Saturday, December 26, 2015

Failure Failed.

People fail. They can fail in so many different spectacular ways. Some are even talented enough to be able to fail both when trying not to do so and when not even attempting to do anything.

When it comes to failure I tend to be somewhat of an expert. I fail to notice the most obvious signs that something would be unwise to say or do. I fail to remember the things I shouldn’t forget. I even manage to fail when trying only to provide assistance on the most basic of tasks.

To surmise; I am a master at failing.

But, at the end of the day, when everything is said and done one thing remains; the knowledge that one cannot fail forever. There is the perpetual hope, the faith and determination that despite the overwhelming amount of failure in your life that not everything is doomed to failure.

I guess it is safe to say that it is possible to fail at failing. You have to get things right once in awhile. All you have to do is persevere. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hypothetical Holidays.

Recent events have left me looking back on life and reviewing things somewhat. For instance, my birthday came and went this last November and not a single soul in my household noticed. Not one word was uttered to me aside from a flood of well wishes from friends and family online etc. for days. Now, to be fair and honest we had a lot going on - chiefly among them my son being taken by ambulance for seizures.

As a point of full disclosure, I did assure my Wife that the matter was not a big deal. There was a lot of things going on and I wasn't about to go full on diva to make them all about me. I am not that conceited or that important, even in my own estimation. But it still did hurt.

But all this did get me to thinking on a lot of other holidays. It brought to mind Christmas gatherings, Birthdays; you name it. One thing a lot of them had in common was disappointment. Now I am not bemoaning a lack of gifts or that anything I ever received wasn't appreciated. I have always been happy to receive anything but over the years have come to avoid opportunities for others to give them.

I realize this will sound bad no matter how I say it, so, let me just try to get this bit out of the way. People have never seemed to take the time to really get to know me. It is not a biased view or opinion - it is a fact. This includes family, friends, pretty much everyone (with a few precious exemptions who know who they are).

People would always expect me to be exploding with joy that their gift was some prized jewel. Yet it wouldn't have any real appeal or value to me. I could care less about the money involved. What mattered to me was the heart of the gift, the intent. I can recall some of the most cherished gifts ever given to me and they all held importance in my heart because of who gave them, their meaning or some other arbitrary aspect. The point being; I could be happy with a free give away token or the ball out of an old-fashioned computer mouse. I am far from what you could describe as high-maintenance.

What I am trying to get at is that so many people don't think before they gift. And if they do think it is only some generic assumption that really only serves as a 'what will be convenient for me.' Instead it should be about deciding what might be meaningful to the recipient.

You don't even have to give someone a gift. Honest. But, and I can only speak for myself, when you receive a gift it is possible to appreciate the gesture, be grateful, and yet still feel guilty that you can't give the giver the big reaction they are expecting.

I don't know if this is therapy or curiosity or what but I'd like to try a little experiment. Let's see how well you know me with a little hypothetical holiday gift giving (this might be the best gift you can give and it is free). The rules are simple; money is not an issue, nor is availability. All you need do is offer up what you think might be a welcome gift and I'll see if I can reciprocate. Then we can compare notes to see if we both would have enjoyed it or not.

And go...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pawn Promotion.

Preface: My Wife and I had the fortune to meet some 15 years ago this year. What not everyone may be aware of is the exact nature of that meeting. We didn't connect through some online dating site or any traditional in-person scenarios that are more commonly experienced. 

Back in those days I had grown to become the primary storyteller for my friends for all manner or games set within the World of Darkness. Chiefly among them was Vampire: The Masquerade. When one of my friends met a girl online who was interested in trying, specifically; the live-action variant of that game, they immediately recommended that she talk to me about it. 

We spoke at length for a long time. At first about the game itself and then about life in general. We both eventually decided to meet and everything just progressed. A year later we were married. 14 years beyond that we are still married and enjoying our adventure together. (Along with a whole clan of four little minions of our own.)

So every year around this time I find myself looking back. On this particular instance, I found a culmination of events that transpired to make me want to embrace that old fictional landscape again; if even only for a little while. And, since I hadn't written anything in a awhile, I figured I could try to use it as motivation to pen something together. 

Now, this may not be the perfect tale. Nor, is it perhaps, the most refined. But out of fond memories I decided to dive back in and see what I could shape. This is what came from it. 

I hope it proves to be a fun piece and is enjoyed. 

Happy Halloween.

Enjoy the night.


“Knight takes bishop,” Peter Paxton, Prince of Paducah proclaimed with cold satisfaction. Fingers of living ivory, long and slender, caressed the small horse-headed piece of sculpted flesh. He savored the moment before removing the pointed chess piece of carved bone from the board. In the firelight, eyes as dark as coal drank in the setting laid before them.

Leisurely, the Prince took everything in. On his side of the board there was not a single pawn left standing. They had already been sacrificed early in the game.

