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Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Bumper RPG Audience Participation Post

Soooo I game a lot.

Yes, video games, but the thing I really enjoy doing - my Thing, as it were - is roleplaying games. I've made plenty of posts in the past on the topic, so you could probably work this out about me.

Well, I decided to go all in today. I asked for questions, comments and anecdotes on the topic, and you didn't disappoint.

I will ALSO be providing links to some cool stuff - youtubers who do a great job of teaching on the topic, podcasts and actual-play posts. All put together either by people who are my friends or people I respect.

So with no further ado, and names removed to protect the innocent, we'll begin with the questions.

Does LARP also count? ;) - ...yes, I used to (and still in a limited fashion do) LARP. Though not the spongy-sword type. My knees just aren't up to it any more...

Which character that you've played/encountered do you most wish was real? - Well there's a few I've played that I am very glad were NOT real, and even more that I've encountered - Rotsnik the Murder Goblin being one of them. But in terms of who I most wish WAS real, hmm. Out of characters I have played I would say that Perdix, the cheeky and charming Fate/Time Mage, would be a true blessing to the world if he really existed. Out of other people's characters that I have encountered, that's a hard choice - but Brayla, a certain Alchemist of devil-may-care attitude and incredible skill, would be a brilliant person to meet at a pub.

Do you ever wish you'd taken the blue pill? - Never. I've had so many good times, learned so many useful skills and made so many good friends through the hobby that imagining my life without it is just impossible.

Do you take a little something of yourself into your characters? Or do you like to completely escape? - Depends on the character. Yonks ago I did a thing about traits I like seeing in RPG characters, and a couple of them are traits I think I have. I think it's a really hard thing to make a character that is nothing like you, too. Like, at the character sheet stage you can do it - but when it comes down to actually playing that character and judging what they would do in a situation, removing yourself from that decision-making process is really hard. It can be kind of liberating to play a character that is deliberately very unlike yourself, though. I mean, my Rogue Trader captain was a million miles away from me and he was one of my most enjoyable plays.

What is the most memorable encounter you have played through, and one that you have ran in a game? - Hah, okay. There's a few of these. There was the fight against a group of evil Magi who were trying to hatch a dragon egg at Glastonbury festival, while AC/DC played Thunderstruck. There was the fight wherein we had to kill our friend Patrick (who was the villain in his own story) in Carisbrooke Castle. There was the moment when myself and the spell-slinger did a dungeon backwards, and the follow-up when the DM of that game found the perfect opportunity to do the same thing in a totally different scenario. There was the time that we as an evil party ambushed a nominally good party, and slaughtered them, and then they reversed time with a Wish and ambushed US instead and made my flying mount vanish from underneath me and I fell a hundred and fifty feet to the deck... in terms of encounters that I've run myself, though. I remember someone meeting an alien entity when I ran Eclipse Phase - coming face to face with the creature (which had no facial features) and freezing... then it just turned and moved away. I was pleased with how that went. That and wrecking Mars with a space elevator cable and giving my party a minor phobia of the intro of a Thrice song.

If you could DM for a group of famous people, who would you choose for your group? - I know this one. Vin Diesel, The Rock, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day and Kevin Smith. Usually I prefer to run for four but I am sure I can stretch to five with a mob like this. (The best thing is they all game and I know they do.)

Did you ever have a transition from playing a game "games master" to become story teller? Most of the games I've played with you running the story seems forefront. - I have done a blog about this as well, kinda. It just so happened that the vast majority of my formative RPG time happened in a period and with groups that primarily played games that were heavy on the narrative. World of Darkness specifically calls the person that is running the game the Storyteller, for that precise reason. I just like there to be a plot, you know? And I've never been the kind of gamer that finds the plot gets in the way of rolling dice and killing dudes. Just never happened. So I run the kind of games I like to play in.

