PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4
"Despite the fact that my weapons and armor are in desperate need of repair, I blow the entire reward on ale and whores." - Skull, PVP (Scott Kurtz)
| July 1st,
REMIXING KEEP ON THE SHADOWFELL
PART 13: THREE CLUE RULE - FIRST REVELATIONS
The following thoughts contain minor spoilers for Keep on the Shadowfell. If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read it. And if you're in my gaming group then you definitely shouldn't be reading it.
REVELATION 1: THE KOBOLD LAIR
Keep on the Shadowfell begins with a kobold ambush. The entire village of Winterhaven is suffering under the effects of the kobold attacks. And Lord Padraig is offering bounties on both dead kobolds and the location of the kobold lair. So how will the PCs actually find the kobold lair?
CLUE 1: TRACKING. The PCs can track the kobolds back to their lair, starting at the location of any of their attacks or the barricades on the road between Winterhaven and the Keep of the Shadowfell.
Following the trail is a 6/3 skill challenge. The PCs must first succeed at a Perception check (DC 15) to locate the tracks (this counts as a success on the skill challenge), and can then use Nature and Perception checks as primary skills to complete the skill challenge.
CLUE 2: NINARAN. A successful Streetwise check in Winterhaven will put them in touch with Ninaran (see "On the Streets of Winterhaven" and "Winterhaven NPCs").
CLUE 3: INTERROGATION. Any captured kobold can be forced to reveal the location of the kobold lair with an Intimidate check vs. Will defense. The kobold receives a +10 bonus because it's hostile and a +2 bonus because giving up the location of the lair is essentially a betrayal of the entire clan.
Other PCs can use the Aid Another action with either Interrogation or Diplomacy (good cop/bad cop).
REVELATION 2: DRAGON BURIAL SITE
CLUE 1: DRUIDIC SPIRIT. The druidic spirit in area 6 of the kobold lair is aware of the dragon burial site and of its importance to Kalarel's ritual (see "Kobold Lair").
CLUE 2: VALTHRUN. If asked about the Cult of Orcus, Valthrun will have some information but will also refer the PCs to Douven Stahl -- "the true expert on the cult". Valthrun knows that Stahl was researching the burial site and can tell the PCs where it is. (See "On the Streets of Winterhaven" and "Winterhaven NPCs".)
CLUE 3: KALAREL'S LETTER TO BALGRON. We'll put a letter in area 4 of the keep, written by Kalarel with instructions for Balgron.
REVELATION 3: THE KEEP
Pretty much anyone in Winterhaven can tell the PCs where the Keep is, and many people can give them even more information about it (see the relevant Streetwise check in "On the Streets of Winterhaven"). However, the following clues will make the players aware of its importance:
CLUE 1: DOUVEN STAHL. When the PCs speak with Douven Stahl at the dragon burial site, he'll be able to tell them about the Keep. (See "Dragon Burial Site".)
CLUE 2: KALAREL'S RITUAL LETTER. The note Kalarel writes to Ninaran can be recovered after the "Dead Walk" interlude. It mentions the keep.
CLUE 3: SIR CALIBAN. Perrien's father, the banished knight Sir Caliban, journeyed to the keep and was killed there. (Bairwin Wildarson can tell them this.)
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| July 2nd, 2008
REMIXING KEEP ON THE SHADOWFELL
PART 14: THREE CLUE RULE - SECOND REVELATIONS
The following thoughts contain minor spoilers for Keep on the Shadowfell. If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read it. And if you're in my gaming group then you definitely shouldn't be reading it.
REVELATION 4: CULT OF ORCUS
Once the PCs become aware of the cult's potential involvement in the area (either through identifying a holy symbol; an Orcus idol; or learning of the keep's true history), they may want to find out more about Orcus and his cult.
CLUE 1: ARCANA/RELIGION CHECK. See the Monster Manual, pg. 206, for Orcus Lore.
CLUE 2: STREETWISE CHECK/VALTHRUN. See "On the Streets of Winterhaven".
CLUE 3: DOUVEN STAHL. Douven Stahl can tell them everything on pgs. 206 and 210 of the Monster Manual regarding Orcus and his cults. See, also, "Dragon Burial Site".
REVELATION 5: KALAREL'S RITUAL
The PCs don't need to know about Kalarel's ritual before stumbling into area 19 of the keep, but they're likely to be interested in learning what the cult is planning.
CLUE 1: KALAREL'S RITUAL LETTER. The note Kalarel writes to Ninaran can be recovered after the "Dead Walk" interlude. It mentions the keep (see below).
CLUE 2: DOUVEN STAHL. Douven Stahl can make several informed guesses regarding the ritual (see "Dragon Burial Site").
CLUE 3: SIR KEEGAN. Sir Keegan, in area 8 of the keep, can tell them of the Fane of Orcus which lay beneath the keep (see "Kalarel's Ritual"). He knows that the cultists have gathered there.
KALAREL'S RITUAL LETTER
USING THE REVELATION LIST
Basically, there are three steps to my use of the revelation list for an adventure:
First, I determine the chokepoints of the adventure and list the necessary revelations.
Second, for each revelation I make a list of at least three clues and then incorporate these clues into the design of the adventure.
Third, while actually running the adventure, I keep the revelation-and-clue list handy as a quick-reference tool. I treat it as a literal checklist: If the PCs find a clue, I check it off. If the PCs have missed a clue (by failing to search a room, for example), I'll circle it. If the PCs have definitely reached a particular conclusion (not just considered it as a possibility, but definitively concluded that "this is what's happening"), I'll cross the entire revelation off my list.
