Sunday, March 29, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #3

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

This week was slightly better.

First of all, Trevor Noah has not in fact given up doing shows; he’s just been hiding them where I couldn’t find them—on YouTube.  They’re not full shows either ... just little snippets here and there.  But, still, quite refreshing to get some news, even if it’s 100% virus-related.  Surely there’s something else going on the world ... there was another Democratic debate, for instance.  But I’ve heard literally nothing about it other than seeing the clip where Biden and Bernie bump elbows instead of shaking hands, and that Bernie promised to fix this ebola pandemic while Biden swore he’d do something about this SARS outbreak.

That latter factoid from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, who are also soldiering on, bless ’em.  But that’s all I’m getting: Colbert’s Internet snippets seem to have petered out, and John Oliver is in hiding, I think.  I was so desperate for news I actually watched a YouTube clip of Jimmy Fallon.  Fallon, I say!1

It has also, finally stopped raining and warmed up at least slightly.  Which means the plumber came out to fix our gas leak, finally.  Which means we can use jacuzzi again, which we damned well did, although only once so far.  After that, I switched the heat over to the pool; it’s probably too early in the season for the water to retain the heat overnight, making it infeasible to really keep the temperature up, but I decided I was going to do my best to let my little girl swim at least once this weekend.2

Because it’s her birthday weekend this weekend, you know.  She’ll be turning eight, officially, on Tuesday, so she picked this weekend to be hers.  And what a shitty time to have a birthday weekend!  We can’t go out to sit down at any restaurants, and we can’t go out to see a movie, and she can’t have her friends over for a party.  On the plus side, The Mother was so afraid that all her presents wouldn’t get here in time (due to shipping delays caused by ... well, you know) that she went out to Target and bought some just-in-case presents.  And then the real presents did make it,3 so then she had way more presents than she really ought to have.  But obviously she did not complain about this.

So that was a minor bright spot.  And she still gets to pick the meals ... we just have drive-thru and bring them home to eat.4  So far we’ve had Taco Bell and Panda Express ... not sure where to next.  Jack-in-the-Box, I’ve heard.  We’ll see.

So, you know, things aren’t as bleak.  But I’m still a little concerned.  Our president5 is going on about we need to reopen the country and get everyone back to work.  I started to wonder if people—such as you, dear reader—might think that this is what I was advocating, given some of my previous statements.  I hope not.  Besides not wanting to be associated with any opinion that Trump is holding, I think the larger issue is that I’m concerned that we’re acting like there’s only two options here.6  On the one hand the U.S. administration is saying no one should be staying at home and everything should go back to normal.  On the other hand, the majority of the social influencers—including, admittedly, all the folks I praise above—are beating us over the head with the message that we all have to stay indoors or we’re all gonna die.  But I’m the balance and paradox guy, remember?  I haven’t figured out a way to do both at once yet, but surely there has to be a middle ground in there somewhere ...

Perhaps I’m just feeling a bit sad that listening to my favorite media personalities has now devolved into hearing people yell at other people—especially young people—for daring to live their lives.  It’s like The Daily Show: Grumpy Old Men Edition.  You kids today!  You and your going to beaches, and having fun ... why can’t you cower in your houses like normal people!  The mayors of Italy are going out into the streets and yelling at young people.  The mayor of New York has threatened to walk around the city removing all the basketball hoops.  I mean, seriously, people!  Again, I really do understand the necessity for action on this disease (for a particularly informative—and refreshingly less hysterial—discussion, check out Trevor Noah’s interview of Anthony Fauci), but is a society of people shaming others for having fun where we really want to end up?

In any event, I can’t go on about it too long.  I have a ruthless master to serve.  There ain’t nothing like an eight-year-old to really milk the max out of being in charge for a birthday weekend.  At this point, she’s gotten into the habit of prefacing everything she says with “birthday request.”  You know, like: “Birthday request: bring me that glass of water.”  Or, “Birthday request: stop talking so I can hear the movie.”  It’s a ... special time.  I’m not sure I can say we’ll treasure the memories, but we sure as shit won’t forget them.


