The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: October 30, 2018 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 and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.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.

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© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

By now, Dear Reader, you’ve figured out that I distract as easily as the average Thieving Magpie, especially with shiny objects (technology) on the line. Time to get a new iPad rolled around mostly a defensive move to stay ahead on the ongoing app update arms race (one day I will actually keep a device until the onboard battery dies…just kidding) and so I got just the one I thought I needed an iPad Pro with Apple Pen.

The technological lure of going paperless, except in key places proves irresistible, if I can find the right note taking app to go with it. And then I used the pen learning about the trade offs inherent in any technology. More on that later, first the app search. Or even a little bit about the Apple Pen. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

The Apple Pen, also sometimes referred to as Apple Pencil, is the latest and mostly greatest shiny new thing figuratively pulsing BUY ME in the Apple Store or other tech retailers. It’s white about the size of a Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil (size is important in this story) and it reacts with compatible Apple screens (newer iPads, iPad Pros and eventually new iPhones) to help people write, draw, ink and color things on screen.

I had seen about three of these at my Wednesday comic book creators group and everybody else creator group in the hands of artists doing artist things. They seem happy in the sense of not complaining, though one friend wrapped his up with quite a bit of baby blue electrical tape for a super wide grip (getting there with size). Using their artist specific apps they grind out pretty impressive work. Monkey see, monkey do, so obviously when I deal my old iPad back to the Apple Store, I’ve got all this in mind for the replacement.

What the Apple Pen does is mimic a wide range off writing, erasing and drawing tools. Depending on the apps you buy, you’re supposed to replace ballpoint pens, pencils, ink brushes, paint brushes, markers and maybe even crayons. Artists need these tools presented in mass quantities designed to create pictures meant to maximize images with trillions of colors. Writers need a note taking app that allows for doodling, but generally mimics pen on lined paper.

During this time, I’ve made some kind of amusingly douchebag commitment to myself to write more first drafts by hand instead of straight to type. I picked up a bunch of ballpoint pens by Cross, mostly to say I have good pens. But, just because the mechanical guts of each is exactly the same not all are created equal. For instance, the small pen with the rubber stylus tip really serves as a replacement ink cartridge when I run out. Why? It’s even smaller than the Apple Pen and the couple three times actually writing with it just didn’t sit well with my hands and wrist.

Before my purchase, I’m slashing out words related to the various chaotic imaginary worlds with which I will thrill you (apologies, I do need some hubris for this job). Of my pens, I naturally gravitate to the larger barreled ones with diameters somewhere between 9mm and .45-caliber bullets.

Concurrently, I use 6” x 9” spirals as the cheapest way to have lots of writing area that still fits in my bag. And I can write straight through for two hours straight, or more. All of this works together to leave my arm a little sore at the elbow and sometimes the wrist, no matter what tools I use. But, I maintain that the bigger pens causes less stiffness in my joints than the small ones.

So of course, in hoping to achieve the same effect of scribbling away on my many paper notebooks, on which I then spill coffee and/or freak out and throw into the recycling because I shouldn’t need so much paper, I buy technology where the writing tool is smaller. A trade off between writing ergonomics and green. So now, iPad and Apple Pen in hand, I need the right note taking app.

I start with the app branded by Moleskine; they sell 6” x 9” notebooks with nice covers. They swear that Ernest Hemingway used their products back in the day. I’ve used their paper notebooks and they’re fine, if you can afford to pay four times as much over the generic spiral and can refrain from spilling coffee. During this time I investigated note capture pens (see post), the Moleskine option that I hated was the poor by comparison competitor to Livescribe (also a part of this story).

So despite not exactly liking my two previous experiences with all things Moleskine, I download the app that promises to digitally emulate most of their 6” x 9” notebooks: lined, unlined, graph and storyboard with possible later in-app buys for other classic notebooks. Someone really didn’t do their coding homework with regards to making the Apple Pen work the way a writer needs them to work.

I couldn’t find much in the way of a ballpoint emulation where the stylus presents a uniform width of letters; I tend to write using nibs between .5mm and 1mm and just like it that way. Instead, getting distracted and leaving the Apple Pen nib paused on the writing screen trying to take a moment to consider the next word had a tendency to bleed onto the imaginary page like a fountain pen. The pencil feature proved hard to read and…Bye, Felicia!

Next, the simple act of changing keywords in the App Store brings me Notes +. The tools presented include something more like a ballpoint pen. The words all come out uniform in either the default width or the one I chose and I could expand with other tools and a wide range of other tools and paper emulation. Problem, sometimes on both the screen and saved file words that I wrote would arbitrarily disappear as if Big Brother is randomly censoring me from Fiction-Land. I really don’t like having to write over and over so…Bye, Felicia!

About this time, I feel discouraged that the Apple Pen is an expensive paperweight and the iPad has only replaced the old one as an extra data screen. But, I’ve only tried two out of at least six apps. I changed the keywords slightly and find GoodNotes 4.0, a name I recognize from the old days when note taking meant typing with a little bit of drawing capability. The early version I had saved the output to other computers as impossibly small files that you’d need a magnifying glass to read. But, it’s been a few years. I do the download.

