Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mindfulness in Practice (for me, anyway)

So I've had an irregular mindfulness meditation practice for about a year now.  I say irregular because I don't sit down on anything resembling a regular schedule.  What I do instead is take moment here and there and go into breath focus or body scanning.  However, what I do much more often is sit back and analyze the kinds of thoughts going through my brain and what effect they have on me.  It's almost like taking a step back outside of myself and trying to watch without engaging.  This started as a way to deal with distracting thoughts while trying to focus on my breath or body, but I've found it to be useful whether I am doing that kind of formal practice or not.

I've found it particularly useful when it comes to dealing with attachment and the "grasping" one often reads about in Buddhist contexts.  For example, I have various people I'm attracted to, some of which I have a better shot with than others.  Back in the day, I would get really obsessive when this happened, and I tended to be very over-eager and needy seeming, which would inevitably be counter-productive, making myself less attractive.  I still get those impulses, but now with the somewhat detached outside perspective, I have much more control over myself.  I can sit there and experience the desire and even anxiety without letting the emotions force me into action.  I sit with the feelings, experiencing them fully, to some extent more fully than when I let them take over, and I get a better understanding of the drives that fuel them.  Experiencing the emotions and the physical changes that take place in the body when experiencing them is a fascinating process.

On the practical side, taking time to do this makes me a lot less nervous when I actually see the people I'm attracted to, which then leads to a better time had for all, since my tics and whatnot aren't getting in the way.

With all I hear about mindfulness and the importance of regular practice, I'd love to hear more about this kind of approach to it, where it's focused on directly improving one's development.  Sometimes I hear about it as a side effect of one's practice, but to me, this more conscious engagement with one's behavior and thinking is the real point.  Just my observations, hopefully they are useful to some reading this.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I'm Not an Alcoholic, Alcoholics Go To Meetings

Yeah, so, in my last post towards the end, I made a comment about how alcohol helps with social anxiety.

What I failed to account for is how it affects the social anxiety of everyone else I am engaged with in social contexts, and that's where I was utterly full of shit.  After two separate incidents of people calling me on my bullshit this week, I'm going to stop drinking anywhere that I drive to, completely, to begin with.  After avoiding it for a while, I may see about having one or two beers or whatnot, and then stopping.  At this point I don't yet know if I'm capable of that, which in itself is frightening, of course.

Even when I'm at home and not going anywhere, I'm going to cut back big time, unless I'm simply in a lot of pain.  But it's become clear to me that drunk Keith is not as fun as drunk Keith thought, and sober me doesn't like him very much either.  So he's going away, for a while at the very least.

Always cherish friends who take the risk of telling you truths you don't want to hear, and do them the courtesy of listening.  They cared enough to not just write me off, so they deserve the honor of having their concerns addressed.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Look Inside My Skull

I've been wanting to write about the depression and anxiety I experience constantly for a while now, but of course, the anxiety makes that difficult.  But I figure I'll go ahead and put it all down, so hopefully it can help other people experiencing similar things.  In this I'm largely inspired by JT Eberhard, and specifically the talk he gave at Skepticon a couple of years ago. Just today I also saw this piece, which hit a lot of the bullet points I want to mention, especially #4.  But here's how things happen for me, specifically.

Somewhere around 16-17 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.  More recently, the official term I've seen on shrink paperwork is Major Depressive Disorder.  I kinda dig that, it sounds more important.  Anyway, after an initial month on Zoloft which gave me the shakes, I switched to trazadone, and I've been on that since, and I'm 35 now. (Note: My bad experience with Zoloft doesn't make it a worthless drug, different people have different brain reactions.)  The trazadone helps a lot, but not with everything.  I'll break it down.

When I'm not medicated, I have zero control over my emotions.  I can go from laughing to screaming in a matter of seconds.  Mood swings is too mild a word for what happens.  It's not a cyclical thing like manic depression (I guess they call it Bipolar Disorder now?), it's basically an extreme overreaction to emotional stimulus.  Where a neurotypical person might get irritated and mouth off to someone pissing them off, I would get into huge screaming bouts, often flinging things across rooms.  What the trazadone does is give me a thermostat for the emotions, and on it, I react just like a normal person.  I still feel my emotions, but they aren't uncontrollable.  This is a good thing.  Whenever people tell me, "you don't seem depressed," I tell them that's because my meds work.  I know this because there have been times when I've been off them, most notably on a trip out of town for a few days when I left them at home.  What happens then is that on the first day, I'm mostly good, but I'm a bit more anxious than normal, tapping my feet, experiencing body temperature fluctuations, that kind of thing.  Day 2, all of those symptoms are worse, and I start to get extremely irritable, minor things that I would blow off as unimportant seem like major annoyances.  By day 3, I can't really tolerate the presence of other people at all, because everything they do pisses me off.  In such states I get irritated by the way people breathe.  Oddly enough, cats don't bother me at all, and normal annoying cat behavior is less irritating than when I'm in normal mode. (The same effect might hold with other animals, but I don't have close contact with anything other than cats.)

