Sunday, June 20, 2010

Faces of Fear - Motivations

A thought I had while going over the Faces of Fear recording I did earlier today.

Why do each of the Faces of Fear act the way they do? Saren hears voices in her dreams that tell her to kill and mutilate people. Warrick is shunned, humiliated, and constantly mistreated by the woman he loves and follows her bidding in an attempt to win her affection. Radok is much like Warrick in that he idolizes Garrett and seeks to win his approval and recognition. But Garrett? He just likes killing people.

Garrett is not like a serial killer; he does not pick out a victim, fantasize about killing him, stalk him, and finally do the deed. He just likes getting into fights and killing people. That is why he became a soldier. That is why he became a mercenary. That is why he became an assassin. And the fact that sometimes his patrons did not want him to kill certain people is why he left even those jobs behind to join Saren's cult. Here, he basically has free reign to kill whomever he wishes (fortunately, he feels an odd, familial love for Saren and all but ignores Warrick, so he has no desire to kill his fellow Faces; I still do not know why he lets Radok live; probably likes to see the little guy struggle).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dwarves and Guns

I just wanted to jot down something that occurred to me while watching the opening minute of Sacred Blacksmith's second episode.

Dwarves in Trokair are rare on the surface. Those below ground have created guns. Gunpowder and explosives are indispensible but dangerous tools for mining and tunneling through rock. They can be used to great effect in setting traps (such as triggered cave-ins) but the dangers of collapse prevent greater use in the manner of concussive hand grenades (short-distance projectile/fragmentation grenades and "flash bang" grenades are suitable (a sudden, bright flash of light in the middle of pitch-black tunnels is a great way to dazzle one's foes)). Hence, guns were born. Their guns focus on spread and power (they would love shotguns) as opposed to distance and accuracy because they are used for tunnel fighting (where it is difficult to dodge and long-distance combat is rare).

One of the things that triggered this post was a line from the opening, "descend into the dark heavens." It is an unusual turn of phrase, as the heavens are almost universally considered to be skyward. I wondered if dwarves would think of things backwards, with their heaven beneath the earth and their hell on the surface (how horrific to be deprived of the welcoming embrace of stone and earth on all sides, to face this terrible empty void of the sky).

Then I remembered that the dwarves have guns ... and why they have guns. The depths of the earth spawn creatures twisted with evil and madness. Dark, inhuman creatures constantly bubble up from the darkness and seek to overwhelm the surface. The dwarves are the wall between us and destruction. That is why they have guns. And given that, there is no doubt that the dwarves do not consider the surface hell - hell lies somewhere far below even their subterranean kingdoms.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

City of Dimension

Creating Jack Dufresne has compelled me to describe, briefly, the City of Dimension. In trying to do so, I wrote that entire post about DJ Art.

The City of Dimension (which I perversely refuse to just call Dimension 90% of the time) was created to house DJ Art. I needed a world on this side of the supply room door to match the many and varied worlds on the other side. I suck at coming up with names for things so I somehow decided on The City of Dimension (I wanted the name to be cool but unusual and I feel that Dimension hits both those notes but it sucks that it came from DJ's name).

The City of Dimension appears completely normal and average. It is located somewhere in the middle of the US (by middle I just mean it is not a coastal city) and probably more south than north (as I grew up in Arizona and do not imagine snow very well, despite many visits to family in Buffalo, living through the President's Day Blizzard in New York City in 2003, and living in Erie, PA). It is not a very large city (like NYC or Boston or SanFran or Dallas) but it is not very small either (like Erie). The people there are happy and, while they deal with many of the same problems as the outside world, there is a feeling of continuity and isolation (a good kind of isolation, in that they need not worry too much about what happens in the outside world because it does not affect them).

The interesting thing about the City of Dimension, though, is that it is home to many unusual people. DJ Art, who finds himself transported to alternate realities through the back door of his art supply store, is a typical example. Jack Dufresne, who is not a natural person but a corporate entity of other people's consciousnesses given corporeal form, is another. Essentially, whereas Trokair is where I try to fit all of my fantasy creations in an attempt to tie them all into one cohesive whole, so Dimension is where I try to fit all my modern creations (the fantasy/modern duality comes from D&D and d20 Modern, two games using the same basic ruleset).