Good thing I did. I finally found the note taking app that gave me a consistently readable printed text on screen and kept every word I wrote until I erased it. Success! I have my app even if it cost me $14 in mistakes to find this app. Yes, I suppose I could almost pretend to be an artist with a few of the extra tools I don’t yet need, but until I need something I don’t need to learn it.

So I set up GoodNotes 4.0 to have individual notebooks ready for several of my upcoming books. And a general notebook for all the small pieces necessary to keep my in progress projects moving forward. I’m happy, until…my elbow stings.

So now that I have my app, I use it enough to resume the stiffness in my elbow. I do thirty seconds of research on writer’s elbow, a subclass of tennis elbow. Most of the advice I can do. Regular breaks, yes. Ice the elbow and wrist, yes. Stretch things, yes. Good posture, especially sit up like at school writing on a flat surface instead of balancing the notebook/iPad on my knee, yes. Wider grips on my tools, just as soon as I find the right store. But, write from the shoulder, who are we kidding?

My handwriting or rather printing style has developed from years and years of possibly doing things wrong that packs a lot of words into smallish spaces. I’m not sure that I can unlearn this style to put the heavy lifting onto my shoulder, which leaves treating the currently minor stiffness (it doesn’t hurt just yet) in my wrist and elbow in terms of battle scars justly earned – “These wounds I had upon Crispin’s Day.”

There you have it, a slightly rambling exploration of note taking apps to help writers do their work mixed with some of the physical costs of all that writing. I’ve already sold out to my Muse (Calliope, I think). I’m not stopping, so I have to do things slightly differently. More later, as I learn it.

Post’s over! Go home!

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

In addition to finding time to work, joining certain creator/writer groups have been berry, berry good to me in terms of finding new things to read and splash around here on this blog. My friend, Jose Cardenas, has created the next bit of comics fun to distract from hey, Greg you going to read an actual novel before the next Ice Age? – Behold! Universe Protectors.

First off, it’s clear I’ve spent too much time figuring out the archetypal patterns of nearly everything I watch and read. So throwing Steve (possibly surnamed Baker), a mysterious figure dressed in green pseudo-Greek armor and a scarf/cape that quite frankly don’t take no shit off nobody, together with Caroline and Val should immediately spark the reader to Three’s Company with Super-powered Teenagers. Yes, Dear Reader, I just read a sitcom pitch just dying to hit TV somewhere, I’m guessing either Freeform or MTV.

The comparison of the potentially comic misadventures of Steve the Magic Killer Scarf-Man and Caroline and Val the Indeterminately Powerful Foster Sisters to the known comic adventures of Jack, Janet and Chrissy will hit the savvy readers in the head like certain tomato juice commercials from the era. A guy and two ladies clustered together in the same apartment or derelict hotel room, in this case, with the ever present danger of aliens out to kill them…it’s unavoidable. Steve is Jack. Caroline is Janet. Val is Chrissy, even down to the slightly naïve ditzy behavior.

Archetypes aside, the read goes for fun, a little bit violent (spandex characters, Ducky, can’t avoid a bit of bloodthirsty) and fully colored. It opens on two girls mugged in an alley by three ruffians and the gent soon to be revealed as Steve Baker leaps into the fisticuffs. We don’t quite see the green of the armor because dark alleys and muggings usually land on the page with blues and purples to convey lots of shadows. Three shots are fired and Steve’s scarf takes action independently of the armor and any other superpowers in this soup. The girls who have yet to reveal themselves appear to be gushing spandex groupies, for lack of a nicer word, and invite Steve home in part because he’s hungry and needs a bath.

Steve has a nightmare/memory in the bath about the alien that attacked his family when he was a young lad. Mom and Dad gave him his ring and died without telling him what it does. Steve leaves the girls’ apartment after quite a bit of back and forth about where the moral limits of the Hero Saves and Then Shags the Damsel trope (even weirder given the allusion to Three’s Company) are. He feels glad to have the bath and meal and then…

The monster that killed his parents attacks him on a roof. Said monster promptly wipes the asphalt roof with the poor lad. It’s curtains, curtains, I tell ya. Well, until the girls put on their rings and take their shots saving Steve’s bacon. Very quickly the three ring-holders decide that since the monster know about all of them and they should live together for protection, until they can figure out what the rings do and how to survive. Add in a bit of “we don’t actually know what they do, our parents never told us” exposition and we’re caught up through the second issue.

In general, the reading experience landed in the great amorphous area between a really great comic book and a mostly normal comic book. I loved the art, also the result of Mr. Cardenas’ multiple creative talents. Said art style pops off the page as Hey, I really like anime, the way I’m slowly beginning to grok, “Yeah, that sonata I’ve never heard before I’m guessing Mozart.” Anime/Manga style: round eyes, Val as the ditzy girl who’s tech proficient and so on…it’s just kind of odd to see this type of character design in a book where the reading style is the left to right of English books.

My favorite panels have to be the big fight that lets us in on the still slightly amorphous powers of Steve and his two new friends. The blues and purples of the alley mugging hit just right and Mr. Cardenas figured out how to have the last ditch beat down on the part of Steve’s scarf, of all things, be a major surprise in a world where few things actually seem new.