1 To be transparent, that was really only because Trevor Noah was his “guest.”  Such as guests are in the time of social distancing.
2 Addendum: Yes, both she and her elder brother got in the pool this afternoon and swam for over an hour.
3 Just barely.
4 For her brother, who managed to sneak in his birthday weekend just before everything went to shit, this would be fine.  It’s how he prefers to do it anyway.  But my baby girl is more of a social animal.
5 See, now I know what the fuck our president is up to, because I found Trevor Noah’s hiding spot.
6 I did allude to this issue last week, but I thought it worthy of further elaboration.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #2

[You could also read last week’s report.]

Well, it’s week two, and I don’t think it’s getting any better.

First of all, let me say that the major development in actual virus news is the release of a study by Imperial College in London that paints a pretty grim picture about what could happen with COVID-19 if we don’t take extreme measures.  If you don’t enjoy slogging through statistical analyses, NPR did a nice summary of it, but personally I like the summation by history professor Jeremy Young: there’s a text version, and also a more graphical version illustrated by artist Danny Colee, if that works better for you.  If you’re not much for clicking on things, the takeaway is that (according to these projections) doing nothing kills 4 million Americans—about 4x the number of Americans killed in the Civil War, or 2/3 the number of people killed in the Holocaust.  If the pattern extends worldwide (and, to be fair, the study only looks at the US and UK, so there’s no reason to believe it would ... just no reason to believe it wouldn’t, either), that works out to 90 million deaths: 15x the Holocaust number, or 1.5x the total numer of deaths in all of World War II.  And the reason (at least here in the US) is that extreme cases of COVID-19 will need respirators to survive, but when everyone gets sick more-or-less at once (that is, over about 3 – 6 months), the number of respirators we would need (again, talking about the US) is 30x more than the number we actually have.  So more people die than would otherwise.  Taking moderate social distancing measures could cut those numbers in half, but only the extreme measures really bring them down to where everyone who needs a ventilator gets one and no one (or at least very few people) dies when they didn’t need to.

So, first let me say, I get that.  I understand it, and I believe it, and I in no way am attempting to argue against it.  I don’t think the study is biased, or that it’s wrong.  Please keep that in mind as you read on.

But this is supposed to be a report of our family’s experience this week.  So how’s it been going?  Not great, honestly.  In the first place, we live in southern California—you know, that place where we don’t have weather?  Where the plot of both a movie (L.A. Story) and a song (“It Never Rains in Southern California”) revolve around the fact that it “never rains” and it’s always “72 and sunny”?  Yeah, that place.  Normally, not a bad place to be stuck at home, especially when you’re fortunate enough to have a pool with a jacuzzi in the back yard.1  But, here’s the rub:  Monday of last week (that is, two weeks from the day after this post), I went to work.  At our status meeting that day, we were told that we could stay home any time we were uncomfortable coming to work, due to the virus or whatever.  The next day, it started raining ... and I’m not talking about a little drizzle.  To call it a torrential downpour would not be exaggerating overmuch, especially considering how little it normally rains here.  The weather report said it would rain for a week.  I stayed at home that Tuesday, not wanting to fight the rain and the resulting traffic, and Wednesday was my normal work-from-home day anyhow.  On Thursday, the rain let up enough that I decided to go into work; I don’t like to wait too many days before I see my coworkers again.  But, as I was preparing to leave the house, I got the word: nobody’s coming in any more, for the foreseeable future.  So I stayed home.  And it kept raining.

The following Tuesday (i.e. 5 days ago as I write this), it was still raining, but the next day the weather cleared, as promised.  I went out to the grocery store, as I always do on Wednesdays, and let me tell you that wasn’t a barrel of fun.  And the next day it started raining again.  Even as I’m writing this, the rain is pouring down outside.  Now, while on the one hand it’s nice that by now we’re bound to be out of the drought conditions we’ve been under for the past ... months? years? I can’t even keep track any more ... but this is not a great time for stormy, overcast days and buckets of rain pouring down.  It’s difficult enough to keep one’s spirits up, but at this point it’s difficult to even get out of the house into our own yard.  It’s difficult to take the dogs out, and there’s certainly no sitting by the pool, or going out for walks in the fresh air.

