Thursday, April 26, 2012

Top Five Things I've Learned about the Church Schism

Well folks, I'm sitting around in the library, waiting for my class to start, so I figured I'd write up a reflection of sorts on my study into the East-West Schism. If you don't care, too bad, it's up here. Deal with it. If you do, these are the five most important points I've learned from my time studying the Schism of 1054 so far. This written in the style of a Cracked article. If you need me to cite anything, please ask, and I will do so.

5. Language (and Schoolin') is Crucial
Did you know that the people in Constantinople were reading Augustine at the same time as Aquinas? No? Me neither. It's pretty sad, but it's true. Language was possibly the biggest barrier to people actually understanding each other, since none of the people in the West spoke Greek, and pretty much no one spoke Latin in a non-liturgical setting. At all. Don't believe me? The current top-to-bottom command structure of the Roman Church was made in the tenth century because the lay people could no longer understand their Liturgy, and thus couldn't participate all that much in Church affairs, and so no lay person actually learned all that much theology. In Byzantium (where they still used the vernacular Greek) theology was part of training to be a statesman. That's right: if you wanted to become a part of the government you had to learn theology. Oh, and to convert you usually had to go through about 3 or so years of catechism before being admitted.

What's my point?

The West and East couldn't communicate, and therefore things fell apart. The language barrier was so great that a lot of things took a lot longer to be understood (the Seventh Ecumenical Council, for instance, where the translating was so poor the West  thought the East were preaching the very thing the East was condemning), or were never really looked at at all until centuries out of context (AUGUSTINE ANYBODY???).

4. The State is a Jerk
There's this idea that religious killings were a common thing back in the day, and that if a war wasn't religious it wasn't a war. I appeal to the almighty common sense, and ask you to think about that. You're telling me that politicians actually have a group of people that are worse than them? Just look down, deep in your gut, and ask yourself that.
No, Obama, it wasn't worth a try.
Didn't think so. No, turns out that politicians have always been backstabbing bastards, particularly when it comes to the Church. Don't believe me?
  • The Iconoclast Heresy (all sacred images are bad, essentially) was enacted by the Byzantine Emperor out of a desire to calm down his Arab buddies, who had taken most of his empire. (I know things are a little more complicated  than that, but damn! It sure was convenient!)
  • Charlegmane repeatedly tried to usurp Church authority, and his descendants eagerly played the Eastern and Western Churches against each other in the fillioque controversy, so they could keep their "divine right". (Moral of the story? The Germans have always been awful, awful people) The Germans even attempted to conquer Rome later on, which led to the building of the Papal States that we're all so very afraid of. Hear that? The Papal States were built in self-defense against the state. That's something Obama may need to pay attention to.
  • The Arabs played both East and West against each other when they had control of Constantinople (no, I will not dignify them by calling it the new name), and made darn well sure that Christianity couldn't unite, cause they'd gotten a taste of it at the Battle of Lepanto and knew the whole of Christianity would own them faster than a hacked Halo player.
3. The Fillioque Controversy is No Controversy at All
For the uninformed, the Fillioque is three words from the Western form of the Nicene Creed: "and the Son". These three words did more to damage Church unity back in the day than almost anything. Why? Well, it was sorta unilaterally inserted by the West into their Creed without asking the rest of the Church if it was OK. And back in the day when Rome was a backwater that got steamrollered by barbarians once a week? This sorta stuff just didn't fly. Rome's response was to apologize, and to command the Carolingians (Charlegmane's people, what a coincidence!) to take the Fillioque out of the Creed. But the damage was done. Pushed on by the Carolingian bishops the people kept the Fillioque in place, and it became common usage in the West.

Why's this a big deal?

Back in the day, whenever you needed to get something done doctrine-wise, you called an Ecumenical Council. This was standard procedure. A unilateral insertion was a huge no-no, and considering that Rome didn't have nearly the power and authority that it claims it has now, it couldn't just face the rest of the East without blinking.

