Tattered Flag

Whatever the outcome of this election, it says something about our nation that I’d hoped was not true.

I’d hoped the wreckage of this year would break the spell of belief in one man over all experts. I’d hoped the cult of personality was a small but loud minority. That the election is this close tells me our country is actually as divided and stupid as it appears.

Think about it: On the eve of America’s most important vote, the “Leader of the Free World” makes a Tweet that Twitter and Facebook have to flag as “False.” Fake Tweet. This is a defining event.

Regardless of the election outcome, I think the “Grand Experiment” is on its knees. Will it stand again? Who knows. Maybe its two-party backbone just can’t bear the weight. I don’t think we have the luxury of time. My last hope for humankind rests with the European Union.

In any case, this year has permanently changed some of my relationships, for good or ill. Some friends and family I’ve lost faith in and respect or time for. While some acquaintances have stepped forward with unexpected friendship and support. I hope the reverse is true. That some now recognize me as a clear enemy of their values and beliefs. And that some find in me an unexpected ally.

Black lives matter. Science matters. Faith matters. Abortion matters. Women’s rights matter. Change matters.

Love matters. Not the wishy-washy let’s all get along kind. The firm kind. The “I don’t hate you but won’t put up with your shit” to oppressors, and “I’ve got your back, now how can I help” to the oppressed.

I don’t know all the answers. But there’s an evident path. And clear roadblocks. Fuck complacency and ignorant resistance. Let’s go.

Confessions of a TFT Addict

The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition

(Plans change. This post was originally slated as the introduction to a book of The Fantasy Trip essays, now found in issues of Hexagram. Watch for my TFT fencing article in Hexagram #6!)

My game design career started with selling a four-paragraph review to Steve Jackson Games’ Space Gamer magazine. Why Space Gamer instead of TSR’s Dragon? Because I was a Steve Jackson junkie.

In 1981, my game group had dumped AD&D in favor of The Fantasy Trip, at my own instigation. I wanted characters who, no matter how experienced, had good reason to fear wolves in a pack and goblins in a gang, and TFT supplied that. Along with skills instead of classes, and tactics instead of abstract one-minute combat turns. TFT provided a reason to use miniatures for more than just pretty. All that in literally 150 pages instead of literally 472.

I GMed The Fantasy Trip for years to the exclusion of all other RPGs. Our group played TFT long after Metagaming (its publisher) went out of business and TFT went out of print. I scoured hobby stores for supplementary material, photocopied and ringbound every magazine article I could find, bought Gamelords’ The Forest Lords of Dyhad and Warrior-Lords of Darok, and prayed for the two remaining books of that setting to be published. Prayed for anything new to be released.

No exaggeration, I still wake from the occasional nightmare that I’m traveling, stumble across some hobby store in Texas, find an unknown TFT-related title in a bargain bin, and don’t have the cash on me to pay for it.

So when I landed a full-time game design job in my hometown, at Game Designers Workshop (publishers of Traveller), I asked for a special dispensation to launch a non-GDW fanzine, The Fantasy Forum, in my free time.

As I recall, GDW let me run a little ad in their house organ, Challenge magazine, and even let me print out the ’zine on the office copier. And of course I submitted an ad to Space Gamer. Other addicted fans subscribed to this little quarterly. Content submissions soon exceeded the bulk-rate page count. To fit Howard Trump’s solo adventures, I had to print them in 6-point type with 1/8th-inch margins. (In retrospect, I could have published those separately and printed monthly.)

Gen Con 20 in 1987 was my first big convention, and as a brand-new industry pro, I approached Steve Jackson to shake his hand and goob over The Fantasy Trip. When I asked about the prospects of a new printing now that Metagaming was defunct, and Steve told me how much cash Howard Thompson wanted for the title, I gasped, and something inside me died a little bit.

So you can easily imagine my delight when Steve regained the rights in 2017 and launched a Kickstarter shortly thereafter to print a new, deluxe edition. That boxed set now stands in a place of honor on the very top shelf of my RPG collection, right next to the big ringbinder (“liberated” from The Armory) that holds my cherished collection of original TFT material.

And you can imagine my pleasure to be writing this introduction to a collection of essaygs honoring The Fantasy Trip.

Thank you, Steve, for the years of wonderful memories, playing The Fantasy Trip with my friends.

https://thefantasytrip.game

Political Expression

Photo of Obama & Trump meeting
I have a theory:

As a college-educated man with working-class roots, I am perhaps well poised to perceive a wide spectrum of political perspectives.

