The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: September 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE!

I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…

WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read or seen and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.

TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.

ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.

MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.

There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…

Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.


I really stepped on this bitch!

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I step on bees…barefoot. No lie GI, I literally step on bees. And get stung on the same left foot every time. This has happened three times in my life to date. Walk across the grass as a kid while on a family vacation – YEEEEOOOW! Go to the beach with other parts of my family a couple years later (it was black, might be a wasp) – YEEEEOOOW! Go many, many years with nary an incident while making sure every bee in my field of view stays in my field of view, if you see them they’re not the problem. Let them do their pollination thing well away from the more deadly of a farmer using neonicotinoid pesticides or me on a mild bee freak out. 

I was going so well until this week when a bee enters my living room. There’s a small hole in my balcony screen that seems to let occasional bugs in, but few out. I had the door open because shit it’s hot. It buzzes around scary me just enough to reach for the nearly empty bug spray can leftover from moving in. Sometimes it’s the noise. Other times the little fucker dive bombs me trying to figure out why my light fixture that could look like a flowering tree isn’t producing nectar and baking the shit out of her with CFC radiation.

This goes a couple days where I really don’t like my time on my favorite couch with the bee overhead. No, I don’t do full blown phobias, but I am nearly grinding my teeth as I read, write and watch TV. I reached for the can at least twice spraying it like a duck hunter giving off warning shots. I need the bee-specific version of the ballistic missile defense radars from the Sixties because I’m not even coming close to making bee meet bug spray. Little yellow and black bitch will get a Strategic Draw Declare Victory and Go Home result largely because she’s too stupid to reverse course through my screen out the way she came.

So two nights ago, there’s no bee. I’m doing my thing barefoot and then there is the bee. I get the can. I step around between the coffee table and the TV. I put the can down on the coffee table. I wonder if I just close the door and wait her out instead. Sure enough, I put my left foot down on the one of many throw rugs covering my crap carpet and – YEEEEOOOW! – feel a familiar sharp sting running through my left heel.

I don’t see anything but what may or may not be a stinger left in me probably with Captain Ahab’s curse translated into Bee – “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee…” I yank it out with pliers and the venom reds up my foot for the next few days. Judging from the lack of buzzing on the nights in between, I got the bitch…pyrrhic victory. I confirmed the body count walking through the spot I stepped near just before this writing session (see picture).

Now, how do I look less like a douche being the guy who steps on bees, the last one on his own carpet? I know! There’s got to be an RPG monster in here somewhere! Because, if I can’t milk this moment overblowing this moment the way Peter Benchley nearly ass-fucked Great White Sharks with Jaws, I’m not sure why I have my imaginary creative license.

I’m pretty sure Dungeons & Dragons has already covered the giant deadly versions of Apis Mellifera (honeybee). Giant bees and wasps have been a feature of adventure movies since forever. Insects just look like they’re out to get you; probably it’s the compound eyes. So why not scale them up to get the most bang for your scare investment?

Original Battlestar Galactica tossed the survivors of the ragtag fleet onto a planet where their alien hosts welcomed them with open arms promising food and rest. They discovered the honeycombs into which anesthetized humans were shoved into next to an egg (typically a wasp behavior, but who’s counting?) somewhere around the third commercial break. Apollo and Starbuck shot it out trying to save the ones they could and then they discovered the deal with the Cylons. I’m surprised Adama didn’t order the planet blown up Death Star style with one of the Galactica’s three big missiles later used to blast a basestar.

Ringo Starr famously squished a bee sized about like a dinner plate (too large for normal bee and too small for giant bee) onto his friend’s face in Caveman. The point was a green and goopy joke getting all over the guy’s face. I’m pretty sure Ray Harryhausen didn’t include giant bees or wasps in his movies because the great stop motion artist might have been too busy with skeletons, genies, flying horses and scorpions to get around to it. So, of course, there is a listing in the Miscellaneous Beast section of the Monster Manual for Giant Wasp (tomato, tom-ah-to) and Swarm of Insects. Someone’s paying attention to the things that scare the shit out of us in our dreams.

However, the assumption is RPG wasp/bees will act like wasps and bees flying around searching for food or defending nests. Images of adventuring parties swinging swords and trying to get the right bead with the arrows should now flood our imaginations. None of which allows me to flog my dead hobbyhorse of bees that lurk on my carpet just waiting to ambush me, by inflicting the same on countless players to come.

Bees that wait in ambush? I’m thinking of a bee that flies just ahead of the party and burrows into the ground ahead just like a Trapdoor Spider tasting the vibrations in the ground and wait for it…wait for it…pounces just when the big juicy fighter gets too close. Does she go for the fighter with all those muscles smacking her mandibles at all that protein? Does she go for the guy in the funny robe and hat remembering the last time the wizard blew up wrong taking out three of her sisters?

Frankly, I don’t know. You, Dear Reader, are more likely to get into a game before I do and each Dungeon Master will do his or her evil thought energy the way that feels best. Bees that lurk in ambush will spark an interesting backstory tap dance for how bee/wasps with known behaviors suddenly come out of the egg as the unholy love child with a Trapdoor Spider. Each DM deciding to do something a little different will invent the right mix of behavior to get the most out of the bee. Do they have epi-pens in the Forgotten Realms? More importantly, cans of Raid and matches?

