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(With mumbled apologies to Charlie Daniels.)

The Devil Signed Onto Twitter

Well, the Devil signed onto Twitter,
he was looking for some grist to mill.
He was in a bind ’cause he had a deadline,
he was willing to make a deal.

When he came across this blogger
jawing on a topic and playing it hot,
and the Devil slid into her mentions all slick
and said, “Girl, let me tell you what…

I guess you didn’t know it
But I’m an aggregator, too
and if you care to let me share
your content, I’ll boost you.

Now you write a pretty mean blog post,
but give the Devil his due.
I’ve got exposure online like you’d never find.
My platform’s perfect for you.”

The blogger said, “My name’s Nonny,
and this might just be me,
but I’m gonna take a pass, you can kiss my ass,
’cause I never write for free.”

Nonny polish up your work and shop your pieces hard
’cause all hell’s broke loose on the web and the Devil holds the cards.
He promises you a byline and a credit to your name,
but if you pass, you’ll get paid just the same…

The Devil opened up his site
and he said, “Oh, gimme a break,”
and words flew from his fingertips
as he fired his hot take.

And then he slid his hands across the keys
and they made an evil click.
A cap of Nonny’s post appeared
in the Devil’s piece, the dick!

When the Devil published,
Nonny said, “Well, that’s pretty nice, you know,
but you just take down that work of mine,
or else you can pay me what you owe.”

Flame war in the comments, run boys, run. 
Devil’s in the Post of the Huffington. 
Digging in your mentions, picking out quotes. 
Mister, does your blog pay? No, lawlz, no. 

Well that ol’ Devil bowed his head,
because he’d been DMCA’d,
and he took that borrowed blog post
down for which he hadn’t paid.

Nonny said, “Devil, you can put it back
if you ever wanna meet my fee.
I done told you once, you quote-mining dick,
I never write for free.”

Flame war in the comments, run boys, run. 
Devil’s in the Post of the Huffington. 
Digging in your mentions, picking out quotes. 
Mister, does your blog pay? No, lawlz, no. 



Author’s Note: do make the decision to give a lot of my work away for free, but I do so on my own site and my own terms rather than generating traffic and revenue for others who gain more “exposure” from the content donated to their sites than they give to the paid works of their content creators.

If you enjoy and/or benefit from my presence on this blog or elsewhere on the web, please consider paying for it through PayPal or Patreon.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Case in point what I was talking about before, re: adequacy; I wrote this poem a month ago and meant to post it here and then link it on my Patreon, but every time I set out to do it, I found myself paralyzed with indecision. I consistently think it’s one of the better and more important things I’ve written, right up until it comes time to tell someone about it.

The poem was directly inspired by a specific incident that I’ve already actually forgotten because the sort of incident that inspired it happens constantly. The title is a sort of reference to another observation on the phenomenon, Helen Lewis’s observation that “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.” I’m not a particular fan of Helen Lewis, but this sentiment is repeated and paraphrased so many times without attribution—or attributing it to a man who happened to quote her, such as Wil Wheaton—that I felt it necessary to point out who codified the sentiment in this form.

Anyway, poem:

by Alexandra Erin

That never happened, you’re making it up,

but you need to realize it happens to men, too,

and it was obviously a joke when it happened.

Anyway, everyone does it sometimes, but not all men.

You feminists generalize everything.

It hurts my feelings when you’re so sensitive.

Nothing in life is more important than free speech,

so just shut up about this social justice nonsense.

We don’t care about race or gender or anything else,

we’re all just people here, just human beings,

so if anyone gives you trouble for who you are

it’s your fault for letting them find out.

You will never find a more welcoming community,

but you can’t expect to just walk in here like that.

Gaming has never been a boys’ club,

but why are girls getting into it now?

The corrupt media narrative ignores our wonderful diversity.

Feminists won’t understand that we are not their shield,

but of course white men are catered to, we’re the majority.

You feminists act like men are so dangerous,

but you’re waving raw meat in front of a wild dog

and whose fault is it if you leave your door unlocked?

I resent the implication that I can’t be trusted.

It’s just a compliment, just a drink, just being friendly,

not everyone means something by everything,

not everyone is angling for something in return,

and besides, fake geek girls are taking over

and pretending to like our things

to get compliments

and drinks

and stuff

and never have to give a single thing up in return,

and how is that fair?

You females give so many mixed signals.