Now, granted, there are some doctrinal concerns. The Fillioque appears to further subordinate the Holy Spirit while robbing the Father of his "monarchia" that the East is so concerned about. But considering that even the Cappodocian Fathers (y'know, the guys who basically wrote Byzantine theology) allude to the fact that the Son has something to do with the spiration of the Holy Spirit? It's not that much of a stretch, and if people actually sat down and worked out their terms? It wouldn't be that much of a problem. It's an issue that's there "because we don't wish to understand each other" (Union of Brest). Imagine that!
2. It's Like Watching a Soap Opera
The next two points may seem a bit juvenile in comparison to the first three, but only because the real reasons why everyone were arguing were... well... juvenile! Reading about these people made me think of an awful soap opera, where people are almost schizo in their decisions and the reasonings behind them, circumstances sway more than anything, and just one wrong word will bring the whole damn thing screeching to a halt. It's ridiculous, at best, and well... as soon as you get into the issue of Eastern Catholics, it gets ugly. Real ugly. Now a kid's involved, who loves Mom and Pop, but is understood by neither one of them (and loved even less), but only wants them to be back together again. There's more BS-level angst in Church history than a Twilight novel, which leads me to my next point.

1. If It Seems Like Someone's Being a Jerk, You're Right!
If you've been near the Catholic or Orthodox Church for any longer than two seconds, you've heard the following: We are the true Church, and that's that. We've kept the faith, and everything we've done is to keep it that way. 

Right. Uh huh. Excuse me while I plug my nose, there's a strong smell in the area.

I thought I told you to go outside!
  The fact of the matter is that no one's hands are clean. From the insertion of the Fillioque, the willing ignorance of Western theology (need I re-emphasize that backwater thing again?), the sacking of Constantinople, to selling out to the Communists and helping them almost wipe out the Byzantine Catholics, I think I can safely say that there are some really truly evil people on both sides. This has nothing to do with either side being blessed by God to the exclusion of the other! And it definitely doesn't have anything to do with "the truth" that both sides insist they have the entirety of so strongly it makes me wonder if they actually believe it. Everyone split up because they're fallen, and they're so ashamed to admit their mistakes that they point fingers at the other side and spread blame. I know I have no say, and that my opinion doesn't hold weight with all the bishops of the world, but I have to say it.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, GROW UP ALREADY!  I want my family back together again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Conundrum of the Highest Moral Caliber

So, I was sitting around with Maria the other day, and we were talking about how much it was gonna suck, not being around each other for the summer and all. This came up in the context of the movies of the summer.  Of course, the "big three" movies came up: Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, and Amazing Spider-Man, all three of which we're pretty pumped to see. But we realized we probably wouldn't be able to watch any of them together, even Avengers (DAMN YOU FINALS! DAMN YOU TO THE DEPTHS!). Being the sweet and considerate boyfriend that I am, I told I would gladly skip out on all 3 movies to watch them with her.

When asked if I could really do that, I squirmed.  She smiled.

She told me that she was willing to do that with one of the three movies. That elicited a howl of despair from yours truly. I had to choose?? What the hell? She told me to think about it, and let her know which movie she should skip.

I've run this through my head a thousand times, and I'm stumped. Everything I've heard about The Amazing Spider-Man makes me want to watch it so badly I could probably pee. But it's JOSS WHEDON AND/OR THE DARK KNIGHT! It's like that one bomb deactivating droid in The Simpsons movie. So... much... pressure!!!!  I can't decide a favorite, it's like choosing between my non-existent favorite children! So I present the problem to y'all, my readers, to decide. Which movie do you think I should skip during the summer to see with Maria when the DVD comes out?

The Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises
The Amazing Spider-Man

If you could do it with as little trolling as possible, that'd be great. Kthanxby

UPDATE: And the winner is... THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN! To be honest, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero ever. I can't think of a better way to see the movie than with my sweetie.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: The Adventure Burner

Yes, I aim to review this in an hour and a half, because that's how much time I have before class (and the rest of my day) starts.