Of course, getting out at all is problematic now.  Last week, when I told people I was worried about us (as a society) getting to the point where people couldn’t go outside for fear of other people freaking out and calling the cops on them, I sounded like a raving lunatic.  Now, an article in The Atlantic tells us that people going to restaurants and walking on nature trails are “more unnerving” than “empty streets and storefronts,” Stephen Colbert is yelling (his word) at young people in Florida to say at home, and Max Brooks is telling me that I’m going to kill his father Mel (and Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke) if I leave my house to become a “spreader.”  But, much more to the point, the governor of my state has ordered that my family (and the remainder of the residents of my state) are not allowed to leave our homes unless for “essential purposes,” under penalty of misdemeanor, and, when asked how in the world he planned to enforce this, he advised my neighbors to apply “social pressure” on me to feel bad about leaving my house.  So I’ve managed to go from raving lunatic to fucking prophet in the course of a week: not only could people conceivably be calling the cops on me if they deicde my purpose isn’t “essential,” but also they have permission from the governor to get in my face about it.

So, again remembering that I agree with and understand all the points about mitigation, and I agree with and understand that we must do something, perhaps you’ll understand that I’m worried that we’re going too far.  That same Atlantic article says:

But experts are saying that Americans can’t really over-prepare right now.  Overreaction is good!

But I don’t buy this.  That article tries to convince us that “overreacting” isn’t inherently a bad thing because the original meaning of the word wasn’t negative.  But this is a bit like saying it’s okay to use the word “faggot” because it originally meant “a bundle of sticks.”  The word means what it means, now, and there’s no point in yearning for “the good old days” when it meant something else.  And what it means, now, is “to react or respond more strongly than is necessary or appropriate.”  So, while I can’t argue that we’re reacting more strongly than is necessary, I still have to wonder if we’re reacting more strongly than is appropriate.

My kids have barely left the house in 2 weeks.  My little girl has a birthday in nine days, and, despite the fact that her presents were ordered before this lockdown started, it looks like some of her gifts won’t make it in time.  I talked last week about how many of the shows I watch regularly are going to be gone now—The Daily Show has given up, Colbert taped a few half-hearted attempts at monologues via his iPad, there’s no Last Week Tonight this evening, and even Critical Role, my go-to, forget-the-world-and-just-watch-some-folks-play-D&D show, has gone dark.  Now, I know that last one sounds like me just whining about not being able to watch my favorite shows ... and, sure, it is that.  But these are also the things that are keeping me sane, and, judging from Internet comments, I would say I’m not alone in that.

The grocery shopping situation isn’t helping either.  My usual trek to Trader Joe’s was ... interesting.  I had to wait to get in, of course, but it wasn’t too awful.  Most of the people waiting in line were friendly enough.  Once inside, there was plenty of room to roam the store, of course, and there weren’t even that many things that were totally gone: no toilet paper or even tissues, of course, but there was enough milk and eggs, and those were the main things I was worried about.  Perhaps it was because of the restrictions: “loose” items, such as bananas or tomatoes, were unlimited, but pre-packaged items were strictly limited to 2 per customer.  Also, no more than 2 “uncooked meat products” of any kind, and hot dogs count as uncooked.2  The restrictions also included sparkling water, of which I couldn’t buy more than two bottles regardless of flavor, despite the fact that my attempt to get six was in no way hoarding: that’s just how many we normally get through in a week.  But, then again, the restrictions didn’t seem to help certain things: the pasta shelf was devastated, and I got one of the last 3 containers of sour cream.  There were plenty of frozen pot pies, but no frozen burritos or microwave Indian food.  There was plenty of canned tomatoes, but no cans of tomato sauce or tomato paste.  Plenty of regular milk, but no lactose-free milk.  There were plenty of bags of potato chips ... except for the BBQ chips, which were all out.  I have no idea if this was because the store didn’t get any of those items, or they just sold out of them before I got there.

The following day The Mother braved the lines3 at Costco, where the restriction was per SKU, so you could get different flavors or different sizes of the same thing, but there the limit was only one per customer.  Still no toilet paper.  We’re trying not to hoard anything, because that’s just shitty, and, also, where the fuck are you people hoarding milk and eggs putting them?  I just don’t have that much refrigerator space even if I wanted to hoard that sort of stuff, which I don’t, because it’s a shitty thing to do.4  On the other hand, stocking up on things just seems prudent at this point, given how horrifically annoying it is to get to the store.  And, given the aforementioned limited refrigerator space, a lot of what we’re stocking up on is prepackaged crap.  I’ve eaten my first really-truly Pop-Tarts—as in, actually made by Kellog’s—in probably more than a decade, and there’s plenty of other stuff out of boxes and cans and, in a few cases, freezer packs, that I wouldn’t normally touch.  But we’re saving the fresher food for special occaions at this point.

