On PC Burnout

April 8, 2015

Sometimes, no matter how much you love a character you play, it gets stale. You’re still happy with the game an your community, but the character seems to have fallen into a rut. Maybe you’ve reached all your goals or you just aren’t moving forward in that personal plot. There are innumerous reasons for a character to stall out. Maybe you just want to do something different. 

But whatever the reason, you’ve lost the edge.

How you respond really depends on the reason for PC burnout. And while each person will respond differently, I have a few ideas that can help.

If you’ve hit all your goals, the obvious solution is to find new ones. A good way to do this would be to find a staff member that can handle plot and talk with them about some change that would seriously shift the PCs worldview. A formerly believed dead friend is actually alive and now an antagonist – and maybe they are even right in your PCs eyes. Someone teaches them a new faith, or hatters their current one. They have to repeatedly compromise their morals to save something or someone. Break something that has crystallized, or at least melt it.

This is risky – you may just find the character gives up, but at least it’s an amazing exit. The tragedy, the pain, te retirement xp bonus (I mean what?).

Maybe you’ve just been the same PC too long. No prob, bob – if your game allows, try an alt! Shelve your PC main and rock on with a new concept that plays differently! Or play both but back burner your main for a while. I plan on doing this with my main for Dystopia Rising who’s more or less retiring to the goal I set for him of back seating some and becoming part of his gangs economic and supply powerhouse while my alt is the one running around getting into plot and trying to kill everything.

And maybe your plot is stalled out. Talk to staff, see if there’s a way to move that forward a little or talk to friends to see if they help jump start your personal pursuits. Maybe give up and find new goals – just like real people, a character can know when it’s time to bail.

And there is always the blaze of glory – a character needs to be retired and there’s no way around it that he player wants to pursue. Staff is usually glad to let a player who wants to move on fire a PC at plot as ammunition. It gives the PCs and players something to remember and helps a floundering player get new bearings.

But remember, you only perm once!

The concept seems so obvious: everyone knows the standard tropes of the high fantasy LARP – elves and dragons and magic and arcane talents.

So I have to assume I’m doing something insane when I take the entire wish-fulfillment and power-tripping genre and dump out 90% of what draws those that play the genre. What am I doing, trying to make a game that no one who would look for it would like?

Hell, it may never play but I think it’s a fun idea. It’s not medieval or high fantasy, it’s a weird mix of fantasy and realism. A game that is meant to be both fantastic, but keep a foot on earth. A game that hard-caps power creep. A game that limits magic to the point of making it almost an alien and awesome thing. 

And I’m ditching character classes.

There we go, I’ve said it and we’ve now firmly and aggressively left DnD well behind with one choice. The full skill tree is open list with exception to racial specific skills.

Oh, and you’re limited to a specific number of skills – purchased or granted. That one won’t sit well but since we’re removing classes we need some way to keep players from doing ALL THE THINGS. 

And capping both health and power stats. Suddenly no one can just wade into a fight. No one can spam a high level skill all day. 

Oh, and weapons only do one or two damage each – and you assume, if you don’t see it, that it was two. No damage calls unless there was some specific attribute to the weapon or attack. 

Armor won’t have points, only reduction or traits. No invincible tanks.

Humans just flat can’t use magic outside of religious casting. Elves have weak magic, if any. Goblins have some arcane, incantation based magic, but it’s expensive and easily interrupted. Only elementals – the Fey – cast powerful burst magic. But their power stat is also their vitality.

But for as from as it sounds, this is meant to be a world where the nations and races, devastated by a series of plagues and wars and a massive magical disaster, have decided to try coming together and build a new future. Technology is growing and it is a shakey world-wide (ish) cultural renaissance. Philosophy and art and education have blossomed and a spirit of non-destructive exploration has taken root.

It is a grim fantasy, but one in which the peoples of the world now seek hope rather than dominion. At least, officially. People being people, some hatreds and greed still thrive there is not an end to all the aggression of the past. But people, as a whole, are trying.

The greatest threat is the uncertainty of this alliance of great cultures and peoples, and the shattered state of the world itself. A violent convulsion has rent the natural order and magic runs wild. Some believe that it is te same magic that the goblins use, or at least related in some way. Goblin scholars disagree, but they would, wouldn’t they?

Fell creatures roam free now. Magically twisted animals, undead, and even demons and angels, unseen in centuries, now walk the earth.

The game will focus on horror an bravery and kindness and community and discovery.

And, of course, the occasional dragon.

Pistol – Dagger

Allows the character to use single-shot foam dart blaster as a firearms physical rep. Must be single handed and use a manual spring powered firing system.

Pistol – Rapier

Allows the character to use manually-loaded multiple round foam dart blaster as a firearms physical rep (either Smart AR or revolver). Must be single handed and use a manual spring powered firing system.

Pistol – Sword

Allows the character to use magazine-fed foam dart blaster as a firearms physical rep. Must be single handed and use a manual spring powered firing system.

