Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lewis Carrol: Eastern Philosopher

Charles Dodgson, better known today as Lewis Carrol, was a math tutor, lecturer, clergyman and author of one of the most highly regarded children’s books ever. Dodgson is never associated with Eastern Philosophy but, upon recently reading Alice’s encounter with the Caterpillar, it occurs to me to recognize him as such. Alice’s conversation with the Caterpillar reminded me of the lessons of the Zen Buddhists. Often, in these lessons, students’ questions will not be answered directly. The Zen Master’s answer may be a question or an abstract or seemingly illogical response.

Here is an excerpt of Alice’s conversation with the Caterpillar, for example;

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I-I hardly know, Sir…

“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!”

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,” said Alice…

“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar…
…”You!” said the Caterpillar contemptuously. “Who are you?”

…”I think you ought to tell me who you are, first.”
(Alice)

“Why?” said the Caterpillar.

Here was another puzzling question; and the Caterpillar seemed to be in a very unpleasant state of mind, she turned away.

“Come back!” the Caterpillar called… “I’ve something important to say!”
This sounded promising… Alice turned and came back again.

“Keep your temper,” said the Caterpillar.
(Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland; Second Norton Critical Edition, pp. 35 & 36.)

This exchange is typical of the nonsense which Dodgson has used to weave his tale of the Adventures in Wonderland. I would like to suggest, in all respect, that it is also typical of the nonsense used in some Zen lessons. I present the following passages of Zen lessons as examples of my argument.

A monk in all seriousness asked Joshu : “Has a dog Buddha nature or not?” Joshu retorted “Mu!”(Kapleau, P, The Three Pillars of Zen; p 76.)

Roshi: (master) Is there anything you want to ask?

Student: Yes, I have several questions. The first is: Why did you have a sign put above my place saying I should not be struck with the kyosaku? Is it because you feel I am hopeless?

Roshi: … I thought if you were struck it might interfere with your zazen. You don’t mind being hit?
(Kapleau, p 104.)

Student: I have been working by myself on the koan “What was the face you had before you were born?” I believe I have the answer… I have dwelt… on what I was like… and what my parents were like… In fact, in my imagination I have already buried my ashes in a favorite spot. Have I been working on this koan correctly?
Roshi: No, you have not.
(Kapleau, p 105 & 106.)

I have, admittedly, paraphrased these passages from The Three Pillars of Zen in order to support my point. Alice’s conversation with the Caterpillar reminds me of Zen lessons of this type. There was a very Zen moment as I was writing this article. My 19-month-old granddaughter came into the room and I asked, “They can’t keep you entertained in there?” She immediately responded, “No.” Or course, for a 19-month-old, “no” is the standard response about 50% of the time, or the very Zen of “no.”

While I’m quoting professional writers to color my life I’d like to barrow a quote from Charles Papazian. I’ve mentioned the final beer I had for the beer challenge, Monk’s Café, and provided my opinion of it. Charles Papazian created a description for Wisconsin Belgian Red from New Glarus Brewing Co. which I’d like to borrow to describe Monk’s Café.

Fortunately it has a malt foundation, without which I fear the sourness and sweetness might otherwise escape to the outward reaches of the solar system.

Finally, as the blogosphere is as unpredictable as winter holidays are static, I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a “Happy New Year!”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mutant Future session two; Dec. 8, 2009

The game began with our return to the meat markets of Manny the meat man and his Siamese twin Meatman Manny. The PC formerly known as the PWM had adopted the name Hedgehog Jack. He remained ninety feet away from the butchers’ stalls and yelled comments as Brother Matthias negotiated with each of the butchers, Bottom, the giant donkey, hee-hawed in the background and Bucky McLeroy observed in silence. Manny the meat man offered us fifteen gold per set of spidergoat legs and Brother M haggled 100 gold for five sets of legs. Manny said he’d pay extra since we had filled his order for the spidergoat legs quickly.

