Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year 2011: A Retrospective

I decided to write a retrospective this year, mostly because I'm sitting around, sick with some sorta stomach thing that leads to wondrous bouts of diarrhea.

Stupid stomach, get better!

Anyway. There's been a number of awesome things that have happened this year. I guess I'm gonna list a few of the areas of my life that I think are noteworthy, and move along with that. The order isn't particular, it's whatever popped into my head before I decided I was done.

This was a pretty good year for anime. Ergo Proxy, Evangelion, Eden of the East, Requiem for the Phantom, some pretty evocative stuff. And that's just to name a few. But there's one anime that stood head and shoulders above the rest: Trigun. I know I'd just written a glowing review, but I gotta say, Trigun was my favorite anime of the year. And I'm a bit disappointed it's not on the top ten list, but I suppose I could do an official one.

Eh, already did that, whatever. I'll do another in July or something.

Point being is this: Trigun is easily one of those shows I'll probably spend a lot time writing about. I'm glad that I listened to Carpe and finally finished this show. As far as watching TV shows from Japan went, this was a very good year. I didn't think I was going to find something in even the same league as Clannad, but I'm happy to say that Trigun is that for me.

I started going to Benedictine College for a Bachelor's in Art in January. It was very painful at first, because I had recently recovered memories of being molested as child, and working with art brought them back. But I've persisted through it, and am growing to really enjoy working on things just for the sake of working on them, although it'll probably take til my graduation next Fall to actually get that far.

I can guarantee that I haven't worked so hard in my life, and have produced quite a few works that I'm very proud of. My favorite icon that I did this year is Christ Bridegroom, done for St. George's Romanian Parish:

There's something serene in his face, something I really hope to keep putting in my icons. At some point I promise I'll do it on purpose. Equal to that is the Resurrection icon I did. I'll have to post a picture of it tomorrow. All in all I completed 7 icons this year, and am very proud of the work God managed to do through me this year.

What about non-icon works? Well, first you're asking me to like something I've made that's not an icon... kidding... sorta... but seriously, I'm glad for the secular stuff I've done. The themes in my secular work revolve around relationship (or the lack thereof) in anxiety, and are made as a way of processing the abuse that I went through as a child. My favorite for this year has got to be Love:

It's a bit difficult to see, and that's exactly why I made it that way. Love has a way of peering out of the most unlikely of places, particularly when part of it comes out of yourself, and the other part is directed at you.

This has been a ridiculously good year for RPGs. My 4EMOD is running quite well, and the articles will go for quite some time (I hope). I started a campaign in 4EMOD, and am playing in a 4th edition and a World of Darkness game (run by Carpe, and played with Maria and another friend). Without having an actual position of authority I'm one of the leaders of Benedictine's RPG club, and I'm really impressed with just the sheer variety of RPGs that are being run. 4th edition, Pathfinder, Star Wars Saga, World of Darkness, Supernatural, Scion... it's really awesome to be a part of. Now I own Burning Wheel Gold, almost entirely on the suggestion of Carpe, and I'm excited to see what the game is like!

OK, so it's all personal, but I guess this is just more of a rambling of sorts. Ever since I started working through all this abuse thing, life has gotten much much better. Gosh, does it feel good to not bottle everything up and to express all the anger and hurt! Letting the anger and hurt out, however, let's everything else out. Good stuff. A lot of good stuff. I'm developing friends on purpose, seeking them out and the like. I'm not gonna lie, I still feel pretty skittish at some points, but thankfully nobody really notices that cause I'm so loud. I guess more than anything I guess what's different is that I'm actually trying.

Which brings me to the relationship I'm in with Maria (one of the former writers of The School's Trees).  There are times when people don't make sense to me, when I think they're brutal, selfish, and full of so much bullshit that it makes me want to lock myself away for eternity. But, honestly, being with Maria makes me try harder, to be a better person, to be... myself. And all of this by just hanging out and making it through life. I'm very happy to be dating such a wonderful and beautiful young lady, and I'm even gladder that the feeling's returned. I'm very blessed to have spent one year, five months, and four days dating Maria, and I hope God gives us many many more.