His opponent still held the lions’ share of his own pawns. However he had lost his queen in the earliest exchanges of the game. To further weaken his position, all his adversary had left to marshal a defense was a single rook, knight and bishop.

The Prince smiled with anticipation. His grin was an exaggerated expression that only highlighted his unnatural features. Paxton had cheekbones that were shark-like in nature; symmetrical, and sharply angled. Just touching them gave the impression that you would cut yourself.

Everything about Paxton read predator all the way down to his pointed chin. It jutted out from beneath steepled fingers accentuating a look of devilish charm. Even the smooth flowing hair of black silk draped down his back seemed suited as it soaked in the flickering light.

“Leticia, be a doll and remove this,” the Prince casually called out to one of his servants. At his bidding a short woman with porcelain skin and the features of a child’s toy appeared. She moved without uttering a word, albeit in stiff mechanical motions.

Leticia came to a stop just short of the table with a shuffled jerk. When she leaned forward, she had to bend at the waist to collect what remained of a limp form from the floor. Her coarse blond pigtails dangling as she tugged the figure away.

Seated opposite from the Prince and his arrayed pieces of shaped flesh was an enigmatic Kindred. Newly arrived to his domain, he had only recently presented himself before the Prince to be acknowledged, as is the formal custom. Curiously, all Paxton had to go on was the information his guest had offered; that his name was Warren Howard and his lineage was that of the Ventrue clan.

This posed a peculiar puzzle for the Volgirre Toreador to consider. Quite often the Ventrue were rivals with Toreador in all social matters, not to mention when it came to ruling. Yet, this Warren had not made a single move to subvert the Prince or establish any powerbase of his own. What game could he be playing, the Prince thought to himself. Although, it didn’t matter right now, in this game he was certain to lose.

Warren Howard was a sharp contrast to the Prince’s onyx cashmere-suited cutting edge fashion. Seated behind a set of polished bone chess pieces, Warren wore a simple grey shirt and tie complete with vest. The sleeves of his shirt had been rolled up along his forearms and as he reflectively contemplated the board there was no sign of concern to be seen.

Absently, Warren stroked at his beard. He had always kept it well groomed but could never tolerate it being any shorter. There was a reassuring quality to being able to brush it between your fingers. It was also a useful gesture, one he liked to use at times like this.

The Prince monitored all the potential moves that he expected Warren to make with murderous anticipation. Motion drew his eye away from an area of the board he had been watching to see Warren make his move. A single pawn advanced one square.

The move didn’t threaten any of the Prince’s pieces. In fact, it didn’t even position the pawn anywhere close to his pieces or where any of the exchanges had been taking place. There was no logic to it that he could fathom.

Didn’t he know he was going to lose? Why wasn’t he even trying to put up a fight? While Paxton debated whether or not his opponent was just distracted or incompetent, Warren politely motioned that it was his turn.

The beast inside Paxton roused itself. He was growing irritated by Warren’s apparent lack of interest in winning. “Are you even trying,” the Prince spat the question. “You do realize; the entire point of this game is to be the winner, don’t you?”

For a brief moment there was no response. Paxton despised being ignored and with each second his frustration mounted. By the time Warren replied he had already begun to toy with the idea of killing him.

“Pardon me,” Warren politely apologized. “But, what were you saying?” It was perhaps the first time all evening that those eyes of warm walnut had been fixed upon the Prince. Within their depths he could find no discernable pretense, only an honest sincerity that he was oblivious to the questions intent.

“Precisely this,” the Prince declared. To punctuate his point he moved in to threaten Warren’s remaining bishop. A cruel grin sliding a notch higher while he savored his foe’s inevitable defeat.

“You play this game quite poorly, I am afraid,” he chastised. “If anyone was going to give me a challenge I thought that it would be a Ventrue. Instead you offer only disappointment where I had hoped for entertainment.”

“Quite the opposite,” Warren countered. Without another look at the board, the visiting Ventrue advanced his pawn one final space to land it on the Prince’s back row. “The truth is: we are simply playing different games. Regarding the matter at hand; I believe a promotion is in order and since the position is open I think queen would be a nice fit.”

The Prince’s fist closed tightly as he studied the board. “Why, you little…” he began to protest before dismissing the situation with a wave of his hand. “It is no matter; a lone queen will not save you from an entire game of folly. Make no mistake; you will lose. And when you do, I think it only appropriate that I levy some penalty. You will bring before me double the mandatory patronage.”

Paxton had to wonder how he could have missed that pawn. Had he been so focused on the other pieces that he hadn’t realized it was near his back row? Furious at the oversight he rushed a rook into position to capture this new queen before it could even be of use.

“Patronage,” Warren asked, showing no sign of concern for his threatened queen. In fact, Warren didn’t even return his attention to the chess board at all. Instead, he raised a single eyebrow and patiently awaited the Prince’s explanation.