Are there any systems or settings which appeal to you but you haven't yet played or run? (pretty open I know but legit curious 😅) - OH yeah. Feng Shui, Tales From The Loop, Over The Edge, Nobilis, Continuum. I've played Mechwarrior but only once and I've love to play it again. Shadowrun's more recent editions. Cyberpunk. Never played Cyberpunk, would love to. Numenera. Infinity. Quite a few!

Are there any things you've seen in media that you've wanted to(or have) introduced in your games? Possibly a bit of a cheat given that they're based on DnD but I loved the "Individual Magical Effect" from Goblins comic, and the portrayal/explanations for both alignment and attempted redemption in Order of the Stick. - Oh a lot of things. The magical effects from Goblins is one I actually use. The criminal underworld presented in John Wick is something I am planning to use at a later date. The notion of the Doomsday Clock is something I use in my games, but haven't had to actually make it tick for a long time.

To explain - the Doomsday Clock is something you can have when you have a group of players that you feel you may have to keep in line. If you feel they are acting out, or getting distracted, or generally being doofy beyond your capacity to deal, you add a tick to the Doomsday Clock. When it has ticked to thirteen - a Bad Thing happens. It can be useful less as a stick to beat your party with but more as a reminder that time at the table is limited and we want to make it a good time - and you can totally use it as an excuse to bring in that bad guy that you've wanted to use in the past three campaigns!

Have you ever TPK'd a party or been in one? And if not, why not! - I've been in more than one. My first real D&D game. We found a baby dragon. Then the mama found us. Then there was one in Vampire, wherein the car crashed and the world ended when we attacked the Prince. The last time I played Paranoia it was a TPK, but I think that has to happen. In truth, I don't think I've ever actually run a TPK. I don't often set up a scenario in which all my players will DEFINITELY die, there's almost always a way to live, and my players are often smart people. In fact the one game I set up and ran at Nine Worlds con in 2015 that was designed for my players to die in a dungeon - for purpose of having another party finding the dungeon half-completed later - the party actually succeeded, against all odds, and made it out alive. Maybe I'm just soft on my players, I just don't like killing PCs unless they have earned that bullet.

What the longest running game you've been in? - In terms of tabletop, that would be the "Quantum Leap" Pathfinder game, in which we ran six (it ended up being about eleven) different game modules, from Level 1, to Level 20 Mythic 10. And in each scenario we would appear in the world where we were meant to be, in new bodies (or sometimes old bodies), and do the job, before being snatched away by the powers that be. That ran for at least a year and a half, maybe two years, and it averaged out to once every two weeks. If we're talking online I've been RPing a single constant game world with my girlfriend since about 2012.

Whats the longest single continuous session you've done? - Hard to say. I know that back when we used to play Dark Ages Vampire and such there were some all-day sessions. Though I think the actual longest has to be the Epic Game Weekend in Colchester, wherein we put in two solid ten-hour days of RP back to back. Slightly ruined by drama but that was the game in which my lvl36 Cleric of Hades was blasted off his Nightmare and had the good grace to look surprised and dismayed before plummeting to the ground. (He lived.)

What do you do when a party does something completely unprecedented and you've not prepared for that scenario? - The last time this happened (and I can remember the last time this happened) I laughed helplessly for a solid thirty seconds, then asked for five minutes so I could go plan out what was going to happen next. Your players will NEVER think badly of you for doing this, in fact they will take the time to crow and preen about how they were able to throw a googly past God. They should take pride in the fact that they've sideswiped you so hard.

Are there any particular setting or systems you just won't play in? - System AND setting? MERPS - Middle Earth Role Playing System. The fucking table game. Yawn. Uh. I don't find Paranoia that fun, but I can be convinced. There's a lot of systems I would rather not play but would give a shot to anyway, precious few that are Hard No systems. The ways you can guarantee me not wanting to play the game: 1) random generic medieval fantasy boredom, 2) modern world coffee shop roleplay without any differentiating factor from a soap opera, and 3) a rule system so loose and fluffy that it is basically just seven friendly thoughts printed on candy floss.

