenty who will do your dirty work for you in the Sisters.”

“Nor would you be treated as such, my lord. You’ve worked for the Council of Coin, could we really be so much worse?”

“The Council of Coin may be criminals, but they’re an honester sort than the Houses. They don’t smile at you while they twist the knife in your back.”

He stared blankly for a moment. Not because I’d offended or taken him aback; he was only searching his mind for some pathway that might lead him to be successful in his efforts to persuade. “I’m sure we can find some other arrangement, then, so that you may avoid any longterm entanglements with us. Surely a man in your position could make good use of valuable Artifice. You’ve seen the wonders our House can provide in the gifts we’ve made to Lady Vesonna and Lord Aryden.”

“What is it, exactly, that you’re after, Edanu?”

“We have intelligence that there is a Place of Power somewhere in these parts. Something has been obfuscating its precise location. I assume that this was that ‘second spirit’ that I’ve heard about—that would be the most sensible explanation. If you’ve indeed had dealings with this spirit, then you must know the location of this place.”
At the most basic, Artifice is a combination of alchemy, enchantment and engineering. It needs a power source—the Power, really, to function continuously. Since gemstones may store the Power, these are used as an animating source for the engines of Artifice. The Artifice itself is worth a great price, but the need to keep it functioning makes for a longer-term client—not unlike the hornroot peddlers in Ilessa’s Lower City. A client who needs you continuously makes for a more lucrative trade than one that does not.
All of that meant that the Houses needed to supply the fuel for their machines as well as the machines themselves. They employ a small army of minor practitioners with skill enough to channel the Power into gemstones to fuel their House’s creations but too little skill in the Art to achieve much more. More drudges in their servitude, like the poor folk who work their factories. The labor is cheap, considering; it’s the need for access to prolific sources of the Power to charge their little baubles that proves rarer and dearer.

That explained the Meradhvor interest in Vaina. The town’s access to raw materials proved a bonus, not the primary draw. They wanted something they figured even Aryden knew nothing about—and need know little about until the marriage was sealed. The family that claimed the lands, and their people, would see plenty of benefits from the arrangement without any reference to the Place of Power. Once they started to enjoy those benefits, what would it matter what some Meradhvor servants were doing out in the woods?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told him.

Again, he smiled. “You should learn to lie better,” he said. “You have more pressing matters to attend to, I understand. But let’s you and I revisit this conversation very soon.”

“Hmph,” I said, leaving him behind. Everyone seems to think I’m for sale, I thought to myself. But the thought of locations gave me an idea—one I was a little embarrassed not to have thought of before. I turned around and went back to Endan’s infirmary.

Barro was inside now, anxiously tapping his foot while Endan ignored him and continued to examine the body. “Is this desecration really necessary?” the priest asked.

“Yes,” Endan and I said at once, my voice from behind causing Barro to jump slightly.

The doctor looked past Barro to me. “Is there something else you needed?”

“There is, in fact,” I responded. “I’m going to need a piece of the body. A small one.”

“What?” Barro turned full force, eyes aflame with righteous indignation. “How am I to give the body its last rites if I don’t have the whole body?”

My hands went to my hips and I cocked my head condescendingly. “Surely, this is not the first body to not be whole when given the rites. Besides, there’s plenty of him already missing.”

“It’s not the same when some natural process affects the body, but when you take a piece intentionally…”

“There are plenty of folk who die without proper rites at all, and few of them become restless spirits. The last rites are a ritual, the symbolism and intent of which are more important than the formalities,” I explained, already moving past him to the doctor.

“Says the thaumaturge, for whom absolute precision in ritual is such a concern, quipped the clergyman.

“That’s the difference between theurgy and theology, my friend.”

“And you wonder why the Temple views practitioners with such suspicion.”

“I don’t think about it much at all, actually,” I told him.

Endan cut a piece of the corpse wax from the body, wrapping it several times over in a piece of cloth before putting the bundle in an oiled and waxed drawstring pouch that sat nearby. He nonchalantly extended the package to me and I took it.

Without further ceremony, I pushed past Barro again, still aghast at my apostasy, and left the room. Finding that Edanu had left, I continued down the hallway, up the stairs and toward Aryden’s office, hoping to find him there.

Hearing voices from within, I stopped at the door to the office. After three brief raps of my hand against the wood, there came the voice of Lord amn Vaina: “Who’s there, dammit?”

“Iaren.”

“Fine, fine. Come in.”

The door swung easily aside to reveal Vitella amn Esto leaning casually against the room’s window sill, smoking a cigarello.

“What—” I started.

“Close the door!” Aryden commanded.

I did, and then repeated the question. “What’s she doing here?”

She smiled at me. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m a co-conspirator.”

“Huh?”

“I suspected something was wrong about what happened today, gathered some information to confirm those suspicions and then met with our lord here to find a way in which I could assist.”

“Damn gossips,” Aryden interjected. “But if everyone else has spies in our house, I won’t say ‘no’ to one in someone else’s.”

“Our family needs this marriage,” Vitella joined in. “And I’ll not let the fool that leads it throw that away because of a spirit or two. So, I’ll help sell the story about the witch—and help you resolve the real problem if I can—and we’ll preserve what we’ve all worked so hard to achieve in the first place.”

“And keep our arrangement with House Meradhvor in place,” Aryden added. “So, you can speak freely in front of Lady Vitella.”

I’d come hoping to convince Aryden to change his mind about his misuse of Falla, but his having expanded his conspiracy dashed those hopes. I’d have to find another way to do what I could for her.

“Did your people find the man who tried to kill me?” I asked.

“No,” Aryden said.

I looked to amn Esto. “It wasn’t us,” she said, face contorting to indicate the shock and offense that I’d even suggest the possibility. “As I said, the family needs the marriage—so we need you.”

“Daedys says some of his men have gone missing as well,” Aryden added. “I suspect assassins sent by the amn Ydelli, another effort to thwart the marriage and the alliance between amn Vaina and amn Esto that it represents.”

More politics between nobles. “Why would they care?” I asked, stoking the fire.

“You passed through their lands in the south, on your way to Vaina. How many times were you stopped my a roadwarden for taxes?”