Dimension is home to my magical girl, a half dozen or so of my superhero characters, several of my real life friends from high school and college, my furutistic corporation, and more. The theme tying them all together is normal on the surface, weird underneath. For example, my friends work at a wine and liquor store in the city. Everything about the arrangement is perfectly normal except that no one will ever touch the mop in the corner and no one will ever mention why. And beyond the brief moment when it comes up, no one in the wider world ever acknowledges it. It is a city in which the weird and unusual happens constantly, but the world itself conspires to maintain a mundane atmosphere. It is not a city like NY in Men in Black where weird things happen and somehow you forget. Nor is it a city where a demon walking down the street does not seem unusual. It is, instead, a city where a demon walking down the street will miraculously avoid everyone's attention except that one guy who's plight it is to see demons.

I suppose I could have called it the City of Unbelievable Coincidence. No one tries to achieve widespread panic through the revelation of the supernatural forces at work in the city (there is no mad scientist who takes over the airwaves and demands ransom money or he will blow up the moon). Instead, everyone with these weird powers or occurences tries desperately to keep them under wraps and, overall, succeeds brilliantly. Most of the characters are associates and interact frequently. However, few know of each other's weirdness. For example, the girl who works in DJ's shop does not know he disappears into alternate dimensions and DJ does not know that she is a former member of the high school chess club from the year they all mysteriously gained super powers (she is Pawn and she can split into multiple copies of herself). Yet they work together every day and one or the other often has to cover for himself to avoid the other finding out about it.

I find it is best to just ignore that part. Assume that this stuff all stays hidden and focus on what each character does while exploring his own weirdness, rather than mixing weirdnesses together.

City of Dimension - DJ Art

I created a character in late high school or early college named DJ Art. DJ was visually based on Vampire Hunter D (tall, slim, teenage girl boy-crush man-pretty, and with an awesome hat) but otherwise independent.

At that time, I had discovered the world of freeform message board roleplaying. My D&D group had broken up and I needed my RP fix. One board system in particular really drew me in: Venura. Venura consisted of a number of interrelated and completely independent roleplaying boards all housed under one convenient URL and utilizing one convenient log-in/account. By the time I arrived, many of the existing realms (each separate RP board was called a realm) were defunct, abandoned after months of use or isolation. Every few weeks I made a point of going down the list of realms to search for new arrivals. A few times, I also looked through the dead realms to see if there was anything of interest. One board was devoid of input except for a link to a Geocities or Angelfire webpage. On that page, there was a character submission form for the RP that would have taken place on Venura. The hook for the game was that no characters could have special powers, a wide departure from standard roleplaying (as the goal for many roleplayers is to explore something besides the mundane). The novelty of it struck me and I decided to envision such a character. Of course, being the rule-bending bastard that I was, I made DJ Art.

DJ Art stands for Dimension Jumper: Alternate Reality Timelines. DJ Art was an artist who owned a combination art supply store and gallery and probably taught a few art lessons on the side. He had no special powers. He married young but his wife died soon after (the reason was never established; perhaps it would be too cliche to say she died of complications during childbirth and the child also died, leaving him completely alone and burdened with a terrible loss that fueled his art for years to come; also, her name started with an L (Lenore, Laura, Lisa, Leanne, Lindsay?)).

One day, while closing up shop, he entered the back storeroom and found that beyond the doorway lied, instead of shelves of paints and paper and such, a vast, unending expanse of blackness. As he stared dumbfounded into the darkness, the doorway disappeared behind him. When his initial shock faded, he noticed a glowing light before him. A nonexistent spotlight shined down from the void and illuminated a small table standing on nothing.

(I always imagine the scene from Disney's Alice in Wonderland where she is walking the colored path and the broomdogthing sweeps it away; she sits down on a rock illuminated in the middle of a dark forest; when I was young, that forest was so dark on our VHS copy of Alice in Wonderland that it seemed like there was nothing in the background at all.)

The table was covered with a white linen cloth and a large lace doily. In the middle of the table stood a tall, thin crystal vase holding a single red rose. A mysterious voice entered his head (DJ had the distinct sense that the voice was not being heard by his ears) and told him that he needed to set right what was wrong. DJ questioned the voice, out loud (why not?), but to no avail. Moments later, he found himself standing the middle of a city park at dusk. Thus his first adventure began.

DJ is transported to various alternate realities and alternate timelines in this manner by the mysterious voice. Once there, he needs to figure out what is wrong and then fix it. He has to accomplish this with no special powers because he is just a normal human being. Once accomplished, he finds himself back in the void with the mysterious table and a wide open doorway. Sometimes, the doorway leads back to his store. Other times, it leads to another alternate reality. He eventually figured out that the table was the key to telling the difference. If it appears exactly as it did when he first entered the void, he is back home. If not, he is not. And it seems as though the further the table differs from that initial configuration, the further out of whack the alternate reality he enters.