Remove Confusion

By spending five minutes consoling a character and two Plot Points, character may remove the Confusion status on another character. 

Resilience

By spent one Plot Point, the character may ignore the pain of a Graze or downgrade an Injury to a Graze during any period.

Rifle – Bastard

Allows the character to use a magazine- fed foam dart blaster as a firearms physical rep. Must be two handed and use a manual spring powered firing system.

Rifle – Claymore

Allows the character to use manually-loaded multiple round foam dart blaster as a firearms physical rep (either Smart AR or revolver). Must be two handed and use a manual spring powered firing system.

Rumormonger

Allows player to go to logistics and add a message to the rumor mill and to read what has been added thus far. Rumourmonger does not ensure rumors are true and players are encouraged to add rumors that are part truth, part falsehood.

Sacrifice

A character may declare sacrifice and accept a mortal wound on behalf of another character within arms reach and in their forward 180 degree arc line of sight. All combat must cease and the character may Monologue for thirty seconds after which they die. 

Close Mortal Wound cannot prevent this death but player may role play the attempt as long as they do not interrupt the Monologue.

Safe From Harm

By declaring “Stay your hand!” and using three Plot Points, a player may extend their hand, palm out and fingers splayed, and they may walk or stand without being harmed.  

This does not prevent others from speaking or fighting one another, necessarily, but represents the user making their position and protected status clear. Imagine the disguised king shedding his cloak or the general reminding a pike man of their ranks.

Another player may pay five Plot Points to ignore another player’a use of this skill for the rest of the scene, but doing so may have severe social repercussions.

Serve Drink

For every Plot Point spent, character may serve two drinks of at least 16oz and spend ten minutes conversing with their targets. Each target served this way, up to six, may disregard any Grazes on them.

The serving player may also spend ten minutes conversing with one target, each of them consuming a drink of at least 16oz. For each Plot Point they spend, their target gains one.

Set Injury

By spending one Plot Point and five minutes putting an Injury to rights, a character may reduce one injury to a Graze. If interrupted the Injury remains and the Plot Point is expended. 

Soothesayer

By spending two Plot Points and going to logistics, a character may gain cryptic insight into the intents, location, or prior actions of one character. The exact musing will not be a direct answer, but it will be true.

Steal

A character may speak to a marshal and declare their intent to use steal. By spending one Plot Point they quickly but blatantly may walk up to their target and declare “Steal” and take one visible item. Running is then advised.

Spending three Plot Points instead allows the player to specify which object they want and where it is, even if it is not visible, and stand next to the target for a full minute. After which the marshal will allow the thief to get away before walking up to retrieve the object, if it is where the thief believed. 

If they did not have the right location or the object is not reasonably steal-able (held in hand, locked container, etc), there is no effect. Target is unaware they have been stolen from.

Stealth

With two Plot Points and by crossing their arms in front of them, a character may move in darkness, unseen, up to a quick walk’s pace.

Another player may ignore this effect by spending three Plot Points per target. If they point out the target and call “There”, they may also negate that target’s use of stealth for three minutes.

Throwing Knives

Allows the character to use a contact safe foam throwing knife phys rep without a solid core. Throwing knives come in sets of eight. They maybe be used as melee knives if the character also has the Knife skill.

Classes+Skills

March 11, 2015

This is what I have so far…


Apothecary

The Apothecary creates vials of poison and exists in the world of the cloak and dagger. If you want to provide a deadly edge to someone and avoid being put to the edge yourself, this is the class for you. And you can even set a minor wound or hurt limb to rights.

Confidant

The nurse, the lackey, the sidekick, the plucky companion – these are the confidant. Able to help those around them shake off the confusion that conflict can cause and regain the will to keep on working towards their goals. And maybe even make the ultimate sacrifice for their retainer.

Doctor

Healing, saving lives, and endin them if need be – hopefully to get away with it, too! Doctors are vital in Verona, but they are too often too late.

Fool

Ah, the fool. Untouchable and wise, but perhaps not as touched or foolish as others think. The fool has a diverse repertoire and is able to deliver as sharp a barb with his tongue as with a thrown dart. And woe to those that harm the Fool.

Hedgewitch

The hedgewitch, the wise woman, the herbalist – she can cause or cure an ailment, stop the worst of harm from killing, and sometimes speak of truths she ought know. A life at risk of persecution by those who otherwise patronize her talents has taught her to slip away quickly.

Lord

The master of all he sees – or at least of all he owns – the Lord is the walking embodiment of “speak loudly and carry a bigger stick.” Few would attack a noble, and those that do often live gofer a short while) to regret it.

Merchant

With words as sweet as candied cane and pockets as deep as oceans – or so they’d like to think – but if you need it there is a good chance they can get it. One way or another. Or they now who can.

Noble

Well-spoken and armed, family of a Lord know they are also responsible for being as much soldiers as diplomats. And sometimes – spies.

