Tag Archives: Magic

#325: The 2019 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #325, on the subject of The 2019 Recap.

Happy New Year to you.  A year ago I continued the tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #278:  The 2018 Recap.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable, so that if you missed something you can find it, or if you vaguely remember something you want to read again you can hunt it down.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, that day also saw the publication of the first Faith in Play article of the year, but all twelve of those plus the dozen RPG-ology series articles are listed, described, and linked in 2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, published yesterday.  There’s some good game stuff there in addition to some good Bible stuff, including links to some articles by other talented gaming writers, and a couple contributions involving me one way or another that were not parts of either series.  Also CGG-related, I finished the Bible study on Revelation and began John in January; we’re still working through John, but thanks to a late-in-the-year problem with Yahoo!Groups that had been hosting us we had to move everything to Groups.IO, and I haven’t managed to fix all the important links yet.

At that point we were also about a quarter of the way through the novel Garden of Versers as we posted a Robert Slade chapter that same day, but that entire novel is indexed there, along with links to the web log posts giving background on the writing process.  In October we launched the sixth novel, Versers Versus Versers, which is heating up in three chapters a week, again indexed along with behind-the-writings posts there, and it will continue in the new year.  There are also links to the support pages, character sheets for the major protagonists and a few antagonists in the stories.  Also related to the novels, in October I invited reader input on which characters should be the focus of the seventh, in #318:  Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.

I wrote a few book reviews at Goodreads, which you can find there if you’re interested.  More of my earlier articles were translated for publication at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition.

So let’s turn to the web log posts.

The first one after the recap of the previous year was an answer to a personal question asked impersonally on a public forum:  how did I know I was called to writing and composing?  The answer is found in web log post #279:  My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

I had already begun a miniseries on the Christian contemporary and rock music of the seventies and early eighties–the time when I was working at the radio station and what I remembered from before that.  That series continued (and hopefully will continue this year) with:

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it is evident that the music dominated the web log this year.  In May I was invited to a sort of conference/convention in Nashville, which I attended and from which I benefited significantly.  I wrote about that in web log post #297:  An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.  While there I talked to several persons in the Christian music industry, and one of them advised me to found my own publishing company and publish my songs.  After considerable consideration I recognized that I have no skills for business, but I could put the songs out there, and so I began with a sort of song-of-the-month miniseries, the first seven songs posted this year:

  1. #301:  The Song “Holocaust”
  2. #307:  The Song “Time Bomb”
  3. #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal”
  4. #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods”
  5. #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe”
  6. #320:  The Song “Free”
  7. #322:  The Song “Voices”

I admit that I have to some degree soured on law and politics.  Polarization has gotten so bad that moderates are regarded enemies by the extremists on both sides.  However, I tackled a few Supreme Court cases, some issues in taxes including tariffs, a couple election articles, and a couple of recurring issues:

I was hospitalized more than once this year, but the big one was right near the beginning when the emergency room informed me that that pain was a myocardial infarction–in the vernacular, a heart attack.  Many of you supported me in many ways, and so I offered web log post #285:  An Expression of Gratitude.

Most of the game-related material went to the RPG-ology series mentioned at the beginning of this article, and you should visit that index for those.  I did include one role playing game article here as web log post #303:  A Nightmare Game World, a very strange scenario from a dream.

Finally, I did eventually post some time travel analyses, two movies available on Netflix.  The first was a kind of offbeat not quite a love story, Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies unravels When We First Met; the second a Spike Lee film focused on trying to fix the past, Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies unravels See You Yesterday.  For those wondering, I have not yet figured out how I can get access to the new Marvel movie Endgame, as it appears it will not be airing on Netflix and I do not expect to spring for a Disney subscription despite its appeal, at least, not unless the Patreon account grows significantly.

So that’s pretty much what I wrote this year, not counting the fact that I’m working on the second edition of Multiverser, looking for a publisher for a book entitled Why I Believe, and continuing to produce the material to continue the ongoing series into the new year.  We’ll do this again in a dozen months.

#318: Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #318, on the subject of Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.

I have mentioned this to my Patreon patrons, so if you’ve been following me there you already know something of what I am about to ask–and I am asking, seeking the opinion of my readers, which you can express here, by Patreon, on Facebook, or through any of the other social media connections I maintain (Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn).  Please don’t e-mail me–I have given up on e-mail, and your correspondence will bounce.

If you are reading this, odds are a lot better than even that you are at least aware that I have been writing novels and publishing them free through the Internet, several short chapters each week.  Six books have now been written, and the fifth has been published and the sixth started.  If you’ve somehow missed these, you can catch up:

  1. Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel
  2. Old Verses New
  3. For Better or Verse
  4. Spy Verses
  5. Garden of Versers
  6. Versers Versus Versers

Obviously at this moment the last of those is not yet fully published.  That makes this difficult, because I have to ask you something that requires you consider what you know and extrapolate what you don’t know.  Worse, I wanted to do this without giving spoilers, but on reflection it seems that I am going to have to give you at least the flavor of the situation of each of the characters at the end of the sixth book, and that’s going to be spoilers.  I will warn you where to stop reading to avoid the spoilers which pertain to the material not yet published; if you haven’t read any of the novels, or even if you haven’t kept up with everything published to date, there will be spoilers, and that can’t be helped.  Either go read the books or live with the spoilers.

In the first of those I introduced three main characters, what I’ll be calling “viewpoint” characters because they’re the characters through whom the story is seen and presented.  Each is followed individually, and they join together toward the end of the book.  In the second book, one of those characters took a break and we added a new one, again bringing the three characters together toward the end of the book, and in the third and fourth we shuffled which three characters were involved in the story and which took a break.

In the fifth book, a fifth viewpoint character was introduced, and all five were involved in stories.  Those five come together, sort of, in the sixth book, and a sixth character is introduced on her own storyline.