This brings me to my last part, on God. I've never had issue believing in a God. The reality of someone making this entire world was never something difficult for me to comprehend. The questions has always been if that God is building things for our benefit or His. Personally I've always been more of the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God typa guy on the inside, but for whatever reason I've felt an attraction to Eastern Christianity. While I may have issue with the sickening amount of optimism that Christianity has, I gotta admit, it's appealing.

And you know what's wonderful? Slowly, but surely, I find myself believing in that. Blame it on me falling in love with Maria. Attribute it to watching Trigun. I don't care. I know someone else is behind this. I can feel it. And I know that, whoever it is, He may not be as bad as I originally thought. Who knows: Andrei Rublev might be right!

Not by me.
So, from me, Nathan Hicks of the Kitchen Sink, have a wonderful New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saint Raphael, Part 4

So a bit more work needs to be done on the face; the mouth needs to be bigger, the nose just a tad smaller. Overall, however, I really like where this icon is at for the moment. Lots of beautiful colors.

Friday, December 23, 2011


SPOILERS AHEAD! Well, not really...
Gosh, this show took me a long time to finish. I'd watched the show's first 10 episodes about a year or so ago and then... well.. I don't know what happened. I was watching other anime, writing The School's Trees, mourning the death of my grandma, whatever the reasons were, it just amounts to this: I stopped watching.  But Carpe kept insisting that I watch the show, so I kept holding it off. I was going to get to it! Just when I felt like it, that's all. Well, I finally watched it and am done. What did I think? 

I definitely need to see this again.

I have a lot that I want to say about this show,   really do, but when I sit down to write I find that I am at a loss for words. This show covers so much in such a short time that it's a bit mind boggling to put down all my thoughts into one short review. There are tons of themes, questions, answers, all swirling around the characters who embody and channel them. I could go on and on about how Christian this show is, how full of G. K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and anyone whose thought actually matters is in here! I could go on and on. I really could, and someday I might. But, for now, all that needs to be said is this:

Trigun is a show about faith, hope, and love. Watch it if you want to see these things. If you don't, you're not human and need to leave the planet. Like, now.

Me? I'm gonna go and watch this show again. Oh, and listen to this song:


Our Lady of the Morning Star-Concept Sketch

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trigun Before the Last 4 Episodes

Apologies on not posting last week, but finals were in full swing, followed by a 3-day visit to my girlfriend's house. So for obvious reasons I wasn't really interested in posting anything up here. I'm back in the Chicago area for a bit, and I've gotta say, it's good to be back home for a little while. I started up my anime watching again, and am 4 episodes out from finishing Trigun, and I've gotta say, I've liked what I've seen so far.

I had heard that the manga and anime were written by a Japanese convert to Catholicism. At first I couldn't see it. I mean, where's the Catholicisty in some guy in an awesome red trench chasing skirts, screaming, and running for his life like a coward? T'was more than a bit perplexing, I'll admit.

As the show progressed, however, I started to notice the things that mark all good Catholic literature (emphasis there to get rid of all the pious trash that people mistake for our work): sympathetic people, hope to the possible point of delusion, and an evil that is so palpable and horrible that I don't think we could make it up. And Vash the Stampede, of course. While I know there are few Catholics as emotional as this guy, it struck me how familiar he felt. This irritating and immature man reminded me of a number of things. The first thing that came to mind was anything written by G.K. Chesterton. It's such a strong resemblance that I've come to believe that Vash is a pastiche of Chesterton's work, right down to wanting life to be as full and incredible as possible. But whatever it was kept poking at me, demanding that I pay more attention. Where the hell had I felt this amount raw emotion before? It hit me right in between the eyes.

Go to any well-done Eastern or Western Catholic Liturgy/Mass. 

That means go and find a church that's doing the chant, the incense, the organ (in the West, although with the Greeks that's not out of the question), and participate. Those Liturgies almost pop with an emotion that's so deep, so real, so human, that it's alien. Whether it be the joyful exuberance of an Eastern Liturgy or the profound sadness and serenity of a Western Mass Catholics have always figured out how to express themselves as fully as possible. And Vash fits right into all of that.