How hard is it to keep track of the math and modifiers during high level games? - It can get pretty difficult, depending on the game one is playing in, the class of character one is playing, etc. Playing a Level 20 Mythic 10 Cleric of the Goddess of Death was actually relatively easy once I'd done all the maths to work out precisely how many dice I rolled to achieve certain things. But that's the benefit of planning things out beforehand. There is no shame in having a cheat sheet. Attacks with and without power attack, against your chosen foe, using different weapons - work it all out ahead of time, maybe with the player at the table that really enjoys maths (me), and then you aren't stuck in a Number-Based Anxiety Loop when asked to roll to hit the Aboleth Goddess later.

What do you think people can gain from roleplaying? Not any one specific system or game but generally. - Lots of things. Empathy for one thing - pretending to be someone else can make you sensitive to their needs and the way in which they see the world, which can lead to understanding that other people are different but still worthy of care and attention. Problem-solving and teamwork are two gimmies, too. You take a bunch of office folks on a team-building weekend and a table full of gamers and give them the same challenge - using these materials to cross this river then climb this wall - and I guarantee you that the gamers will work out how it is done before the team-building folks even agree on who is in charge. Mathematic competency is helped by working with numbers constantly and there being a reward for making those numbers work. Descriptiveness, imagination, communication, social skills - all things improved by regular guided RP. I think schools should offer it as an after-school or lunchtime club activity, advertise it heavily and even reward those particularly devoted to it. It can offer so much.

Why is it more popular with boys/men? - I don't actually know, but I could probably lay the blame for that at the feet of the kind of culture that embraced D&D back in the eighties. As many jokes were made about girls not being allowed at the table as were made about D&D players being afraid of sunlight and not washing. I think, though, these days it is a lot more evenly split - and I know this is only anecdotal evidence from one perspective but I think over half of the people who contributed questions and anecdotes to this blog weren't male. So who knows? I think they should be for everybody.

How do you balance the needs of players who prefer narrative vs those that are all about the conflict/battle bits? - Difficult, but - as a player grows and gets better at gaming in general, they start to want to expand their horizons more. So no combat monkey will be a combat monkey forever. Usually. It's not always difficult to include narrative AND conflict, though. Sometimes that conflict can drive the narrative and inform it. Sometimes the war you are fighting is the story that you are following. In the end, though, it can be very rewarding to play a character who is good at one thing that is stuck in a situation where doing that thing isn't the solution. I particularly enjoy playing characters who are very combative who are put in scenarios that simply can't be solved by fighting. It's a challenge - it lets me get my beak wet in terms of roleplaying characters put in situations that aren't their standard fare. Though in the end, if you have a player who wants to quit the game because they only want to do A and there's too much B - that's a conversation to have. Everyone wants to have a good time at the table, and being constantly dragged away from the situation that you want to be in is no fun, but always getting what you want is no fun either.

I think another interesting one is how to control a setting if the actions of one player is stressing out another... - So that's not so much a setting issue as it is a party issue. I know this has happened in games I have played in and run, wherein one player goes full kamikaze and is intent on taking everyone else with them, or gets bored and goes off and does something that is widely accepted as being a Bad Idea. The thing with being a group of four imaginative people with different characters and abilities is that disagreements as to how to handle something often happens, especially if those characters have different morality systems. It's for this reason that I don't often run games in which people play evil characters, not because it stops folks disagreeing, but because a good character will try and reason with their wayward team-mate, whereas an evil character may well just murder or cripple them. If it is a question of someone doing something deliberately at the table that really stresses someone else out, then that's a thing that needs to be talked about out of game. Again, we're all here for a good time, not to be slaved to someone else's power fantasy - and if we can't come to an agreement on how not to fuck with each other, then someone has to step away.

