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Gaming Logic: Critical Fumbles

Caveat: Very little about Dungeons & Dragons is intended to be clear cut. There are literally dozens or even hundreds of interpretations of how any particular mechanic works to simulate the real world or something else, etc. This is mine. YMMV.

Critical Hits and Fumbles

Most gamers agree on what should happen when you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll: an automatic hit that does extra damage, representing a super lucky shot. We might disagree on the particulars (double damage? Max normal damage plus a bonus? Roll to confirm? Etc) but we all tend to agree it’s a good thing.

What about a Natural 1, though?

What is a Natural 1?

A Natural 1 is just that–you roll a d20 and roll a 1. That’s a 5% chance and is commonly understood to represent a stroke of rotten luck. The game defines a Natural 1 on an attack roll as an automatic miss, no matter how ideal your situation was or how easy it was to hit the target, short of an automatic hit.

But should something else happen in addition to a miss?

There’s endless debate about what should happen with Natural 1s, and a whole cottage industry of people putting out tables, house rules, and even 40-50 cars decks of “critical fumbles,” where if you roll a 1, you draw a card and follow the doom specified thereupon.

And to an extent, that’s what I’m doing here, but I want to talk about another aspect one should be considering: the relative rate at which different characters will be rolling Natural 1s.

Specifically, the more attacks you have, statistically the more often you will roll a 1.

Credit: Invisible Citadel

Better Fighters Screw Up More Often?

Say you’re a high level fighter. You’re a master of your craft and a legendary terror with your chosen weapon. Most foes quake in their boots to hit you, and you almost always hit your target–you might need to roll only a 5 or higher to hit almost anything, say. And you attack 4 times during your attack! Amazing!

But your chances of rolling a Natural 1 and screwing up are the same as everyone else: 5%

If you have multiple attacks, though, each of those attacks has a 5% chance of a Natural 1. Now, I’m not a statistician, but the odds of having rolled at least one Natural 1 over the course of a combat when you’re rolling 4 times with each attack action are a bit higher than a mere 5%. Your typical level 1 fighter is statistically 100% likely to roll a Natural 1 in a twenty round fight (having made 20 attacks), but a 20th level fighter making 4 attacks a round is statistically 100% likely to roll a Natural 1 in a five round fight, and four Natural 1s over the course of a twenty round fight.

See what I mean?

To make matters more specific, the most common results of a Natural 1 that people use are 1) you hit yourself or an ally with the attack, doing either normal or a lessened amount of damage, and/or 2) you disarm yourself or break your weapon.

Now, I’ve occasionally heard people scoff at the very idea of a high level fighter breaking their weapon or being disarmed, and I want to push back on that a little. It’s easy, in the wild chaos of combat, to have your weapon jostled from your hand–say your hand is slammed against a wall and you lose your grip, or the hilt is slaked in green ichor, or whatever–and weapons are not as tough as we all think. Swords break and bend and grow dull all the time, especially if they’re used for a long time.

But consider, though, the odds of your high level fighter losing their weapon in a given round, which are much higher than any other character. Or that same fighter being disarmed multiple times in the same round.

Does that make sense? Not really.

My Suggestion

I prefer to think of a natural 1 as the game reminding you to introduce some cool and unexpected event to keep things fresh and surprising. Remember the point is to keep the action fun and exciting for the players.

Cypher does this: when a player rolls a Natural 1, it prompts a cost-free GM Intrusion, where the GM has a new event happen (normally they have to give the player XP to great an intrusion). And it works pretty well there. (I like to give players XP anyway, as it encourages them not to spend XP to reroll but to embrace failure as a means of learning in the game.)

Here’s a list of “interesting things” that can happen when someone rolls a natural 1. Most are negative, some indirect, some even positive. Ignore or reroll events you don’t like, or make up your own thing that works in the situation.

Natural 1 Table

When anyone rolls a natural 1 on a d20, roll d10 and consult the following:

1.

Enemy reinforcements show up (no more than 1/4 the original CR, such as 1-2 more goblins to aid a warparty of 6-8 goblins). If you get this result again, roll again–reinforcements should only appear once per combat.

2.

The attacker inadvertently hits themselves; attacker takes half damage from the attack.

3.

The attacker leaves an opening that can be exploited; next attack against them before the start of their next turn has advantage.

4.

The attacker slams their weapon against a shield, thick hide, or other firm surface, jarring it from their hand; attacker is disarmed.

5.

The attacker over-extends, over-reaches, and/or slips and falls; attacker knocked prone.

6.

The weather radically changes (if outside), an earthquake/cave-in starts shaking everything (if underground), etc. This can have any number of effects on the battlefield, such as requiring Dexterity checks to remain standing, inflicting disadvantage on attack rolls, etc.

7.

The target gets a second wind; restore 2d8 hit points to the target. (See my post about Hit Points for more on this topic.)

8.

The attacker recovers from their swing into a defensive posture; the next attack against the attacker before the start of their next turn has disadvantage.

9.

The attacker drives back the target with a wild swing and gets an unexpected break; restore 2d8 hit points to the attacker. (See my post about Hit Points for more on this topic.)

10.

The character spots a weakness/armor gap/opening in the enemy they attacked, granting advantage on their next attack against that enemy before the end of their next turn.