You’re so contradictory, I swear,

it’s like you’re different people.

I should just give up on you.

I should just leave you all alone.

But I won’t fight hate with hate.

I will be the bigger man.

I will stay here and I will tell you

every single thing you ever got wrong

until you know better, until you see.

Because I’m a nice guy.

Support the author on PayPal or Patreon.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Jack o' the Lantern (2)







Resembling a scarecrow with a burning jack o’ lantern for its head, a jack o’ the lantern differs from the more familiar animated scarecrow in being a spontaneously created undead being rather than a deliberately created construct.

The story goes that when a sufficiently hateful or angry and murderously evil person dies in a pumpkin field, the murderer’s soul, seeking purchase on the material plane either to avoid an unkind fate in the lower planes or to seek revenge against its killer, can either move into one of the pumpkins or seep into the soil and from there enter a gourd.

A pumpkin so inhabited by a soul will grow tall and round and slightly misshapen in a way that vaguely suggests a humanoid skull. Anyone who looks closely at or touches the pumpkin will receive a suggestion (as per the spell; save DC 13) to carve a face into it and put it on a scarecrow body. The first night that the light of the full moon shines on such a scarecrow, a fire will ignite inside its pumpkin skull and it will be animated into a grim mockery of life.

The anger and hatred that the jack o’ the lantern’s spirit feels fuels its existence. While a jack o’ the lantern is a free-willed creature with all the knowledge its soul possessed in life, it is incapable of tender emotions, calm rationality, or mercy. Any better qualities the soul may have had are burned away in the fires of rage.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Reviewed by John Z. Upjohn, USMC (Aspired)

This book is the all-too-plausible story of one evil turtle and his tyrannical desire to enslave all other turtles to his bidding.

If when you read this book it seems to echo eerily close to something you have heard before, that is probably not a coincidence. This is no mere children’s story like the ones you’d find in Aesop’s fables. This is a story with an important moral lesson to teach us and it relates to real life.

The villain of the piece is a turtle named Mack who is so dissatisfied with his place in the world that rather than climbing the ladder and making something of himself, he instead blames society for such petty things as the pain in his back and his lack of food. Not content to merely complain, he uses his extraordinary power and privilege to impose his will upon all other turtles. Lacking the gumption and will to raise himself up, he instead only tears down, and will not be satisfied until all other turtles have been brought down to his level.

Set against Mack is the tragic hero of the piece, a Randian super-turtle named Yertle who, though born to lowly circumstances on top of a rock only a little bit higher than the station of any other turtle in the pond, raises himself up to be the self-made king of everything up to forty miles away. Because a rising tide lifts all boats, in the process he raises every other turtle in the pond up with him.

Even Mack—the greedy, grasping, ungrateful, Mack—is elevated to the very same position Yertle was when the story began, sitting atop the very same rock. If he really wanted to be where Yertle is, there was absolutely nothing stopping him from doing as Yertle did. He was given the exact same opportunity Yertle had. Yertle’s very success proves the existence of upward mobility in the pond. Every single one of the turtles under Yertle only has to look up to find something to aspire to.

But when Mack’s  incessant complaints and whiny demands do not give Mack any greater reward than he has earned, he brings the whole thing crashing down in the most vulgar way imaginable: he burps.

In this one burp, he becomes worse than the Soviets who condemned the Kulaks during holodomor, worse than the people on the street who mouthed the Nazi lies about Jews during WWII.  Why worse?  Because those people lived in fear of their lives.  They had to say what they did because they feared being next on the kill list.

But Mack? Mack drags everyone down into the mud and dashes every turtle’s dream of attaining a higher place in society of his own free will. Does he care about the wishes of the turtles above him? No, he does not. Mack imposes his will upon all. In his pond, all turtles are slaves shackled to the ground, doomed to swim about the pond without the benefit of direction or purpose.

And in the end, the turtle who had the vision to build a society where any turtle could climb so high as to see forty miles in every direction, where any turtle could through nothing save their own hard work and determination could become king of a house and a cow and a mule, he is down with the rest, only able to see mud.

The burping vulgarians of the world cannot tolerate men or turtles of Yertle’s grand vision, and so cannot rest until they are destroyed. Saul Alinsky would be proud.

Two stars.

Get more Sad Puppy book reviews (including ones never seen before elsewhere) here!

Support the author on Patreon!