Maps or no maps? - Depends on the game and the needs of the players. A dungeon dive without a map is difficult, and a game wherein knowing the facing and positioning of the enemy in a combat situation is important can usually be benefited by having a map. I tend to like running minds-eye though, because that way we can get into fun descriptiveness of kung fu style wire stunts and how we do things in relation to our opposition, rather than desperately trying to work out how to move those last three feet so you can get a +2 on your attack roll.

Dice or LARP? - I prefer dice, if only for fact that I am far less physically capable than 99% of the characters I would end up playing at a LARP. Not just in terms of beating snot out of people with boffer weapons but in terms of being able to stand up for more than ten minutes without being in significant pain.

From questions, we move onto anecdotes and contributions.

I contribute this, just for shits and grins - This comic is great, you oughta read it.

My dice bag is a snake! I only have one set of dice, tho, lol - Your dice bag is adorable and I love it. See below.

The only new RPG thing I’ve done recently is write an actual play for the first time. If you could mention it for me I’d be grateful. At nearly 8000 words of effort now I would love to have some more readers! - Which I will gladly do. The game is SLA Industries, something I have played and enjoyed myself, purely on the basis of there being a weapon called a Boom Hammer. A sledgehammer with a socket for a shotgun shell and a pressure plate that sets it off when you hit someone with it. You can find the AP right over here. Go look, folks. Follow with me the adventures of ACU Puncture limited.

How about the time I spent months setting up a transition to 2E on exalted online and had to go to a funeral and when I got back you and the rest of the team completed the transition and sanctioning with 0 problems. - I'm gonna lay that at the feet of your superb planning, because I don't remember having a lot to do with it. In terms of online RP, though, it's always good to have a reliable team under you in a chat environment. Nothing worse than constantly thinking you have to check up on the people allegedly meant to be helping you out.

In one of my first games (with my brother's friends) the DM had set up a big mystery for us to solve. I still don't know all the specifics, because it became one of those games where no one could get time to get together after the initial meeting, BUT! We were interrogating some low-level minion and getting nowhere when I looked at my spell list, leaned over to show it to my brother, and asked 'I can cast this, right?'. MY brother said 'yes' so I said 'I cast Zone of Truth!' The DM just about flipped the table, and we found out info that should have taken us several sessions right then not 5 min after we started. (and I'm not making this up cause of that famous DnD game thing, this really happened) - I love shit like this. It's what we live for. In fairness, though - the DM should know that the spell Zone Of Truth exists. Like, it would be pointless me planning on something being a secret if one of you can literally just pluck the idea out of my NPC's brain. Like, why wouldn't I use the tools in my toolbox to achieve my goals? When you have to get REALLY clever is when you want information to be kept secret but the party have all sorts of ways of finding it out - how to increase mystery while you have spellcasters that can scry on distant locations and know if the people they are questioning are telling the truth. That'll work out your writing muscles a bit. It takes the greater person to hold their hands up and admit that the party got around their little scam, though. Like you know you are a good DM when the party sees clean through your bullshit smokescreen and hits the nail on the head, and you can just admit that they did it and move on with the game.

Here's a good one. Back when I LARPed V:tM and W:tA, we used to congregate in the basement of the WTC. one night, cops had been called about some rowdy dude in the other tower - but they zeroed in on us... We all started getting up to leave, except the dude who was supposed to be "dead" at that moment... we had to spend 20 mins explaining to the cops that he was just unwilling to break character, and then four dudes hadda carry him out XD - When we LARP'd vampire, one of the folks that showed up to the game brought along a realistic prop of their character's primary armament. This ended up being a problem, because their primary armament ended up being an MP5 with a laser sight. We're out in this park at like 10pm and these two police walk past, and I have this perfectly framed view of the guy in question arguing with someone else, while these two coppers clock the fact that he has what looks like a machine gun strapped to his chest... this was post-9/11 too.