You could certainly substitute your own events or add to this chart, making it a d20 roll or even a percentage roll for a random event from a massive list. The point is to have fun with it and use Natural 1s as an opportunity to make things more interesting for your game.

Tl;dr: Straight up “you miss” is less interesting than “you miss AND…”

Persona-Heroic: the Basics

This is the first of what will probably be a few articles about my Persona-H tabletop campaign, which uses my own (still in development) proprietary game system.

I’m going to write these trying not to assume you know anything about the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona games, but I’m so heavily steeped in the concepts that I might confuse people. Sorry. If that’s the case, by all means let me know, and I’ll try to explain.

Otherwise, you can find lots of great articles further explaining it online. (I’ll include links where appropriate!)

The protagonists from the Persona series, artist unknown

THE BASICS:

My Persona tabletop game is called Persona-H, where H standards for “heroic” or “hope,” depending on how you look at it.

The player characters (heroes) in my game are basically young superheroes with this special power to manifest their Personas (the projected self) for all sorts of purposes, but primarily in combat with Shadows (the dark remnants of human thought and cognition).

“Personas” and “Shadows” are both concepts straight out of Jungian psychology (more on this below), respectively representing the outward projected self (you craft a Persona to use when interacting with others and combating the struggles of the world, whilst concealing the true self from harm) and the repressed self (your Shadow is the dark version of yourself that thrives on your darkest desires and impulses).

In the Persona games, characters manifest their Personas, which take after powerful figures from myth and legend, kind of like projecting your soul.

The protagonist awakens to his persona Arsene, from Persona 5

When a hero awakens to their Persona in my game, it is always at a moment of hopelessness, when there appears to be no path forward. In this dark moment, they relive the darkest moment of their lives–that instant when they felt disempowered and lost–and hear a voice from somewhere far beyond, asking why they did not give up–why they kept living–and then demanding to know if they still have that will to go on. To do what must be done.

To show the world their hope.

In my game, the heroes’ Personas are based on heroic characters from mythology, comics, and video games, and most of their antagonists are in some way connected to popular villains from the same sources. The characters summon them by tearing off their superhero costumes, which then transform into the Persona itself, leaving the PC temporarily clothed in sparkling light.

Yes, every hero in my game is essentially a Magical Girl, even the boys.

(*Especially* the boys.)

Also, the Personas (and the Shadows) are sorted by cards from the Major Arcana. But more on that later.

Ann, with her persona Carmen, from Persona 5

THE PSYCHOLOGY:

Persona draws heavily from Jungian psychology, in which (in simplified terms) every person has three (or more) faces or aspects of their personality:

1) The True Self, which is “you” as you experience yourself internally. This may or may not be anything like how others see you.

2) The Persona, or the mask that you don to interact with the world, which is how people experience you externally.

3) The Shadow, which is the dark, unknown version of yourself wherein you bury all your repressed desires and emotions, which you typically don’t experience at all (because it’s hidden).

Note that I said “three (or more),” and that’s because some people have more than one Persona that they show to the world. The main protagonists of the Persona video games have an ability called the Wild Card, which allows them to shift among personas as needed, even in the heat of battle.

Also, shifting to a Persona that matches the person you’re interacting with (say, using a Justice persona while on a date with a character who also has a Justice persona) causes that person to like you more. Which is rather similar to how people with personality disorders (particularly what we commonly call psychopathy) manipulate people (i.e. by constructing personas perfectly attuned to their mark), but aheh, um, that’s a larger topic.

The Persona series has a history of “facing one’s shadow” as a means of unlocking one’s true feelings and power. This was the primary mechanism/theme of Persona 4, but it shows up to some extent in all of the games.

Tangent: Some RPG systems do something similar, and I’m always put in mind of White Wolf’s nature/demeanor system, wherein you identify your “nature” (or what you’re really like, your true self) and also your “demeanor” (how you present yourself or pretend to be, your persona). You tend to get benefits from acting to your nature, whereas acting to your demeanor derives no significant effect. If I were to run a White Wolf game, I might add a third dimension, “the shadow,” which is the dark side of you that takes over when you frenzy or in some other way become your darkest self.

The protagonist and cast of Persona 4

THE SETTING:

Half of my game takes place in a somewhat fictionalized version of Seattle in 2018, in *basically* the same world as the other Persona games. Numerous cameos and references from the others games pervade the game, and it’s only going to get more so as time goes on.

The characters go to Apex High, set in the Roosevelt neighborhood, pretty much exactly where Roosevelt High is in our world. They spend their time in class, at part time jobs, doing sports, and occasionally attempting (and failing) to date. You know, like high schoolers do.

The other half of the game takes place in the Metaverse: a universe manufactured within the collective unconscious, populated with independent Shadows and the Shadows of living people, created by a powerful soul. There the heroes summon projections of their souls as Personas to fight these threats to reality and eventually save the world.

You know, like high schoolers do.

The Metaverse manifests differently in each Persona game, and in my campaign, it is the individual world that a person crafts around themselves. For instance, Jimmy Calendar sees himself as a dark horse hero, constantly struggling to hold back the tide of the world, and so his Metaverse world is Darkest Seattle: a gothic 1930s version of Seattle, complete with gangsters with tommy guns and a whole crew of gritty villains. His Persona is Batman (Magician), and in order to accomplish the demands of his world, he needs to defeat the Joker (the shadow of his arch nemesis, Timothy Brothers–the class clown/bully at Apex High).