Will I use Giant Trapdoor Bees myself as a monster? Ask me when I break the pattern for much of my entire RPG life (game implodes after three sessions on average) and I resume being the sadist behind the DM Screen. Will I have to do penance because bees are good things that pollinate plants and write a positive representation to get out from under hypothetical silly people who can’t take a joke? Probably not, everybody squirms just a little bit around bees and wasps. Take your pollination a little further down the road, Missy!

Inspiration? Perhaps…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Yeah, yeah, even I’m already tired of bragging up my various RPG characters. But, if you read further there ain’t no braggin’ here. Si-Yun the Fighter…well, he’s playable, but I quickly tired of his motif after one session. Why? The concept that sounded so good between my ears just seemed ridiculous laid out on a gaming surface. What does he do? He throws rocks and baseballs at your head. 

So there I am on my periodic Meetup expeditions trying to find a game that doesn’t require that I A) give up my sacrosanct Wednesday night writing session or B) drive long ways in unfamiliar traffic. I find a Culver City game. I sign up. We meet at a gaming store set in the mushy spaces on the map between Culver City and Fox Studios. The DM tells us to use the point allocation system buried on the last page of the character creation section in the current Player’s Handbook where the player starts with average stats and applies a set number of points to get the results he or she wants.

I take a few days thinking up the concept sure to kill every freakin’ monster in the room. I wasn’t even watching any baseball when I had this brainwave to go for a rock thrower. Suddenly, I’m goofing around with baseball players, specifically pitchers. Si-Yun…Cy Young. Yeah, heavy-handed metaphor is one of my fortes when developing certain types of characters.

Once Cy Young becomes Si-Yun, I’m not going to spoil the concept by actually looking up the pitcher for whom the pitching award is named on Wikipedia. I think he’s a right-hander but why spoil a character with too many facts? Doesn’t matter, I’m a righty with a marked sense of wonder for the few southpaws among us as in – “How the hell do you throw stuff without getting all disco-bobbed in your shoelaces?” So I play righties. Always have.

Naturally, choosing a rock thrower with a folk hero background, probably means I’m world famous in Poland (or local equivalent) for being the guy that hit the scary crows with a rock during the bird invasion. It means optimizing my stats for three fifteens (Strength, Constitution and Dexterity) and three elevens including race bonuses for human. And double specializing as a fighter in rock throwing, along with quarterstaff and dagger.

So have a bag of tennis ball sized rocks will travel. Designing a pitcher as itinerant hero still seems a good idea to me. I’m making jokes about being a four-weapon pitcher. I have a rising four-seam fastball signaled from the catcher as Number One. I have a sinking two-seam fastball as Number Two. A big curveball as Number Three. And a hard slider in the Number Four slot. Fancy blovius for “I’m throwing at your head Mr. Ogre.”

It wasn’t until a little later that my dark imaginings about a baseball character motif naturally led to some funny, in the abstract, thoughts. You throw at the ogre (orc? Whatever). You miss close moving him back a few feet from the inside corner. Now, if we really dive deep on the baseball metaphor, does this now mean the ogre must now whistle to his buddies for a bench-clearing brawl in which they curse your parentage as they swing with ejections, suspensions and fines to follow? Oh, right, it’s already a fantasy RPG us or them pub brawl. Who would notice? In all cases, better get him in the ear, Si-Yun.

I must’ve also imagined the real world results of too many bean balls inflicted upon batters or the similar ugly results of the frozen rope shot straight back to the pitcher’s mound. They’ve listed pitchers getting hit in the head as a risk factor for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). I remember players and base coaches on my team, the Dodgers, taking fearsome shots usually just below the ear that messed them up for a long time.

However, real world head trauma isn’t exactly well reflected in the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons. A sharply thrown rock has really always been a mere D4 in damage. True, I throw my fist-sized rocks and replenish by searching the riverbeds or back alleys for new rocks, brick chunks, road pavers and actual baseballs so ammunition is free everywhere. And equally true, there are really good reasons to have at least a few of the steely-eyed missile men in the party throwing stuff that specifically deals out blunt force trauma: skeletons, zombies, or Giger’s alien xenomorphs. I’ve been in parties that have fought all three.

Maybe you want to break bones for double damage (is that still a rule for skeletons?). Or the monster is basically contagious (I’m looking at you Abercrombie the Zombie). Lastly, the beast might’ve been built by a dungeon master on a bad no coffee day to wipe you out in a spoilsport acid bath after the fact. Blunt force missiles do help the party survive.

So after one play session, why did I suddenly walk back Si-Yun from being a great idea to an okay, playable concept? I’m not sure if it’s my natural ADHD fickleness with characters (I have switched out characters in the past to the groans of certain DMs). Or, perhaps, with a folk hero background that likely says I’m an ambassador for baseball in whatever campaign world I find myself with Si-Yun, that I just didn’t want to talk like a baseball player turned adventurer at the gaming table. How many ERA stats can I bloviate about? Quite a lot if I care, which truthfully isn’t much except when it’s November ball and the Dodgers have survived their traditional August slump.

