Eric Seablade

Eric Seablade was the name of one of the default characters in one of my first computer role playing games. That game was Tunnels of Doom for the TI-994A. The default characters were all named for the color of their sprite. Eric was blue and was the warrior character. The game was really fun, and perhaps a little ahead of its time. Today you might call it a rogue-like with a 4 person adventuring party and turn based combat.

At any rate the character name stuck with me for some reason and I used it a lot as my BBS handle back in the days of dial up modems and wildcat BBSs. These were strange pre-internet days and the first time you could kind of reach out with your computer and talk/play with others. I don’t use a handle much these days but at the time I though it was pretty cool.

Foremost however its one of the names I use fairly often in roleplaying games and is thus one of my goto characters. Unlike many of them however I don’t exactly have a personality of backstory for Seablade, instead he’s more an ingenue type character, the stand in hero. Due to the name I often give him some kind of pirate background, a guy who sort of got out on the wrong track but has had a redemptive moment.

The first time I used it for a D&D character poor Seablade died in his second outing. Not only died but had his soul permanently removed by of all things a piece of statuary he touched. (Saving throw failed!) From there I invented an afterlife for him where he was bound to serve a lord of hell as a sort of immortal paladin; a good guy working for the bad guys against other bad guys. He’s shown up as an NPC from time to time but I never actually played that version of him in a game.

Most recently I decided to play Assassins Creed: Black Flag and since its a pirate game I trotted him out when prompted for a character name. It turns out you don’t have much choice but to be a vicious and greedy pirate so I’m not sure he’s in character with the name as I see it, but its a fine pirate name none the less.

Identity and Debate

When debating, there is often an invisible wall you can run into when the topic you are discussing is part of a debaters self defined identity. Religion is one of the most common of these topics. Often when an Atheist and Christian argue both are people who strongly identify themselves as being “A Christian” or “An Atheist.” When it comes time to defending an argument that could undermine said identity, there is a kind of impassable barrier that enters the conversation.

The harder you press that topic a kind of fight or flight response takes over. Either the point is entirely avoided, or it provokes an emotional and aggressive response. In both cases the argument simply isn’t going to progress in any useful fashion. I find the best course is to steer the debate into more comfortable territory or try to place it in a more hypothetical context.

Sometimes people are aware of this, but I find often they are not. I’ve had debates where a point of mine simply goes unresponded to no matter how often I bring it up and if I press hard enough they will claim never to have heard it. Its like trying to get a straight answer from a political candidate to a pointed question but the evasion seems to be happening instinctual rather than being crafted.

As a result I’ve learned to mostly avoid such debates. If I am going at it on a strong identity topic I tray simply not to bring up the direct challenges. Its often better to ask a lot of direct questions about what someone thinks or to direct them to sources they can read about some expert opinion on the topic at hand. Of course you can’t expect this tactic will change minds, but that simply isn’t on the table during the discussion.

What can and sometimes does happen is you plant seeds of thought, then sometime later in life, circumstances will arise that may lead them to want to change their identity either thematically or subtly and your ideas will be there available for them to use as their own. When it comes from within, its is not a threat. People forced to change their identity rebel violently, but people often change their identity themselves.

Football Fantasy

I’m not a sports fan. I just don’t feel an ownership or investment in cheering for other people competing. I’d much rather compete myself or cheer personal friends. That said, I can appreciate competition and the joy that others feel as well as the comradery sports engender.

Last Sunday I had what will probably be my lifetime sports pinnacle moment. My long time and good friend Dennis, who is a Seahawks fan extraordinaire and man of great generosity, bought tickets for Anne and I to the NFC championship game. It was Anne’s first live football game and my second.

You really couldn’t ask for a more excited and unified crowd and Anne and I played our part by dressing up in hawks regalia and honestly cheering for the team with gusto. In case you didn’t see it, this was a rough game where the Seahawks were getting whooped on for most of the game only to make a spirited comeback regarded by many as one of the most dramatic in playoff history.  I’ve ever been hugged by so many complete strangers in my life. The spirit of the crowd was fantastic and infectious.