Oracle

Known for their soothesaying and madness, the Oracle is not often safe alone, but neither is any who harms them.

Priest

Life savers and orators as well as dispensers of wisdom, priests are usually patronized by Lords of varying power and influence.

Soldier

Most of the ability to make war falls on the heads of those hired by Nobles and Lords for such tasks. Soldiers are well-armed and bet able to survive assault.

Troubadour

Performers, born and bred, he troubadour can strengthen the resolve of other and calm their distress with their acts. But they are not without the ability to defend themselves and if one should fall, it would be unwise to be the one that causes it.

Villein

The common folk of Verona have a variety of skills that let them do a variety of things though without the influence that others are known to have. But from the villein you gain many consumables and tools, and it is the commoner that spreads knowledge in whispers and knowing glances.


—————————

Black Market

Nothing says connections like getting hold of illegal goods or trading in ill-gotten gains for favors down the road. A player may use five Plot Points or two stolen items to obtain any of the following:

  • One vial of poison
  • A pistol or knife
  • Fives minutes to spy on any location out of character (this represents sending a spy NPC)
  • Forged documents or sigils
  • Special plot items
  • A “favor” from another random member of the Black Market. 

The risk of Black Market is that as one can call on others, one is also expected to fulfil the same agreement. Those that do not face possible harm or exposure.

Cloak

Expending one Plot Point allows the character to remain unseen as long as they remain in darkness and unmoving or at least 75% hidden from all viewers. Crossed forearms signal use of this skill. 

Another player may see through this skill on one target by expending Five Plot Points.

Close Mortal Wound

A character with this skill may use three Plot Points to stop another character from dying. They must role play staunching a traumatic wound and suturing or packing and taping it as needed for three minutes, during which their death timer is paused.

If they complete this on their prone and willing subject, the Mortal Wound is downgraded to an Injury. If they stop or are interrupted, the wounded character dies within thirty seconds and cannot be saved. The Plot Points are spent regardless.

This skill may not target self.

Cooking

By serving an actual meal and expending two Plot Points, a player may heal up to six people so long as they take part in the meal for at least twenty minutes. Grazes are removed and Injuries become Grazes. The targets must participate the entire meal without interruption aside from conversation.

Create Antidote

Poisons cannot be cured and unless an antidote is used within ten minutes of being poisoned, the poisoned character dies.

Antidotes are created by first expending two Plot Points and role playing the mixing of herbs and substances for ten minutes. The result must be at least a five ounce container with water and a white label. Water must be consumed for effect.

Create Poison

Poisons are illegal in Verona – the creation or possession of such. In fact, it is death so much as to speak of such things by the Prince’s law. 

By spending first two Plot Points and then role playing mixing herbs and substances for ten minutes. The result is a one ounce container of water which must be marked with a black sticker.

Poisons may be applied to blades, swallowed directly, or added to ONE serving of food or drink.

If the substance is inspected by scent it is clearly poison.

Curse

With a dying breath, a character may curse another, ensuring their eventual demise. The cursed character loses all their Plot Points and their next Injury is upgraded to a Mortal Wound. If they consume a poison, they die within seconds.

Diplomacy

Five minutes of talking and one Plot Point will favorably incline another character to the one using this skill – so much as nature allows. The Montague Lord will do no more than stay a moments violence or some excessive punitive act by the Capulet Lord, but a Neutral Priest could gain a vial or two of Anitdote from a Hedgewitch that would otherwise not trust him.

Of course, you have to converse peacefully for five minutes, first.

Disguise

By wearing a completely different outfit, tying a yellow handkerchief on a wrist or ankle with a single knot, and spending one Plot Point, a character may disguise themselves as anyone, but at the risk of discovery. Should the weakly tied handkerchief/bandana fall off, the disguise fails and the character is revealed a fraud.

Encourage

With this skill, a “good talk,” and the expenditure of a single Plot Point a character with this skill may, two times, grant another character two Plot Points.

Fair Escape

With a single Plot Point expenditure and a clear and unobstructed exit from a scene, a player may declare Fair Escape and leave the area. 

By spending three Plot Points, another character may take three steps and make one violent attack from where both characters are when Fair Escape is declared. 

Gain Craftable Item

By spending three Plot Points at Logistics a character with this skill can obtain any crafted item. But if it is an illegal item there may be repercussions. After all, only the Black Market offers anything close to anonymity.

Knife

This skill allows the user to wield a single 18″ or less contact safe boffer.

Monologue

By holding an open hand straight up and expending one Plot Point, a character may monologue uninterrupted for up to two minutes outside of combat. The player signals the end of this ability by making a hand motion like a knife cutting through the air.

Pistol – Dagger
Pistol – Rapier
Pistol – Sword
Remove Confusion
Replace Item
Resilience
Rifle – Bastard
Rifle – Claymore
Rumormonger
Sacrifice
Safe From Harm
Serve Drink
Set Injury
Soothesayer
Steal
Stealth
Throwing Knives

More Mechanics…

March 10, 2015

Plot Points will not refresh. This is to ensure their use is intentional or desperate and add to a heightened sense of certainty. Each character will be given a set amount of Plot Points which will be decided upon in play testing. The first three play tests will not have a cap, but testers will report how often they used them and how important each use felt.