I chuckled. “Thrice,” I told him.

“Exactly. That’s what happens every time our merchants send goods through their territory; they attempt to steal the profits of our honest folk. At present, the carts have to go around amn Ydella lands, and that hurts profits, too, though not so severely. The alliance between amn Vaina and amn Esto gives us easier roads to market as well as more leverage in negotiating an end to the amn Ydella robberies.”

“So they send someone to kill me, hoping that that keeps your haunting unresolved and upsets the marriage?”

“That’s our suspicion,” Vitella offered.

“How would they know enough to plan something like that?”

“As I said,” Aryden returned, “It seems everyone has spies in our house.”

Their paranoia benefited me, so I did nothing to change their mind.

“Well? What did you and Endan discover?” Aryden rejoined.

“Perhaps we should wait until Barro’s performed the rites on Orren’s body to worry about that,” I responded. I needed time, and any conversation that kept me here would eat that time away like so many hungry dogs.

“You didn’t seem to have much confidence that last rites would be sufficient to allay the spirit,” Aryden rebutted. “I don’t have time to waste in resolving the matter fully and finally, so let us proceed as if more will be necessary from you and, if not, that can be a happy development.”

Vitella blew a ring of smoke into the air and smiled.

“Fine,” I said. “The boy’s throat was cut, ear to ear, and deep. Someone with strength and likely with some experience in warfare or murder—or both. He was bled out and then the body was moved and buried shallow where we found it.”

“Where Nilma found it, you mean,” the Lady amn Esto retorted.

“If you like.”

“Hmm,” Aryden said, contemplating. “So where was he killed?”

“I don’t know yet, but I have a method to find out.”

“So, once you find this killer, what happens then? You kill him?”

“I don’t think so. If Orren’s spirit had remained here simply to accuse his murderer, he would have done so by now. There’s something else, something more complex, binding him here than just his death. His spirit seems to want revenge, yes, but not by accusation.”

“Explain.”

“We both know that Orren is killing your wife. Slowly, but inevitably, if he is not stopped.”

Aryden grimaced. “And?”

“And that either means that Orren believes she’s somehow responsible for his death or doesn’t know who is and is lashing out indiscriminately.”

“Then why does his murderer matter at all?” Vitella asked.

“It may be that the circumstances of his death, the motives and the meaning, are more important than the killer himself,” I explained. “But I need to understand the sympathies in play that transformed Orren into the powerful spirit that he is—a ghost, yes, but no mere phantom of the common variety, else he’d be banished and we’d been done with this already.”

“So, something out of the ordinary happened in relation to his murder?” the Lady continued.

“Very.”

“Like what?”

“Do not say the phases of the moons,” Aryden warned.

I couldn’t help but smile a little at that. “No. I suspect the Art was at play here.”

“So Falla is responsible,” Aryden concluded.

“No. Perhaps the spirit that attacked the wedding is responsible for that aspect of Orren’s death, or the killer had some knowledge of the Art or Orren himself had some latent facility with the Art that had gone undetected.”

“So, what next?” Vitella asked.

“I keep investigating.”

She blew another ring of smoke in response.

“What about this other spirit. Barro said you bound it.” Aryden asked.

I produced the disk from my belt pouch and showed it to him. “It is imprisoned in this,” I said. “I’ll be able to interrogate it shortly and determine to what extent it had any involvement. It’s possible that it and Orren had developed a friendship of sorts and that the spirit had allied with him against you.”

“Against me?” Aryden asked. “Why?”

“It is an Orösave, a child of the Three Mothers. Ancient and bound to the Avar. The mind of such a being is not like the mind of one of mortal folk. Its designs are inscrutable to a great degree.”

“Then what use is interrogation?” Vitella pounced.

I hesitated a second, searching for an explanation that wouldn’t call into question the rest of the half-truths I’d spun to avoid mentioning the rest of the cult. “Motives, no. But facts and history, yes,” I said. “I don’t necessarily need to know why it was involved if I know how.”

“But I thought you said that motive was more important than identity,” Aryden added.
Fortunately, I’d moved into the mindset of dissembling now, and the response came quicker. “I’m simplifying things, of course. Depending upon how the spirit was involved, that may itself provide the remedy.”

“Why can’t you just bind Orren like you did this…Orösave,” Aryden asked.

“If it hadn’t been for Falla’s song, I wouldn’t have been able to,” I began. “And the comparison isn’t a good one. The Orösave is a natural spirit; Orren is a human soul, corrupted, yes, but still a human soul. The rules are different.”

“The…rules?” Vitella asked.

“Why would it surprise you that there are rules to the operation of the forces we call ‘supernatural’? What does that word even mean—the Orösave is as much a ‘natural’ part of this world as we are. People use that word to describe things that they don’t understand—the Art, spirits, Wyrgeas, the get of Sedhwé or Daea, and so on. But The One created all that is created, and They do not create without form and structure. Just look at the avar and you see this. That we don’t understand the ineffable laws by which these things operate does not mean that there are none.”

“Convenient,” Aryden muttered, ever cheerful.

“If there were not ‘rules’, structure and inescapable metaphysical laws by which Orren’s apparition operated, what good would I be to you? You might as well bring in every soothsayer in Ilessa’s lower city to advise you and try their recommendations. They’d be cheaper.”

“I know, damn you,” Aryden spat. “Why are we wasting time talking here when you could be about the business of it?”

I had to try before I left. “Falla may seem a mere hedge witch to you, but she has traveled and has learnt things many practitioners of the Art do not know. She could be very helpful to me if—”

“No,” Aryden said, his voice a slamming door. “You may talk to her in the dungeon, but that is all. If she is as you say, she’s even more dangerous to my people than I thought. That only further justifies my decision.”

“Fine,” I said, more petulant than I’d have liked. I closed the office door behind me as I left, leaving the two nobles to return to their scheming.

To continue to the next chapter, click here.
For a single PDF containing all chapters released to date, click here.

Short Update

I don’t know about you, but the present situation has me all discombobulated. I’m an introvert by nature (a “socially-capable” introvert as K likes to say), so I’m not suffering from the cabin fever that assails a lot of us (at least not in the most noticeable of ways), but this coronavirus stuff still has me off of my game.