“All subjects within my domain are required to submit raw materials for use in the pursuit of art,” Paxton purred. Warren immediately took note of the obvious pleasure the Toreador exhibited about the subject. The Prince’s very eyes brightened into gleaming orbs of obsidian just mentioning it.

“My work demands components for me to shape, sculpt and transform,” the Prince continued. “There is a certain beauty, one that can be found all around - yet only those with true vision can see it. It is just below the surface; waiting and I draw it out. All I need is a more exotic form of clay.”

This was the admission that Warren had been waiting for. All the pieces were in place. Warren had all the evidence he needed – it all made sense now.

The exaggerated features, the doll sculpted servant, even the chess pieces themselves. Prince Paxton had been clearly abusing his position to indulge his own whims. While Paducah struggled against Sabbat and Anaarch incursions the Prince toyed with his play-things.

There had been rumors, whispers that had escaped Paxton’s iron grip influence over the local media. But information always has a way of getting out; especially when any of clan Nosferatu is involved. It was just a matter of time before the Camarilla became aware of Paxton’s dangerous disregard for the Traditions.

Warren had been tasked with verifying those claims and then, if necessary, dealing with the situation. Not that he minded; he despised corrupt and unfit rulers. Long before his embrace, Warren had found himself driven to act against those who didn’t deserve the responsibility or power of their position. Nothing compared with the sense of justice when that misplaced authority was removed from them.

The Prince had moved his rook into position to capture Warren’s new queen. But in his haste there was one thing he hadn’t bothered to consider: the potential of being baited into a trap. He had been so concerned with addressing his damaged pride that he had played right into Warren’s hand.

Anticipating the reaction, Warren already had another lowly pawn waiting. In one swift stroke it slid over and seized the flesh rook, landing on the back row in the process. “Queening,” declared Warren.

Paxton watched on in complete disbelief. He was forced to turn all his attention from attacking to defending. Every trick he tried failed him. One by one his pieces were dispatched by a growing army of promoted pawns. The peasants had been transformed into a brutal mob and they were revolting.

“Of all the pieces on a chess board, the pawn has the most potential,” Warren began to explain with an instructor’s detached demeanor. “It was a mistake to throw them all away without any thought as to their value. Every single piece has strengths that you can use; you just have to appreciate what you can do with them.

But, that wasn’t your first error. The very first mistake you made was when you sat down thinking you were playing a game. You weren’t. You were playing me.

This game was lost before it began. All I needed to do was to observe you. I studied you in order to gain some understanding.

You see everyone and everything as being beneath you. All that matters to you is your time in the spotlight. The reason you are being defeated by mere pawns is because you are too blinded, deluded and incompetent to see the real threat. For the sake of your depraved whims, you threaten the safety of us all and call it art. I cannot find one single merit in you that would make you worthy of the title of Prince.”

“Insolence,” Paxton bellowed, slamming his hands onto the table. The impact sent the tyrant Toreador vaulting upright and into a standing position. “I’ll not sit here and be talked to like this, not by an unknown Ventrue who is a guest in my house.

Allow me to educate you, if your own sire neglected this important lesson; those in power make the rules. Do not pretend that you can speak to me in this fashion and not leave unscathed. I have plenty of pawns, ones that are far from pieces on a board and they will most certainly not be playing when they clap you in chains.”

Resembling a triumphant madman, the Prince grinned sadistically. Paxton decided to indulge himself in a short chuckle before he announced his opponent’s fate. The dramatic tone was just too delicious.

“Seize this ignorant fool,” he ordered, leveling a finger towards Warren. Yet, the Ventrue remained unruffled. If he had even blinked, Paxton hadn’t noticed.

Then Warren looked back down at the choice board. There was something in the gesture that drew the Prince’s gaze as well. Two short words fell from Warren’s lips. “Check. Mate.”

The very air itself grew still and heavy. Suddenly nobody moved. Every figure that had been moving towards the table at the center of the room now stood frozen in place.

A thick fog seized at their minds. Behind their eyes a heavy weight took hold as a will not their own overwhelmed them. Alongside it was a voice, speaking in a clear, concise tone. It spoke a command that none of them could ignore.

When you hear the words: check mate, you will stop whatever you are doing, the voice instructed. The servants might as well have been statues made of stone. They were helpless against the crushing authority that now dominated their actions.

How could this be happening? Paxton tried to search his thoughts for some clue that would make sense of everything. There was simply no way that his entire staff could have been tampered with. Unless…

The night the Prince first laid eyes upon Warren Howard, he had only just arrived within the domain of the Prince’s Praxis. As was the formal custom, he presented himself straight-away to be acknowledged. The Ventrue had even made it a point, as Paxton recalled, to personally speak with everyone attending. That included thanking all of the Prince’s retainers for the hospitality of their master.