Meatman Manny offered us twenty-five gold pieces for the man meat but, with Hedgehog Jack yelling in the background, Brother M managed to haggle seventy-five gold out of the Meatman. Somehow, during all the meat trading, one of the butchers was asked if they dealt in “man meat.” Our MM didn’t hesitate has he answered in character, “No, that’s a different guy, you haven’t met yet.”

Bucky, H. Jack and Bottom looked through their equipment and visited the market to acquire any items they’d need for the upcoming exploration of the cave-in at the junk pile. Brother M only had two priorities, to find himself a little heaven-on-earth and recruit some new followers for the Church of Holy Fawk. Thus, he went to the brothel tent without splitting the earnings from the meat market with the rest of the party. Hedgehog Jack became quite concerned when he discovered this development. He went straight to the brothel tent to have a conversation with their doorman.

Hedgehog Jack: My friend came here with a lot of money.

Doorman: Most of our clients do.

Hedgehog Jack: Well, some of that money’s my money so he better have that money when he leaves your establishment in the morning.

Doorman: That’s not likely to happen and is contrary to my job description.

Hedgehog Jack: -- threateningly— Well, Brother Matthias better have most his money in the morning or bad things will happen! – exit Hedgehog Jack—

In the morning, when exiting the brothel, Brother M made a save roll to see if he had avoided being ripped off during the night. He failed the roll and it was determined that he’d spent, or otherwise lost, seventy-five percent of our money. Upon learning this Hedgehog Jack went to the local lamp oil vendor and purchased a large barrel of oil. I guess it was actually a medium size barrel of oil as it weighed more than a gallon but less than five gallons. In my opinion, physics has no place in fantasy role playing so divisions of measurement are not important to the plot of the game.

As vendors where just setting up shop for the day, most the clients of the brothel were not out of bed yet, Hedgehog Jack went into the alley and applied the lamp oil to the exterior wall. Bucky had noticed that Hedgehog Jack was in an especially ill mood and had followed HJ, he hoped to talk HJ out of burning down the brothel. Brother M was sleeping off his night of excess and Bottom was getting his giant donkey beauty sleep. Bucky’s conversation with HJ consisted of little more than, “Burning down the brothel will not get our money back. In fact, it will just cause trouble.” Then Bucky went to hide between some tents and stalls across the street.

Some of the hedgehog’s spines tore holes in the tent and some occupants, Junkyard Dawgs, awoke to the smell of lamp oil and smoke. Three Dawgs attempted to save their precious brothel but HJ managed to set it on fire with a cigar he’d been conveniently smoking all morning. The Dawgs then fired some rounds at HJ and injured him. HJ grabbed the nearest Dawg to use him as a human shield while Bucky, still hiding across the street, was able to fire his longbow an hit one of the Dawgs. After his first succesful attack, Bucky attempted to summon some help by shouting, “Help, help, mutants are being oppressed!” HJ and Bucky appeared to be winning their struggle when a second group of Dawgs rushed into the fight.

At this point Hedgehog Jack made his escape by pulling his human shield through the fiery alley. HJ shoved the Dawg back into the alley and ran away through the busy morning market crowd thus making Bucky the center of attention for six angry Junkyard Dawgs. Bucky tried to use the “communicate first, get shot later” technique and yelled, “Get that Hedgehog! He set the brothel on fire!” He then fired an arrow at HJ who he could see through a gap between two tents. “Your deputized, let’s get ‘im,” sayed one of the Dawgs.

Hedgehog Jack escaped through the crowd and Bucky made a quick retirement from his duties as a deputy of the Junkyard Dawgs. They returned to their camp, which was in an unspecified location, and collected Brother M and Bottom, encouraging their fellow travelers tto leave Junkopolis with all expedience. The four adventures, and Brother M’s three or four followers, returned to the site of their former spidergoat hunt.