With my work drastically slowed down, I have the benefit of having some downtime to work on my passion projects–writing Avar Narn, gaming, this blog. I’d anticipated having a lot more posts up by now, but obviously things have remained as erratic as ever for my blog schedule. I’ve got about half a dozen unfinished posts of varying degrees of readiness that will be completed and posted at some time in the not-so distant future. I’ve been spending a lot of time, though, on Avar Narn worldbuilding, some mapmaking (which I’ll perhaps put up soon) and some work on the novel–most of which isn’t ready to be shown to the public.

Hawkwood and Marshal have both been continuing to go to daycare, which has been a godsend given some very tough behaviors we’ve been dealing with with Hawkwood–a post for another time. With the church mostly shut down, K has also been working from home. Every day is played by ear, which makes it difficult to focus on creative work, especially to the extent that staying home with little professional work to do had promised. There’s much more to be said on this front (and again, I realized I haven’t been posting much on the Fatherhood portion of the site), but that will go in a future post.

That’s a quick update; I hope you are all well, staying safe, and effectively managing the stress and anxiety we are all facing.

I’ll have a follow-up post with some of my thoughts about playing Dungeons and Dragons later today, with some of my other half-finished (once completed) posts and additional items coming to you very soon!

Professions in Medieval and Early-Modern RPGs

As I continue to work on rules for the Fate RPG (continuing my Pirates/Age of Sail setting rules and the Fate Control Panel and Fate rules for Avar Narn), I find myself more and more drawn to the design idea of using “professions” over “skills” in late-medieval and early-modern roleplaying games (the most common historical analogues of fantasy settings).

I’m not the first to think of this concept. While not actually used in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, by using “Professions” instead of “Classes” to group skills and abilities, that system made initial steps in this direction. More recent games–13th Age, Barbarians of Lemuria and Shadow of the Demon Lord, for example–have wholeheartedly adopted such an approach. Even the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons has nodded in that direction with its “Backgrounds,” though it still retains discrete skills.

I’m going to make a few arguments as to why I think this approach is better than using more discrete and granular “skills”:

(1) Flexibility and Creativity
One of the things I don’t like about a discrete skill list is the way it causes players to think. Skills cause players to think that their characters can only act in ways specifically described by the skills on their list. In my mind, this is a microcosm of the idea of language shaping cognition–players tend to assume that the skill list represents something about how the game is “supposed” to be played and–especially for less-experienced players–tend to think that they’re “breaking the rules” or somehow trying to pull something if they can’t directly articulate the skill they’re using for their action.

This is counter to the “fiction-first” approach to gaming. I want my players to put themselves in the character’s shoes in the circumstances at hand and, without reference to their character sheet (except as a reminder of the sorts of things the character is good at, I suppose) tell me what they’re trying to do. Then, we can go to the rules and figure out some mechanics. In other words, skills push players toward “mechanics-first” thinking.

To be fair, this complaint goes beyond “narrative” or “fiction-first” gamers. I’m not a member of the OSR community by any means, but I am given to understand that one of the factors driving the OSR is the feeling that early editions of D&D, with their attribute bonuses without skills, allowed for more creative action by players. But that only further makes the point.

A list of professions gives players the information they need (“what are my character’s experiences and strengths?”) without pushing to very granular modes of action (“I can Deceive my way out of this, or I can Jump over the rooftop to get away, or I try to Hide, but I don’t have any other applicable skills”). A player who says, “Okay, my character has been a Courtier and a Soldier, how might he try to get out of this situation?” puts the fiction first and removes barriers to the player’s creativity in selections of actions.

I personally think that this really opens up in Fate if you use the combination of Approaches with Professions (in place of Skills) as laid out in the Fate Codex, Volume 3, Issue 2 (Merging FAE and Fate Core). What’s the difference between a Flashy Courtier and a Sneaky Courtier? Drama, that’s what!

(2) Professions Build Character History
Saying that a character has the “Stealth” skill doesn’t say nearly as much about the character as the character having the “Thief” or “Scoundrel” profession. The skill does beg many of the same questions, but the profession evokes them much more fully and makes us think about a phase or era in the character’s life rather than a simple explanation for how the character acquired a specific skill.

Further, overlap between professions actually allows for character diversity. A character with the Scout profession and a character with the Scoundrel profession probably both know how to be stealthy, but they learned to do so under different circumstances and for different purposes.

If we take the ideas in the two proceeding paragraphs and apply them to character creation, we should quickly see that this pushes us into asking questions about the character and not the skills during character generation. The player isn’t choosing whether the character has the “stealth” skill so much as thinking about how the character acquired it and the other circumstances of the character’s life around that acquisition. In other words, the player is making decisions about the character to get the skills, rather than selecting the skills and then retroactively justifying them.

I think that professions support taking this even farther with character creation systems that offer greater narrative potential than simply point-buy or array-assignment systems.  Simple systems certainly have their place–character creation in Barbarians of Lemuria is exceptionally friendly and simple.

In my opinion, a profession system begs for a “lifepath” system in character creation, allowing us to build the character by moving through his or her personal history. I’ll probably talk more about lifepaths in another post later on.

(3) Professions Are Reflective of Early-Modern Cultural Rigidity
Historically speaking, even as the changes that would lead to more social mobility were taking place, Western Europeans thought of their societies as easily compartmentalized under the “Great Chain of Being”: by the circumstances of their birth, a person was positioned by God where he or she was supposed to be. A peasant seeking to become a lord rebelled not only against society but against God.

A character’s choice of profession implies something about her social status–even in the modified (and often whitewashed) settings our fantasy games often take place in. I wrote in a previous post about leaning into the medieval mindset for fantasy writing and gaming; this is a design mechanism for doing so, I think. A character who has the Courtier, Soldier and Scoundrel professions occupies a different social status than one who has the Tradesman, Scout and Farmer professions, or even one who has the Soldier, Scoundrel and Traveler professions.