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Made with CritterDB. For more 5E content, check out my offerings on the DM’s Guild. If you like what you see, give me a tip!

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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The following three magic items are intended for use in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. They are presented here as a preview of my upcoming supplement, Armoury of Enchantment, which will be added to my other titles currently available on the DMs Guild.

Footwear of the Windrunner

Wondrous item, very rare

These boots or sandals allow the wearer to run—not walk, not stand, but run—on thin air. They seem ordinary when worn, until the wearer takes the Dash action. Doing so gives the wearer the ability to run on thin air. Ascending by 1 foot requires an additional foot of movement, descending is treated as normal movement. The wearer falls if knocked prone, or at the start of their turn if they do not immediately take the Dash action again. If the wearer jumps while wearing these shoes, a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check is required to avoid falling at the end of the jump.

Potion of Cosmic Revelation

Potion, rare

Also known as the elixir of the third eye or the potion of mind opening, this potion bestows upon any creature who drinks it the effects of the contact other plane spell, some 2d4 minutes after it is imbibed. The potion renders the drinker catatonic (unconscious, for all purposes except the spell) for the duration of the spell (1 minute). A creature who is not seated when the effect hits falls prone.

If the drinker does not have any 5th level spell slots, the saving throw called for by the spell is made with disadvantage, but even on a failed save the drinker can ask 1d4 questions before taking the damage and succumbing to the mind-shattering effects of the spell.

Sapphire Bird Ring

Ring, very rare

The first sapphire bird ring was created by a high elf wizard of an age long past. This wizard, whose name and identity have not been lost, was known for possessing an unusual reverence for the beautiful things of nature, even for an elf.

This ring bears a device that resembles a bird with two exquisitely cut sapphires for eyes. With a mental command and an action, one or both sapphires can be ejected from the ring, at which point they turn into a crystalline construct resembling a bluebird. Use the statistics for a raven, minus the mimicry ability, but the creature is a construct, not a beast, and has only 1 hp. The birds glow with an inner light, shedding bright light in a 10 foot radius and dim light for another 10 feet. If one of the birds takes any damage, it shatters into brittle blue glass immediately. If a bird is destroyed, its gem will reappear on the ring after 1d6+1 days. Until that time, it cannot be re-summoned.

While they exist, the bluebirds are bound to the ringbearer can communicate with, control, and see through the senses of either bird as if it were a familiar, (as described under the find familiar spell), though the birds cannot deliver spells or use the Help action. The wearer may also cast the animal messenger spell at-will, using one of the birds. The birds always return unerringly to the ring after delivering their message.

A bird created by the ring cannot be banished as a familiar would be. If touched with the ring, as an action a bluebird can be turned back into a gemstone, which rejoins with the ring.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Attract Mode” was an idea I had for a short story some time ago but couldn’t figure out how to write, until I came up with the idea of doing it in Twine, a visual mark-up tool that is mainly used for crafting interactive stories. I started this last fall, but was stuck on a few aspects of it. Today I showed it to Jack, who helped me figure out how to wrap it up, and so now, I’m sharing it with you.


(And for the curious, the title “Attract Mode” refers to what most folks call the “demo” of an arcade game. The term dates back to pinball machines, which would light up and make noise to attract people.)

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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God said that we were winning!

God swore He’s on our side!

God said that they were sinning!

God told me that He lied.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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The Stars Don’t Fall Here Anymore

By Alexandra Erin


The stars don’t fall here anymore. Sometime, one night three summers ago, they started giving our planet a miss.

What’s that old joke? They’re called meteorites when they hit the earth because if they missed they’d be meteor-wrongs.

Well, something went wrong, somewhere, because the stars no longer fall here anymore. If you go out into the countryside on a clear night during the Perseids or Leonids, you can watch them streak across the sky and then zig-zag off, pull a u-turn, bugger off to go streak across some other sky.

There’s less and less of them every time, too. It’s like word gets around, somehow.

No one knows how to feel about it. On the one hand, maybe it means we can all stop worrying about ever going the way of the dinosaurs, but on the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be worrying about death from above when there’s something so wrong with the ground under our feet that rocks and dust and chunks of stuff from everywhere else have started taking a pass on it.

The stars don’t fall here anymore. No one knows why, or how, or what to do with this information, and now the stars in the sky have started winking out, one by one, a few hundred over the course of the night every night. The moon, bound by tidal forces to show her same face for billions of years, has started to inch around. Some people say she’s started revolving, but I think deep down we all know she’s turning her back on us.