Inside the cave created by seismic landfill activity the party found a harder than normal floor with a yellow strip painted down the middle of the passage. They reached an inner wall of the cave which had an ancient message painted above the portal. The symbols read, “C.A.U.T.I.O.N.” The party decided this must say, “Cau-t-on,” and was probably the name of the God this temple was dedicated too.

They entered this portal to find a gate ahead of them and a passage leading to their right. The passage was too small for the giant donkey to enter so he remained behind at the gate. There was a series of chambers inside the small passage. In the first chamber there was a desk with ancient mimeographs and two mysterious boxes with glass sides which faced toward the desk chair. Brother M attempted to understand the function of these boxes and after a few brief examinations an image of Bottom appeared on the glass side of one of the boxes. Brother M was frightened by this development and encouraged Hedgehog Jack to smash this evil crystal ball-box. HJ smashed the crystal ball-box and they moved on to the next room which was across the hall.

This room contained some tables and chairs and, in the corner, there were two illuminated shrines to Cau-t-on. One shrine was illuminated with a stylized liquid container displayed on cubes of ice. The red and blue beverage container was emblazoned with the symbols R & C. Obviously indicating Erk, the liquid embodiment of Cau-t-on. The second shrine had a glass front which displayed shelves of offerings left to the ancient gods. These offerings where placed in the shrine through a black door at the bottom of the shrine which was labled, "P.U.S." Hedgehog Jack smashed these pagan shrines and the adventures discovered that some of the offerings at the shrines where still palatable. (The shrines were considered pagan because they were not for the Lwad of Holy Fawk, the Church of Chaos or the Cult of Tree Buggers.) The glass shrine contained a handful of delicious miniature yellow cake logs with creamy centers. The shrine to the liquid god had at least half a dozen containers inscribed to various liquid archetypes. The PCs saved these "drinks" for later consumption.

Another door led from this room, the offering chamber, to the storage room for the vehicle of Cau-t-on. This vehicle consisted of an ancient locomotive device and a wagon. The adventurers investigated the vehicle but they could not determine how it operated. The vehicle was parked a few yards from the gate that Bottom was behind. Bucky noticed a red light near this gate and suggested the light might be a trigger to operate the gate. Brother M still had the device which he used to operate the crystal ball-boxes and, Bucky was right, the gate operated by the same process. (Both the security monitors and the gate were activated by a cardkey.) The gate swung open and Bottom was able to join his comrades in the vehicle storage area and we concluded our adventure for the evening.

As the sidebar indicates; I’m now reading Alice in Wonderland. I had a spare hour before an appointment this past week and the public library is always a good place to spend a spare hour. Alice in Wonderland is the next book I need to read on the 501 Must Read Books list. I’ll get back to reading Fritz Leiber when I’ve returned Mr. Carrol/Dogson’s book to the KCPL.

The Decline of the West

Here’s an example of why this blog is titled One Consumer’s Opinion rather than “one gamer’s opinion” or “My Dice Speak to Me” or any number of random blog titles I could fashion. Modern society is an all-you-can-eat buffet of life styles, cultural divisions, diversity and problems. I’m all for diversity, freedom and civil liberties, in fact, it’s often the lack of diversity that causes problems in modern society. You, the reader, may imagine a big tie dye Liberal flag waving but I have a name for my political philosophy and it is “radical moderate.” When I get an inclination I’ll write more about the nature of radical moderate thought which is as silly as the term sounds.

The issue today isn’t really the varying political attitudes we find in the US or the Western Hemisphere and the issue isn’t diversity or lack of diversity. My issue today is ignorance and things that indicate the decline of civilization. This past week one of my game pals shared this fractured office memo with us. I get some pretty disturbing memos from my own job, forwarded e-mails which contain information I wasn’t supposed to see and production guide lines with no punctuation. But this is the first chance I’ve had to share a fractured memo with the world.

