More Divided Than Ever?

I keep hearing about how we are more divided than ever. Unless somebody can present some serious studies to prove this, I am not buying it. I don’t think most people are any more divided than they were before. As a child, I remember folks using the n-word at school. Gay insults were common enough that child-me thought they were normal. As a young adult, I remember being physically threatened by a coworker for protesting the Iraq War. Years later, I remember arguing about a coworker calling Muslims “rag-heads” after the 9/11 attack. Raging debates on conservative vs liberal, copyright vs piracy, religion vs equal rights, gun control, welfare, healthcare, etc. For as long as I can remember, people have fought about politics and human behavior.

You shouldn’t rely on my experiences. You can look at plenty of old footage of terrible things that were done to civil rights protesters. You can look at records of nasty American political campaigns as early as Jefferson vs Adams. You can look at the partisan divide where Newt Gingrich was cheating on his wife while hypocritically spending millions of tax dollars pursuing Bill Clinton for doing the same. There was, of course, the Civil War. Slavery vs abolitionists. The Trail of Tears. Prohibition, Japanese internment, McCarthyism, Nixon’s impeachment, the Vietnam war, the Drug War, etc.

What I think seems “different” to people is that it felt like we were making progress. We were at least moving forward towards equality and justice. Civil rights were still growing. Even if you might feel that Obama fell short of your dreams, his election was a leap born of a thousand other steps. Even conservative judges like Kennedy were budging on gay rights.

And then the Republicans put Trump in place, and the same partisan votes that have been around forever elected him. I don’t think most people are any more divided than they were. I think old-fashioned partisan crap meant that Republicans largely blindly voted for a really bad guy to be President. And they have been gerrymandering the system for their side for so long that (like Bush) their guy won, despite losing the popular election by 3 million or so votes.

And now he is in power, and putting other bad people in power throughout the government. And the alt-right, which has always been there under one name or another, feels empowered. And if the majority of folks, who are still the same partisan people they have always been, don’t wake up, and see what they have done… then the extremists might just carry the day.

I have read before that supposedly the American Revolution was 1/3rd pro-Revolution, 1/3rd pro-England, and 1/3rd staying “neutral” while it happened. I have seen similar claims for Germany, before the Nazis ascended. If those are accurate then maybe we remain equally divided even in bad times – not more divided.

You can look at Trump’s support numbers and see that faction is in place as usual. Assuming you are not a pro-Trump supporter, then where are you? Pro-resistance, or staying neutral?

MADD moment

It seems to me that we may be headed towards a MADD moment in regards to gun violence. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980 by a mother angry that her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Over its 37 year history, the group is said to have reduced drunk driving by half.

Whether you are angry about gun deaths or not, it is clear that a lot of people are. Students are protesting, from rallying in front of NRA offices to lying on the ground outside the White House. Mothers are organizing, including those who put together the Women’s March. Teachers are organizing. Walkouts and marches are being planned. This may be a tipping point. Whether you think they are effective or not, laws may change.

If you are strongly pro-gun, and see that a MADD moment is in the making, you might consider what changes you are actually okay seeing enacted. Some politicians are going to propose distracting band-aids that do nothing. Others are going to propose strict controls that you won’t like. Even the founder of MADD left the organization, saying that it had become neo-prohibitionist when she meant it to deal with drunk driving rather than alcohol.

People are mad. They are pushing for change. Children are tired of being targeted. The new generation may push even harder than ever before. You can push back, like you always have. Or maybe, you can think about what changes you think might actually help prevent gun violence without taking away whatever gun rights you think you should have. Instead of mocking “common sense” ideas, perhaps propose ideas that you are willing to see implemented. This may be a MADD moment for gun violence. Don’t underestimate the power of angry moms or marching students.


On Repeat

One of the things that I sometimes think about is the effect of really negative things on the internet. Unlike things said aloud, in the offline world, such things are not said just once, and then left to human memory to blur or lose. They are repeated every time somebody encounters them online. Over, and over. And over.

People say the internet never forgets. I don’t think that is a 100% valid experience. A file or data entry might become obscured by time, and uncollected by backups and scrapes, eventually disappear from view at least, whether it still lies in computer memory somewhere or not.