I am torn on having some physically destructible represent Plot Points or just having it be a matter of an Honor system. This is meant to be theatrical, so I’m leaning toward just trusting my players to play the story, not play to “win.”

Build points are harder to define. Each profession will pay one Build per skill (some are going to be required purchase with certain classes – these may or may not be free depending on how future discussion and testing.

The skills from the common, the Villein, list will each be two or three Build. Since the Villein class may ONLY select from this open list, they will receive twice the Build of other classes to make them workable if less “unique”.

My first instinct is to have each player receieve seven to nine build. I don’t think this will be a skill-heavy game – most of this be decided by politics socializing, and violence. And there are no combat skills beyond the ability to use the weapons.

This makes me think I could run this as a pickup at a convention, but I’m perhaps being a bit overexcited by the prospect that this joking idea could be at all viable. It is that or it will be a fantastic reminder that adapting existing media to playable form is a bit of a pain.

By the way, a character without a combat skill may use three Plot Points to, for one attack, use a weapon they do not have the skill for. They may not enter game with this weapon but may obtain one in character if they find the means to do so. But it would have to be a pretty desperate act…

Players may enter game with a nerf blaster or contact safe physrep for the skills they have. Throwing knives are capped at eight because I like eight. If the player also has knife, they can also use it as a melee Knife on another person inflicting normal Knife damage.  All throwing knives must be twelve inches or less with no solid core.

Stabbing is not allowed, close range “stabs” are to be done with a light touch of the blade against the body.

No head or groin shots. Strikes to the hand with a knife are not allowed. Dart or thrown knives cause the hand to drop what is in it, hits to the arm do not disarm, but still disable the entire limb. The attacked player may switch hands to attack, but must be clumsy about it.

There will be more tomorrow a I write out descriptions of each class and skill. Doing so will take time so I don’t think it’ll be ready until late afternoon. I appreciate any feedback you have.

Montague+Capulet

March 10, 2015

So I have a mad idea, a LARP version of a prequel to the 1996 (you’re allowed to feel old or nostalgic) Romeo+Juliet starring DeCaprio and Danes. It seemed funny, then viable, then impossible, then I started writing a rule set. Here’s what I came up with and I aubmit it here for perusal and discussion.

The first choice was clearly about style. I wanted to embrace the heavily latin-influenced imagery of the film as well as the SoCal glam of the mid nineties. So this is also going to have to be done during the summer. I’ll ask all the players to bring as many props as they can, wear lots of high saturation colors, and just aim for the same hyper-bright chic. It’s a genre choice.

Along the same lines, combat should fit genre, too. Nerf dart blasters – spring powered only, MUST be painted. The only boffers will be knives. Anything under 18 inches.

Speech won’t be scripted but must be Elizabethan, or at least somewhat affected as such. No heavy and terrible accents, just the language. I’ll have to get an Elizabethan primer written up. 

Mechanics I wanted simple. Like, understood in ten minutes simple. So let’s start with time. Friday morning will be for orientation and OOC getting to know everyone’s character in person. You can convey the backstory in text, but Leguizamo’s Tybalt needed to be seen to be understood. 

Game begins at noon, Friday – scene one, act one. Two households in separate buildings. Depending on location, I will assign specific locations. But at minimum there will be a neutral church, a Montague house, a Capulet house, an the Prince’s house (staff lodging). Each group will begin in their assigned buildings at noon. From there we are game on. This first act, there may be no Mortal Wounds. Any Mortal Wounds inflicted will be downgraded automatically to Injuries and such actions so early on will quickly spiral thing into chaos.

Act two begins at midnight. Mortal Wounds are still automatically Injuries unless either player uses a Plot Point to make it Mortal. During the second act, I expect the violence to begin being truly exceptional.

The bell tolls noon, and act three begins. Mortal Wounds are no longer automatically down graded. Injuries cannot be healed or down graded. This is the climax as all hell breaks loose (or not – players are a surprising lot). The players will be carefully pushed towards some sort of conflict – whether they resort to violence or not is up to them.

Midnight. Denouement. The dead, if any, come forward to speak. The prince has his say, and the curtain falls. We debrief, chat about the game and how it went, aftercare as needed, and then revelry.

The mechanics are simple by design – my goal is that no one ever need to clarify what is happening, mechanically. 

The players are given a set number of Plot Points which they may spend during the game to use skills or alter chance. 

There are three types of damage – Graze, Injury, and Mortal Wound. A Hit to the Torso is considered Mortal – the character will die in five minutes unless healed. A hit to the arms or legs is an Injury – the limb is disabled until healed and cannot be used for any Skills. Injury to the torso means the character is unable to in more than twenty steps and has difficulty in all actions. After four hours or until the next twelves, which ever is longer, an injury becomes a graze.