If I had to start looking for find fault, the writing independent of how Mr. Cardenas’s art sort of saves the whole read struck me as average but likely to improve with time. I enjoyed the setup, but my mind still read the dialogue with an eye towards trims and a bit of arrogant what I would do. In a similar vein, I was hoping for a little bit more differentiation between the three characters now sharing the same apartment. The plot device of power rings instead of mutations, cosmic radiation accidents, alien orphans sent to Earth to escape the destruction of the home world has a way of muddying up what this trio does as individuals.

I referred to Steve as a variation of Magic Scarf-Man (referencing the first fight that he wins), a cool power and stupid superhero name. But, other than that Caroline and Valerie can put a smoking hole in the average bad guy’s back, I have no idea how they differ from the Jack Tripper of this story. I’m so used to Green Lantern rings allowing the user to only be limited by the imagination that my lack of understanding of how these three characters differ and complement the team they just formed. And there are almost no closeups of the rings…

By contrast, I think of teams in these terms – Okay, let’s put the girl version of Iron Man together with the mute girl that does friction. Oh, let’s have a little fun with the porn star version of Power Girl. So I’m not sure what the team will be like because they all seem to have the same ring that could do the same things. Three people that do the same spandex schtick might be great for world threatening fights, but if you’re looking for complementary powers that make for an interesting mix and team dynamic…not so much.

A last note about the names in this comic book series, I’m glad that Mr. Cardenas went with Universe Protectors instead of trying to give these three superheroes cool names as the title of the series. The best I came up with was a facetious Magic Scarf-Man while having no idea how to name the girls because we don’t really see what their specialities are using their rings of power. Mister Cardenas has several more issues of fun comics with great fight choreography to answer these questions of whether we will be able to tell Jack, Janet and Chrissy apart.

All in all, the read hit me in a place where I can see the possibilities…if only. Right now the series feels like something that could get really good in future issues. And I will be watching for Issue Three.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Here we go again, actually bothering to read yet another screenwriting manual. Truthfully, I feel less of my been there, heard it in Story Analysis class skepticism for William Akers’ book Your Screenplay Sucks than I do for most of the others reviewed here (I’m looking at you Mr. Cat). Why? It might actually help a few more people write well without possibly falling into a Cookie Cutter Trap that stifles innovation and some of what Mr. Akers can, if you shift back to writing in past tense for most prose, help a few people who don’t write screenplays do their jobs.

The book is laid out as a checklist listing the top 100 things new screenwriters do to suck up their work. Cool, a checklist that covers all stages from getting the idea to finishing a screenplay, with key advice in the middle about the actual writing (why I actually like this book instead of tolerate it as being another structure heavy Hero’s Journey book). And Mr. Akers puts his typing fingers where his mouth is by visually presenting examples, in many cases, from his own work and that of others taking his classes at Film School.

I can’t stress enough how refreshing it was to read examples from the author’s own screenplays where he needed to edit, revise and shorten according to the principles laid out in his book. I mean, there’s a nasty saying about Self-Help and other Instruction Manual type writing that these books only help the author. Not so here. We see on the page every early draft mistake made by him in his efforts to keep his hand in and those of his students. We also get to see many of the second drafts that improve or at least shorten the job of the reader when scripts float around for consideration.

Most of the advice might come from Shrunk & White’s The Elements of Style (a work so ubiquitous to writers I may never review it). Shorter sentences. Choose better words to go in those short sentences. Active voice. Present Tense (it is a screenplay where things happen now). And Mr. Akers guides you through all of it with an acerbic and strongly worded writing style where he sort of takes up the coat of a format Nazi. But that’s not his fault, the whole business of Hollywood has always been run by format Nazis, none of whom were originally writers.

For instance, Mr. Akers makes assertions about the new current format about how the scene headers or sluglines should look that directly conflict with the default settings that come out of the box when you load Final Draft and Movie Magic onto your computer. His methodology can be replicated on these writing programs; you have to think about it as you write. It really doesn’t matter that much to me…I’m currently back on my frequent No Screenplays rant which happens every few months and then I start over doing my screenplays as graphic novels. If you’re still trying to crack screenwriting as business, maybe you need to listen…your agent will have the last word.

The advice in this book comes off as good, modestly more applicable to other forms of narrative writing and helpful by showing examples of failure. These reasons are why I like the book and suggest you will either like it or learn from it without ripping out your eyeballs (a good start from how I normally feel about writing manuals). I did notice a few minor things…

For one, Mr. Akers doesn’t actually contradict the suggestions in Save the Cat. Somewhere in the middle of the book he writes, “I have students that refuse to write without having Save the Cat open beside them as they write. Others swear by Vogler’s Writer’s Journey. I’ve found both to have the same general usefulness. Pick one.” So if there is some other way to get to good, dramatic writing and plotting, someone else wrote it.

I spent the rest of my reading this book nitpicking because I can. There’s an assertion about the Moses story in Exodus that I found amusing, that the Pillar of Fire and Smoke leading Israel through the desert represents horrible Deus ex Machina screenwriting. My reply – “God is the protagonist of the Bible and so your concerns make less sense” – might stir up a few hornets.