Nevertheless, there can be a strongly enhanced degree of persistence. And worse, a massively enhanced degree of repetition. If you insult somebody, your insult is repeated every time it is reread, forever.

Unless it is removed. As noted, “removed” might not be absolute. However, the internet is full of things. The fewer places a negative post appears, the more obscure it is, the fewer times it is likely to be encountered. If it is removed quickly enough, perhaps no audience will ever actually experience it. Even if it remains in a database, a moderator may never read it.

Okay, but history is important, too. We learn from history. At least we should learn from history. Is a personal attack on the internet a good piece of history? Is it beneficial to keep broadcasting over and over, forever?

Do you really want somebody to remain exactly the person they were when they posted that terrible thing 10 years ago? Or do you hope that they will change for the better?

Even if they do change for the better, what about that post, made before the change? How many more times should it attack somebody with the frozen in time stance from when it was written?


Like A Girl

As I currently do on as many Saturdays as possible, I hiked Stone Mountain today. During my regular trips, I often overhear the conversations of fellow hikers. Mostly, it is chatter that doesn’t do much to engage my interest. Sometimes I catch clever comments or amusing exchanges. On this occasion, I encountered a family who was cruising across the mountain, towards the visitor center at the top. Two young children raced ahead of their adult entourage, competing for speed. A little girl called out to her brother, “You are so slow, like a girl.” I paused to watch them. Again she called out to him, “You are being slow, like a girl.”

Having read an article relatively recently that suggested that this sort of thing was bad, I started thinking that maybe I should say something. As the article suggested, I was thinking that little girls shouldn’t grow up thinking that there was something wrong with being “like a girl.” This seemed like one of those rare times maybe I could make a difference by saying something. I was nervous though. Who wants to hear feedback from a stranger? Nonetheless, I determined that I would say something to the parents.

I circled back, and approached the group of adults accompanying the kids. The two kids hurried onwards to the visitor center, and I thought that maybe I could say something to the adults about the situation. As I got close to the group of adults, I wasn’t sure who to address, so I tried to speak to them as a group. “I overheard her say ‘You are slow like a girl’ and I was thinking that she should know that some girls are really fast.”

Basically, the group ignored me and continued walking. Having decided to intervene, and getting past my nervousness about doing so, I wasn’t about to stop now. I addressed the one person who slowed down a bit. Apparently the kids’ mother. “I heard her say ‘You are slow like a girl’ – shouldn’t she know that plenty of girls are fast?”

There it was. The mother stopped, and gave me her full attention. I prepared myself for an angry parent, upset that I was trying to give them parenting advice from some stupid internet article. I was ready to explain that I was just trying to help.

“She said turtle,” the mother informed me. Oh, I thought. “She is just trying to get under his skin,” the mother finished. And there it was. I overheard a conversation that wasn’t my business, and I misread it. I brought my own prejudices to the table, and heard what my own experience had programmed me to hear. The little girl was just comparing her brother to a turtle. She was engaging in smack talk, and I was the one who didn’t understand.


Computer Age Postal Service

A petition to the White House:

Please publicly recommend to Congress that they exercise their Constitutional power [from Article 1 Section 8] “to establish Post Offices and post Roads” to create a United States Postal Service infrastructure which also offers the de facto post of the information age: email and the internet.

The precise nature of this would surely evolve over time, as our communication technology continues to advance, but it might begin with adding such things as wireless internet service broadcast from every post office and sorting center, etc.

As with the physical mail already carried by the post office, this would not prevent private enterprise from competing with our national postal service. It would, however, guarantee a baseline of postal service worthy of Americans in the digital age.


As I get older I wonder if it’s true
That I have nothing of value left to say
Or if people have just beat me down
And made me feel that way.
I am as self absorbed as they,
Maybe more by far.
I do not set out to be that way,
But it is the way we are.
So if I made you wonder
What your value is today,
I am sorry for any ills I did
That made you feel that way.

Craft Approaches

Like most of you, I have yet to see the rules for 3rd edition Exalted. I was hoping I would get to playtest them, but so far an opportunity to do so hasn’t materialized. [EDIT: I got copies of the files after I wrote this blog post.] Meanwhile, I have been wondering about them, and trying to guess how they will work. One of the mechanics of the game has been that of crafting. Because it affects the creation of so many things by players and NPCs, and because I have always had one or two crafter types in my gaming groups, I am curious to see how the new rules play.