One of the areas where this makes the biggest difference, I think, is in social skills. A player who has the Persuade skill (perhaps rightfully) assumes that his character is persuasive to all people at all times. That’s rarely the case in real-world experience. If that character has a high rating in the Courtier profession but no skill in the Farmer or Merchant professions, the character is likely persuasive in the rhetorical speech and etiquette of the nobility, but might well be laughed at when trying to apply Cicero to an earthier and more practical sort of folk. That difference creates verisimilitude and depth to the setting (and probably helps remind players that, no, their character cannot just persuade the guard to give him his armor and weapons simply because he has a certain number of points in Persuade).

If you don’t want to add on additional systems to your game to accentuate the importance of (and difference between) levels of social status, the use of professions by itself will go a long way.

(4) Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic
I’m thinking that I should write a separate post entirely about handling knowledge skills in roleplaying games, but for now, I want to point out another benefit of using professions over skills. In Tudor England, about 8% of women and 24% of men could read and write well enough to sign their own name unassisted–provided I’m remembering my statistics correctly. Regardless of the actual numbers, literacy was on the rise but far from universal.

Some roleplaying games seek to capture this, requiring character resources to be dedicated to the ability to read and write if the player wants her character to have that ability. That’s good for immersion in the setting, but it creates other design problems in balancing the cost of that ability versus others (and balancing against our modern prejudice against those who are unable to read and write). When using professions, you can kill two birds with one stone: characters who have put points into certain professions (or a certain number of points into certain professions) are assumed to be able to read and write; those who have not are assumed not to be able to.

This helps sidestep the need to justify the ability (though the GM should find ways to accommodate players with believable backgrounds that break our assumptions and stereotypes) by corresponding the ability with those we would (logically and historically) expect to have it (say those with the Scholar or Priest professions).

The same goes for scientific and mathematics skills. Greek, Roman and Islamic scholars (and other ancient peoples in cultures from around the world) had advanced understandings of geometry, astronomy and other mathematics even before the late-medieval or early-modern periods in Europe. Under the Tudors, “tally sticks” allowed some record-keeping even for those with a relatively basic ability to conduct mathematic operations and perhaps no ability to read and write. Differentiating the likely arithmetical abilities of different characters becomes much easier when we have some idea of their background, experience and training rather than a list of skills on a page.

(5) Professions Evoke Setting
Your list of available professions tells players about the world they’ll be playing in. A world with Duelist(s) and Pirate(s) is very different from one with Knight(s) and Monk(s) (or Pirate(s) and Ninja(s?)).

(6) Built-in Contacts
If using a system like Fate, with its “Contacts” skill, then the use of Professions gives you both specificity and breadth that (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, n’est pas?) increases immersion, because the professions can be used to generate contacts of the type of people someone with experience in the given field is likely to know.

In Fate, this can be supplemented by allowing the invocation of Aspects to allow the introduction of contacts a character may know aside from the channels of his place in the world at large.

Conclusion
As usual, I’ve rambled on a bit more than I originally intended to do. Nevertheless, I hope I’ve given you some good reasons to think about converting skills into professions in the next campaign you run, regardless of system.

The Fate RPG “Control Panel” v0.5

I made a mention in a recent post about a project I’ve been working on. It’s far from finished, but I’ve grown too excited about it to wait until it’s finished before I post it for initial use, review and comment.

As I’ve also mentioned before, there’s just so much I like about the Fate RPG ruleset (in its various incarnations) and its adaptability that I intend to use it to run all the games I run for the foreseeable future (you can see my post on (Roleplaying) Gaming as an Adult). The Bronze Rule (or Fate Fractal, depending upon your preference) and general modularity of the system makes it a prime candidate for seamlessly running a wide-variety of game genres, from soap-opera drama to the farthest-flung speculative fiction and everything in between.

Having read a good number of Fate RPG settings and system tweaks (from the official toolkits to community-created content), I understood that this system is highly customizable while retaining its core fiction-first and efficient-play philosophies. Until I began this project, I did not fully understand just how customizable the system really is, Working on this project has given me an even more profound respect for the system and its writers, but has also really helped me to grok how things can (and should) fit together and how the rules may be manipulated–large scale or subtly–to accentuate different parts of the fiction being portrayed at the table.

The project itself is a responsive Excel spreadsheet that uses drop-down menus and stacked levels of questions to guide the user through customizing the Fate ruleset to a desired setting. This allows the user to efficiently make selections without having to sort through the (rather voluminous) books using the Fate System to find various systems and ideas that can be “borrowed” for your own game while keeping a high-level view of the overall ruleset in mind to avoid losing the fiction-first and relatively-light crunch of the core system (unless you want to turn Fate into a fiction-first, high-crunch system, which it can also do!).  Use of this system is likely to do for you what it has done for me–give you a profound respect for the innovations that make the Fate system so versatile and efficient while also being highly-evocative of setting and theme.

I think that the system is in shape to be very functional as it is, but I have a lot more in mind for it. Additionally, as I use it to build rules configurations for my own use, and as I post my own Fate rules concoctions on the blog, I’ll add presets to the selections to allow you to easily incorporate those same systems into your rules modifications. For existing settings, I do so only by general reference to the setting to avoid any copyright issues, but you’ll still end up with a set of configurations that will allow you to create a rules booklet particular to your setting more efficiently than collating everything by hand.

So, here it is in all its premature glory: what I’m calling the Fate RPG “Control Panel.” I very much look forward to hearing your reviews and criticisms, understanding how you’re using the Control Panel, and hearing your suggestions for modifications, expansions and improvements. Note that I have not yet added full explanatory notes, so you may have to guess a little at what certain selections mean. Additionally, not all Extra sheets, skill lists, weapon/armor lists etc. are complete.

Fate Control Panel v.5 Public

(N.B.: Please download a local copy of the spreadsheet before making selections or changes. Also, you will need to enable Macros for everything to work.)

What Writers (and Roleplayers) Need to Know about Swordplay: Part VI: Social Context

For the previous post in this series, click here.

In the first scene of Romeo and Juliet, two armed servingmen of the house of Capulet are boasting to one another, demonstrating bravado in their defiance of the Montagues (and their preponderance of sexual innuendo). According to the stage notes they are armed, as we would expect, with sword and buckler.