Injuries may be bought down to Grazes with a plot point. A Graze has no mechanical effect but pains the Grazed character some. 

Foam darts and melee weapons all damage the same way. Thrown knives Injure on the first and second torso hit and cause a Mortal Wound on the third. 

Sometime during five minutes after receiving a Mortal Wound, a character dies unless healed. 

There is a short class and skill list.

CLASSES

Apothecary

  • Create poison
  • Set injury
  • Pistol – dagger
  • Cloak
  • Fair escape

Confidant

  • Encourage
  • Set injury
  • Cloak
  • Sacrifice
  • Remove confusion

Doctor

  • Set injury
  • Close Mortal Wound
  • Knife
  • Create antidote
  • Fair escape

Fool

  • Safe from harm
  • Monologue
  • Throwing knives
  • Sacrifice
  • Remove confusion
  • Curse

Hedgewitch

  • Create poison
  • Create antidote
  • Fair escape
  • Close mortal wound
  • Soothesayer

Lord

  • Diplomacy
  • Rifle – (any)
  • Monologue
  • Curse
  • Safe from harm

Merchant

  • Rumormonger
  • Gain craftable item
  • Steal
  • Diplomacy
  • Replace item

Noble

  • Diplomacy
  • Pistol – (any)
  • Monologue
  • Sacrifice
  • Stealth

Oracle

  • Soothesayer
  • Monologue
  • Curse
  • Confusion (permanent)
  • Fair escape

Priest

  • Monologue
  • Close Mortal Wound
  • Remove confusion
  • Create antidote
  • Sacrifice

Soldier

  • Pistol – (any)
  • Rifle – bastard
  • Throwing knives
  • Knife
  • Resilience

Troubadour

  • Safe from harm
  • Diplomacy
  • Throwing knives
  • Encourage
  • Curse

Villein

  • Pistol – dagger
  • Pistol – sword
  • Pistol – rapier
  • Gain craftable item
  • Steal
  • Diplomacy
  • Set injury
  • Cooking
  • Serve drink
  • Rumormonger
  • Disguise
  • Black market

I’ll write up a description of each profession and skill later, but they’re all fairly straight forward. 

Beyond this the important thing is to remember this is not many to be simulation. The goal is drama and style and story.

Two households, both alike in infamy, in fair Verona, where we play our scenes, with ancient grudge comes ancient duty, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

Uninstalled. Permanently.

September 4, 2014

Let me say that Ghost Recon: Phantoms is one of the best concepts in FPS that I’ve hit on in a while. I love the slide into cover; I adore the weapons and the class balance; the maps are endlessly frustrating in usually good ways (if often a bit linear).

But I’m uninstalling and forgetting this game forever. The fact I can’t purge it entirely from my Steam account will be a sad gravestone on top of a failed experiment.

And the game, I am sad to say, was murdered.

Because allowing people to buy and use weapons FAR above their rank entirely imbalances the game. And it’s just not good enough for me to buy and buy and buy. I’d have gladly paid thirty for this game with no complaint, if the buy-in on weapons were restricted to rank or a slight rank advantage. I’d be fine with the mystery boxes being exceptions. Camo and aesthetics are of course always welcome free-to-play purchasables.

But you’ve ruined the balance. You could have just kept games matched by weapon power. You could have limited how much above your rank you could equip. You could have just had small power bonuses.

But free-to-play, pay-to-win is not an acceptable strategy, and it hurts a game long run. Because eventually people who want to play without all the mini-transactions, without buying gun after gun, will leave. And then the number of players dips badly. New people dry up, and the game, instead of having the long run that, say, Starcraft had or Everquest or WoW, you’ve got a flash in the pan that could have been something absolutely fantastic – that honestly is fantastic, but gets cut down before it can shine.

Because, UbiSoft, you wanted a fast buck. You played the short game, not the long one. The most common complaint in your forums is based on this imbalance. I scroll and I see suggestion after suggestion about how to fix this, but the high paying players, or “whales”, get treated to a game that utilizes the unsaying or low-paying players as cannon fodder. No wonder the turn over for the game is so high. They claim a huge player base, but it seems that is based entirely on the number of people who’ve downloaded, played, and left the game out of frustration.

I really really enjoyed this game. It was solid. The mechanics deserve, frankly, better.

I won’t be recommending this game. I recommend people who aren’t willing to fork over too much money for too little avoid this game entirely. Game devs: Play this. Play this game. It’s a fantastic set of mechanics. The balance, when right, is amazing. The weapon concepts and classes are brilliant. This game had all I could have wanted,  but burned it.

UbiSoft, you never got a cent from me through this game, and now you never will. If this is how you plan to do Free To Play, I’ll be avoiding this dev team in the future. I wish you better ideas and ethos in the future.

On Depression

August 12, 2014

Let me start by saying I don’t have answers, only questions and challenges. And maybe a few ideas.