The Adventure Burner looked like a bit of a weird purchase to me at first. I mean, commentary on the game? Really? Why the hell would I want that? Well, that's where previous reviews and a bit of ribbing from my fellow Burners corrected me. I was told this was probably the most important book in the series, even more important than the Monster Burner itself! While I was skeptical, I decided to give it a shot. So, is the commentary on the game more important than knowledge of how to hack the game? That's still a tough call. If I had my druthers (and I do) I'd get them both, for completely different reasons. You need Monster Burner to customize your setting as you wish, but you need Adventure Burner to know why you want to hack your game in the first place. Both are incredibly important. And really, who cares? They're both fantastic books.

The Adventure Burner starts out with the basic philosophy behind Burning Wheel. I was struck by how... backwards all this advice would seem to anyone who's played RPGs for a long time. For experience players, this section will be the hardest to swallow. Reveal all your secrets. Dare the GM to hurt you. Life is going to be hard, so deal with it. I've tried a number of these lines (with rationale) on some RPG players, and they balked. These conceits just do not seem friendly to them, and they would rather not do any of those things. It had the opposite effect on me, however. I only loved the game more for coming out and saying things that I thought all RPG's should have been doing all along. Even the idea of keeping secrets from each other, which is something I've been able to work out phenomenally well before, was something I was willing to sacrifice because of the cooperative nature of Burning Wheel. And that's just it. Burning Wheel is a game where people cooperate and work together through hardships, and keeping secrets isn't very constructive to that avenue of the game.

After philosophizing for a couple of pages, the Burner switches gears and starts providing ready-made adventures: The Sword, Trouble in Hochen, and Thelon's Rift. I wasn't a fan of The Sword, mostly because it was too straightforward. Trouble in Hochen was an amazing little adventure, even if I wasn't interested in running the sequels (and thus made sure my play-through ended in one session). I haven't run Thelon's Rift yet, so I have no real commentary to make yet. The adventures are useful to have around to see how a basic game would be structured, and I have to say that I prefer how these types of adventures are set up as basic outlines so the characters can act on their own.

The next section includes advice on how to set up a world. I was very pleased to discover that a lot of the things I'd done with my players in my Friday night game was not only supported by Burning Wheel, but even more fully supported, and taken a step further. Cooperation was the name of the game once again, and I found that the only place I may have strayed was to refuse to give a big picture for people to play into. Now, granted, I ad-libbed so much for my Friday night game that it's a bit ridiculous. I got lucky. The Adventure Burner wants it to be not luck. I'm good with that.

The premade adventurer section is a God-send in a way that I'd never anticipated before. Burning Wheel is a very daunting game mechanically, and a lot of people seem intimidated by it. Just giving them a character and telling them they can figure out the mechanics later? It's a stroke of genius, and it's honestly what got me to buy Adventure Burner in the first place. And it's not disappointed.

The rest of the book is chock-full of advice on how to run a Burning Wheel game. Everything I can think of was addressed, and a heck of a lot more. I'm not going to cover all the stuff here, there's just way too much for the scope of this or any review that's not 20-30 pages long. Luke breaks down the game in a very honest and humble manner, and proceeds to tell you what he likes about the game. You get the feeling that Luke made the game he genuinely loves, idiosyncrasies and all. All the advice feels right, and is a welcome breath of air. I'm glad I read this section because, quite honestly, my preconceptions of how to run this game (which I haven't run much of, that's what this summer is for!) would have ruined it for my players. The last section of the book is a bunch of additional rules, some of which are really fun, if a bit situational. I'll probably end up using them, but not right out the gate.

Ultimately, I'd say this book must be read by anyone wanting to be in a Burning Wheel game that had played another RPG previously. I'll repeat: this game is so different that your preconceptions will fuck up how you run it. If you love the game and what it does because it's unique amongst all other RPGs, buy the damn book. And read it multiple times and keep it next to you while you run the game. Yeah, it's that important. It's a guide.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saint Francis of Assissi

Just thought I'd show you guys what's probably my most famous icon, Saint Francis of Assissi, done for Francis Hall of Franciscan University (what a mouthful!):

Photo graciously given by Sean Monger.
This is probably the most personal icon I've ever done that was for commission, given that I'd lived in Francis Hall for two and a half years, and that I knew I was leaving. This icon was my good-bye to the hall that had been my home, and I wanted to show how grateful I was to all the people who had been my family, and how sad I was (and still am) that I had to leave.