There were those among the Kindred with the ability to dominate the minds of others by asserting their own will over them. Paxton knew it. One of his sire’s own associates had once forced him to remove himself from a debate with a single word. Without any idea it had even happened he had found himself sitting back in his seat.

Was it possible that this upstart could have accomplished something similar, yet on a larger scale? No, Paxton’s beast screamed at him, begging for release. There was no way that this Ventrue could have been so clever. Not in a single night and with the Prince watching.

All he needed to do was deal with this whelp and be done with this foolishness. The Camarilla would never send someone to formally challenge him in such a manner. No, they would have just quietly destroyed him if they had truly suspected.

The gears began to turn within the Prince’s mind. Formality, yes – that was the key. This Ventrue was a sucker for doing everything properly. All Paxton needed was an opportunity and he could demonstrate the beauty in pain. If Warren was so keen on custom then all the Prince had to do was be patient; he would have the chance he needed.

“I have not always had this name,” Warren said solemnly. “A long time ago, I was known as Jack Cade and back then there was different monarch standing across from me. His name was Henry VI and much like you he had betrayed the people’s trust.

I think I will offer you the same proposition that I made him. All you have to do is to admit defeat. Surrender and I will take my leave. It is that simple.”

The Prince had never had any head for history. Even back in his mortal days thinking about the past had just always felt like a waste of time. This Henry fellow sounded important but he could have been ancient history, for all he cared. Not that it mattered; this Warren could never have actually threatened anyone important. It had to be some kind of silly trick, a bluff, no doubt.

It would be an empty victory, Paxton promised himself. Let him think he had bested him. In a moment his back would be turned and then he would find just how twisted his flesh could become. Vengeance would be sweet indeed.

A spiteful sneer crawled across the Prince’s face. “Very well,” he said sarcastically, not bothering to conceal his scorn. “Enjoy your little petty victory, I promise you it is only fleeting. I resign.”

Chaos engulfed the room in one terrifying moment. The second that the words “I resign,” left the Prince’s lips, Warren bowed courteously. Paxton threw himself into a lunge, eager to fuse the Ventrue’s very mouth closed and every servant exploded into motion.

The same powerful force that had frozen them in place had become an unwavering need to act. It spoke to them with the same voice. This time it told them; when you hear the words ‘I resign,’ you will tear the one who spoke them to pieces. And they obeyed.

In violent fashion the ruthless group grabbed, punched, kicked, tore and bit at the Prince. They fell on top of him before he could even lay a finger on his intended prey. Instead he could only howl in agonizing torment as the weight of his attackers bore him down.

Knocked off the table a single chess piece tumbled to the floor. It rolled into a spattering of fresh blood. The irony was both amusing and satisfying for Warren as he turned to leave.

The king had fallen.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Drifting Anchors.

For each of us, we have our anchors; those very things that ground us and keep us focused. For me it has always been a deep seated routine and habitual nature. However, as a counter balance to this I have also always been driven by a knack for being consumed by a passion to the point of what I confess could be called obsession. It has been a strength and a weakness.

What makes me good at some of the things I do is this very ability to immerse myself in a project and so long as I have something like it to direct my efforts everything goes well for me. The problem therein though lays with my very nature. It is when I lose that project or activity that I can direct my time and attention on that I fall apart.

As an example; I have often fallen into a routine in my mornings where I spend a portion of my time working on a story or some other activity. Inevitably though, I finish the story off or something in my life happens that completely destroys my habitual pattern. It can be anything from an unfortunate surge in my daily deluge of drowsiness due to my Narcolepsy to my children falling ill. It doesn't much matter what the reason is; all that matters is the fact that once my pattern is disturbed it can be hard for me to recover.

This may be interpreted by some as an excuse or just a lack of commitment. I mean, let's face it; if someone said they couldn't complete a simple task because they were interrupted that would be some pretty weak tea. I am not saying by any means that if I have to step away from working on something that I am forced to completely forgo any efforts to complete it. Far from it.

What I am saying is this; if I begin working on a story or project and fall into a daily routine/pattern of spending x amount of time on it, completing a set degree of progress or doing a specific part of it at a regular interval then if something disrupts me I may not exactly be able to get myself back on track easily. There have been times where I had a completed piece of work before me, but as I was trying to revise/refine it something occurred that prevented me from resuming my regular routine. By the time I was able to whatever factors that had me in the appropriate creative environment were gone.

Imagine being in the mood for Italian food but all you can spare the time for is a street vendor hot dog or supermarket check-out candy bar. You can always eat it and go on but it doesn't necessarily satisfy you. For me it can be like that if the various circumstances behind the scene place me in the mindset for a science fiction tale when I had been working on something fantasy based. I may still be able to produce something but without that drive it never turns out quite the same.

I've said it before; a writer can always write something - even if it is just something about a cheese sandwich. A repair man can also patch up a problematic part. It doesn't mean that it is a perfect fix. Sometimes it is just something that will work and get you by.

