Tag Archives: Games

#162: Furry Thinking

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #162, on the subject of Furry Thinking.

If you are in the gamer community you probably have already heard or thought most of this.  Ridiculous news travels fast.  For those who are not, well, it’s worth getting you up to speed a bit.

A British company known as Games Workshop publishes a game under the name Warhammer 40K.  The “40K” part means that it is set in a far-flung (forty millennia) future in which, perhaps somewhat ridiculously, primitives fight with mechas.  The game makes significant use of miniatures, which the company produces and sells.  These miniatures are entirely made of plastic, but some of them have designs that include the image of fur clothing or covering on people or machines.

PETA, that is, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is protesting this.

Image by  Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/
Image by Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/

I am tempted to join the chorus of those who assert that PETA has lost it–it being at least the last shreds of credibility that the organization had.  I would prefer to think that they are intelligent people who have sound reasons for their position, and so I would like to attempt at least to understand them.  I do not agree with them, because of what I think are some fundamental issues, but in order to discuss those issues I think it is important at least to attempt to grasp their view.

The stated issue is that the appearance of fur on the models, even given that it isn’t even faux fur but just molded plastic in a roughened pattern that looks like fur, sends a wrong message.  That in itself is a bit ridiculous–as one father of a gamer reported his daughter asking, how can PETA tell whether the plastic molding representation is supposed to be real fur or fake fur?  However, we should give PETA the benefit of the doubt.  They could reasonably object to the use of fake fur for much the same reason:  it is popular because it looks like real fur, and in looking like real fur suggests that killing animals for their fur is an appropriate human action.  People should not kill animals for fur today, and suggesting that it will be acceptable to do so forty thousand years in the future is just as unacceptable.

In its argument, PETA includes some detail about the inhumane ways in which animals are either trapped or hunted and killed, or raised and killed, for their furs.  Within the context it’s a bit ridiculous–for all we know, in the Warhammer world such furs might be grown in vats of cultured skin skin cells that have no innervation and no central nervous system, and thus no real pain.  Fur might grow on trees, genetically mutated or modified.  They might have devised completely painless methods of hunting, trapping, and killing fur-bearing animals.  Extending an argument based on the details of actual modern treatment of such animals to the distant future is indeed silly.  However, it is probably not the distant future with which PETA is concerned.  If they still exist in forty millennia they will undoubtedly argue whether any of those methods are truly humane; their real argument is not whether these are appropriate actions in the future, but whether they convey an appropriate message to the present.  Their position in the present is that it is fundamentally wrong to kill animals for their skins, and so the suggestion that it will be permissible in the distant future is a wrong message, because it always will be–and by implication, always has been–wrong for people to do this.

That is where PETA and I part company on this issue.

Somewhere I have seen, probably in some natural history museum, a montage of a group of primitive men dressed in furs using spears to bring down a Woolly Mammoth.  That display, to my mind, communicates something of the reality of the lives of our distant ancestors.  Yet if PETA is to be taken seriously, that display sends the same kind of wrong message as is sent by the Games Workshop miniatures:  humans have killed animals so as to clothe themselves in the furs, and are engaged in killing another animal.  It might even be argued in their favor that one of the theories for the disappearance of the Siberian Mammoth from the world is that it was hunted to extinction by primitive humans (although in fairness it has also been suggested that they died due to the decline of their habitat at the close of the last ice age).  Yet wearing furs and killing animals was how those humans survived, and thus the means by which we have come to be alive today.

I think that PETA would probably assert that the humans had no higher right to survive than the bears and wolves and deer and other creatures they killed for those furs, or the mammoths they hunted for meat and skin.  PETA has an egalitarian view of the creatures of the world, as I understand it:  all creatures are created equal, and have an equal claim to continued life.  People have no right to kill animals for their own purposes, whether for clothes or for food or for habitat.

One reason this view is held is that people believe there are only two possible views.  The perceived alternative is to believe that humans have no obligations at all to other creatures, and can use them however we want, kill them with impunity, torture them even for no better purpose than our own entertainment, eat them, and wear their bodies as clothing and jewelry or use it to adorn our dwellings.  Put in its extreme form, this position is indeed reprehensible, and I object to it as much as PETA does.  However, these are not the only two positions.

Still, that “reprehensible” position is at least defensible.  PETA can argue that the human species has no better right to survive than any other creatures, but it is equally true under that argument that our right to survive is not any less.  Other creatures do not, by this fundamentally naturalistic argument, owe us their lives, but neither do we owe them theirs.  If our survival is enhanced at their expense, it cannot be asserted that we have less right to survive than they.  In the abstract the claim that we do not have a higher right sounds good, but if the issue were to be whether you or I would survive, it is very likely that you would choose you, and if it went to court after the fact and it was reasonably clearly apparent that it was “you or me”, the courts would undoubtedly exonerate you for choosing your own survival over mine.  The simplest form of that is the self-defense defense, but it’s not the only situation in which this is a factor.  Our ancestors killed animals and ate them and wore their furs because in a very real sense it was “them or us”, either we kill these animals and protect ourselves in their skins or we die of exposure.  Certainly I think that killing for furs that are not needed for our survival but merely decorative is selfish, but under a naturalistic viewpoint I can find no basis for saying that it is wrong to put the needs and preferences of other creatures above our own.  Further, I would not condemn an Inuit for his sealskin boots–it is part of his survival, and it is not clear that modern boots are either as easily available to him or as effective for the purpose.

Yet I do not intend to defend that position.  I think there is a third position that covers the concerns of both PETA and the Inuit.  Man is neither the equal of the other creatures in this world nor the owner of them.  We are their caretakers; they are our charges.

That means that sometimes we have to kill them, responsibly.  The best example is the deer of North America.  In most of the continent, and particularly most of the United States, deer thrive but the predators that kept their numbers in check have been decimated.  Without wolves and mountain lions in significant numbers to kill and eat the deer, their natural reproductive rate (geared to replace those lost to predation) quickly overpopulates the environment.  Certainly we have the selfish concern that they will eat our gardens, but even without that part of the problem they will starve in droves, because there is not enough food to feed them all.  The lack of predators is our fault, but only partly intentional.  Certainly we took steps to protect our children from creatures that would recognize them as a potential meal, but it is also the case that we frighten them, and so as we expand they retreat.  That means that deer will die, and their bodies litter the wilderness–and the alternative is for us to maintain managed killing of the overpopulation.  Licensed hunting is an effective and economical approach.  There might be other ways–such as rounding up herds into slaughterhouses and selling the meat on the market–but PETA would find these at least as objectionable.

It also means that we have the right to kill them when in our view it meets our needs–such as taking cattle and pigs and fowl to slaughterhouses to put meat on our tables.

The issue of whether we should refrain from killing animals for clothing is a more complicated one.  After all, in Genesis 3:21 we are told that God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve when they were inadequately clothed in leaves, and we take that to mean that it was the skins of animals, and that thereafter we dressed ourselves in animal skins following the example God gave us.  On the other hand, we have other materials now which are at least as good, and we have a shortage of animals, at least measured against the number of people we have to clothe.  We can provide for our needs without killing a lot of animals, and so we should prioritize our responsibility to care for those we still have.  That does not mean we cannot use fur or leather as part of our clothing; it means that such use should be limited to situations in which it is the best choice for the purpose.

It also means that in a distant future in which animals, including predatory animals, are plentiful and humans are struggling to survive, our present standards about killing creatures for fur or wearing the skins of animals who died or were killed for other reasons simply do not apply.  Most of those who are intelligent enough to be able to play complicated miniatures wargames are also intelligent enough to understand this, even if PETA is not.

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#150: 2016 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #150, on the subject of 2016 Retrospective.

Periodically I try to look back over some period of time and review what I have published, and the end of the year is a good time to do this.  Thus before the new year begins I am offering you a reminder of articles you might have seen–or might have missed–over the past twelve months.  I am not going to recall them all.  For one thing, that would be far too many, and it in some cases will be easier to point to another location where certain categories of articles are indexed (which will appear more obvious as we progress).  For another, although we did this a year ago in web log post #34:  Happy Old Year, we also did it late in March in #70:  Writing Backwards and Forwards, when we had finished posting Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  So we will begin with the last third of March, and will reference some articles through indices and other sources.

I have divided articles into the categories which I thought most appropriate to them.  Many of these articles are reasonably in two or more categories–articles related to music often relate to writing, or Bible and theology; Bible and politics articles sometimes are nearly interchangeable.  I, of course, think it is all worth reading; I hope you think it at least worth considering reading.

I should also explain those odd six-digit numbers for anyone for whom they are not obvious, because they are at least non-standard.  They are YYMMDD, that is, year, month, and day of the date of publication of each article, each represented by two digits.  Thus the first one which appears, 160325, represents this year 2016, the third month March, and the twenty-fifth day.

img0150calendar

Let’s start with writings about writing.

