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Jan. 3rd, 2013 @ 02:10 pm "When the President does it, that means it's not illegal."

A New York court just struck down a FOIA request by the New York Times and ACLU, citing "Alice In Wonderland" and "Catch-22". The White House does not challenge the fact that it has begun executing American citizens without trial. Instead it once again insisted that its legal reasoning must remain secret, and the court agreed. Since the President admits to killing a citizen and refuses to explain why, the proper action is to impeach him for murder and give him a chance to explain why he is innocent. Congress won't do this. Think about why.

http://dailycaller.com/2012/12/31/georgetown-law-professor-scrap-archaic-idiosyncratic-and-downright-evil-constitution/ (summary that doesn't require cookies)
Meanwhile, the same newspaper published an article denouncing the Constitution as "evil" and calling for politicians to consider it non-binding, despite their oath to be bound by it. This isn't a fringe Democrat position, considering that people like Reid, Pelosi and Sotomayor have openly said they don't believe that document meaningfully limits their power.

Still think we're living under a basically lawful and legitimate government that can be fixed by electing more Democrats, or even more Republicans?
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Dec. 28th, 2012 @ 01:19 pm Fantasy Novel Now Available: 'Striking the Root'
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My novel "Striking the Root" is now on sale!

https://www.createspace.com/4058398 -- CreateSpace
http://www.amazon.com/Striking-Root-Kris-Schnee/dp/1481008137/ -- Amazon (smallest cut for me, but you might get a better shipping deal if you're buying other things)
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ATZCNCE -- Amazon E-Book for Kindle, iPad & PC (only $2.99, instant delivery, DRM-free)

"In time, I won't be able to protect the people's souls. To help them live again and again." The Lord fixed Rowan with an intense gaze from the old, sea-green eyes. The threads of his magic flared, igniting in Rowan's heart like a spark. "They mustn't know! Not the old, the sick, nor enemies of the people -- nobody." Rowan averted his eyes and lowered his tail. He'd been trusted with more secrets than either of them had expected.

On a mission from his god, young wizard Rowan discovers a threat to the people of Great Oak and the humans of the land beyond. Will his faith sustain him, or plunge the land into war?

Art by Virmir. ( http://art.by.virmir.com/ http://virmir.deviantart.com/ )
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Oct. 24th, 2012 @ 09:43 pm Worried
Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Skyrim OST
"Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

Despite years of training in law and rhetoric and history, I find I'm still getting stressed out and repeatedly drawn into unwinnable arguments. Why do I bother? Because we're so close to the end of the game. Frederick Douglass' words, above, are a lot of why. If we don't argue, if we don't fight with words to explain what the problem is, it will just get worse and worse until violence breaks out. In the last few days I've argued online with people who don't understand that there's a basic dispute of constitutional law and the purpose of government. Who don't understand that "I can pass any law I want and that automatically makes it legal" is the same as saying "I own you." Or worse, who openly tell me they reject the idea of limited government and who go out of their way to re-interpret any pro-freedom argument as mustache-twirling evil. Fighting in this way is my obligation, but it hurts worse than I'd expected.

I know the people on my side are not always articulate or consistent in what they're saying, but please, please understand that we're very close to being slaves with long leashes. They can sense that. The more intellectual people on the other side are openly saying they oppose the entire basis of our legal and economic system; they want to tear out our heart and replace it with something alien and deadly. If that can't be prevented, please understand that you're going to be lied to up and down about what our motives are, when we resist -- peacefully, I hope.

I should take some comfort from the rest of the quote: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
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Oct. 13th, 2012 @ 07:24 pm GMing Class
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I attended a nice little class on game-mastering for tabletop RPGs, given by a representative of Paizo's Pathfinder Society. Lots of miscellaneous notes below, if you're interested. I also suggest the booklet "Robin's Laws of Good GameMastering" available from Steve Jackson Games.

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We did an exercise where one of us would leave the room and let the others conspire, then have that person try to GM while the players act out some kind of disruptive scenario. The scenarios we did or in some cases heard about, the last one from a real game:
-Reunion: Two players are old friends distracted by talking with each other. GM: "We're gonna take a break in a few hours, and we have a time slot to fit this game into, so can you catch up during the break?"
-Splitting the Party: One player runs ahead and sets off multiple enemy encounters. GM: Makes them roll Perception checks openly to suggest that something bad is happening around them, then arranges for a loud noise that alerts the other party members to where the rogue rogue has gone.
-Calling the Shots: One player dominates the discussion of tactics. "I move over here, and he moves here to get the flanking bonus, and then she..." GM: Asks the other players if that's actually what they want to do, points out problems like attacks of opportunity, and insists on resolving moves in proper order. (I did this one; should've been more assertive and noticed that this wasn't even the guy's turn.)
-Sorry I'm Late: A player shows up late to an already full table. GM: Insists that he wait and not jump right into combat; will decide after battle whether he can play at all.
-Question Authority: Maniac PCs start robbing and killing. (I helped ignite the orphanage!) GM: Starts imposing consequences (guards come), then stops to question whether the players really want to go down the road of an evil campaign.
-This Is Gonna Sting: One guy is nearly dead and mobbed by spiders, and the wizard's solution is a wide-range fireball. GM: Points out that (Pathfinder-specific rules) forbid PvP killing, then lets PCs decide whether this PC is willing to take one for the team -- ie. if the others will pay for his resurrection.
-Ring!: A player is called away in mid-battle. GM: Assumes that the character is busy dodging or something and can't do anything useful. If the character has a crucial ability for the party, then it's better to pause the game.
-The Newcomer: "So, this is a game? What're these funny dice?" GM: Likely this is a player's unenthusiastic girlfriend. Better to have her sit and watch, or make herself useful rolling dice/tracking who's next in initiative, than to play and frustrate everyone.
-Burning Hands: GM: "The buffalo are stampeding down the canyon right at you." Wizard: "I stand there and defend myself by casting... Burning Hands!" GM: "...You understand that isn't gonna do more than make the first one medium rare." Wizard: "But I'm gonna cast Burning Hands!" Resolution: A higher-level dwarf steps in, suggesting that he race in and grab the fool, then shelter them with his shield. GM allows it with substantial risk and damage to both; would've also been perfectly okay to have the wizard get splattered.
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Oct. 11th, 2012 @ 12:06 pm The Individual