Robin Williams, as I’m sure pretty much everyone knows now, committed suicide. I wasn’t surprised, but I was taken aback. He’s been in and out of rehab, and while he got clean, he was still hurting. It seems he finally decided that life just wasn’t enough compared to the darkness. Many of us are very sad.

Why?

I’m not asking why he did it. The answer is simple: he didn’t want to wake up to his own life again. And we’ll talk about that, too, in a second. But first, why do we care?

Before you get angry, I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m asking why we are, now. The answer is simple: he made us laugh. We are sad because someone important to us is gone. We’re sad because of our loss. And that’s fine, that’s always the truth.

Not to say we aren’t sad about the suffering and pain of the deceased, but the reality is they are gone. They quite literally are beyond mortal misery. We aren’t. We miss them. We have the hole in our lives that we want to fill.

Robin Williams was a touchstone in our lives. His comedic genius was driven by a mad frantic energy which we quietly agreed not to recognize, even when we knew it, was driven by a nearly emotionally violent push back against depression. At times, it was fueled by cocaine or alcohol. Other times, it was fueled by a need to be what we wanted, to garner our appreciation, to make us happy. Someone suffering from depression performing a life of powerful emotional energy is going to burn out.

What I’m saying is Robin Williams, in a very real sense, died for our joy.

And that’s a solid transition to my other point about depression. Depression isn’t being sad. It’s not being mopey. It’s being emotionally empty. It’s having no sense of self-worth or passion. You’re sad, but not too sad. It sounds like being bored, but that’s so far from right.

Imagine none of your food tastes interesting, or it’s all slightly spoiled. People aren’t friends, they’er usually just figures that pass in and out of sight. Movies and books mean little. There’s no motivation. You want these things, you know they’re normal, but you can’t get them. It’s like suffocating.

How could you not see suicide as reasonable? It’s obvious. Depression gives no options, and fighting it is a daily struggle that just doesn’t end. There are a million metaphors but no single one is sufficient. Rather, all of them give you a vague idea combined.

Now, to be clear, I don’t advocate suicide, but I certainly see it as a personal choice. I hear the words “coward” and “selfish” tossed about when I go outside my circle of friends, but I think people saying this don’t see how few options are visible from the bottom of a well. Standing at the top, we see a wide horizon of possibilities. At the bottom of a well, you only see one choice. Stay there or get out, and there’s only one visible out.

So when someone finally acts, we say the words “tragic” and “such a waste”, and talk about them being “too young to be so sad.”

How incredibly blind we are. For that person, this was the final shot at being in control, having some self-sovereignty, and they took it. They had their life in their hands, for the first time in a great while.

The tragedy is that we do so little, that we let people languish at the bottom of their wells. Individually, we can do little. But as a society, we can start lowering ropes. Not everyone can be saved, and offering safe, painless, socially accepted outs would be a great step, I feel, but giving people the support structure in a way that works with individuals, not “diseases”, we can save lives.

But as it is, we demand these people be “on”. They’re told to get out, to do things. Be an adult, be responsible. We want them to get over it, to just try living. And doing this takes so much energy, it empties what little emotional reserve they have available and then, well…

We’ll miss you, Robin Williams.

Loyalty

March 6, 2014

Working on another post about the bleed between player and character for later, here’s a very quick flashback for my Dystopia Rising character. The pacing is shite, but it’s a quick exercise more than anything.

—————————

“Late night?”

Wolfram looked up to see Pavlo coming down the stairs. “Early morning, every morning.” The two smiled. This had become their daily ritual, going out on the dawn scrap hunt, looking for what they could find before day time scavenging looted it all. Wolfram would scavenge the remains of the time before the fall, Pavlo helped watch his back.

They walked down the building’s ramp, most their block still asleep, save the last night watch guards. The guards waved as the two set out, at ease both with the Yorker they’d known for years and the new member of the block. Pavlo had come in, having helped rescue a group of their scavengers and traders from a pack of bursters they run afoul of. Since then, he’d been taken in as family. He’d saved Wolfram’s life that day, and probably a few others. He’d been pulling his weight hard, and they’d come to treat him as any they’d known for years or life. It was a matter of loyalty.

The scavenger froze at the end of the block, checking left and right. Pavlo watched the rear.

“Pavlo, heard that?”

Pavlo turned and leaned down by Wolfram, listening hard. “Yeah. Voices. Not too far. A lot of ’em. Another gang?”

Wolfram shook his head. “Naw, in our turf? When theys some neutral ground a few blocks away? They’d have to be idiots, we too good with the hoods around us. Must be outsiders. Not raiders, sound smart. And laughing. Trade caravan, prolly.”
The two looked at each other. They could go get more people, but the unknown group could get closer. Going alone was stupid, but better not to possibly lead them right home. They nodded to one another, donned their best pleasantly-unassuming expressions, and walked towards the voices.