SPOILER WARNING: My players haven’t yet encountered these, so I’m giving them a chance to look away to avoid spoilers. Come back at PERSONA COMPENDIUM. After that great pic from Persona 3…

Other companion characters have other Metaverses, all of them different versions of Seattle.

For instance, one character constantly chafes under white supremacy and its associated oppression; his version of Seattle is called New Colossus, and is essentially a Wolfenstein sort of city full of pseudo-Nazis. (Yeah, it gets dark.) For another character, Seattle is a Castle in the Clouds: a floating technological wonder ruled over by remorseless, omnipotent fate. For yet another, the metaverse is the Seattle Underground: a ruined version of the city that is mostly tunnels, chasms, and ancient tombs.

Each of these metaverses is sculpted around one mind/soul, and it represents how they see the world around them. That character needs to manifest their own Persona and defeat the antagonist of that world in order to save their own lives and eventually the physical world.

Fun question! Can you guess what Personas the three characters in the above example might manifest?

There’s also some shit brewing in West Seattle, but more on that later.

The protagonist and his persona Orpheus and Yukari Takeba with her persona Isis from Persona 3

PERSONA COMPENDIUM

The Persona games run on a huge (200+) list of Personas, which are cribbed from international mythologies. Some of it is Japanese or from other Asian countries (particularly China and India), a lot of it is European of some extraction, plenty Middle Eastern, some African, etc. Basically, humanity has thousands of stories and myths, and all of that is collected in the human collective unconscious, where the Metaverse takes place.

The Personas on this list are the enemies my heroes encounter, who they can fight or negotiate with or even invite to join them in their quest.

My list of Personas is 95% intact from previous games, with some additions, and certain of the creatures look the way an American artist might depict them (such as, for instance, the Bugs persona looks more like a Bugbear from D&D, rather than the Japanese version of a teddy bear with rotting intestines coming out of it). I think this makes sense, because the Persona list shuffles from game to game, with small differences based on where the characters are in Japan–they look at the metaverse and the shadows in it slightly differently, based on their own experiences and perspective. If you jump over a whole ocean, it stands to reason that while the collective unconscious remains universal, we Americans will perceive it slightly differently.

Also, my campaign is just at my table, so it doesn’t run into the same issues with the Persona games, where they have to stick to public domain entities and concepts. I freely use heroes from comics, video games, etc.

(Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)

MAJOR ARCANA and THE WILD CARD

As I mentioned above, the personas in the SMT: Persona games are sorted by Major Arcana, based loosely on their personality and their role in mythology.

For instance, the three sisters of fate in Greek mythology are of the Wheel of Fortune Arcana, the god Thor is of the Chariot Arcana, Pixies and Titania (the queen of faerie) are of the Lovers Arcana, while Oberon is of the Emperor Arcana. That sort of thing.

There’s a lot of discussion that can go into this, and I highly encourage my players to get into it. They have their own Arcana, which represents both their heroes as people as well as their starting personas.

For instance, as I mentioned, Jimmy Calendar is of the Magician Arcana: an enthusiastic but somewhat immature male force, which gets by on trickery and wit. His Persona, Batman, is also a Magician Arcana.

Driven athlete Wayne Iori is of the Chariot Arcana, focused on accomplishment, victory, and physical improvement, as is his persona: Cloud Strife, of FFVII fame.

For some years now, the Persona video games have been 1-player games, and you gain a bunch of companion characters, who have their own specific Personas. Meanwhile, your main character (of the Fool Arcana; your character is on a hero’s journey just as the Fool journeys through the Major Arcana) has the Wild Card ability, allowing them to switch between multiple Arcanas.

None of my characters have the Wild Card ability, but being able to fuse Personas together to have new ones is such a fundamental part of the Persona games (and significant for how you advance) that I’ve built a system wherein they can fuse an acquired Persona onto their own, altering their existing persona and giving them a new ability or two. It also updates their Arcana to being two: their base as well as the new one.

For example, Jimmy recently fused Angel (a Justice Arcana persona) onto Batman, making his Persona Magician and Justice, and he’s now known as Batman, the Avenging Night.

(Puns. I’ve got them!)

One of my players could have played the Fool, but they all chose other Arcanas, which is fine. There may be a character with the Wild Card ability in the campaign, but if so, the heroes aren’t aware of it.

Mwahahaha!

The protagonists of Persona 3, Persona 5, and Persona 4 along with their respective thematic colors

THE MUSIC:

Over the course of 20 years, Atlus has produced a VAST repertoire of music to support the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona games. Each game has a distinctive sound, crafted specifically for that game, from the dark and kind of jazzy Persona 3 to the upbeat techno-pop of Persona 4 to the tense superhero styling of Persona 5.

I play music from the series at my games, and make a conscious effort to connect the songs thematically to what’s going on. Though sometimes this manifests as “I think this song is cool, soo…”

Each metaverse has its own specific soundtrack, which is typical for the games. Each of my players has a different Persona game that represents what Persona *is* for them–their favorite, or the standard by which they judge the games–so I tie songs from that game specifically to their character.