Right from the beginning–before the first book was completed–I had a notion that I was going to share this effort with someone else, that at some point we together would create some new characters and then we would spin them off into a separate series which he would write.  The introduction of the fifth character was in my mind the beginning of that, but that expectation faded during the writing of that book and even more as the sixth character was introduced.  At this point I’m fairly certain it is not going to happen–but I have six active viewpoint characters, and that was manageable in the sixth book when most of them were in the same universe most of the time, but to continue that way would make all the stories too thin in the seventh book.  I am thus faced with which characters to include in the next book and which ones to set aside for a hopefully likely future story–and I’ve decided that at least part of that decision will be based on what you, the readers, want, which characters you would like to follow.  So let me present to you the options, and you can give me your opinion.

Two options should be mentioned up front.  The first is you can choose not to respond at all.  If I get little or no response I will give serious consideration to dropping the novels, as although they are enjoyable in the main, they do take time, and I don’t think many of my patrons are supporting me primarily for those.  The second is like it:  you can tell me that you consider the novels to be a waste of my time, and that I should be putting that time into something else–the time travel movies, more Bible pages, more politics and law, that second edition of Multiverser that has long been back-burnered, whatever you think should be my focus.  I’m not saying it’s a democracy, but I am saying that your opinion matters.  Even if your advice doesn’t cause me to drop the novels, it might cause me to do more in whatever area you hope to see (and the more so if you are one of my Patrons).

Otherwise, tell me which characters you’d most like to see in the seventh novel, perhaps why, perhaps what hopes you have for their futures.  I’m going to tell you a little about each of them here, some of it on the edge of spoilers, to help.  To borrow a line from the credits of an old Blackadder episode, the characters are being listed in something like The Order of Disappearance.  I don’t want to tell you what happens in the end of Garden of Versers, but I will tell you this much, that only one viewpoint character is still in the world in which he or she begins when the book ends, and in the spoilers section toward the end you’ll probably be able to figure out which one.  If you already have one or more favorite characters whose story you would prefer to follow, you can stop reading here and express your opinion through one of those avenues (here, Patreon, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn).  For what it’s worth, I have already drafted a “next chapter” for five of them, so I’ve got a good solid start whichever way it goes.

Derek Jacob Brown was not in the first novel at all.  He was introduced in the second, which was in a sense very much about him, about dealing with his fears.  He has been in every novel since, but in the second he comes in as the sprite Theian Toreinu Morach then learns how to transition from one “person” to the other, with the creation of his middle form Ferris Hoffman incidental to that.  He trains as a secret agent and goes on a number of missions in book four, and in book five after proving himself an invaluable hero he gets married.  Book six begins the story of his married life.  There is a solid argument that since he has been in the last five consecutive books he is a prime candidate for omission from the next.

Robert Elvis Slade, often called by a considerably longer titled name but just as often simply by “Bob”, was in some sense the main character of the first book.  There he goes from an ordinary guy with delusions of greatness to the hero of the story–and because of this, I instinctively omitted him from the second book.  (He appears as a supporting character in some of Lauren’s early chapters, but is never the viewpoint character in that book.)  He returned in the third, because the first had left some loose ends and I had decided to bring Shella back into his life, whom he married while they were on a mission.  Then they assisted Lauren, worked with Joe in book four, and came to the main world of book five (at the end book four).  Slade fancies himself a Warrior of Odin, and is always ready for a battle, at which he is very good.  He assumes that wherever he is he is there to hone his skills for Ragnorak.  Meanwhile, he’s also in some ways the most fun character, just a bit of a clown in everything, and I know he has fans who like the way he lightens the stories.

Joseph Wade Kondor, or Joe, who has adopted the rank of Captain and earned the title Doctor, was omitted from the third book partly because I decided it was his turn, but largely because the third book would complete Lauren’s major story of confrontations with vampires, and his persistent atheism would have been a complication in that story that I didn’t particularly want either for the story or for the character.  That atheism is a defining feature, as he attempts to make sense of a reality around him by finding perfectly natural scientific explanations for abilities and phenomonema his friends believe to be magic.  He also deals with the conflict that he is against killing but frequently finds it necessary.  At the end of the fourth book he accidentally picked up a companion, Ezekiel “Zeke” Smith, who is also a soldier and something of a skeptic of Kondor’s skepticism.

Lauren Elizabeth Meyers Hastings finished a major story of a battle against vampires across time with the end of the third book, and so sat out the fourth.  She returned in the fifth in a story that attempted to challenge her reality, as a patient in a mental hospital, but then joined the others at the end of book five to become part of the team in book six.  She is something of a superhero in the stories, as good as or better than any of the others at just about everything, but constantly teaching and training them to be better.  The major obstacle in her stories is finding an interesting adversary that actually challenges her abilities without turning it into an ongoing battle.

James Donald Beam came into the story in the fifth book as something of an antihero.  He is curmudgeonly and always self-serving, although he has managed to gather something like an adventuring party around himself by making their interests correspond with his own.  The team includes Turbirb’durpa, nicknamed “Bob”, an alien with significant psychic abilities but not much else going for him; Dawn Project Prototype Unit Number X Dash Zero Zero, or “Dawn” for short, a child-like humanoid killing machine who follows orders quite strictly; Bron, burly blacksmith with whom he apprenticed and part-time fighter and wizard; and the witch Sophia, his almost accidental wife.  It’s also clear that he is not heroic, and not likely to be the star of a heroic tale, except in the accident that it proves to be in his own best interests to do something that incidentally helps others.

Finally, Tomiko Takano appears beginning in book six, so you have just met her.  She is a modern Japanese-American teenager not particularly interested in her Japanese culture who has not yet figured out what’s happening to her.  She goes through a couple worlds that challenge her conceptions of reality.  The best argument for including her is that she is so unknown, a fresh face in the stories.  She may also be hardest to write, but then, if I didn’t like a challenge I wouldn’t have created her.

So the question, once again, is whose stories would you, as a reader, like to see continued in book seven?  At the moment there is no clear plotline, not so much as a working title–but those things will arise once we have characters beginning a story.  It’s not an election, and your opinions are non-binding, you’re welcome to vote for all of them if you like (although that will reduce the influence of your vote, because I’m pretty determined that they won’t all be in the next book).  Characters not chosen for this book are expected to return in the future.