On page 43, Mr. Akers commented on the adaptation Book to Screen of Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger that in the book the Jack Ryan character spends too much time in Washington and never really enters the fray in Columbia. First, as someone who read the book long before deciding that Mr. Clancy’s sentences are generally unreadably long, Jack Ryan’s dramatic arc includes the discovery of the illegal anti-drug operation as a Washington insider. Second, there was this really cool part where Jack Ryan leaned in on a door gun from a helicopter saving the soldiers abandoned by the evil National Security Advisor. But, yes, this does highlight why movies and books will always be two slightly separate animals.

If I have to resort to nitpicking to have anything to say other than gushing effusively about how everyone should read this book and so on, I guess it isn’t such a bad read that might help us do our jobs…convincing the reader/viewer to listen at the campfire a little while longer. With that, you now have the skinny on a much better writing manual than I’d expected. Get back to writing!

Sick bastards!

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

From the Journals of Stephor the Seeker:

My travels in search of the necklace have taken me across the vast expanses of everywhere and right next door. Strange creatures abound everywhere that can’t be contained in a single volume bestiary. None have been so strange as what I have come to call the Lucha-iraffe.

Edward and I had just recovered from knees and elbows bar brawl with the Carnivorous Strawberries that ruined a perfectly nice day near London watching an admirable woman win her sporting match, when we drove our borrowed chariot back to where we parked our ship. It was as the guidebook asserted a typically gray threatening to rain sort of morning. We drove through suburban houses trying to find the highway, more on the irony of two strong men used to tall ships and the right stars to steer them fumbling with that infernal navigation assistant, later.

We came upon a fellow hero (we assume) being attacked by the foul beasts in question. Edward is even crazier than I when it comes to supporting other heroes, he hasn’t said but I assume he pays penance for…well, Blackbeard. Edward had the wheel as my previous times at the controls came from that other great English speaking country where the chariots assume Right Lane, Wheel on the Left and asserted the switch would kill me. Truthfully, I just wanted to look at the trees and houses. Don’t tell Edward that.

So when we saw the incident depicted in the photo pasted next to this entry, Edward jammed the foot brake while pulling the handbrake forcing us into a spin. He had paid attention turning the wheel into the direction of the spin and – THUNK! – wiped out the third of what looked like giraffe-men who for reasons of photographic decency wasn’t preserved in this volume. When this third beast landed in a nearby oak tree, Edward exited his door with all the violent bluster I’ve come to expect of him.

“Aye, me lads, what have ye?” Edward asked in his characteristic bellow.

Edward cuts a fine imposing figure even when his speech doesn’t revert back to his original slang. However, he’s the first to suggest that tire irons in lieu of his much favored steel cutlass does more than speaking Pirate to help those impressions. The giraffe-men, whom at first I took as idiot men dressed up for a costume event, barely looked over their shoulders from their task pummeling the hero with the metal Roman helmet. Around this time, I took the picture with my borrowed phone as my images are more aesthetically pleasing.

We charged in headlong as much because the beating the helmeted man took complete with abject bleating for mercy did cause us to question his status as hero. But, then again it was a prodigious beating and we fight whenever we can or need to. I reached the struggle first leading with a hard elbow and shoulder throw. Edward had picked out the other one, the beast seen grabbing helmeted man by the nutsack. He has such a low tolerance of gropers, must be another pirate things I’ll never fully understand.

WHAM! All you need to know at this point in the fight is that both Edward and I wound up flat on our backs grateful for the fact that our foes hadn’t yet finished with the helmeted man. In my case, I didn’t fight a delusional man as I suspected, but a monster or at the least a human-derived mutant. He had an extremely stretchy neck that he bent in the middle to escape my modified shoulder/neck throw. Edward later told me that his opponent extended his neck forward like a battering ram to bash him in the chin forcing him to drop the tire iron.

Suddenly, my mind reached the instantaneous conclusion that the giraffe analogy was spot on. I had assumed it was just the orangish mottling on their skin, but the stretchy weaponized battering ram head cemented this. The helmeted man bleated his last words for at least three weeks and fell by one of the tires of a parked chariot. And then the battle became even stranger…

Edward had scrambled to his feet dogged at every turn by his giraffe-man. The villain had my large friend by the throat flailing about for any sort of hand weapon finally closing his hand on a side mirror attached to the blue chariot. I sparred with my beast using every wit I had left to avoid getting my ass kicked by someone that moved like he’d been taught at a secluded Chinese temple. Apparently, hand to hand combat among bipedal creatures is largely the same, except for pressure points.

I nearly broke my hand on his head, I shifted left and got him on the chin with a front snap kick. That got his attention as he wobbled slightly and ever so briefly. WHAM-CRUNCH! Edward mashed his villain with the mirror raining glass shards over the pavement drawing blood that thankfully proved crimson. I don’t like other hues of blood.

“Bucear desde el coche!” Edward’s villain shouted instructing mine.

The beast before me went vertical stepping up off the tire up into a backflip that landed behind me. Hard won experience in these fights already had me moving my head to the left so this orange bastard couldn’t throw the inevitable rabbit punch. Even though they were bleeding almost as much as we; they moved like acrobats cooperatively switching between Edward and me as targets.