I’ll give a couple of examples from the games so far:

I tend to start each game (the “sitting around, shooting the breeze, recapping the previous session phase” of the game) with MORE THAN ONE HEART, which is the theme song of the first Persona 3 movie and represents that sense of optimism and self-discovery (and discovery of friends) that comes early in a persona game. I plan to use other songs as the timeline advances (it’s currently late March in the game).

The “real” world of Seattle tends to use happy, upbeat, or otherwise positive songs from the series, such as Persona 4’s New Days (which is the theme of their school, Apex High) or Muscle Blues (also from P4) for scenes on my queer AF CapHill (see my note about localization below). 🙂

(Tangent: That last song comes from one of the moments in that game where Atlus at least attempts to explore queer content in a useful and memorable way. They’re, ahem, not always the best, and seem content to push things pretty far toward actual representation, then kind of blow it at the last minute by saying “oh no, this character was totally straight all along, pscyhe!” Part of my motivation in running this game is to rectify that a little for my friend and one of my players, a gay dude who introduced me to the games some years ago.)

Darkest Seattle, the first Metaverse the characters explored, uses the OBELISK battle music from Persona 5, mostly because I thought it was really cool, but also because of where it comes from. Catherine, another of Atlus’s games, is about a man at a crossroads, trying to choose between two people that he will be, which is very appropriate for a setting based essentially on dark vigilante stories.

And the first boss battle they fought–against the Shadow version of their high school bully, who took the form of Batman’s Joker crossed with Kefka from FF6–used the Master of Shadow music from Persona 3, which is boss-battle fight music (and more than a little creepy).

I have literally mapped over 80 songs to various scenes and battles I plan to run in this game. I may have gone a bit overboard. 🙂

A NOTE ABOUT LOCALIZATION:

My game is, ultimately, crafted by an American (me), played by Americans (my players), and it cannot be separated from its American context or setting.

By contrast, the Shin Megami Tensei series and its Persona spinoffs are VERY Japanese games, and this campaign is designed to honor that tradition but examine it through an American lens. Some of the characters are of Japanese heritage, some are not. The intention here is to play a game through our lens, with our cultural expectations and understanding, that honors the Japanese roots of the system. It is meant to be cultural celebration and participation, not appropriation.

And it does help that the Persona list draws from all over the world. By it’s design, I don’t think Persona is meant to have a singular, specific cultural perspective. It tells a universal story of what it means to be human, and that’s the goal of my game.

The point is, I understand and am deeply sensitive to the complicated conversation about this thing that I’m doing, and I am doing all I can to be respectful and honor the source.

Also, this game is very much about Seattle as well. The Capitol Hill of my Seattle is a somewhat different place from the one we have today: it’s a more Bohemian, slightly sleazy version of CapHill, less gentrified and more “wild”–the way my two gay players (who have lived and/or spent lots of time on CapHill) imagine it, rather than the somewhat less romantic version we have today, with rising prices and so many straight people moving there (eye roll!). The tension between Seattle and the Eastside is significant to the game. Growing demand for affordable housing as more and more people flock to the city (a thousand every week). There’s a big drill causing problems.

That kind of thing. Metaphorical or allegorical similarities to real-life Seattle problems and cultural issues.

Tatsuya with his persona, from Persona 2: Innocent Sin

CONCLUSION–FOR NOW!

So that’s the game I’m running. It’s taking up a lot of my creative energy, but it’s way worth it. The game literally gives me life, and I’m glad it’s coming together.

Thanks to my players, and buckle up–it’s gonna be a wild ride.

And for those who aren’t playing, I plan to share more about this game and the characters as time goes on.

Gamestorm 2018

So I’m a Guest of Honor at Gamestorm in Portland this year, and I thought I’d toss my schedule up here for your perusal. Panels and games. Let’s do this!

Friday panels

1pm – 2:15pm Pendleton: Build a Better Monster

2:30pm – 3:45pm Pendleton: Quit Talking to my XP!

4:00pm – 5:15pm ?????: Game Design Panel

5:30pm – 6:45pm Pendleton: The Alignment Debate

Saturday (mostly) Games!

2pm – 4:30pm Overton 03: Priority: Life Raft (my homebrewed Mass Effect system) * This game rated hard PG13 for possible language and space violence.

5:30pm – 7pm Pendleton: Guest of Honor Meet and Greet

7pm – midnight Pettygrove 01: Westgate Irregulars (D&D 5e in the Forgotten Realms) * This game rated PG13 for fantasy violence and maybe suggestive content.

Sunday Game!

11:30am – 4:30pm Overton 12: Fall of the Summer City (Shadow of the Demon Lord system, in my World of Ruin setting from my novels) * Note this game rated R for gore, language, and disturbing content.

Norwescon 2018

I’m at Norwescon this year!

Don’t miss my panel Friday afternoon, specifically: the continuing (third?) annual SF/F Battle Royale

Thursday

Reading: Erik Scott de Bie

6:00pm – 6:30pm @ Cascade 4

Erik Scott de Bie (M)

Friday

SF/F Battle Royale

3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Cascade 9

Erik Scott de Bie (M), Dawn Vogel, Brian D. Oberquell

Sunday

Why So Serious?