I ran logistics for our LARP back 5 years or so ago. A friend of mine, who had been staffing, decided to play an event and call in all his backlogged production. I had to print up tags for 200 in-game "intoxicants". Took forever to get them all printed and cut, stamped and signed as legit. I deliver them, he goes into game and, within about 20 minutes, trades every single one of them to an NPC for in-game "drugs". >.< I was so freakin' mad. They then spent the rest of the event addicted to the in-game drugs and stealing everything that wasn't nailed down to fence for more drug money. I was actually in-game for that event, too, and we spent the entire event hiding every single bit of loot we acquired because they kept stealing everything. - Ugh. See, this is obnoxious. The idea of making someone put in the at-home work to make this scenario pan out... like, the amount of effort put in doesn't come close to equal to the payoff. I'd be mad too.

I would like to follow this little lot with a selection of links, to things that I think my gaming people will find good.

I'll start with a podcast that I really enjoy - Cosmic Crit. It's a Starfinder podcast, and Starfinder is one of the games I am really into at the moment. The players are neat people, the stories make me chuckle, and it's generally a good listen.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about The Adventure Zone. It's longer, so there's more of a backlog to catch up on, but it's worth it. The McElroys are entertaining at the worst of times, and in this they are on fine form.

There's some folks on YouTube that deserve a look, too.

Satine Phoenix is involved in gaming on Twitch and has a lot of guests that are well worth a listen to. Also those ELF EARS I never thought I'd like something elf related but ELF EARS

Seth Skorkowsky will provide you with advice and anecdotes in his inimitable style. He's a funny guy who knows what he is doing.

Matthew Colville is someone I've only come into contact with relatively recently, but his three videos about politics are essential viewing for budding DMs.

And there you have it. One bumper crop of reader-contributed RPG content. Who'da thunk? It turned out pretty good. This is a topic I can hold forth about for aeons, so I'd best not dwell. Maybe once a month I can turn this blog into Dungeon Corner or something. I dunno.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading - if you contributed, thank you for your contribution - and if you're gaming this weekend, may the crits be ever in your favour!

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Omission Of Action

So let's say that Superman is real.

There is a comet hurtling towards earth, maybe thrown at us by some invisible enemy, maybe just falling down the gravity well. The impact of this comet will demolish an entire continent, and through the dust-winter that follows, basically kick the earth into an ice age the likes of which 99% of life won't survive.

Superman is aware of it. He knows it is coming.

If he chooses to go do something else rather than stop it - including just standing off to one side and watching - then that's an act of evil, right? Permitting mass extinction through inaction. We can agree that is a bad thing.

Ten points if you know where this is going already.

Let's go back to the starting block.

Superman is real. There is a group of evil men (let's call them the Hurters) that deliberately kill millions every year. Straight-up murder. They're not from the countries that Superman usually does things in, though - and Superman is busy. He can't stop the Hurters, because he's trying to use his Super-planning to fix problems for comparatively wealthy people that are outside of the reach of the Hurters.

He can stop them. It would take time and effort, but it is doable, because he is Superman. He possesses the capability to stop the Hurters. He just doesn't do it, because he's doing something else, even if he is aware of the problem.

That, too, is an act of evil - right? People being killed every day is more important than traffic jams or selling things. Through deliberate inaction, Superman is permitting mass murder. We can agree that that is a bad thing.

Five points if you know where this is going.

Back to the starting block again.

Bruce Wayne is real. The Hurters are killing millions every year, but not directly - instead, they are destroying people's access to safe food and clean water. Seven and a half million a year are killed by hunger and malnutrition, and almost a million are killed by lack of clean water. Eight and a half million people a year, killed by the Hurters - that's the First World War, every five years.

Bruce Wayne knows. He can fix this - he's not super-fast or super-strong, but he has the capability to replace all the lost food and clean water. He can do this despite not being a superhuman, because he has another super-power, which is a vast amount of money. Money becomes resources and manpower which becomes water purifiers and improved farming conditions, and can lobby for better political support to make sure that people don't starve.