 And let’s not underestimate that at D4 blunt missile damage throwing rocks just doesn’t do damage quickly enough for the average bloodthirsty RPG player. I’ve played with out and out bloodthirsty (Set Phasers for Deep Fat Fry!) characters in the party. More often than not the bloodthirstiness, even among good characters, is simply the basic survival instinct of – “Maybe the idea is to be the guy that always brings a shotgun to a pistol fight.” Peace through superior firepower, indeed.

So there you have it, a small piece of my character generation thought process…for what it’s worth.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

When we last left my ongoing commentary on my friend, Francis Joe Burns, and his recent creation Danica Shade, I pretty much raved about her prose introduction story This Party’s Sooo Dead (see post). I had a lot of fun watching a purple skinned, pink haired deadly cutie of a dark elf (Drow or D’orch’A in the D&D Monster Manual for those who care) chop-socking her way through a variety of mostly undead people at a Hollywood house party led by a lich needing killing. In the main, now that Danica has jumped into the comic book character she was always intended to be, I’m still enjoying the experience. 

This time around in Nevertheless She Persisted our favorite dark she-elf assassin, counter-terrorism agent, pseudo-millennial gamer girl and all around metaphorical standard bearer for modern decency simply needs a job. A ‘normal’ job that in Danica-verse means a security consulting position. Wearing what is likely to become her signature out fit of a purple and black skirt mated to black metallic armor pieces that give her an odd sexy but still subdued Ren Faire bondage mistress vibe she goes for an interview.

In this short comic book with no interior color, Danica waits in a large office waiting room making mental notes about what it is the Boss might be compensating for. The ladies in the office, all of them beautiful completely out of proportion to the normal distribution of such pulchritude, really don’t like working in this office. The Boss-man assumes every woman walking in the door is a secretary and he grabs asses whenever he can. Danica fumes and leaves about halfway through the interview. She later interrupts a Dungeons and Dragons session to do something about it, break into the office.

As someone who must admit that I knew this story was coming because it is my privilege to sit across from Joe most Wednesday nights working on projects, I must say that how he pitched it gave a lot of expectation compared to how this first story came out in black and white comic book form. There is a totally awesome story in here that might not play as well to new readers, but Persisted serves as a good interim story to keep a fun character alive, until Joe either writes a novel or a full size comic book/graphic novel with colorist attached.

With Persisted, I really want to see Danica either make the Acapulco cliff diving splash into full color comics or retreat into prose where Joe’s words do amazing amounts of heaving lifting describing scenes, characters and dramatic situations. I didn’t hate the pencils provided by Ali Toglukdemir that gave Danica a black and white pseudo-anime look with wide expressive eyes. On most pages, I really enjoyed how pencils and inks worked out, but there were a small few where the narrative got mushy because I’d lost a bit of my ability to tell people apart.

Most noticeably, when the ladies in the office were sent to a harassment seminar as a distraction for Danica to enter the evil handsy Boss’s office to fight for the job she should’ve had in the first place. I had trouble telling if the people sitting around the conference table were the women likely to gain strength in numbers or if they might be the old crony dudes in the boardroom that would then have to deal with the newfound uprising among the steno pool.

Part of this is reflective that Joe really pitched the hell out of this story when we sat together like five-year-olds in study hall, but Persisted for me has been a good solid read that put me in a state much like doing lime shots without chasing it with tequila and salt immediately after. Limes are good if a little sour. Tequila is always good. And the salt chaser has its place. The assumption is that we follow the recipe and do these three things together.

Maybe Nevertheless She Persisted is really a 24-page (full size) single-issue story needing the extra twelve pages of chop-socky, snark and all around attitude to develop Danica’s world and what happens to the crappy Boss-man that many women must’ve worked for at one time or another? Especially considering the chosen ending, the twelve pages presented feel too short (a rare thing in storytelling).

These extra pages that were omitted due to Joe having the usual independent creator woes of having to balance keeping Danica in the market in time for key conventions, knowing that artists don’t work for free and the almighty budget. Sadly this is how well pitched should be 24-page one shots become truncated 12-page reads that leave so much on the table.

What do I want to see in these missing extra pages? Mostly, we should see that the Boss is powerful enough to retaliate against Danica forcing her to up her violence game. And a big climactic monster at the end of the video game level: Ogre, Bridge Troll, Werewolf…pick one.

What really gets left on the table even in the truncated version is the feeling of schadenfreude we want to feel towards the handsy Boss as he gets the shit kicked out of him by a woman that just ain’t takin’ it no more. Even with the presented ending that goes for let’s make a deal, Jerk, much like how Cardinal Richelieu makes a deal with D’Artagnan at the end of Three Musketeers, I really would’ve liked this asswipe to twist for a few pages and need to beg Danica to help fix the damage. I have a feeling that Joe really did this story justice in a prose outline draft that got slashed up translating it to comic book form. These things happen.

Most of the rest of my griping comes from Danica just isn’t a black and white character. Even with the pencils and inks as they are (mostly good but with a couple pages the artists want back), I really believe that color will make our favorite femme asskicker pop off the page. Dude, she wears purple and black dress armor with spandex underneath and at least with this art team it didn’t move me all that much in black and white. Hopefully, Joe will take heart and pay for a good colorist next time around.