11:00am – 12:00pm @ Cascade 12

G. Willow Wilson (M), Donna Barr, Brenna Clarke Gray, Erik Scott de Bie

Video Games

12:00pm – 1:00pm @ Cascade 12

Erik Scott de Bie (M), Liz Barlow, G. Willow Wilson, Kiva Maginn

Gun Control and Becoming Better Men

A right-wing dude asked me about what my “solution” to gun violence in America would be, and I thought I’d put some stuff together. This is obviously a huge topic that could consume about a million more words, but here goes:

Gun violence is a complicated issue in America and it will require multiple, complex actions to solve. Some of them are policy, some of them are cultural, all of them are necessary.

At a high level, not getting into full detail, my proposed solutions include the following:

1) Compassion is #1:

Increased investment in community outreach for troubled kids and adults, including counseling, empathy building, and proactive conflict resolution to identify potential diathesis states and head off potential stressors before they can erupt into violence.

Important note: Mental health is not the cause of violence, and it’s not what I’m discussing here. There are a great many behavioral and social issues wrapped up in potentially violent situations, and licensed social workers can be extremely useful in heading off potential shooters before they shoot. We can just say “only a mentally ill person would shoot people,” but that’s an extremely facile way to talk about mental illness. We can’t just define people as mentally ill “after the fact,” like “oh, he seemed fine until he went on a shooting rampage, but since he did that, we can conclude that he was mentally ill all along.” That’s not how it works. We need to look for people who exhibit behavioral problems, threatening or violent speech on social media or in person, people with problems at home, people who feel isolated and abused by society.

As an aspect of forging a more compassionate culture, we must address the massive economic problems in our nation. We must fix our ludicrously broken health care system, so that people’s lives aren’t ruined by an unexpected illness. We must inject money back into the working people to lift people out of poverty. Poverty is a breeding ground for all sorts of vices, which is not to call poor people bad people–only to point out that poverty makes people desperate and limits their choices. You want to talk about the world being crushingly unfair to you, try being poor for just a week, let alone your entire life.

(How exactly we do that is another question, but I think taxing the rich to pay their fair share is a good start. The scale of wealth inequality is so monstrously enormous that anything I say about it probably won’t be believed, so I’d recommend doing some independent research on the subject if you’re interested. Maybe start with this video, which is 6 years out of date, and things have only gotten worse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM)

Compassion is our #1 shield against violence. And no, I don’t mean the whole #walkupnotout thing. That’s a transparent attempt to blame shootings on bullying and the victims of shootings, when shooters are more often the bullies than the bullied. If bullying truly caused someone to be a shooter, you’d think we’d have a lot more LGBT, female, and POC shooters. But the vast, vast majority of school shooters particularly (and most mass shooters in general) are angry straight white dudes.

(I 100% support anti-bullying measures, as I consider bullying to be a huge problem and an obstacle to a more compassionate society. But that’s another topic.)

Why are angry white dudes angry? What can be done about defusing their anger before it boils over? And the answer isn’t “just accede to their demands” or “be nice to them.” The answer is to identify the real causes of their pain and hatred and try to halt and repair the damage before it becomes murderous.

Sometimes people can’t be reached, however, and that leads to the next prerogative: keeping weapons of mass murder out of their hands.

2) Sensible, Preventive Gun Control:

Universal background checks of anyone who wants to purchase any sort of gun under any circumstance anywhere in America. Mandatory gun safety and training classes for all gun purchases. Additional screenings for more powerful weapons, such as AR-15s and other longarms.

It should be AT LEAST as difficult and time-consuming to own a pistol as it is to drive a car. Both are potentially deadly weapons that cause a significant number of accidental injuries. Both require responsibility and some degree of skill to operate safely.

Domestic violence, assaults, rape convictions, etc, all disqualify a person from owning a gun. Period. If one of these is discovered on your record, your application to purchase a weapon is denied. The end.

Note that any responsible, non-felon, non-violent, stable individual should be able to pass these checks and acquire the guns they want. I have no problem with responsible, good people having guns. I have a big problem with irresponsible, not-good people having guns, and I think that’s the point.

Also: we need to organize a national buyback program so people can get rid of their guns, no questions asked. And get a good price for them. Those who can’t or won’t play by the rules should have a means to give up their arsenals. After the amnesty period, those who hold onto illegal guns are criminals.

3) Preventive Maintenance and Liability:

Safety registration and training needs to be kept up to date. You must have a license for every gun you own, and must renew them with annual safety classes and tests. Failure to attend one of these classes/tests or failure on one of these tests leads to a suspended gun license, where you are not allowed to carry or remove a weapon from its protective safe in your house until you requalify. Repeat violations lead to gun seizure on the logic of you being an untrustworthy gun owner and a potential danger to yourself and others.

I am ambivalent on the issue of gun insurance, but I do think that if a gun you own is implicated in a crime, your gun licenses are immediately revoked and your guns claimed by authorities. Because you have demonstrated your inability to be a safe and responsible gun owner.