Even the sun is a little colder.

The scientific implications would be profound, if only anyone could make sense of them. There are no answers to be had anywhere, no one to turn to and ask them. It all just keeps happening without any explanation, as if the whole entire universe is telling us, “You know what you did.”

The worst thing is, they’d probably be right, except it’s so hard to narrow it down.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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These are the days

when fire falls

and water rises.

These are the days

when heaven yawns

and earth topples.

These are the days

when the wind screams

and thunder roars.

These are the days

I remember

what might have been.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Hooked on a Feeling

By Alexandra Erin


I used to eat my feelings.

It was mostly just a thing to do. I did it because I was bored, or lonely, or scared. Never because I was hungry. Yo don’t get any nourishent from a feeling. They don’t fill you up at all. They hollow you out, at least when you’re eating your own.

So I would be anxious about something, or nothing, or everything, and I’d eat it. The anxiety. Or whatever. And then I’d feel ashamed about it, and I’d eat that, too. Sometimes I’d be surprised how easily it worked, but never for long. Surprise tastes better than shame, much better.

Before long, I never felt anything except for the things I felt about never feeling anything, and I never felt those for long. Every day I got a smaller on the inside, a little fainter around the edges. Feelings aren’t very substantial on their own, but they add up over time, and over time I was chipping away at the core of who I was. I got to the point where I didn’t know how to react to anything, how to respond to people or situations, because all my emotional cues had been chewed away into ragged little splintery stubs, like fingernails that have been bitten off one time too many.

I couldn’t stop, even if I’d felt any desire to. I had been doing it for too long. Even if I couldn’t live on emotion, it fed something inside me. I wasn’t exactly afraid to stop, but then, I wasn’t afraid of anything.

I didn’t know what to do about my growing state of disaffection, and I didn’t care. The people in my life did, though, the ones who hadn’t slid off me or been pushed away. They cared so much, it was painful to be around them. Briefly, anyway. But I can only eat so much pain, and it was getting to be a problem.

So I don’t eat my feelings anymore. I’ve found a better way, and now no one cares what I do.

At least, not for long.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Hey, folks! The friendly wizards who live up the coast have recently opened a venue for selling material relating to the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, called the DMs Guild. Though you can well imagine this is exactly the sort of opportunity I’ve been waiting for, this happened while I was out of town, and so I’ve spent many a distracted moment brainstorming content to brew up when I got home.

Today I put some of those plans into action and I have begun working on a supplement that adds character options revolving mostly (though not entirely) around the element of fire. My goal is to have 1 or 2 new character subclasses for every class that I can do so without it being forced, and so far that’s everyone except the Fighter, Rogue, and Ranger (and I have some rough ideas for them), along with other character options such as new spells, feats, racial subtypes, etc.

You who read my blog know that character classes are not just interchangeable bags of abstract mechanics with some flavor text appended to them. I believe the designers of 5E did a wonderful job of making characters whose abilities are governed by rules that strongly suggest a desired flavor. In creating my heroes of flame, I’m taking care to do the same. Fire is not just a damage type, after all. It has a primal power and mystique all its own. It’s an ancient source of terror and the thing we use to beat back terrors. It symbolizes both the holy spirit and the flames of perdition.

To whet the appetite and illustrate my general approach, I’d like to share one of the two Bardic Colleges I’ve created, the College of the Dancing Flame. I believe this falls under the category of “short promotional previews” that are allowed by the DMs Guild terms.

Flame Dancers have abilities that allow them to interfere with attacks on their allies while daring enemies to attack them. Their tendency to laugh in the face of danger emphasizes the unstable nature of fire, as they don’t really have the AC or HP of most classes that take the “tank” style. In their favor, they do have a version of the Unarmored Defense feature that uses their primary ability (the existing Monk and Barbarian ones both use a secondary ability, though Monks have the advantage of their primary ability already being factored in).

The Flame Dancer also show one of the hallmarks of this collection, which is characters who focus on two types of damage. I mean, that’s the main problem with elemental-themed characters: they are hopeless when out of their element. Flame Dancers use both fire and psychic damage (psychic damage being the medium used for taunting spells and attacks). Some of the abilities below may be reworked (and in particular, streamlined) before final publication.

The other Bardic College, not featured in this preview, is the College of Fire and Ice. It’s a spellcasting-focused one that is like a blend of the College of Lore and the Wizard tradition of Evocation, albeit with a more narrow focus than either of them.