So, trazadone is necessary and good.  All of the weird and possibly scary behavior above just goes away completely.  (This is also why I know that people who like to spout off about how 'the brain is more than just chemistry, man' are complete fucking fools.  It's really, really complex chemistry, but it's chemistry all the same.)  So, on to the stuff trazadone doesn't cover.

I don't hear voices, but I may as well.  I'm going to use the term "voice" as a metaphor in this a lot, because it's just easier to put things into words that way.  There is a constantly running dialogue in my head, and it tells me that I'm a piece of shit.  It tells me that all of my friendships are elaborate hoaxes being perpetrated on me, and that one day they will all reveal the joke and have a huge laugh at my expense (I suspect this is based on my first "girlfriend" in 7th grade, who did just this).  No one in my family gives a shit about me.  I'm adopted, and my parents wish they could get their money back.  I am a fraud, putting on a front, afraid to reveal my true self to the world.  Nothing I have ever achieved has been of any importance whatsoever to anyone, and any sense of accomplishment or good will I've ever received from anyone was wrapped in contempt.  The joke is always on me.  Women find me disgusting.  I am always awkward, and a huge embarassment.  I might as well be dead.

That's a sampling of the kind of shit that runs through my head in the background, pretty much whenever I'm awake.  It's kinda like the news-ticker at the bottom of the screen on some cable news shows.  I'm not an idiot, I know that most of that, if not all, is complete bullshit.  That is the depression fucking with me.  So I've gotten ok at ignoring it for most practical purposes, if you talk to me, you probably can't tell that I'm thinking anything of the sort.  Of course, even now, that ticker is screaming, fuck you, they can tell!  They know it, you stupid fuck!  Everyone knows! Again, I know with most of me that it's bullshit, but when you have those kind of thoughts going constantly, it worms its way in.  I'm constantly second-guessing myself in any interaction whatsoever, no matter how inconsequential, because in my mind, there's always some fraction saying, what if the other voice is right?

'Damn, that's crazy, how do you put up with that?'

As opposed to what?  It's there, I've had to come to terms with it, and even now, there are days where I believe it more than others.  It's affected my personality in a number of ways.  One of the most irritating is that I have absolutely no reliable sense of whether someone is or isn't interested in me romantically.  There are lots of women I'm attracted to, but I have no way to gauge whether it's reciprocal, because that little voice completely fucks up my judgment on such matters.  Most of the relationships I have had have been the result of a woman approaching me and declaring their interest.  At least then it's easy to ignore the voice.  It's not that good, though, because I still end up with trouble interpreting signals.  When I was married, if my wife said something was fine, I went with it, because I can't trust my own analysis due to the voice filling my head with paranoid scenarios.  When it comes to actually asking someone out, I can barely manage.  Simple rejection, that I could handle.  What makes it difficult is the voice yelling all of my flaws at me, making me self-conscious as hell, terrified if I'm going to be seen as a creep, etc.  I'm already worried about how I go about such a process for rational reasons, not wanting to be some kind of douchebag making assumptions that may or may not be sexist because I'm blind to my own privilege, I don't need this additional shit as well.

It extends to non-romantic social interactions as well.  When I'm pretty sure I've upset someone, I often go overboard with asking them to tell me what's wrong, or I end up apologizing for things that my mind has blown up into major offenses, and the person I'm apologizing to has no idea what the hell it is that I'm supposed to have done to offend them.  When I'm having conversations online and I don't have body language to observe, I often tend to end up interpreting what other people say in the most hostile possible manner because that's what my mind is telling me.  Even with people I know and trust, I still have to deal with it, see the paragraph up above talking about the big joke.  Basically, I'm always multitasking whatever I'm doing, because part of me has to be countering all the self-accusation.