The Onyx Path schedule says that some aspects of new game are still being rewritten. Realistically, I am potentially wasting my time on a topic which will soon be resolved in some manner which will be relatively immutable for whatever period lies between the launch of 3rd edition and a hypothetical future 4th edition. However, I am still guessing about it, and figured I would share some of those guesses, along with thoughts about their consequences. If none of them are even close to correct, then maybe something here will nonetheless be useful to somebody making house rules adjustments to the game.

Craft as First

There is the chance that the writers could revert to a system mirroring the first edition of Exalted. In those rules, the Craft Ability had to be taken once for each craft which the character meant to perform. Thus you had Craft(weaponsmithing), Craft(carpentry), and so forth. The d20/OGL system does a similar thing with its crafts.

There is a certain sense to this system. The skills one masters when carving a wooden desk are not all applicable to forging a steel blade from raw iron. This aspect appeals to those of us who find it hard to believe that a talented shoemaker is also a talented gem cutter. The system also fits a worldview where different people spend their time producing different goods, such as most of us probably expect in the real world and in a typical imaginary setting that is nonetheless shaped by our ideas of the real world.

The downside of such a system is that there are seemingly endless skills for a player to choose. Game systems are likely to only give a player some number of limited points to apply to such things, and every additional skill in the game is another which the player might not possess. As the number of skills grows, the competency of the characters diminishes.

Craft as Second

Potentially the writers might keep some version of the second edition Exalted rules. In those rules, there were a limited number of Craft skills, lumped together in categories. We had Craft(Wood), Craft(Earth), etc. The core book presented only five of these, but more were added with subsequent publications.

This approach gets past the explosion of skills method, by explicitly limiting them to a set number. If there are only 5 or 12 crafting skills from which to choose, and everything falls under one of those, then the player can be assured that with enough effort she will be able to craft whatever she wants. In the Exalted system, this means that a crafter has to spend more points to be a master of all crafts than a warrior spends on Melee, but at least it can be done.

The downside to this approach seems to be the categorization of the crafts themselves. How exactly DO you lump together every single crafting activity that real and fictional man can do into a small number of skills? Does it seem weird for gem cutting to be Craft(Air) and building an Air Manse to be Craft(Earth)? Do herbal medicines fall under Craft(Water) or Craft(Wood)? Which Craft do I use to make a lightning ballista, or a destiny, or a zombie? In the end the authors didn’t seem satisfied with the answers, and new crafts kept being introduced to the game. Some crafts even muddied the waters by requiring other crafts or even non-Craft skills as prerequisites.

Craft as Prerequisites

On the other hand, maybe they were on to something with that prerequisite train of thought. What if every Craft skill has some prerequisite? Can a swordsmith really craft a good blade with no concept of how to wield one? Could a tailor make beautiful clothing with no sense of fashion? Would a gardener really possess no knowledge of the wild?

You could have each Craft require some related prerequisite. Possibly a craft that lets you make weapons requires you to have Melee. Or maybe there is a Craft(Weapons) Ability which can only be used to manufacture those weapons for which you possess some degree of skill. Imagine that a swordsmith might have Craft(Weapons) 2, Melee 1. A bowyer might have Craft(Weapons) 2, Archery 1. A master weaponsmith might boast Craft(Weapons) 5, Archery 1, Melee 1, Thrown 1.

Presumably the limited number of possible prerequisites would also push you towards a limited number of Craft skills. This would cash in on the strength of a limited number of skills, allowing Exalted to be fairly omni-skilled with some investment. It would also appeal to a sense of believability.

The difficulty for such a system probably lies in the prerequisites themselves. What is the prerequisite for making armor? Does this suggest a new skill? Also, you still have the issues of Second. How many Craft skills should there be? And what falls under each of them? Additionally, where do the prerequisites stop? If it exists, should Craft(Genesis) 5 really require Medicine 5, Occult 5, AND Lore 5? When the second edition system already required Lore to repair magitech, was it not redundant to require Lore to raise your Craft(Magitech)?