Now for the spoilers.  If you don’t want to know what is going to happen, you can certainly express your opinion based on your knowledge of the characters without reading further, through the aforementioned means (here, Patreon, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn).

Derek has already started a new story in another universe, a familiar “lost colony spaceship” trope with some twists, and his is also a story already rolling–I have both a “next chapter” and a “later chapter” drafted for him.  It is a promising start for a story, but will probably be rather cerebral for the foreseeable future.  Thematically it’s probably about the value of human beings.  He is at something of a cerebral cliffhanger, and I can see readers wanting to know what happens next–which plays strongly against the point that his story has been running for five consecutive books and he should take a break.

Slade has landed in a world which has potential for some interesting ideas, but not a lot of obvious action.  It’s one of those worlds that a referee launches because he thinks it might have interesting possibilities but he has no idea what they are.  It is a nineteenth century industrial revolution setting, but in an alien world to which he has a previous connection.  I have written the next three chapters of his story, and I know where it’s going but not quite how it gets there.

Joe has reached a place where there is some immediate action, a definite cliffhanger, but beyond that it’s not at all clear what he would be doing.  He is in a sense reaching the climax of the story of book five, an impending battle which should lead to a denoument, but I don’t know what will happen after that.  So I suppose it’s an immediate cliffhanger but promising a quick resolution and not much beyond that.  His next three chapters are written, but I don’t know what happens after that.

Lauren is the most open, as she has just left a universe and not yet arrived in another, so she could be anywhere.  On the other hand, events leading to her most recent death will have given her something to consider, and I’m contemplating putting her somewhere with someone with whom she can discuss these events.  I am undecided.  It would be good to have her discuss these issues with Merlin/Omigger, but I don’t have a clear picture of a good world for that.  The problem is that I don’t have another character I can reasonably bring into her story whom she would treat as an advisor on such topics, so it won’t be easy to transition to that kind of story for her.  I’ve been given some fan advice on possible challenges for her, but nothing has coalesced yet.  I am also giving serious thought to dropping her into a Dungeons & Dragons-type world, different from Bob’s opening dungeon crawl because she would be meeting a group of adventurers already on a mission.

I debated where to send Beam, and kept thinking of the same universe.  He is now there.  There is probably a broad outline of a storyline ahead based on the fact that the player who is the primary inspiration for his character was in this world and did quite a few things while there, but nothing is particularly compelling at the moment.  Problematically, his situation shares enough in common with Derek (despite being entirely different) that there’s a good argument for not continuing both of them in the same book.  They are both post-civilization worlds, post-apocalyptics without the apocalypse, but that Derek is in space and Beam is underground (The Industrial Complex from The Second Book of Worlds).  So there are strong arguments for continuing the Beam story, including that it would be only his third book, and he is very different from the other viewpoint characters, but not if Derek’s story is going to be included.  I have also written three chapters for him, but he is only just settling into this world and I haven’t figured out how to move him forward.

Tomiko oddly managed to arrive in a rather dull and ordinary world just in time for something dramatic and extraordinary to happen and sweep her into it.  She has in that sense begun a new story for which I have the next three chapters drafted and some sketchy immediate notions but no clear long-term plotline.  It doesn’t promise an exciting story, but you never can be sure.

Let me know your thoughts (here, Patreon, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn).

Thanks for your input, support, and encouragement.

#278: The 2018 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.

A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219:  A 2017 Retrospective.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters).  We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link.  Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site.  That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent.  It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.

Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me.  If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.

Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.

#220:  The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.

#221:  Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.

#222:  The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights arose at the Supreme Court level when Florida claimed Georgia was using too much of the water that should flow downstream to it.

#225:  Give Me Your Poor talks about our immigrant history, the illusion that it was entirely altruistic, and the question of what we do going forward.

#229:  A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College looks at a federal lawsuit claiming that the standard electoral college election system violates the one-person-one-vote rule.

#230:  No Womb No Say? challenges the notion that men should not have a say in abortion law.

#231:  Benefits of Free-Range Parenting discusses the recent idea that parents who do not closely monitor their kids are not being negligent.

#241:  Deportation of Dangerous Felons considers the Supreme Court case which decided that the law permitting deportation of immigrants for “aggravated felonies” is too vague.

#247:  The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.

#251:  Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.

#253:  Political Messages at Polling Places presented the decision that non-specific political clothing and such cannot be banned from polling places.

#255:  On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries examined a convoluted probate case in which a law passed subsequent to a divorce dictated how life insurance policy assets should be distributed.

#259:  Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees is the case the unions feared, in which they were stripped of their ability to charge non-members fees for representation.

#261:  A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates hinged on free speech and a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to post notices that the state provides free and low-cost abortions.

#270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot was the first of two parts on the election in our state, #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results providing the second part.

#274:  Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.

One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224:  Religious Politics.

My practice of late has been to put my book reviews on Goodreads, and you’ll find quite a few there, but for several reasons I included #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker as a web log post.  I also copied information from a series of Facebook posts about books I recommended into #263:  The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

There were a few entries in time travel, mostly posted to the Temporal Anomalies section of the site, including Temporal Anomalies in Synchronicity, which is pretty good once you understand what it really is; Temporal Anomalies in Paradox, which is a remarkably convoluted action-packed time travel story; Temporal Anomalies in O Homen Do Futuro a.k.a. The Man From the Future, a wonderfully clever Brazilian film in which the time traveler has to fix what he tried to fix, interacting with himself in the past; and Temporal Anomalies in Abby Sen, an Indian film that is ultimately pretty dull but not without some interesting ideas.

In the miscellaneous realm, we had #227:  Toward Better Subtitles suggesting how to improve the closed captioning on television shows; #228:  Applying the Rules of Grammar encourages writers to understand the rules and the reasons for them before breaking them; and #273:  Maintaining Fictional Character Records gives some details of my way of keeping character information consistent from book to book.