You know what isn’t limited?  Alcohol.  TJ’s made it very clear that we could buy as much of that as we wanted, and they were fully stocked in that department.  I bought a couple of bottles of wine and some hard cider.  Costco also excepted alcohol, and The Mother came home with a giant bottle of Absolut.

So, basically, my state government seems to be pushing me to become an overweight paranoid agorophobic alcoholic.

Because, you see, nothing is black and white.  All our overreacting will almost assuredly save lives.  But everything has a cost.  A lot of restaurants won’t survive this pandemic, and I’m almost positive that the movie theater industry is toast.  At least one local amusement park may disappear.  Will suicide rates spike during this period?  Maybe not.  But if I find out later that they did, I shall certainly not be surprised.  Will depression increase?  What will the long-term effects be on our mental health, on our economy, on our children?

The problem with saying such things, of course, is that people will assume I therefore advocate doing nothing.  The study says we have to! they’ll cry.  You quoted the results right at the beginning!  Yes, I did.  That report studied three possible scenarios, and there really is no doubt that, among those three, the shit-storm we’re stuck with is the best option.  But there are an infinite number of scenarios—an infinite number of things we could do.  Those are not the only options.  And I personally think it’s worthwhile to explore some other options, because this one ain’t really working for me.

But, then again, if it would just stop raining here, maybe I would take my giant bottles of alcohol and go work by the pool and be perfectly content.  Honestly, I’m not much for going out under normal circumstances.  But, you know, when people tell you can’t ... after a couple of weeks, you start to realize what you’re missing.


1 Okay, realistically, the pool is our back yard.  But still.
2 You guys know hot dogs are actually cooked ... right?
3 And don’t even get me started on how moronic it is to pack 50 people into a line together so that you can make sure they’re all 6 feet away from each other once they get in the store.
4 Did I mention how shitty it is?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #1

Well, it’s week 1 of being isolated due to COVID-19.  In case you’re reading this from some far future timeline and you’ve forgotten (or never knew—lucky you) what that is, back here in 2020 a new strain of virus (specifically, a “coronavirus,” which basically means “head cold”) which is, unusually for these types of virus, occasionally fatal.  Other coronavirus disease scares in the past (notably SARS) were also scary in this way, but none of those previous diseases lived up to the hype about how fast it would spread and how many people might die from it.  This one, on the other hand, has.  Numbers are flying around right now, and you don’t always know whether you can trust them, but by some estimates as many of 70% of the entire population (worldwide) will get it, and of those who contract it maybe 20% will have severe reactions and perhaps 2% will die.

Here in the U.S., after a fairly poor showing of taking it seriously when it first appeared, we’ve now swung in entirely the other direction, with conferences, concerts, sports events, parades, and so forth being cancelled (including, ironically, at least one coronavirus conference), public institutions such as libraries and museums being closed, and huge swaths of the workforce being told to work from home.  I made it into the office one day this past week, and it looks like that was it for the foreseeable future: my office sent everyone home on Thursday (before I even managed to get in) and told us not to come back.  Trying to go grocery shopping has been ... challenging.  Happily, I went on Wednesday (my normal shopping day) before things got particularly crazy, and I just did fairly normal shopping, not really trying to hoard anything.  We went back out again on Friday for a few things just so we could cook at home, and it’s a good thing we didn’t need any eggs, or milk, or bread, or potatoes ... those were all gone.  No clue what it’ll look like next week.  But even on Monday when Christy tried to go to Costco, the toilet paper was all gone.  At this point we won’t even go out there any more: you have to wait in line to get in, apparently.  You can order online and have it delivered, but they’re not currently offering toilet paper via that method.  Amazon had to take down all the third-party sellers offering toilet paper to stop price-gouging.  I mean, judging from the state of things, you’d think it was an apocalypse.

