An In-Game Performance

Because inspiration sometimes comes oddly…

Leaning up against the bar and listening, watching, like his angel had told him before she took him up into the heavens.

Drink in hand, draining away slowly, savoring each sip just a little bit longer to keep a quiet peace inside.

But then the piano starts playing, and he knows this tune, this old standard of bygone days that still speaks in strains to ears not born since long after the composer died into the dust, man.

Synth plugs into amp, a toggle is flipped, and the mellow sound of a rubber-mouthpieced tenor sax swells up under the piano strokes, letting the keys lead and ringing along with them in a harmony bluer than the seas below, than the skies that they had left behind, cleaner than the corridors had ever been.

And the solo, when it comes, because it comes, steps carefully around where the keys part, and if it’s a mulligan, it’s one people are glad to have taken.

It’s a classic look.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

A quick couple of toggles, a perfect shift down to Eb from Bb, rubber becomes steel, and a nasty, guttural funk backbeat joins throbbing ivories and sopranino echoics, punching up counterpoint in visceral pulses, buzzsaws humming in short bursts behind.

Let them look and listen and wonder what else is there.

Eyes close, body rocks, and all creation falls away.

Lyrics shift and call for something further afield, and the progression of music follows along, swing to bop to funk and further forward.

A second key under the left thumb is pressed, and the music drops an octave, slapping bass with sawtooth wave from mimicry of well-cut cane punctuating in three-octave jumps and sudden falls protesting words, going low to accent the high and going high to fill the silences between.

Bliss, man. Who can know such joy as this?

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Hymn against the Stupid God 199

Again, it rises, that old pressing need
To lift up voices, resist the shrill screed
That children from that darkness must be freed
Of rolling dice and telling lies for fun,
Which in the minds of many has begun
To wrap them in a cult, a mighty one.
And yet, those who might be thought at its head,
Did such a thing exist, as not, have led
Themselves to folly, and those same have pled
That they themselves but jested, did not mean
To anger those on both sides of the screen
Who now themselves have started them to wean
Away from sagging tit and milk gone sour.
Stupid God, we hope, laments this hour.

You know what I’m talking about…
Photo by Armando Are on

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Another from the Archives: More Assessment Practice

Last week, I noted having done some assessment-practice work with a (fortunate) client who had lived outside the testing culture prevalent in the United States and was in need of adaptation to it. (See here for details.) The example I gave then isn’t the only one I have handy, fortunately, and since it seemed to go over relatively well, I figured I’d give another.

Accordingly, below, I give another of the exercises I put to that most fortunate client. The passage runs approximately 190 words and tests out at a ninth-grade reading level. As before, it is adapted only lightly to suit the medium. The original was printed on letter-sized paper in grayscale, and working with a physical sheet is quite a bit different than working online, as all too many Texan students are finding out…

Read the passage below. For each of the questions that follow, select the correct or most accurate answer.

1The tabletop role-playing game can be defined as extemporaneous, collaborative, rules-assisted storytelling. 2What this means, in essence, is that a group of people get together to tell a story using a set of rules, making up what happens on the spot from the germ of a prepared idea that one of the people brings to the gathering. 3This is different from the online role-playing experience, in which players are confronted with computer-generated enemies to fight and puzzles to solve. 4Online role-playing games focus on combat, and because of the necessary limits of programming language and the finite capacity of computers, there is not much flexibility in the nature of the story. 5Certainly, players can choose different paths for their characters, but those choices are as narrowly defined as menus at fast-food restaurants. 6Tabletop role-playing games, however, are as flexible as the minds of the players, and can respond to more stimuli in more ways. 7Tabletop gamers can think of options that no others in the group would have considered, thereby taking the story in new directions. 8This has the effect of making tabletop gaming a richer, more immersive play experience.

In sentence 1, “extemporaneous” is which part of speech?
A. Adjective
B. Adverb
C. Noun
D. Verb

In sentence 1, “extemporaneous” means
A. Made in the moment
B. Made in the night
C. Made of former spouses
D. Made of holes

In sentence 3, “This” refers to
A. A group of people
B. Online gaming
C. A set of rules
D. Tabletop gaming

In sentence 4, “finite” means
A. With a beginning
B. With an end
C. Both A and B
D. None of the above

Sentence 5 offers an example of
A. Analogy
B. Conceit
C. Metaphor
D. Simile

In sentence 6, “however” serves to mark
A. Addition
B. Causation
C. Deviation
D. Negation

One inference that can be taken from the paragraph is that
A. Nobody should play games
B. Online games are better than tabletop games
C. Tabletop games are better than online games
D. None of the above

(Answers: 1, A; 2, A; 3, D; 4, C; 5, D; 6, C; 7, C.)