There is quite a bit that should be in this category.  After all, that previous retrospective post appeared as we finished posting that first novel, and we have since posted the second, all one hundred sixty-two chapters of which are indexed in their own website section, Old Verses New.  If you’ve not read the novels, you have some catching up to do.  I also published one more behind-the-writings post on that first novel, #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One 160325, to cover notes unearthed in an old file on the hard drive.

Concurrent with the release of those second novel chapters there were again behind-the-writings posts, this time each covering nine consecutive chapters and hitting the web log every two weeks.  Although they are all linked from that table-of-contents page, since they are web log posts I am listing them here:  #74:  Another Novel 160421; #78:  Novel Fears 160506; #82:  Novel Developments 160519; #86:  Novel Conflicts 160602; #89:  Novel Confrontations 160623; #91:  Novel Mysteries 160707; #94:  Novel Meetings 160721; #100:  Novel Settling 160804; #104:  Novel Learning 160818; #110:  Character Redirects 160901;
#113:  Character Movements 160916;
#116:  Character Missions 160929;
#119:  Character Projects 161013;
#122:  Character Partings 161027; #128:  Character Gatherings 161110; #134:  Versers in Space 161124; #142:  Characters Unite 161208; and #148:  Characters Succeed 161222.

I have also added a Novel Support Section which at this point contains character sheets for several of the characters in the first novel and one in the second; also, if you have enjoyed reading the novels and have not seen #149:  Toward the Third Novel 161223, it is a must-read.

Also on the subject of writing, I discussed what was required for someone to be identified as an “author” in, appropriately, #72:  Being an Author 160410.  I addressed #118:  Dry Spells 161012 and how to deal with them, and gave some advice on #132:  Writing Horror 161116.  There was also one fun Multiverser story which had been at Dice Tales years ago which I revived here, #146:  Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships 161220

I struggled with where on this list to put #120:  Giving Offense 161014.  It deals with political issues of sexuality and involves a bit of theological perspective, but ultimately is about the concept of tolerance and how we handle disagreements.

It should be mentioned that not everything I write is here at M. J. Young Net; I write a bit about writing in my Goodreads book reviews.

Of course, I also wrote a fair amount of Bible and Theology material.

Part of it was apologetic, that is, discussing the reasons for belief and answers to the arguments against it.  In this category we have #73:  Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts 160413, #76:  Intelligent Simulation 160424 (specifically addressing an incongruity between denying the possibility of “Intelligent Design” while accepting that the universe might be the equivalent of a computer program), and #84:  Man-made Religion 160527 (addressing the charge that the fact all religions are different proves none are true).

Other pages are more Bible or theology questions, such as #88:  Sheep and Goats 160617, #90:  Footnotes on Guidance 160625, #121:  The Christian and the Law 161022, and #133:  Your Sunday Best 161117 (on why people dress up for church).

#114:  St. Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles 160917 is probably a bit of both, as it is a response to a criticism of Christian faith (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, but impacting all of us).

There was also a short miniseries of posts about the first chapter of Romans, the sin and punishment it presents, and how we as believers should respond.  It appeared in four parts:  #138:  The Sin of Romans I 161204, #139:  Immorality in Romans I 161205, #140:  Societal Implications of Romans I 161206, and #141:  The Solution to the Romans I Problem 161207.

Again, not everything I wrote is here.  The Faith and Gaming series and related materials including some from The Way, the Truth, and the Dice are being republished at the Christian Gamers Guild; to date, twenty-six such articles have appeared, but more are on the way including one written recently (a rules set for what I think might be a Christian game) which I debated posting here but decided to give to them as fresh content.  Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s Bible Study continues, having completed I & II Peter and now entering the last chapter of I John.

Again, some posts which are listed below as political are closely connected to principles of faith; after all, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are inextricably connected.  Also, quite a few of the music posts are also Bible or theology posts, since I have been involved in Christian music for decades.

So Music will be the next subject.

Since it is something people ask musicians, I decided to give some thought and put some words to #75:  Musical Influences 160423, the artists who have impacted my composing, arranging, and performances.

I also reached into my memories of being in radio, how it applies to being a musician and to being a writer, in #77:  Radio Activity 160427.

I wrote a miniseries about ministry and music, what it means to be a minister and how different kinds of ministries integrate music.  It began by saying not all Christian musicians are necessarily ministers in #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect 160724, and then continued with #97:  Ministry Calling 160728, #98:  What Is a Minister? 160730, #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle 160803, #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry 160808, #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry 160812, #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor 160814, #106:  The Teacher Music Ministry 160821, and
#107:  Miscellaneous Music Ministries 160824.  As something of an addendum, I posted #109:  Simple Songs 160827, a discussion of why so many currently popular songs seem to be musically very basic, and why given their purpose that is an essential feature.

In related areas, I offered #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry 160903 explaining why recored companies are failing, #129:  Eulogy for the Record Album 161111 discussing why this is becoming a lost art form, and #147:  Traditional versus Contemporary Music 161221 on the perennial argument in churches about what kinds of songs are appropriate.

The lyrics to my song Free 161017 were added to the site, because it was referenced in one of the articles and I thought the readers should be able to find them if they wished.

There were quite a few articles about Law and Politics, although despite the fact that this was an “election year” (of course, there are elections every year, but this one was special), most of them were not really about that.  By March the Presidential race had devolved into such utter nonsense that there was little chance of making sense of it, so I stopped writing about it after talking about Ridiculous Republicans and Dizzying Democrats.

Some were, of course.  These included the self-explanatory titles #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey 161104, #124:  The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions 161105, #125:  My Presidential Fears 161106, and #127:  New Jersey 2016 Election Results 161109, and a few others including #126:  Equity and Religion 161107 about an argument in Missouri concerning whether it should be legal to give state money to child care and preschool services affiliated with religious groups, and #131:  The Fat Lady Sings 161114, #136:  Recounting Nonsense 161128, and #143:  A Geographical Look at the Election 161217, considering the aftermath of the election and the cries to change the outcome.

We had a number of pages connected to the new sexual revolution, including #79:  Normal Promiscuity 160507, #83:  Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body! 160521, and #115:  Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference 160926.

Other topics loosely under discrimination include #87:  Spanish Ice Cream 160616 (about whether a well-known shop can refuse to take orders in languages other than English), #130:  Economics and Racism 161112 (about how and why unemployment stimulates racist attitudes), and #135:  What Racism Is 161127 (explaining why it is possible for blacks to have racist attitudes toward whites).  Several with connections to law and economics include #105:  Forced Philanthropy 160820 (taxing those with more to give to those with less), #108:  The Value of Ostentation 160826 (arguing that the purchase of expensive baubles by the rich is good for the poor), #137:  Conservative Penny-pinching 161023 (discussing spending cuts), and #145:  The New Internet Tax Law 161219 (about how Colorado has gotten around the problem of charging sales tax on Internet purchases).

A few other topics were hit, including one on freedom of speech and religion called #144:  Shutting Off the Jukebox 161218, one on scare tactics used to promote policy entitled #80:  Environmental Blackmail 160508, and one in which court decisions in recent immigration cases seem likely to impact the future of legalized marijuana, called #96:  Federal Non-enforcement 160727.

Of course Temporal Anomalies is a popular subject among the readers; the budget has been constraining of late, so we have not done the number of analyses we would like, but we did post a full analysis of Time Lapse 160402.  We also reported on #85:  Time Travel Coming on Television 160528, and tackled two related issues, #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem 160515 and #117:  The Prime Universe 160930.

We have a number of other posts that we’re categorizing as Logic/Miscellany, mostly because they otherwise defy categorization (or, perhaps, become categories with single items within them).  #92:  Electronic Tyranny 060708 is a response to someone’s suggestion that we need to break away from social media to get our lives back.  #93:  What Is a Friend? 060720 presents two concepts of the word, and my own preference on that.  #112:  Isn’t It Obvious? 160904 is really just a couple of real life problems with logical solutions.  I also did a product review of an old washing machine that was once new, Notes on a Maytag Centennial Washing Machine 160424.

Although it does not involve much writing, with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer Gazebos in the Wild, a Pinterest board which posts photographs with taxonomies attempting to capture and identify these dangerous wild creatures in their natural habitats.  You would have to have heard the story of Eric and the Gazebo for that to be funny, I think.

Of course, I post on social media, but the interesting ones are on Patreon, and mostly because I include notes on projects still ahead and life issues impeding them.  As 2017 arrives, I expect to continue writing and posting–I already have two drafts, one on music and the other on breaking bad habits.  I invite your feedback.

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#146: Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #146, on the subject of Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships.

I’ve told this story before; indeed, I wrote it up years ago for Dice Tales, and so I was reminded of it recently when I launched the Gazebos in the Wild Pinterest board in commemoration of that more famous Dice Tales story, Eric and the Gazebo.  Alas, Dice Tales is long gone, and although Eric lives on as a meme among gamers, Chris is less familiar.  So I thought it might be time to retell the tale.