Bruce Wayne, instead, spends his time faffing around with advanced technology and making the numbers in his bank account bigger. Perhaps he feels that stopping the Hurters is a job for Superman, though apparently Supes isn't up to the job either, but hey, who is counting? Bruce Wayne is busy. He doesn't stop eight and a half million people a year dying, because he's busy.

That, too, act of evil. People dying from preventable causes through inaction of Bruce Wayne, permitting mass murder at the hands of the Hurters. Those awful Hurters. We can agree that is a bad thing.

Two points if you know where this is going now.

Back to the starting block.

No superheroes, this time. No comic characters. Just people that exist with vast sums of money, which we have already established is an actual super-power. No villains, either - no Hurters. Just eight and a half million people dying every year of the same causes, starvation, malnutrition and lack of clean water.

The people with vast sums of money could fix this. They don't. They're busy.

I'm sure you can put the rest together yourself.

In an unrelated tangent, here's the Forbes rich list:

Friday, 20 July 2018

One More Light

Today marks a year since Chester Bennington's death.

In that time, I've seen suicide awareness programs come and go. I've seen the news cycles. I've had my fair share of dark nights, and tried to help others through their own.

Two things still strike a chord in me, to this day - the two things that will make me stop and stand still and actually think about the man and his life - are, fittingly enough, songs.

The first is Over Again, recorded by Mike Shinoda, as part of his album Post Traumatic. It just speaks the truth about being himself, being in the position he was in following the death of one of his best friends and closest collaborators. It's so absolutely real, so gut-churningly honest that it sometimes makes difficult listening.

I listen to it anyway.

The other song is, rather predictably, One More Light.

Whenever I hear the song I hear Chester sing about what happened to Chester, and what happened to the people that love Chester.

It's this frisson of associations that really digs its hooks into my brain.

It's about consequences. Not just the consequences of that decision to end one's own life, but the consequences of everything that led to the person making that choice. It's the bottom of the mountain that so many people simply can't carry any more.

As I said in the blog I wrote after his passing, we have to do more. We have to tackle the mountain - and not just pull people out from under the bottom. We have to stop the mountain forming - we have to take it apart from the top, and put structures in place to excavate from the middle.

It sneaks up on you - just like Mike Shinoda says in Over Again. It takes you by surprise. Not when you expect it to, but at any time. Not even just people that we've lost to suicide; I think about friends, my dad, my grandfather. I walk past an advertisement that reminds me of how my grandfather looked when he was my age - and if you want a mental image, think of Gregory Peck. I hear three chords in sequence from The Living Years or a Celine Dion song or Peter Gabriel or Tina Turner and I can SEE my dad wiggle his finger left and right in time to the rhythm.

I feel the warmth of a road underfoot, and I think briefly of the lyrics of I Am The Highway, and I miss Chris Cornell; I catch a turn of phrase and I remember Chester Bennington's voice, and I miss him, too.

I know, I didn't know them personally - but they both wrote and sang songs that made me feel like they knew me. Like they looked inside me and saw things, and these songs speak to those parts of me that I can barely stand to look at, let alone expose.

I don't know where I am going with this. Just that it's been a hell of a year, and the death of this talented, driven man has left scars in places that I didn't think I could get cut.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Donald's Army

Nobody from 2015 could have seriously thought that Donald Trump would actually be made President of the United States, aside from those conspiring to put him in the Oval Office directly.

Of course, everyone from 2018 is stuck living in this reality, and I don't think we're super happy about it.

We have a lot going on right now. I'm not going to lay it all at the feet of the Drumpf. He's a little like a turtle up on a post - he didn't get there by himself, and he sure as shit doesn't belong there. The fact is, though, his being in a position of power has certainly heralded a brand new era of people being overtly regressive.

Even if it only seems like there are more racists, more sexists, more homophobes and transphobes - that volume is coming from somewhere. More and more, what used to be an undertone is becoming a strident lead verse. Bolder. More empowered. Pushing against the boundary of where society will push back, like a two year old finding out what gets them in trouble and what only gets them a warning.

