I want to talk about a state that I enter into, which I associate with depression. I’m in the state right now, which makes it hard to think about and talk about, but I’m going to try. I call it Quiet.

The first way I know that I am in Quiet is that my mental monologue (and music tracks, and playback mode) quiets down. It’s the sensation of a turbulent sea become placid, or the ripples in a pond slowly disappearing. My skull actually feels like it is full of soft nothingness. Or it feels like the winter silence when you are outside and the usual noises are all muffled by falling snow.

I find that I notice a lot more, visually, and even about myself, when Quiet. I notice details of plants and animals around me. I see people, and I see myself, at a slight remove. Perhaps a half-step back, where I’m aware but not invested or reactive. It becomes easier to notice beauty, or to be briefly surprised but not distracted.

I find it harder to speak, and sometimes easier to write. Sometimes impossible. But the inertia I have to overcome to say something to someone increases – it’s like throwing off a heavy blanket every time, and I’m usually just as inclined to sort of stare at them, noticing something about them, even appreciating them in a new way, but without any words to go with it.

I feel immensely sad when Quiet. Sometimes I cry a bit. I feel immeasurable loss. At the same time, I don’t cling to the feeling or identify with it much. It’s just…there it is. In and underneath everything.

I am very accepting when Quiet. It’s probably a state that I wouldn’t mind being in when I die. Very much a sense of, “This is what it is.” Sad, morose, but not anguished.

There is a feeling of emptiness, in both the positive and negative sense, when I am Quiet. There is also a sense that I could feel this way forever – it doesn’t have the rising action, peak, and falling action that I experience in other moods. It’s just, oh, there it is. The Quiet.

I admit to appreciating Quiet, even though I wouldn’t call it pleasant. If I felt this way long-term, I might even harm myself with the same even-keeled aplomb with which I watch birds circle or squirrels tug on branches for acorns or someone face while they are talking to me.

From my study and practice of Buddhism, it seems to me to be something like a low-functioning version of satori. That makes sense of my own experiences of satori. It would be like comparing mourning with despair, or anger with hatred. It has some aspects in common, but doesn’t seem like what the Buddha had in mind.

I just wanted to write this out because I hadn’t before, and it’s interesting to me, the different kinds of experiences that fall under the umbrella of “depression” or “anxiety.” One of those is Quiet, and of the various things depression gives me, it’s one I feel like I can at least learn from.

I’m wondering if anyone reading this has an experience like Quiet.

The Liberty University Student Body Calls Out Falwell Jr.

the way of improvement leads home

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Here is a statement from a movement on the Liberty University campus (and I assume among the Liberty University alumni) called Liberty United Against Trump.

In the months since Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed him, Donald Trump has been inexorably associated with Liberty University. We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him.

A majority of Liberty students, faculty, and staff feel as we do. Donald Trump received a pitiful 90 votes from Liberty students in Virginia’s primary election, a colossal rejection of his campaign. Nevertheless, President Falwell eagerly uses his national platform to advocate for Donald Trump. While he occasionally clarifies that supporting Trump is not the official position of Liberty University, he knows it is his…

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Fixing the Merit/Flaw Issue (Somewhat)

Image result for system mastery podcast

I’ve been listening to a lot of the System Mastery podcast lately, and one thing those guys hate is merit/flaw systems. And they have a good point. It is something that Burning Wheel seeks to fix by simply charging you for flaws as well as merits.

The issue is that many flaws fall into one of two categories: 1. the flaw doesn’t really matter and is for min-maxing, and 2. the flaw is actually a merit because it means more screen-time or attention for the player during the game.

The Flaw Doesn’t Matter

GURPS is a major example of this problem, but any merit/flaw system that I’ve seen has it. There are always flaws (or Disadvantages in GURPS) that a player can take that the player doesn’t care about so that they can take some merits that they do want. For example, if your GM forgets to use reaction rolls then Disadvantages in GURPS that reduce your reaction rolls are basically free points. Another example would be in-game-only flaws, like the idea that this particular race has great stat bonuses but people in the world hate them. Supposedly this balances out, but in play it is just a benefit with a hand-wavy, occasional problem. But really, if your half-orc has their huge strength bonus and encounters hatred, judicious use of the strength bonus can address the intolerance pretty readily in most games.

The Flaw Is A Benefit

World of Darkness games are a major culprit here, and the two big examples of this problem are dark fate and enemies. A character’s dark fate is almost always something that will happen after the main campaign is over – it is a way of creating a big problem but putting it off so you can front-load your character with lots of juicy merits that’ll count for almost the entire game. The worst example of this would be a dark fate that affects the rest of the party, so you screw everyone and get points for it.