One of my favorite stories with DJ is when he entered an AR (alternate reality) and saw a young woman who reminded him of his wife (and by reminded, I mean his wife and that girl were almost twins when it came to looks). He fell in love with her (which was very inappropriate, considering she was a teenager and he was in his 30s) but found out that what he needed to set right in this world was getting her to fall in love with another boy her age.

City of Dimension - Jack Dufresne

I was heading into Wegman's (an awesome grocery store in Buffalo and Erie) to get some bread and carrots when I thought about wielding a katana. I had taken kendo classes in college and I tried to remember the correct stance and technique for the various strikes. I thought about taking more kendo classes in the future and imagined showing up to class, telling sensei that I had taken kendo before, and then promptly assuming an incorrect stance. I further imagined that I would be vindicated by further practice as the lessons that had once sat rusty in the back of my brain received a good polish and demonstrated to sensei that I had taken classes before (I simply neglected any practice since then).

And that spurred the thought for the new character. I imagined someone who knew the basics of any job/skill but always appeared very out of practice. It would be obvious to anyone acquainted with that job that he was not a complete neophyte (there would be hints that he knew certain advanced details of a job) but he was not at the top of his game. With a little practice, however, he soon resumed his full competence.

This being the City of Dimension, such a man would need a weird origin for his ability. I decided he would be a corporate being, the collective consciousnesses of multiple people throughout space (and maybe time) given corporeal form. He possessed the knowledge and skills of all these people but it took some time and effort to bring about full access and familiarity (he would, in essence, need to strengthen the established bond to a particular consciousness until the skill operated as his own). He would be a drifter or a homeless man, wandering the streets of Dimension and finding work wherever he could. By choice or by fate, he is drawn to temporary jobs; in those cases where he is offered a full-time position, he inevitably abandons the post after a short time. It is not in his nature to be tied down or adopt a routine existence.

He needed a name. The name that kept popping into my mind was Jack. It was not a deliberate play on jack-of-all-trades but it may well have been a subconscious motivation. For a last name, I somehow came to Dufresne (do'-frayn). He is gritty, hard-worn, probably smokes, often has a mean case of stubble (rarely a beard), and somehow keeps his light brown or blonde hair cut short. He has brown eyes (or blue or green, if blonde).

Obviously there needs to be a yet greater secret about Jack Dufresne. A corporate entity like himself must exist for a reason, whether to accomplish something (like, for an example off the top of my head, the consciousnesses which compose him come from victims of some immortal supernatural creature and he has to solve the mystery of their deaths and remove the dopplegangers that exist in their place) or as a result of something else being accomplished (like, for another example off the top of my head, a supernatural EMP ripping parts of the souls from people and them coalescing into this new being who must find his own purpose in life but might also want to investigate that EMP).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Awesome Journal Articles

Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog?
Haidt J, Koller SH, Dias MG.
J Pers Soc Psychol. 1993 Oct;65(4):613-28.

Are disgusting or disrespectful actions judged to be moral violations, even when they are harmless? Stories about victimless yet offensive actions (such as cleaning one's toilet with a flag) were presented to Brazilian and U.S. adults and children of high and low socioeconomic status (N = 360). Results show that college students at elite universities judged these stories to be matters of social convention or of personal preference. Most other Ss, especially in Brazil, took a moralizing stance toward these actions. For these latter Ss, moral judgments were better predicted by affective reactions than by appraisals of harmfulness. Results support the claims of cultural psychology (R.A. Shweder, 1991a) and suggest that cultural norms and culturally shaped emotions have a substantial impact on the domain of morality and the process of moral judgment. Suggestions are made for building cross-culturally valid models of moral judgment.


Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials -- Smith and Pell 327 (7429): 1459 -- from the British Medical Journal.

Objectives To determine whether parachutes are effective in preventing major trauma related to gravitational challenge. Design Systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Data sources: Medline, Web of Science, Embase, and the Cochrane Library databases; appropriate internet sites and citation lists. Study selection: Studies showing the effects of using a parachute during free fall. Main outcome measure Death or major trauma, defined as an injury severity score = 15. Results We were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials of parachute intervention. Conclusions As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.


Exorcism-resistant ghost possession treated with clopenthixol.
Hale AS, Pinninti NR.
Br J Psychiatry. 1994 Sep;165(3):386-8.


Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. DM Oppenheimer - Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2006


Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Its Effects on a Male Asiatic Elephant
This was published in SCIENCE! (albeit in 1962)


Pair of lice lost or parasites regained: the evolutionary history of anthropoid primate lice.
Reed DL, Light JE, Allen JM, Kirchman JJ.
BMC Biol. 2007 Mar 7;5:7.


An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep Over Various Surfaces.
Applied Ergonomics, vol. 33, pp 523-531.