I'm not sure how good the anime is. With only four episodes left I have no idea if the ending will be good or not. It could go either way, to be honest. All of it depends on the people around Vash, and what they'll do as the two unstoppable forces, Vash and Knives, meet. I don't much, but I do know this: it had better be epic.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Curious Effects of a Car Accident (On the Death of a Bishop)

God, I hated Andrew Pataki.

For those of you who don't know who he was, Bishop Andrew Pataki was one of the most controversial figures of the Byzantine Catholic rite in America. He wanted the Byzantine Catholic Church to become as Roman Catholic as possible, and went after it with a gusto that I wish I had about my own life. He was strong-willed to the point of stubbornness, and helped put through a translation of the Liturgy that still makes the Orthodox laugh because of its inclusive language. He closed churches on a whim's notice. One of my best priest friends has memories about arguing with Pataki about shaving in the seminary because clean-faced priests are Catholic, and only do those damned Orthodox have beards. Most people whom I associated with in the Byzantine Ruthenian Church were his most avid opponents and critics. Heck, when I was in high school one of my best friends had a falling out with the man over a few things and had to drop out of seminary for a short time (he is now an ordained priest, thank God!) Everything that I wanted the Byzantine Catholic Church in America to be Pataki was against. So I had a few things against the man, on a few levels. Some were quite petty, and some were ideological.

Yeah, I say I had those issues. Past tense.

Bishop Andrew Pataki of the Byzantine Catholic Ruthenian Epharcy of Passaic died in a car accident. And I can't shake the guilt.

I've only had one actual interaction with His Grace. I was 17 years old, and had just begun iconography. I had just completed an icon for my friend Chaa, and brought it to her at the ByzanTEEN rally in Maryland. It was my ninth icon, and I was so excited with it! I had learned a lot in writing and praying this icon, and I couldn't wait for Chaa to see it. Here it is:

Gosh, I was so proud of those robes, and I couldn't wait for Chaa to see how much I'd done. Now, I've always been a rather... precocious... person. I knew that if I was going to give something to one of my friends, I was gonna do this right. So I decided that not just anyone was going to bless this icon. A bishop would bless it. But not just any bishop, my bishop, His Grace John Kudrick of Parma! So I served at the huge multi-bishop Liturgy, and waited for Bishop Kudrick outside the bishop's "office" where they were all un-vesting. And who should poke his head out to see who the annoying half-pint standing outside was?

I think you can guess. 

He asked me what I was doing, and I told him that I really wanted Bishop Kudrick to bless my icon that I'd written for a friend. Now, this wasn't the first time I had gotten an icon blessed by Bishop Kudrick. This was actually the second icon of mine I was going to present to him. So I was totally fine with waiting. Bishops are extremely busy people. They work days that are the equivalents of our weeks, and even at seventeen I knew I was imposing just a bit by standing outside and daring to get in the way. But, see, the problem was that there was a bus I needed to catch so I wouldn't be stranded at the cathedral. So, as respectfully as I could to the man whom I couldn't stand, I asked if Bishop Kudrick could see me now, if he pleased. He grinned in an unabashed, boyish, way and he vanished back into the office. Not even a minute later he brought out Bishop Kudrick, saying that a young man wished to see him and wasn't that a beautiful icon? Bishop Kudrick smiled a bit weakly (he had just gotten out of the hospital, if memory serves me right), and he blessed the icon. I thanked them both, and ran back to the bus. I was the last person on, and narrowly avoided being left behind. When I got on the bus Chaa was waiting by the door. After a brief scolding for playing it too close she took a look at the icon and grinned. She kissed the icon (a customary sign of respect), and an entire school bus's worth of Byzantine teenagers perked up. They all demanded to see the icon, and each and every person on the bus kissed it and called it beautiful. 

It's one of my most treasured memories as an iconographer, heck, as a person. 

And I ignored the man responsible for it. 

