John-Michael Gariepy

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Two Books: Destiny of the Republic and The Best of the Spirit

Destiny of the Republic:  A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

by Candice Millard

When visiting my local library, I almost tossed this book away.  This homage to U.S. President James A. Garfield did such a fine job of pretending to be yet another book about Lincoln, that I pushed it aside to get to the other weird tales that hid behind it.  Thankfully, I took the time to flip it over, did a double-take at the photo, and realized that the book in my hands wasn’t yet another company cashing in on Killing Lincoln.  Great!  I always have time for the cracks of history.  There’s nothing better than learning something new.

I remember the brief introduction and parting I was given to President Garfield when we walked past him in my old high school U.S. History class.  My teacher took enough time to mention that he was shot by an anarchist, and it was a shame some people couldn’t recognize that anarchy wasn’t a valid governing choice.  What my high school teacher never discussed was that Chales Guiteau was a madman lost in a fantasy and believed himself the servant of God and thought himself a hero beloved by the people.  I’d heard that Garfield’s doctors did more harm than good, not that Doctor Doctor Bliss’s adherence to pre-Civil War medical practice, and his bull-headed desire for celebrity status, lead him to act as a rapacious pariah.  With the help of his doctors, Garfield descended from a healthy patient in shock into a national tragedy.

All this, and a strange fascination with Alexander Graham Bell, who keeps wheedling into the plot with his early lead bullet detector.  If you want to put a historical biography on your list, you could do worse than to read about what was probably the most popular president during his administration in American History after Washington.

The Best of the Spirit

by Will Eisner

I don’t need to tell you to pick up Will Eisner’s ‘The Spirit’.  If you know comic books at all, it’s likely that you’ve read some comic book writer’s glowing appraisal of Eisner’s pulp noir detective thrillers jumbled into the Sunday circular of newspapers in the 1950s.  But, you know, how good could it be?  Comic books from the 50s read terrible to a modern audience.  They’re full of word balloons and strange expositions.  I mean, can Eisner’s work really be better than a genius plot by Alan Moore, or tale of stunning sympathy from Neil Gaiman, or perhaps an out of the box, then back in the box Avengers tale by Brian Michael Bendis?

No.  It can’t.  I’ll be straight with you.  The Spirit is a phenomenal strip.  Eisner tackles  a variety of genres, barely fitting them under the umbrella of detective fiction.  He can mix pain in his fun, and splashes panel after panel with well-crafted gems.  When you look at some of the schlock that defined the ‘Golden Age’ of comic books, most books barely contained the bare necessities required to hold together a plot.  Eisner, however, defined and defied plot.  His strip holds up to a beating, like Denny Colt dumped in the middle of a crime ring, but the words can still melt in the arms of Silk Satin.

But holding The Spirit up to today’s standard isn’t a fair contest.  When comic books first hit news stands, they were a phenomenon.  A vast, money making phenomenon.  Writers were superfluous to a company.  They kept their jobs as long as the company profited from them.  During World War II, that meant ‘Everyone keeps their job as long as they put out content’.  In the 50s, with the decline of comics, that meant ‘Only the most sensational of writers kept their job, assuming they kept delivering’.  The fact that Eisner was able to write such compelling stories in the thick of this environment is astounding.  His writing is nuance.  How the heck did he sell nuance?

So, before you read The Spirit, you’ve got better things to read by people who’ve been inspired by The Spirit.  Read Moore’s Watchmen, and read  Gaiman’s Sandman.  Read some New Avengers, some Scott Pilgrim, Jimmy Corrigan, Blankets and Maus.  When you’re done reading all that, though, go back and read The Spirit.  It’s an honest fun read, and it will give you perspective and appreciation for the books that came after it.

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Food Fight: Session Impressions

In the Myriad Games Podcast on the card game Food Fight, the team is split.  People had fun playing, but its clear that we were responding more to the crisp art and sizzlin’ punnery than we were to the game mechanics.  I didn’t get much chance to play the game, watching a few rounds while working on learning another game and jumping in on a few rounds before we went to podcast.  The few rounds I played confused me… not because the game was over complex, but because I kind of expected the game to do something else.  It’s not a good sign when a guy who plays one or two new games per week is having trouble parsing your intent.

But, I didn’t play a full game, so you should take my opinion with a grain of salt.  Dan, who spends a fair amount of time criticizing the game, evaluates games from the perspective of a salesman who wants to sell a clean message.  Dan was at odds with the mechanics that encouraged you to spend a long time drafting, for too small a reward.  Is this a child’s game?  A game for teenagers?  Hard-core gamers?  If Dan can’t point a game at a particular play group, I don’t think he’s going to like it.

Brian, however, wasn’t as fried as we were, and while Sara seemed is sitting on the fence in this one, I think she may have accepted the game and how it worked if brought before a different play group.  Maybe, in the end, this is one of those games that you’d have to play for yourself to figure out if you like it or not.  Maybe.  But my guess is that it wouldn’t hurt to listen in.