After a block, they met the other group. Wolfram scanned the small crowd. Professionals, the lot of them. Common colors, style, good mix of weapons. But they didn’t flinch seeing the two headed towards them. The scavenger called out first.

“Yo! What’s good?”

“S’all good. We comin’ through, lookin’ to trade and find someone.”

Pavlo tensed and Wolfram followed suit, keeping as calm a face as he could. “What you lookin’ to trade? Ain’t got much on me just now.”

Three guns leveled on them and Wolfram and Pavlo drew their weapons.

“You. The Yorker. Relax. We don’t need you. Lucian… you’re coming with us.”

Wolfram glaced to his right. “Pavlo” was sweating. He never sweat. In the worst of York’s summer, he didn’t sweat. “Pavlo, the fuck he mean?”

The speaker for the well-armed group smiled. “His name isn’t Pavlo, it’s Lucian. He’s a slave, he’s worth quite a bit, and he’s a fast runner. And he’s coming back with us. You don’t really figure unless you stop us. Or buy him off.”

Wolfram’s mind cranked into gear. He had to stall for time. “How mu-”

“More than you got.” The leader smiled a razorblade grin. No negotiating, then. They’d have to fight, run back to the block, make a stand on the ramp.

“Wait!” Lucian dropped his weapon, something he’d not done the entire time Wolfram had known him. “This can go differently.” Wolfram grabbed his shoulder.

“Pavlo, no. We can get back.”

The other man that Wolfram had come to call friend shook his head. “You can’t understand. Sorry, man.” He walked towards the other group, slowly, carefully. “They’ve got a poorly defended building. Enough cash, scrap, and food to cover my cost, and enough people who’d make decent slaves to triple your cut of this deal.”

Wolfram’s mind reeled. Pavlo had been like family, and now, this. Anger boiled over and he charged into Pavlo’s back, sending them sprawling into the mercenaries, weapons clattering all over, guns being cocked, general chaos. Wolfram grabbed onto a merc and pulled himself upright, and felt a weight in his hand. Without thinking, he pulled the pin, dropped the grenade, and ran.

The three who survived the blast he finished off, the bleeders he put down. Then he got to Pavlo.

“Lucian, huh?”

Lucian nodded, holding what he could of his guts in his stomach. “Y-yeah. Sorry, man. I-I couldn’t go back. You don-don’t know what it’s like.”

Wolfram sat down next to him, looking him over. “If I don’t shoot you fulla this,” he held up an adrenaline shot, “you gunna die.”

Lucian looked at it, then at Wolfram. The scavenger was threatening him? No, he was…

Wolfram pressed the needle into Lucian’s leg, emptying the brew into the veins of a person he’d called friend these past months. Lucian’s eyes lit, his heart raced as his veins opened up and blood pumped hard and fresh. The infection began working to mend what had been torn apart. The yorker helped this person to his feet, uncertain what even to call him. “You standin’?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m good. Guess I should leave, huh?”

“Yeah, you goin’.” The crunch of bone and flesh and blood against steel ricocheted off the old building walls, and Pavlo fell to the ground, his skull caved in. Wolfram slammed his bat into the body three more times, ensuring that he’d not be getting up – at least, not as himself.

The yorker wiped blood from his face and hands, smears staining his clothing and skin.

At the complex, the guards ran to him, his sister was called, people crowded. Where was Pavlo? What happened? What was that explosion?

Mercenaries, he told them. Mercs that came for slaves. They were all dead now, but Pavlo was killed. But he died on his feet, and that was all that mattered. It was all just about loyalty.

Just Morning

January 8, 2014

A writing prompt from a friend inspired this story about a normal, boring, and drama-free day in the life of my Dystopia Rising character.

Wolfram stared out the window of the Tap. False dawn was breaking over the horizon. A cold fucking dawn. And no coffee. He’d woke to find himself colder than usual. Probably needed to really pull out the old blanket soon. Can’t sleep shivering, and if you can, you probably don’t wake up.

The scavenger coughed and shook his head. He had always hated this type of weather. Cold was fine, but this was just bitter, and it was always the worse just before the sun broke. Shrugging, he stood up, ignoring the few shuffling feet in the Tap who were actually up at this hour. The cup of hot water in his hands wan’t much, but the chicken bone he’d boiled in it at least added some flavor and could keep him a bit warmer.

Stepping out the door, he felt the cold air immediately bite at his face and ears. The set down the cup, and pulled the hood over his head, the bandana across his face, and resettled his ever-present pack.

“Late night?” he asked himself, picking up the cup again. “Early morning,” he replied as casually, descending the stairs. “Just like every day.”

The trails weren’t exactly littered with scroungables. He walked slowly, down the path and letting his eyes cast about slowly. No rush. Every few seconds he stopped, he feet frozen, and he listened, glanced about and stared hard, looking for movement or signs of something out of place. Maybe the Raiders would just stay home today. Not likely, but you can dream.

