October 5th, 2010

epithet abrogation agent (FF Tactics)

A eulogy of sorts

I found out something tonight that left me a little bit thrown. A week and a half ago, while I was packing for Mythicalia (a weekend gathering of Otherkin), a moderately well-known dragon was getting fatally stabbed by a friend*.

starblade_enkai and I were by no means close - online acquaintances way back in the day, and exchanged words in person at furry cons once or twice. We both have a reputation for being outspoken about our beliefs, but that's where the similarities end. I've always taken a passive approach to draconity evangelism - writing FAQs and such, trusting that people who have a use for the idea will find it as they need it. Starblade is best known for a foray onto a debate community where he sprung the idea onto an unsuspecting (and hostile) crowd.

Read that thread and he sounds reasonable, but glance through his various journals and you'll notice he tended to leave a trail of drama behind him wherever he went. (Flayrah's obit post says, understatedly, that he "was a controversial figure in fandom".) He had a calmly logical side, but could get incredibly consumed by his emotions. There are several people out there (who I will leave unnamed; it's not my place to drag them into this) that Starblade had a long-term, unhealthy obsession with; the word "stalking" was often used, and at times he would acknowledge it himself. His very public behavior in that regard was intimidating: Building any sort of positive relationship with him seemed to open the potential to become his next target. That fear caused me to keep the distance I did. I can't imagine I was alone.

The drama and isolation stemming from that behavior couldn't have helped his battles with the mental issues he publically discussed. He was autistic-spectrum, and also talked of other diagnoses which I don't have the research time to confirm. I think a lot of his worst behaviors were simply coping mechanisms for the problems he was always flailing about to overcome on his own; he never had the perspective to choose differently. At this point we'll never know -- and I have no idea how things could have gone differently so as to make this a reality -- but it's possible that maintaining a few stable, healthy friendships could have smoothed him out.

Because he was certainly searching for something. And even though he was a longtime dragonkin, he didn't find what he was looking for here. He would jump out and jump back in with the ideas - in the big ways linked, and in smaller ways. He would surf through social groups until his reputation or behavior caught up with him, and keep moving on. As things wore on, he discussed suicide several times. He kept desperately trying to reinvent himself in search of his goal, and it never quite worked.

That's the most heartbreaking thing about dealing with a tragedy like his, and being out on the fringe. We've all migrated out from the mainstream because we're broken in some way. (This is a tautology; if we fit in with the mainstream, we'd have stayed.) In a perfect world, all of the various subcultures of freaks would be a unified tribe of the dispossessed, helping each other heal and routing around the damage from a mainstream that simply won't keep us alive and healthy and sane. But here in reality, there are people we can't, or don't, or won't help. Our tribes are fragile and imperfect things, prone to infighting and insularity, often too small to offer resources along with our intentions. Starblade needed more support than the furry/otherkin community could realistically offer.

So it's equal parts unfair and fitting that he leaves the community with a legacy.

Starblade is, Flayrah also notes, "best known for inspiring** the 'FYIAD' (F!ck You, I'm a Dragon!) meme." It drifted out from its initial usage** into the anti-Otherkin troll lexicon, and then started being reclaimed by dragons in the same way that outgroups throughout history have dealt with hurtful slang. It was never a big meme, but it's influential in its limited circles.

Exhibit A is to your right. 1000 Blank White Cards is a freeform game in which the participants create their own play deck. To the right is a card created by one of the other Mythicalia attendees at last weekend's gather.**** The meme's been slightly tweaked, as tends to happen to memes in the wild ... but for something created after Starblade's death but before any of us had heard the news, it's remarkably poignant.

. . .

Though I had no contact at all with the non-Otherkin side of his life, I should also mention the other legacy he left behind - a grieving family, friends, and college community. I hope they can find the peace and answers that Starblade was denied in his lifetime.

According to his obituary, the Finnigan Family requests donations to the "Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarship Fund", P.O. Box 1243, Alamo, CA 94507. If you counted him as a friend, it would be a good legacy. And if your interactions with him were less than pleasant, I'd urge you to consider this as a way to posthumously discharge the negativity and let him go with a little karma on your side.

* That's the word used in the police reports. No detail on what led to the stabbing, so we'll take their word for it.
** The fact he "inspired" the meme should be carefully noted here. Nowhere in the original debate thread did he use those words, and as far as I can tell, not in subsequent posts either. The earliest use of the phrase I found dates from three days later from poster pinkdove80.***
*** The fact that the phrase started out as an ad hominem attack by his opponents, of course, recasts the context of the whole meme. There are enough tarnished bits of his legacy. This shouldn't be one of them.
**** Other cards created around Otherkin in-jokes/memes: "A Wish For Wings That Work," "Species-Irrelevant Burnination," "Pokékin."
geekier than thou

Epic Gaming Tales: The 2-CHA Motivational Speaker

(And now for something completely different.)