Myself, I am a husband and Father of four children. My youngest son struggles with a generalized anxiety disorder as well as obsessive compulsive tendencies and my youngest daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Even without considering their own problems, my health or the innate issues of four children interacting in a small house etc it should be obvious to grasp how easily life can disrupt your schedule.

Over the last few years I have had to have surgeries on my wrist, my neck and lost all feeling from the shoulder down in my right arm along with a good measure of function from it. And I am right handed. This hasn't exactly helped my productivity, I'm afraid.

However, with that said I have been working on a story I began some time back recently. Trying to jump back into it and get myself back into a routine to occupy my mind. Even with extensive notes or previous work to guide me it isn't without difficulty to drop back into a story in the middle and try to move forward without problems.

While working on this story I was contacted regarding another old story, or I should say an initial part of one. Albeit vague, interest was expressed in the potential continuation of the tale. A topic of which I can admit (like most of my stories) that there may exist more written about or at the very least some detailed notes covering the direction of things.

Even when things throw me off track that doesn't mean I have completely drifted free from my anchor. I may not be able to return to every story or project and for those that I do it may take some time. But I don't generally just start something without intending to finish it. I need something to direct my passion, I rely on a routine I can focus myself on. Sometimes I get blown off course and I have to engage in alternate tasks until I can find my way back.

I doubt I will ever be able to quit being anything other than what I am. To anyone else out there governed by a similar nature I can only wish that your own anchors, regardless of how much you may find yourself drifting away from them, remain tethered enough that you never lose them.

Stay anchored, stay driven and do what you love. Life will always be there to rock the boat.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Giggles & Good Times.

Giggles & Good Times.

Yesterday afternoon I did something that I haven’t attempted in so many years that I scarcely can hazard a guess at how long it truly has been. I must confess that I ended up at the short end of the struggling against sleep stick on the ride there, home and eventually found myself somehow still in my chair instead of my bed. It was a wonderful experience. Honestly, I don’t even regret a moment of it.

My Wife and I took all four of our kids, along with my father-in-law and did our usual 1st of the month dinner at a local restaurant. However, we made one small change to our typical routine. We invited two old friends of mine and their daughter to join us.

And they did!

Now, for most people this in and of itself is probably a regular night out – completely without the merit of being worth mentioning. For us on the other hand it was a big deal. With the exception of my own immediate family we just simply do not do this sort of thing often for a variety of reasons. To put it bluntly; when you factor in my own troubles, our children, the size of our family, a limited financial flexibility and an innate avoidance for some of the more ‘normal’ activities people our age tend to gather for we just don’t get that many opportunities to go out.

That said the experience was altogether pleasant. There was a wealth of giggles all around and enough understanding to exclude any problems. It wasn’t anything special; mostly we just ate and shared some friendly conversation.

I hadn’t seen my friends since high school, aside from an occasional run in here and there. These were people I grew up that knew me well and I can say we instantly feel back into familiar patterns. Hence the abundance of audible amusement we all shared. I see precious few people who knew me from my childhood and even less who actually can tell you my name. For me, it was like winning the lottery.

The whole family had a blast. Even my Wife and children talked the whole way home and into the night about how much fun they had. In fact, my youngest daughter has already claimed that she has a brand new friend and was trying to set up more opportunities to get together with them.

I can only hope that we were not the only ones who had a good time but my gut tells me that I’m not far off by saying that we all probably did. Perhaps in the future more such events might be in store, who knows. Yet, should the chance not present itself for a repeat any time soon I know that I will enjoy the memory of so much laughter for a very long time.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Quiet Poet.

In honor of Father's Day; A Gift for my Father:

The Quiet Poet

Some men are born to sing,
Some are gifted at the dance.

Others are skilled instead at the art of the heart.

Yet of them all there exists a softer breed,
Those poets of the words unspoken.

For in them lies the life lived for love.
For no greater value or worth compels them.
Not for wealth of riches, fame or glory.
They burn for tender moments cherished deeply and lasting forever.

They carry a compass of compassion.
Their North Star is those held dearest.

I know these words as truth,
For I myself was born of a Quiet Poet.
And found in me the same soul that it is an honor to share.

By: Matthew C. Gill

Dedicated to my beloved Father: I have always held you in the highest esteem. Although you sometimes failed to conceal your flaws, you have never failed to guide my way. I shall forever be proud to bear your name and am eternally in your debt for the life you have given me. Your tireless labors were never in vain, for they were bought with a love plain to see that never needed the words to be there. Poetry is emotion given form and you have always lived it. Thank you for always being our Quiet Poet. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Teacher’s Aid; An Alternate Approach For Training Jedi During The Rebellion Era.

Teacher’s Aid; An Alternate Approach For Training Jedi During The Rebellion Era.