His eye caught on a spot where the rain had washed oddly. He bent down and set his cup on the dew-coated grass before hacking at the earth. Nice, he thought, looking around to make sure he was still alone. It wasn’t quality, but it was quantity. And that was it’s own quality. The scraps of metal went into his bag, and he picked up his cup, sipping and walking again. It’d do for the day, but tomorrow might not cover itself, so no rest. As he neared a corner, he heard movement far behind him and quietly darted into the brush and twisted himself low, behind a small stand of trees.

Three people, armed. Weapons aren’t out, and they don’t look aggressive, but they also aren’t familiar. Stay low.

He watched the three pass; they looked like they were probably from Hayven, but he didn’t know them, and alone, before anyone’s awake, was not the time to find out. Once the three were out of earshot, he glanced around, straining to see any sign of trouble. Nothing. The Yorker stood, joints complaining of cold and too many years hard-worked with little kindness or respite. He let the discomfort show, but stretched anyway, and moved from cover, sipping his cup and once again hunting for anything he could turn to scrap, credit, or some good rep.

A plant caught his eye and he bent to examine it. Yeah, edible. Not very good, and close to useless, but edible. He cut it free and slipped it into a leather pouch for use or sale later. Actually, he’d probably just give it to Easy. Unless it went bad before he got the chance. Then it’d be Uncle Chuck’s. Herbs didn’t matter much for the scavenging tinker. Not directly, at least.

Two hours later, Wolfram was tired, sore, and his legs were cramping. He wandered back into the Tap to warm up, get more broth, and sort what he’d do for the day. He had enough to make a new set of armor. He’d bang that out when the Kennel put out the work bench and make sure he made enough noise to annoy Yossarian. Wolfram like Yossarian well enough, respected him, certainly, but it was just the principle of the thing.

“Ah, pardon me… You can make stuff, right?”

Wolfram turned to see someone who looked new. Not dressed heavily enough, a bit lost in the face, and shy. The casually reached over and took the young woman’s weapon from her hand, examining it and silencing her protest with a raised hand. “This is shit. Came here on a caravan?”

The girl looked shocked. “Um… yeah. Got in last night. How’d you know?”

“Decent guess. I can replace this with something better. What do you need?”

The girl’s eyes widened. “Actually, I need armor.”

“What do you do?” Wolfram almost felt bad. She was too easily shaken, and he was still pissed from the cold.

“I’m a doctor. I need a better knife, but I really need armor for my sister. I can pay. But she nearly was killed last night and- what are you doing?”

The Yorker continued to ignore the girl as he set down his bag, took off his jacket and hoodie, and slipped his belts and straps out of the way. He took the armor he was wearing off and handed it to the woman. “Ten cred or scrap, you can mix ‘em if you need to.”

The woman stammered. “I can’t take your armor!” Wolfram shook his head and held up a hand to stop her talking, brow knitted. This girl was giving him a head ache.

“I make the shit, so yes, you can. I don’t charge doctors or medics. Normally I’d charge since it’s not for you, but you’re new and I’m too tired to haggle shit. Credit or scrap, c’mon.” He shrugged the straps back in place, tossed on his outer layers, and slung his bag back on. The girl fumbled and dug into her bag, pulling out the credit he wanted. His eyes lit up.

“Where’d you get that?”

“Get what?” The girl looked terrified she’d done something to anger the Yorker.

“That nice chunk of scrap.”

She held the bag almost protectively. “My sister found it on the way into town.”

Wolfram set his bag down. “Give it over.”

“Excuse you?!”

“Shiiiit. I don’t have the energy for this crap. Look, lady, I got a better weapon for you in my bag; you give me that bit of scrap and that piece of rusted metal you call a knife, it covers the cost of the weapon I’m going to sell you. And this one’s a lot better. I need the scrap to build things, you need a real weapon. Ain’t fuckin’ hard.”

The woman looked at him and at her bag and knife. “Oh… um, alright. I mean… Is that…”

The Yorker held up a hand to stop her again. “Unless you get really good friends who’ll arm you for free, it’s the best price you gonna get. It’s at cost. I don’t normally work for fuckin’ free. Also, I’m tired, cold, and sore. So do the deal or fuck off.”

The woman silently handed over the weapon and the scrap. Not the best stuff, but he had enough of that for the moment. Oddly, it was the slightly more common quality scrap he needed a lot of now. He dug into his bag and handed her a Skewer. “There. Good shit. Don’t lose it, I don’t do refunds.”

The doctor turned to leave, looking somewhat scared and upset. Shit. “Hold on, take this.” He placed a snake oil in her hand. “In case you don’t have time to work.”

The woman looked at it. “Wait, how much?”

The yorker shrugged as callously as he could. “Don’t worry about it, just take care of my ass if I go down, yeah?”

The woman looked it over. “Thank you.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek before walking off.

Wolfram shook his head and gathered his gear, headed for the kitchen. Still needed to get that broth. No one had better have seen that shit, that sort of bullshit rumor could fuck with his rep.

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