Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Where have all the good men gone!

I sit in my chair, at this moment, struggling with the idea of how to even start this topic.  Men are in crisis in America today.  I say America not because I am trying to bash on my own beloved homeland, but because it is the only country I can speak definitively about with any real clarity.  I am the last person to puff my chest out and say "I am a man's man.  While certainly able to stand up for myself and my family, my country and my faith, you won't find me buying a gun every 5 minutes, roaring at a football game, or chugging beers.  I am trying to become more handy, but lets just say I should have been paying more attention to my dad when we were doing projects instead of having my head in the clouds thinking about dragons and treasure.

So let me examine what it is to be a man these days and where I think we are failing.  I think the BIGGEST crisis area is fathers.  I was raised with the ideal in mind, that if you produced a child in this world, they always came first from that point on.  I think that is something men have really lost sight of in the last 20 years.  We went from the father who works 60+ hours a week to put food on the table but still came home to bounce his child on his knee, show his son or daughter how to do different tasks, to fathers whom hide from child support, spend all their money on their own pursuits leaving nothing for their family, or worse yet bail and never even try to take part.  When I would hear stories of guys like this as a kid, they were few and far between, and most of the community in general treated any man who acted this way as the lowest type of human being.  Now as an adult, I have seen so many examples of this, in my own life and immediate social circle that it truly sickens me.  Without getting to personal, I have seen that even the most loved child in the world is still impacted with at least the curiousity as to why a father would do this.

I think the first link to this shrugging of responsibility comes from societal and generational change.  Simply put we know there is a crisis of entitlement in the United States now.  The Golden Agers grew up through the depression years having to deal with having nothing to very little, but being grateful for any little convenience they had.  As such even when a lot of them started getting better pay by the 1950's, they were fearful and frugal because you never knew when the hammer was gonna fall.  Their children, the young adults of the late 60's and 70's came into a world where they saw booming commerce and industry, and could not fathom why their parents were so frugal and penny pinching.  To add to this, most of the men in the Golden Age era were Veterans of War that left intangible scars with which they returned back to the USA. There was no discussing or treatment for them it was just suck it up and move on.  They came back half hollowed men, keeping their pain inside, or masking it in alcohol.  So by the time we get to the 60's and 70's, the generation most of our parents grew up in, those young adults were done with this stoic, depressing way of life.  They had grown up in a prosperous time that only the cloud of Vietnam could put a damper on.

Vietnam era Veterans returned from a war every bit as horrific as World War 2, but while being aware of how much better life was, they tried to make sense of the horrors they had seen versus the everyday life they were returning to. Still we did not have any kind of social understanding of PTSD and its effects, so these Veterans were turned loose in a fast paced world that did not seem to care about their pain.  Divorces during this time skyrocketed as many of these men, unable to get answers from their own fathers on how to cope, who were themselves damaged, internalized their pain, because unlike their fathers they did not come back waving a flag of victory.  Now drugs and alcoholism were even more rampant, and these men checked out.  Now do not get me wrong, many of these men would find the strength by grace of god to find stability, though sadly, often enough not at the hands of the society that should have supported them.  These men instead felt abandoned and as such began to stolidly "look out for #1".

It is easy to see with the backdrop of war, depression, yet booming economy, where signals began to get crossed.  By the time we reach the mid 70's into early 80's we have the baby boomer generation fully coming into its own.  They work good jobs, with good wages, good medical insurance that allows them to get treatment and care for their loved ones.  Life is good and as such, our parents, wanting us to have more then they ever had begin to buy and make sure their kids want for nothing.  No longer would their kids be refused that toy, or that game, because by God, my parents could never afford to do stuff for me "So I am gonna make sure my kids live better then I did"  Corporate entities of course seized this opportunity by the throat and squeezed for all it was worth, mass producing, toys, games, comic books, baseball cards you name it.  It became my generations expectation that if they want something they should have it.  I think the only saving grace for us were the few parents whom took the Golden Ager's lessons of working for what you want, saving to buy something instead of charging it to heart.  Sadly it just was not enough.