Here's to you, Francis Hall. I'll never forget.

A Quick Notice

Due to the hectic nature of the next few weeks, blog posts will be very scarce, if non-existent. My school work load is pretty high, and I simply do not have the time to make good quality blog posts. I will post random things from time to time, but if you're looking for anything substantial from me you're probably not going to find it. But I  can promise what you'll see in May!

Review of Burning Empires
More of The City's Lights
Some reflections on Eastern-Western Christianity history

... and whatever random stuff comes out of my head. Thanks for your understanding

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quick Idea for Houserule

So this just popped into my head during class, and I thought I'd jot this down. I was thinking (again) of Star Wars SAGA, although this can be adapted to any RPG. It's a modification to the initiative system.

Basically, whenever you roll for damage and exceed the target's damage threshold, apply your margin of excess as a bonus to your next initiative roll. Initiative would be rolled at the beginning of every round. The idea is to give combat the feel of "shock and awe" that's typical of a fight with big explosives. Once a side gets the upper hand they usually keep it. There needs to be a counter-system, like the other side using a Force Point to negate the bonus the other side gets. Dunno.

Thoughts? Tweaks?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Play Test of Mouseguard

When my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I drew a bit of a blank. I had pretty much everything I wanted sitting at my house, so I honestly couldn't think of anything for a few minutes. I then joked to Maria that I wanted Mouse Guard, and she laughed along with me at the absurdity of getting yet another RPG. But then I started thinking. Mouse Guard is a simplified version of Burning Wheel, and was one of the better RPGs, by all accounts. And considering that my parents have been... dubious... since the beginning of my obsess-er-hobby, I figured that if there was something to introduce them to my hobby, this was going to be it. The joke had become a reality.

Easter Sunday was the day we all sat down to play. I decided to try out the create-a-character rules, and was in for a nice surprise: these are the easiest character creation rules I've ever used, bar none. It took the entire family, half of which had never played an RPG in their entire lives, about an hour. All of them. All six people who were playing. Yeah, you heard me.

All. Of. Them.
No complicated math, no BS formulas, nothin' of the sort! Most of the time you just pick from lists and create a character from those lists. Some basic math was needed, but that was it. I was overjoyed that it was so painless! Play started up soon afterwards. The actual session was not one of the best yours truly has ever run, but here's the rest of it put into bullet points.

  • The cards in the boxed set are AWESOME. They sped things up so much because of their tactile nature I wonder why people haven't done this more often.
  • The game does not have a Steel stat, which completely changes the nature of gameplay. There's no stopping due to fear. The mice are way too badass for that. 
  • It is to this system's credit that the most tense moment of the entire game was an Argument, where both sides knocked each other out at the same time. 
In short, get the boxed set. The cards are amazing, the GM screen is amazing, and the game has a real heart to it that's really easy for people to latch onto. While the game has the same basic system as Burning Wheel it's streamlined to run much faster for a completely different type of game. While I miss the finicky bits of Burning Wheel I truly appreciate just how...simple... this game is. I'll be running this game this summer right along with Burning Wheel.

In other words, as I said on the Burning Wheel forums, the Kool-Aid's really good...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thoughts on the Crucifixion, Illness, and the Resurrection

For those of you who are Christian, welcome to Bright Monday! For those of you who aren't well... hopefully this'll be interesting to you. Think of it as broadening your horizons.

For the last six years of my life, I've had Lyme's disease. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a disease that can be contracted from a tick bite. Most of you probably know that. What you probably don't know, however, are what happens if you don't catch it within the first six months and blast the hell out of it with antibiotics. It gets stuck in your system and is, for all intents and purposes, incurable. Now, granted, there are people who claim they can cure it, but those results are still inconclusive enough for me to trust in them, not to mention unbelievably expensive. Lyme's attacks your body from within, causing depression, aches and pains, sluggishness, and sensory deprivation. It triggers under stress and lack of sleep. So if you're not careful, Lyme's will flair up at the most inopportune moments.