Now, on the one hand, I find this somewhat silly.  It’s a cold, people.  Yes, it can be quite serious for some—mainly the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, etc.  I have a kid with a heart condition, so I’m not callous to that side of it.  But the chance of disease is always out there.  The flu (which is caused by a slightly different class of virus) can be fatal as well, and we have that every year.

On the other hand, I do understand what the health care people are saying.  There are basically two scenarios here:  In the first one, everyone gets the virus all at once, the number of serious cases spikes insanely, and the health care system is overwhelmed.  With insufficient resources, some people could die not because the virus killed them, but because they couldn’t get the care they needed to weather the sickness.  In the second scenario, the virus spreads more slowly; the number of total cases of serious sickness doesn’t change, but it’s way more spread out, and the health care system has adequate resources to care for everyone, and only the absolute worst cases are lost.  That makes perfect sense to me.  We’re not hiding in our homes so that we won’t get the disease—we’re probably all going to get, and there’s nothing to be done about that.  But the more we avoid large groups of people, the slower it’ll spread ... we’re hiding so we don’t get the disease too fast.  This is all very sensible, and I’m glad to see we’re taking scientific advice seriously (for a change).

Still ...

I’m struck by what Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show one night this past week: COVID-19 has killed somewhere in the ballpark of 5,000 people in the past 3 months, worldwide.  In the U.S., just one country in the world, 3,000 people die in car accidents every day.  Automobiles look at puny coronviruses and laugh at how pitiful they are at killing us.  And yet we do not cower in our homes for fear of driving to work each day.  Perspective, people ... that’s what Trevor said, and I thought it was a great point.

But I won’t be hearing any more great points from Trevor for a while, nor from Stephen Colbert, because all the New York late shows have gone dark.  They all have audiences, you see.  And audiences are large gatherings of people, and large gatherings of people could cause the virus to spread more quickly.  Colbert aired a single show with no audience (as did Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me), but that’s it (at least for Colbert; not sure if WWDTM will continue, albeit audience-less).  The Daily Show said at first they would continue to do shows sans audience, but they too gave it up late on Friday.  And here’s where I worry that we’re going too far.

You see, these are the places where I get my news.  Sure, I could sit around and watch CNN or something along those lines, but I gotta tell you: I spend a long time doing that right after 9/11, and all I got for it was way more stressed and not particularly more well-informed.  In fact, study after study has shown that “fake news” shows such as The Daily Show produce more well-informed viewers than almost any other outlet.  So right now I’m losing not only my major source of news about the world, but also the coping mechanism I was using to deal with the stress of said news: being able to laugh at it.

And, at the end of the day, that’s what hitting me the hardest.  Not seeing my coworkers and not being able to go out to lunch with other adults sucks.  Being cooped up with my family for essentially 24 hours a day with our only “breaks” being when one of us goes and hides in our room is not all bad, certainly, but it can be ... wearing.  Losing my opportunity to go to conferences or libraries ... well, honestly, I wasn’t taking advantage of those opportunities as much as I should have done anyhow.  But losing access to the shows that were keeping me sane: that is what I worry will send me over the edge.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.  And I’m just wondering if this is the right choice for us to make, as a society.  Because, at the end of the day (or more likely month, in this case), it will be difficult for us to quantify how many lives our choices have saved.  But I worry that the fundamental changes to our way of life will be all too apparent.

Enh.  I’m probably overreacting.  I’m sure that being alone in my bedroom for the majority of the past 6 days isn’t impacting my stream of consciousness writing at all.  I’m probably just fine.

Hopefully next week is more ... hopeful.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Kicking off the Family Campaign

[This is not exactly a series, but it’s a report about my ongoing D&D campaign with my kids.  This is the first proper report, but there was also a sort of prologue that you could read if you haven’t already.]

So, I previously described how my daughter decided to invent her first D&D characer at age 7, and how that spurred a whole campaign that we finally started to do what I called “flashbackstory” sessions for.  Well, this week was the first official session of the “Family Campaign,” where each of my children’s characters finally met each other for the first time.

Since I’m always a little irked by the standard cliché of “you all meet in a pub,” I went with an entirely different cliché: “you are all summoned by a mysterious benefactor who wishes to call in his favors.”  I mostly justified this by having inserted the initial favor into the flashbackstories, so that, instead of feeling like a tired plot device, it would feel like an organic outgrowth of the story-thus-far.  At least I hope I achieved that.  The kids seemed to enjoy it anyway.