I don't think this is symptomatic of society as a whole.

The amount of resistance there is to the Mango Mussolini, for example - what he stands for, the policies he pushes, the abuses of individuals that his White House enacts. I know he has a support base, I just don't think that represents the majority of individuals. Maybe that is me being naive, but nonetheless.

Maybe it is good, too, that a lot of these folks are deciding to get their feelings out in the open.

I mean, if someone in power uses language that sounds a little bit suspect but doesn't ring any actual bells, then we're likely to just be a little suspicious. When they just get pure racist - when they advertise their campaigns based on white supremacy or antisemitism - then you know what you are dealing with, undeniably. Nothing they do from that point can come back from those screenshots and videos.

How do we deal with it?

Well, they want us to be civil, because that's how they win.

It's two arms of the same octopus. One of them orchestrates white power marches in Charlottesville, the other chides the left for not being nice and polite and for using bad nasty swearwords when addressing literal fascists.

So we have to push back. We have to push back in every way that we can. We use every tool in our toolbox. The ballot box, our reach on social media, actual protests, being rude, being polite. Counter their statements with logic. Counter their rhetoric with our own. Defeat "alternative facts" by calling them lies and providing the truth. Fight, and fight, and fight, until such a time as we live in a post-Trump world.

It's going to take time to repair the damage done, obviously. Some of it is deep tissue damage, and that requires more work than words and good thoughts.

The protests in this country against his visit made me happy to call myself English. More so than the football. We hate his guts and we're not afraid to say so.

We need more of that.

Because I refuse to believe that the world is okay with this guy being allowed to put kids in cages.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Third Estate And The Bastille

Today is my thirty-sixth birthday, and I am fortunate indeed that my birthday falls upon the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.

The French don't really call it Bastille Day - they call it La Fete Nationale (the National Celebration). It doesn't need a name - it has its date, and that is how it is greeted to others. Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!

Why is it so important?

To understand that, we must go back to France as it stood in the late 1780s; an economy in crisis free-fall, partially from throwing its support behind the American Revolution, partially due to taxation being what we now call regressive (the highest burden falling upon those least capable of paying).

France was divided into three estates, effectively. The first estate was composed of the clergy - many of them upper clergy who were effectively living as nobility, but any individual within the church was part of the first estate. The second estate was formed of the nobility, of anyone with any kind of noble title - and, importantly, not a one of them was subject to taxation. The third estate was...well, everyone else. The common rabble. 98% of the population of France.

An Etate-General - a meeting of all three states, overseen by the King - was held to address the issue of the realm shitting itself to death in fiscal terms. The Finance Minister of the time - one Jacques Necker - had suggested tax reform, indicating that some of the obscenely wealthy members of the second estate should pay their way. In short, the people who weren't paying any damn taxes were furious at the implication that they should contribute to running the country they lived in. So on 11th July 1789, Necker got it in the neck - summarily dismissed from his post.

That didn't set right with the people. It took a day for the news to circulate properly, and then the public demonstrations began. Marches, disorder, the works. Goods that had been hoarded away by - well, you can guess who by - were raided and redistributed. A convent, rumoured to be one such hoard, was raided and found to contain over fifty wagons full of wheat.

There had been some military enforcement of order, of course; a cavalry charge had broken the back of one of the demonstrations, though it had been called short to avoid further bloodshed. The people knew that the only way they would survive this would be to deny this militia the means of combat. So early on the 14th, the partisans stormed the Hotel de Invalides, which was being kept as an armoury of sorts. They took the thirty thousand muskets held there, but found out that all the gunpowder had been transferred to the Bastille.