After reading both extant stories, Party and Persisted, I wondered if I read them in the wrong order. Danica’s normal career path is to be destined to wipe out really big bads like undead necromancers and other things that go bump in the night. Basically, she should invite Buffy, the Charmed Sisters and the entire cast of the all-female Supernatural spin-off for dinner and shared mayhem. Taking a few minutes to chop-socky disposable goons in an office break in seems like a come down leading me to wonder if Joe gets a little more out of both stories by arbitrarily asserting that Persisted happens before Party, a warm up for the Halloween zombie/lich fight.

At the level of script, I felt that Joe had a mixed bag using caption and interior monologue boxes to drive the narrative. Really good for narrating Danica’s reactions and thoughts seeing this impressively sexist workplace needing an ass-whooping, less so for explaining the sharp cuts between scenes (job interview to interrupted RPG session to the break in to gather evidence). A character introduced in This Party’s Sooo Dead, a gnome hacker that acts as Danica’s Tom Arnold (support team on the headset) might have needed a caption box to tell the reader who she is.

But, I really want to highlight some of the earlier caption boxes that give the reader insight into Danica as an investigator and open can of whoop ass. She walks into the cavernous waiting room and makes a point of seeing the many impeccably dressed beautiful human women with slumped shoulders and downcast eyes. She immediately understands she has walked into a lion cage where the tamer hasn’t fed the performers properly. And when her suspicions prove out with the first ass grab, we get to feel her anger, snark and determination to do something. This part of the comic book just really worked so well, there’s no bashing it. Truncated story or not, Joe clearly hears Danica whispering in his ears as she reaches out from her world far beyond our observable stars. We should all be that way with our characters.

Also in the vein of closing out my thoughts on a high note, I can’t say enough about the additional art provided by cover artist Don Walker and the exposition/title page provided by Paola Carbajal Kerr. Don, another friend from the Wednesday scene, imbues his cover (see above) with the depths that we know Danica will find when Joe finds her true stories and a good artist for the character. The cover gives Danica a sensuality missing from the interior art and quite frankly is the real reason for my ‘spring for color or just write a Danica novel, but don’t let her languish in black and white’ comments. The juxtaposition is just that stark.

And Paola, also a friend from our comics scene, busted out one of her funny and charming Chibi style drawings of Danica, as she acts like Basil Exposition explaining all the parts of the universe that just aren’t going to show up in a simple story of Danica taking down a sex harassing douchebag Boss: magic, magical races from RPGs and the racism therein. This deceptively simple art delivered with a smile helps me want to turn pages and keep saying as many nice things about Danica as possible.

So far that’s Great In Prose, Fun but Could Be Better in Black & White and Will Blow Socks Off in Color.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Perhaps you listened to the previous Dungeoneer’s Diary post for the constant refrain of “and then the game broke up due to life and reasons?” Well, that has also been a constant in my RPG life since high school, largely my college play with a long layoff because at this point life (24 and flamed out from school) people really into tabletop RPGs should basically be channeling that creative energy into a script or a book. You know, chase money. But, I do get to remember the time when a game lasted, what it taught me about RPGs and remember fondly the characters that made it possible. 

Picture, if you will, a sophomore fighting his way back from Academic Probation (GEs kill the arrogantly unprepared who never fully understood school, except as a life experience). I need something to do on Saturdays. I get to talking with my buddy, Steve, who has forgotten more about anime than I’ll likely ever learn. We like Star Wars having met at the Death Star trench run video game in the lobby of our dorm. We like that Star Trek: The Next Generation is on TV even if it’s the silly first and second seasons. And we like Dungeons & Dragons.

“Steve, it’s been a little while since I played.”

“There’s this really cool game that I just got into through the Gaming Club on Saturdays,” Steve says. “We still need a few people, so it should be okay.”

“What do they need? I kinda want to play a thief or an illusionist.” (In hindsight, dumb. Never ask what the game needs. It’s your playtime.)

“I think we need more guys that swing swords, fighters maybe a ranger,” Steve continues.

So I come to the table and roll up a ranger. Kalgon, a half-elf ranger named after the bath soap brand. Away we go as the Heroes of Tharsis, a sleepy village about a week’s wagon trek from the capitol. Kalgon lasted maybe four months.

We started out with a human wizard, an she-elf sorceress, a female dwarf fighter, an elf thief, a half-elf cleric, my friend’s half-elf fighter and a female human fighter maxing out the new weapon specialist rules added to the First Edition rules (2nd Edition just added to AD&D) to be the archer that Legolas is and always will be. Kalgon largely bored me. Yeah, I tracked in the forest and added to the mayhem of the party. Reflecting my life in college at the time, the ranger drank too much (think Bluto from Animal House).

We reach near 3rd Level ambushing kobolds and then forcing the goblin in charge to come to Panmunjom, so to speak. Steve lowered a shoulder and dropped a Minotaur off a high ledge. Orcs, several times. The normal humanoid monsters Tolkien taught us to hate and the game reinforced by not making them playable races. And there are no dragons…until there were. And Kalgon is still massively boring as the beer swilling ranger getting yelled at by the wizard for shooting at the wrong target in a big fight.