I should also say that if any of my players remember any great stories of times in our games that need to be retold, they should drop me a note to remind me of them, and I’ll try to get them posted here.

Spaceship by Mehmet Pinarci
Spaceship by Mehmet Pinarci

It starts with Chris playing Multiverser as one of my original five test players.  I was trying to test a lot of things about the game, like how well it adapted itself to other people’s material (we encourage referees to plagiarize settings and other materials for game play, simply because the game can devour world ideas and the books, movies, television shows, games, and other sources are free for you to use in your own home games), so I decided to have a “gather”, bringing the player characters together, in an old game I always loved, Metamorphosis Alpha.  I had brought Chris there, and he had gathered a couple of followers by then, so he was something of a team.

It occurs to me that Tristan, at that time the youngest person ever to have played the game (I believe he was seven or eight), was one of the other original test players, and his character had attached himself to Chris’s.  Since Multiverser is an “I game”, the characters and players have the same names; I’ll try to keep them straight for you.

The basic concept of Metamorphosis Alpha was that earth had sent a huge colony ship out toward what they hoped would be a suitable colony world.  There were millions of people aboard, and facilities that imitated outdoor parks, huge apartment complexes, and much more.  At some point the ship passed through an unanticipated cloud of an unknown type of radiation, killing millions of people and mutating many more, and the ship, now with only computer guidance, continued its trip through space, passing the original destination with no one at the helm.  However, there were generations of humans, mutant humans, animals, mutant animals, plants, and mutant plants aboard, unaware that they were on a ship, forming new ecologies.  If it sounds familiar, yes, Metamorphoses Alpha was the precursor to Gamma World, the original post-apocalyptic game, and introduced many of the concepts and mechanics that were found in early editions of that game.  It was into this that I dropped my players.

Chris had also by this point learned and created a number of psionic skills, and was always looking to devise new ones.  He was known to be a bit reckless sometimes in that regard, but the other players often gave him reason to exercise some caution.

I had decided to put an expiration date on the world, of sorts, or perhaps to create a problem that would require their ingenuity to solve.  There was, at the top of the ship, an observation deck from which one could see space and some of the exterior of the ship, which would for the player characters explain where they were.  To make it interesting, I positioned the ship (Starship Warden) in a place where it was headed directly toward one star, and near enough that it would be evident that they were on a collision course.  They would have to figure out how to avoid this.  Chris and Tristan were the players who reached the observation deck first, and Chris immediately recognized the problem and started considering how he might solve it.  Not wanting to be rash, he decided to go away and come back the next day to try his idea once he had considered it.

What Chris wanted to do was teleport “the ship” forward to the other side of the star, so that it would bypass it completely.  He wasn’t stupid about it, though–he decided to run a test.  Taking his team, including Tristan, to the top deck, he prepared to test his idea by teleporting the ship forward ten feet.  Tiny Tristan wrapped himself around tall Chris’ leg (he did this whenever Chris announced he was going to try something crazy and dangerous hoping to avoid being separated from him), and with a successful roll on the dice Chris moved the ship ten feet forward.  It worked exactly as described:  the ship shifted forward ten feet, but everything and everyone on it that was not part of it or securely attached to it was now ten feet aft of their previous positions.  It was obvious that were he to teleport the ship to the other side of the star this way, he would leave himself and everyone else adrift in space here.  It was time to return to the drawing board.  It wasn’t a useless skill, and it was added to his character sheet, but it wasn’t the solution he needed here.

He came back the next day with a different idea.  As Tristan again clung to his leg, he opened a huge portal in front of the ship (it really was huge–the Warden was, if I recall correctly, twenty-five miles in diameter and football shaped) with an exit portal ten feet beyond it.  The ship began to pass into the portal and, as if it were a wormhole, to pass out ten feet away; everything and everyone aboard was similarly carried into the portal and out the other side, so it worked perfectly.  He had his solution, and it was added to his character sheet.

The next day he implemented it.

Chris never asked–I’m not sure he has ever asked even since–but I wasn’t really cruel.  I had figured that if anyone had taken sightings and done the math they would have figured out that they had a year before they would actually crash into the star–a year during which the ship would have gained momentum as gravity pulled it ever closer.  He had no idea how far from the star he was, so when he said he wanted the portal to open on the other side, I asked for some notion of where on the other side, and the answer he gave led me to understand that it was not really, in astronomical terms, far at all–maybe inside one astronomical unit.  So I let him teleport the ship to the other side of the star, but then informed him that he was really a lot closer to the star than he had been, and that gravity was slowing the ship’s forward momentum.  In a panic, he teleported the ship again, a short hop, and then again, and then on the third attempt to move away from the star he botched and teleported the entire ship into the core of a planet.  Everyone was dead, which of course in Multiverser means that all the player characters “verse out” and wind up in some other world.  I don’t remember where he went, but he had some other wild adventures, and then I tested something else.

I had put a lot of time into pirating Blake’s 7, and figuring out how to put a verser into the episodes and remove Blake.  I used this for two of my original test players, and Chris was one of them; he might have been the first one.  He did very well for quite a while, until we got to an episode which seems to have something very like magic in it, a world in which there are ghosts on a planet who are tasked with teaching people lessons about fighting.  It has a difficult set-up–I had to use three fast Federation ships under the command of Commander Travis to corner Chris with his back to this planet, and I had succeeded.  In a moment I expected it would come to a direct combat confrontation, the ghosts would intervene, and Chris and Travis would find themselves on the planet being told by the ghosts what was expected of them.  But Chris had not yet given up.  He grabbed his character sheet, and said, “I know what I’m going to do.  I know what I’m going to do.”  He thumbed through to the psionic teleport skills, pointed to one of them, and said, “I’m going to do this.”

I may have cocked an eyebrow Spock-like; I do that sometimes.  I asked if he was sure that’s what he wanted, and he was very confident.  I asked him to describe the teleport target spot to me, and he gave me a position just to the other side of the three ships that had him trapped.  I had him roll the dice.

“You succeeded,” I said.

“Yes!” he exclaimed.

“…and,” I continued, “you can see your ship adrift in space on the other side of the three Federation ships just before the vacuum of space kills you and all the members of your crew, and you leave for another world.

It was the wrong teleport spell, of course, but it was one of the most memorable moments in our games, and we have laughed about it for decades since then.  I hope you enjoyed the story as much as we did.

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#77: Radio Activity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #77, on the subject of Radio Activity.

A very long time ago when The Doors were popular, someone said to me that if the only Doors songs I knew were their hits, I did not know what they sounded like.  I thought at the time that that was ridiculous.  After all, wouldn’t a band’s hits be their best songs, and wouldn’t their best songs be those that were most typical of their sound?  But then, despite the fact that I already anticipated being a famous rock musician (right, me and thirty million other kids) I was only in middle school and had never heard anything by The Doors that didn’t play on pop radio.

I began to understand years later, when I was a disc jockey (and eventually program director) of a radio station and got to listen to all the albums that had any chance of getting airplay in our format–which was a broadly defined and eclectic contemporary Christian music sound, when Amy Grant was probably the biggest name, The Imperials were still popular, Glad debuted as a rock band, and Resurrection Band and Servant were cutting edge.

The Collision Of Worlds album
The Collision Of Worlds album

I probably should have realized it when Petra released Washes Whiter Than.  It was a wonderful Christian rock album, but it had one song on it that was atypical, acoustic guitar picking with multiple vocals in a gentle neo-folk style, called Why Should the Father Bother?  It was the kind of song any Christian radio station could play, even if they were committed to Doug Oldham and The Gaithers or The Speers–and apparently quite a few did, because it shot up the Christian contemporary and MOR (that’s “middle of the road” and is regarded a genre in the radio business) charts.  It was a good song; it was not like other songs on the album, such as Morning Star.  I didn’t get it then, though.  It wasn’t until they released Never Say Die two years later, with songs like Chameleon, Angel of Light, Killing My Old Man–and again one song with acoustic guitar picking and great multiple vocals, The Coloring Song, which jumped to the top of the charts and was heard on radio stations throughout the country.

It was shortly after that that it connected.  We rarely played any Resurrection Band, and had to fight for just about every track.  DeGarmo and Key had some great stuff, but most of it wouldn’t get past our management.  We had been one of the leading contemporary Christian radio stations in the country, but the new management did not think that Christians listened to that kind of music and wanted us to shift toward the mellow.  (They somehow also thought that anyone who liked Christian music was also in the demographic that would love to have a Big Band show in the evenings; that failed dramatically.)  What Petra was doing was releasing an album that primarily appealed to its Christian rock fans, but including one song that would get massive airplay on all those more mellow radio stations, alerting their fanbase that there was a new Petra album out there.  They did the same thing with the title track of More Power To Ya, which had such great rock songs as Judas Kiss and Rose Colored Stain Glass Windows.  Being the eclectic sort of musician that I am, I love those rock songs–but I also love the gentle ones, and recognize that even when we won the battle with our management and got the rock songs back on the air, there were still stations all over the country that could only play the gentle ones, and that’s how news of the new release reached the fans.