This year we also began a subseries on the roots of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music, starting with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor in March, and continuing with

  1. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael
  2. #236:  Reign of The Imperials
  3. #238:  Love Song by Love Song
  4. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark
  5. #242:  Disciple AndraĆ© Crouch
  6. #244:  Missed the Archers
  7. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits
  8. #248:  The Hawkins Family
  9. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist
  10. #252:  Petra Means Rock
  11. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands
  12. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive
  13. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn
  14. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus
  15. #262:  First Lady Honeytree of Christian Music
  16. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?
  17. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire
  18. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts
  19. #272:  To the Bride Live
  20. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233:  Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245:  Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267:  A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.

There were also a couple of entries related to gaming, including the republication of a lost article as #237:  Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials–the first article I ever wrote to be published on someone else’s web site.  There was also a response to some comments made by #239:  A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild, and a sort of review of a convention appearance, #249:  A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.

So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts).  In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.

Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

#273: Maintaining Fictional Character Records

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #273, on the subject of Maintaining Fictional Character Records.

At this point I have written six novels and am watching the fifth go into publication in online serialized form.  As with the work of many other authors, the books themselves form a series, with characters continuing their stories from book to book.  One of the challenges of such a collection is maintaining character consistency, that is, making sure not only that the characters stay “in character”, but that they don’t change in the details, from hair color to high school to siblings to skills and equipment.  It’s easy as an author to forget something you decided three books before about a character, so it’s good to have a method for keeping track of it all.  You don’t want to find yourself saying that a character can’t do something he did before, or that he did something long ago you already said he didn’t do, or that he abruptly has or does not have some possession previously established otherwise.

This is my method.  I’m sure that it has some unique features, and I’m equally sure that other authors have different methods.  However, if you’re contemplating writing something that might have a sequel, you’ll want a method of your own, and mine might be helpful at least to get you on the right track.

I think if I were more organized I would probably keep the character records up to date as I wrote, adding details to the records each time I used them in the story.  I don’t do that, mostly because while I’m writing I’m not thinking in that direction, but in the direction the story is taking me.  This has meant that in the editing process I’ve had to go back and change something that was contradictory because I forgot between chapter one and chapter twenty-one that I had made a particular statement about a character.  That’s alright–that’s really a large part of what story editing is about, catching the inconsistencies and making them consistent.  Thus I don’t start work on the character records until I’ve done at least one read-through edit, and then I try to do them as part of the editing process.  Thus I begin with document one, the near finished draft of the book.

Before I start, I make sure I have another set of documents, one for each character whom I believe is going to reappear in a later book.  I have been wrong more than once–that is, having introduced a support character in one book, I unexpectedly brought him (or her) back in a later one, and had to go back to the previous book to build a starting character sheet.  Because my stories are based on Multiverser, I use one of the formats I have used for character papers in game play, which gives me an organizational structure; and because these are word processing documents, it’s easy to edit them.  The particular format I use begins with the character’s full name followed by nicknames and aliases, then a section of attributes rating how strong, smart, agile, and so forth, the character is, and a physical description.  I then list all the skills the character is known to have.  The game system gives me a solid organizational structure, because I can list technological skills, body skills, and magic and psionic abilities each in its own sector and use the game’s “bias” system to keep them orderly and find what I’m seeking.  Below that is equipment, which is probably my weak point because I list it in the order it is first mentioned in the text, and thus if I’m seeking something I sometimes have trouble finding it particularly if the character has a lot of possessions.  At the end are notes that don’t fit anywhere else, such as details of character history, known character traits and beliefs, and similar items.

Going from the book to the character sheets is a two-step process.

The first step is that I read the book and consciously attempt to notice every mention of any skill, possession, or personal detail for each of the characters I’m following.  This has to include both positive and negative details–that is, negative in the sense of that which is established as not available, such as that Bob Slade more than once noted he was never a Boy Scout and Joe Kondor doesn’t have a watch.  For each such item, I open that character’s record sheet and go to the bottom, typing the chapter number and what the item is.  Since I’m recording the chapter numbers (and my books have a lot of short chapters) it’s easy for me to relocate the reference later if I’m not sure what my note means.  I do all the characters on one pass, and so once I’ve finished the read-through I have multiple character records with a lot of chronologically-organized notes at the bottom.

The second step is to work from those notes, by opening the character reference paper in more than one window, and making entries in the appropriate sections of the upper portion of the sheet; I usually but not always include the chapter references for more information.  The notes can include things like whether a weapon is loaded, if an object broke or was repaired, and sometimes that a particular object was given away.  I don’t delete the note entries, but instead italicize the ones already included; having them makes it easier to track some information using a search function.  I do the characters one at a time, focusing on each until it is completed before moving to the next.

Because Multiverser is a game and the novels are in some sense an extension of it, I have a third step:  I create web page versions of the character sheets to provide to the fans so they can use the characters in games.  I don’t make these as complete as I would were I actually using them in a game, but I update them for each book.  That requires creating a new HTML file for each character for each book, and then matching the information in the new HTML file to that in the word processing document–but since I can save the previous file as a new file and then edit the new one, this is mostly about finding the new details.  I do not include the end notes in the web page versions, but regard the word processing files as the “official” records which I reference at need, the HTML files as the public publications of them.  Also, sometimes in the process of creating the new sheet I find errors in a previous one–most commonly omitted items.  I fix these in the new sheet, but not in the previous one.

Those character papers are available online, which is really so that my readers who want to use the characters in play can see the details about them but in this case gives you the opportunity to look at the format.  The headers including the pictures in the HTML versions are not part of the word processing files, as they are not needed in those.  (The pictures are present primarily because they make sharing on social media more effective.)

#239: A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #239, on the subject of A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild.

Someone recently posted to the Christian Gamers Guild list, in a post called So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, that he would be resigning.  This is not a big deal; members come and members go, and life is like that.  Two things make this event a bit different.  The lesser is this individual has been involved for perhaps as long as I have, perhaps longer, and years ago actively so, and I miss some of those who were involved in the early years who are no longer there.  The greater is that in announcing his departure he suggested that perhaps he was wrong about role playing games, and that maybe the rest of us should consider quitting the hobby as well.