Craft as Melee

Another approach I could see being taken is the treatment of the Craft Ability as a singular universally applicable crafting skill. In Exalted, if you have the Melee Ability, then you can use it with virtually any handheld weapon that strikes, slashes, or stabs without leaving your grasp. Previously, the Martial Arts Ability has covered some weapons that would seem to fit the Melee Ability. Regardless, the player of a character with Melee has long expected to pick up any one of an incredible array of weapons and use them with equal skill.

This could be the model for Craft, too. Perhaps a single Craft Ability would be used for any roll involving a character’s crafting skill. Certainly one advantage to this is that it would mirror the way skills are done in the rest of the game. You don’t have to take Melee(sword) to use swords, or Archery(crossbow) to use a crossbow. With this model, you wouldn’t need a special Craft to craft anything. All of it would be packaged up in one neat bow.

For some, this might go too far. Even weaponry is actually divided into a handful of skills: Archery, Thrown, Martial Arts, and Melee. Should the diversity of crafting be less than that of weaponry? Does it make sense that the tailor could just as easily make swords or sailing ships?

Craft as Linguistics

The Linguistics Ability inspires another approach. In short, that skill gives one language per point, although we are basically told that each of these “languages” might really be a massive language group that dominates a huge portion of Creation. Mechanically, the Craft version of this would mean that for each point in the Craft Ability, the character would get another craft. There are a couple of different ways to implement this.

Potentially there are at least as many crafts as there are languages, including every tribal language imaginable. Craft 4 might mean Craft 4(Weaponsmithing, Carpentry, Gardening,Tailor), for example, with the character getting her full rating in each. In such a system, the character could be good at crafting a number of different things, but not everything. However, her rating would apply equally to all of the things she knew how to craft.

Alternately, there could be a limited number of crafts—perhaps 10 in total—which cover every possible endeavor. Craft 4 might be Craft 4(Air, Fire, Necromancy, Magitech), or something of the sort. Again, the character would have 4 Craft dice to apply to any of the sub-skills she chose. By limiting the total number of possible crafts to 10, you would allow a hypothetical Craft 10 character to be skilled with all of them.

Assuming one’s Craft Ability cannot rise beyond a certain point (say Essence 5 limiting you to Craft 5), the disadvantage of this system is that a character still cannot gain even minimal skill in every craft without exceeding the barrier. If the skills are vast in number, this disadvantage is even greater.

Craft as Linguistics plus Dialects

Another variation that might be considered is that presented by the model of Linguistics and dialects. In second edition Exalted, each dialect of a language could be taken as a specialty, and these specialties were only limited in number by the number of dialects that exist. To translate this to crafting, one would take dots in the Craft skill, and could take any number of specialties in actual crafts. Thus one might have have Craft 2(weaponsmithing, carpentry, gardening, gem cutting, cobbler, shipwright), and be able to roll 2 Craft dice for any of those. Presumably one specialty would be included with even a single dot of Craft, as with a “native” tongue and Linguistics. In the previous example, let’s imagine it is weaponsmithing, and the other crafts are bought with specialties. Importantly, though, a character would receive one such specialty for free upon gaining his first dot in Craft.

Such a system should still allow for regular specialization, in order to preserve the dice mechanics of the game. Dreams of the First Age suggested Linguistics specialties for characters, which actually added dice. Thus, this model would allow specialties to get a craft and specialties that grant dice to specific actions. A character might have Craft 2(weaponsmithing, carpentry, shipwright +2), or in another format Craft 2[weaponsmithing, carpentry, shipwright](Shipwright+2).

Further variation is found in deciding how many “dialects” Craft has. If there were just 5, then with 5 specializations a character would be able to do anything. If there were one specialization for every possible craft a character might want, then there is no limit to the XP that must be spent to gain them.

Craft as Occult

In second edition Exalted, characters could gain thaumaturgical powers by way of Occult specialties. Each dot of specialties provided some degree of thaumaturgy, along with some number of rituals. This could translate into some sort of craft system as well.

One simple model might be that a character has one Craft skill but can only use it in ways that are covered by his specialties. Craft(Weaponsmithing+1) might allow one to use his Craft rating for any normal weaponsmithing. Craft(Weaponsmithing+2) might allow exceptional crafts, with mechanical bonuses. Craft(Weaponsmithing+3) might allow the crafting of Artifact weapons.