What this did to men in the United States is slowly break down the fiber that made us the shepherds to our families.  No longer was the expectation that you turn 18 you find a job, now we got to party down and live it up in college till 21 or 22 before having to come to grips with being an adult.  In fact statistically speaking, a good chunk of us did not even start lives coming close to resembling our parents history until most were in the late 20's to early 30's.  We were raised to think of ourselves first and foremost, because after all, our parents did, shouldn't the whole world be the same way.  Even now when I look around, I still have classmates and friends from other walks of life,with kids no less, amply suckling from the teet of their parents labors at 40 something years old.  Do not get me wrong, sometimes you just need a hand up.  Some families are very close and like to keep together, but as our parents reach retirement age and even begin to pass away, our inheritances become debt, fuddled financials and lost sense of security that frankly most of us should have outgrown decades ago.

To cite examples supporting my argument:

1) A father that would rather be homeless, work under the table, and do drugs then support his offspring
2) A father that lets his own daughter be violated by his girlfriend/fiancees teenage son and does nothing to stand up for her, for fear of losing his girlfriend.
3) A Man at 30 years old still living with his mom, whom struggles while he works temp jobs and seasonal work because "Why should I kill myself when I have a place to live for free".
4) Men that spend more on guns, hunting gear and video games then they do their own families well being.
5) Men that will not commit because they are so self centered as to not want to be forced into making a decision that will cause sacrifice.
6) Grown men spending more on action figures of their youth then their own children's toys.

I could go on and on citing examples but I really do not need to.  If you have an ounce of common sense you can look around and see the 30 something cursing foully in public with children right there over something on his phone.  We have moved to this right now mentality we are leading our kids by the nose into following and it is crushing us.  No one has patience for anything anymore if it cannot be achieved on the spot and most importantly we are building crushing piles of garbage because most men have forgotten that at one point we WERE the handymen, the fixers the guys that said okay let me see if I can fix it before I throw it away.  Hell, most guys do not even change their own oil anymore and other then the disposal of the old oil, it is frankly a pretty straight forward process.

 One of my male acquaintances (totally not a friend I just have to deal with him) was commenting upon an old co worker and facebook friend's status update he saw over my shoulder.  He made the comment that man he likes Star Trek that is pretty gay.  So my first issue was with him saying something was "gay" Gay is not a descriptor for something bad.  Secondly, the friend of mine he was discussing just so happens to be gay.  He then proceeded to talk about how he and his Army buddies would beat the crap out of some trekkies especially gay trekkies.  Astounded at his stupidity, I got irritated and said "You know, this "gay" friend of  mine bought a HUD home, and has spent the last 6 years renovating and building that thing from top to bottom, making rooms where there were not any, running plumbing, and electrical for himself.  He and his partner have taken in multiple "charity cases" as you would term it, that were just folks down on their luck that needed a hand up, and have helped them get back out in the world.  In fact when they had a father and his son living with them, and they figured out the father was being physically abusive they had the balls to act to get this kid the help he needed and tried to get the father help as well.  They drove the kid to meet his grandparents several states away so he could have a safe home where he was loved.  They sat and helped him with his homework in the absence of his father.  To boot this "gay trekkie" was physically beaten and abused and excommunicated from his own family for years and yet he still pulled himself up by his bootstraps and does not hesitate to help the very society that hates on him.  Simply put asshole, this guy is more of a man then you will ever be.  So go watch your football game where other men run around and do work while you sit on your fat ass and hurl commentary at the screen."

You need more proof that men are degenerating from men to man children look around at most of our crises.  Since most Stock Brokers and Investment Bankers are men, can we not then easily draw the conclusion that these instances of embezzlement, Investment Bankers stock fraud and scandals all stem from this pervading sense of "I want it, I want it now and I deserve it because I am me" that is destroying us.  I think we can.  I am not innocent in this.  I have bought way too many items I should not have in my desire to have it now.  This is not on my parents.  My parents would get me christmas and birthday gifts but other then that if I wanted something they made me save up and earn it from age 5 on.  I went in the military, where instead of saving Haz Duty pay and being smart about it, I blew it on parties and items I do not even have anymore.  I made those choices and they were bad ones.  I ate things I should not have ate, and no one held a gun to my head and said eat this or else.  I chose the actions that more then likely despite genetic predisposition led to me being an insulin dependent diabetic.  When I got diagnosed with MS, in my head I used it as a excuse to soothe my woes with physical objects INSTEAD of finding joy in the fact I was a father to two healthy children and married to a gorgeous wife.  I thank God every day my wife has the patience to stick with me.  So while I have always strove to be a good father I have made more then my share of mistakes along the way.