I am reproducing my reply, in substance at least, below; first, I am going to attempt to do justice to his statement without actually plagiarizing it.  I am going to call him “J” here, because I don’t have his permission to use this and don’t particularly want to put him on the spot, and “J” has absolutely nothing to do with his name (it’s short for “John Doe”, if you must know); members of the Christian Gamers Guild already know who he is.

J begins by introducing himself and announcing that he is leaving the group because he has decided not to play role playing games, but he wants to explain that.

Giving his history, he notes that when he first joined the group he was uncertain whether role playing games were compatible with Christian faith, and how that would work.  He had stopped playing when he became a Christian, but encouraged by the guild resumed doing so.  He identifies himself as “a Spirit-Filled believer and as such I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today through the gifts of the Spirit and in the anointing and power of God being alive and active in the Church and in individual believers today.”

He says that as soon as he returned to role playing he knew something wasn’t right but wouldn’t admit it to himself.  He was involved in ministry, but always felt that there was a hindrance blocking his connection to the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, he also felt that his faith interfered with his ability to play the games.  Before he was a believer, he felt that he tapped into something that enabled his games to flow, and once he was a Christian running games became a chore.  He believes that he had been connecting with a “spirit”, and although what he says is not exactly clear as to whether he means that literally he thinks there is a demonic and seductive connection in role playing games.  As a Christian, they simply weren’t the same for him as they had been when he was an unbeliever.

J then tells us that before he was a believer he was involved in the occult, and that Dungeons & Dragons™ played a role in pointing him in that direction.  His occult involvement never produced anything but empty promises and a few frightening experiences, and eventually drove him to Christ.

He wisely tells us that the Holy Spirit is at odds with many things in this world; he says that role playing games are one of them.  The most objective objection he raises is from someone who counseled him against games, who said “…in role playing games you spend your time trying to be something that you are not; what the Holy Spirit wants you to do is be who you are.”  He feels it is necessary for us to ignore explorations of who we aren’t and seek more deeply who we are.  So saying, he recommends that we all leave the fantasy behind, although he recognizes that not everyone is at the same place with God.  He departs with a word of love for us as siblings in Christ, and with the famous closing, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”


I am not attempting to persuade J that he’s wrong to leave the group or to give up role playing or other hobby games.  That’s a weaker brother issue, and if it’s a problem for him, I respect that.  I will certainly in some way miss him, even though he has rarely posted recently, just because knowing that there are a few people around besides Christian Gamers Guild President Rodney Barnes and me who have been here from the E-groups days makes me feel better about still being part of it all–and I do feel good about it; it has in some ways become integral to my identity.

Further, I understand the Charismatic/Spirit-filled viewpoint.  I don’t know that I speak in tongues more than you all, but I do speak in tongues, and quite a bit, while sitting, working, driving, writing, washing dishes, and at many other times.  Yet I am also solidly grounded in the more “rational” denominations, with solid connections to the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans particularly, and more casually to quite a few other denominations.  It also should be said that, like Rodney, I was a believer for many years before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons™, and in fact my “gateway” to it was the fantasy literature of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

My problem with what J says is that it’s almost entirely subjective.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  As I discuss in Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance (covered in a bit more detail in my book What Does God Expect?) our lives are very much about balancing the two kinds of direction, each tempering the other.  Sometimes what God wants us to do is delivered entirely subjectively, and we have to trust at some level our own instincts, that this is indeed what God is saying, and not something that comes from within ourselves.  I just get upset about it because I’ve had people say to me that “God told me” the games were evil, and there is then no discussion.  J isn’t saying that; he’s saying that they have been an impediment to his own joy and connection to God, and he thinks it might be so for others.  It is certainly the case that God sometimes asks us to surrender perfectly good things simply because He must be more important in our lives than they are.  Anything that we are not willing to give up for God is an impediment to our relationship with Him.

In the course of the discussion, someone suggested that eventually J will be able to return to gaming, and that’s possible–but it’s also, I think, an idea that itself becomes an impediment.  If you give something up in the hope that God will give it back, you are still holding on to it.  When God wants you to give up something, you need to walk away and not look back.  So I understand that J might never return, and certainly is not going to expect to do so at this point as he is leaving.  That expectation itself would be counter-productive, an indication that he is not really leaving gaming but only pretending to do so for the present.

J is uncomfortable with the magic in gaming because in his mind it is connected to the occult.  I have often argued that one of the best aspects of fantasy role playing games is the magic, that it opens the players to the possibility that there is more in the world than materialistic naturalism.  Of course, when that happens believers need to be there to say, “Yes, and this is where you find it.”  J had the opposite experience, and now for him there is a connection from seeing the supernatural dimensions of the world and moving toward the occult.  For me, the connection is the opposite direction, from seeing the power of God to discovering the fictional exploration of that power in the games.

The games have also connected me to a lot of people who need God, and I think perhaps I have helped some of them along the way.

J’s point that many things in the world are at odds with God is certainly right and important; however, most of us are involved in the world by necessity, working in jobs that are not primarily about reaching people for Christ or building the faith of believers (sales help might be service industry, but it’s not delivering the gospel), becoming part of organizations that are beneficial without having solid religious connections (hospitals are big in this, but I also am aware of groups trying to help the homeless, and drug rehabilitation programs that are not primarily Christian faith based).  Jesus said that everyone who is not for us is against us, but He also said that everyone who is not against us is for us, and while that makes the world seem black and white, it also introduces the possibility that some things can be used both for and against God.  I watch television shows which some think are science fiction of the worst sort, in which I see metaphors for the work of God in the world.  Certainly role playing games can be used in ways that oppose God, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, even some which seem most anti-Christian can prove at the bottom to be strongly Christian.  It is not what we use but how we use it that most controls the impact of our games.  For some, incredibly dark worlds have been a reminder of the amazing greatness of God.