It also makes more sense to me now as I consider Collision’s album, Of Worlds.  The two songs which I think are most exemplary of the band’s style, Still Small Voice and Heavenly Kingdom, are also the only two on which Jonathan, not I, sings the lead vocal.  The one that was always most popular with the fans, Passing Through the Portal, is probably furthest from our norm.  The one I was told would probably be the most successful radio hit, Stand Up, isn’t even one of mine.

Of course, in the time since The Doors had hits on pop radio, the music industry and the radio industry have both changed several times.  Today the very concept of buying an album is becoming a relic of the past–people don’t buy albums, they buy the songs they want to hear.  The strategy of getting a song from the album on the air by specially crafting it for airplay is losing ground; people don’t listen to such radio stations as much anymore, and airplay does not have the importance it once did.  The music world is fragmenting, and it is becoming harder to become a world-famous musician simply because it is easier to listen to the music you want to hear and never know anything about the artists who don’t play what you like.  Finding out about new music from your favorite artists is easier, because you can bookmark their web sites; finding out about new artists you might like is more difficult, but you can still join Facebook groups that share your interests, listen to podcasts, and otherwise keep track of very narrow preferences.  I don’t know that I understand the music world anymore; I only understand music.

I’m not quite sure how that helps me now–but maybe it does.  There have been a few times when I have received notes from people who found me because of my time travel movies materials (probably the part of the regular site that gets the heaviest traffic) who then were pleased to discover my gaming or Bible materials; the same can probably be said for those sections, that people who find one part of the site sometimes then discover other parts, and become, if we can use the word, “fans” of my writing more broadly.  Quite a few people are enjoying the serialization of the novels, whatever their original interests in me might have been.  This, then, has the potential to grow the base; if readers link articles on one subject or another on their social media sites, their friends and contacts discover what I’m writing, and some of them discover more than just that article.  In the long term, it might mean more support through the Patreon campaign.  If one web log post gets attention, it inherently promotes other web log posts.  If one law and politics article draws interest, readers find their way to more.  If something goes viral, it’s a shot in the arm for everything–at least a few readers out of thousands will return to see what else is here in the future.  All of that is good.

So here’s hoping that something can become “internet active”.

Thanks for your encouragement and support.

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#72: Being an Author

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #72, on the subject of Being an Author.

One of my sons was in some sort of meeting or interview and was asked what his father did.  “He’s an author,” was his reply.

I wasn’t present, so I don’t know what was said or done at that moment, but my son got the distinct impression of disdain, a sort of, “Right, he’s a layabout who does nothing and thinks that people should give him money for scribbing on paper, but what does he have to show for it?”  My son, at least, felt that I was being insulted by the questioner’s attitude.

What strangers think of me is of no consequence, although I am concerned about the opinions of my readers and other fans (I am more than an author, being also a game designer and a musician and a Bible teacher).  I am more concerned that one of my other sons seems at times to be of the opinion that I waste my time trying to succeed at such a career, that I should have a “real” job that makes enough money to support the family.  He is not old enough to have known our lives when I was not making enough money to support the family working as a radio announcer, a microfilm technician, a drywall installer and painter, or a health insurance claims processor.  I suppose perhaps there are people who claim to be authors who lack any skill or talent in the field, and I think everyone in creative fields faces some self-doubt, some uncertainty as to whether they are really “good enough” to do this.  However, I think the notion that someone is not an author, or that this is a foolish idea, a flawed self-perception, is difficult to justify.  I am an author; I might not be terribly successful at it, but there are good reasons why the latter is not a good measure of the former.

img0072Novel

This is not really about whether or not I am an “author” so much as about what it takes to qualify for that title.  For my part, I thought I would be a musician, and had the idea of being an author on a distant back burner–in college, circa 1977, I took a class entited Creative Writing:  Fiction, and began work on a fantasy epic that quickly bogged down into trouble and wound up on that same distant back burner.  Either the Lord or happenstance, depending on your viewpoint, landed me at WNNN-FM, a contemporary Christian radio station, first as a disc jockey/announcer, working my way up ultimately to program director, with a side job editing (and largely writing) the radio station newsletter.  Along the way I developed a relationship with the associate editor of a local newspaper (The Elmer Times), which at some point published a couple of pieces of political satire I wrote, about 1983.  I was published, but I was not yet thinking of myself as an author.  I also started putting together some notes about the controversy over Dungeons & Dragons™, and somewhere around 1991 composed a draft of an article which I tried unsuccessfully to farm to a few Christian magazines, impeded perhaps by the fact that I didn’t actually subscribe to or regularly read any magazines.

Late in I think 1992 Ed Jones approached me about co-authoring his game idea, “Multiverse”, which was ultimately to become Multiverser™.  I had been running original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ since 1980, and he had been playing in my game for perhaps a year (and I for a slightly shorter time in his) during which we had had discussed role playing games generally at length and I had become one of his Multiverser™ playtesters; he had read the unpublished article.  In the spring of 1997 he withdrew from the project due to complications in his personal life and left me to finish the work and publish the game later that fall.  I now had two books in print (the Referee’s Rules and The First Book of Worlds), but did not think of myself as an author so much as a game designer.  I started half a dozen web sites (now all either gone or consolidated here as various sections of M. J. Young Net) primarily to promote the game; that defense of Dungeons & Dragons™ article I’d drafted a decade before became one of the founding works under the title Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict, along with web sites on time travel, D&D, law and politics, and Bible.  Still, the publication of Multiverser led to invitations to write for role playing game related web sites–starting with Gaming Outpost and extending to include articles at RPGNet, Places to Go, People to Be, The Forge, Roleplayingtips.com, and perhaps half a dozen others which no longer exist.  I was also asked to become the Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, and contributed to their e-zine The Way, The Truth, and the Dice, and wrote a few articles mostly about such subjects as business, e-commerce, and morality in politics, which appeared on various sites around the web.  Multiverser:  The Second Book of Worlds went to print, confirming my authenticity as a game designer.

Sometime in 1998 Valdron Inc started discussing publishing a Multiverser comic book series, and since I was the in-house writer it fell to me to create the stories.  I began these, working as if they were comic books, writing individual panels.  I actually did not know that many authors who wrote books also wrote comic books and “illustrated novels”, but it was a short-lived endeavor–I wrote three issues, two episodes for each, and then the in-house artists said that there was no way that a comic could be produced on the kind of budget we had, and everything went onto that proverbial back burner, where it simmered.  However, this one started to boil over, and after consulting with Valdron’s people I rewrote those episodes and created Multiverser‘s first novel–my first novel–Verse Three, Chapter One.  Valdron put it into print, and we sold a few hardcover copies; I have no idea of the number.  However, at this point I thought of myself as an author:  I had a novel in print.

When I was in high school I worked stage crew (yeah, you probably guessed that, right?), as a sophomore for the junior class play.  At one point one of the characters questions another about a book he’d written.  It wasn’t a big deal, the author says; it only sold three hundred copies.  I’d like to read it, the questioner continued; where can I get it?  From me, the author responded; I have three hundred copies.  In the trade there has long been what is disdainfully called “vanity press”, the ability to write your own book and have it printed for a few thousand dollars, receiving a few hundred copies which you then can sell entirely on your own.  In the digital age that has become more complicated.  It is now possible to go through companies like Lulu.com and print your book at very little cost, get an international standard book number (ISBN), and have it listed through Amazon and other retailers.  That is not how those first four books went to press, but some might think they were “vanity press” anyway.  Having been through law school, I undertook the necessary steps to create a corporation, sold stock, got the stockholders to elect a board of directors who in turn appointed corporate officers, and spearheaded the effort to publish and promote the Multiverser game system and supplements.  I would say that none of us had a clue what we should do, but that’s not quite true–we all had a few clues, and we proceeded to stumble through the effort.  It would be wrong to say that the company was entirely comprised of my friends and family.  Many of the stockholders were family or friends, and most of the rest were friends of family or friends of friends, and of course it being a small company I ultimately met all of them, chatting with them at stockholder picnics and such.  My next few books were closer to the “vanity press” sort.  I wrote What Does God Expect?  A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct, and when Valdron decided they did not want to be more closely associated with Christian book publishing I asked people for ideas on getting it in print, and thus was introduced to Lulu.com.  That was also the venue I used to release About the Fruit, and I have not quite completed the process of releasing a book entitled Do You Trust Me? due to a failure on my part to stick to the process.  Valdron released a book version of what might be called the first season of the Game Ideas Unlimited series from Gaming Outpost; at the same time I did the same for the series entitled Faith and Gaming that had been published at the Christian Gamers Guild web site.  Some time after that Blackwyrm Publishing approached me about permitting them to publish an expanded edition of Faith and Gaming, and thus one of my books is in print through a publishing house in which I hold no interest otherwise.