But see that is just it folks.  I think the most important lesson men need to learn to really be men is to be able to turn that camera around and face facts.  Mom is not here to save you.  Dad should not have to bail you out.  This is on you, you clean  your mess up, you get out of your parents basement, and you get something positive done.  If you brought a child in this world, YOU GET  YOUR SHIT TOGETHER AND MAKE THAT KID YOUR PRIORITY.  Your mom and dad should not be raising their grandchildren.  They should be able to spoil the crap out of them and give them back to you, the way God intended.  Show your sons how to love a woman by being true and faithful to your wife.  Show your daughters exactly what kind of man she should be looking for by being the example you want for her.  Most importantly show your sons and daughters how to treat a spouse by showing them she is your equal, your partner, your everything, so they will grow up looking for that kind of stability too.  Most importantly...teach them patience and stop acting like a 4 year old whom lost their sucker when things do not go your way. YOU DO NOT NEED that stupid IPHONE 1000 right now.  You do not need to swap things every time a new model comes out when the one you have more then covers your needs.  Look around you, our kids are becoming more and more obese, have no manners and are very self centered and its ALL we as parents fault.  It is not A) the school's fault B) the other parent's fault, C) The president's liberal/conservative Agenda's fault.  It is YOURS.  Monkey see monkey do.

In a few words men of the United States, Pull your pants up, put your phones/pads/game controllers down, stand up and quit expecting mom and dad or Uncle Sam to bail you out for your dumb decisions.  Otherwise, frankly, everything is only gonna get worse, and it is our job as the shepherds of our family to protect our flock, not to sit in the middle of the flock and wait for someone else to do it.

Let's be the kind of Men we should be America.
Rant Off

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Grognard and the Gamer

I was standing in my favorite bookstore/gaming store/record store in Colorado, a place known as Black & Read.  At first impression when you enter this store, it looks like a tornado struck the store inside and tossed everything about into controlled piles, but it does not take you long walking around to see that there are treasures to be found everywhere.  As a gamer for 32 years of tabletop genre, this is the kind of place that would have probably preserved my virginity for another few years had I found it in my youth.  In short shelf after shelf of every forgotten and current roleplaying title you can ever imagine.  The only regret I ever have in entering this place is that I know somehow, despite my fervent searches, I will miss some treasure I have been looking for.  I also love the conversations that occur there.

To put it all in perspective, I was in a store that is a little more mainstream, 2nd and Charles, which kind of does the used trade in system as well.  I was standing by their well organized (and dismally small) RPG collection killing time, and saw another younger 30 something approach the games section.  I thought hey, here is a fellow gamer, wonder what they are looking for.  The gamer looked at me like a scared deer caught in headlights and bolted away...like they were busted looking at the forbidden RPG's or something.  I am not a particularly scary looking guy (Yes I am sleeved with Tattoos but they are all movie or Star Wars related..okay there is the Ash and the Evil Dead Tattoo and the zombies in the background...but cmon its Ash, the bloody chainsaw means love right?)  but other then that I am a somewhat overweight balding guy who uses a cane crutch and is clean and showered at all times thanks to OCD and the military.  I was bummed, as well, these conversations about gaming are part of how I enjoy the hobby now that I cannot play as much as I would like.

So I begged my way into a Black and Read trip a few weeks later from my wife, and was happily rolling my 1d6 to search for secret games and hidden treasures, when I heard an awesome conversation.  This gamer, probably 20 something, was as he put it "Looking for the best game system for his group"  Kari the stores Gaming Goddess, was making a few recommendations but the gamer was just shooting her down with every suggestion.  I listened for a few minutes longer as she finally gave him the soft push to just look down the game aisle.  Like a nosey neighbor, when the customer moved on to look at all the games on the shelves, I launched into old fart gamer mode and decided to try to help this young tuck, whom was obviously newer to our hobby from the comments he had made.

I walk over and start looking in a section close to his, pick up palladium fantasy roleplay and begin flipping through it.  The guy looks at the book and says "Hey is that any good?"