Other highlights from the collection include a Fire and Infernal domain for Clerics along with a variant “Gentle Light” domain, Pyromancer and Elementalist traditions for the Wizard, fiery new totems for the Barbarian and a whole new Raging Inferno path, Everlasting Flame Oath for Paladins, and more.


The Dancing Flame option provides another way to weave weapons and magic together, focusing on mobility, defense, and the ability to draw enemies in to attack you. Flame Dancers (as members of that college are called) play a dangerous game with their taunts as they are far more fragile than the typical front-line warrior, but have the advantage of relying on a single ability for attack, defense, and magic.

Unarmored Defense

Starting at level 3 when you join this college, you have an Armor Class of 10 plus your Dexterity modifier plus your Charisma modifier when you are wearing no armor and not using a shield.

Flagrant Finesse

Also at 3rd level, you gain the ability to use your Charisma in place of your Dexterity when making a weapon attack with a ranged or finesse weapon. When doing so, the damage inflicted becomes psychic or fire (your choice when you attack).

Once per turn as a bonus action when you hit an enemy with a weapon attack with a ranged or finesse weapon, you may choose to taunt them. An enemy who is so taunted has disadvantage to attack any creature other than you until the end of your next turn. A creature can only be subjected to one taunt at a time, with new ones superseding the previous one. Creatures who cannot be charmed are immune to this effect.

Burning Retort

Also at level 3, when an enemy makes an attack roll against a creature that has a Bardic Inspiration die from you, the targeted creature can roll that die and choose to inflict that much fire or psychic damage against the attacking enemy. If the enemy is not immune to the damage or to being frightened, it gains disadvantage on all attacks made against the creature that used the die until the end of its next turn, including the attack that triggered this. The creature can decide to use the die in this fashion before or after the initial attack roll is made, but only before the result has been announced.

Blazing Web of Song and Steel

Starting at level 6, whenever an enemy you can see makes an attack against another creature or casts a spell that targets one or more of your allies that you can see but not you, as a reaction you can either cast a spell with a casting time of 1 action that targets only the triggering enemy or an ally targeted by the triggering attack or spell, or make an attack using a ranged or finesse weapon against the triggering enemy.

Your reaction is processed before the triggering attack or spell is completed. If you inflicted fire or psychic damage against the enemy as part of the reaction, the enemy gains disadvantage on its attack roll for the attack or your ally gains advantage on any saving throw against the spell (as applicable).

A creature does not trigger this feature when attacking or casting spells against other characters who also possess it.

Blaze of Glory

At level 14, during your turn you may choose to blaze with energy as a bonus action. When you do so, you immediately regain one expended Bardic Inspiration die, and can spend 1 or more of your bard Hit Dice to regain HP.

The other effects of this ability last while you concentrate on it (as you would a spell) for up to one minute. You emit bright light in a 20 foot radius, and dim light for a further 20 feet. You have resistance to fire and psychic damage and cannot be frightened or charmed. On your turn, you may either dash, dodge, disengage, make a weapon attack with a ranged or finesse weapon, or cast a bard cantrip with a casting time of 1 action as a bonus action. You also have advantage on any Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) checks you make (except for checks made to swim). You cannot hide while in this state. Any attempt to do so ends the effect.

Once you have used this feature, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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By Alexandra Erin

The enormous cavern was empty, or at least as empty as a place can be when there is a dragon inside it.

The brave adventurer stared in shocked horror and amazement not at the twenty-ton scaly beast but at the bare floors that were not piled high with gold, the vacant nooks and crannies that absolutely were not overflowing with precious jewels the size of their fists and heaps of coins, the crevasses that were definitely not brimming with ancient chalices and silver goblets and bejeweled swords that were maybe magical but certainly valuable.

“Wh… where did it all go?” he said, more to himself than to anyone else.

“All what?” the dragon answered anyway, in what would have been a soft voice had it emanated from a smaller instrument.

“The… the treasure,” the adventurer said. “Your hoard!”

“Oh, wow, that’s a harsh word,” the dragon said. “I never thought of myself as a hoarder. But, I mean, I guess it’s fair. I mean, it started out simply enough, just collecting shiny things because they caught my eye, and then it just turned a thing I did, and then… well, I hate to say it, but it became what I was. I didn’t own anything, it owned me.”