J also suggests that we need to discover who we really are, not explore fantasies of who we might be.  Yet I think this is an unreal dichotomy.  I often discover more of who I really am by exploring who I am not, and sometimes discover that who I pretend to be is really part of who I actually am.  Playing Multiverser I was encouraged by its magic system to trust the power of God for several things, minor things really but in some sense magical or miraculous in their own way, because my character did so successfully in the game world.  I would not have had the boldness to pray some of the practical prayers I have prayed had it not been that I explored that boldness in character.  Even in playing “unlike me” characters, I learn much about how people who reject God are thinking, and am thereby better able to connect with them and deliver the truth.  The exploration of fantasies is a significant part of understanding my reality.  Indeed, the fantasy literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams have had tremendous impact not only on me but on believers and unbelievers around the world.  Why should fantasy gaming not also have the same potential, used aright?

Some of what I have said is of course subjective, and none of it is a reason for J to stay if God is telling him to leave.  However, if you are considering whether what J says might be true for you, consider also whether being involved in role playing games has had any of these benefits for you:  connecting you to people who need to see your faith; giving you insight into the spiritual battle between God and the devil within the metaphors of the game; strengthening your faith by reminding you that you are on the side that has the power.  I have profited in those ways from game play, and in a sense that’s the tip of the iceberg.  The largest open door for my ministry has been through this group, a group I was reluctant twenty years ago to join, which has encouraged my efforts and given me a platform to reach out to a world not much reached by believers, the world of hobby gamers.

So I say so long, J, and if you’ve gotten any of those fish you mentioned from me, you’re welcome.  I hope you’ll keep in touch through other media like Facebook, but wish you the best of grace in all your endeavors.

#153: What Are Ghosts?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #153, on the subject of What Are Ghosts?

I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts, I do, I do, I do….

Thus spoke the Cowardly Lion (in The Wizard of Oz, of course)–but that which caused him to believe in ghosts was not a ghost, but a meddling witch.  This came back to me as I listened to a syndicated radio host (The Wally Show) saying that he did not believe in ghosts, but if he was in the real estate market and someone told him that a particular house was haunted, he would not buy it.  We will get back to that.  He also admitted that as Christians we believe in some kind of spirit realm–but that the idea of ghosts was still not something he could accept.

I’m going to say that I believe in ghosts in the sense that I believe there are real phenomena which have not been materialistically explained which at least appear to be manifestations of spirits.


That said, though, just because I believe in “ghosts” does not mean I have any clue as to exactly what they are.  That might be overstating it–I have many clues, but nothing sufficient to achieve certainty.  Thus in the interest of making it clear just how unclear the matter actually is, here are a few of the possibilities, as I understand them.

  • It is certainly not impossible that these are spirits of the dead, people whose inner selves have been separated from their bodies who somehow are maintaining an earthly existence.  Most Christians don’t like this, because we are told that it is appointed to men to die once, and after this comes judgment, and from this we conclude that immediately upon dying we are consigned to heaven or hell for eternity.  (There are some who believe in something called “purgatory”, a place for souls who are in the process of being saved but are not yet pure enough for heaven; it is based on texts that are controversial, not accepted as canon by Protestants because they are not so recognized by Jews.  It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the essence of it.  Besides, having one more place for the afterlife does not release spirits to be here.)  However, we debate exactly how that happens, because our heavenly afterlife is intimately connected with the resurrection of the body.  Thus some think that we go to heaven as “unclothed” spirits and there await the resurrection, and some that we experience (or do not experience) “soul sleep”, such that we know nothing until the return of Christ revives us.  Other possible solutions to this include that we immediately receive resurrection bodies which, unlike Christ’s, are not dependent upon our natural bodies, or that we leap across time to eternity such that at the moment of our death we are at the moment of the resurrection.

    Given that we are in disagreement (I won’t say uncertain, because some of us are quite certain of one position or another as the “obvious” one), it is entirely possible that spirits of at least some of the dead manifest in the mortal realm.  We have the account of Saul visiting the witch at Endor and asking to speak with the departed spirit of the prophet Samuel, in which we are given the rather clear understanding that that spirit responded (and rebuked him for calling).  Some argue that this is because it was before the resurrection of Christ, but we are never told this, and so we just simply don’t know and cannot say that this answer is impossible.

    However, neither is it certain–which is the point here.

  • Many theologians who believe that there are such spirit manifestations believe that these are manifestations of what we might call opportunistic spirits.  They would use the words “demons” and “devils”, but I find that our understandings of those words, as our understanding of “angels”, seems very narrow and simultaneously inconsistent with some of what we know from the Bible.  One would think from what is said that the God who has made more kinds of insects than most of us can imagine could only make one kind of spirit being which divided itself into two parties.  I suspect that there are more kinds of spirit beings than there are kinds of lifeforms in the world–but that’s a digression.  What matters is that it is entirely possible that these spirits have almost nothing to do with the departed, but know enough about them to masquerade as them, possibly just to frighten people, possibly to cause them to doubt their understanding of spiritual matters, possibly to deliver deceptive messages.  The problem here is that we have no way to test this.  Houdini, for example, agreed with his wife on a secret password that he would use if he were ever contacted by a medium and she was present, to prove that it was him.  Although many mediums claimed to have contacted him, none were able to produce the password–but had they done so, would it have proved that this was indeed Houdini, or merely that spirits who masquerade as people might have been privy to many of their intimate secrets in life?  My problem with distinguishing departed spirits from opportunistic spirits is similar to my problem with other gods:  we are ill-equipped to know what is really happening in the spirit realm, and cannot know the origins or motivations of any particular spirit we might encounter.

  • Some people looking for an answer that is almost naturalistic speak of psychic residue, that people suffering particularly traumatic events project mental energy into the surrounding objects which can be sensed by others.  I have elsewhere written (Faith and Gaming:  Mind Powers, at the Christian Gamers Guild) that it seems to me at least reasonably plausible that people could in the future develop mental powers we do not presently have, and indeed it is a small step from that to suggesting that we might have mental powers of which we are unaware.  There is nothing necessarily evil or Satanic about that as a concept.  It might be that stressed brains leave some kind of wave pattern in surrounding matter which can be perceived by other brains attuned to this, and it might be that those patterns manifest as replays of events causing the stress–which would explain why so many claimed ghost sightings are frightening, particularly if the emotion is included in the projection.