The other problem is with taking an enemy as a flaw. An enemy means more attention for your character – your agenda, your story, drives more than your share of the overall story. And 10 times out of 10, your friends will end up having to fight this enemy too, just like every enemy you face. And in exchange for this increased creative influence and attention, you get character points. It wasn’t long before every White Wolf player I gamed with realized that taking an enemy was the way to go, every time.

The Fix: Flaws Are Foes’ Merits

Taking an enemy as a flaw still exerts influence on the story, but in this reworked version of the flaw, what happens mechanically is the enemy has an advantage against the character who has taken the flaw. As a generic example, a PC has a 2pt flaw that gives them an enemy, so whenever they come up against this enemy, the enemy gets +2 dice against them (or +2 to rolls, or to damage, or whatever would hurt). This makes the enemy worse for the PC than for the rest of their party at the very least. The GM has to integrate the enemy into the storyline as before, but now when the enemy comes up, the PC pays for their extra points by getting their ass kicked. This one NPC just has their number, it seems.

This can be extrapolated out, and I like it being a general bonus. Maybe if you are a hated race or species, then all prices are doubled, and everyone does +1 damage to you in combat. Now that flaw has teeth that will matter in the two situations where most players care – combat and shopping. The important thing to think through is how to make this Flaw bad for the character in a way that isn’t bad for the whole party, and in a way that doesn’t just thrust the character into the spotlight.

The Five Things I need from White People Right Now


Another day, another unarmed black man dead. Terence Crutcher’s SUV stalled as he was coming back from community college classes. He was studying music appreciation and was very active in his church choir. Seeing his picture reminds me of any number of big dudes I know who can sing their lungs out. From his view in a helicopter, a Tulsa police officer thought he looked like a bad dude. Instead of trying to help the man with the stalled car, two officers made him put his hands up as he approached them for help. As he reached into his SUV, probably to grab some form of identification, which again, should not have been necessary because he was the one in distress, he was tased and then shot. He was unarmed. He was the father of four.

I feel like ranting and raving about how angry and scared this makes me…

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Seems Legit.

You Are A:

Neutral Good Elf Cleric (6th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength- 11
Dexterity- 13
Constitution- 11
Intelligence- 16
Wisdom- 14
Charisma- 16

Neutral Good- A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Clerics- Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron’s vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity’s domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric’s Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Detailed Results:

Lawful Neutral — XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (18)
Chaotic Neutral – XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (18)
Lawful Evil —– XXXXXXX (7)
Neutral Evil —- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Chaotic Evil —- XXXXXXX (7)

Law & Chaos:
Law —– XXXXXXX (7)
Neutral – XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Chaos — XXXXXXX (7)

Good & Evil:
Neutral – XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Evil —- (0)

Dwarf —- XXXXXX (6)
Gnome —- XXXXXXXX (8)
Halfling – XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Half-Elf – XXXXXXXXX (9)
Half-Orc – XX (2)

Barbarian – XXXXXX (6)
Fighter — XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Monk —— XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Paladin — XXXXXXXX (8)
Ranger —- XX (2)
Rogue —– XXXXXX (6)
Sorcerer — XXXXXXXXXX (10)

RPG Trap Design

One of the things that I want to be better at, when I am designing D&D adventures, is designing traps. When I think about this, I think about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where three traps and a puzzle are the focus of the action and do a lot for the story. Their solutions are embedded in the film’s themes and the stick in the mind when I think about the movie.

There are a lot of issues that come to mind when I try to come up with traps for a D&D adventure. I wanted to write out my thoughts on traps, just in case some of you have the same challenges designing your own adventures.

Previous Victims

Think about who built the trap, and why. Are they still maintaining it regularly? Checking for dead victims and clearing their bodies out? If so, are there signs of their passage? Maybe they don’t clean the blood-stains completely enough, and this could be a hint for the PCs as they explore. If there is a pit-trap, for example, with spikes at the bottom, is anyone climbing down there to remove the dead bodies? Is there a trapdoor down below to allow access? If so, the PCs might climb down, find the trapdoor, and circumvent other traps, or ambush whoever it is that created the traps in the first place.

If the bodies aren’t being cleared, there might be some obvious hints that there is a trap nearby. These hints could be great foreshadowing, actually. There is a fantastic illustration in the 5E DMG, seen below, that is an example of what I have in mind here. The wizard is reaching toward what is obviously a trap, and you can clearly see the bloody marks and hand-prints from previous victims. This trap might even require a Wisdom save to force yourself to reach in there without shaking or hesitating. But I love the idea of bloody marks, or the stench of decaying bodies beneath a trapped floor, warning the PCs that something bad is ahead.