Sampson attempts to provoke two Montague men by biting his thumb at them. As an aside, it’s worth noting that this was not an offensive gesture in England at the time–but it was in Italy. Since our story is set in “fair Verona,” that makes sense, but it also allowed Shakespeare to avoid fears of censorship by using a gesture that wouldn’t have been offensive to the audience–or those with authority to censor.

An exchange of words is coupled with blows, as Sampson and Gregory (the Capulet men) begin to fight with Abraham and Balthasar. All are armed with sword and buckler. This combination of weapons allowed for a lot of noise and commotion without as much risk.

Remember that I said that the foyning (thrusting) fence had been outlawed in England in 1534? Dueling, disturbing the peace, assault and murder were all already illegal, so the passage of such a law indicates a social anxiety about the increased deadliness of the thrust. With sword and buckler fighting, particularly if there is no thrusting or grappling and a medium distance is engaged, there can be a lot of swinging of weapons against which there is ready defense (both sword and buckler). Indeed, the court records of Tudor England indicate that these “swashbucklers” were known to brawl without significant injury on either side on many occasions. This matches with the servingman’s dispute–he must put on a good show for the honor of his master, but he doesn’t actually want to get killed, so he fights only as aggressively as he must to avoid derision and acquit himself well, expecting his opponents to do the same.

If murder and death had been the actual intent here, the parties would not (as they often did and do in our dramatic example) face each other openly and begin with words and taunts–they would have engaged in ambuscade and trickery.

Let’s return to Shakespeare. Benvolio, a Montague noble, and Tybalt, a Capulet noble, enter just as the fight begins. Benvolio attempts to stop the fray. But Tybalt is a duelist of the newer style (to England at least)–he enters with a rapier. We know this in part because of Mercutio’s later description of him, which matches with Spanish styles of rapier fence (or at least stereotypes about them).

The English master George Silver had great derision in his fight manual for the rapier as un-English–and indeed, it was the popularity of Italian fencing masters in London teaching rapier over other forms of fighting in Elizabeth England (and therefore depriving Silver of business) that underlay much of his scorn. The sword and buckler, on the other hand, was considered the proper (and traditional) servingman’s armaments in England. But Tybalt is no servingman, he is one of the nobles represented by Gregory and Sampson.

So, Tybalt’s entry into the fight is disruptive on three levels–it interjects foreignness into what (despite the Italian setting of the play) is good ‘ole Englishness; represents a condescension of the noble into the sort of brawl whcih should, in line with social expectations, be left to the servingman; and brings a very palpable and socially-recognized increase in the lethality of the fight through the introduction of the rapier. Indeed, his first words to Benvolio are, “What, art thou drawn among these hearless hinds? [and here Tybalt is calling out the lack of true deadly intent in the servingmen fighting with sword and buckler]. Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.” These stacked transgressions would have singled Tybalt out for a villain in the first moments of his entrance, with no exposition needed. That is brilliant writing.

That kind of context is lost to the modern audience–we lose some great narrative techniques with it. It takes careful worldbuilding and weaving these expectations into a novel (or game) to bring the audience to a position where they’d recognize such a message given with so much “show don’t tell,” but it is possible to reclaim these opportunities. In some sense, the barbarian with the “twenty-pound sword” is a very clumsy way of trying to use something similar (choice of weapons to convey character), but this is too blunt, too dumb, to be a mark of skill in the craft or familiarity with the conceits of historical parallels.

I love Tybalt’s example because it hits so many social contexts about the use of weapons all at once. The classist angle is the easiest of them, as this persists through most or all historical periods when hand-to-hand fighting is the primary method of violence. Early on, the sword itself is the emblem of the higher-class warrior. By the Elizabethan period, the type of sword used serves a similar function. Likewise, the grosse messer I mentioned in the previous post was a lower-class weapon than certain alternatives. But as important in Tybalt’s example is that there is a social stratification about when and how it is appropriate (or conversely, inappropriate) for people of certain social status to fight.

Vincentio Saviolo, one of those Italian rapier masters who had come to London in 1590, included instructions in the rules of dueling in his fighting manual. This code included the point that men of high status ought not duel with men of lower status, because their lower status itself meant that they could not participate in the game of honor that lay behind the code duello. The closest thing I can think of in this context in the RPG world is the D&D conceit that cleric’s cannot use bladed weapons because they cannot “spill blood,” a popular but unverified historical belief based–as far as I can tell–on the fact that Bishop Odo bears a mace rather than a sword in the Bayeux Tapestry. Anyone who’s seen blunt trauma knows that this is a distinction without a difference on its own (blunt trauma’s plenty bloody), not to mention that it’s a pretty poor argument from history even if we’re going to give a lot of play to the potential hypocrisy of medieval clergy. We can do better as gamers and writers.

The nationalist context of the use of weapons in Romeo & Juliet, George Silver’s Paradoxes of Defense, and an adventure pamphlet purporting to tell the story of an English adventurer who participated in the post-Armada attack on Cadiz, was the focus on my master’s thesis.

Silver states in his fight manual that he can handily defeat two men armed with rapiers with the good old English quarterstaff, but declines to boast that he can defeat three. The adventurer in the Cadiz pamphlet bests three rapier-armed Spaniards with his quarterstaff in a duel arranged after his capture by the Spanish simply to set up the writer’s argument of English national superiority, it seems.

In the historical Renaissance, there’s a tension in the context of weapon use. For warfare, there will likely be a homogenization where the context of warfare is the same or similar (i.e. all of Europe moved to pike formations, cannons and increasingly lighter cavalry over the period) but choices in minor variations of arms and armor (or those weapons used outside the context of warfare) that are tied to national identity. The Italians and Spanish with their rapiers and the English with their swords and bucklers and quarterstaves are one example.

The point is, use this to develop setting and character. From a mechanical sense, perhaps, fighting is fighting is fighting. But not from a philosophical or social sense–there are rules that shape the who, what, when, where and how of fighting created by people and cultures. And, as we see with the swashbuckler servingmen, not every fight is intended to maim and kill.