If you or someone you know might benefit from some additional practice with this kind of thing, or you’re in an instructional position and would like to outsource some assignment development, I’m happy to help. Just fill out the contact form below, and we can get started!

Or if you just want to send some support my way, that’ll be good, too!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 334: Dragon Haven, Chapter 1

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

After more of the ongoing exchange among the bird-keepers of Bingtown and the Rain Wilds, the first chapter of Dragon Haven, “Poisoned,” begins with Alise watching Leftrin and conferring mentally with Sintara. Alise asks after the copper dragon, Relpda, and is informed by Mercor that she is beset by parasites and suffering; he maintains watch to ensure the integrity of dragons’ dealings. Alise allows herself to be led aside by Leftrin, considering her husband as she does, and the two confer briefly about their situation.

It’s an obvious connection…
Penny-Dragon’s Maulkin and Mercor on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Sedric considers his own situation as he confers with Carson, the latter commenting on the former’s seeming illness and moving to offer some aid. Sedric suffers aftereffects of having drunk dragon blood, and Carson quietly broaches the topic of same-sex liaisons with him, and Sedric finds himself unsettled and anxious about the hunter.

Thymara and Sylvie confer about their situation, Sylvie remarking on Greft’s willingness to set aside a number of the conventions under which the Rain Wilders had lived. Thymara finds herself considering the dragons, and Sintara approaches her with demands for care and attention. Thymara addresses the atrophy of her wings, provoking annoyance, and a parasite is discovered on the dragon. The discovery prompts examination of the other dragons, and more such parasites are found–and the wound inflicted on Relpda is also laid bare, along with several of the parasites. Efforts to purge Relpda of the beasts begin in earnest.

Thymara finds her regard for Alise shifting amid the work they do together, and she recalls her own work to rid Sintara of parasites. Sintara sends her after Greft and Jerd. As Thymara works to obey her dragon, she considers the compulsion to do so that has been laid upon her. She becomes aware of another presence in her mind and persuades it to leave her, after which she comes upon Greft and Jerd amid an assignation and a conversation about selling off parts of Relpda’s carcass to fund the foundation of their own society. Thymara considers the implications of what she sees and hears, and she flees when she is seen by the rutting pair.

Aboard the Tarman, Sedric continues to suffer from having tasted dragon blood.

Something comes to mind as I reread the chapter for this write-up: Dungeons & Dragons. That the primary example of RPGs would come up isn’t a surprise, especially given some of my recent posts (here and here), but what brings Dungeons & Dragons to mind, specifically, is the association of specific dragons’ behaviors to their phenotype. The gold dragon, Mercor, is presented as particularly wise and unusually considerate of humans, for example, while the sapphire Sintara is dismissive. Such depictions seem to line up with information about dragons presented in core rulebooks of various editions of Dungeons & Dragons. (That contemporaneous to the novel’s presumed composition would be either 3.5 or 4.)

The extent to which Hobb is or was familiar with Dungeons & Dragons is not known to me as of this writing; I’ve not done the work to look into it as yet, and it’s not certain I ever will. It may be that she was heavily involved in the game at various times; so much would account for the parallels. But even if she was not, given the amount of overlap between fantasy readership and the Dungeons & Dragons playerbase, the parallels suggest that the game has informed popular understandings. And that might well inform an interesting project to pursue.

I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written, and we’ll talk!

One of the Reasons I Love the RPG

I have not made a secret of my long time playing tabletop roleplaying games and things very much like them–RPGs, generally. Indeed, I recently discussed yet another game in which I participated and which has drawn to its close, and I’ll be discussing another in a more formal context, as well. So it might well be guessed, and rightly, that I am fond of the RPG. More than two decades of persistent play show as much, as do the hundreds–perhaps thousands, at this point–of dollars I’ve spent on the hobby.

Photo by Skitterphoto on

(That’s part of the reason I am so envious of gaming streamers and professional players as I am. I never thought to monetize the hobby, and I think I’ve missed my window. That I have the other things going on that I do doesn’t help, either.)