They spoke their language, I later identified as Spanish as they proved the best fighters in my life to that point. In one case mine took a cupped hand boost leading into a pike and full layout that – CLONK! – resulted in me getting a foot to my chin. They had no words other than announcing their blows. Still, we thought we had the pattern until the return of the stretchy battering ram head.

Attrition killed us as it kills everyone…eventually. Edward and I stood back to back spitting blood and at least one tooth…his I swear. We mumbled our ‘forever and forever farewells’ and we kept our hands up when…KA-BOOM! KA-BOOM! A resident of what had been a sleepy neighborhood where good people live emerged on the front step of his single floor house with a double-barreled shotgun killing both of our foes…

Editor’s note:

Stephor and Mr. Teach profusely thanked the homeowner for their deliverance and promised to provide the man’s grown daughter a good husband, which was promptly declined because he only had sons. The blood ran dark crimson on the pavement where the two previously invincible armored heads attached to stretchy necks lay blasted across the asphalt and into the nearby gutter. It was this homeowner that named the lucha-iraffe, a portmanteau of luchador and giraffe after how they fought and their orange giraffe-like hides. Stephor noted that bullets solve many problems…

In game terms, the lucha-iraffe is a mostly humanoid monster or pissed off human mutation with a penchant for mugging in order, people wearing shiny objects, nosy people wearing shiny objects that butt in where they aren’t wanted and anyone else they feel like. They have two major weapons at their disposal superior hand to hand combat skills and the described armored heads attached to those surprising stretchy necks.

They fight normally like luchadors jumping or falling off cars, handrails tucking into a highly acrobatic combat style. Luckily, so few have ever been encountered in wresting or boxing rings so it is only unsupported conjecture that the lucha-iraffe gain bonuses (+4 optional) to both the attack and damage when there is an actual turnbuckle to leap off.

It is not known why they only seem to speak Spanish or have the disturbing tendency to grab certain opponents by the privates. Another, not fully documented trait is that the lucha-iraffe has a highly developed sense of gender in that male would consider it beneath them to fight with females though this changes when there are females of the species present.

As they are human-sized bipeds with interesting adaptations for combat, the best available data suggests a range of three to seven D8 hit dice per example. Their native armor is roughly equivalent to leather armor. Apparently most of that armor springs from the thick bones in their skulls that they use as battering rams. It is also untested but presumed logical that native armor increasing with hit dice as they age. Another untested theory is that the rubbery stretchy necks might be susceptible to severing and all around beheading. Repeat this is untested.

And there you have it bored gamers…The Lemony Lucha-iraffe.

One of many representations of Circe, a named corespondent herein…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Spurred on by the repetition of at least one of my defining whines, not reading nearing as much as I wanted in the past few weeks, I finally read The Rat Queens Vol. 1 (see review). Ironically, this graphic novel about a quartet of plucky femme dungeoneers also touches on my other great whine, not playing enough tabletop RPGs, but I digress. Anyway, my point. There was a panel (picture omitted for surprise value) that when you get past the NSFW goriness that got me thinking about the relationship between the magic that wizards cast and that of clerics. Simply put, I have a lot of recent trouble telling the difference between wizards and clerics in my fantasy RPGs.

First off, definitions. A wizard, sorcerer, magic user, illusionist, witch or warlock refers to any character that casts magic spells that doesn’t come through the auspices of the campaign’s local deities. The repertoire includes all the classics inspired by Gandalf or the Dark Witch in the Woods: Fireball, Lightning, Sleep, Open Doors, Charm, Persuade, or Love (or the appearance thereof) and many more. Healing spells are definitely off the menu, probably the Inter-dimensional Brotherhood of Adventuring Clerics filed a grievance.

The cleric is a holy one, shaman, priest(ess), imam (ardent Islamists might freak here the way ardent Christians have already freaked abouteverythingRPG), or spirit guide that derives power from worship of and, let’s face it, evangelism for one of the deities provided by the DM/GM. While the spell list is actually more varied to mimic most of the cool miracles that come to us from the Bible and a few other sources, in practice the cleric bulks up on heal spells…the team medic. According to most game systems, when it comes to wizards and clerics never the twain shall meet, except at the Prancing Pony just before the beginning of the adventure. Define arbitrary for the next ten generations.

In the specific example of Dungeons & Dragons, the RPG system of which awareness appears nearly universal, both classes are kept in check using the leveling system common to all character classes. Reading the The Player’s Handbook, you’ll see charts telling how many spells/divine miracles a character gets per day/rest period. There is a chart for wizards and another for clerics; the restrictions are generally similar. A beginner gets one spell per day or rest period and experience characters get more according to the progression on the chart.

In D&D, the wizard or cleric memorizes or prays for spells up to the limit of his or her class level. A player with a wizard character has to guess what one, two, three or more spells will be most needed for the next session (characters sometimes die guessing wrong). A cleric could have this problem, but in practice the party only needs the medic so Heal spells every time. A spell is lost until the next day or rest period (typically four hours per spell level) and spells can’t be switched out on the fly.