With the agreement of the Dungeon Master, I change characters. Durkheim Weber Zarathustra, a gnome thief-illusionist (both of my first choices). Now, you had to see this little guy; I repurposed a cool dwarf battlemat figure – The Dwarf with No Name (figures were lead back then). Basically, Clint Eastwood just walked into the house ready to shoot everybody in town, except the undertaker – “My mistake, four coffins.”

And now the Heroes of Tharsis are cookin’ with gas. First off, I sit down with the wizard and figure out how to use my first level Illusion spell to make him look deadlier than any dude with just one Magic Missile is ever going to be. I give him two sticks taped together. One is for the Fireballs he can’t cast yet. The other for the Magic Missile he can cast but runs out of too quickly. As long as I maintain the illusion I can shoot off much of this imaginary mayhem as I want, subject to Intelligence saving throws if you got hit. It worked and the guy playing Merlin even went home to make the prop out of 1-inch PVC and a candle.

And the game lasted another year and a half. A highly regimented killing force. The dwarf, the fighter and the cleric (when necessary, clerics many times should hide behind the Flying Wedge) formed the front shield wall. The lady archer shot over the dwarf’s head scoring for all the points. Meanwhile, the two spell casters (the class of Magic User hadn’t fully diverged into the many flavors available since) and myself cast the spells. And the pure thief, Zell, either joined the shield wall, the archer with a sling or tried to find opportunities to make use of his prodigious backstab bonus.

Massively good times. Nothing stood in our way. Durk contributed smoking up his ever-present cubanos (Churchill-sized Montecristos, because why not? And yes, I’m aware that Clint smoked something smaller in the movies). Drow. Giger’s Aliens. A white dragon (no one believed us when we told the tale). Giants. Ogres. Haitian type zombies (no aiming for the head). And a high-level fighter with a penchant for rape and possession of magic armor.

Cool magic stuff we appropriated all the time. By the time we ended I had a Ring of Invisibility, a magic knife that spoke in a hot sexy southern accent and some other minor doodads. The ring came in trade for stealing the rapist’s +4 suit of full plate armor and giving it to the fighter.

I remember sneaking off to break the bastard’s house because I wanted to fuck up his shit more than I could bulking up Merlin with my illusions. Durk is breathless alone in the dude’s three story house. I’m breathless trying to get stealth rolls under my percentage (48-percent) for each of eight pieces of armor. I went for candlesticks, a symbolic fuck you, and walked out with the local equivalent of an Abrams Main Battle Tank. A good day. And bringing said armor home is a good way to avoid having the rest of the party play Smear the Queer on my head for leaving without telling them.

So what became of Durk and the gang? We fought gods. The archer married the NPC I created as my mentor during character creation (Clint Eastwood being a powerful archetype). We fought more gods. And Durk took a Alignment Curse on the chin coming out the other end as Lawful Good. Yikes, time to retire just in time for the DM to graduate.

There it is, that magical game that went as intended for two years. You showed up hungover from Friday, if necessary, and you played. Most of the names IRL I’ve lost in the blankness of just being on the tip of my tongue. I had a few more years at school.

I played other games, some with members of this game. I shifted over to GURPS and played with other subsets of the club. I went to cons, but every game fizzled after a few sessions and we’d try something else. And then when it was time to leave school to be a writer, I never looked back for more than twenty-five years. It was a good game.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Joss Whedon’s former marriage blew up again with the ex-wife’s essay calling him out as a fake feminist in a recent essay. I have no knowledge of the events preceding the hand grenade toss (posting). I did not and do not run in the director’s social circles and if I know anyone who could put me in a room with him for a meeting, they aren’t saying and won’t say until well after the mess dies down. Why? As is common, certain elements of the blogosphere/Facebook-land immediately blew up in what seems like fake outrage that if taken to its illogical extreme will affect the average audience member’s ability to derive pleasure from Joss Whedon’s past, present or future work. It just won’t do to support a serial philanderer who claims to be a feminist, but who it is now revealed emotionally beat the shit out of his wife for twenty years or so! 

Again, I don’t know what happened. I read Ms. Cole’s essay. But, it is still just one side of the story. I have no way to parse out how much of the seemingly nasty behavior she speaks about in generalities was the objective truth, the truth that feels true to the person living it, or things made up to win an argument. And as someone never invited to either half of this now fractured social circle with no direct observation to work from and zero desire to read any tell-all books on the subject, I don’t have to parse anything. In my corner of the Multiverse, Joss Whedon’s work simply is. However, I have come to believe in the legal tradition of two separate witnesses telling the same story before I accept it as truth. It guards against bias of all kinds.

This means given the many rumors circulating about which actors came away from one of Mr. Whedon’s various projects hating him versus the many actors that will stand by him to this day that there are more shoes to drop. Rumor and ongoing discussion asserts that Sarah Michelle Gellar came away from TV Buffy (it took me years after the fact to watch the TV show due to how stupid the movie was) with an intensely felt antipathy, such that she had three or four chances to reprise her role on Angel and supposedly said some variation of “Fuck off!”