Of all the sports American Football is definitely my favorite and this game had some of the elements I like best; trick plays and desperate but calculated gambits. I like that football has a lot of specialization and room for players with different abilities and roles. It also has a great deal of strategy and variety of events that take place during the game. All in all it is the most “strategy game” like of all popular sports not to mention the most warlike. It is the only sport I get much pleasure in watching, though true fandom will likely forever eludes me.

I feel privileged to have such a kind friend and to have had such a great sports experience. Life doesn’t get a lot sweeter than that.

Gabriazar: the great

Let me tell you about my character :P

Like many a gaming geek I’ve got tales galore of imaginary friends and the adventures I shared with them. There are a few however that strike some chord and make their way into various video games, RPG adventures and my general consciousness.

Gabriazar’s origin is as a throwaway line in an adventure module I wrote. Gabriazar the Eternal Bard of Hell as he was called there was mentioned only as the author of the chronicles of an ancient Lich who’s tomb the characters found themselves in. The name was meant to sound exotic and foreign.

His first appearance in a D&D game was as a bard who worked as a petty con man and thief jailed for sleeping with the barons daughter but later released for a suicide mission around which the adventure was based. While his intentions were nearly always selfish yet he somehow always ended up looking like a hero when all was said and done. Most of his schemes to get rich would fail, but when he was simply acting the part of the hero for show, he would inadvertently become one.

Gabriazar was one of my few evil characters, but with a lighter touch and generally one that got along decently with his more altruistic party members. In another game he bragged he was Gabriazar the Great in order to try and get some free room and board. The DM cleverly decided there was someone called The Great Gabriazar who actually was a famous hero and everyone started confusing me with him. Good fun though you knew the hammer would come down sooner or later!

Eventually I invented a backstory for him about his father being a woodsman who found and rescued an elf maid in the forest. Of course they fell in love but the maid soon realized what a boor human woodsmen were and abandoned father and child shortly after poor Gabby was born. Shunned by many for his heritage but popular with the ladies of the village he was eventually driven out of the town, though not before befouling the town well.

Gabriazar became one of my early Dungeons and Dragons Online characters and made a name for himself among the roleplaying community in the game. He won multiple “battle of the bard” competitions with his parody songs such as “Like a newbie” (a parody of Like a Virgin) and his sext drow “Gabby Girl” dancers. He won so enough times he had to retire and become a judge for the competition.

I’ve always liked the name and its rather unique, though his epithet has changed with nearly every incarnation. In DDO he was Gabriazar the Infernal Voice. Googling Gabriazar one day I found someone had had joke business cards printed for their brother under this name as he’d seen it while his brother was playing DDO and thought the name so absurd it symbolized all that was geeky and goofy about RPGs. Needless to say I was touched!

If you should meet Gabby in your travels, buy him a beer, compliment his fine clothing, keep an eye on your purse and two on your lady friend. He’s trying to enjoy life to the fullest now for apparently some day its his fate to be writing ballads in hell.

 

Magician: Apprentice & Master

Magician: Apprentice & Magician: Master are two books in a series (originally one volume) that started the career of fantasy author Raymond E Feist. They are also the most recent books I’ve undertaken to read.

When I was in grade school and high school I read quite a lot. I’d say I pretty much always had one or another books going at any given time. Once I was out into college and video games became really engrossing and took over a lot of my former reading time. Then later movies and TV became available on the internet and sci-fi and fantasy became standard topics and my reading took a permanent nose dive.

None the less I do crack a novel from time to time. On this occasion my wife and I were playing Ingress (an augmented reality game where you sort of do virtual tagging of real world landmarks) and the game led me to a kind of tiny roadside library. They are something like a large mailbox that invites you to trade books by taking and/or leaving one in the box. Since I was there and smitten with the notion I had to grab a book. I picked out the only fantasy in the box, Magician: Apprentice.

What is it about and what do I think of it?

A young man discovers he has magical powers just as the kingdom in which he lives comes under attack by invaders from another world. There is nothing too revolutionary about it but what I like is that it doesn’t waste time being fancy or artful, it just plows forward with lots of meaningful events for the characters and interesting bits of world lore.

Despite the title there are actually a few main characters that the story follows, the titular Magician Pug as well as his boyhood friend and some of the local nobility. The structure is a bit unorthodox, as the author admits in his foreword to the revised edition, but honestly it works to hold your interest as they chapter out between the main characters stories weaving together a picture of the war between worlds.