Good article here on the "you didn't build that" comment, and the fact that we're not so much arguing for "the individual" as for the existence of any private organizations or social structures between you personally, and the central government. It's kind of a strawman argument, though, because not even Ayn Rand pretended her characters had built their corporate empires personally, alone, without investors or employees or colleagues or teachers. Also, Alexis de Tocqueville made the same argument around 200 years ago that America depended on a thriving set of private and religious institutions. He feared that that would fade away and be replaced by one central, all powerful shepherd that tries to do everything for everyone.

Ie. we're not saying "whoo, anarchy! Tear down all forms of collective effort!" Just "Stop trying to turn absolutely everything from medicine to children's puppet shows into a centrally planned, involuntary government program!"

Note that the author isn't actually a Constitutionalist, since he speaks only in social terms and detects no legal problem with the existence of, say, the forced federal pension system. Because he's not willing to take a stand on legal grounds, he doesn't have any logical defense against oppression other than "I wish you wouldn't do that." Ie. he mutters something about limited government, but can't articulate what those limits are because unless we change them, they're way stricter than the kind of government he's comfortable with.
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Oct. 7th, 2012 @ 12:40 pm Revisions
Current Mood: worriedworried
I have three stories lying around which I think are pretty good, besides a long one being looked at by the "Critters" critique group: "Ex Nihilo High", "If They Eye Offends Thee", and "Intervention". Would anyone be willing to take a look at them for critique purposes?

Currently trying to finish a short story called "Founding Generations", which I don't think is very good yet. I'd want people to say "you should take it in X direction" once I have a complete draft, ie. I'd be open to fairly major changes. Besides that story, I have 1K words of a fantasy piece, and I'd like to converse with somebody who's actually read the incomplete novel to tell me what is wrong with it and whether it's possible to salvage.

Then there's the SF idea. I'm still haunted by this one. I've been wanting to write optimistic, realistic, near-term SF, to the point of feeling that I need to. I've still got only scraps and ideas and broken drafts and setting notes.
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Sep. 20th, 2012 @ 11:01 am Blasphemy
Mohammed Cartoon 11
Keep doing it until they learn to react to insults in a civilized way, with angry Internet postings.
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Sep. 4th, 2012 @ 09:42 pm Games: Mount & Blade
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Lately I've been playing a game called "Mount & Blade: Warband". It's an unusual take on RPGs, both because there's no magic other than your unreasonable amount of hit points and healing, and because it's largely a wargame. You start out as one guy/gal (with noteworthy differences in the reactions you get) fighting a mugger, then quickly get asked to hire some dudes to help you take on some bandits. While there are named NPCs to recruit, with some inter-party friction, the game largely consists of collecting and training dozens of assorted soldiers to take on roving nobles and other robber gangs on a war-torn continent. And that's weird for someone who grew up playing "Final Fantasy" and similar games about you as the Chosen One with a few sidekicks slaying the Ultimate Evil.

It's also strange to compare M&B to "Skyrim". There are detailed 3D castles and towns, but they're obviously minimal sets where you can't poke around in the treasure chests, steal the boots on display, or explore every single closet in a fortress. Is that minimalism good or bad? Good, surprisingly, since the lavish detail of an Elder Scrolls game is mostly pointless. I'd rather see developers put effort into having interesting things to do than into making sure I can steal individual strawberries off somebody's table. You can also interact with some things in menu or 3D form, whichever you prefer. The relatively large scale of the battles outshines Skyrim's civil war storyline: typically 30-100 guys on a side, sometimes cheating a bit by having waves of enemies. A castle siege feels busy when it's hard to physically shove past the dozens of shouting fighters and you see piles of lost weapons to grab and people falling off the walls. A subtle but important part of the game is tracking other parties, something I experimented with. Fully developed here, it's occasionally frustrating (damn it, Jarl Reynald, tell me where you want to meet!) but encourages some planning.