I’m gonna have to dig on D&D again (sorry if you’re an enthusiast–from a gaming and narrative perspective, it’s not a bad game, even if I personally have a lot of gripes with it). Let’s look at D&D’s rapier: d6 damage instead of d8 of the “traditional” one-handed sword (still incorrectly called a “longsword”) and the ability to use Dexterity instead of Strength on attack rolls. Wrong on so many levels! All weapons should probably be using Dexterity to hit–or better yet, a system relying more on skill than attributes and levels, and the historical rapier was largely considered to be deadlier than the cut-and-thrust single-hand-sword (all other things being equal–experience shows that this match up is much more about the skill of the participants than anything else, and social perceptions certainly don’t always match with reality). So, we see the rapier in D&D as the weapon of Rogues and other “secondary” fighters rather than a measure of social status and a weapon particularly suited for self-defense, dueling and street-brawling over warfare.

Now, if you’re a GM or player of D&D, it would take a massive set of homebrew rules to replace the D&D conceits with more realistic rules (a trap I regularly fall into, never successfully, before again admitting to myself that the D&D system just isn’t a ruleset I can redeem for the types of games I like to run). But that doesn’t mean you can’t make some easy modifications to how you treat weapons in your setting (in the social context and aside from their mechanics) in a D&D campaign.

If you’re a writer, take these ideas and run–and be thankful you don’t have to tie them to mechanics!

In the last post in this series, I’ll provide some final thoughts and some reading recommendations.

Update 6-18-19

The blog’s been quiet for a little over a week and, as usual, I like to explain myself a little bit when that happens.

The Writing
I had planned to wait until NaNoWriMo to start working on finishing a novel again, but those plans have been happily dashed. What started as a short-story ended up as a twenty-thousand-plus-word text, one that needed a lot of work on pacing and a lot of filling in of details. So it just made sense to turn it into a novel. That’s been the bulk of my writing time in the past few weeks, both in the original story and now in plotting out the novelization.

Plotting is almost complete and I’ll begin the writing (and re-writing) proper shortly. If posts to the blog are sporadic over the next short while, that’s what’s going on.

This novel does not yet have a name, but I’ve also already got broad-stroke plans for three sequels; two of which will likely be part of an initial trilogy and the last of which (which also started as a short-story that expanded out of hand) will likely be the start to a second trilogy. The story is set in Avar Narn (of course) and is something of a noir story. Saying it feels in some ways like a bastardized mix of noir fairy-tale and dark fantasy is pretty close to the mark, I think.

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you may remember that, in 2017, I began work on a different Avar Narn novel, tentatively called Wilderlands. I fully intend to finish that novel, potentially as part of a trilogy between the two trilogies discussed above (the characters in the current novel and Wilderlands are entirely different), but it’s on the proverbial back burner for now.

Kiddos
Any day now, K and I could get the call that brings kids into our lives again. We’re going a little crazy with the wait, to be honest. But, when it happens, you’ll see the Fatherhood section of the blog come to life again.

Shadowrun
If you’ve been keeping a weather eye out for RPG news, you’ll know that a Sixth Edition of Shadowrun has been announced for release this summer, boasting a “streamlined” ruleset.

Shadowrun: Anarchy disappointed me greatly in its failure to translate some of the most fun things about the Shadowrun universe into a more narrative-focused design. As such, while I’m excited to see a new edition, I’m not sure that it’s going to provide what I think the rules need to really present a modernized and excellent take on the game’s design. So, look out for two things: (1) continued posts for my Cortex Plus/Prime hack of Shadowrun (which may end up remaining the sweet spot for me for playing games in the Shadowrun universe), and (2) a thorough review of the Shadowrun Sixth Edition Rulebook when I get my grubby hands on it.

Theology
More to come and soon.

Reflections

(This is the 5th of seventeen remaining posts in my 200 for 200 goal. If you like what I do on this blog, please tell your friends and invite them to “follow.” Your interest helps me to keep writing!)

It’s the last day of 2018. I’ve spent much of December lying low, or nose-to-the-grindstone with work, and the Christmas season flew by. This despite my saying that I would intentionally slow down and make time to really get into the mood and the idea of the season–something at which I failed dismally. I have, however, managed to take some downtime between Christmas and the New Year without work, enjoying time with friends and my wife, writing and pursuing other hobbies, and doing some reflecting on the past year and Christmas itself. I’ve read a number of excellent blog posts about Christmastime and thought, “as an aspiring theologian, I really ought to post something, too.”

But, in this strange season (for me, at least) of trying to relax and simultaneously being angsty that I’m “not being productive enough,” I just don’t have a deep intellectual theological point to make on the subject (though what I hope to be deep theological and intellectual points on some other important issues will soon be forthcoming). If there’s anything I’ve learned from trying to be “a writer” (if I’ve truly learnt anything at all), it’s that you can’t force a subject and achieve something you’re truly proud of as a result.

So, instead, I’m going to merely share some of the things that have been roaming through my head in the past few weeks in the hope that somebody somewhere finds some meaning in some part of it. Here we go:

Christmas

Christmas is a hectic time for me and K. As a worker in church ministry, this is K’s
“busy season” (to borrow an accountant’s term); she affectionately calls Christmas Eve a “non-stop Jesus party”–I believe our church held four different services this year.

On top of that, we are blessed that all of our parents live within close proximity. Of course, that also means that we have three Christmasses to make between Christmas Eve and Christmas day, which typically means less-time-than-desired spent with each family member, more road-time than we’d prefer, and a level of exhaustion at the end of things that makes it more difficult to enjoy what a blessing it is to be able to spend time with family in this part of the year.

As is appropriate, I suppose, this has me thinking about the Incarnation. The meaning of Christmas, to me, is relatively simple but profound. God loves us so much that God personally came to Earth to be with us, accepting suffering alongside us (and for us) just to be present with us. It’s one thing to write that, but let it really sink in. Think about what God volunteered to do when no force or power can make God do anything God doesn’t will to do. Think about the eternal profundity of that choice. I’m not often one to let my emotions get the best of me, but this single thought strikes me to the core every time I contemplate it.