The obvious question here: was Sarah Michelle Gellar (a very young woman at the time who was either not legal or 18 playing 16) one the “needy and aggressive actresses” making Mr. Whedon’s fidelity a sometime thing? To my knowledge, Ms. Gellar has not said that part in any of her statements. Neither have any of the other possible female suspects, the majority of whom still find nice things to say about Mr. Whedon in public. And it’s still not my job to parse out whether these unnamed women A) still care about a former partner, B) needed to shut up to preserve a career, C) weren’t involved in the behavior under discussion, or D) simply don’t want the past blowing up the present.

But this essay isn’t really about what happened; it’s about what the blogosphere and Blue Facebook thinks happened in order to drive the need to feel superior by announcing in their posts and comments that they would never do such things and fuck that cheating bastard who lied to us about his feminism! So far the comments in my personal version of Blue Facebook (that my Facebook feed should be slightly more Purple is the subject of a another essay for a different time) have split fairly evenly between “private behavior for which we have heard only one side and that I find it silly that we’re now dragging all of his previous work before the ideological purity court to see if Buffy is really a feminist show” and “fuck his fake feminism!”

First off, Mr. Whedon caused much of this himself by claiming a feminist mantle in a variety of public speeches and statements in the first place. The easy copout reason says of course, he’s a Dude trying to buy into a movement for ladies to stick up for themselves after centuries of Male Oppression, possibly his chosen strategy to get laid. We name this a copout because feminists are usually grateful when a guy tries to walk back his guilt about the times he has rested his thoughts and actions in the Way Things Have Always Been and wants to march. Perhaps this hypothetical man has a sister that had to deal with a handsy boss at the office and because of the close family relationship he is able to see that not all women lie to get ahead at work? But, there is no feminist subgroup, except for the very worst, that wouldn’t accept a male ally to help get through the next six weeks of marches and actions.

However, the real reason Mr. Whedon just shouldn’t have talked this big about feminism roots in the very nature of the word. Feminism has become one of many Isms, belief systems that in my practical definition require acceptance of an ideal that is total and absolute in order for you to claim the word. Nazism expects a purity of thought that a world without Jews and other non-whites is always better than the world that tolerates such inferior scum. Fascism (to extent that Nazism doesn’t already cover the description) assumes that you must believe that republics with democratic aspirations are founded on false principles because people suck, especially the brown ones, and must be controlled by force.

Similarly, even generally more benign belief systems like Christianity or Moderate Islam have a few points where if you can’t recite them with conviction you will be told “these are core to what we are and, except for welcoming you to the holiday pageant, we have to question why you’re here.” For Christians, it’s the Nicean Creed. For Muslims it’s the ability to recite – “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” – several times in Arabic with a straight face.

So feminism has a natural tendency to trend towards an ideal platform where women always get the support they need getting through life in a world that hasn’t always been nice. The expectation is that every case of a man who talks big about supporting women while cheating on his wife will be denounced. He is a bad lying man who must never get our entertainment dollars ever again.

Mister Whedon failed to leave himself an out by saying “I generally support much of what women who identify with feminism say they need from the rest of society, but my beliefs, like I suspect many men like me, are too shifting and contradictory on the surface for me to ever use that word to describe myself.” And now he’ll get a Facebook keelhauling for a short while until Blue Facebook finds something else about which to express outrage. We hate people who use direct statements when they lie.

The really curious part of this kerfuffle is the part where all of the previous shows are now called to the dock in the Blue Facebook version of the Old Bailey. Is TV Buffy feminist? – seems to be the question before the social media grand jury. Is a show that features an automatically dismissed female character (former cheerleader, teenager, blonde, not terribly good at school, physically petite etc.) standing up for all of humanity against the vampires and demons that go bump in the night a feminist character? Or is she just a product of fake feminism that has been coopted by evil men to provide TV eye candy to feed a curious male fantasy about the scantily clad, hot she-warrior?

Does Joss Whedon get some credit because he drew some interesting other women for the Buffy-verse shows? Does Willow, the lesbian, witch, best friend who is good at school do enough to counteract Buffy’s flaws that jump off the screen?

Does the fact that Slayer mythology is centered around one slayer at a time who is controlled by a committee of men trying to save the world without letting the special woman gain too much power count as anti-feminism in sheep’s clothing? Does the fact that Buffy performs the magic at the end of the show to free up all the potential slayers count as a feminist statement in opposition to the question above? In a related note, how do we parse out Wonder Woman, a franchise Mr. Whedon almost got to direct? Feminist heroine because she’s Wonder Woman, the special woman that leaves the world better than she found it? Or anti-feminist because she does all of the above looking like a supermodel wearing a patriotic one-piece bathing suit and shaves her pits?

Does Mr. Whedon’s subsequent show Dollhouse represent a gross male bondage fantasy about locking a woman up, erasing her mind and then programming her with what she needs for the next episode something that just shouldn’t be allowed? Or is it the story of Echo the special woman who agreed to that life and then over the course of the incomplete and truncated show transcends beyond the confines of that poor existence disguised as life? One brand of feminism harkens to the first question and the other doesn’t care about the anti-feminist setup as long as she wins in the end. And it takes more wisdom than Solomon to cut this particular baby other than to punt to Brian’s best theological statement in Life of Brian – “You are all individuals! You have to work it out for yourselves!”