So far, I've only found one thing that shuts up that fucking voice, and that's alcohol.  When I drink, once I start feeling the effects, the voice goes away, and I can actually relax and enjoy myself and the company of others.  I am well aware of how dangerous this is, it's a pretty sure path to alcoholism.  When I don't drink, I don't have any particular craving for booze, but I always want to shut up the goddamn voice, trying to sabotage me at every turn.  I am actively trying out things to help with this, however.  I've recently added Wellbutrin to my medication regimen, and it seems to be helping a little bit, but not enough.  I'll continue to seek alternatives until I find something that does work as well as intoxication.  I'm probably going to send this very piece to my shrink as a diagnostic aid, hopefully that works.  I will post follow-ups to this if/when I notice changes in symptoms, so that perhaps if/when it gets better, I can have a further example to show people how getting help actually, y'know, helps.

I know that this whole piece is a huge pile of too much information for most people.  I'm going ahead and putting it up on my blog anyway, because I know that there have to be others out there dealing with their own mental illnesses, and they need to know that they're not alone, there are people who understand what they're going through.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Houserules for my upcoming Swords & Wizardry Game

This is just going to be a list for the convenience of my players, and I will update as new things occur to me.  The previous gaming posts were me thinking out loud, what's in this post will be the rules changes I actually use.

1. No XP percentage bonuses for high stats.  Most of the time it's a hassle, but I'm also doing it because:

2. There will be no level limits for demi-human characters, but humans get a 10% XP bonus to compensate for the advantages the demi-humans enjoy.  Infravision, ability to detect secret doors, etc.

3. Since there are no level limits for demi-humans, I'm also allowing human PCs to multiclass if they do desire.  This will be pretty much by the book, as that system seems well put together.

4. Alignment, as mentioned here, will be Law, Chaos, Neutral/Balance and unaligned.  Casters like clerics and mages will have to pick an alignment, and their casting ability comes from their affiliation.  Non-casters default to unaligned.  They can choose to pledge their fealty to one of the cosmic forces, this will grant them the ability to call upon such forces for aid from time to time, but there's a quid pro quo, sometimes the PC will be required to do things that serve their alignment's wants and needs.

5. No Vancian magic, spell slots turn into mana, and a spell costs as much mana to cast as its level.  For instance, a 4th level mage can traditionally cast three 1st level spells and two 2nd level spells.  Under my rules, that mage gets 7 mana points.  Each slot multiplies by the level of the spell.  So the three 1st level spells  equal 3 mana, and the two 2nd level spells equal 4 mana.  No one can cast a spell of a level higher than they would have had access to before, so even if one has enough mana, they're not skilled enough to punch above their level.  Yes, there will be a chart for this.

6. Also, you can also use mana to wear armor.  1 mana point per level of armor, so at 1st level, a mage has 2 mana points and is 9 AC (unarmored).  The mage can either use those 2 mana for spells or they can burn one to wear something with 8 AC, and on through the levels.  (I'm ripping this off from HARP since it worked pretty well).

7. Any 1HD or less intelligent "monster" is available as a PC, provided I get advanced notice that someone wants to play one, so I can slap together a conversion.  So kobolds, goblins, not a problem.  No, you can't play as Orcus (in this game, anyway).

8. Classes not listed in S&W Complete or the SRD are also available if I'm given advance notice to prep it for this game, as with the monster thing.  I'm already porting over some as mentioned here, so if you can't find it in the SRD or the books, just let me know, and I'll deal with it.  Hell, you don't even have to want to play it in particular, but if you want me to get it ready to play, drop me a line, within reason.  I'm not going to come up with 30 or so alternate classes that no one's going to use.

Adventures Dark & Deep and Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea in particular have lots of subclasses, and ADD has subraces, too. My rule of thumb here is that anyone can play the standard 4 classes (fighter, cleric, mage, thief) without restriction, but if you want a subclass, you will have to meet the minimum ability requirements given, since those classes tend to have lots of little bonus tricks and such.  Also, if you are taking one of the subclasses from ASSH, no multiclassing, because many of them are the equivalents of multiclassed characters anyway, and I don't want the headache.

While I'm at it, if you do take one of the 4 core classes, all of those get to add their level to a defining attribute:
Mages get it as additional mana.

Fighters get it as bonus to hit OR damage (pick one).

Clerics get it as a bonus for turning OR hit points healed (pick one).

Thieves get it as a to hit bonus and a damage bonus for backstabbing AFTER multipliers are figured, (double, triple, etc, as they level up) OR a +5 bonus to one of their thief abilities. So at level 1 they can add +5 to their Climb Walls, at level 2 they can add another +5 to Climb or they can add it to fine manipulation (for disarming traps and such), etc.

Subclasses and multiclassed characters don't get to add their level to anything.

9. I've changed my mind on saving throws, so unless I hear otherwise, I will be using the default single saving throw, rather than the traditional 5 category ones.  I'm easy on this, though, it's trivial to switch, as the book gives both (and even includes both on the GM screen).