The question, then, is not really whether I am an author.  Depending on how you count them I have between eight and ten books in print (two titles were published in two different editions); some of my online articles have been translated and printed in the French gaming magazine Joie de Role, and I was for quite a few years paid for regular contributions to TheExaminer.com.  The question is at what point I became an author.

In this I am reminded that many authors struggle for many years.  Steven King’s financial problems were so great that even after he was famous and made a television commercial for them, American Express would not authorize a card for him; he kept a day job as a teacher until he sold the movie rights to Christine, which is when the tide turned for him.  Was he an author when his books were not bestsellers and he had to teach to support himself?  J. K. Rowling struggled as a single mother, and reportedly received a mere six thousand pounds for the rights to the first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; she is now reportedly wealthier than the Queen of England.  Was she an author when she was writing the book that started it all–and if so, who knew?

I have always been a musician; I have never made much money at it.  I have composed hundreds of songs, performed thousands times, been part of dozens of bands, choirs, combos, performing groups, and accompanist groups, and had some avid fans (in college some wanted to print Bach and Young T-shirts, but it was not so easy then).  I have one album, Collision Of Worlds, on the market.  Am I not a musician because I don’t make a living at it?  There are thousands upon thousands of singers and instrumentalists who play bars and nightclubs, weddings and parties, who hold regular jobs; it is a joke in the music industry to say to a young musician, “Don’t quit your day job.”  Are those not musicians, because they cannot support themselves doing what they love?

I am not an artist, but it is typical in the art world that painters and sculptors struggle for decades to make a name for themselves, to make a living creating artwork, only to die penniless–and then suddenly to have everything they ever created leap to new values.  Were they not really artists during their lives, but became so the moment they died?

In the creative world, people create, and it is that aspect of creating that makes them authors–or poets, artists, musicians.  Some authors eke out a living; some become incredibly wealthy; some spend more than they earn trying to become known.  That is true in all the creative arts, including filmmaking–for every Robert Townsend Hollywood Shuffle success story there are dozens of good but failed independent films.  Herman Melville was not well known prior to writing Moby Dick, despite having written for newspapers and magazines.  Being an author is not primarily defined by commercial success; it is defined by creative product.

I should footnote this by mentioning that that first novel has now been released on the Internet, and the second is following it in serialized format beginning today.  I am an author, even if I give away my product.  Your support through Patreon and otherwise helps make it possible for me to publish and you to enjoy some of that.  It does not change whether I am an author, only whether I am viewed as successful.

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#70: Writing Backwards and Forwards

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #70, on the subject of Writing Backwards and Forwards.

When I was at TheExaminer, I eventually took to creating indices of articles previously published; when I moved everything here last summer, I included those indices, and finished one that covered the first half of 2015 (through July).  On the last day of December I did a review piece indexing the rest of that year, as #34:  Happy Old Year.

It may seem premature to do another index; it is not even falling on a logical date (although as I write this I am not completely certain on which day it is going to be published).  However, some new “static” pages have made it to the web site, and quite a few more web log entries, and it seems to be a time of decision concerning what lies ahead.  Thus this post will take a look at everything that has been published so far this year, and give some consideration to options going forward.  You might find the informal index helpful; I do hope that you will read the latter part about the future of the site.

img0070Blog

Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel

The most popular part of the web site is probably still the temporal anomalies pages.  It certainly stimulates the most mail, and the five web log posts (including those in the previous index) addressing temporal issues received 30% of the blog post traffic.  We added one static page since then, a temporal analysis of the movie 41.  We also added post #56:  Temporal Observations on the book Outlander, briefly considering its time travel elements of the first book in the series that has made it to cable television.  We’d like to do more movies, and there are movies out there, but the budget at present does not pay for video copies.

This part of the site has been recognized oft by others (before it was a Sci-Fi Weekly Site of the Week it was an Event Horizon Hotspot), and the latest to do so is the new Time Travel Nexus, a promising effort to create a hub for all things time-travel related; we wish them well, and thank them for including links to our efforts here.  They recently invited me to write time travel articles for them, although if I do it will have to be something different, and we have not yet determined quite what.

Legal/Political

By sheer number of posts, this is the biggest section of the web log.  Although since the last of these indexing posts it has been running even with posts about writing and fiction, it has a significant head start, with half of the articles in that index connected to law or politics primarily.  Some of these have religious or theological connections as well–that can’t be helped, as even the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights recognizes that the protection of your right to believe what you wish, express that belief, and gather with others who share that belief is both a religious and a political right, and cannot always be distinguished.  (Anyone who says that religion and politics should always be kept separate misses this critical point, that they are really the same thing.  It’s a bit like saying that philosophy and theology should be kept separate–the difference is not whether God is involved, but how much emphasis is placed on Him.  So, too, politics is about religious beliefs in application.)

Trying to sort these into sub-categories is difficult.  Several had to do with legal regulation of health care, several with discrimination, and we had articles on freedom of expression, government and constitutional issues, election matters.  These twenty-seven articles together drew 35% of readers to the web log, but a substantial part of that–13%–went to the two articles about the X-Files discrimination flap.  One article on this list has received not a single visit since it posted.  Thus rather than attempt to make sense of them, I’ll just list them in the order they appeared, with a bit of explanation for each:

Bible/Theology

As mentioned, some of the political posts are simultaneously religious or theological, and I won’t repeat those here.  There is one post that is really about everything, about the very existence of this blog, but which I have decided to list as primarily in this category:  #51:  In Memoriam on Groundhog Day, 160202.  This is a eulogy of sorts for my father, Cornelius Bryant Young, Jr., who is certainly the reason for the existence of the political materials, as he significantly supported my law school education and then regaled me with questions about whether Barrack Obama was a legitimate President.  He is missed.

I also wrote #65:  Being Married, which is not exactly my advice but my choice of the best advice I’ve received over several decades of marriage.  I’m hoping some found it helpful.

It should be noted that five days a week I post a study of scripture, and on a sixth day I post another essentially religious/theological/devotional post, on the Christian Gamers Guild’s Chaplain’s Teaching List.  That is far too many links to include here, but if you’re interested you can find the group through this explanatory page.

Game-related

There were a couple game-related posts in the previous index, this time two of them specifically about Multiverser.  There was some discussion about some of its mechanics on a Facebook thread, and so I gave some explanations for how and why two aspects of the system work–the first, in #38:  Multiverser Magic, 160112:  addressing difficulties people expressed concerning its magic system, the second, in #40:  Multiverser Cover Value, 160114:  explaining the perhaps not as complicated as it seems way it determines the effect of armor.

There was also another game-related post, #44:  The Feeling of Victory, 160121:  which discussed a pinball game experience to illustrate a concept of fun game play.

The award-winning Dungeons & Dragons™ section of the site (most notably chosen as an old-school gem by Knights of the Dinner Table) continues to get occasional notice; someone recently asked to use part of the character creation materials for work they were doing on a different game, and someone asked if I had a copy of my house rules somewhere, in relation to some specific reference I made to them.  Although I’m running a game currently, I don’t know that anything new will appear there.  The good people at Places to Go, People to Be are continuing to unearth the lost Game Ideas Unlimited articles and translating for their French edition.  Unfortunately, Je parle un tres petit peux de francais; I can’t read my own work there.

Logic and Reasoning

Periodically a topic arises that is really only about thinking about things.  That came up a couple times in the past couple months.  first, someone wrote an article about the severe environmental impact of using the universal serial bus (USB) power port in your car to charge your smartphone while you drive, and in #45:  The Math of Charging Your Phone, 160122, we examined the math and found it at least a bit alarmist.  Then when people around here were frantically stripping local grocery store shelves of all the ingredients for French Toast (milk, bread, and eggs) because of a severe weather forecast, we published #46:  Blizzard Panic, 160124.

On Writing

I left this category for last for a couple of reasons, several of those reasons stemming from the fact that most of this connects to the free electronic publication of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and I just published the last installment of that to the site.  You can find it fully indexed, every chapter with a one-line reminder (not a summary, just a quip that will recall the events of a chapter to those who have read it but hopefully not spoil it for those who have not), here.  There have been about seventy-five chapters since the last of these posts, and that (like the Bible study posts) is too much to copy here when it is available there.  That index also includes links to these web log posts, but since this is here to provide links to the posts, I’ll include them here, and then continue with the part about the future of the site.