I spent  the rest of my time while Pataki was alive trying to not hate the man, and I mostly failed. When I found out he had retired I rejoiced, and said that the Church could finally recover. I didn't consider the fact that he was in poor health, and was (reportedly) disappointed by not being able to finish the job. And while I won't deny that what Pataki did was wrong, that doesn't excuse me for hating him, or for ignoring his act of kindness towards me. Bishop Andrew Pataki is dead, and I feel pain for losing a man who did so much for me. I also feel guilt that it took until he died to remember his one act of kindness to me. But at least I have one good thing to remember him by. Funny how humanity works like that.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

4EMOD: Improvising and Page 42

4th edition is the most imaginative and awesome game I've played so far. Yeah, you heard me right. 4th edition, for all the flaws that I'm pointing out and fixing, has the best structure for making imaginative and fair game play I've seen. Page 42 of the DM's guide, along with the rule of "always say yes", grants people the ability to make up their own powers on the fly. The DM's Guide leaves how to adjudicate this amazing ability wide open.

That's a mistake. If there's anything people need guidelines for, it's how to improv. Without structure most people are paralyzed by choice gloat, and since 4th edition has a very good structure, people feel paralyzed without it. This is a truly amazing aspect of 4th edition that is so underutilized that it's a bit unfair to have even an opinion on 4th edition without trying it.

So here's the guidelines that my group and I have started to throw together. They're not perfect, but they'll work. All final decisions are to be made by the DM, appeals should be few and far between.

1. Determine the type of action it is. Is it standard, move, minor, free, or any of the interrupts? The action can combine up to two of these types. Any more and it starts getting ridiculous.

2. Determine if the action should use up an Encounter, Daily, or Utility (Encounter or Daily) power. Sometimes your players want to use an ability that's truly over the top. Instead of trying to tone it down, ask them if they're willing to give up an encounter or a daily power to use their idea. Discuss this with the players, and most important of all listen to them!  All it takes is screwing this up once for people to get the idea that you're inflexible, and they won't want to try again. If the player is out of encounter or daily powers then do not allow them to use their action. This is where things stay balanced, because a character is only able to be that awesome so often.

This is where the structure of 4th edition is extremely helpful, because as the characters get more powerful they get more powers, and thus have more slots to mess around with. The players will actually feel their power increasing because of their ability to make up more stuff more often, with their established powers as fall backs in case they can't think of anything.

3. Work out the details. What defense will the power target, if it's an attack power? What should the exact effects be? DM's, I suggest you base whatever scale you're using be off of the following:

For At-Wills
  • No more than a +2 bonus or a -2 penalty to attack rolls, regardless of who the beneficiary/target is.
  • If they're looking for a damage boost do not grant anymore than their second most powerful modifier at heroic, secondary+3 at paragon, and secondary+6 at epic.
  • Do not allow for stun as an at-will, ever. Just don't.People will abuse the hell out of it, and the fight will drag on and on.
For Encounters
  • These are the most troublesome to make up, because they're right in the middle. When it comes to assigning increased damage, look at the character and his encounters. Consider his class. If you have a Warden, he probably shouldn't be getting too many 2[W]+highest ability powers, should he? If that's something they're trying for ("I don't want any effects, just give me damage!") that's a bit different. Give them  a 3[W]+highest ability that targets AC, and move on.
  • I would still hesitate to give anyone a stun move at this point. If they insist, reduce the damage to 1[W] and only have it last til the end of their next turn, and even then it's only a single target. Never give a multi-target stun, no matter what tier you're playing at. 
  • This is, by far, the easiest thing to make up stuff for. Go for a minimum of 2[W]+highest modifier damage for any Daily. Anything lower and the effect had better damn well be AWESOME. 
For those who aren't using weapon powers us the damage tables in the DMG.

These are rough guidlines, and, with the exception of the multi-target stun admonishment, treat them as such. Making up powers is more of an art than a science, and more haggling than any of the two. Be prepared to make mistakes at first, and make sure to inform your players of that. They'll understand and, if not, they probably shouldn't be in your game anyway. Give this a spin, experiment, and give me some comments on what you find! I'm very interested in feedback.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Shows I Need To See/Catch Up On Over Christmas Break

So here's the list of shows I'll be watching:

Trigun (Finish)
Kara no Kyoukai
Fate Zero
Eureka 7 (rewatch)
Sword of the Stranger (rewatch)
Leverage (catch up)
Once Upon a Time (catch up)

Sound off on what I should add to the list!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Art: Faith

The Place Where Dreams Come True, Part 1

In my art class I was told to make a personal/spiritual image, so I decided to make a painting based off Clannad: After Story, Episode 18. Yes, this is based off Tomoya's and Ushio's reunion. It's not quite done yet, but here we are! I've always wanted to make a Clannad-inspired piece of art...