Also, except in a case of self-defense, if anyone is injured or killed by one of your guns, you are 100% liable for their medical and or funerary expenses, as well as any legal implications, which must be stiff. This would be a difficult balance to strike, since it isn’t like injuring someone with a car or they fell down on the stairs to your house. But it’s something we should definitely look into.

In a capitalist society, it seems the best deterrent to being irresponsible with a dangerous possession–be it a car or a knife or a gun–is not legal ramifications, which can seem abstract, but financial ones. But speaking of legal ramifications…

4) Penalties against Gun Misuse and Enforcement:

Having a gun without an active license must be a crime that leads to seizure. Purchasing a gun illegally must be an offense that lands you in jail. The existing laws we have about guns must be enforced. Loopholes closed.

We have a major hurdle in the form of the NRA.

Currently, the NRA maintains a stranglehold on our government to prevent enforcing gun legislation, let alone passing it or even *discussing* it. The CDC is currently not allowed even to collect shooting statistics or do any studies about gun violence. Let me spotlight that: the CDC can’t even study the problem. How are we supposed to do anything to fix it?

Not to mention, of course, that the NRA and their GOP servants won’t even allow us to try to prevent *terrorists* from buying guns.

Don’t believe me? Watch John Oliver explain it, and then do your own research on the subject about whatever he talks about that appeals to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

We must politically quarantine the NRA or at least cut off their lobbying efforts on our politicians to stop any of the above, because we all know they would do it. Their only motive is profit, and several necessary preventive measures (see above) interfere with their motive. We need to elect politicians who will not listen to them and will not take their money.

Also, taxing them might be nice.

5) An Honest Conversation:

We must be able to honestly, thoughtfully, compassionately discuss this issue.

We must not dismiss calls for sensible gun control as “but they want to ban all our guns!” or “guns aren’t to blame, people are!” or any of a dozen excuses the right throws out to avoid discussing this issue that’s killing us.

We must look at the 2nd Amendment in context, realize that our society and our weapons have evolved, and take some adult responsibility in discussing how to fix the problem. Note that I didn’t say “repeal” or “revise” or anything like that. That may not be the solution we come to. We may be able to find a path forward where we keep the 2nd Amendment as it is, recognize the need for sensible regulation of our “well-regulated militia,” and find a compromise that leads to fewer deaths. I doubt the Founding Fathers wanted to build a poison pill into the Constitution, and if they saw the massive gun violence rates in America today, they would be horrified that we didn’t use the built-in mechanisms of our government to do something about it.

We must call white mass murderers who target women or black communities what they are–*terrorists,* not “mentally ill” “disturbed” “lone wolves,” or imbue them with sympathetic descriptors like “sensitive” or “thoughtful” or “deep-thinker.” And we must not put a gloss over raving misogynist, homophobic, and/or racist BS spewing out of a white man’s mouth as “just talk.” It’s not. It’s hate, and it’s a warning–a promise of violence to come.

6) A Better Kind of Men:

Which is not to say white men are hazardous. It’s just easy for them to become radicalized in a society that seems to encourage them to be aggressive, in control, and not put up with people telling them no.

This is tricky. Young white men especially are dealing with a lot of pressure upon them to be stoic, strong, in control, persistent, and if they ever slip up or make any mistakes, their whole persona and manhood is called into question. This is a product of Toxic Masculinity, and that is what leads directly to shooting after shooting. How many shootings come about because a boy feels rejected, or out of place, or he’s “love-sick” or some other such shit? How many come about when a boy is made to feel out of control or vulnerable and doesn’t know how to deal with it? How many come from hate of women or LGBT people or people of a different ethnic background?

It’s all toxic masculinity, and it needs to stop.

We need to foster an honest, compassionate conversation about what men are allowed to be, which is individual, sensitive, and, most importantly, imperfect. Every question posed to us is not a threat. We can screw up sometimes, and still be worthy of love and personhood.

If we can get past our toxic views of masculinity, we can find a better, more compassionate, and ultimately safer way for men to live and grow. And it is our duty, as men, to do this.

Step up and help me.

Related:

How American masculinity creates lonely men on NPR’s Hidden Brain

Review: Rites and Desires

Rites and Desires is a game of cat and bat, only Catwoman is a seductive magic-wielding mastermind and Batman is a precious cinnamon roll who has no idea what he’s getting into.

Ruby Killingsworth is the cutthroat evil queen of a media empire called Goblin Records (100% perfect), who hasn’t got where she is in life by using her powers for good. Her magic, both innate and ritual-based, allows her to manipulate and dominate most people she meets. When she loses her powers (shortly before the novel), she isn’t going to let a little thing like that slow her down: she forges a deal with Loki, everyone’s favorite trickster god, to secure a powerful artifact to replace her powers.

Along the way, she becomes increasingly embroiled in a scheme to blow up the perfect marriage of her neighbor, Cobalt City’s gee whiz tech hero Jaccob “Stardust” Stevens (like Iron Man if he were just really nice to people all the time), partly out of jealousy of his brilliant wife Liz (tall and blonde where Ruby is short and ginger, it’s a whole thing), and partly because, well, she can. She has to seduce him without her magic, and without him discovering that she has the artifact he’s looking for, and Ruby doesn’t back down from a challenge.

But in corrupting CC’s golden boy, Ruby finds herself drawn toward his shining goodness as well. Opposites attract and pull each other, for better and worse.