  • Most Christians oppose the concept of animism–the idea that there are spirits in inanimate objects.  I am less persuaded.  There is sound scriptural support for the notion that animals, at least, have spirits, and it does not take much to extend that to cover plants, since the distinctions between these two categories of life forms are more scientific than spiritual.  (That’s bad news for vegans, really.)  I do not think that rocks and planks of dead wood and other non-living objects have spirits–it is, if I understand aright, the spirit that gives life to the body, whether that of a person or an animal or plausibly even a plant.  Therefore I think objects that do not have life in any sense do not have spirits–but I can’t say that I know this.  After all, God doesn’t tell us much that we do not need to know, and so most of what He tells us is about ourselves.  It is not impossible that, contrary to my belief, stones have spirits.  If so, it is possible that the torment of one spirit–that of a person–in the vicinity of another spirit–that of the supposed inanimate object–would leave an impression on that other spirit.  We might then be encountering the spirits of non-living matter reliving the suffering of living spirits that had been there.

  • Many of the stories I have heard of supposed hauntings include the fact that someone died in a particular place, and that this was known to the person who experienced the haunting.  Nurses often believe that certain rooms in hospitals are sometimes haunted by former patients, and will sometimes tell this to incoming nurses.  Ghosts are seen in castles that are famously said to be haunted.  It could be that at least some of these are projections of the expectations of the observer–that is, an unexpected glimmer of light, a stray noise, a chill breeze, and the imagination supposes that for just a moment there was something there.  Our minds are already designed to provide details for many things we see.  If something moves in your peripheral vision and you have every reason to believe it to be a person, your mind tells you it is a person; in fact, if you believe it to be a specific person, your mind will put that person in that position.  Sometimes we are startled because the person we saw was not the person we thought we saw.  There is no particular reason why the mind could not provide the image of a ghost where we were anticipating the possibility that we might see a ghost, and the moreso if that makes us nervous.

From this it is evident that assuming the phenomena to be real there are still a great many plausible explanations for it.  None of these explanations covers every detail of every supposed encounter, but then, none of them is the only possible explanation for any reported encounter.  There might be ghosts; there might be something that tricks us, intentionally or accidentally, into believing that we have seen ghosts.  As with Unidentified Flying Objects, it might be that different explanations apply in different cases, and some of them are real departed spirits, but others are not.

I am not afraid of ghosts, but I have never had an encounter.  I don’t know that I would be uncomfortable living in a supposedly haunted house.  However, there is good reason to be reluctant to buy a house that is said to be haunted:  such rumors will impact its market value.  There are always stories attached to houses, but when the stories have a negative emotional impact–previous home of serial killer, house in which entire family died mysteriously–it makes the property less desirable.  “Haunted” is exactly such a story.  If a house is thought to be haunted, you can probably buy it for very little money, and sell it for less.  It becomes a bad financial decision.  So of course I would be hesitant to buy a house I had been told was haunted, not because I necessarily believe that, but because when the time comes to sell my potential buyers are likely to believe it.

So I do believe that there might be something like ghosts out there, but I don’t believe we either do or can know exactly what they are.  We are not equipped to deal with objects in the spirit realm, or indeed even to know with certainty whether that is what we are encountering.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#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.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#38: Multiverser Magic

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #38, on the subject of Multiverser Magic.

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, 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.  This entry will deal with the magic.

From Multiverser: The Game: Referee's Rules, (c)Valdron Inc, by Jim Denaxas

Harry Lambrianou (wow–I spelled that correctly on the first try without looking) raised the issue, and said in significant part:

My biggest problem – and the thing I houseruled away most frequently – is that MV’s magic system, as written, insists that /any change/ no matter how minute results in a completely new spell.

So if I have a “Battle Blessing” spell that normally takes 1 minute to cast, and I decide that today I need to rush it and cast my “Battle Blessing” in 10 seconds… normally you would think that this is my normal “Battle Blessing” spell, albeit with a skill penalty for rushing, right? That’s intuitive… No, it’s an /entirely new/, but /otherwise identical in every way/ spell… that does not inherit the Skill Ability Level for the spell its based on. So if I was 2@8 on the original Battle Blessing… maybe I’m 1@3 on the /identical/ rushed version…. and both need to be leveled up separately.

At one point I think my actual Verser self had something upwards of four different copies of this same spell, the only difference being one was a shorter casting time, or one affected three people instead of five, or something like that. It got out of hand very quickly.

I hated this from the first time I saw it happen, and consequently have never enforced it on the handful of players I ever ran for.

It’s a valid point:  if you know how to perform some kind of magic, shouldn’t you be able to perform it more quickly if you’re in a situation in which you need to get it done fast?  However, I have two answers for this.

The first has to do with “game balance” in mechanics.  That was always a big deal before Vincent Baker’s Lumpley Principle and Ron Edward’s Model, and it’s still a big deal in complex game design.  It means, among other things, that every power has limits so that it won’t dominate the game.

Magic, in Multiverser, has essentially two limits.  One is the same limit that applies to technology, psionics, and even to body skills:  bias, which determines what is possible or impossible in a given universe, and how difficult it is to do.  It’s a relatively simple system given the complexity of issues it addresses, but it’s not at issue here.  For any given magic outcome, either it is or is not possible in the present world, and it can be more or less difficult.

The other limitation is the one at issue.  In Multiverser, you can design your own magic skills.  You can say that you want to achieve this result–create fire or lightning, charm an enemy, pass unnoticed through the midst of a crowd, fly–and that you are going to take these steps to achieve it.  The simple form of the rule is that the power you get from a “spell” is proportional to the effort you put into it.  That effort can take the form of sacrificing objects of greater or lesser value, speaking loudly or gesticulating wildly in ways that call attention to yourself, saying words that broadcast what you are attempting to do so the target can take countermeasures, and, almost always, how much time it takes to cast it.  The battle blessing in particular is significant in this regard:  a two-minute spell to enhance your combat abilities means that for two minutes you have to stay out of the fray, which might not even be possible; the same spell in twelve seconds is going to be very nearly something you can do while drawing your weapon.  Obviously, though, if we assume that the battle blessing does exactly the same thing to the same degree at the same probability of success, no character in his right mind would take two minutes of valuable combat time to cast a spell he can cast in twelve seconds.  Thus part of the solution to prevent that is that the probability of success on the twelve-second version is considerably lower than that on the two-minute version.  Assuming everything else to be the same, the longer spell is probably about thirty percentage points more likely to be successful than the short one.  That can impact whether or not it works, of course, and also because of Multiverser’s relative success rules it can also impact how well it works, because a higher successful roll normally delivers a better outcome.