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog column, you may have read my previous post (see post) highlighting my confusion about how dungeoneering, as seen from the characters’ perspective, actually just takes too long and that after three rooms cleared no set of monsters or other foes should everbe surprised. Part of this dynamic results from the party needing to stop after every three or four rooms to recover spells. What happens to wizards and clerics in the state of – “My energy’s spent at last. And my armor is destroyed. I have used up my weapons. And I’m helpless and bereaved.” – depends on the character class.

The wizard, generally drawn from a studious librarian archetype, suddenly becomes an arrow sponge. They have the worst hit dice (D4) of all the player character classes. They still carry the staff, pointy hat and visible talismans the pretty much advertise the – WIZARD, KICK ME – sign so frequently taped to their backs. Until the next rest period the wizard hides behind the more convenient of Big Rock or Even Bigger Warrior.

By contrast, the cleric has more immediate survival prospects. The generic cleric of the early editions couldn’t carry swords, but maces and hammers aren’t too shabby. This is an homage to the ordained brothers and fathers that fought with the various crusading militant orders (Templars, Hospitalers, Teutonic Knights and Knights of Malta), who lawyered a proscription against swords by being amazingly literal. Clerics get D8 hit dice, swing a bashing weapon that helps a lot with skeletons and wear decent armor…they’re almost warriors.

As a side note, it took a few editions for clerics to gain rules that allowed them to adopt the weapon most associated with their chosen deity. In part this touches on the subject of another possible future essay on the push-pull tension with Christianity built into the game system from jump (but not today). Suffice it to say, worship a deity associated with swordplay, carry a sword. Simple logic.

There are other RPG systems available that arrive at the same general place of controlling how much magic inexperienced characters get to throw around by different means. Most of these use some form of exhaustion rules that deduct the magic as a temporary cost from a running health tally. You can cast any spell you know switching on the fly and you stop when you can’t stand up to fight. To the best of my knowledge and understanding, GURPS Magicand the card game Magic: The Gatheringused variations of this system. Clerics are still handled separately, it seems.

Up to this point, the need to explain how things are has precluded discussing the arbitrary distinctions between the character classes. Here goes…

Are wizards also not healers in some form? When the NSFW image from Rat Queens crossed my eyeballs, I certainly was inspired to ask this question. I also thought back to the literary antecedents in fantasy literature. Doing so broadened the question to – aren’t wizards also not clerics, to the extent that cleric and healer aren’t synonyms?

Gandalf, pretty much everyone playing a wizard takes a few cues from Tolkien; it’s union bylaw. Delving deep into the supporting works, the five wizards were basically the lowest level of bad ass angels that could be sent to Middle Earth without breaking the delicate balance of the universe. And since Tolkien, in linking his work to C.S. Lewis’ Prelandra books, decreed Middle Earth as one type of fictional pre-history, similar to Atlantis, Lemuria or the Hyperborean Age of Robert Howard. All spiritual outcomes in Tolkien’s work then leads into the Modern Age and the new name for  Morgoth is Satan.

Five hundred years prior to The Final War of the Ring the wizards get off the boat sent from the people across the sea to help with Sauron, actually a second rank fallen angel like Beelzebub. They live forever or until the war is over. They provide wise counsel and when that fails they bring enough magic firepower to even things up against a bad guy that doesn’t feel any restrictions using magic for his own gain.

So is Gandalf a pure wizard character? We can argue the leap that he’s a massively ripped angel probably at least three levels below Archangel on the assumption that sending Michael probably has the unintended consequence of knocking planets out of orbit. Could an angel figure also take on traditional cleric roles due to being an angel and the fuzziness describing from where he gets his power? Wise counsel and moral leadership? Could be.

On the healing front, Gandalf isn’t depicted doing his own healing magic. But, he traveled through a world that also had Elrond and Galadriel in it. These elf lords and ladies lived in Middle Earth for far longer and knew all the medical tricks at the level where medicine and magic might be indistinguishable. Gandalf could safely delegate curing Frodo to Elrond in the hopes of the best care possible. The movie versions accomplished elf healing with a lot of super bright white lighting that could be mistaken for a cleric asking his gods (the Valar in this case) for the grace to heal someone. A spell.

Additionally, Gandalf might have wanted to delegate the more normal healing, herbs, setting bones and such to Rhadeghast the Brown. A forest protector would, as a matter of character design have more immediate access to the herb knowledge, especially Kingsfoil, that he might do better. But, is anyone someone operating under the impression that Gandalf couldn’t do anything magical if Tolkien wrote it so?

The most telling example of the Gandalf arc that muddies up the argument about him purely being a wizard is his treatment of Theoden King of Rohan. Grima Wormtongue speaks in the apparently dotty old man’s ear. Gandalf talks somebody  at the door into letting him keep his staff. First, he beats up Grima wiping the floor with him. Then, he points his staff at the king and ejects the part of Saruman holding tight to the king’s nightmares.

Sure looks like an exorcism to me. Clerics in games typically have exorcism in their arsenals but they don’t ready the spell until they know that they need it. Yes, gamers have also seen The Exorcist. The first blurred line between wizard and cleric.