  1. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front, 160101:  The eighth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 43 through 48.
  2. #37:  Character Diversity, 160108:  The ninth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 49 through Chapter 54.
  3. #39:  Character Futures, 160113:  The tenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 55 through 60.
  4. #43:  Novel Worlds, 160119:  The eleventh behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 61 through 66.
  5. #47:  Character Routines, 160125:  The twelfth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 67 through 72.
  6. #50:  Stories Progress, 160131:  The thirteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 73 through 78.
  7. #53:  Character Battles, 160206:  The fourteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 79 through 84.
  8. #55:  Stories Winding Down, 160212:  The fifteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 85 through 90.
  9. #57:  Multiverse Variety, 160218:  The sixteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 91 through 96.
  10. #59:  Verser Lives and Deaths, 160218:  The seventeenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 97 through 102.
  11. #61:  World Transitions, 160301:  The eighteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 103 through 108.
  12. #64:  Versers Gather, 160307:  The nineteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 109 through 114.
  13. #66:  Character Quest, 160313:  The twentieth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 115 through 120.
  14. #69:  Novel Conclusion, 160319:  The twenty-first and final behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 121 through 126.

The Future of the Site

I would like to be able to say that the future holds more of the same.  There are still plenty of time travel movies to analyze; I have started work on the analysis of a film entitled Time Lapse, but it will take at least a few days I expect.  This is a presidential election year and we have clowns to the left and jokers to the right, as the song said, and with the extreme and growing polarization of America there are plenty of hot issues, so there should be ample material for more political and legal columns.  The first novel has run its course, but there are more books in the pipeline which could possibly appear here.

However, it unfortunately all comes down to money.  My generous Patreon patrons are paying the hosting fees to keep this site alive, but I am a long way from meeting the costs of internet access and the other expenses of being here.  Time travel movies cost money even when viewed on Netflix.

The second novel, Old Verses New, is finished–sort of.  No artwork was ever done for it, and it is actually more difficult to promote articles on the Internet that do not have pictures (frustrating for someone who is a writer and musician but has no meaningful skill in the visual arts).  More complicating, Valdron Inc invested some money into it, paying an outside editor to go through it, and they still hope to find a way to recoup their investment at least.  I might have to buy their interest in it to be able to deliver it to you, and that again means more money.

So what can you do?

If you are not already a Patreon supporter, sign up.  A monthly dollar from every reader of the site would not make me wealthy, and probably would not cover all the bills, but it would go a long way in that direction.  Even a few more people giving five or ten dollars a month to keep me live would make a massive difference.  I think Patreon also has a means of making a one-time gift, and that also helps.

Even if you can’t do that, you can promote the site.  Whenever there is a new post or page here you think was worth a moment to read, take another moment to forward it–it is easy to do through most social media sites, some of which have buttons on the bottoms of the web log pages for quick posting, and in all cases I post new entries at Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and even MySpace, all of which have some way of easily sharing or recommending posts.  Let people know if there’s a good political piece, or time travel article, or whatever it is.  Increased readership means, among other things, an increased potential donor base–support to keep us alive here.

There are other ways to help.  Several time travel fans have over the years provided DVD copies of movies, either from their own libraries or purchased and sent directly to me, all of which have been analyzed.  I now also have the ability (thanks to a gifted piece of not-quite-obsolete discarded technology) to watch YouTu.be and Netflix videos on my old (not widescreen) television, and with some difficulty to watch other internet videos on borrowed Chromecast equipment (not as satisfactory–can’t pause or rewind without leaving the room to access the desktop).  Links to (safe and legal) copies of theatrically-released time travel movies make it possible to cover them now, for as long as the money keeps me online.  (Yes, even “free” videos cost money to see.)  One reader very kindly gave me a Fandango gift card to see Terminator Genisys in the theatre, which was a great help and enabled me to do the quick temporal survey published here, although I had to obtain a copy of the DVD to do the full analysis web page (it is nigh impossible to take notes in a darkened movie theatre, and very difficult to get all the vital details from an audio recording).

You can also ask questions.  I don’t check e-mail very often (seriously, people started using it like an instant messaging system, I have cut back to every three to six weeks) but I do check it and will continue to do so as long as the hosting service and internet access can be maintained; I interact through Facebook and (to a much lesser degree) the other social media sites mentioned, and often take a question from elsewhere to address here.  That gives me material in which you, the readers, are interested.  I do write about things which interest me, but I do so in the hope that they also interest you, and if I know which ones do that helps more.

So here’s to the future, whatever it may bring, and to the hope that you will help it bring more to M. J. Young Net and the mark Joseph “young” web log.

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#53: Character Battles

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #53, on the subject of Character Battles.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48), and
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72), and
  13. #50:  Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78).

This picks up from there.  All three of our characters are involved in some kind of fight in these chapters.

img0053Phila

There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.


Chapter 79, Slade 26

I have never been a sports enthusiast, but I was forced to play a bit in high school and knew something of the various games.  Football is a particularly good example here, as each player has to do his job but probably does not know what the other players are doing—only that if they all do the little part they need to do, the guy who does understand the whole plan will see to it that they achieve the desired result.  My job might be only to push this incoming lineman to the left, but the result should be that our receiver goes through the hole that helps create and we advance the ball a few yards.

I would feel bad about stealing matter transmission, except I don’t know who created the idea.  They had it in Blake’s 7, and mine is most like theirs, but I saw it in Star Trek before that, and it was on Doctor Who at least as early as the Tom Baker years.

In my explanations of what happens when someone “verses out” I noticed that it was very like what theoretically happens in matter transmission:  the molecular structure of the body is disassembled, moved, and reassembled.  Thus for Slade his first transmat would feel similar to his last verse-out.  He’d never been fully conscious for that, but fortunately I’d already moved him to that semi-conscious state for his arrival here, so it was something that would feel familiar.


Chapter 80, Hastings 28

The idea of blessing water as it filled the tank of a pumper truck was mine.  We used it when we went after the Presemium, a high-brow theater that was the third of the three major vampire strongholds in Ed’s version of Chicago—it had underground caverns, and I wanted them flooded with holy water.  Since at this point I knew Lauren was not going to stay in this world long enough to do all that I had done, I decided to use the pumper truck, and several other bits we used at the Presemium, at the Pit.  (I also did a psionic transmutation, changing the water in the fire sprinkler system to alcohol, but I did not include that in the books.)

The camp food was modeled on Gumper’s Four-man Meal Packs, a staple of long-trek hikes and canoe trips.

I think I inserted this short chapter to give the feeling of delay, of the passage of time before the attack on the Pit, hoping that the reader would feel some anticipation from it.


Chapter 81, Kondor 27

I may have seen something like the ram catcher in a game source book somewhere, but I can’t recall to credit it.  I might have invented it and used it here initially, and then seen something like it elsewhere.

The fact that arrows are not terribly effective against skeletons is a Dungeons & Dragons™ trope, but it makes sense to me.

Eventually, when I designed this world for game play, I had to work out how the wizard did his magic; at this point, he only needed to be able to do it, particularly since Kondor, a disbeliever, would not be interested in how Sowan thought he did it.


Chapter 82, Slade 27

Two things are happening in this chapter, really.  One is that I am trying to give the impression of critical sections of the ship—a liquid or gas cooling system, a computer mainframe, and something like rods to control the reaction in a nuclear reactor—without actually saying what anything really did and so limiting the future technology or causing Slade to appear to know more than he did.

The other is that I’m trying to turn a routine raid into an action story.  The alarm sounding and the appearance of the technician are part of that effort, creating problems that have to be overcome.

The expression about there being no good plan Bs is something of a family enigma.  I’m sure I heard it from my brother Roy, who is equally sure he got it from me.  I joke that since I included it in my novel, I’ll be credited for it, but I suspect there’s someone out there who came up with it first who hasn’t gotten credit for it.

I wanted one-man life pods so that it would make sense for Slade to be alone.  They’re not exactly sensible, but you do see them on some science fiction movies.


Chapter 83, Hastings 29

I had staying power—Ed complained about how difficult it was to get my character out of a world, and he never actually succeeded in getting me out of this one.  Lauren is reflecting that to some degree, winning and surviving against the odds.  She is the only one of the characters at this point still in the original world—although in fairness, Slade stayed in his first world for a couple decades, and Kondor for perhaps a dozen years, and it’s really only been a few months for Lauren.  Still, I was going to have to move her out of this world, and I knew that this event was my best shot—if I did not do it now, I was going to have to expand into a lot of much more difficult adventures (my work eventually involved a paranatural predator, a ghost, an Egyptian curse, and a wizard, all of which were crazy open-ended stories).  So I knew going into this that somehow Lauren was going to come to the end during this fight.

This chapter is laced with Lauren’s scripture verses.  I wanted to establish them, and convey the texts to the reader.

The dimming is of course the wizardry of Horta, battling against her.  We’ve got a contest of skills and power here.

The baptism quote is one of my favorite “people get this wrong all the time” verses, which is why Lauren explains it.

The wizard whom Bethany replaces brought a Barbie doll—he seemed to be fixated on the things—and when he cast his spell it walked into the fray stabbing people in the ankles with something like a hat pin.  He complained that it was supposed to grow to be forty feet tall or something.  I wasn’t doing dolls with Bethany, and thought that military toys were a better choice.

The soldier was not an unreasonable possibility, given the priest’s connections with the hunters, but the real reason for having him here was to give Lauren the bullets that Joe was going to need in the last adventure.  I did not yet know what that was, exactly, but it was taking shape and I knew that he was going to be short on ammo and needing more.