Understand, too, that I believe in running an equitable game.  If when you create this spell you get this bonus for shouting, everyone should get that bonus for including “shouting” in any spell design; it becomes the “shouting bonus”.  I have a list of standard bonuses for standard “spell components”, and when someone comes up with some new component I had not previously considered I compare it to my list and then attempt to make note of what I decided so that if they do it again, or someone else at the table does it, I will treat it consistently.  When you create a spell, I look at everything you’re investing in success, and crunch the numbers, and I give you a number, a “situation modifier”, to record with the spell description that says that this spell is this percentage more or less likely to work than the baseline.  You get that bonus–or penalty–whenever you use that specific spell.  But if you modify that spell in any way, you’ve changed the bonus or penalty.

Of course, I could let you change the spell for a specific casting–but that means that when you do that, I have to recalculate the chance of success anyway.  And in doing so, I’m probably going to have to look up the baseline for the spell, figure out what elements you are using and what value I gave each of them originally, and work out the new chance of success pretty much as if it were a new spell–and seriously, how much of a two-minute ritual can you cram into a twelve-second rush casting?  And does it make sense to say that because you have done this two-minute ritual before a couple times you will be just as good at doing the same ritual in twelve seconds?  I think of the fast talker competition, where someone holds the record for the fastest delivery of a particular Shakespearean sililoquy (I cannot now recall whether it is from Hamlet or MacBeth).  Does the fact that you recited that sililoquy a couple times mean you can now challenge the record?  You can deliver such a speech at a reasonable pace and allow yourself time to think of the next line without looking as if you don’t know what you’re doing; you can’t spit it out at record time if you have to think of the words.  Believe me, I’ve sung a few songs that have incredibly rapid-fire lyrics, and you had better know them cold if you expect them to make it to your lips.  So I have to recalculate, and I probably don’t have the original calculation handy (why clutter your character paper with the detailed numbers, particularly when that’s not character knowledge?) so I’m starting from scratch.

And if you’re forcing me to start from scratch to recalculate your chance of success for what is necessarily a different ritual (because it runs a different length of time) that feels to me like you’re doing a completely different spell, and I want it on your sheet for the next time you decide you want to do it in twelve seconds instead of two minutes.  It really is not the same spell just because it has the same outcome, any more than striking a match, using a cigarette lighter, and rubbing two sticks together are the same skill even though they all produce fire.  You are attempting to achieve the same outcome a different way, and the simple fact that you want it to happen more quickly proves that this is the case.

Of course, it does make sense that if you’ve done the same skill enough times you would be able to do it in less time.  That’s true when I cook, certainly, as once I know the recipe I’m not stopping at each step to check it.  And that leads to the second answer.  It’s built into the system that when you have used or practiced a skill long enough/enough times to be good at it, your “skill ability level” crosses the line from amateur to professional, and whenever you perform that skill you do it in half the time.  Your two minute skill takes only sixty seconds.  Continue at it and eventually you will be an expert at that skill, and it will take only one third as long as it took when you were an amateur–in this case, forty seconds.  No, that’s not twelve seconds; but if your ritual requires singing four verses of Onward, Christian Soldiers at thirty seconds per verse (sorry, Harry, it was the first decent example that came to mind), you’re going to have a lot of trouble getting it as fast as ten seconds per verse.  So “faster” is built into the system, but only after a lot of practice.  If you want the same outcome in less time, you really are trying to figure out a “faster” way to do it.  There is a saying in business, something like “Fast, good, cheap, pick two.” If you’re trying to get fast, you have to trade something for it–you’re doing it a different way, and a different way means a different skill, even if it’s a choice between the American Crawl and the Breast Stroke.  Keep doing it the same way and you get better at it; change the skill, and you’re learning more skills.

There’s nothing wrong with learning more skills–if one fails, you can use another.  In fact, if you botch on a skill you’re not permitted to retry it again immediately, but you are permitted to try a different skill that does the same thing, so having multiple versions of a skill can be useful in a pinch.

Anyway, that’s how it works and why.  I know it frustrated you; it frustrated me that you couldn’t see that to be the same skill it had to be done the same way.

Eric does all of this by the seat of his pants, and you can do it that way.  I don’t, because I am not good enough to keep the playing field level if I don’t keep track of the rules–but Eric is more like Ed in that regard, and doesn’t much care whether the playing field is level as long as it tells a good story.  It’s harder for a good player to play in a world like that, though, because things are not predictable–a spell that should be easy winds up being hard, because the same standards aren’t maintained from one to the next.  Part of play is learning what works, and what makes it work better.  If the standards shift, you can’t learn that.  It can still be fun, but it’s not quite the game we designed.

I also sympathize with your feeling, Harry, that you were trapped in the same world for a long time.  It’s not entirely my fault–people who stay with the ship take risks of being versed out in a lot of ways, and people who settle into city life, even taking a job with the city watch and starting a fire department, are not taking the same risks.  My second world was a modern vampire setting, and before long Ed was becoming frustrated trying to find ways to get me out of it, because I kept playing smart enough to beat his killer monsters.  Eventually he stopped running the game, and I was never really out of there; two other referees tried to pick it up, but they couldn’t see how to get me out, either, and both gave up on it.  Kyler was stuck in NagaWorld so long that he had to dream up something plausible but truly dangerous to try to get himself out of there.  Being stuck in a world in Multiverser seems to be proof that you’re a good careful player who knows how to stay alive.  It’s a compliment.  Reckless players jump from universe to universe.  You were never that.

I’ll address the cover value thing in a couple days, probably.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]