This basic truth about God’s will, choices and desire for us is the source of all hope we have, the foundation of that peace which cannot be marred by temporal events, the all-encompassing love that inspires love in all touched by it. Jesus Christ’s birth into the world is the very core element of Christianity (as is fitting).

Yes, Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross for us is also foundational, as is the Resurrection. But, at the end of the day, these are true mysteries of the faith that we will never fully understand. Whether you ascribe to Christus Victor theory, Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory, or one of the various other proffered explanations for the mechanism of our salvation, it’s a topic that will always elude our complete grasp. But the meaning of Christmas needs no great intellect for one to understand how it changes everything. The meaning of Christmas is existential, and therefore intuitive.

We may cloud that realization with commercialization, with stress about pleasing others and properly performing traditions, or angst about failing to adequately take time to “get into the Christmas Spirit,” but it is always there for us, waiting to be discovered anew.

New Year’s Resolutions

I haven’t made New Year’s Resolutions for several years. It strikes me as a silly thing, really. Why should an arbitrary marker of time provide some special impetus for us achieving the things we want to all year round (but fail to summon the discipline or will to truly work toward)? I want to be in better shape all the time, but there’s no reason to think that I will have some additional amount of drive to follow through on the desire tomorrow than I do today.

Instead, I’ve simply made goals for myself for each season of my life, reflecting on and thinking about those things that I want to prioritize for myself in the choices that I make moving forward.

But this year, I’ve decided to make a resolution anyway. It is, in many ways, a sub-goal for my life season goals. At present, the life goal on which I am most focused is to become a professional writer, to be published. That doesn’t mean that I expect to be able to be a full-time writer, I understand how rare a thing that that actually is, and there’s a part of me that would very much like to keep money out of my writing as much as possible (though I understand what the Apothecary means when he says, “My poverty but not my will consents.”).

That resolution is to write for at least one hour every day. It’s not necessarily about content generation (as I said above, such things cannot be forced). Instead, it’s about building stronger writing habits. I may write on the novel I’m working on, or the half-finished theology book manuscript currently gathering dust, or a short-story, or something gaming-related, or this blog, or what ultimately amounts to unusable nonsense. The point is to erode those barriers that all-too-commonly lead me to say, “I feel like I should be writing right now, but…” To write for the sake of writing, because I acknowledge that as a core personal need I have–writing, regardless of result or achievement, is part of who I am.

Maybe while I’m at it, I’ll get myself to the gym more often. But I’m not holding my breath.

200 for 200

WordPress tells me that, in the roughly two-and-a-half years since I started this blog, I’ve posted 182 posts (this will be 183). Considering my goal has been a minimum of one post a week (even though sometimes posts come in bursts following periods of silence rather than on a regular schedule), I’m pretty proud of that.

But I aspire to more, so I’m setting a goal for myself, one with which I very much need your help! Here it is: I want to have 200 followers through WordPress by the time I hit 200 posts. I currently have 137 WordPress followers, so that’s 63 new followers in the next 17 posts.

If you like what I do here and want to help me reach a wider audience (and perhaps be motivated to do even more), here’s what you can do: (1) invite your friends and followers to come take a look at the blog and follow if they like what they see; (2) repost your favorite posts from this blog on your blog; (3) “like” articles and posts that you, well, like; (4) comment on posts; (5) send me a message about what you like (or don’t) and what you’d like to see more of; (6) generally tell your friends.

Here’s what you can expect to see in some of those next 17 posts: at least two new theology posts I’m working on, one of which is called “Is God’s Will General or Specific?” and the other of which is titled “Jesus’ Anti-Apocalyptic Message;” a review of Wrath & Glory RPG; some preliminary notes on the Dark Inheritence 40K Campaign I’m currently writing; some more notes on the development of Avar Narn RPG; at least one Avar Narn short story.

That certainly doesn’t cover 17 posts, so I’m free to take some suggestions or requests.

All it takes is clicking a few buttons to help me reach more people; please take a little time to spread the word!

Blog Update

I completely missed posting last week and haven’t posted anything this week. This post is not going to be as substantive as usual, unfortunately (I’ll try to get a substantive post up over the weekend!), but I wanted to let my readers know what’s going on and what to expect in the near future.

NaNoWriMo is not a go.
Last November, I made very good progress on the first draft of my first novel set in Avar Narn by participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I had hoped to participate again this year to get the first draft finished. Unfortunately–at this point–I’ve made the decision not to participate this year.

K and I are still waiting on a placement of kiddos, which could happen at any moment now but (obviously) hasn’t happened yet. I’m concerned that, as November nears, I’ll need to be focusing more of my time on the kids when they arrive. As much as I’m yearning to get the first draft (and then revisions) done on this novel, it simply must take a back seat to the children and their needs.

Additionally, K and I are purchasing a house and will be closing and moving around November. K’s got a lot going on with her worklife right now and into the near future, so I intend to take on the better part of the moving efforts.

That doesn’t leave much room in my schedule to try to fit in 1667 words a day in November, so I’ve decided to give myself a little break on that front.

This does not mean I won’t be writing–just probably not as intensely as I would be if participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve been spending time working on (and reworking) some of the setting information for Avar Narn (mythology, legends and history, religion, geography, etc.) that will be the basis for (hopefully) many short stories and novels in the future. Expect some posts related to this “background” information.

I’ve got one Avarian short story currently underway (though I’m not sure I’ll end up happy enough with it that it will get posted) and plotting in the works for at least half-a-dozen more. I have more plotting to do for the rest of the novel (and some changes in the part that’s already written, which I’ve been slowly working through) and I hope to get some writing done towards the novel in the near future.

I had said not long ago that I’d be working on some sci-fi short stories (and a few are in their infancy), but Avar Narn is my truest passion and that’s where I’ve decided to really focus.

On Publishing
I’ve been thinking a good bit about how to approach publishing some of my work. That’s a daunting set of decisions, and I’m not fully decided, but I am currently leaning toward some form of self-publishing. While I’d love to have a large readership, I’d rather follow some advice from Joss Whedon. On talking about making TV shows, he reportedly said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’d rather make something that a few people have to watch than something that a lot of people want to watch.”