This foreshadowing effect of non-maintained traps also solves the problem of PCs calling for Perception rolls every 10 feet as the move through a dungeon. If you are exploring an ancient tomb, defended by traps that re-arm themselves and don’t require maintenance, then you’ll run into previous victims, and might even get some hints as to what threats await.

How Does It Actually Work?

Things like “pressure plate” are kind of thrown around, without always thinking about they really work. I’m not saying you have to go get an engineering degree to come up with traps for your D&D game, but take a moment to think through how the trap could work. If nothing else, when your PCs start prying it apart to disable it, you’ll be able to give a good description.

But, if nothing else, how does the trigger activate? Does the pressure plate work a lever, or is there magic that simply detects when someone steps on a particular stone in the floor? Is the poison needle in the lock spring-loaded, or does it use the force of turning the knob, or is it just hidden in the mechanism so that whey you reach to push the door open, you prick yourself?

Think about how it resets, and think about what it means if the trap is a one-off. If the trap can’t reset itself, then it will only work once, and either you will need NPCs to periodically reset the trap, or you will be able to follow a path of dead predecessors and unlucky adventurers pretty far into the dungeon before you encounter a trap you’ll have to bypass.

I would say, rather than see these as problems, make them features. Built the menace in your deathdrap dungeon by showing a dozen previous adventurers (their equipment stripped of course) who died in gruesome and horrific ways before the PCs ever arrived. Maybe describe them as apparently more accomplished and powerful than the PCs. Maybe one of them was famous, or a member of an Adventurer’s Guild that the PCs recognize. Then, suddenly, no dead bodies. Now the PCs know they’re in for it.

Not Built to Wound

Much as I hate to just kill PCs outright with a single die-roll, one has to consider the fact that traps would not be build to wound intruders in most cases. They would be designed to kill. Now, PCs are obviously extraordinary people, but in the Monster Manual most basic humanoid NPCs listed in the back have two hit dice, meaning any given trap, even the most basic sort, should do at least 10 damage on average. This would be enough to kill curious farmhands, and who would go into the trouble of building a trap when someone who isn’t even an adventurer could just take the damage and continue? This means, in DMG terms, that we’re looking at at least 2d10 damage for any trap that isn’t designed to be a nuisance, or a warning, or only designed to stop kobold children.

Other Senses

Think about how your traps function – what is necessary? And then what would those necessary elements smell like? Sound like? Would they have an effect on the texture of the walls, ceiling or floor? Would they kill off the local lichen that has covered other passages? Would they attract insects?

I had fun looking up what various highly flammable fluids would smell like when building a trap in a previous game. So the PCs encountered this sweet, chemical smell in a certain corridor, and didn’t know what to make of it (failed Intelligence: Nature check). So when they set it off, they got doused and then set on fire.

But if there is, say, ten gallons of highly corrosive acid suspended above the PCs’ heads, ready to sluice down onto them and melt their faces, what does all that acid smell like? Is it in an airtight container? If not, it’ll be possible to smell it, or even hear it bubbling menacingly. (I know acid doesn’t just sit there bubbling, but let me remind you, we are playing pretend.)

Simple Magic

Speaking of playing pretend – given the resources available to the average D&D dungeon-builder, I’d expect a lot more magical traps than mechanical ones. Your usual D&D world has little or no gunpowder, but a significant number of people who can throw fireballs. Even for first-level casters, you have magic missiles that can’t miss, and alarm spells that can’t be circumvented, simple illusions, color sprays and thunder waves. Why build a complex mechanism to push people over a ledge when you can just have a triggered thunder wave to shove them off? The DMG doesn’t have a lot of details around how to build traps, and only a few examples, but I’d take as a starting-point any spell with an interesting effect in the PHB. Why have darts shooting at your PCs when there could be rays of frost, both damaging them and slowing their escape? Why have a poisoned needle in a lock’s mechanism when it could just trigger a poison spray? And at higher levels, I’d expect far worse.

The Trap Is People!

In a previous game, I planned a series of ‘traps’ that were actually just kobold-like creatures being assholes. They had constructed these no-win situations where it looked like the PCs could get their hands on treasure, or even objects that were needed to solve a puzzle-door that would enable them to continue, but while they tried to get to these things, there would be creatures in various parts of the room, fully prepared, shooting them or lighting them on fire or flinging things at them.

So imagine even a group without a lot of resources at their disposal, but they know that adventurers will come to try and take what they have, and they have weeks, or months, or hears to decide how to mess with those adventurers. Having the trap be people has the added benefit of letting them taunt the PCs while they damage and hinder them. Of course, if you choose this option, when the PCs finally get their hands on the culprits, expect some epic butchery.