“But what did you do with it all?”

“I gave it up. It was just stuff, you know? Look how much more room I have. You know, I couldn’t even roll over before. And even before the piles got that high, there was nowhere for me to sleep that wasn’t on top of something. It was ghastly.”

“Don’t dragons like sleeping on top of coins?”

“Would you?”

“But dragons love gold!”

“I’m getting a kind of a vibe from you that tells me you do, too, but I doubt you’d bed down on it if you had a chance.”

“Enough, wyrm!” the adventurer said, drawing his sword. “You will tell me what you did with your treasure!”

“Oh, no, please!” the dragon said, cringing and shielding its eyes with its taloned forepaws. “Put it away!”

“I see you have heard the legend of my sword, aptly called Drakeslayer,” the adventurer said.

“No, no, it’s just… it’s so shiny, and I’m still, you know what they say about old habits…”

“I’m giving you to the count of three,” the adventurer said, taking a step forward. “One… two…”

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take one little sword,” the dragon said.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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By Alexandra Erin



There is a peculiar kind of greeting that awkward, shy people who don’t know one another give to each other. It is not done intentionally, but incidentally, in that moment when we glance across the aisle or at the person sitting next to us to size them up, quickly and discreetly, to assess their threat level and determine what, if anything, is expected of us.

We know that like some strange quantum phenomenon, the act of looking at a stranger might change the situation, but forewarned is forearmed, so we take our chances. We are already rehearsing our lines and planning our exit strategy in our minds, trying to remember what feel in our face means a smile, in case we’re called on to assemble one at a moment’s notice.

Then we see the other person, looking at us in the same way, the same furtive glance, the same bright fear in their eyes, and for a brief moment we are like a single organism sharing one full-body slump of relief, and then we go back to our books or podcasts or just the worlds we keep inside our heads.

Internally, we sound the all clear. The doomsday clock rolls back another hour. We return to Defcon 5. Well, Defcon 4. Maybe 3. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for… what, we’re not sure, exactly.

Someone probably knows, but we’re afraid to ask. We pay it, though. If we don’t, someone might come around asking why we haven’t.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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There is a known bug in the human psyche, called the “quantifiability fallacy” or sometimes the “metrical fallacy”: we overestimate the importance of things that can be measured. The easier they are to measure, the more important we assume they are. And because the easily-measured metrics are the easiest things to test for and to brag about, their perceived importance just reinforces itself over time.

This problem crops up in how we handle just about everything: health care, corporate finance, sports, governance, even our military strategies and priorities. Everywhere you go and everything you do, people want to see numbers, numbers, numbers. Hard numbers, big numbers. This kind of thinking pervades pretty much every important aspect of modern life, but perhaps none as important as the fine art of pretending to be an Elf Bard rifling through the pockets of dead kobolds for spare change.

Yes, friends. For today’s Thing of the Day, you get a blog post about the dungeons and the dragons. This will actually be the first installment in a semi-regular feature, an ad hoc column I am calling “Spherical Goblins”, short for “Spherical Goblins in a Vacuum”. Some people who stand at the right nerdy intersection might understand that title immediately, as will people who pay attention to my twitter ramblings.

For everyone else, this post will explain it.

There is a joke—a whole species of them—about physicists solving some problem like doubling a dairy farm’s milk production, but then revealing that their solution only works “for spherical cows in a vacuum”. This references the fact that physicists often simplify the problems they’re dealing with by making assumptions that eliminate complications.

This brings me to the nature of what is often called “theorycrafting” in D&D, as it currently exists, as it applies to min-maxing or character optimization.

The concept of min-maxing is not a new one. You make a character who is only deficient in ways you can ignore and work around or just don’t care about, and strongest where it will have the most impact, or where it’s most important to you.

Min-maxing works best in games that let you gain more power in one area by taking a weakness in another, which are mostly freeform point-based games. It’s a form of metagaming (playing the game of gaming the game system itself, essentially) and it’s not terrible, in moderation and in and of itself.

Even at its worst—especially at its worst—it relies on assumptions like “I can ignore this area and focus on that one because the first area won’t come up.”

If you mess with those assumptions, the whole thing falls apart. A good DM can work with min-maxing to keep its effectiveness to a reasonable level. Of course, a good DM will also let players who just want to be awesome be awesome, also at a reasonable level. You very rarely want to actually match the players meta for meta, though that’s a subject for another column.