10.  Descending AC.  (Not really a houserule, but since S&W provides both, I'm marking my preference.)  Players just tell me what AC they hit with the handy one-line table at the bottom of the character sheet, I'll do the rest.  Players don't necessarily need to know the AC of the thing they're fighting, and descending works well that way.

11. There will be no specific skills (aside from thief abilities), instead, there will be ability checks, where you simply roll under or equal to your stat.  If people do want skills, I can port over the system from Dark Dungeons which works fine.  It'd be the same, roll under the stat, and skills would be a specialization.  For example, if your Dexterity is 15 and you have two points in the Acrobatics skill, you'd roll under 17, rather than 15 when using it.  Personally I think ability checks are sufficient, but I'm easy.

That's it for now, will update further if I need to.  I'm also open to suggestions, just comment here on the blog, so I can keep everything together.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Gaming Thoughts

Character Classes

All the basics, of course, Cleric, Fighter, Mage, Thief.  But I don't mind some variety.  In the DD game, I also had available Monks, Rangers, Assassins (although I don't see myself allowing these much) and Fighter-Mages (since I got rid of the racial classes, this is the same as the Basic D&D Elf).  I just got the pdf of Joseph Bloch's Adventures Dark & Deep, his alternate AD&D2E, and I particularly like his version of Gygax's Jester class, a Bard sub-class.  So I'll probably port at least both of those over, as well as the Thief-Acrobat and Mountebank, and a few others.  The Jester is an acrobatic melee and hand to hand fighter that fits much better into the Western European milieu that most settings assume than the Monk, which I've never been particular fond of.  It's not identical, but they seem to me to share a similar niche.  (If I was to run a more Eastern setting, Monks obviously wouldn't be a problem, and Fighters and Rangers would be replaced with Samurai and Ninjas, etc.)  They get some access to spells, as Bards do, as well as a series of abilities separate from but similar to the way Thief abilities work, juggling, knife throwing, that kind of thing.  So initially, the list of available classes would be:


Druids and Cavaliers/Paladins are an odd thing to me, I really dig the way DD does them, being alternate classes the Cleric and Fighter can choose later on as they progress in level.  I also dig the old Rules Cyclopedia division of Avenger/Knight/Paladin depending on alignment, but there's also something to be said for making them classes unto themselves, the way they already are in S&W.  I'll figure out what's easiest and do that.


Along with the standard human, dwarf, elf, halfling, I'm down with gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, whatever.  In fact, a houserule I came up with for the DD game was that any 1HD or less monster race could also be a player character, provided that any special abilities they had weren't much more fancy than that of the standard demi-humans.  As I recall, we had a kobold Ranger who was pretty fun.  I see no reason to not continue this trend, with GM approval, of course.  Since I'm not a fan of level limits for demihumans, I got around the balance issue by giving humans a blanket 5% XP bonus to compensate for their lack of fun stuff like Infravision and such.  Since it stacks with the class-based XP bonus for high stats, it seems to work pretty well.  I think I stole that trick from Basic Fantasy.

I also had a schtick where all of the characters were members of an adventurer's guild called the IWW - Itinerant Warriors of the World, which had strict non-discrimination policies towards race and alignment, so "monster" races with union cards could remain unmolested in polite society, at least as long as there was a guild house in town.  The IWW was there mostly to amuse myself as a non-current member of the actual IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).  None of my players ran with it and tried to recruit dungeon dwellers into the union rather than fighting, but the option would have been there, if they tried.  In terms of game play, it also gave them discounts on delving equipment and a labor pool of hirelings and henchmen to choose from, and a reason why such would be available.

More musings to follow.

Old School Gaming Stuff

I'm gearing up to run another campaign in a few months, or sooner.  I've been reading so many of the various retroclones and other "nostalgia" games out there that I'm having a hard time deciding on which one, or if I may just put my own set together, stealing the best elements from all of them.  I still dig Dark Dungeons (DD), the one I was running Keep on the Borderlands with, but even with switching to the alternate version, Darker Dungeons, it's just a little unwieldy, and I feel like switching it up (even if I kept with it, I'll be discarding the weapon mastery next time.  It's not bad, I just don't feel like messing with it anymore).  This post is mostly for my own benefit, while I think out loud about the elements to put into my next game.


I've been ambivalent about alignment throughout most of my gaming career, and while the memes are amusing, I've never had much use for the two axis alignment system where you get things like Lawful Evil or Chaotic Neutral.  To me, if you're going to codify a character's morality, that's way too simplistic a way of doing it.