I kicked it off with a short encounter that the benefactor figure, whose name is Hervé and who is sort of the fantasy equivalent of an alien-pretending-to-be-human, engineered as a sort of audition.  I wanted to throw them together fairly quickly and let them work out their group dynamic, plus I knew there was a butt-ton of exposition coming down the pike, and I didn’t want them to get bored by dumping it all on them before anything exciting happened.  I designed this encounter to be just a bit hard, but certainly not deadly, and it turned out to be way too easy, so obviously I’m going to have to up my game on the GM side.*  They pulled a classic divide-and-conquer technique (which I wasn’t really expecting from a group so unused to working with each other), had a few good rolls, I had a few really bad ones, and at the end of the day those bad guys never really had a chance.  Interestingly, they decided against outright killing them, even applying some emergency first aid to one who seemed like he might slip away from his greivous wounds.

Then we did our long exposition, which I tried to make as entertaining as possible by framing it as a story, and also because I gave their mysterious benefactor an insane accent, which sort of migrates around from French (Monty Python and the Holy Grail style) to Eastern European (Vlad the Impaler style) to Spanish (Puss in Boots style).  I thought it would be an interesting way to emphasize that they couldn’t pin down the accent, and also it means that my accent can never really “slip,” because then I can just say I did it on purpose.  Plus I get to mangle English expressions just for fun (e.g. “Congratulations! You all have passed with the colors that fly!”).  Of course, besides my own desire to have a good time, it’s also designed to keep them entertained while I have to talk for long periods of time, which I think I mostly succeeded at.  I think perhaps my eldest was losing focus a bit by the end, but the younger two seemed to enjoy it pretty well.**

So, other than that, we did a little journey planning and that was pretty much it.  I’ve never been the type of GM who likes to handwave away travel time (“oh, you’re gonna walk to this place halfway around the world? should take, let’s say, a couple days”) or even travel details (“you guys ready to depart? okay, you travel for three months; now you’re there”).  I mean, imagine if you removed the “travel details” from The Lord of the Rings ... you’d hardly have anything left!  Travel is where a lot of cool adventures happen, and where some of the most important character bonding takes place as well.  It matters to a story what method you travel by, and which route you choose, and how long it takes to get there ... at least, I believe it does.  So I let the kids plan out their route to get to the magic item they’ve been sent to retrieve (or “the MacGuffin,” as my eldest correctly identified it).  Of course, no matter which road they pick, whether they choose to walk or ride horses or swing through the forest like Tarzan (an actual option, given this particular group), something exciting is bound to come of it, so I’m happy to let them work it out for themselves.

Mainly it was a chance for each character to meet the others, and it went far better than I expected.  Let me give you a brief rundown of the characters my children have developed.

My youngest is Corva Ravenstone, who you may recall from last post.  She’s a classic “jungle princess” archetype, raised by a tiger and with a little blue monkey constantly chittering on her shoulder.  She doesn’t care for people, for civilization, for sleeping in beds, and she’s about 16 years old.  But, since she’s been looking out for herself since 5 or so—tigers don’t coddle their children, you know—she’s quite competent.  She’s a half-elf with blue armor, a big honkin’ bow, and the ability to speak to all animals.

My middlest is Zyx, a changeling from the world of Eberron, which is the only place in the D&D multiverse that changelings are found.  A changeling is a creature who can change their form to look like anything they like, within some broad size limitations.  They can’t be giants, and they can’t be halflings, but pretty much anything in between is fair game: human, elf, dwarf, half-orc, any hair color, any eye color, fat, thin, male, female ... anything.  As you can imagine, changelings don’t have the same concepts of gender, and identity in general, that other people do.  They have a tendency to develop certain forms that they favor, and they give each its own name and history.  There’s even a cool racial feature where you choose a particular identity and you are really good at some skill—but only while in that form.  Zyx’s parents moved them to a whole ‘nother world, Ixalan, when they were just a baby, where they also grew up in a jungle, but a very different one: instead of tigers and monkeys, Zyx grew up with merfolk and feathered dinosaurs.  There, they learned to be a druid, and was content enough with that life, until somehow both parents and druid mentor disappeared within a few weeks of each other.  Zyx doesn’t spend much time looking like themself though: he can be Jon Wood, a very non-descript human man in his mid-thirties, or she can be Moon, a fierce shifter with short white hair and yellow eyes, or she can be Xoc,*** an orange-skinned merfolk teenager who’s really great at alchemy.