I still did not realize that Lauren would be fighting Horta in the past, or that there would be a more powerful vampire, Tubrok.  Still, this confrontation was going to be adequate for the climax of this world.


Chapter 84, Kondor 28

C. S. Lewis somewhere spoke of the “materialist magician”, the person who tapped supernatural powers but believed they were entirely natural abilities of his own.  Kondor has something of that perspective of the wizard—who is not such a person, who actually is knowingly tapping supernatural energies.  However, he is correct that there is a difference between having mental abilities beyond those of everyone else that give you unexpected powers and using magic—he just fails to recognize that the latter is also possible.

Joe tells the dying man he’s going to be all right, and maybe he thinks so, if he can get back in time to help him; but there is something to the need for medical personnel to encourage positive thinking in patients, who are more likely to recover if they believe they will, and so it may be that this is just something Joe has learned as part of “bedside manner”.

Joe is faced with another evidence that what he thinks is happening is incorrect, as the dying soldier dies and comes back to life as a zombie to attack him.  First he has to deal with the problem; then he has to explain it to himself in a way that fits his view of the universe.


Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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#44: The Feeling of Victory

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #44, on the subject of The Feeling of Victory.

Moments ago I finished a game of computer pinball, and it was such an exciting finish–on the final ball I finished the extra point task list, crossed the two million mark, and lost the ball, all within a second, and I couldn’t help going, yes.

Don’t get me wrong.  Two million is a paltry score, even by my standards. I have to break six or seven million just to get on my own leader board, and I think that my record score is up somewhere above fourteen.  This wasn’t a particularly well-played game overall.  It was just–

Screenshot of 3D Pinball Space Cadet (c)Microsoft

It illustrates something that every game designer and every role playing game referee needs to grasp.  It is something inherent in Multiverser, something that I tried to capture in the novels.  Some call it the “payoff”.  It’s the feeling, perhaps the “rush”, you get when you do something special.

Note that you don’t have to win.  You don’t even have to break even.  You don’t have to have reached some pre-defined goal.  At no point did I think that I wanted to reach two million–on throwaway games of pinball, I figure I did fine if I passed the million mark, and I’d done that.  Nor did I give much thought to whether I was going to “complete the mission” by hitting all the intended targets.  It was this juxtaposition, the unexpected success on both of those in-game milestones at the moment of defeat.

After all, let’s face it, you never “win” pinball.  It’s not like Solitaire, where sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and if you know enough you can improve your odds.  With pinball, you keep playing, and you keep winning, until suddenly you lose.  You can count it a win if your particularly high losing score is high enough to put you on the leader board.  Yet this unwinnable game has an appeal of its own, an appeal that comes from the small victories along the way, and particularly from the unexpected ones, the ones that come in under the wire, the ones that surprise.  It’s fine for me to lose, as long as at some point I felt like I won–even if it’s the same moment.

It’s fine to run or design a game in which people lose.  In Multiverser, player characters get killed all the time.  Ron Edwards once wrote that the game had some of the best answers to the problem of character death, because we use it to advance the plot into the next adventure.  You lost the round; get ready for the next round, because you get to keep playing, you’re just on a different board.  The game you lost isn’t lost if you won something along the way, and the sting of defeat is considerably mitigated by the thrill of a victory gained at that same moment.  People love their victories, but they also love their glorious defeats.  Icarus may have crashed and burned, but for a moment there, he was flying.

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#40: Multiverser Cover Value

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #40, on the subject of Multiverser Cover Value.

In a thread on Facebook on a completely different issue (an article I encountered on an effective non-lethal weapon) posters made some comments about the complexity of the Multiverser game system.  I don’t happen to think it that complex, really (to create an Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ character without limiting in advance what the player might want to be, the referee needs to have access to twelve of the thirteen hard-cover volumes), but they did tackle two of the more complicated areas:  the spell system and the way to calculate cover value for armor.  I promised to provide answers, and since I no longer have the Gaming Outpost forum for such things, the answers are going to land here.  We previously addressed the issue of Multiverser magic; this entry will deal with the cover value problem.

Combat image from Multiverser: The Game: Referee's Rules, by Jim Denaxas, (c)E. R. Jones & M. Joseph Young

This part of it was raised by one of the most experienced Multiverser referees out there, my own son Kyler:

While you’re talking about complicated math in multiverser, I’m surprised no one has brought up Cover. That was one of the first things I changed when I was trying to streamline the system.

The math for Cover can get ridiculously complicated when you’re wearing layers of armor. “Add this, divide that. Take into account material density.” I abandoned it in favor of a system that focused more on where you were hit and ascribed a damage value to each piece of armor.

I’m not saying that the Multiverser system’s way of dealing with it is bad. I’m just saying that it’s needlessly complex, basically no matter what we’re trying to do.

Ouch.

Well, in my defense, the rule book does say that calculating cover is a complicated bit of math–but at the same time, that you don’t have to do it generally, as once for any piece of armor is sufficient.  Reading some of the other comments on the thread, I’ll note that if for Multiverser purposes you’ve calculated the “cover value” of five different pieces of armor, and you wear them all, your cover value is simply the sum of all the pieces you’re wearing, even if they cover the same body parts.  So the math is only difficult when a particular piece of armor is created or acquired, and after that the only question is whether you’re wearing the same pieces or left something off.

So, what is the complication?

How well armor protects is based on two factors, one of which is also based on two factors.  The one factor is how much of the body the armor covers.  It is kind of the joke that people wear bullet proof vests but are easily killed by a shot to the head.  That’s why combat and riot gear includes helmets.  The system would be complicated indeed if we required the referee to work out how much protection was afforded to each part of the body, but we allow a sort of fiction here–if you’re wearing a bullet proof vest, you are that much harder to hit, and the “cover value” takes into account that blows against your torso are less likely to penetrate, even though your head is still vulnerable.  In theory, someone can aim for an unprotected head, but they’d take a size penalty on the shot.

The second factor is how difficult it is to penetrate.  We know from history that iron armor protects better than bronze armor, because iron weapons are more likely to penetrate bronze armor but not iron armor.  It thus follows that a suit of white dwarf alloy (if such a thing could be obtained and worn) would protect better than a suit of aluminum.  We cover this factor with a density number–nothing too scientific, just the application of a game concept of “density” extended to cover materials that have not yet been created.  We also allow the issue of thickness, when it comes to armor–if you make your armor twice as thick, it’s more difficult to penetrate–but that particular factor is usually ignored because thicker armor of that sort is overly restrictive:  armor that is twice as heavy is only twenty-five percent more protective.

So the system really comes down to these two factors:

  1. How much of your body is covered by the armor?
  2. How hard is it to penetrate the material covering it?

It’s not usually difficult.  For example, let’s suppose someone gets a full suit of jointed full plate armor.  The book suggests that such a suit covers ninety-five percent of the body–there are some slots for vision and air in the front of the visor, and a few small gaps where the metal comes together most of which open and close as the body moves.  It would be made of a relatively hard metal, but that could be a softer one like bronze or a harder one like steel.  Thus there’s a range of densities for hard metals, from 2@6 to 4@8.  From there it’s simple to convert the values to “decimalized” numbers and multiply.  If we’re looking at 95% coverage at 2@6 density, that comes to 26 x 0.95=24.7, which we round to 25, a 25 percentage point penalty on incoming attacks.  If we have heavier denser metal, say a 4@8, that’s 48 x 0.95=45.6, again rounded to 46.

It looks complicated probably probably for two reasons.  One is because of that table in the book that looks like this (you don’t have to read this table, it’s just here so you can see it):

From Multiverser: The Game: Referee's Rules, (c)E. R. Jones & M. Joseph Young

That makes it look complicated–add this, subtract that, put it all together to get a number–but ultimately, all it’s really saying is, figure out how completely the wearer is covered.  It tries to take into account things that should be considered–chain doesn’t really cover your entire body because it has little holes in it, and we’ve all read stories about the arrow or knife that went through the holes in the chain armor.  Ultimately, though, all the referee really needs to do is decide what percentage of the body is covered–or conversely not covered–to get his basic “percent covered”.  That’s all that that table is for.

The second complication arises, though, when players attempt to “game the system”.  They’ll usually try to make armor thicker to get more protection out of it–and sure, a phone book is harder to penetrate than a manila envelope, so thickness does matter.  It does not matter if the design uses layers–that is, if you’re wearing a chain shirt under solid breast and backplates, you get the full value of both.  It’s only complicated if you make the material thicker, such as making the breastplate half an inch thick instead of a (standard) quarter inch.  That requires a bit of math–but the thickness of the armor is not going to change, and wearing multiple layers of armor is simple addition, so you only have to do the complicated bit once.

After all, how many times does someone get a new suit of armor?  A few minutes to work out how effective it is should not be that much of a problem.