Bringing this out of the fictional works of Tolkien, there are other traditions in our common sociological/anthropological/mythological database that give rise to our fantasies about magic. For instance, an author/DM/GM has the tried and true myth of Hecate the goddess of magic. All wizards using this Greco-Roman concept are all by definition also priests and priestesses of Hecate. Circe from The Odysseywas depicted as Hecate’s star pupil and high priestess. Cleric or witch? You decide kids.

Similarly, many pagan faiths, some of which have survived into the present, all seem to blend the distinction between wizard and priest even further. Many call upon a goddess. And in the specific case of Black Magic, it’s a name that tradition associates with Satan. And when you read the accounts from all of these traditions, the spell caster is actually able to do anything desired from both the spell lists of the RPG wizard and cleric without regard to the alleged difference. People fly and heal at the same time.

I realized all of this when I also recently started serializing a story appropriately titled – Who Needs a Cleric?(See post). I was originally going with Dungeon Hospital, but I hadn’t thought up enough characters to make it a soap opera.

I drop a Hispanic first-year surgical resident in media res on a tough case of open-heart stab surgery on a dwarf. She comes from the La Brujeria subculture and was sent to the fantasy realm to acquire a magic battery to return home to Earth. She gets the dwarf on a hand-cranked version of a heart bypass machine, but has to deal with the embolism that many times follows successful surgery. Her dormant magic kicks in to help.

Using a variation of See Through Walls she sees the blood clot lodged in the brain as if looking at real time MRI imagery. Then, she warms up a Focused Heat spell to broil away the mass to clear the nerve cluster and blood vessel all without opening the dwarf’s skull. Both pretty much use straight up wizard magic to replace key pieces of equipment common to real world surgery.

Is she a witch/wizard because she uses traditional wizard spells in a creative way to heal a patient? Or because she comes from a female bruja bloodline that is just as likely to call upon a goddess, angel or something else to get things done, do we call her priestess? I wrote her and even I can’t fully answer the question. I suppose we might lean towards witch/wizard simply because the heal spells of a cleric or Tolkien elf seem to cast the messy business of diagnosis upon the named deity – “Take the wheel, Athena!” Too subtle a difference for most readers and players, for sure.

So there you have it, a lot of words about how some things endemic to role playing games and the accompanying literature have logical flaws that few care enough about to argue. Am I advocating for some kind of rules change? No, it is first and foremost a game and playing is a social contract to agree to a set of rules. Really stupid rules can be jettisoned but the rest, you just go with them. For example, Football still has many odd rules remaining from Rugby Union made moot by the shape of the ball. And let’s not go there with those highly variable Free Parking rules in Monopoly. That causes fights. And let’s get back to the rest of our day.

A bad day for Supes fighting the Purple Wizzer…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

From the journals of Stephor the Seeker:

One night during a lull in the on-deck concert by the men and their instruments, my Number One, a fine man by the name of Edward Teach, told me of a beast so foul as to make our recent encounter with a Noir Easter seem like mere childhood terrors, like a first visit to a tooth puller, that fade with time. Ridiculous name or not, the Purple Wizzer (Edward’s name for it) is a deadly and foul abomination that isn’t ever to be taken lightly.

According to Edward, he was still Captain of his former vessel the Queen Anne’s Revenge. She always sounded like a fine vessel, even when put to her reputational nefarious uses as a pirate. But, since the story Edward told me figures in how I now can trust him as the single finest mariner I’ve ever seen, I suppose I can, as always, refrain from torturing my friend with his past.

Anyway, the tale he told while the strings and guitars argued about tuning put shivers to me that I didn’t think I still had. He sailed near Charleston at a time when the city fathers still debated the spelling whether the current one or the older Charlestown. A fat prize of the kind that always proves irresistible to salt dogs of his ilk appeared a little bit to the north.

The usual mundane aspects to reavers closing and boarding a fat merchantman transpired. None of the target crew appeared on deck. Only Edward gripped his blade with the appropriate force once he swung over to that heaving deck. A superstitious man of those superstitious times, my friend kept warning his men to greater alertness. Of course, from what he said next I doubt that tighter grips on sabers, epees and cutlasses would have helped.

The official history of my new favorite realm known as Earth records that Edward Teach, Blackbeard and last Captain of the Queen Anne’s Revenge merely opened the wrong wardrobe door in the officer’s quarters allowing a dashing naval officer to spring the ambush Scottish Claymore in hand. If true, a fitting end for unrepentant pirates. The truth was far stranger…

Edward recalled vividly poking his sword point between frame and door of that wardrobe. His hands shook telling me of his racing heartbeat and heavy breathing. A pirate bosun tripped and kicked over a spyglass. Edward shrugged once the rolling brass tube nestled against the bulkhead thinking that he’d used up the bad luck for everybody that day. He leaned in and twisted open the latch.

If the Royal Officer had actually been hiding with the coats, Edward wouldn’t have gone straight. He swears he was too sober and good to lose to just anyone. I have no reason to doubt my friend; he wins more deck fights than he loses. Even now, once we have switched over to Glocks this is still the case.

All Edward would say when asked to closely describe the beast was, “Fuck, Stepho, it was purple…I think!”