Alternately, it might be even closer to the Occult model. Perhaps Craft(Weapons+1) gives one the ability to some limited number of various weapons (possibly even some minor magic ones such as talisman weapons), while Craft(Weapons+2) allows for creation a limited number of minor Artifact weapons, and Craft(Weapons+3) allows for creation of a limited number of major Artifact weapons. In each case, the actual Craft dots would be the default number of dice that Craft adds to the action.

Potentially knowing how to make specific items such as a grand goremaul or dire lance would be the equivalent of Occult “rituals” and could be purchased individually or received in limited numbers as part of a specialty’s mastery. Potentially, a Craft 5 master might ONLY possess the Craft Daiklave ritual, for example. It can be difficult to decide how many “rituals” should be included in a single normal specialty dot.

This model is very adjustable, but it also lacks simplicity. Its system could be very specific, with exact requirements for various crafting projects. Particularly, Artifacts might be the product of very specialized craftsmen, which might be fitting. However, the person who attempts to gain generic Craft mastery is probably doomed to failure.


Classis Umbra – The Shadow Navy

I wrote some new material meant for use with 3rd Edition OGL or equivalent.

Classis Umbra – The Shadow Navy

Note: Surely they wouldn’t be using Latin, but I haven’t come up with another name yet. Other than Shadow Navy or Shadow Fleet, of course.

Classis Umbra is the elite exploration force of a magic-rich empire. From heavily guarded bases, these enchanted vessels “sail” from their homeworld into the Plane of Shadow and hence to the material realm upon a thousand different worlds. Merchants, ambassadors, spies, and missionaries depend upon the shadow navy to deliver them to the colonies, allies, and enemy powers of an empire that touches many worlds.

Shadow Vessels

The magical technology behind this is powerful, but simple. Each of the enchanted vessels is a large flat-bottomed barge constructed of dark wood, and empowered to briefly encompass the entire vessel with shadow and then to shadow walk with its entire crew. This power can only be used once per day, but this is sufficient to allow crews to travel to other planes and other worlds.

In the material plane, these barges behave as normal, floating on water, or sitting static on the ground. When they enter the Plane of Shadow, they may “sail” at speeds appropriate to that spell.

To activate its shadow walk power, a shadow vessel must be covered in shadow. By design it creates an aura of shadow (dim light conditions) around itself when the activation is attempted. However, this aura of shadow can be countered or dispelled by a darkness or light spell. Such an event ruins the activation effort for the day, and the shadow vessel may not activate again until the next day.

Shadow Routes

The transit technique used by Classis Umbra requires a dangerous passage through the Plane of Shadow. In order to travel the incredible distances to other worlds, the crew must pilot the ship away from the material plane to the edge of some other plane, and then pilot the ship back to the material plane but towards some far destination. Each leg of this journey takes 1-4 hours. The treacherous nature of the Plane of Shadow ensures that even when a navigator follows the specific shadow charts meticulously developed by the navy over time, the trip varies in length.

Barring disaster, this means that a trip to another world take 2-8 hours, spent traveling to the edge of another dimension and then to the targeted world in the material plane. The Plane of Shadow is inhabited by many fearsome creatures, however. It is the duty of the Shadow Navy to ensure that disaster does not come to their vessel and its passengers. Dangers ranging from shadow mastiffs, to undead, to terrifying dragons of shadow await an unwary crew.

The maps kept by the Shadowy Navy include only the heavily guarded bases of their own homeworld. They are acutely aware that one of their vessels could be seized, and its maps put to use. The opportunist who manages such a thing will face fierce resistance on the imperial end of the trip.

Shadow Personnel

The members of the Shadow Navy travel to distance worlds, through a dangerous realm. Their officers are authorized to represent the will of the empire in many unexpected situations on remote worlds. Within the confines of naval code, the captain’s word is law.

The Shadow Navy uniform is dark gray. Insignia for rank are typically small and composed of silver set with onyx or obsidian. Personnel are discouraged from wearing shades other than white, black, and gray. People who travel with, but are not part of the Shadow Navy often are unaware of, or choose to ignore, such dress code. Over time, this has led to slang terms such as peacocks, colors, and brights when referring to non-navy passengers.


One of the few guild unions to cross into multiple worlds, the Company of the Lightermen is composed of workers who transfer goods to and from Shadow Navy vessels. They also dominate civilian operations at Shadow Navy bases and embassies.