On the other hand, being a fan of Michael Moorcock and The Eternal Champion mythos, I do really like the 3 element system of Law, Chaos, and Neutral/Balance.  But I keep these separate from notions of morality, to me they are all cosmic forces that one chooses to align oneself with, full of potential plot hooks at later levels (and at low, depending on what happens).

So for me, I'm going to continue doing what I started with my DD game, and use 4 alignments:

The Balance

If you're a Cleric, Mage, or any other kind of magic-user, you have to choose an alignment, as the source of your power.  My preference is that Mages and Clerics can both choose The Balance, but that Mages can only otherwise pick Chaos, and Clerics only Law, but I might be able to be argued out of that.  I like the notion of having the different kinds of magic be aligned that way, but there's also something to be said for having priests of Arioch and the like.

This does mean that Fighters, Thieves, Rangers, Assassins, etc. default to Unaligned at chargen.  They are perfectly free to pledge their loyalty to cosmic forces if they want to, but they won't need to, and they are free to do so later on in the game.  I'll probably come up with a mechanic that makes it meaningful (or more likely, steal one from another game), something along the lines of the way Clerics can call upon their gods for favor in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) in exchange for some service further down the line.  I can definitely see this as a way for unaligned characters to end up serving forces greater than themselves:

Ragnar gazed around himself nervously.  If Fingers had done his job correctly, he never would have fallen down that sliding chute, only to right himself in the dark, surrounded by glowing eyes, more than he could count.  He still had strength in his arms, and his blade was sharp, but he couldn't tell what lay just beyond the shadows, and their numbers were great.  If he was going to get out of this, desperate measures were required.  He drew his sword, and readied his shield.

"Loki!  I pledge my fealty to you!  Aid my steel!"

He thought he heard faint laughter somewhere in the distance, and suddenly there was a sharp pain on his shield arm, as an eight-pointed star branded itself onto his bicep from some unknown source.  The star remained glowing red, and he could see that his sword blade was wreathed with flame.  His nervousness fell away, and he felt like shouting, laughing, and screaming all at once.

"Oh, I know I'm going to regret this eventually," he said to himself with a wry grin.  He then saluted the shadows with his sword and got to work.


I've always hated the fire and forget "Vancian" magic system of D&D, but the quick and dirty mana conversion I did for my DD game would be very problematic at high levels.  Another thing I'll steal is the alternate system I've seen in DCC and Spellcraft and Swordplay (S&S), apparently based on Chainmail, where instead of spells going off automatically and then going away, you roll to successfully cast, gaining either an immediate or delayed effect, or a failure, and the failure does make you lose that spell for the day (and botches get nasty).  I like this a lot better.  A character will still be limited as to how many spells per level he can prep, or what levels of spell are available, but fire and forget is gone.  I haven't decided yet whether to use the Mercurial Magic stuff from DCC yet.  While it's fun, I don't know if I want that much randomness.  Most likely I'll show it to players and let them decide if they want to use it or not.

Race and Class

I will most likely keep them separated, Swords & Wizardry (S&W) style, albeit without level limits, and without too many restrictions.  This was trivial to do with DD, and I don't see it being a problem.  Most likely I'm going to use S&W Complete as my baseline, and tear things out and bolt things on as needed.

Saving Throws and AC

I'll definitely be using the more traditional 5 separate saving throws option within, rather than S&W's single one, just because I prefer it that way.  I also prefer descending AC, but since the book provides it and ascending, as does the excellent Monstrosities book, this is trivial.

That's it for now, when more ideas along these lines occur, I'll post them.  There's a vague notion of actually putting this all together into my own game and throwing it up on Lulu, but that's way down the line.  First priority is to put it together for my own use and run it for people.

Friday, February 22, 2013



Living for others,
so they say,
is one of the highest of goods.

Dying, even more.

But while it may be asserted noble to suffer for others,
I'm not buying it.

We can't avoid all forms of shared misery,
c'est la vie.

But if you're hanging on the cross for someone else,
it's time to come down, and walk away.

If you're lucky, someone may come along
take the hammer from you,
and twist it around to show you that the hammer you use to nail yourself up
can also be used to pry out the nails.

I was so lucky.

You still have to stop actively hammering yourself into place.
You still have to pry out the nails.
You still have to make your way down
and walk free.

I know it's hard.

Pulling them out hurts.
It hurts so much that you want to stop prying,
and just let them be
and settle back against the cross.

But once they're out,
the pain really does go away.

Once the pain is gone
it's hard to understand what kept you up there for so long,
and walking away becomes easy.

I wish I could do this for you,
but all I can do is try to twist the hammer.

I hope you join me soon.