Me: "I said well its an older gaming system not quite as old as dungeons and dragons but its been around awhile and its pretty solid mechanics wise I guess.  Palladium in general has a way of one upping itself with every publication, raising the power level higher and higher, but some gamers like that, particularly the crowd that comes to tabletop from MMORPG's"

Gamer: "Well its like every system I try to do with my group they always make me the DM, but like it always ends up sucking.  I toss creatures at them and they get lots of loot but they get bored and I need an exciting system to make them want to play"

Of course as he says this in my head I am thinking, ya here is where MMO's do no justice to the roleplaying industry, as everything becomes stats and how to make them better and quickly lose the point of the fact that there is a story attached.  Love or hate it,in World of Warcraft, there is a story there and it is a fun one, but the reality is most players never see it, instead focusing on min-maxing, skipping reading quest text and space barring through storyline to just grind it out.  His players want to skip from point A to point Z without stopping along the way to smell the roses.

So I ask him what system he is currently using to run his game.  He tells me he has been running 5th edition but prior to that he had run 4th edition.  He says they start games but never finish them out because his friends get bored with just constant fighting.

Me: "So what I am hearing is you have a lot of encounters and lots of loot, but WHY are the going out killing?  What motivation are you giving them? Why are they compelled to go out there and fight the forces of darkness instead of sitting around the tavern in comfort drinking ale?"

Gamer: "Well I had them meet in a tavern and they stepped outside and I like rolled random encounters till they got to the dungeon? They had a tough time so I gave them a chest filled with +2 weapons and armor from the goblins and then they went into dungeon, but they started killing everything right away and got bored cuz the monsters were not dropping anything good and they were not getting levels very fast"

Me: "Wait wait, did you say levels very fast (my head is spinning at this point as I listened to this poor newbie DM rattling off what just sounds like a large load of bad decisions)  and +2 weapons from a goblin encounter?

Gamer: "Ya I should have just given them +2 weapons I know..."

Me: "Okay look, lets discuss a few things.  The most important is this.  A system is a system, while some can be written poorly or have design flaws or issues, ultimately most RPG's that make it to print have something noteworthy about them, but in the end the system is a small factor to a point on the overall fun of a game.  You want to find a system that has what your looking for in terms of pace.  Games like Rolemaster and Runequest have complex rule systems that give lots of crunchy tables for critical hits etc but, ultimately to a new GM or DM can be way to cumbersome to teach new players, leaving them confused and you bogged down trying to do lots of math just to figure out not just if they hit but the quality of the hit.  Ultimately the system is a tool for the true part of roleplaying..the story."

Gamer: "But I do use story I bought a module for 5th that I am running and I use random encounter tables I pulled up on the internet to make it more dangerous.  But they do not like the story they said the parts I read are taking too long, so I want a system that is gonna give me better stories so they like it"

Me: "Well understand that no system is gonna write your story for you and no module is meant to be ran as is.  Do you take the module read through it and write down notes to add things in?  Oh and do you have a session where you just have them make characters so you can kind of tailor the module and story more to what they are playing?"

Gamer: "Umm I make characters that I think are cool and let them pick from them when they show up.  I just read the flavor text and stuff and I look things over an hour or so before we start gaming and then kind of read ahead while they are rolling combat and stuff."

Good lord this kid needs some serious help I am thinking

Me: "Pre-gens are okay if your at a tournament or a convention or even for encounter sessions where you expect to be running things for complete strangers but if it is your group part of what endears a character is to personalize it.  You should have a session before you start a campaign or even adventure module where players make up their characters and have a choice.  It get them invested in what is going on because that character is now theirs"

Gamer: "cool okay I will try that"

Me:"Secondly, look modules are usually pretty good about giving you a background story in the beginning but the flavor text inside is left fairly simple because the intent is for you to put things in your words,  (I reached for Temple of Elemental Evil as it is fresh in my mind and flip it open to the moathouse dungeon area) "Okay look here"(Pointing to the section about room 22 the cells the zombies had come from) "Now it gives little to no detail on the rooms in terms of flavor text, so as my players were making noise in room 18 trying to get the slimes off that had dropped on the barbarians head, I told them "The sounds of conflict echo through out the chamber resonating down halls unseen.  You wipe the last remnants of the slime off your armor, noting the rancid smell in your nostrils, but suddenly a new scent of decay wafts in and the moaning sounds of the undead cause a cold shiver to go down your spine"

Gamer: "Wait, where was that last bit at, I don't see it?"