Like at 2:45 in the afternoon on Great and Holy Friday (the Eastern name for Good Friday). I completely lost all energy and crashed in the back of my family's van as the service started. Now March was a very difficult month for me. I had flashbacks to my abuse "incident" almost every single day for the entire month. It was perfectly hellish. So when I collapsed from just sheer... loss of energy... it was the last straw for me. I lay down in the back of my car, called Carpe and bitched at him for a little while, and then slept. It wasn't so much of a lack of faith on my part as it was a simple question: How am I supposed to live my life like this?

And for whatever reason, my answer came to me this Sunday morning, as I started to hear the words "Christ is Risen!" it sorta occurred to me. I need to get right back up and try again, because He got back up as well. Call it corny, call it trite, but it's true. The Resurrection is the central truth of humanity. There is nothing more true than humanity's triumph over adversity, a fact that was completely unknown before Christianity. Don't believe me?

Who remembers the fable of the tortoise and the hare? Y'know, where the tortoise wins because he's steady and never gives up? That's the Christian bastardization of the myth. In the original the tortoise not only loses, but is mocked by the hare for ever thinking he could change his fate.Most of the pagan myths showcase the helplessness of humanity against fate. Dunno about you, but I prefer what the Christians did with it. It's nicer to have Gurrenn Lagann than Death Note, if you ask me. A bit more accurate to, if any of those inspirational sports films are to be even halfway believed. Tales about people succumbing to their fate aren't very hopeful, or quite as realistic as we'd like to believe.

Although an anime about Black Star dying due to his stupidity would count as hopeful...
The point is this: I don't want to succumb to the downward spiral this world has us in from the instant we're conceived. I know no one else wants to either. And the Resurrection is my answer to that. It always has been, and it always will be.

Anyway, I know it's a day late, but CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My List of RPGs

Here's the RPG's I own, with a short review of each one if I have any play experience of them. My actual experiences aren't all the impressive, but oh well.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

Books Owned
Players Handbooks 1, 2, and 3
All the power source books
Eberron, Forgotten Realms, and Dark Sun
Manual of the Planes
The Shadowfell boxed set
Madness at Gardmore Abbey boxed set
Both DM's Guides
Monster Manuals 1 and 2
Time Played: 5 years. No, not 4 and a half. I was playing this game off of bits of leaked info 6 months before the game was released.
4th edition was the first RPG I ever loved. Totally disgusted by 3rd edition, I found in 4th what I was looking for: a tactical game that allowed for some awesome action scenes. It's the RPG I've spent the most time with, by far. After a span of time trying to make 4th edition be a true narrative game I've found enough games that actually do narrative play to allow 4th edition to be what it always was: an awesome tactical RPG.

Star Wars SAGA
Books Owned
Core Rulebook
Threats to the Galaxy
The Unknown Regions
Knights of the Old Republic era
Rebellion era
Legacy era
Time Played: One campaign and approximately four sessions.
Star Wars SAGA is one of those games that, when I sit down to actually play it, I find I enjoy immensely. The action is incredibly fast and cinematic and, in some ways, plays better than 4th edition. The only reason I haven't played so much SAGA? I've always been playing long-term games with 4th. Thankfully that won't be a problem after this year.

Mutants and Masterminds 2e
Books Owned
Mutants and Masterminds
Masterminds Manual
Paragons Campaign Setting
Time Played: 4 sessions
Talk about a missed opportunity. I loved playing this game, and yet I've played... a measly 4 sessions. Huh. Darn. Well, it's going to come up. I bought the Paragons Campaign Setting, and I'll definitely be using it sometime sooner than later.

Burning Wheel
Books Owned
Burning Wheel Gold
Monster Burner
Magic Burner
Adventure Burner
Time Played: 5 sessions

As the second newest addition to my RPG collection, Burning Wheel has completely reshaped how I view RPGs in five...short... sessions... This will become my main RPG after Situational Blindness is done. Period.

Mouse Guard

Books Owned
The box set
Sessions Played: 1
I list it as a separate game from Burning Wheel because, while it uses the same basis as Burning Wheel, it really is its own distinctive game. After one play session I've decided that I'll be running this and Burning Wheel this summer. Yes, they're both that good.