New Art: Love

Monday, December 5, 2011

The School's Trees: Family First

So another set of friends finished Clannad, and they had some questions about the ending. Now how did that happen? It's not like the end is complicated or anything... One of the friends who finished told me the ending was a mistake. She says this because undoing your experiences invalidates the person. And to make matters even worse, the entire world had to reset itself five years to do it! It's a pretty big accusation against my favorite anime of all time, so I promised I would write up a School's Trees post.

One of the reasons why Clannad is my favorite anime is because of its complexity yet simplicity. While the actual events of the end are difficult to get your mind around sometimes, its wonderful how all that's needed to explain Clannad are a few awesome video clips.

Here's the four that need to be seen:

It's established in the first clip that it's possible for a miracle to happen by having people's feelings reach other people through physical objects. Tomoya needs a miracle. What's the object this time? Ushio. She's been hanging around the town and earning everyone's love for five years. Every single person who meets Ushio loves her immediately, and connect to her in a way that no other person in this anime does. Fuko pulled off a miracle in a matter of weeks with a bunch of wooden starfish and a contrary personality. What could the absolutely lovable and adorable Ushio accomplish with just herself and her father's pain? The answer is a miracle that would make the first part of the show look like small potatoes. And Ushio dying in the snow means that there are people watching, people who can feel Tomoya's heartbreak and the death of Ushio. Tomoya, if remembered, calls upon the world itself, asking that someone, anyone, save Ushio. It's heavily implied in the show that right after making this wish Tomoya dies of a broken heart. A great tragedy just happened, the world is going to notice. The city, the people within it, heck, even God had to take notice of that one. And don't forget that the same place that saved Nagisa attached itself to Ushio as well.

The second clip tells us what the city is willing to do to make one of its own happy. Families do not give up dreams for each other, they change their dreams so the other members of the family can be happy. Tomoya and Ushio are not happy in this world without Nagisa, it's just that simple. What the city wants to do isn't forsaking what it once was: it wishes to change itself so that Tomoya and Ushio can be happy. And when I say city I mean the people in it. This is a huge collective unconscious thing going on, folks. Everyone wants this for each other on some level, that's the point that the show is trying to make! That's an incredibly profound statement. 

The third clip shows that happiness without Nagisa at this stage in the game really is beyond Tomoya's reach. Seriously, look at his father. His father swore to raise Tomoya without help, and look what happened? Tomoya's dreams were ruined, and his father became a good-for-nothing-drunk. Tomoya's father refused help, and this is the fate that he found himself stuck with. The fact that the city eventually offers Tomoya a second chance is all the more proof that he needs this so desperately. And fortunately, Tomoya does cave in. He admits that he is nothing without others, without the family that is community. Tomoya's pride stops mattering to him; he wants to save Ushio, no matter the cost to his ego.

And the fourth clip ties all of this together. The city grants Tomoya the light orbs he needs to have a happy life, and changes its wishes to Tomoya's. This isn't because it would be nice for Tomoya and Ushio to have Nagisa back, it's absolutely essential. For these two there is no changing that. So the city makes the change. This is a collective effort on the part of all humanity, never mind Tomoya for a moment! Humanity wishes for Tomoya's happiness so much that its willing to rewrite itself to make that happen. The world gives up five years for  Tomoya's sake, and he finds himself with his wife and child. All is well. 

In the world of individualism this would be the wrong choice, to be sure. How dare we interfere with Tomoya's experiences that are so rightfully his? How dare we interfere with his misery, which must be left alone, but want to share in his happiness, which is all of a sudden for everyone? That's about as sensible as wishing a couple happiness in their marriage, but not trying to alleviate their suffering should they lose a child or divorce. 