This example is proof that our machines are now smarter than we are. My computer will not let me start a sentence with a lower case letter. The computer also warns me when I use the wrong form of a word. Still, I do manage to trick the computer and scramble the word tense from time to time. My friend informed us that he suggested the message might need to be edited before it was submitted for tenant certification but his supervisor said it was fine as is. I have included the message below for every ones’ enjoyment or disgust.

John,
the tenant certification for May West #9.
she is in the nursing home and I have spoke with the nursing home several times about her and they are trying to point a guardian over her so they can take care of her belongings and I have told them her lease was up and now they need to do something about this and they no her rent is market $299.99.
Thanks Jim


My point here is, two out of three adults found this memo an acceptable form of communication. I’m really not concerned about this issue, lack of grammar and punctuation don’t signal the overnight end of civilization. I should have more immediate concerns like writing a report of our last Mutant Future session; I’ll get to work on it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The OSP plays Mutant Future

Yes, my game group has a name. We call ourselves the Old School Pastafari. We adopted the term Pastafari because in the first adventure we played the cleric chose to be a Pastafarian, a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Some may insist that the plural form of Pastafarian is “Pastafarians” but I like Pastafari, as in octopi and cacti. We’re the “old school” Pastafari because we are old, when this group started in March or April of this year, the average age of the group was forty. We’ve lost a few members and picked up a twenty-something so now I imagine the average of the group is 35. (Three of the five members are over forty.)

We’re between adventures in our usual 1st edition AD&D game and played a session of Mutant Future this past Tuesday night. I had intended to play an android but found some inspiration when driving home from my Thanksgiving trip. I saw a deer stand, or hunting stand, out in a field along side of I-65. I knew two of the guys were going to play animal mutants and thought I’d join the herd and play an anamorphic whitetail buck.

Our game meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evenings but I hadn’t made the character by game time. I got to the game early and began rolling dice. The Mutant Master had suggested we roll 18d6 and combine the results however we like. I found this was a very quick method of character creation. We planned to roll our mutations at the table, the other guys arrived soon and the fun ensued. The dice predicted that Buckie McLeroy would have two physical mutations and two mental mutations. I got two very useful but ultimately boring physical mutations; natural armor and thermal vision. My mental mutations were nearly as useless and boring; dual cerebellum defect and acute hyper healing. I’m sure all the mutations will come in handy at some point, except for the dual cerebellum defect, I’m certain it will prove to be a royal main in the buttocks.

Speaking of buttocks, did I mention that one of the other players is playing a mutated pack animal? He, Bottom by PC name, won the award for Character Most Likely to Break the Rule Book. I’ll describe our other mutant animals and get back to Bottom in a bit.

The third mutant animal is a wolf-man and he got some pretty good mutations. The first great mutation he rolled was the spiny growth which makes him a porcupine-wolf-man hybrid. Apparently the spiky spiny growths can be pulled out and used as a dagger too! The player of the porcupine-wolf-man rolled obesity as his second physical mutation and for a mental mutation he gets something called “negative empathy.” Now he’s an overweight porcupine wolf-man with a fifteen percent chance to piss-off everyone he meets.

The fourth player chose to play a pure strain human proselyte. This may sound like a rather worthless player character but with his charisma of 22 he was able to attract three npc followers who live to serve him. The followers proved to be very helpful in a fight against a hand full of spider goats. The guy playing this priest, we’ll call the player Nod to protect the innocent, did a great job staying in character all night. The main philosophy of his faith seemed to be, “Give me money and all is forgiven.”

As I’ve mentioned, the player with the mutant donkey was the winner of the Most Likely to Break the Game Award. He started with your basic mutant donkey, named Bottom of course, and rolled his way into a mutations chart jackpot. He got a duel cerebellum as a mental mutation and density alteration. I don’t recall the exact name of this mutation but it allows the player character the mental ability to reduce the density and, or size of other beings in the game. (This may include the reduction of any mater in the game but I don’t recall.) To top off his killer mutant pie, his physical mutation is gigantism. Who wouldn’t want to play a giant of any race? But the rules, as we interpreted them, indicate that a 3d6 roll determines the additional size of the giant, in feet. The player rolled a fourteen and now the party has a mutant donkey that’s roughly eighteen feet long!