For all the fun I've been having with my Fireborn game, those aren't the only dragons in my gaming life.

My friend {m} is running a D&D 3.5e campaign in a world with an uneasy balance between magic and technology. The campaign is broken in all sorts of ways*, but we're having vast amounts of fun. As just one example, my PC, Sascha the White, is a silver-dragon airship engineer.

She started out as a socially inept monk, and discovered her true calling when we visited a city devoted to technological discovery. She still regularly runs around and punches things - it comes with the adventuring job - but her happiest moments have come from the simple joy of bending engines to her will.

Part of this is her uneasy relationships with people. When you start out with a Charisma of 2** (on a 3-18+ scale), that's sort of inevitable. Machines, she can understand. Humanity, not so much.

I decided early on that a charisma that low could only be explained by radical honesty, meant well but executed horribly. This is why, when the party first picked her up, her monastery had not-so-gently requested that she take a pilgrimage across the continent before ever setting foot in the place again. There were also a number of shenanigans during play involving uncomfortable truths and awkward social encounters. And this is even before we get into the latent psychic powers that caused people to inexplicably and unwantedly fall in love with her ... but I digress.

So Sascha is passionate about machines. And, inevitably, our party finds an excuse to fund and construct an airship. It's a jerry-rigged flying deathtrap - a sailing-ship hull precariously hanging underneath a million cubic feet of hydrogen gas - but it's ours, and it's a major leap forward in technological capability for the town we're in, and dammit, it's an airship, and that's coolness you can't beat with a stick.

The day of that gaming session, it occurs to me: This is a momentous thing. Plans begin to form in my mind. It's a campaign turning point, and it's got incredible personal meaning for Sascha. This is a golden opportunity for roleplaying.

So I decide to mark the occasion by having Sascha give a stirring, heartwarming speech to the crew. And I figure I'll ham it up.

Before leaving for game, I root through my attic for a few minutes, coming up with a white shirt, leather duster, an aviator's cap****, a wrench, a strap resembling a bandolier, and some goggles. Alright, I think. Vaguely airship mechanic-ey. It's not really Sascha, but it's thematic. I guess I can make this work.

When I arrive at {m}'s, I bag them up and sneak them into his front bathroom while everyone is settling in at the gaming table. I tell no-one of my plans, and since the table's around the corner from the front door, nobody sees me.

And then Fate steps in.

Shortly after the start of game, as I am narrating some of Sascha's last-minute airship work, {a} turns to me and says: "You know, before we leave town, you should totally get Sascha looking the part of the mechanic."

"Really?" I reply, trying to sound nonchalant. "What are you thinking?"

"Well, like, some goggles, and one of those old-style hair caps that pilots used to wear, and a cool leather jacket ... and something to hold all her wrenches in, a bandolier or something ..."

Somehow I manage to keep a straight face. He hasn't left the table since I arrived. I KNOW he has no clue about my impromptu plans. And yet he rattles off EVERY ONE of my props, down to the freaking AVIATOR'S CAP.

If I, Baxil, am somebody's PC, this is what it looks like when my player crits a Luck check.

"You know, that would be pretty cool," I say. "Hey {m}, all that stuff's available in town, right? How much would it cost?"

We barter a little and I spend about 4 GP. I write down on my character sheet, repeating out loud to make sure everyone hears: "Goggles, aviator's hat, leather jacket, bandolier, good-quality wrench."

Final in-game preparations are made for the airship launch. "Alright, guys," {m} says. "Give me some rolls and let's see how she flies."

"Before we do," I say, "I really need to go to the bathroom. Can you hang on a minute?"

I get changed. I cue up Leftovers from the Dreams of the Strong at 0:54, pause it, and crank my iPhone up to maximum volume.

Then Sascha strides around the corner to the gaming table, amid stirring airship-launching music.

The room collectively falls off its chair.

Once everyone recovers long enough to breathe, this rousing morale booster comes from the lips of the character who is almost literally the least qualified person in the world to give a motivational speech:

I suspect that the only thing that prevented immediate mutiny was the fact that most of our crew was Charmed.

* The worst offender being our STR-58 Goliath barbarian. (When all his bonuses are applied. But still. The freakin' Tarrasque is only 46.)
** For the nitpickers: "But how does a character even get a Charisma of 2," you ask, "much less a silver dragon, who has a ridiculous racial Charisma bonus?" You see, Sascha started life as a frostblood half-orc*** - the race has a two-point CHA penalty - and later got infected with a magical disease that slowly started turning her into a dragon. At the start of the campaign, I rolled a 4 for Charisma, with the GM looking over my shoulder.
*** Hence "the White."
**** I really can't explain why I own an aviator's cap. The one you see in the video was inherited at some point from my dad - maybe it's a family heirloom? It's made of sturdy cloth and looks Depression-era to my untrained eye.