Yer Mummy’s so fat…

After I posted Dungeons and Dragons Random Encounters: Level 21, I left a link on Facebook and Google+ about how awesome Giant Mummies are.  That lead to this comment:

Robert Henderson:  Giant mummys, leading cause of “your momma so fat” jokes in DnD circles…

This, of course, lead to a litany of ‘Yer Mummy’ jokes.  I’d hate to think that someday you would die a sad and lonely life, and you would never get the chance to read a bunch of bad mummy jokes, so I decided to do some editing and turned the obese mummies on you.  Enjoy.

  • John-Michael Gariepy: Yer Mummy’s so fat, Johnson and Johnson took one look at her and sold their business.
  • Robert Henderson: Yer Mummy’s so old, scientists carbon date her at around 7000 B.C.
  • JMG: Yer Mummy’s so fat, there’s an exhibit for her in the Museum of Natural History: Cairo and the Museum of Natural History: Alexandria.
  • RH: Yer Mummy’s so fat that the Great Pyramid were designed to be scale models of her bunions.
  • Ron Charette: Yer Mummy’s so fat, her bandages are made of Lycra.
  • JMG: Yer Mummy’s so old that when Atum wished to mate with Nu in order to create The Earth and The Sky, he asked your mummy’s permission first.
  • RH: Yer Mummy’s so fat she had her internal organs removed to make room for food.
  • RH: Yer Mummy’s so fat, the only way she can fit through doors is to “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
  • RC: Your Mummy’s so stupid, she thought “denial” was a clever way to say “The Nile”.
  • JMG: Yer Mummy only takes one bath a year. It’s called “The Flood Season”.
  • RH: Yer Mummy’s so fat, five thousand slaves died weaving her bandages.
  • JMG: Yer Mummy’s so fat that after she visited to The Great Bath, they renamed it “The Great Trampoline”.
  • RH: Your Mummy’s so dumb, she couldn’t spell “bird” in hieroglyphs.
  • JMG: Yer Mummy’s so ugly, when Napoleon ordered his men to fire on The Sphinx for target practice, they shot off yer mummy’s nose.
  • RH: Your Mummy’s so fat she used to use The Nile River Basin as a Slip and Slide.
  • JMG: Yer Mummy’s so stupid that when she was told her ancestors would someday be Greek, she responded “My ancestors will be a salad dressing?”
  • RC: Your mummy’s so stupid that when Ray told her he was a god, she believed him.
  • JMG: Yer mummy’s so lonely because you never call her. Why don’t you call yer mummy, Ron? All alone in that big pyramid of hers… what kind of eunuch are you?
  • RC: Yer mummy’s a eunuch.

Dungeons and Dragons Random Encounters: Level 21

For an explanation and introduction to Random Encounters, go to Why would anyone make a giant chart of Random Encounters?

Roll once for each adventurer in your party.  Whenever you roll a Brute, or a Soldier, add two of that creature and roll one less time total.  If the last creature you roll is a brute, or a soldier, your players will have to suck it up.  There will be more experience for them anyway.  Whenever Minions are rolled, add the number of minions shown to the encounter and count them as one creature for the purposes of generating an encounter.  Whenever an Elite creature is rolled, count it as two separate creatures for the purpose of generating an encounter.  When a Solo creature is a, stop rolling, since a solo monster by itself is a good challenge for characters of that level.  If you’ve already rolled up three creatures before the solo joined the party, you may want to indicate to your players that now would be a good time to run…

01- 05 Roll again in the Level 20 Random Encounter Chart.

06 – 10 Roll on the Random Hindrances Chart.

11 – 15 (Artillery) Ghaele of Winter (Eladrin)

16 – 20 (Elite Artillery) Larva Mage

Read more…

Step Right Up! Guess the Writer’s Gender and Win a Giant Teddy Bear!

This was going to be a simple post.

Recently, I stumbled upon some blowhard in the internet who claimed he could tell if an author of a book was male or female by reading their content.  Most of his claims were Texas Sharpshooting:  He painted his target on the side of a barn after he emptied his gun at it, then marveled how accurate his shooting was.

“Well, this would be a fun experiment!” I thought.  “I’ll just post an excerpt from 10 famous authors’ lesser known works and let people guess who’s the male and who’s the female.  We’ll see if people can figure it out by the context and language… and, Bam!  Easy article.”

So, I pulled out five female and five male authors and paired them up.  I got a selection of their writing and worked on the article.  Then I stepped back and realized something:  That’s a lot of words.  A lot of words left outside of the context of the books they were written in, and who wants to read that?  You want an example?  Sure.  Can you guess the gender of this author?

“I AM the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which,
when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless
continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable
speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental
power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous
population. So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all
that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first
minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams
in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds
and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to
me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out
to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my
countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth’s very
centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a
fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor
understanding an effort.”