My eldest is Isabella, a human who was raised in a creepy cult that turned out be to riddled with lycanthropes.  Her father was the cult leader, who turned out to be a werewolf, and, when she came of age, he bit her, and now she’s a werewolf too.  She soon ran away and has spent the remainder of her life trying to control her condition, and has now reached a point where she can enter a battle rage, changing to her hybrid wolf form, and not rip her allies to shreds.  Mostly.  Interestingly, she’s the oldest (although all Zyx’s forms appear older, Zyx themself is only 15, a year younger than Corva), but also the most sheltered, since she was never on her own until she left home, which she did at a much older age than either of the other two.  She’s capable of handling herself, certainly, but there’s also an innocence about her that contrasts with her bestial nature.

So far, it’s too early to know for sure how the intra-party dynamics will shake out, but we see some early indications.  Isabella seems somewhat disconcerted that a “child” will be accompanying them, even though Corva is no younger than she was when she left home.  But perhaps she sees herself in the younger girl a bit.  Meanwhile no one even knows how old Zyx is, since they’ve only met Jon and Moon so far—for that matter, no one else even knows Zyx’s actual name!  Corva just seems excited to be a part of all this, and no one at all seems concerned that, within the first few hours of meeting, one of their new friends turned into a werewolf.  And they’ve still yet to meet the mysterious fourth member of their party ...

I’m feeling pretty excited about where the story is going.  There will be some secrets revealed, and some dangers faced, and some dangers handily circumvented, and some new abilities discovered.  Hopefully some friends will also be made along the way.

Perhaps I’ll drop in here to report the progress from time to time.  I think it’s a story worth sharing.


* That means “game master,” if you’re still not a D&D person and you still didn’t read the prologue blog post, which contains a footnote nearly identical to this one.  In this particular case, though, the relevant part of being the GM is that I’m responsible for choosing all the enemies they’ll have to fight.
** Which is a bit backwards from how I thought it would go down, to be honest.  But probably it was because the younger two are more easily amused, while my eldest was looking for more substance.  Hopefully this situation will improve as time goes on.
*** Pronounced “shock,” if you care.  Due to a bit of linguistic nerdery, we decided that “X"s in Ixalan are pronounced as “sh,” meaning that instead of “ICKS-uh-lan,” which is how most people pronounce it, we say “EESH-ah-lahn.”  We’re weird that way.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

A (Belated) Happy Leap Day

Yesterday was Leap Day.

Every four years, we get the Olympics,* and we Americans get a Presidential election, and we get leap year.  I always wondered how we managed to get all these lined up like that: if they’d spread them out a bit, we could have some excitement 3 years out of 4 and it wouldn’t be so draining once every four years.  But it is what it is, I suppose.

We have an extra day, of course, because, astronomically speaking, a solar year is way closer to 365.25 days than to 365 even, so every 4 years we manage to accumulate an extra day.  For more fun details on why there are leap years, plus way more interesting oddities about dates and times, you could check out my talk on dates in Perl from a few years back.  Sure, you may not know Perl, but only the last part of the talk is really about Perl; the rest of it is perfectly comprehensible regardless of your personal level of technogeekery.

Leap Day was often celebrated by “allowing” women to propose to men.  Supposedly, this was a negotiation between Saint Bridget and Saint Patrick in Ireland, back in the olden times (by which we mean the 5th century or so).  Very gracious of St. Patty to begrudge the women of Ireland 1 day out of 1,461 to choose their own spouses.  Hopefully this type of thing is not really required any more, despite the fact that the abysmally received Leap Year is a mere 10 years old.

Other than that, Februrary 29th is also St. Oswald’s Day.  Who, you may ask, is St. Oswald?  Enh.  Some dude.  You didn’t think they were going give leap day to any of the good saints, did you?

Tune in next week for a longer post.


* Yes, yes, only the Summer Olympics, since 1992.  But, then, prior to 1924, those were the only Olypmics there were.