I’ve remarked, following Mackay, on the nature of the RPG as a storytelling activity. For a tabletop game, the storytelling is extemporaneous and (generally) ephemeral; without recording devices–and most of the tables where I’ve played haven’t had them, although I know they’re more and more common–the stories being told exist only in the moments of utterance and are lost but to memory. For the online forum games I have played most in the past many years, though, there is a lingering record. Absent server failures and data loss–always perils, to be sure–a player can go back years later and look over what they did in game, find the character’s voice again. Or a new player can stumble into and through the intertwining stories left behind, grow enamored of them, and come in to participate in making new ones.

As much happened in the game I discussed in the previous post. The player in question swiftly became something of a favorite in the community, and I join several others in hoping to see that player in future games. (There are more games coming. I’ll be running a couple, at least.)

Part of why that player became a favorite, and part of why I continue to engage with forum-based RPGs to the (excessive) extent I do, is that they generate as much art as they do. The player was a fairly prodigious writer, not only narrating character events and thoughts at some length, but also drafting a collection of poetry as supplemental material for the character. I’ve done similar things for games, not only doing the background work of detailing milieux and characters for others to play in and with, but also producing my own characters’ materials. For one, for example, I wrote a fight song and alma mater for his high school–the character is a bandsman, if on a different instrument than his player. For others, I have written dozens of poems in a variety of forms. For still others, I have done other things yet–and the players with whom I have played have done no less, and often more.

While no few of the things that were made and shared have gone away–data loss is ever a peril, as noted–no few others remain, in memory and elsewhere. Because I have gotten to play, I have gotten to experience that art, and I am the better for it.

I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written, and we’ll talk!

Reflecting on Another Ending Game

I know that I have written on several occasions about my ongoing engagement with the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game (L5R); I’ve played in each of its iterations save the most recent translation into D&D rules, I’ve run games or helped to run games in most of them, and I’ve done some scholarly and semiformal work on at least a couple. It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn, then, that I’ve been recently engaged in yet another L5R game: Sapphire Ambassadors.

The game in question this time as it appeared on my screen when I set out to write this.

Sapphire Ambassadors has its origins in an earlier game in a campaign–a series of linked individual games taking place in the same overall narrative milieu–and had been intended to be a fun diversion from the main line of that campaign, a useful side-game to help flesh out the specific vision of the world in which the game’s story occurs. In the event, it became the concluding game of the campaign, some personal factors on the part of the specific milieu’s originator having led to the dissolution of that campaign’s main narrative line. It was something of a sadness; I’d done a lot of writing for the game before the decision to close out the campaign came down, and the originator is a long-time friend and colleague whose personal life is of some interest and concern.

Another game master–centralized narrator and referee–and I decided to press ahead with the game, anyway, allowing players who’d participated in the earlier games in the campaign one last chance to tell their characters’ stories and bring some closure to narrative threads that had been drawn out in those games. We also welcomed new players–we always do–and we tried out a few new mechanics to help enrich matters despite the looming end of the game-world.

In all, I feel the game to have been a success. I’m not pleased to see the campaign end, of course; I enjoyed playing in it when I could play in it, and I enjoyed running games in it when I have done that. I’ve learned a lot about how to do the latter, certainly, and how to design events for forum-based iterations of games. (I’ve got some work in progress that goes into some of that business, so I won’t go into great detail here. Later, I promise.) And I will be taking some of the ideas that I feel–and that players tell me–worked well into the campaign I am working on even now (see this and this for more information). How well it’ll continue to work, I don’t know. How long I can keep it going, I also don’t know. But, as Sapphire Ambassadors and its campaign wind down, I am reminded of why I do it.

Telling stories with my friends is fun.

Like the writing that I do? Reach out below, and I can do some for you!

Some More Thoughts Regarding a Legend of the Five Rings Campaign

I noted in my previous post to this webspace that I am working on a Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) roleplaying game (RPG) campaign. Development continues on it, as might be imagined; I work on money-making jobs, after all, which take up time, and generating materials requires its own efforts and does not always go quickly. I expected as much, certainly, as I undertook to work on it. What I did not so much expect, however, was running into how much I have lost in the years since I last thought to do this kind of thing. I am running into…gaps in my knowledge, but I remember knowing a lot, and the…gaps are frustrating.

There’s a lot to work with…
Image is from the Atlas of Rokugan, used here for commentary.