World of Darkness
Books Owned
World of Darkness (new)
Time Played: One year
I've run and played in a game in the last year, and I have to say that the greatest thing about this system is the lore they've set up. Don't get me wrong, the game rules are pretty stellar. But, overall, I say the system is easy to play in and to run. Willpower isn't actually used all  that much, but Carpe and I found a way to hack the system to where it runs better.

Gamma World
Gamma World boxed set
Time Played: 12 sessions
Oh gosh, this game is... this game is... words fail me. Sunohara probably has more to do with my impressions of this game than anything, but it doesn't matter. This game is awesome. But you have to have the right group of people to play it. I still play it from time to time whenever I need a laugh.

Changeling the Lost
Hunter the Vigil
Vampire the Requiem

The above are games that, while I haven't played them yet, I really look forward to doing so! I like their lore and their feel, and will play them whenever I can. I do have a Vampire-Hunter game in mind, some day...

EDIT: Since it was so close to the actual posting date, I decided to add Mouse Guard in.

The City's Lights: Fuko the Blueprint

Spoiler Alert! As you may have guessed, I have no intention of holding back about the end. If you read this without watching the whole show, whatever you see and read is your own responsibility. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna write this thing now. 

A lot of people have asked me why Fuko's story is the first arc.  They're off-put by the oddness of her story, by her, by... well... it's Fuko! These same people ask why Kotomi wasn't shown first, since she's a  bit easier on the brain, not to mention reality.  What these people don't seem to get, however, is that Clannad is not a serialized TV production, but a serialized adaptation of a visual novel. These are chapters in one long story, not a bunch of smaller stories that are interconnected. Like any good novel, Clannad's chapters build up the body of a thesis the author has about reality. The beginning chapters lay out the problem and the basic blueprint for solving the problem. The later chapters put this blueprint into action, albeit in a way that's different than the blueprint. 

Fuko's storyline is that blueprint. 

Consider the problem: Tomoya is unhappy and his family is broken. Solution? Get a bunch of friends and make a new family.  Something that won't fall apart. Tomoya already chose Nagisa, even if he isn't completely aware of his choice yet. The issue that comes up is that Tomoya believes he can do it alone, that he's able to carry on without the help of others. While he helps others, Tomoya doesn't really accept all that much help, and even then it's after an argument. This gets exacerbated even worse in After Story, where Tomoya receives the help of his new in-laws with no grace whatsoever. Tomoya believes he is an island, an entity unto himself...

OK, he's wrong here.
And here too. Funny, that...
Fuko's the first arc because she initially shows Tomoya how to save Ushio: by calling on the people of the world, on reality, on God to solve the problem. Tomoya and Nagisa's parts are to help Fuko realize that she can and should ask, to have faith in, well, everything. She shouldn't shoulder the burden by herself, and neither should Tomoya! The thing that distinguishes Fuko's arc from Kotomi is a sense of almost irrationality about Fuko that we never witness in Kotomi. Kotomi believes she can solve the problem, hell, she doesn't think there is a problem with what she's doing. Fuko, however, knows what she wants, she just needs to know to ask for it. Her cry is desperate and strong, and mirror's Tomoya's own cry at the end of After Story in a way that's almost too much of a match to not notice after watching it for the 50,000th time! Also of interest is the fact that both these characters are in somewhat similar situations. Tomoya is paralyzed by his depression and his hurt, and Fuko was banged up that she's in a coma. But even there, at these characters' low points, they find people willing and able to help them. Fuko gets Tomoya and Nagisa when she needs help. Tomoya gets Ushio and Akio.

To keep cementing the point Fuko shows up at certain points of Tomoya's life where he's wondering what he's going to do. She keeps pushing him towards asking for help, for getting aid, for not striking out on his own, even at the cost of hilarity. She keeps trying to show Tomoya what he unintentionally showed her: you must ask for help, because only with others can your goal be reached. Fuko is at the beginning, because you need to know what's going to happen at the end: a miracle.