The many contradictions in Mr. Whedon’s work mirror those in my work and that of everyone else I read. I don’t claim to be a feminist or even an ally, a word that in the nasty Realpolitik of our world is intended to be a temporary thing. I do sometimes create female protagonists doing the best I can with what I knew at the time that I typed, edited and re-typed those words. If that female character becomes a touchstone that helps a woman who hasn’t pissed me off get through her day, great, God love you. If the alt-right tries to do her dirty with the Pepe the Frog treatment, I’m going to sue, but only because I have my own animus towards Nazis and that particular aggression just won’t stand…Man!

So where does the forgiveness presented in the title come in? Pretty much, it’s a prerequisite for the enjoyment of any art, entertainment and conversation in our shared headspace. I have to be able to forgive that the art that pissed me off come from a human being with fears, expectations and biases that are hard to see in ourselves. Thought and communication are all about the shifting except in this case, not the monolithic list of pure statements that define the words we use to describe our social groups. The except in this case tends to create furious anger when in the same room with the doctrinaire who must adhere to the straight and narrow to get through the day.

Not forgiving Mr. Whedon for his presumed infidelities, by giving each show its fair due and refraining from caring about whether the mind behind the show is fully living up to his stated ideals, is a poor way to live. I suddenly have to turn off his show (of which only a few really spoke to me. I’m not a blind raving Whedon fan) because the work isn’t appropriately feminist, anti-racist or whatever enough. This represents a lot of wasted energy. While I don’t want to parse out the truth about Mr. Whedon being a douche to his wife, I do prefer choosing which of his shows I like.

To do that requires that I forgive the man for his failings…even if it is sometimes rooted in the cruel truth that people who cheat on their wives and lie about it while loudly claiming the mantle of an ideology that doesn’t tolerate imperfections among its adherents are quite frankly good for business. For instance, should I ever be hired to write a soap opera, which requires many different flavors of human pathology presented as engaging characters, I now get to mine Mr. Whedon’s revealed personal life for my own benefit. Luckily, I don’t really like soap operas so any forgiveness gets to be unconditional in this case.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Now that I occasionally style myself an unemployed script doctor, let’s go whole hog and go after George Lucas. No, better scribblers than I have pored over Episodes 1-3 and walked away scratching their heads. I don’t really want to pile on when everybody and his dog enjoys beating the crap out of any movies featuring Jar Jar Binks and probably the two most mismatched romantic leads in cinema history (honorable mention to 50 Shades of Grey). I can’t fix these movies without making some kind of Faustian deal. And I’m already flagellating myself redoing Return of the Jedi as a writing sample (more later). No, I’m going after good Star Wars, specifically, Empire Strikes Back

To be fair, I couldn’t then and can’t now find very much wrong with the movie. The Empire chases the heroes around the galaxy. Luke ducks out for Jedi School. Han and Leia fall deeply in love and even deeper into the sheep dip. Luke takes a beating from his father and the heroes just barely get out with skinned knuckles. But, what didn’t come off well sticks out like a sore thumb.

How long does it take for the Millennium Falcon to fly to Bespin after eluding the Star Destroyer? There, a plot hole worthy of my time.

When Han yanks the docking clamp and floats away with the other garbage, the Falcon is completely sub-light and can’t fix with the parts on hand. With Boba Fett tracking the Falcon’s every move, the Empire has Han, Chewie, Leia and the droids under complete observation at all times. On the surface, a good way to keep setting up a hero team for more trouble according to dramatic theory (see Save the Cat, etc.). But, the crew dropped the ball with minute details mostly fixable with dialogue that potentially muddied up the whole middle of the movie.

When choosing a course for Bespin, Han says – “it’s pretty far but I think we can make it.” Okay, point one for someone thinking Dude, what do you want, calendars? They acknowledged the issue!

Now, what does I think we can make it mean? Food, mostly. Star Wars physics seems to make a big deal that no point in the galaxy is more than 30-40 hours in hyperspace from any other point. I certainly play from the assumption that New Hope starts about six hours after Rogue One, a reasonable amount of time to allow the Empire to analyze the records from Scarif.

True, Han’s assertion could also mean a run out of gas problem because we’ve never really asked anybody about energy usage on starships. Does the Falcon on its way to Bespin burn her engines the whole time? Does Han spool up to the highest sub-light speed possible that wouldn’t create relativistic time-dilation (70-percent C give or take) and then drift into Bespin?

A constant burn approach uses fuel at prodigious rates that requires an answer from Mister Lucas ruling about fuel efficiency and fuel availability before entering variables into the “cold equations” of fuel management. We would need to know if starship fuel uses thimbles of matter in each reaction allowing ships to fly vast distances on a single tank. Or we would need to know if fuel were nearly freely available in the form of interstellar hydrogen waiting to be ingested with a Bussard scoop.

Assuming Mister Lucas ruled for either possibility, the reason for constant burn is comfort. Most ships run supporting machinery off the engines which also drains fuel. In the Falcon’s case, this includes the kitchen appliances and the heater/AC that regulates cabin temperature during the months in space. Most importantly, the magic floor device called Artificial Gravity/Inertial Dampener (the best scientific opinion says both are the same machine) also runs off the engine.