Recently my son has been exploring the wonderful world of tabletop role-playing games. He started with Dungeon’s & Dragons, even though he has played other things over time this has been his first real memorable foray into playing such games. Much like any other kid his age he adores a variety of branded franchises and the release of a new Star Wars series (Star Wars: Rebels) has seen his interest renewed.

…And then he saw a number of books and boxed sets setting upon my shelf bearing the words Star Wars.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise to me when it happened, to be honest. From a certain point I have expected specific iconic brands to call out to my children as they grow up and statistically speaking I have yet to be disappointed. The prospect of being able to play as a lightsaber wielding Jedi was a sure bet that it would appeal to them. Who wouldn't want to be a Jedi?

However the events of Star Wars: Rebels bring an interesting aspect to the potential stories that can be explored. The setting of the show itself is that of the early days of the rebellion, the Jedi order has been all but extinguished and virtually no Jedi are left to oppose the empire. As such, when a former Jedi in hiding stumbles across the path of a potential student he has to struggle with the implications of allowing his presence to become known and if he even has the capacity to train an apprentice.

Everything known about this timeline firmly establishes that this was a dark time for the Jedi. The vast majority of them have been wiped out and the remaining few are in hiding or hunted and either could still find themselves being dealt with by the empire’s continued purge. That being said we also know that some former Jedi still exist as capable instructors with hopes of someday returning the order to the galaxy.

The crux of the situation becomes a singular one; if the Jedi order is all but extinct, how then could a student be taught the ways of the force? An initial response would be that they would have to seek out a master, even if they are so rare and no guarantee exists that a legitimate one is available. Secondly, the prospect of finding an artifact like a Holocron is also a possibility – be it Sith or Jedi.

When my son expressed an interest in playing in the Rebellion Era as someone starting their Jedi training I had to consider all of this. How could I pull off such a story without trying to incorporate established characters or potentially distorting established information? My solution feels flexible, fun and plausible (in my opinion). Allow me to elaborate:

Without outright employing a powerful Jedi npc as a mentor or using a familiar character I concluded that there had to be another way. Now, according to some of the rulebooks there are indeed alternative options for Jedi training without a mentor. Most notably among these was the use of a Holocron to instruct a student in the ways of the force. Another approach was by using the force spirit of a Jedi master, which could work but leave a student character isolated from some physical implications of having a mentor in the flesh.

While I was contemplating everything an idea occurred to me. What was one thing that has been commonly seen alongside countless individuals in some shape or form? It was a droid. Regardless of what assistance they provide, having a droid by their side is a familiar sight for many characters.

Thinking about the matter further I decided the idea held too much promise not to develop it. Especially if the game is centered on a single player character or smaller than average party. Having an assistant to help the player may not sound like a major aide but if for no other reason it provides them with a sense of companionship and something to connect with while playing.

So how does a droid fit into Jedi training? Imagine if you will a loyal and well-serving droid owned by a Jedi, specifically one tasked with instructing and protecting students. If such a droid existed then it could contain some knowledge regarding Jedi teachings, the location of hidden temples/shrines, archives, the resting place of holocrons or even a back-up lightsaber.

Just try and think about the potential risk to the empire’s plans that something like this would entail. If discovered it would be a prime target for destruction. Ergo, should an individual with the potential promise of one day becoming a Jedi discover such a droid it would be both a blessing and a curse.

Any such droid could open up a doorway for a student to start studying the ways of the Jedi without ever raising attention by looking around for an instructor. In order to capitalize on this idea I settled upon a rather low-key droid model; the R5 series of astromech, to be exact. It is precisely the type of droid that could go unnoticed for years in idle storage without anyone ever giving it more than a passing glance.

For instance, allow me to provide an example droid the likes of which I am describing. Depending on your naming preferences you could refer to the droid as R5-3D (“3D”) or R5-D1 (D-One or “Dunn”) just mentioning a couple options for starters. Now, this R5 astromech droid has been in the service of a Jedi master tasked with teaching and protecting a group of young students during the later days of the clone wars. To be more exact, the Jedi master Du Mahn who died while defending her charges from a contingent of clone troops when order 66 was issued.

In order to assist Du Mahn in her duties, the R5 was modified in a number of ways to be of use. First among these alterations was some basic programming that gave the droid a modest database of Jedi teachings. The R5’s base programming already covered some general purpose applications like calculating navigational coordinates, basic piloting, and repairs among others.

However, as the current climate of the time was far too dangerous and given the duty of keeping her charges safe other alterations were called for. To this end one of the R5’s tool mounts has been replaced with a weapon mount containing a blaster pistol. Complementing this a low level shield generator was also added to give the R5 droid a better chance in any firefight while escorting any of the students.