Admittedly, I’ve noted this kind of thing before, about having been able to immerse myself in things that I can no longer, given the different demands upon my time and attention and the many, many rewards that associate therewith. And I am not saying I would trade what I have to gain back what I had. It’s not like I actually sold it away, anyway; it’s less produce vended at the stand than fields that have been left alone, and while there are still fruits growing from that untended soil, there are a lot of weeds that have gotten in the way, and trees that promise yet better have sprung up amid the once-plowed rows.

A large part of what I’m having to do, therefore, is refamiliarize myself with the way things once were. It’s complicated somewhat by the advance of time; resources that once were available no longer are, and the resources that remain rely in large part upon what is now gone. It’s something similar to some of what I faced as a medievalist, really, and which others encounter in other places; we know there was stuff, because we have other commentaries on that stuff, but we do not have the stuff itself. So we have to reconstruct what we can, how we can.

I’m fortunate, though, that the game is as it is. For one, I’m moving a fair bit ahead of a particular point in the game’s canon, and avowedly doing so in a way that avoids a major, climactic event. It makes sense, therefore, that what comes after would also be different. That is, I am largely freed from constraints of the existing narrative–but I still need to address what happens with the major players in the game’s canon up to the point of departure. Were I playing in the game, I’d have questions about it; I have to expect that my players, for whom I am making the setting, would have similar questions.

Again, this ain’t happening.
It’s still Drew Baker’s Second Day of Thunder, and it’s still used for commentary.

I’m making my way through things, slowly, certainly, in the moments between tasks. And I am glad to be doing such a thing again; there’s a peace to it that I appreciate and that I often need…

Your financial support remains greatly appreciated!

Some Thoughts Regarding a Legend of the Five Rings Campaign

So here I am, writing again about roleplaying games in my own small, nerdy way. I am once again working on putting together a campaign for the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) Roleplaying game, something I’ve done before. While I’m not (yet?) returning to that particular idea (who knows; it might go that way), the work does afford another opportunity for reflection and consideration.

Photo by Armando Are on

Now, one of the things that the L5R property made much of, particularly in its earlier incarnations, was the player-driven nature of its storyline. From its origins as a collectible card game, it used player performance to drive the narrative represented in updates and new releases of cards and sets–and, eventually, the roleplaying game through which I was introduced to the property while still enmeshed in the mistake of thinking that I’d be a band director when I grew up. As I’ve played over the years, I’ve done as much as I could to remain abreast of the storyline and its developments, following even when the story reset itself as L5R switched hands. (Though I may be pilloried for it, I think the new version does some things much better than the older one–much better, in a few cases.)

Roleplaying games are, fundamentally, storytelling exercises, collaborative in ways that others aren’t (as Daniel Mackay asserts in The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art), and such things do much to build community and fellowship, as Gary Alan Fine finds in several studies across decades. This is true for L5R perhaps more than other properties, given its explicit orientation. More importantly, though, it encourages motion beyond the “canon” of the game–it has to, really, since without the willingness to move beyond that canon, the players participating have decided limits on what they can be and can do. And while it may be the case that a lot of play-groups look for the gaps in the story that they can fill, it is also the case that cleaving to canon too closely means the surprise of a good story…isn’t.

Consequently, as I thought about setting up my own game, my own campaign, and got started working on it, I decided I’d…move away from things. It’s something of a fanfiction move, I suppose, or it seems to fit with that descriptor–I’ve not done a lot with fanfiction, as such, although I am aware of the (sensible) assertions that much classic Western literature is, itself, fanfiction. (The Arthuriana I study certainly fits the model, Malory having refined works that expanded on Geoffrey of Monmouth as he expanded substantially from Nennius and Gildas–and then add Spenser to the mix!) I’m taking my point of departure from before the climactic events of the “canon” in either older or newer (as of this writing, at least) L5R; the milieu-shaping event simply does not happen.

Yet, anyway.

Nope. Not happening.
Image is Drew Baker’s Second Day of Thunder, used here for commentary.

I am, as might be imagined, still in the process of development. I’m still working out how the setting will differ from the “standard” one–as it necessarily will, even before the players get to play in it. I have to know where they start to see where they can go, after all. I don’t know that I’m going to do the kind of thing I did in West of Rokugan, so many years ago; I don’t know if it’ll be needed or advisable. But it’s nice to have this kind of project again–among the many others I get to do.