But fortunately we're not individuals, we're persons, made for communion with others. And if anyone wants to if individualism is true, take a look around you. Something is horribly wrong with our world. Families are dissolving, people report having less friends than before, divorce, suicide, and depression rates are up, and people's general faith in humanity has sunk to a new low. We have had two World Wars since we rejected Christianity (which very much so stresses that we are part of a giant family), the likes of which no supposedly-religious war ever gave us. And during the time that all these horrific things were going on? Individualism and the power of the mind were blown out of proportion in art and elsewhere. You can choose to argue with me, and say that Individualism didn't cause this, at least not directly. Well, you're probably right. But that doesn't change the fact that Individualism's rise to being the "de facto religion" of the Western World was the bloodiest of any I know of. If the major thing that changed ideologically was the Enlightenment, what else is there to blame? If you can legitimately find something, please let me know. I'll be more than willing to discuss/argue.

Now I'm not saying collectivism is the right way to go, mind you. A single person can't be ignored for the sake of the whole. I'm saying that we collectively care for persons, instead. The middle path between those two has to be taken, and that's what the show sketches out. I mean, look at what the early Christian community, when they were one giant family! People were healed by having people's shadows pass over them, they spoke in languages that no one even knew existed, they resurrected people from the dead, and they saw visions that brought joy to everybody. That's the power of what happens when people are united in faith together: death itself has no influence over them. I like that way better, personally. If someone reading this blog thinks Christianity is evil, that's your business, but please don't attempt to argue with the results of those who actually practice it. 

Not a single person can make it without others, especially those right around us, and there is no shame in needing help. Because we are all in this together on this little speck of earth and water. One man's sorrows and joys are all of ours. That's common sense, compassion, hell, it's Christianity. I mean, who else do you think invented the hospital, the place where our "precious" pain and suffering is denied its meal for just a little bit longer, so we can go back out and live a happy life? If you believe hospitals are good, then Clannad's ending is better than happy, it's true. If not, then, well, I'm sorry.

A shout out to my old buddies at Clannad Central, the people who graciously provided these Youtube clips, but especially Taylor, their chief uploader. Thank you guys, my blogging experience wouldn't be what it is without you.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

4EMOD: Player's Handbook 1 Fiddly Bits

Random Powers and Feat Scaling
Some At-Will powers and feats don't scale with level, such as the Paladin's Bolstering Strike and some feats, making them useless at higher tiers. There are too many of these powers and feats to list individually, so the general rule if an at-will or feat doesn't scale, give it a +3 bonus at 11th tier and a +6 bonus at epic tier. Do not ever make feats that grant a bonus to attack rolls or defenses scale.

Feats: Weapon and Element Feats
Remove all stat requirements for all weapon-related feats. Yes, all of them. Hammer feats no longer require a high Constitution, blades don't require a high Dexterity, polearms a high Wisdom, and so on. This also includes the critical hit feats in epic tier. Wizards didn't have stat requirements for further weapon feats, so why should these feats? Why can't a paladin or a swordmage be good with the very blades that iconic to those classes? Also, improve the damage bonus from Weapon Focus to +2 at heroic, +3 at paragon, and +4 at epic.

This also applies to all the element-styled feats in the first Player's Handbook, such as Burning Radiance. Those stat mods just make what's already a questionable feat worse. Improve the damage of all those feats to +2 at heroic, +3 at paragon, and +4 at epic. Those bonuses will make people actually want to take the feats and change their style to fit using one (or two) elements, not the pitiful +1's, 2's and 3's of the old feats! Players need to feel iconic with their specialties, and a +1 to damage does not do that.

For those of you who are looking at these changes and ask "But what about game balance, Spyder?" Please remember these are feat bonuses, so you can't have the bonus from Weapon Focus and the bonus from Burning Radiance apply to the same power.

Multiclass Feats
Multi-classing is... tricky... in 4th edition. Most people don't attempt it because of the huge feat investment that it takes to only swap out powers. The solution?

Take away all the power swap feats. But just having one feat for something that powerful is too much, however. There should be one more power that allows you to swap out one encounter, one daily, and one utility power from your multi-class class. But all things come at a price to stay balanced, and this houserule has that too. You'll need to remove the bonus trained skill from the multiclass feats. Those feats are now good and do exactly what they're supposed to do without overshadowing the Skill Training feats.