Continued modifications improved the R5’s capabilities by improving upon its installed sensor package, a shield expansion module (allowing its shields to extend out to an adjacent individual being defended) and a hidden core to preserve itself. Overall the R5 wouldn't be anything fearsome in a firefight but what it could do is provide a degree of back up and a secondary defense for others. Topping it all off; buried deep inside the loyal little droid was a keystone that was linked with a holocron belonging to and hidden by Du Mahn.

No droid can hold a connection with the force. However, what this keystone does is react on its own when in the presence (via close proximity) to the corresponding holocron. Consider it something akin to a security access code or a unique key mated for a single lock. The R5 unit can help guide another to where the holocron is hidden if certain requirements (pre-set by its programming and cross referenced with its internal database on Jedi lore) are met in order to awaken it for them. After which, it would be up to the prospective student to unlock the various depths contained within the holocrons stored wisdom.

The end result is a plot incorporating element that adds to any storyline you choose to develop. An R5 with functioning memories of Jedi Teachings and an existing directive to escort Jedi students is a valuable asset. Couple that with a stored lightsaber or two and the potential to work in a Jedi holocron and the potential for allowing an isolated young Jedi is a powerful plot device.

What balances everything off nicely is the inherent risk of having such a droid could bring. First of all (as previously stated), if discovered there is no real happy ending in the future of the droid or the owner. Added to that is the constant concern that the droid’s memory could be faulty or it could be destroyed and an important source of priceless guidance would become lost. And lastly, being a droid itself the R5 would lack the ability to demonstrate force techniques or gauge progress effectively short of projecting holograms or analytical comparison with stored recordings from past instructions.

Keeping themselves below the radar of the empire is challenging enough for a burgeoning young Jedi in the days before or the early days of the rebellion. Trying to hide a source of Jedi education that constantly enters into combat to protect you doesn't make it any easier. However, there is an inherent compelling sense of engendered hope and warmth for any player just starting out in a dark time with a loyal/trusted friend by their side.

Your millage may vary but I considered this little idea worth sharing. If you ever thought about a Jedi just starting out without following in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker then this (to me) is a legitimately reasonable option. It provides a wealth of potential options for pleasant adventures along with a healthy dose of conflict. Let us hope that it proves to be fun for our games and if you care to try something similar I wish you all great times as well.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Through The Wormhole; Converting The Streams With An Improvised Buffer.

Through The Wormhole; Converting The Streams With An Improvised Buffer.

There have always been two major paradigms when it comes to fictional settings, like those used in role-playing games. They don’t get any more distanced than those of science-fiction and fantasy. In fact, both of these tend to be firmly established as existing at opposite ends of the setting spectrum.

To even the most casual observer, any reference to one often excludes the other. You want to talk about magic and wondrous creatures? The conversation could quickly draw the criticism of science-fiction fans. Discussing bizarre beasts from some alien realm or weapons that can hurl bolts of blazing energy? Fantasy enthusiasts might take up arguments against the complicated or unrealistic nature of the concepts.

The whole thing is a little ironic, not to mention completely fruitless. It is akin to debating who has the faster jet; batman or the x-men. Neither are real vehicles and both of them only serve as a fictional story element for their respective settings. However, at their core they are both mechanically the same.

Expanding on this analogy, consider this less-clear comparison; Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax and Luke Skywalker’s Tauntaun. At first impression there is little the two beasts have in common. Shadowfax is an intelligent creature with speed, endurance and a lifespan unlike other horses. Tauntauns are slower and less clever but able to exist in some rather extreme environments.

Structurally they both transport the hero through the story. Each one has their own unique feel and identity to it as well. However they are living, breathing beasts of burden that exist within their described worlds.

Taking everything one final step farther; in an 80’s animated series the titular hero Marshall Bravestarr had his own personal mount that was tailor made for the science-fiction landscape. It was a cyborg horse that not only could transform itself between a quadrupedal horse mode and a bipedal humanoid one but it also carried its own gun. The horse’s name was 30-30 (like the infamous .30 caliber lever action saddle gun preferred by many cowboys).

Standing Shadowfax side by side with 30-30 might seem as ludicrous as trying to compare a horse to a speeder bike in star wars. Truth be told, even that could be used to prove my point. The end result is a crudely simple one; regardless of how technological or robotic the theme/flavor may be they are both born from the same basic concepts.

A mount is a mount. You can call a horse a tauntaun or even a speeder bike but they both serve to convey a character from one scenic plot site to another. They each have their own setting appropriate traits and features but they are just descriptive fluff layered atop a mechanical base that is the foundation.

Within a fantasy world it makes sense to see people riding horses, pulling carts with mules or ponies – even an enchanted wagon or a magically mechanical mare isn’t out of place. By contrast it logically fits for science-fiction landscapes to fill in the same functions with automated anti-gravity automobiles, robots that you ride on and flying cargo carriers. Theme and flavor refine/define the core concept into something that is completely at home for the setting. But once you strip all that away it is just another thing that is meant to serve a standard function.