Filmmakers embraced the AG machine as a way to save money to avoid depicting zero gravity with either wires or putting the set into the back of jets designed to make unwary space travelers puke. But, the magic floor also serves an in-story reason for it being turned on. Long term space flight without gravity inputs has a tendency to cause osteoporosis in astronauts and cosmonauts that stay too long.

Given that Leia walked off the Falcon suspicious of Lando’s smooth operator ways, we can assume that fuel consumption was not a problem. We can all surmise that constantly burning the engines provided a thrust based artificial gravity towards the back wall or more likely kept regular artificial gravity down towards the floor. So we circle back to Food.

The US Navy reports that nuclear vessels return to port when they reach the intersection of low food, low medicine and spouses ashore threatening divorce. They don’t run out of nuclear fuel and can get all other supplies delivered. It follows that food determines how long one can stay out at sea or space.

So Han dips into the stored food in the freezer to feed Leia, a Wookiee who thinks with his stomach and himself for months on end. Okay, I’ll go with that because the sub-light trip really serves the purpose of giving Luke enough time to train on Dagobah with Yoda. Without being clear on how long Luke has to train, we Star Wars geeks have endlessly argued all over the map – “so he had, like, a week of training before running off to fight Vader.” – or “it had to have been a year.”

And now we get to where George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett could’ve dropped in dialogue (none of these thoughts affect the deeper story structure) to make things more clear. If Leia has been stuck on the Falcon with Han for months at a time eating frozen stew and those Insta-bread packs we saw in Force Awakens, she’s going to be grumpy about food arriving on Bespin. When Lando turns on the charm kissing Leia’s knuckles, she has an opportunity to at least tease Han that she’s ready to fuck Lando for BBQ bantha steak and a real salad. Such thoughts might’ve allowed Carrie Fisher to hold the moment longer milking Lando’s suave demeanor; a good scene as is, but a better scene playing up any sort of jealousy on Han’s part. A missed opportunity.

The dialogue that really serves to murk up how long Han and Leia were stuck sub-light on the Falcon comes at the reveal of Lando’s treachery – “they arrived just before (italics mine) you, I’m sorry, but I got my own problems.” Okay, if the Empire arrived the previous day we have another timeline problem.

The Empire is probably like many other fascist government entities valuing efficiency and competence. This means that arriving the day before the bucketheads are going to run around saying a lot of – “hide!” – as they get ready to spring their trap. Or would the Empire prefer to roll up to Bespin several weeks or months in advance ready to spring a better trap with no rushing about? They have Boba Fett’s constantly updated position data following in Slave One, how long does it take to figure out he’s going to Bespin? Especially since Boba Fett, legendary bounty hunter, has Jabba the Hutt’s file on Han likely to include Known Associates. He’s going to Bespin because he thinks he can trust Lando Calrissian.

The Empire arriving on Bespin earlier than stated gives Lando more motivation without changing much dialogue. “This deal’s getting worse and worse all the time.” If Darth Vader shows up with the boys three months earlier to wait, the temptation for the bad guys would be to interfere with a profitable gas mine.

Lando’s dialogue could also refer to the bribes paid to various Imperial officers just below Darth Vader to stay out of his business. How much would Admiral Piett demand to schedule fewer safety inspections designed to regulate the gas mine into oblivion? I think 20,000 Imperial Credits to start. Another moment missed.

Meanwhile on Dagobah, Luke has several months to train with Yoda. Luke cuts his own head off confronting Vader in the swamp cave. He has Force visions of Han and Leia’s torture – “it is the future you see.” Okay, Luke has the visions while the Falcon is still in transit, so call this one a point for the what more did you need camp.

Similarly, Luke has learned “so much since then” when he can no longer avoid confronting Darth Vader. This generally suggests the passage of enough time since the swamp cave for Luke’s body to be strong and limber enough to survive the demands placed on it by the Force. Point in favor of the movie doesn’t need fixing camp.

Luke needs the time to train with the Force because he knows a few tricks married to a body that is exercise adapted to be a fighter pilot. Fighter pilot Luke can pull Gs through turns. Jedi Luke needs a different set of muscles ready for saber fights.

A real world example, black belts; it takes a lifetime to get Tenth Dan Black Belt in any art, but about three years to get a First Dan black belt. The body needs to catch up to the mind. Similarly, without extensive training, Luke loses more than his hand because his girly-man body won’t cooperate.

Here we are at the end of a rant about a movie that was generally brilliant but has a bit of a fuzzy timeline concerning an important thread, Luke’s training time. I would’ve preferred clarity so I don’t spend the intervening 37 years asking this question. I’ll move on now…

Except to answer how long do I think Han and Leia spent together on the Falcon? Eight months, an arbitrary amount that balances getting the narrative over quicker with giving Luke enough training time to be believable as a Jedi. I’ve written such into my Return of the Jedi script, but you shouldn’t use Jedi to fix the one thing off about Empire Strikes Back. Though if Leia is stuck with Han for eight months how is she not already pregnant with Kylo Ren? A question for another day.