And because the game is non-magical, the writers didn't need to contrive weird storylines to make you important. Instead you can go where you please, eventually marrying into nobility, signing on with a king, and getting awarded a fiefdom which gets repeatedly burned when you're gone. Or deliberately start trouble by helping a usurper/rightful heir take over a country. Or just conquer stuff yourself and form your own faction. Instead of being hailed as the Legendary Dragonslayer, it's been rewarding to start seeing my troops carry my choice of heraldic shield design and the nobles start to take my advice.

Lessons for game design? It seems like some level of personal walking-around-town interaction is important for the feel of an RPG, so that it doesn't feel like I'm managing the statistics of a baseball team, but it's nice to also be able to warp to and from key locations. Implementing some realism features like food supplies, party morale with multiple factors, and social standing can be more rewarding than being made Archmage a week after you show up at the magic school. Set-piece scenes like "breaking a guy out of a castle dungeon" and "fleeing an enemy town when your disguise fails" are fun enough that they can be repeated rather than having a whole bunch of unique quests. Building up your own mercenary band is rewarding, especially to the extent that you see characters improve or interact. (I've reloaded the game after winning a battle with the death of a generic Sword Sister who was once a Peasant Woman I rescued from bandits.)

I'd love to see something like this game that starts adding fantasy elements back in, and adds a little more interaction with NPCs to make your actions more meaningful than "conquer X" or "build a brewery".
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Sep. 2nd, 2012 @ 06:08 pm RPG Report: "Temple of the Water God"
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Dry Spoiler-Free Stuff First:
I ran a game at Mephit FurMeet and had a fun time. We used a system called Mini Six, which is a variant of the Open D6 system. Both are free. My impression of the system was that it was just about right for my style of GMing, because I lean heavily toward freeform gaming (coming at RPGs from a writer's perspective) and Mini Six is straightforward. The worst thing I can say about it is that because the writers held themselves to a minimal, 40-page-or-so booklet, they phrased certain things confusingly or left out important examples: most notably for spelling out melee weapons' damage, how defense rolls work, and the effects of character size. In our game we had everyone make their own characters, refusing my pregens, and the players were able to make them in a few minutes for an unfamiliar system. My other criticism of the system was that min-maxing was easy even for starting characters. Put the maximum starting dice into Agility and Dodge and you're nearly untouchable, yet still respectable with other skills.

I would use this system again and might buy a print copy despite the PDF being free. It might also be nice to tinker with Mini Six using the "Independent Skills" option it suggests, which makes it play more like White Wolf's Storyteller system: instead of always rolling Might+Sword, you might roll Wits+Sword or Charm+Sword in different situations. I also used OpenD6's rule that whenever the Wild Die comes up 1, something interesting happens, not necessarily a crit fail.

As a GM I got experience with in-person gaming, which I'm not familiar with. I learned more about preparing a specific map and drawing it first in MapTool, then on my new vinyl mat, and about making improvised tokens. Unfortunately, I messed up the game balance and made things too easy, so that the PCs weren't even hurt until the second session and then only minimally. Also, I got advice that I hadn't considered at all before: in person, I should use tone of voice and gesture to better convey mood and information rather than verbally casting Wall of Text and being monotone. Next time I'd work on voice, get more tokens, and raise the difficulty.

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Three players joined, after I feared I'd have none: Teric as "Scar", a super-agile but charmless guy, Reisen as "Chris Crim", a smart and pyrophobic guy, and artist Tarns as Kitila, a charming lady. They went to tropical Sundrop Island to visit the mysterious temple recently discovered there, which had a reputation both for randomly changing and for conveying both magic power (in a formerly magic-less world) and gratuitous transformations. They messed around with the transformation stuff, had a couple of silly moments, and talked their way past the boss. Again. (Social skills do matter in a dungeon crawl!)

Two players -- the other said he had church to go to -- liked the game well enough that they asked if we could play again on Sunday! I hadn't planned on that, so I made up a new scenario using the OpenD6 Fantasy Locations book for ideas (it has a random dungeon generator) and deliberately not making another dungeon crawl. It would've been hard to do one anyway, since one of the PCs was now a giant otter! (Not my idea.)

Anyway, it was fun and organized decently for something run during the unstructured schedules people have at a convention.
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Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 01:45 am Debate Questions They Won't Ask
"Will either of you seek to repeal the Community Re-Investment Act?"
"Should the US remain in a state of national emergency re: the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979?"
"Acknowledging that there are shades of grey to this: Communism, good or bad?"
"Both of you have said you want to protect Medicare, and have accused each other of sabotaging it. Can you tell us which clause of the Constitution authorizes Medicare to even exist?"
"If you answered the previous question by saying there's a general-purpose power for the federal government to take things and spend money on whatever it likes: do you think Madison, Hamilton and Jay were wrong when they specifically explained why that was a paranoid reading of the Constitution?"
"No screwing around with this 'baseline budgeting' thing. Should the federal government get bigger or smaller over the next four years? Or are we just debating whether to make it bigger, or much bigger?"
"And finally: Do you think this election is mainly about whether unemployment and GDP growth are above some magic number?"
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