Me: "I just made it up, its pretty standard fluff but it sets the tone and reinforces the danger, I talk about the slime and remind me that they just got in a fight with half done Jello and oh great here is more...plus I did not throw all the zombies at once, instead had them trickle in all at once, I also used one of them for a plot device...since this is my kids first old school adventure I had one zombie dressed in a little bit more upscale clothing stuck in the first cell.  My players when they got done fighting the zombies and seeing to their fallen comrade and healing him just in time.  It taught them about death's door and the importance of stopping the damage if a character falls to 0. "

Gamer: "Okay so why was the zombie dressed up different and not fighting them?"

Me: "Because of what you just asked.  I made him stick out, so you WOULD ask that exact question and keep it in the back of your head.  You see a couple rooms over there are some trapped merchants and a gnome terrified they are about to be eaten by a rather ill tempered Ogre named Lubash.  The merchants are in fancy attire similiar quality to the zombies, and once they are saved will comment how they are looking for their lost partner who had a rather decent Gem they were transporting as payment for goods they had delivered to Hommlet.  They had heard him screaming, a few days before and thought the Ogre had eaten them.  In my version Lubash had locked him in the cell after tying him to the cell wall where he was bitten by the Zombies in the other cell when he finally passed out from lack of food .  Before all that he had hidden the gem inside a loose brick in the cell well."

Gamer: "Okay but where did all this come from,  I don't see that why go through all that explanation."

Me: "Well, sometimes with new players you need to hone the sword a bit, teach them through subtle clues without giving the whole caboose.  My son and daughter are very logic minded in the thought patterns.  So it took all of two secondsfor them to go, fancy zombie, merchants that are fancy, lost partner with big gem....gem is either with the ogre...which they did not find, or on the zombie...so the Ranger escorted the merchants outside at the the now cleared top section of the moat house, where the Bounty Hunters hunting dogs were guarding the injured druid while he rested with their horses and cart.  As soon as they were out of earshot sniggles the rogue picked the lock and the group killed the zombie, and searched and found the loose brick and the gem."

Gamer: "That's cool, wait ...sniggles? but you made that up?"

Me: "Yup I read and take notes as I go through, I have a cheat sheet with my own notes or twists or story devices tied to each room if I want to modify it.  I use to write out flavor text too but now I just put footnotes and years of experience help me BS my way through the description.  It is all about being prepared, but again all that happens regardless of what system I am running.  I read the module, or I write out my notes if its a self made thing, I look through all the NPC's and give them names and small personality quirks.  Most NPC's that are background follow an environmental alignment based on the area..usually some form of Neutral.  But this is possible no matter what kind of system you use.  I prefer 1st Edition AD&D and the BRP system. The work pays off you get a real good EASY session which lends more energy to playing nefarious villains and monsters.  An engaged DM grows engaged players.  Its contagious, no one finds it fun to have someone sit there and read off sterilely."

Sadly, I had to hurry my wife and daughter were leaving to go to another store and I hate feeling like I am hogging all the time out we have.  I left feeling pretty positive though, and when I left he was reading the WoTC 1st Ed reprint of the PHB.  I told him if he had mmorpg players they actually respond to 1st Edition better or 5th Ed because of its speed in combat resolution.  Also told him I could fit 3-4 encounters of the 1st Edition kind with 9 players in the space 1 encounter in 4th edition would take.  So I think I might have brought him to the Dark Side.  Sometimes. I think it is important to have these conversations with other gamers.  Normally, I steer clear of younger gamers because frankly I like trying to stick within my own peer range, I guess I have reached that point in life,   But I also realized that if I want my hobby to continue, I need to help in bringing in new blood.  After all, I cannot support a company with just my money alone, and there are sooooooo many good games out there worthy of support. One of them should always be the game that started it all, D&D.

To conclude, I would encourage you all, next time your in favorite hobby spot and hear that awkward question asked, or see that troubled tween trying to find the "Perfect system", take the time to expunge some wisdom.  I mean the Grand ol' Sorceror himself spent time every day doing just that on message boards, books, and conventions himself.  The man passed away entrenched in the hobby he loved in some form, We should all be so lucky, I know my dice are getting buried with me....(I keep telling my family that) just in case.

Later Folks