The result is an engrossing character study of a woman with villainous motives but, almost without realizing it, creeping toward a better path.

The majority of the narrative is from Ruby’s perspective, focusing not on action scenes but rather the details of her schemes and calculations and, as things progress, increasingly her feelings and maybe even a little doubt about her course. She’s definitely ruthless, no doubt about that, but she’s complex, intriguing, and I couldn’t help but like her more than a little bit. Not unlike the way Stardust does.

Ah, Stardust. Before Amanda wrote this novel, she came to me and asked for my blessing to put Jaccob Stevens–a character I’ve done a lot to develop, including my novella EYE FOR AN EYE–through the ringer, and boy oh boy, does she. As if there was a chance I wouldn’t give her an enthusiastic “yes!”

And I’m glad I did, because this is a smart, engrossing novel that continues in the Cobalt City tradition of telling stories of heroes who are people first, supers second. This feels like a real story–a real relationship–and says something true about all of us.

It inspired me to write more, about the fallout from this dirty bomb (flirty bomb?) Amanda had fired straight at Jaccob’s too-big heart, and I can’t think of a more perfect praise of a novel than that it inspires its readers to imagine and dream and tell further stories.

I thought this novel was great, and I eagerly await the follow-up. 🙂

Tomb Raider (2018) and the Thing about Adaptations

Tl;dr Go see it, it’s worth it, though it could have been better.

This review shouldn’t be too spoilery–you should be safe, but there is one big spoiler you should look out for near the end of this review. It’s marked. You’ve been warned.

The thing about adaptations is that they’re not the same as what they’re adapting. That sounds facile, and it is, but what I really mean is that adaptations are an entirely different story that bears some degree of similarity to the characters, situations, or themes of the original. It is, and should be, fundamentally a different experience.

How *true* or close an adaptation is to the source material isn’t the best measure of its quality, in my opinion. When I go into an adaptation, be it a Marvel movie, Game of Thrones, or, in this case, Tomb Raider, I don’t necessarily expect to get the same experience the original gave me.

Tomb Raider (2018, starring Alicia Vikander, who is excellent in the role, her English accent is great, she deserves every bit of that academy award she has, fight me) is an adaptation of a 20 year old franchise, from the first polygonal snarky English Lady Indiana Jones games through a complicated and at times nonsensical morass of games through to the gritty and Uncharted-esque rebooted origin story 2013 Tomb Raider and its 2015 sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider, which are fantastic games. And not coincidentally, Square Enix has recently (like two days ago) announced a third in the reboot trilogy called Shadow of the Tomb Raider (October? 2018, I’m gonna buy it immediately). And in those games, Lara varies so much it’s hard to come up with a really coherent version to base Vikander’s fantastic portrayal on, unless you pick one.

Naturally, it is the 2013 Lara this movie brings to life (though again, this is a fundamentally different Lara, since it’s an adaptation). And while I wouldn’t have minded an entire Tomb Raider movie franchise starring Camilla Luddington (voice and motion capture actor for the games and the wonderful Dr. Jo Wilson on Grey’s Anatomy, totally a great show, fight me again), it’s obvious that was the right choice and Vikander an excellent choice for the role. She is in incredible shape for the film, too, and that makes her stunt scenes very believable.

But how much does this movie owe to that fantastic game?

Well, not as much as it probably should have, really.

Sure, they share some of the same settings (the cursed Devil Sea, Yamatai island, tomb of Himiko, witch queen of Japan), same characters (Lara herself, the sinister villain Matthias played with verve and genuine menace by Walton Goggins, even Ana Miller played by Kirsten Scott Thomas, though she doesn’t actually show up until RISE), and a couple of the same themes/plot points (Lara becoming a treasure hunter, following up on her dad’s research, the treacherous sea voyage resulting in a crash and sunken ship, the airplane and parachute sequence, even a nod to the beginning of the game where she’s evading an islander crawling through small spaces to get her), the variances are significant.

In the game, Lara is a university student looking for a massive discovery, partly in support of her BFF Sam(antha) Nishimura (a young documentarian), with a while carefully sculpted crew of diverse and interesting characters, including the big and big-hearted Pacific Islander Jonah Maiava, the distrustful badass Nadine-Ross-a-couple-years-early Joslyn Reyes, and a couple father figures from her past, including Conrad and Angus, both of them tough guy adventurer types. They all crash and get separated, and Lara spends most of the game trying to survive the island’s insane inhabitants (part of a cult led by Matthias) and rescue her friends, particularly Sam, who Matthias plans to instill with the destructive soul of Himiko. There’s all kinds of hard choices and uncertainty about who to trust and what to do, and Lara keeps getting out of scrapes by the skin of her teeth and with healthy dollops of PTSD from the horrific things she sometimes has to do to survive. Oh, and zombie samurai. Anyway, the game is about summoning the grit and determination to fight, run, and survive by any means necessary. And it’s about the unbreakable bond between Lara and Sam–about these two characters who are essentially in the purest platonic love.

The movie, on the other hand, is a about 3/4 a streamlined version of that, with a lot of the “extraneous” stuff excised, to put in, uh, more extraneous stuff? Like an extended sequence where Lara is a bike courier on a merry chase through London that lands her at the police station? Flirting with her boss? Though the pawn shop scene was pretty hilarious.