I’m now about halfway in the second book Magician: Master and admittedly its bogged down just a bit, but I’m still eager to find out how things play out for Pug and the gang as they face off against a mixed bag of interesting foes. In addition to the brisk plotting the author shows a knack for larger than life characters. Everyone in this book has D&D character written all over them.

Speaking of D&D

One thing that jumped out at me was a plot devise where one of the heroes is slowly transformed  by some magical artifacts into a being of another ancient race now long dead. I had a game master use this exact same plot device on me in a memorable D&D game back in my college years. Seeing what was very likely the inspiration for it brought back some fond memories.

If you are an RPG grognard or historian you will find that likewise Feist borrows heavily from Tekumel, the setting from the Empire of the Petal Throne for his invading army from another dimension. The borrowing was apparently inadvertent but since it is a fantasy setting that is not often copied or imitated it still feels pretty original here.

Creativity is a large part borrowing from others and adding some twists of your own.

Elder Scrolls Online

Anne and I started playing this game fairly regularly about one month ago and I think we are nearly done with it having finished the single player campaign. We had first played it in Beta and were rather disappointed and underwhelmed by a largely unfinished game with pretty boring mechanics and only a surface feel of Elder Scrolls. The finished game is quite a lot better with a fair degree of polish, descent core mechanics and a pretty strong Elder Scrolls feel.

What I liked

The setting for the game feels pretty strongly of an Elder Scrolls game and that’s something I’ve come to like over the years. It has lots of lore which is always front and center and while it has common threads of fantasy it mixes them up in very unique and interesting ways.

The character building and combat are decent. I very much like that any class can play nearly any roll. Characters are comprised of 3 core abilities (Health, Stamina, and Magicka) along with a side selection of active and passive skills you can invest in combat and crafting. Class only informs a minority of your skills while others come from the type of armor chosen, the weapon type you use, the lines of quests you follow, your race, and a few that everyone has available. You have a range of choices and you can switch it up in fun ways. Race and class are the only elements you can’t change once set.

Combat involves picking 6 active skills and one active consumable (potions normally) and then having at your enemies with them. At level 15 you can set a second set you can swap during combat though I rarely did so. Between fights you can change the skills out for any you have trained and for a fee you can change the skills you have available to select from.

When fighting there is a fair bit of moving around and reacting to enemies. Special attacks are telegraphed a bit so you will want to dodge and move around or block at the right moment to avoid them. This makes combat always pretty engaging and active rather than a stand and click snooze fest.

The quests are almost all story driven so there is a lot less of “collect X whatevers from random critters”  and a lot more, please go kill those orcs burning down my house then find out where they came from and defeat their leader. It is rarely all that innovative but it is also almost never straight up lazy quest writing. There are multiple story threads as well as side quests galore. Honestly it worked pretty well as a single player RPG game I could play with my wife which is exactly what we wanted.

Finally, crafting is decent. It is not a huge money sink, in fact you can make money at it right away. It is also not a horrible grind. Just chewing through the stuff you find is enough to level your crafting up at about the same rate as your combat abilities. When you finish the main story quest if you used your chosen crafting skills you should be top  tier. Mind you they do take skill investment so you must either limit your combat options or just pick a couple crafting skills to specialize in. Between my wife and I we were able to cover them all. Most importantly, the gear you can make is pretty good, often a little better than the quest gear but only with some planning and effort. Honestly I think its the best crafting I’ve seen in a game that is not at its heart a crafting game.

What I Didn’t Like

Honestly there wasn’t much that was straight out bad. The most sticking point for me was the some of the writing, especially in the dialog options my character is given. In this game there is no voice for the main character or prescribed personality which is fine by me as I can pick my own, its role playing after all. But many of the dialog options for your character are either “Goodby” or “Random statement to continue dialog.” Often the continue dialog choices, which you must select to continue the quest, are really inane things to say that make your character sound like an idiot, a coward, a depressive, a braggart, a jerk, or a robot designed to ask inane questions to forward the plot. It can really suck the role playing out of the RPG at times.