Editor’s note:

Stephor goes on to explain that his first officer threw up an arm and recoiled falling back to the deck. The purple whatever reached with sharp claws for the bosun that hadn’t moved as quickly. At which point, the monster ripped out the poor man’s throat. The monster wasn’t moving at full speed so Mister Teach did say that the beast appeared purple and mostly humanoid.

The monster took a moment to scoop flesh and blood into its mouth. It slurped like how Edward sometimes eats his soup. Then it threw a shoulder into a spin and sped off racing across the deck to fast to see except as a purple blur. This method of motion made a lot of noise much like the buzz of a pissed off beehive.

Edward Teach freely admits shitting his pants crawling away towards a bench along the bulkhead. A good man detailed to other sections of the boarding party entered the officer’s quarters, likely attempting to report. The Purple Wizzer vibrated back towards this new threat in order to rip off the pirate’s head and scoop out his brains. With each bite, the monster became more purplish in skin tone leading Mister Teach to speculate that the beast ate flesh and blood to keep up its proper healthy color. The monster casually tossed the remainder of the body aside to crash into the bench breaking it open to reveal the British officer history records as the slayer of Blackbeard.

The man had in fact set an ambush for successful pirate, but given his present state of bound and gagged he’d run afoul of the Purple Wizzer as well. The monster vibrated in one place for a moment considering which human to eat first. And then it sped out of the room to attack sailors from both crews in other parts of the ship. Screams rose up from the lower decks.

A wave of fear and a second shit in his pants caught up to Mister Teach as he freed the British gentleman from his ropes. Each successive scream for Mother, God and Sweetie broke the pirate a little further. He called upon the god Yahweh and his son Yeshua for deliverance promising an end to his wicked ways. The officer slapped his new comrade to focus his mind. Swords in hand the men ran to fight the monster deeper in the ship.

An end to hunger did more to stop the rampage. They cornered the beast in the hold among the salt pork. The officer emptied a brace of pistols trying to stop it from eating his ship’s cook, a portly man likely to taste good to a monster. The lead balls rocked the monster but had no permanent effect. Eating the extra fat increased the purple in the skin but also healed the superficial bullet wounds.

Seeing the tactical situation worsening, the Purple Wizzer batted aside Mister Teach and then slowed down long enough to be seen as an indistinct gray male figure much like many artist’s dolls, gray when hungry and purple when satiated. The beast grabbed its cock and proceeded to urinate a purple stream onto the British officer’s back.

The man screamed having been doused with fluids that mixed the effects of lye, kerosene and something that ignited on contact with the air. Mister Teach acted quickly to cut off the man’s wool coat before the fire burned through to the skin. The man had second-degree burns that would heal in time. The Purple Wizzer used the distraction among the men of both crews putting out the fire to dash to the taffrail and swan dive into the water for a swim to the Carolina Banks.

A calm spread about the deck of the decoy ship and the Revenge. The smell in Backbeard’s pants became more noticeable. A quick count of the survivors showed that the greater majority of the dead came from the pirate crew. Mister Teach offered his sword. The officer relented seeing the continuing fear on his erstwhile foe shook his head and let Blackbeard follow the beast over the rail for a swim after gaining his most binding promise to go straight. We can only assume that the officer grabbed a body from among the carnage and passed it off as the pirate in London.

In game terms, the Purple Wizzer is hungry, but also generally sentient enough to bash enemies over the head and tie them up for later eating or to ensure escape. Eating flesh and blood acts to replenish the specific version of hemoglobin among Purple Wizzers to change the skin from gray to purple. Flesh and blood consumed in this way also act as a healing agent that fuels the beast’s regenerative powers, but fat is the tastiest and most effective kind of flesh for this purpose. Thus the Purple Wizzer attacks fat people first.

The primary attack is the super-speed that enables the beast to hit and run eviscerating its food. The few times the base model subspecies stands still it may be stabbed or shot with normal weapons. Though if it is not killed quickly and treated like a hydra with continuous burning to the wounds to close them, the injuries will grow back making for a tough creature to kill.

The regeneration and blood drinking have led to debate as to being a member of the vampire family, but since the monster dies when

The Purple Wizzer also uses a foul stream of purple urine as a weapon of last resort. The stream is part lye for chemical burns and part flammable like kerosene or whale oil with a substance much like cesium to ignite it in air. There have been variations among the many individuals as to how much lye versus flammable pee is used and probably relates to the exact quality of the monster’s recent diet. We surmise cobalt oxide mixed with hemoglobin as the mechanism for the purple skin tone, but this has not been proven. The beast is believed to be solitary except for mating season and they are not friendly with each other at any other time.

Quantifying what the Purple Wizzer does to its prey has come at a high price, but generally speaking they have about 8HD, the ability to regenerate 1HP/round when eating normally or 3HP/round when eating lots of fat and skin as tough as leather armor. However, as wide variations, even among the base model, exist some parties will see the semi-rare version wearing armor captured from prey.

And the DM/GM is also allowed to tweak the monster by casting it into one of many subspecies with one extra ability: +4 magic to hit, vulnerable to silver or anything else the DM/GM thinks is right. With that, get a slayin’!