We get it–she’s a bit rebellious and lost. Did we really need twenty minutes to establish that?

That’s the weird thing about this movie–it takes about 45 minutes to show us Lara figuring out she should go to the island to pursue the truth about her father, father a crew of one (Lu Ren, drunken boat captain/action hero played with charm by Daniel Wu, love that guy). It lacks efficiency. It’s a series of slow scenes showing us Lara is lost and uncertain of her way in life–something the game showed us in about a two minute opener and throughout the story. When the movie gets to the island, it abbreviated the, say, 2-4 days of the game into about a 12 hour time period told over 60ish minutes. We could have used more time on the island and less set up. The movie was a bit top heavy in that regard.

(Insert standard Tomb Raider top heavy joke here. Hahaha. Glad we’ve all got that out of our system.)

All the setup runtime could have been used to introduce Sam, at least, as a character, but that’s not where the movie goes. In fact, the female voice is largely chopped out of this movie, other than Lara herself. In the game, she has a community of women (Sam, Reyes, even Anna) who are relevant to her story. You know, the way women in real life do? That’s an easy mistake Hollywood makes in handling female heroes–treating them as isolated creatures.

The movie even headfakes this at the beginning, where Lara is fighting Lisbeth Salander look/fight-alike Rose (at least that’s who I think that is, Annabel Elizabeth Wood’s character) at her MMA gym, which at least explains Lara’s fighting skills. And the movie technically passes the Bechdel test by having Lara talk to her friend Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen’s character? Hard to say, because I don’t recall Lara naming her) about the sparring match. But then those two characters disappear, never to be seen again, and Lara sails off into the Devil’s Sea with one guy of questionable motives, and it’s basically all dudes from there on, plus one long dead woman (Himiko).

And this is my biggest criticism of the movie: I feel like they inject as much testosterone into Lara’s story as possible, and not really for good reasons.

Was the movie written by explicitly sexist dudes? Maybe. But it certainly loses the implicit feminism of Lara Croft, especially the recent reboot games.

Why couldn’t either of those women at the beginning been Sam, and then Lara had the ADDED motivation of rescuing her? Sure, it’s the damsel in distress thing, but it takes on extra depth the existing story could use.

Also: Vikander’s Lara is rarely given the opportunity to be vulnerable, the way Sam’s inclusion would have done for her. There’s one scene where she had to decide between attack or standing down to save someone important to her, but that’s it. There isn’t the sense of dread and helplessness about rescuing Sam, and thus there isn’t the will to push through it. And Lara isn’t brainy the way she is in the games, which I think further undermines her as a character. Clever, yes, but not academic. No language skills, except when the plot requires it. All the menfolk around her can be relied on to have the answers, though. :/

Next, and here’s that big spoiler I warned you about:

SPOILER

No seriously. Major spoiler for the movie.

SPOILER

Lara finds her father, Lord Richard Craft (Dominic West) on the island. Who has improbably survived seven years alone and whose mental health has quite reasonably deteriorated with all that isolation. Now, he makes a good character, and he hits some of the same beats as Roth in the 2013 game, including mentoring Lara and sacrificing himself to protect her, but I feel like his presence and story undermines hers a bit.

Not to mention suddenly all our story beats are about men doing manly things, like trying to discover a weaponizable magic plague, sacrifice themselves for their daughters, or shoot a bunch of dudes with machine guns (apparently). And that’s not really what Tomb Raider is about–it’s supposed to be about Lara. About her wit and ingenuity and grit and determination. Her heroism. It’s her story.

Much as I like Dominic West, I can’t help feeling that was an unnecessary misstep. I’d have taken Sam and/or Roth in that narrative role before Lara’s dad in a heartbeat.

SPOILERS END

(you’re safe again)

Anyway.

It wasn’t the movie I wanted, exactly, but I really enjoyed the movie for what it was, and I would heartily recommend it as an action film with a pretty awesome female lead.

Depending on where your fandom is placed along the timeline, this may or may not be your Lara. She very quickly becomes the badass we fans know and love, and she’s pretty darn good with that bow.

I will gladly go see a sequel. And watching this movie enriched my love of the 2013 game, which I would go back and replay if I didn’t have all this writing to do and Persona 3 to finish.

Review verdict: I give it 3 stealth takedowns out of 5, but the unpleasant kind where you wrap your bow around the enemy’s neck and choke them out, then snap their neck once they’re unconscious, *Jesus* Lara

A couple other random notes:

1. Unlike Angelina Jolie, Vikander’s Lara never actually fires a gun, or even holds one until a mid-credits stinger, which is mostly there as fan service. Not that the pistol was a great weapon in the games anyway, but it’s an ironic Tomb Raider thing.

2. The 2013 TR game also includes roughly 500 more falls off things, slides, tumbles, grisly death animations, and vicious slayings by a budding young mass murderer, but the movie does show Lara having a really tough time of it (the impaled midsection, falling through the trees, getting really freaked out having to kill a dude, being dragged down the river, falling into the raging sea, leaping across a chasm to belay herself with a red climbing axe) so it’s a mixed bag.

3. Three cheers for Nick Frost. 🙂