Its biggest sin is the old trope of telling your character how they feel. “I see the look of worry on your face.” says the NPC. Sorry pal but my character wasn’t the least bit worried, he was looking forward to the fight! This kind of thing is just sloppy/lazy writing.

On the Fense

The dialog and voice acting is pure Elder Scrolls, and if you have played it you know that is a blessing and a curse. Its full of flavor and humor and all things interesting, but it also falls painfully short at times. While they have broadened the cast, some voices come at you again and again, undisguised as the same guy voicing the last 10 quest givers you interacted with. Repeating characters sometimes go wildly out of character because the plot calls for it and some pitching of voice acting feels utterly out of tone with the situation its taking place in. Honestly though its now part of what makes an Elder Scrolls game recognizable.

Combat is pretty fun but ultimately not as engaging as I’d like. It is not strategically deep, nor is there a great deal of variety. You only have 6 actions you can take and for my character 2-3 of those were buffs I use before combat so I’m spamming 2-3 attacks over and over while dodging enemy specials. Most combat  was of trivial difficulty provided I payed attention to avoiding enemy specials or aggroing multiple encounters at once. Overall fighting was amusing but not deeply engaging. Better than most MMOs but weaker than most single player games.

While I can’t really fault the designers for it, the thing that often was most annoying was the presence of other players. You could be in a relatively tense combat when some other guy comes through and wipes out the monsters with their ultimate attack. You could be listening to some NPC exposition while some yahoo is standing right next to them fighting a monster. If you and your friend are at different points in a quest you will see very different environments around you which can be confusing. Honestly among games I’ve played this one minimizes these issues but its one reason I’m just not generally a fan of RPG MMOs as story telling games.

Summary

Its a well crafted MMO that is well worth playing for the story missions, but probably doesn’t have a lot of legs beyond that unless you really get into the PVP. You could easily play if for a few months at a casual pace, or rush through in one month. If you want an RPG to play with a friend or lover, its a very good choice as very few support it. If you play solo then many other single player RPGs are probably a better choice.

As an MMO where you play with many other people I just can’t say. Its not what I wanted when I played it and we mostly avoided interacting with anyone else. I never went online to see what the community is like nor engaged in the faction vs faction PvP.

All in all I judge it a Good game that clearly took a lot of effort and love to make. 7 of 10

The Supernatural

I often frequent a site called Online Debate Network where I argue with a handful of other debate faithful on the usual hot topics of the day or timeless classics. The question was posted, “Can deductive reasoning alone prove the existence of a supernatural being?” The debate started to involve a deep discussion of the term “Supernatural” and I decided to try and coalesce my thoughts on the matter. For me the term is somewhat dependent on your world view.

The Base Human Perspective

I think at our core we understand the supernatural to be events well outside our common experience which we cannot explain in terms we are familiar with. When something happens we don’t understand it is categorized as supernatural, and when something well expected occurs it is considered normal or natural.

It is when you dig deeper into those things that are not expected that we start to form more sophisticated and complex opinions about what supernatural means to us. On the surface we all have a pretty good take on it, if different specifics. But if you delve into philosophical questions you have to dig deeper.

In Dualism

In a dualistic world view you see creation divided into matters of spirit and matters of the physical. There is a belief, generally, that the spirit world can hold sway over the physical world if sufficient power or skill is brought to bare and that what would otherwise be the course of natural events can be shaped by spiritual will. In this world view supernatural tends to mean “Spiritual” or more specifically a spiritual act manifesting in the physical world.

Many spiritual systems see an order of a sort to the spirit world, much as the natural world has an observable order. Priests and shamans and the like tend to be the practitioners claiming knowledge and insight into these rules.

Human beings for the most part are seen as having very limited access and power in this spiritual world unless training, ritual, or some type of divine grace is present. Therefore despite the idea that there is some order to the spiritual, it remains largely mysterious and not fully understood.

In Naturalism

Naturalism as you might know, pretty much pre-supposes that there is nothing supernatural that is real. Its underlying notion is that all things are ordered and and causal and that through observation and deduction one can come to understand reality and more critically make predictions about it.