The game also has rules for ablative armor–armor which protects by absorbing damage–but these rules in essence say that unless the ablative armor is also stated to provide cover value, it does not provide cover value and so isn’t part of this calculation at all.  There can also be complications if someone is hiding behind a wall and someone else is destroying the wall, but that’s an attack on cover or structures, not at all about armor, so it’s not part of the usual “cover value” issue.

Or did I miss something?

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#1: Probabilities and Solitaire

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0001, on the subject of Probabilities and Solitaire.

solitaire

I expect that this blog is going to tackle a lot of issues–I am already working on another on marriage and another on copyright and another on why I left TheExaminer–and judging from past response I will get a lot more hate mail than thank you notes (although I appreciate both). However, I thought it best to begin with something light and inconsequential, something that has been nagging at me periodically for a long time that more than anything else shows how foolish we “superintelligent” people can be, as we get mentally stuck on little things that bother us.

I had been thinking about part of this article for a number of years, and kept saying it would be a silly waste of time. Then probably a year or more ago I was watching the TV series Scorpion. As one episode opens, math savant Sylvester has been charged with entertaining Paige until the rest of the team returns from somewhere, and he hands her a deck of cards, recommends she play Solitaire for a while, and then–this was the part that bothered me–tells her the odds of winning. The more I think about it, the more I think he can’t know that.

I have played Solitaire since before high school, and I won’t argue as to whether he did the math right; my argument is that there are too many variables, things he cannot know. Never mind that Hoyle has an entire chapter on solitaire card games, even if we assume agreement that it is the standard seven-pile variant in which there are increasingly from one to seven cards in each pile with the top card faced, there are still too many variants. Even in the popular MicroSoft® computer version you can switch between advancing the pile three cards at a time (the traditional version) or each card individually, and with the latter your odds of winning rise significantly (because with the three-at-a-time rules there are often cards you cannot put in play that would move the game forward). Too, I was taught that with the three-card variant when you got to the end of the pile you went back to the top, but with the one card variant you got only one pass through the deck–which significantly lowers your odds. I have also known players who believe that after each pass they are permitted to shuffle the deck before beginning the next pass, or that if as they reach the end they have only one or two cards (not three) in the pile these go on top of the others so that what was the first card becomes the second or third (both rules making it much easier to free cards from the deck). Before you can calculate the odds, you have to know the rules.

So maybe Sylvester was thinking of “standard” rules–three cards at a time, repeated passes, no rollover or shuffle–and maybe on that basis you might calculate the odds. However, there is still the matter of strategy, and some people enforce rules that interfere with strategy.

I know about this because when I played Solitaire for years as a youth (what, you thought I was a popular kid always out with friends?) I played with real playing cards. Whenever I lost, I faced all the cards to see why I lost–I learned that you could be stopped if a card on top of a pile was sitting on the card you had to have to move it, and exactly what that meant, and how sometimes to avoid it. I think it a shame that the computer version does not let you do this, look at cards in the piles when you lose. It was a significant part of my education in game probabilities. In the game, you can make choices, and the way you choose impacts your ability to win.

What you have to understand is that winning Solitaire is achieved by freeing all the trapped cards. As the game begins, twenty-one cards are trapped on the board–six under the right-hand pile, five to its left, down to one in the second pile from the left end. In order to free these cards you must legally move the cards above them. There are also cards trapped in the deck from which cards are drawn. In traditional rules games the hardest of these to reach is the top card, as you must move both the second and the third to reach it; note that you can reach the fourth card in any of several ways, as it can be reached by moving the sixth and fifth, or by removing the third and waiting for the second pass, or by removing the third and second then on the second pass removing what was the original fifth and is now the third. Because of this, cards in the deck are the easier ones to free, and progressively more so the further down the deck they are. (There are initially twenty-four cards in the deck, and on the first pass eight will be accessible if none are removed.)

So how do you improve your odds of winning?

The first rule is do not make a move simply because you can; make a move because it improves your position. There are people who play that if they can move they must move, but if for example the three of hearts is sitting in the left pile (atop nothing) and the four of spades is on the right pile (atop six cards), there is no advantage to moving the three of hearts to the four of spades, and in fact it can cost you the game. It might be that the only way to move that four of spades is to play it to the spade pile atop the three of spades, and putting the three of hearts on it will prevent that. It might be that the three of diamonds will appear in a position in which it must be moved. Assuming the rule does not say that you must make any move you can make, the only reason to move a card that leaves an open space is that you have a king to place in that space immediately. As long as the three of diamonds does not appear, you can move the three of hearts when it becomes useful; if the three of diamonds appears and must be moved, you will be glad you did not move the three of hearts.

Second, always target moves that release the maximum number of cards. At the beginning of the game, there are six cards blocked by the card on top of the right-hand pile. That is at that moment the most important card to move. Once it has been moved, there are five still blocked–the same as the pile adjacent to it on the left–and so they become the most important cards to move. Throughout the game this changes, and when you have a choice of moves you want to be aware of what move will free the largest number of cards. It is almost always the case that moving the top card from the piles is a better move than moving one from the deck, by this measure. The computer version is your friend in this regard, because at the top of each pile the edges of the cards below appear, permitting you to count how many are still in each pile. Absent that, you probably have to remember.

As to the deck, keep track of how many cards remain in it. If the number is evenly divisible by three, you are going to see the same cards on the next pass. This is the most difficult bit strategically, as unless you have the kind of memory that allows you to keep track of the order of all the cards in the deck (and I do not) you are not going to know what moves are still possible from the remaining cards in the deck. However, on the first pass through the deck you need either to remove a number of cards from the deck, preferably nearer the top, that is not divisible by three, or you are going to have to change the board sufficiently that cards near the top are going to come into play in the next pass. Sometimes you will pass on a possible move because it will worsen your situation rather than improving it. It is better to play a card that will shift the deck on the next pass than to play a card that will restore it to the same sequence.

As an example, with the situation previously suggested, the three of hearts on the left pile atop nothing and the four of spades to the right atop six cards, you might well turn up the three of diamonds in the deck. At this point you have to decide whether or not to play the three of diamonds on the four of spades, and there are several competing issues in answering that. If the three of diamonds is the first faced card, that is, the third card in the deck, or if you have not yet played a card out of the deck on this pass, there is a strong argument not to play it–it will be in exactly the same place on the next pass, and you can see what other moves are possible before making that decision (e.g., if the king of hearts appears as the next card, and you need to move the queen of spades off the fifth pile and so moving the three of hearts is the better choice). This applies, too, if the three of diamonds is the last card in the deck, because it will be there on the next pass. On the other hand, if moving the three of diamonds out of the deck will give you new cards on the next pass, you want to do that, as it frees up cards in the deck. Note that deferring the decision to the next pass in the first instance has merit, because you might play two more cards from the deck in the next turn or two, and had you played the three of diamonds that would mean you played three cards from the deck and will see mostly or all the same cards on the next pass.

Another factor in the probabilities is that there are more ways to move a low card than a high one. If you are trying to decide whether to open a space for a king by moving the three of hearts or the eight of diamonds, it is probably better to put the three of hearts on the black four because once the ace-two of hearts are played it will be possible to remove the three. If you put the eight of diamonds on the nine of clubs, it is going to sit there until you get seven other cards played to the ace pile, or you have the unlikely opportunity to move it to the nine of spades (which again is something some players do not allow: splitting a pile to move part of it).

It is also advisable that you not let your ace piles become too disparate. If your diamonds pile gets up around seven or eight and you still don’t have your black aces, it is going to be much harder to find places for all those black cards that have no ace piles and no diamonds on which to be played. This is again a balancing issue: it is more important to get the cards in the piles into play than to worry about the disparity on the ace piles, but that ace pile disparity can prevent you from doing so if it goes wrong. You can (in most games, again some have a rule against this) play cards back from the ace piles to the main piles, but only if there are places for them, and that, too, can be blocked.

One last note: kings are ultimately the easiest cards to move after aces. (It is never a bad move to start an ace pile, unless moving the ace will lock your draw deck.) A queen can be moved to one of three places–the two black kings and the proper suit ace pile. A king can go to the ace pile and to any of the seven board piles once they are open. That makes moving kings a lower priority than moving any other card, and the other cards should be moved first if you have both moves available, unless it is clear that the king is blocking a significant number of other cards and the other move is not.

Hopefully this is enough to get you thinking about what moves in Solitaire will improve your position and what ones will reduce your chance of winning. Before I drop the subject completely, I will mention a strategy rule I got from a Contract Bridge expert: if you can only be prevented from winning if the cards fall one way, you must play as if that is how they fall; if you can only win if the cards fall one way, you must play as if that is how they fall. Note, then, that understanding the odds of how the cards might fall will help you win more games than solitaire, and will even carry to other games of chance such as dice games.

I hope this nonsense was at least entertaining; and perhaps it was educational as well. It also probably won’t be too controversial, but if anyone has comments you know how to find me.
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