Honestly, the challenge was nigh impossible.  Assuming you aren’t making blanket judgement based upon a novel’s genre (Most romance is written by women, and most war stories are written by men,) there’s no way to know a person’s gender based on the writing.  In theory, men are more direct and women talk more about feelings, but a good novel requires both directness and emotion (Emphasis on the word ‘good‘, Dan Brown.)  Unless the author calls out a detail about their own life, or possibly a philosophy built over a lifetime of being one gender, how could you tell?  And even then, how can you be certain the author didn’t do the research, and, yes, happens to know an intimate detail about shaving one’s legs that you wouldn’t have guessed from a man?

So, no, you’ll never know the gender of the author if they don’t reveal that information to you.  But, you might be able to guess.

Read more…

DC Adventures Log 5: Super Friends

In our last encounter, DC Adventures Log 4:  Before I Kill You, Mr. Aquaman, Team Lex invaded Black Manta’s lair, only to find their nemesis eating cereal without pants.  Manta and Team Lex’s mutual confusion built when they realized both teams had been working for Lex Luthor.  As they untangled their situation, Skeets appeared, informed the players that something was wrong with the time stream and Bzooweeoovzip!

Bzooweeoovzip!  After a dizzying jaunt through time, Team Lex and Team Manta find themselves in a fifty foot high marble hall complete with a giant supercomputer, an 840 inch screen tube television with the words “Trouble Alert” along the bottom, and a mammoth circular table surrounded by multiple egg-shaped chairs, the backs of which adorned with symbols like a large red ‘S’, a yellow lightning bolt and a green lantern.  When the players identified Batman, Hawkman and Aquaman in front of the television at the far wall, they broke out their weapons and commenced firing. Team Lex and Manta missed in their initial volley of attacks, and were returned with winning smiles and introductions.  Taken aback, the Team was transfixed as Sherlock Holmes and the Super Friends introduced themselves.

Read more…

Dungeons and Dragons Random Encounters: Level 20

For an explanation and introduction to Random Encounters, go to Why would anyone make a giant chart of Random Encounters?

Roll once for each adventurer in your party.  Whenever you roll a Brute, or a Soldier, add two of that creature and roll one less time total.  If the last creature you roll is a brute, or a soldier, your players will have to suck it up.  There will be more experience for them anyway.  Whenever Minions are rolled, add the number of minions shown to the encounter and count them as one creature for the purposes of generating an encounter.  Whenever an Elite creature is rolled, count it as two separate creatures for the purpose of generating an encounter.  When a Solo creature is a, stop rolling, since a solo monster by itself is a good challenge for characters of that level.  If you’ve already rolled up three creatures before the solo joined the party, you may want to indicate to your players that now would be a good time to run…

01- 05 Roll again in the Level 19 Random Encounter Chart.

06 – 10 Roll on the Random Hindrances Chart.

11 – 13 (Solo Artillery) Elder Blue Dragon

14- 20 (Artillery) Fire Archon Ice Disciple

Read more…

Double Monopoly

In my previous article Free Parking; Gazing Into the Abyss, I stressed the importance of never passing out money when a player lands on the Free Parking space in the game of Monopoly.  If you don’t understand why such a fun-loving guy as myself can be such a buzzkill on a house-rule/side-game in Monopoly, please, click on the link.  It’s my hope that page makes the world a nicer place to live in.  Just a little.

A friend of mine wasn’t happy with me when I first published that page.  I was taking something fun away from the game of Monopoly, but not giving anything back.  Fine.  Let’s give back to Monopoly.  Let’s give Monopoly a whole extra board.

Double Monopoly is a rules variant of Monopoly that uses two separate Monopoly boards.  One board is the ‘real world’ and one is an ‘alternate reality’.  I’m quite sure citizens of both worlds assume that they are the real world, but I can assure you that the alternate reality is the one where people have more facial hair.  If Rich Uncle Pennybags is sporting a goatee, you got it in one.

“But John-Michael,” you say “I thought the reason why you wrote an article about the evils of abusing the Free Parking space was to speed up the gameplay, and thus increase enjoyment of the game!  Also, I’ve been looking around the internet, and I found that other people have made rules about adding extra boards to Monopoly.  The one at NeedCoffee.com seems especially succinct.”

First of all, stop talking to your computer.  It’s not going to answer you, and the rest of the people in the library think you’re a goon.  Second, unlike a lot of rules variants for multiple Monopoly boards, which are built on the premise that more equals better, these rules assume that you still want to play a one hour game of Monopoly… just one that’s a bit crazier.  It’s my hope that, when you play with these rules, the game may end up faster than a normal game of Monopoly.  It may, however, not be as fast as a normal game of Monopoly that includes lottery money when  a person lands on Free Parking.  Those games normally end at the thirty minute mark with someone flipping the board over and threats of death, screaming for Mom and/or more beer.

Read more…

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