The methodology of science is to observe and test to determine predictable outcomes of given actions. The very idea that some force from outside of the observable that can defy the normative rules at will would make any kind of deduction impossible. Any given test or observation could be a supernatural rather than natural act.

Which is not to say that naturalism rules out the idea of something like a ghost or a god, it is just that such an entity would have to be part of the natural world and follow some kind of deterministic set of rules. Science is always discovering new phenomena, gaining at least some understanding of events that in the past were considered entirely mystical and unknowable.

What science has often done is show that the claims of many spiritualists don’t stand up to rigorous testing and therefore don’t up to the tests for knowledge that science sets for itself. While they could in theory be possible, science offers no reason to suspect they truly are.

My View

I am by and large a naturalist. I would suspect if there were agents of will and spirit they would like all other things have some order, but I’ve not seen any compelling evidence to suspect such things do exist. My reading of the history of both science and religion and their ongoing practice is that science has a far better track record of making predictions about how the world works and putting those predictions into useful practice.

Science is by no means without flaw, and any good naturalist will admit it has its limits, but when I need to take action, I take action informed by the natural order of the universe as I understand it and not in the power of the spirit world or unseen entities beyond the scope of the universe.

As to the question

I think that reasoning and logic can only be applied to the supernatural if you have a dualistic world view and believe in an ordered spirit world. If you think the world of spirit is without order, or if ordered is fundamentally beyond our understanding, then I don’t think you can make deductive statements about it because any underlying premise is entirely conditional.

The TV Show

The television show “Supernatural” is quite excellent and I highly recommend it. :)

Hearthstone

My current prime gaming addiction is Hearthstone. It is an on-line collectible card game put out by Blizzard themed on Warcraft. It is free to play though of course Blizzard would love if you bought some digital cards using your hard earned money. :)

You truly could play the game entirely for free if you are patient and don’t mind taking some lumps on the way up. I played it free for a couple months and finding myself thoroughly pleased, decided that paying for some cards would be money well spent to accelerate my ability to build exotic decks.

I’ve tried a few other digital card games and so far hearthstone has by far been the most satisfying. It is well balanced and well conceived. It takes advantage of being a digital card game in subtle ways but stays true to the play and mechanics that make a card game feel like a card game. Perfect for a fellow like me who loves such games but tires of the business of sorting and managing physical cards.

What’s good about it

1. There are no resource cards as in many other games. Each player starts with one mana and gets one more each turn. This both ensures a nice smooth progression for both players and takes the impossible starts problem out of the game. This also makes for smaller more focused decks.

2. When you collect cards beyond what you can play with you can turn them into “dust” which can be used to make other cards. The ratio is about 4:1 given the rarity of the card, though special golden cards can trade 1 : 1 with regular cards of the same rarity. This feels fundamentally fair and fun.

3. The game strikes a good balance most of the time. Many games can be close calls with key decisive moments where good play can make all the difference, yet there is still a good deal of dumb luck to cope with and to make things exciting. Mind you there is always complaining about X being too strong or Y being too weak but after many years of such games I can say confidently Hearthstone is about as well balanced as they come without being boring (which is often the result of too much balance).

4. It is fairly fast to play and each turn almost always involves a card play or action of some kind. Each hero has a built in power so even if you don’t have the mana yet for a play, you can probably activate that and get some small milage from it. At 30 cards even a long game is pretty tame by Magic or L5R comparisons. 10 Minutes is about average with a long game perhaps taking 20 and a short game 5. Turns are timed so folks can’t just stall you out.

5. The UI is nice and there are lots of cute graphics and sound effects to keep you amused. It has a kind of play mat with animated toys on it you can fiddle with while an opponent considers their next move. All very clever stuff.

Things you might not like

1. It is almost all played against other people. There are some AI practice decks and you get cards for beating them at first, but very quickly they prove no real challenge and you must play other people for any kind of competitive game. The matching is decent but many players are well trained and equipped thanks to videos and guides on the internet.

2. Some people are jerks. Fortunately you can’t really talk to them unless you decide to be friends. I’ve friended a half dozen that send me requests and so far 1 jerk off and 5 nice people.

3. It lacks the grand combo’s of some of the more complicated non computer CCGs. They want to keep it approachable so there are few multi card infinite combos and to keep things simple you only play cards when its your turn. That means there is less meat for deck builders like me to play with and synergy sometimes plays a back seat to simply playing cards that have good value.