To put it another way:

I’m a Blue Collar guy with a college degree, so I can see the whole picture.

That’s the theory. Not the dubious “I’m special” part. The fact that both sentences say the same thing, in very different ways.

The US has had two, perhaps three populist Presidents: Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump, and arguably Bill Clinton. With the rest, we’re used to a type of speech I’m going to call “diplomatic” for purposes of this theory. It’s also scholarly speech, presenting ideas with a subtle acknowledgement that later developments might change things. In the first statement above, the word “perhaps” does it. A similar phrase might be “events suggest.” To the average citizen these may sound wishy-washy or mealy mouthed.

Now, holding “events suggest” side-by-side with Donald Trump’s “some say,” or the more commonplace, man-on-the-street’s “I’ve heard,” I see a similarity.

“Some say” grates on my ears. “Events suggest” grates on other ears. To me, “some say” is vague, with no documentation, inviting a response of “well others say,” which leaves us with “who knows?” (William Perry’s second stage of cognitive development.) To others, “events suggest” is just as vague, drawing a conclusion from hidden sources like a stage magician.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think Donald Trump is a snake-oil salesman born with a silver spoon and never went a day in his life without servants, let alone food and shelter, who managed to dupe common folk into thinking he understands and cares for their plight, while riding a golden escalator and telling them their toilets are hard to flush, but not his.

But I could be mistaken. Similar things could be said of any politician.

In any case, this theory prepares me to more openly listen to him, and to FOX News. Even his Tweets, because they’re not *all* self-congratulatory or insulting. Some are actually positive, affirming, even comforting.

If you listen to the language in a different way.

Within Limits, or Without

Original file: Roberto Mura; This file: WikiPedant [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There are, for purposes of this post, two types of people.

One type views life as a competition for limited resources, a dog-eat-dog struggle in which the top dog deserves the choicest pieces of meat, because without their leadership the pack would have no meat at all. In this view, dominance is proof of innate superiority. Pack members too sick, stupid, or slow to hunt must either survive on scraps or die. Even the loss of a few otherwise worthy individuals is just a cold hard fact of nature.

The other type believes that our heritage of savagery doesn’t define us. That humankind is adaptive, even transcendent, expanding our knowledge and understanding to discover and implement unlimited new resources. And that one of those resources is people themselves. That most of the sick, stupid, or slow can be nurtured to contribute. And that feeding a few deadbeats is a small price to pay for getting a deserving person through hard times.

It is not my purpose here to debate which view is more valid. Evidence for either abounds, depending on where our sight focuses.

Visit a public food pantry and you’ll certainly find a lot of ugly, stupid people it seems the race could do without. Or watch the tabloid parade of disgrace across the TV screen with Maury Povich or Jerry Springer.

On the other hand, in that food pantry you’ll also find folk obviously deserving of charity, with whom life has dealt unfairly. Families financially ruined by medical debt, or by loss of their trade, or simply unable to find work sufficient for their needs. Beyond that food pantry, count the number of military veterans now homeless, sleeping in the streets they fought to protect.

Again, it is not my purpose to debate which of these views is more valid. I would like, however, to point out what seem to me a few inconsistencies with the first.

Oddly, the camp of limited resources seems least likely to conserve those resources. It weakens environmental protection standards, often simply by underfunding their enforcement. It doubts scientific consensus on climate change, preferring to err on the side of risk for business sake, rather than exercise caution.

Justifiably, the dog-eat-dog camp is also most vocal about religion, whether Western, Middle-Eastern, or even state-enforced Eastern atheism. In this view, religion (or atheism) provides a codification of behaviors to keep stupid, lazy people from destroying civilization from within.

But oddly, the choice of texts cited seems inconsistent with a dog-pack, limited resources viewpoint.

Consider the prime figure of Christianity, the Christ from which it takes its name: “I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). Granted, this is not the only teaching in the book, but it’s an undeniable statement by the utterly central personage, a statement that must be confronted and somehow obeyed, or the entire book falls into question.

Or these words by the central personage of Islam: “Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith,” and “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” Again, these are not the only statements of Muhammad, but they cannot be downplayed or ignored for the sake of militancy.

Or the paradox of communist atheism’s party-enforced orthodoxy, in light of these words by its patron Karl Marx: “For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society.”

Again, it is not my purpose here to debate the comparative validity of dog-eat-dog competition versus open-handedness. But it’s likely obvious which of the two I find unsuitable. And by contrast, which gives me the most hope for the future.