For me, the major issue (other than perseverance through mountains of rejection letters, which I could live with) is control over my projects, staying true to the story for its sake rather than caving to market demands, and taking things in the direction I want them to go. This likely means a smaller audience and less money (to the extent that there will ever be any money in my writing, which is not a guarantee) but more personal freedom. It is a quirk of my personality to prioritize my independence and doing things my way over most other advantages–for better or for worse.

This may merit a full post, and I’d love to hear the thoughts of any readers who are themselves published (I know there are a few of you out there!).

On Theology
One of the reasons I failed to get a post out last week is that I’ve recently been teaching for a Sunday school class at the church. I love to teach and its an honor to have been asked to teach by people I so deeply respect and admire. We did two weekends on the history and polity issues confronting the United Methodist Church relating to our position on homosexuality (and the LGBTQI community in general) and are now doing two weekends on the Trinity.

There are certainly some posts in the works based on this research and some other reading/studying I’ve done recently. I’ll of course have a post on the Trinity in the near future (and why it’s such an amazing aspect of orthodox Christiany faith), but I’ve also got some ideas kicking around about theories of salvation, about William of Ockham and his theology, about (modern) Gnosticism and more.

On Reviews
I’ve finished a few Great Courses on medieval history recently and I’m currently in the midst of one on Imperial China (which, as K will attest, has really gotten me geeking out a fair deal, though perhaps no more than usual). I may do some reviews on these sometime soon.

I’m also working through a few theology books which I may have some comments on.

There are a number of video games either recently out or that will be out in the next few months that I’d, one, like to play, and, two, like to share some thoughts about. The Pathfinder: Kingmaker isometric game just released; it both takes me to an RPG setting and ruleset that’s always interested me (though that I’ve found far too complex and, ultimately, flawed to play on the tabletop) and to the isometric RPGs of the 90’s that were the mother’s milk of my early (digital) gaming life. The last installment of the recent Tomb Raider trilogy is also out and I’m definitely interested in following up on the first two very-well-done games of that series.

Of course, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Cthulhu will be out soon, both of which I’m excited about. I was in law school about the time the first Red Dead Redemption came out, and I distinctly remember sitting with a judge in his late-sixties or early-seventies at lunch during a summer internship as he ranted about how great the game was. He wasn’t wrong.

On Roleplaying Games
As those of you who are interested in such things may have noticed, most of my recent posts on the truest-and-highest art of gaming–the tabletop RPG–have been about the Cortex Plus/Prime system. I’ll be continuing to post about my Shadowrun conversion for those rules.

I have always dreamed of an RPG to go along with Avar Narn. I’ve run several games set in the world over the years (using rulesets as diverse as The Riddle of Steel, Cortex, Fate, and D&D), but my ultimate desire is to build a roleplaying game specifically designed for the unique nature of the world (said every RPG designer with a pet setting ever, I know). While I love “generic” roleplaying games like Fate and Cortex for a wide variety of play, I am also a believer that systems specifically designed for particular settings are usually better, because the mechanics can reinforce the setting and vice-versa.

One of the most annoying things I see in D&D is the assumption by some players that the rules of D&D are the immutable physics of any setting using that ruleset rather than the rules serving the setting (and being subordinate to both normal and narrative logic).

Both Fate and Cortex intend to be rulesets that bridge the gap between the completely generic ruleset and the one-setting ruleset by using modularity and a toolbox approach that encourages customization. But even this, I think, will not be sufficient for my purposes.

I see games like The One Ring with mechanics that really bring forward the themes and motif of the game as a whole–not to mention indy games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Houses of the Blooded and Torchbearer that really push the envelope of rules for narrative games or RPGs (however you parse those two out)–and I am inspired. We’ll see what comes of it, so expect posts as I struggle through issues of design and ask for feedback (and, hopefully, some eventual assistance with playtesting).

I had mentioned a ways back that I was working on a massive campaign set in the Warhammer 40k universe. That is on a backburner, to be sure, but still in the pipeline.

I’d like to do some review of the newer Warhammer Fantasy and 40K rulesets in the future as well.

Reader Involvement
In case it isn’t apparent, thinking critically and imaginatively and then writing about those thoughts. Maybe it’s a disease–I’m just not happy if I’m not doing it, and I find a lot of fulfilment just from writing and from posting here.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know that people find some usefulness in what I write! I’d love to have more comments, requests for topics, questions to follow up on from posts and more reader involvement in general! Drop me a line, even if it’s just to tell me what you think of the blog in general–or if you think there’s something I could improve on. And invite your friends!

Conclusion
Well, that’s a long list of things I’d like to do, perhaps more than can reasonably be accomplished. But it seems worth trying to do anyway, so we’ll see what comes of it.

Going a Little Crazy

As of today, K and I have been on the active list for our second foster placement for two weeks. The suspense is killing us.

The first time we became an active foster family, we had a placement within three days of going active. That being our only experience of the process, we’re chomping at the bit for something to happen.

We could get the call at any time, so all of our plans must currently be held in “tentative” status and every decision has a “what will we do if we get a placement call” component to it.

But we’ve only had one call for a potential placement, and that was the very day we became active again. It was a potential placement that just wasn’t a good fit for us, so we did the hard thing all of our clinicians, foster trainers and the rest of our support group has recommended to us–we passed and waited for something that will be a good fit for us. I can see how that becomes more and more difficult as time goes on and the desire to have kids in the home now continues to crescendo.

It’s a feeling of constantly being on edge–a strange combination of the night before Christmas and the night before that test you really should have studied for–but didn’t. It’s not that I don’t feel well-prepared, though, it’s quite the opposite. The source of tension is that the kids I imagine being in my home soon, falling in love with, are an amorphous blur in my imagination. We have, at present, no way of knowing what the specific challenges will be, what little miracles will greet us each day, what sorts of things will start me pulling out my hair. As is most often the case, it’s the not knowing that’s tough.

All of that is to say two things, I suppose: (1) as I hinted at back in July, there’s soon to be much more to say on this part of the blog, and (2) if I’ve been less active, or more distracted lately, at least now you have some explanation if nothing else.

On the other hand, maybe I should be trying to write more to stay sane–that usually helps. If only I could get my thoughts to stand still!