So min-maxing, in and of itself, is fine.

The current breed of “theorycrafting” that often surrounds it, though, is another story.

I talked at the top about the metrical fallacy: if we can measure it, it matters. Characters in D&D, particularly in any 21st century edition, can do all kinds of fabulous and fascinating things: talk to animals, change their appearance, create illusions, communicate telepathically, and… of course… they can kill things like goblins.

So, if you have a Gnome Ranger who can talk to small animals, produce minor illusions, and has a variety of survival skills and nature spells, and who can kill goblins with a magic mark and bow attack and a Human Warlock who can communicate telepathically and bring people to their knees with a word and change their appearance at will and who can kill goblins with a curse and a blast of eldritch power, and you have to compare which one is better, how do you do it?

It’s hard to put a value on most of their respective abilities, much less compare them to each other. The one thing they can both do is kill goblins, and as luck would have it, their ability to do so is already reduced to raw numbers! We can figure out their damage output adjusted for hit rate to get their damage per round, and settle the question once and for all of who is better at killing goblins.

At that point, you might feel like we’re one step closer to being able to compare them, or that we know who is better at one thing in one situation… but for those who are invested in creating a character who is objectively the best, that’s the whole comparison. When you know who does the most damage, you have your answer.

I mean, you can get more complicated, and many do. You can drag in how much damage each character can themselves avoid, mitigate, or heal in order to figure out who will stay alive the longest while killing goblins, but that’s still just a facet of how good they are at goblin-killing.

So that’s the goblins. Why are they spherical and in a vacuum?

Our theoretical goblins are spherical in the sense that we assume everything about them is simple. None of them are using unusual tactics or equipment, or exhibiting unusual behavior. Every turn they behave in a straightforward fashion that conforms exactly to whatever our game theorists think they should do.

And they are in a vacuum in the sense that we assume there is nothing interesting about the environment or situation in which they are fought. There is no terrain or ambient condition or external event that has any impact on anything.

The reason we keep to these assumptions is that if we don’t, it becomes harder to make the comparison between characters. If the battlefield is hard to navigate, the Warlock’s ability to teleport might give them an advantage over characters who can’t. If the battle is happening at a long distance, the range of the bow vs. the blast matters. If the goblins are riding mounts and using hit and run tactics, the question might become who is better at controlling them and pinning them down.

Given a certain set of circumstances, we can decide which set of abilities is more valuable in that circumstances. But we can’t compare their overall objective value without knowing not only which one is more valuable in each and every possible circumstance, but how much more valuable, and how likely that scenario is.

It is impossible to do so, which means it is infinitely hard to measure the objective value of anything other than direct killing (or not-being-killed) power.

And, that stubborn, blinkered thinking fallaciously insist that things that are hard to measure don’t matter as much as things that are easy to measure.

So the only thing that really matters is how good a character is at killing spherical goblins in a vacuum.

It doesn’t matter how clever a character is, unless that cleverness comes with damage dice attached. It doesn’t matter how charming they are, or how much many fantastical magical things they can do… except for the ones that do damage. Anything about a character that isn’t the thing that kills the most goblins the fastest in ideal circumstances is just stuff, just fluff… nothing that counts, nothing to concern yourself with, nothing to worry about.

This is the kind of thinking that I abhor, and that I think is toxic and corrosive to the hobby when it’s treated not as fun thought experiments but is handed down to the new and unsure as the way the game is supposed to be played, the way it must be played. In this semi-recurring blog feature, I’m going to be directly countering this kind of thinking with advice to both DMs and players about other ways to approach character creation, the game rules, and running games.

Sometimes I’ll be taking on the fallacious credos and sacred cows that are promulgated by the spherical goblin theorists. Other times I’ll take a more positive approach, offering good advice without any particular point to refute. In either case I’ll be sharing the wisdom of someone who has been playing D&D since the 1980s across multiple editions and through multiple media.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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By Alexandra Erin



This was the year winter came late. It rolled into class fifteen minutes after the bell with a red Starbucks cup, avoiding eye contact and mumbling excuses about El Niño in the general direction of Ned Stark.

Four days after Christmas, our first hint of white was a fog bank, crystallized and made golden in the phosphorescent glare of the parking lot street lamps outside Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and the K-Mart, two stores now trapped in amber like some great primeval insects.

Well, not that great. I mean, it’s just the K-Mart and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.