This is the very reason that we rolled our mutations at the table. To Mr. Proctor and Denison and all involved in the creation of Mutant Future; this is fun, fun stuff!

Our adventure began on the road to Junkopolis, a settlement centered on and around an old trash pile. (A former junkyard or landfill.)The three mutants met the preacher, who I preceded to call Brother Pompous Ass all game, at a crossroad on the edge of the settlement. Brother P was just converting his three followers and the porcupine-wolf-man (PWM) became offended by, what he believed was, an anti-mutant attitude. Brother P assured us, “All are equal in the eyes of the Great Auditor.” The giant psi-donkey (GPD) also made a fuss with his many questions about Junkopolis and the many he-haws this involved. This mild argument attracted the attention of a vaguely uniformed group of gun totters. These gentlemen informed us that they were the Junkyard Dogs, the personal security force of the king of Junkopolis. Our MM never used this term, but knowing him, I get the impression that the king of J-opolis is known as the King of the Hill. These “dogs” just wanted us to stay out of trouble and understand that, “we have guns.” I later suggested that the GPD should have sat on the Junkyard Dogs but the MM said, “It was a whole troop.” Apparently a troop is too large for a GPD too squish?

Our group was also advised to seek Manny the Meat Man for employment. Following the directions to the meat man we encountered a group of anti-mutant thugs. Brother P had all three of his followers attack one of the thugs and the others were dispatched with ease. Once at the stall of Manny the Meat Man we noted that the bodies of these same thugs where being carried to the back of the meat stall. The PWM asked if Manny was a dealer of human meat and he replied, “No, no. If you’re interested in that sort of trade you need to see my brother, Meat man Manny.” It turned out that the two Mannys are Siamese twins who operate adjoining meat stalls with a curtain between the two brothers and stalls.

Our group reached a verbal agreement with Manny to supply him with fresh Spider Goat meat. We arranged to supply the Meat Man with “human flesh with no entanglements.” Buckie McLeroy asked, “Do spider goat legs taste like giant lobster,” and, “Does no entanglement mean that the humans are not trapped in any spider goat webbing?” We ended the game session by collecting our first haul of spider goat and witnessing a cave in of the junk pile which seemed to lead to some larger sub-terrain complex.

I have written this article quickly share the events of our Mutant Future game. I don’t believe I could successfully recreate the level of fun and humor we experienced during this game session. I even commented to Nod’s wife that, “Sally will never know that we all giggled like little girls.” Only to add, “She’d be glad to know we giggled like little girls.” I told Sally about this conversation and she replied, “Yes, I’m glad you all giggled like that.” (Now I have introduced the rpg blog world to my wife, Mrs. Consumer's Opinion, better known as Sally.)

In an unrelated note; I was cleaning my bookshelves and found my old copy of Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction. I really love this book but have now chosen not to keep it in my collection. The book is in pretty poor shape and I wouldn't want to trade it with anyone so Another Roadside Attraction will be the first book I send out into the big bad world in Book Crossing style.

The Rules Juggler

Rules Juggler: noun; a participant in a rules-based environment who attempts to juggle the rules or laws of one setting, system or game to gain an advantage within that environment. The use of this method is common in wargaming and role playing games.

Example: In any OD&D game a participant might request that rules of a newer edition of the game be applied to the older rule set. 1. "A result of 18 or higher is a critical hit when attempting a to hit roll isn't it?" 2. "Can we use the 1d6 for each point of constitution for accumulative hit points method?"

I must at this point acknowledge that I referenced the Wikipedia definition of Rules Lawyer when writing this article.