Once you really start to grasp this initial idea you can apply it towards all manner of aspects of a setting. A weapon allows you to attack. Does that mean that a blaster rifle is all that different than a bow or crossbow? The armor that has developed alongside both weapons has been shaped by that weapon technology. As such, in a world with bows armor is crafted for the purposes of defending against it. In the realm of blaster battles armor has been shaped by being shot at with blazing bolts.

When you really put things into perspective, everything scales into translation. At the heart of fantasy, magic is the source of so much wonder and mystery. However, if you step over into science-fiction technology takes its place. Arthur C. Clarke said it aptly; “magic is just science that we don’t understand yet.”

Many an adventuring hero has had to draw a torch to make their way down into some dark depths. In some space station a brave soul might light their way with a glow stick instead. What difference is there than their descriptions? They both are disposable light sources. One may be able to ignite other flammable materials while the other can be wet and still work. If you want to split hairs you could replace the glow stick for a flare and end up with another analog for the torch.

Even science-fiction staples like powered armor can find a fitting relative from fantasy. Magic armor that makes you hard to be hurt or stronger, faster etc. serves the same function as high-tech armor like powered armor. An injection of tissue repairing nanites is no different than a healing potion. A +1 to hit on attack rolls may come from divine guidance/blessing just as it could be the influence generated by targeting software.

Deep down, at the heart of everything both genres share a lot of the same elements – albeit using different themes and flavor. Once you can see past all this and understand how magic/technology is used to provide an influence over the setting you can grasp the interactions.

Think about it sometime.

Feel free to share your thoughts, there is plenty to expand on.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

An Open Letter Post.

An Open Letter Post.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been scribbling stories for far longer than I can accurately calculate. My imagination has been jammed into the over-drive position for perhaps an even greater number of years. And, in all that time; I have enjoyed every story, every awkwardly constructed game or moment of pretending. Not because I think or feel that it makes me special, superior or needed by others. I have cherished all those endlessly connected tiny moments because woven throughout them are series of smiles, giggles, grins and heart-warming shared sincerity.

In recent years, I can humbly attest and/or admit that my own skill with which I apply to my beloved past-time hasn't been anything that can realistically approach the level of a professional. On the topic of telling stories I can concede that my own are anything but worthy of high praise or comparison to the likes that end up on best-seller lists. Nor can I claim that my work on role-playing games or programming projects is anything more than idle efforts of fancy or hobby/enthusiast interest.

All that being said, one of the greatest gifts I have received and a constant source of joy for me is when I see a string of traffic visiting my blog that displays even a single view of one of my stories in order of the episodes/chapters/segments released. It is rare that I ever hear a word of feedback, an opinion or admiration. Even so, when I notice a pattern of traffic that highlights someone even looking at the released parts of a story I am filled with a wave of accomplishment.

I can recall those first days of toiling to create a fictional setting that other might enjoy. It is nothing short of poetic irony that that self-same setting was the seed for so many stories; so much time spent enjoying entertaining others and produced a creation that I am still tinkering on to this day. Recently I realized that the fictional setting I had developed and used for a game focused landscape had become the backdrop for me to place short stories and novellas. Seeing the game that had given birth to that rich environment collecting dust made me realize it was something I couldn't leave laying idle. It was worth refining and reviving.

For me, the process of creating a story or working on a game is a labor of love. I do such things not for gain or to pursue the approval of others. I do them because they are worth doing and I have a story or something in me worth sharing. And as I look back there were simply too many memories, laughs as well as smiles that were experienced in the company of others over one of these creations.

So, I’d like reassure any who may have been interested in the past, still are or might be just starting to become curious; I haven’t surrendered to silence yet and never will. My work on the science-fiction role-playing game setting project I refer to as Requiem (or Requiem d20) is alive and well. In fact, it is currently being analyzed, improved and redesigned to become the kind of game that I know it can be with the level of quality it deserves.

There is so much room for improvement within the work that has already been done on Requiem. Alternatively there is also a lot to celebrate about it. Even if I find areas where I notice equal degrees of ‘what was I thinking’ and ‘there is so much promise here.’

The passion has always been there, the flame never really dies. It is just the focus that might have shifted from time to time. But there are more tales left in the tank, more ink yet in the silver pen and I am not in the ground yet. Until that day comes I can’t imagine not getting lost in my own imagination on a regular basis.

If you have ever enjoyed any of my work before or are just starting to stumble into it then know that more will come. Requiem isn't going to be forgotten. You can always ‘rent Earl’s bullets,’ order some Vernian brew and load your trusty Mark VIII while you get ready to enter a deal with Gideon Coromaur. I have written so many stories set within Requiem’s New Republic but there were countless others that came before – shaped by the hands of those who have played around there. The future can only hold the prospect of new tales to follow.

I can only hope that you keep reading them, playing, sharing and smiling. Enjoy.


Matthew C. Gill