I don’t miss the cold, I miss the feel of it. I miss the certainty of the seasons, even if it was never all that certain to begin with. I’ve seen more white Easters, Thanksgivings, and Halloweens than Christmases. I’m from Nebraska, where they say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Except they say that everywhere. It’s like the one where the state bird is the mosquito and the state tree is the traffic cone. If you want to see something truly universal in this life, you have to look at regional wit.

I think if I counted the minutes I’ve spent waiting for something to change, I’d waste a lot more minutes in the process and a lot fewer in the future. That only really works for the weather, and maybe traffic signals.

I love the way the night sky looks when it snows in the city, when the light turns to amber and the sky to amethyst. Omaha becomes a fairy kingdom in the snow, and the First National Tower the enchanted palace at the center of it, one blazing column of light flying up into infinity. Every other night of the year I hate the wasteful, star-blotting excess of energy we pour out into space, but when it snows, when the snow hangs in the air in thick, feather-light clumps, I love it.

There’s nothing like that here, but then, there’s nothing like there here. That’s the point of different places, as near as I can tell. The jokes don’t change much. Mostly it’s the view that does, or maybe the person seeing it.

This was the year winter came late. If you don’t like it, wait five minutes.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Okay, folks. This one is under a cut for spoilers for a highly anticipated movie that came out last week. If you don’t want to read key plot details for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, give this one a pass until you do. For everyone else, click through to read more (or click back on the original article link if you’re seeing this crossposted somewhere).

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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Back In The Stacks

By Alexandra Erin



Curling our fingers tightly around the hilts and hafts of our weapons, we slunk our way down the row of bookshelves, stopping at the end to peer around the summer reading display there.

“Hold on,” Tommy said. She adjusted her helmet, which kept slipping down over her eyes. It was still too big for her in her third year of hunting. “Okay, I’m good.”

“Shh,” Penelope hissed, much louder than Tommy had spoken. I jumped, and we all glared at her. “Well, we don’t want Ms. Alperstein to hear! She’ll kick us out!”

“Why would she kick us out?” Tommy asked.

“For talking,” Penelope said.

“You’re allowed to talk in libraries,” I said.

“Then why do they have signs everywhere saying to be quiet because people are studying?” Penelope asked.

“Because people are studying,” I said. “Do you want to catch a dragon or not?”

“Of course I want to catch a dragon, that’s why I’m here!” Penelope said.

“Kids, please keep it down back there!” Ms. Alperstein said, from out of sight at the front of the library.

“Then keep it down, like she said, or you’ll scare it away,” I said. “Come on.”

We weaved our way deeper into the stacks, eyes always searching for the tell-tale signs of the book dragon’s passage.

Books left upside down or with their spine turned inwards might have been a dragon’s handiwork, but only if they fit into certain subtle patterns. The dragon would move move in a fittingly serpentine pattern as it scampered sinuously across the shelves, its claws slipping into the cracks between the books for grip.

When the dragon moved from the shelves to the floor, some of the shiny flecks in the tiles would be missing. They would grow back, of course, in a day or two. They always would. This was part of how you knew the trail was recent.

“What’s that?” Tommy asked, pointing upwards. There was a rustling among the paper stand-up snowflakes on top of the shelf. We saw a golden tail flick briefly into view, and then vanish just as quickly.

“I think it’s heading for periodicals,” Penelope said.

“Split up!” Tommy said, and we did.

Ten minutes later, we were kicked out of the library, not so much for talking as for running, making big clanging clattery noises when we dropped our weapons in surprise when the dragon reared up and readied its confetti breath, and for having axes and swords in the library in the first place.

“Honestly, every year,” Ms. Alperstein said to me while waiting for my mother. “You’ve never caught one yet, but every year you try this. I ask you, why?”

“They always hoard the best stories!”




If you particularly enjoy any of my Things of the Day, please show your appreciation by circulating the link or leaving a tip: Thank you!

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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By Alexandra Erin

(Inspired by a writing prompt found here: )

We sat and watched the stars come out,

then watched them go away.

They fell down one by one

as the sky turned dusty gray.

The end had come, we knew at last

we’d reached the final scene,

unraveling the final thread

from one last fatal skein.

Nothing we lost mattered

as much as you to me.

The night is gone, the world is done.

There’s nothing left to see.


If you enjoy my Things of the Day, tipping is appreciated:

Thank you for reading!

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.


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August 2017



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