Help fund my continuing bad habits?

An Older Bit of Roleplaying Game Design?

I‘ve made nothing resembling a secret of the fact that I play tabletop roleplaying games–witness this, this, this, and this for some general examples. Nor yet have I made a secret that much of my involvement in roleplaying games has associated itself with the Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying game (L5R) in its several iterations–as witness this and its antecedents, as well as this and its antecedents, this, this, and doubtless others.

This is what it looks like now.
Banner image from the current owner, Fantasy Flight Games, here and used for commentary.

It should be no surprise that, in the years I’ve spent playing L5R that I would spend time running games–and drafting work to help me do so. And, some years ago, when L5R was in its revised third edition (it is in its fifth at the time of this writing), I put together a campaign setting for the game, one I call West of Rokugan. I forget when I started working on it; I recall that I finished it in 2010, and I have learned a lot since that point. (Hell, I’d barely passed my prospectus at that point, and I still thought I’d have the full-time continuing teaching job I had then. Ah, youth!) I had thought that I might be able to move the group I was playing with at the time towards it, but, alas, it never happened.

What did happen was what happens to many roleplaying game groups: the group fell apart. Schedules conflicted, people moved, and somehow, we never did find ourselves in another game. Nor have I been able, in the time since, to get an in-person game going–and the edition of the game has updated twice since, anyway, so the stuff that I’ve got linked above is unlikely to play well with any of the online groups to which I have access.

But I have been thinking about running a game again, and I went back through my files to look at the things that I have done as part of the prep-work for doing so. Looking back over it was…strange; it is the most involved document I’ve compiled other than my dissertation, but it has…issues. Again, I was much younger when I wrote it than I am now, and I’ve learned at least a couple of things since that point.

It’s possible, of course, that I will adapt what I have in the older materials to newer systems. It’s more likely, however, that I will pull some concepts rather than pulling the materials directly. Some things, I remain proud of; others, not so much–but it is good to be reminded, from time to time, of who and what I have been other than in my working life. And it may be that somebody gets some use out of my old efforts; I’d be gratified to learn that it happened.

Could you send a little my way to help through these strange times?

A Rumination on a Roleplaying Game Character

I have made no secret of my long-running play of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). Nor have I made it much of a secret that I am currently playing in an online one, another Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) game, if one using an older rules-set than the current. (It’s still one more familiar to me than the current one; RPGs update, partly to make more money, but games continue despite them.) And, as is common, I have a character in that game, one character whose thoughts and deeds I narrate in reaction to the thoughts and deeds of other players’ narration of their characters and to the overall milieu which has been presented. It is, as Daniel Mackay has described it, extemporaneous, rules-assisted, collaborative storytelling, and I have found it to be great fun across years.

Not quite this automated…
Image from

The game I am playing now has me playing a hunter turning clandestine security operative, and it dovetails with a concept I’ve often turned over in my head, playing L5R. There is a group of purportedly elite guards, and it has long occurred to me that they would be in position to be kingmakers or eliminate rising threats, and it has also occurred to me that their internal affairs analogue would be both present and fearsome. The character I am playing now is working towards becoming such, although that work is not going quite so well as I might like it to. (It’s a common thread with me; I’d like most of my work to be going better.)

The thing is, much about the character is at odds with who I am. There is little clandestine about me; I am open, perhaps too much so, and make little effort to hide. Nor am I so committed to causes as I would need to be to be able to act on their behalf; I am timorous in the main, averse to risk more than desirous of reward. I am certainly not an outdoorsy type, preferring air conditioning and indoor plumbing to open skies and tree-leanin’. (I remain Texan, however.) And I am aware that playing a character is, at best, a fleeting and transitory thing; I know better than to think that my experience in the RPG translates in any way to the real world.

I know that much of the allure of RPGs is escapist. That is, they allow players to inhabit other lives for a time, leaving their own behind. And they are or at least try to be fair, which the real world decidedly does not. And perhaps it is that fairness that I look for as I play, that notion that what happens happens not because the system is set against me, but because my own skills and choices, with some random chance at work, have led to such outcomes. I know I feel forces working upon me that I can hardly name and can worse understand, and I do not think I am alone; the idea that I have some control is a welcome one, time and again, at table or in online simulacra of one.

Dice cost money, even virtually. Aid in indulging my bad habits is welcome.