Anyhow if you play and want to spar of chat you can find me on in the game as SigTrent at least a little most nights.

Good Friends

I think there is almost nothing in life that can bring you more richness than good friends. Even when I was my most nerdy and socially awkward, I always had at least one good friend I knew would be glad to see me and I to see them. When I reminisce it is often of people I knew and thinking of their unique character always excites and inspires me.

Each period of my life has been marked by different friends and wherever I go or whatever I do I’m blessed to find people with whom I can share inspiration. I’ve found the key to making friends is to be nice to strangers. When I meet someone for the first time I try to put a little extra effort into being nice and welcoming. From there simply be kind and respectful and you can have all the friends you could ever need.

The only regret of having many friends is that the scope of anyone’s life is limited in time, space, and attention. There are people I cherish deeply I’ve neither seen or spoken to in many years. It simply wouldn’t be possible to maintain a close bond to everyone I’ve ever been friends with. So, I try to let things flow naturally and my closest friends are generally those people doing the same things I’m doing in the same places at the same times. Still, once a friend always a friend if I were to meet any on the street any day I’d feel the same trust and affection for them as I did when I saw them every day.

Today I was honored to attend a birthday party for one of my friends. You know people are close when they want to share important moments with you. And sharing experiences is what brings everyone closer together. Or to put it succinctly, in friendship and in many other things: Presence is Relevance.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to all my friends past present and future. You make life so much richer than it could ever be alone.

I am the 2%

Not the top 2% mind you, the bottom 2% and not income, but interest in the outdoors. I know this because in high school long ago I took a test. This test was to find for you prospective careers to match your interests and aptitudes. Most jobs on the list ranged from mid 30s to high 70s but in the realm of outdoor professions such as park ranger or landscaper I scored a massive 2%.

From then on, my family who were well familiar with my lack of enthusiasm for all things wilderness took to referring to me as Mr. 2%, and I was well happy for the title as it served as a potent reminder that no, I was not really interested in going on a camping trip, thanks very much.

But Why?

Honestly I don’t dislike mother nature or even dislike being outdoors. It is often very pretty and sparks the imagination. There are tons of things to look at and fool around with. I have to watch out for the sun, it burns my tender flesh but aside from that I’m a hearty sort and can deal with cold, heat, wind, and wet pretty well. I really like looking at rocks, plants and animals.

Inconvenience is one factor. I really dislike mosquitoes and other flying bugs. Where I grew up in Alaska mosquitoes are brutal during times of the year when you are want to go out and enjoy nature. They suck the fun right out of everything. Outside also has a distressingly low number of power outlets, flat places to put drinks, clean places to lie down, and sources of ready food, all things I am very fond of. The weather, as fun as it can be tends to much limit exactly what you can do at any given moment.

Another is that outside with other people I tend to want to do different things. My first instinct when in a beautiful sunny meadow is not to walk around on some trail but to lie down and take a nap. While climbing a mountain I want to smash rocks together and make dust. In a forest I want to make things out of the plants. Basically I want to act like a little kid which would tend to embarrass the hell out of anyone I’m with and doesn’t comport with the notions of conservation and respect for nature.

Lastly there is simply the matter of exertion. I’m a creature of comfort and I prefer to be at ease rather than huffing about. If I am to exert myself I enjoy breaking things and fighting the most, not the sort of thing much appreciated in the wilderness these days. Snow is actually one of the nice things I do like as no one much cares if you smash about the ice and snow and a little snow ball fighting is often appreciated. Similarly playing about in the ocean is something I can do outside in a way that no one would object to.

And yet I go out

Truth be known I can and do enjoy myself in the great outdoors. My wife and I go out for walks fairly often and I’ve been known to enjoy it. I have some fond camping memories and remember many lovely places I’ve been. I certainly don’t begrudge others their love of the great outdoors.

But ultimately I’m a creature of the cave and urban jungle. More at home in a labyrinth of walls than one of trees. I’d rather the company of men than beasts and I delight in modern comforts and technology. I’d as much enjoy reading of a far off enchanted forest as to be there in person.