So off they went. The crowd - almost a thousand people, as records have it - took up position outside, demanded the surrender of the facility and the arms within. What began as negotiation started becoming fractious as the crowds outside - those not invited within to speak directly to the governor - decided they wanted in anyway. Thus began the actual fighting and subsequent breakdown of negotiations, leading to 98 of the vainqueurs being killed for only one of the defenders inside. However, as the day went on and the partisans were reinforced, the governor realised he couldn't hold the Bastille forever. He surrendered, at first with specific terms, then unconditionally.

That was it. The king conceded. He called off the military units still under his command from Paris. The Marquis de la Fayette - yes, that dude from Hamilton, the guy with the statue in Boston - took over the Parisian militia; the leader of the third estate was made officially mayor of Paris, and the king himself met with the militia to indicate capitulation.

The Bastille itself was disassembled and removed in five months. La Fayette himself gave the key to the Bastille to George Washington as a gift - it is still on display at Mount Vernon today. Many members of the second estate fled the country, fearing violent repercussions (which many of them met), and took to trying to stir up support from neighbouring monarchies. In late August, the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen was adopted by the National Assembly. It would form the basis of the French constitution, and begat the very fabric of Human Rights as adopted by international law.

The day that I share my birthday with was a day that birthed France as it stands as a modern nation. It was the first turn of the wheel on the journey from a pyramid scheme of a nation to something more egalitarian and humane, even if later in its life it started forgetting to apply such thoughts to the people it decided to make part of its empire. It is something I wish to see happen in EVERY nation - freedom for its citizens, equal treatment for all, and respect for one's fellows.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. It remains the French motto. And as much as my father would spit at the notion - a man of Lebanon who was taught in a brutal French convent - I think those are words that we could stand to live by.

We've watched the second estate get fat off the backs of the third estate for a long time, people.

One of these days, we're going to have to storm the Bastille.

Happy birthday, me.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

No Blog Today

There is no blog today.

Two will be forthcoming next week.

My apologies.

Taking some mental health time.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Writer's Block Without Culture Shock

I have no idea what to write about.

This happens to me, with fair regularity - but quite often it is a temporary thing. It may or may not correspond to stuff going on in my life - stressed out, thoroughly depressed, working forever, that kind of thing. Sometimes, it just happens.

I've been trying to write something. Not something specific. ANYTHING. It just hasn't been happening. I've managed perhaps a dozen words. I'm dripped dry.

I just...have no idea.

Like, a big part of it is having no will to actually make the words appear. I want writing, but the doing of the thing is where I am failing.  Another problem - I'm finding it hard to focus on any one thing for longer than ten minutes at a time. It dances across a hundred topics an hour, never settling for long.

Writer's block.

Maybe it's the fact that I am stuck indoors - in my sleep I did something rubbish to my right knee, it's not holding my weight right now. It's getting better, a day at a time, but still - the only thing you want to do is go outside when it's the only thing you can't do.

Maybe it's the state of the world, and the politics affecting me, the people I care about, and everyone else. This country is stuck in limbo, with our health service slowly being carved away and the government doing nothing except trying to ignore the huge mistake it is apparently determined to keep making. The US has a gestapo separating children from parents and a constant attack on anything good or just. Paying any attention to the news is a depressing thing, even if it is a necessary thing a lot of the time - I can't bear the idea of being out of touch, of knowing why things are getting worse and who exactly is making those decisions.

Maybe it is just happening to me, as other things tend to do. My anxiety has good days and bad days. So does my depression. Maybe right now is just a bad day for my writing.

But as I said about going outside: the only thing you want to do is the one thing you can't.

I remember, once, heading out to have a blood test. On the way I passed by a grocers. I caught sight of some celery and I thought: "Mmm, I could just go for some celery."

I really don't like celery much. I just knew I couldn't have it, because I had to fast for fourteen hours before the blood test. The moment I left the surgery, thoughts of celery would vanish - I would want something serious and substantial to eat.

I just couldn't have it, so I wanted it.

So here I am. Sat here in front of a screen, trying to will the whatever in my brain onto the text box.

For something.


I guess this will do.