Using this approach allows me to spot potential trouble spots as they're developing: If, for example, the PCs have discovered all the clues I've designed for a particular revelation but, for whatever reason, still haven't draw the proper conclusion then I know I need to introduce new clues. Similarly, if they've been missing a lot of clues for a particular revelation, I can start anticipating the need for new clues.
My original Three Clue Rule essay had a lengthier discussion of how to deal with these types of issues as they emerge, but here's an example: If the PCs have missed or ignored all of the clues suggesting that they should really check out the Keep of the Shadowfell and see what's going on there, I might decide to trigger Ninaran's assault on Lord Padraig's manor house with the intention that either Ninaran or one of the other cultists will willingly surrender when the encounter turns against them and spill their guts regarding Kalarel's plans.
Similarly, if the PCs haven't found the kobold lair yet, I might trigger one of the kobold encounters -- either the "Slyblade Hunter" or "Farmer's Jeopardy" encounters can be used without the PCs taking any action themselves -- and use it as a way of introducing a new clue. (Or, if nothing else, give the players something to do while I try to figure out another way of getting them back on track.)
The good news is that, when you use the Three Clue Rule, you generally won't run into these problems in the first place, so you'll be able to spend more time playing the game and less time trying to fix the game.
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BOLINGBROKE vs. RICHARD II
As I've mentioned previously, I'll be appearing as Henry Bolingbroke in Shakespeare & Company's production of Richard II through August 3rd. In approaching this role I naturally bore with me the experience of having seen the play several times in the past -- most notably on the stage of the Guthrie Theater in 1990 with Charles Janasz playing the lead.
Based on these productions, I had largely embraced the modern scholastic tradiition, which (loosely speaking) holds the play to be about a philosophically-inclined god-king (Richard II) who is deposed by a usurping, forsworn bastard (Henry IV). Digging a bit deeper into the modern scholastic tradition reveals a common understanding in which Richard II, serving metaphorically as a symbol of traditional royalty in which the king rules by divine right, is replaced by Henry Bolingbroke, who serves as a symbol of modern royalty in which the king rules in the legacy of Machiavelli.
This is all well and good and, honestly, I was looking forward to playing Bolingbrooke's bastardy right to the hilt.
But as I began to peel back the layers of the play and delve into the character, I actually found a very different Bolingbroke waiting for me in Shakespeare's words.
A quick plot summary for those less familiar with the play: At the beginning of the play, Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray (another noble) of treason and provides a list of specific charges to that effect. Mowbray accuses Bolingbroke of the same (but, notably, has no similar list of charges). The issue is supposed to be resolved through a trial by combat, but Richard II cancels the duel and instead banishes both of them.
While Bolingbroke is gone, his father -- the Duke of Lancaster -- dies. Richard II takes the opportunity to seize the duchy for himself, parcels it out to a variety of political sycophants, and uses the profits to fund a war in Ireland. Bolingbroke, enraged, returns to England. Richard II is deposed and Bolingbroke is crowned king as Henry IV. Richard is locked up in Pomfret Castle and there he is killed by one of Bolingbroke's followers.
BOLINGBROKE'S POINT OF VIEW
My major revelation with Bolingbroke was simply this: He never says he wants the crown.
In fact, he says quite the opposite many, many times. When he first returns to England, for example (in Act II, Scene 3), he meets with his uncle, the Duke of York. York is loyal to Richard and accuses Bolingbroke of treason (because he has returned from his banishment before his appointed time). In response, Bolingbroke says this:
To my ear, that's an impassioned and earnest plea. Bolingbroke acknowledges that he is wrong to return before the term of his banishment has ended... but he feels as if he has been forced to it. It's not just that Richard has stolen his family's fortune: With his father's death Bolingbroke has become the Duke of Lancaster, and as a duke he has a sworn responsibility to his subjects. In addition, his own rights as a subject of King Richard have been violated.
This pattern continues. In Act III, Scene 3 -- when Bolingbroke reaches the castle where Richard waits for him -- he declares:
When he actually comes face-to-face with Richard, it's Richard who keeps insisting that Bolingbroke has come to depose him. Bolingbroke answers him repeatedly: "My gracious lord, I come but for mine own." and "So far be mine, my most redoubted lord, as my true service shall deserve your love."
Nor is Bolingbroke the only saying it. Northumberland, Bolingbroke's moster powerful ally, tells York:
Most notably there is York himself. The moment when Richard first resigns his crown is not actually seen on stage, but when Richard later asks, "To do what service am I sent for hither?" York is the one who says:
So even York, who has been established as Richard's most faithful supporter, believes that Richard resigned the crown of his own will and that it was Richard who offered and not Bolingbroke who demanded it.
Now, admittedly, in most productions these lines are played for irony. Bolingbroke, dressed in a Nazi uniform, says, "Show fair duty to his majesty." And the stormtroopers move in. "My gracious lord," he says with mocking sarcasm dripping from his lips, "I come but for mine own." Even York's proclamation comes as he warily eyes the Glock pistols of his personal "guard".
And that can certainly be a very effective way to play it. But it's surprising that Shakespeare never drops the facade: There is never a moment when Bolingbroke -- like a Richard III or Claudius or Iago -- takes the opportunity to confess his knavery.
RICHARD'S POINT OF VIEW
But the larger objection is this: If Bolingbroke doesn't want it, why does Richard give it?
Here we come to what I believe is the central dynamic of the play: The fundamental discontinuity between the world view of Bolingbroke and the world view of Richard.
Richard's entire sense of identity is tied to the divine right of kings. Richard believes that, by right of birth, he is the chosen of god. And because of that, as King of England, he possesses a pope-like infallibility. For example (from Act III, Scene 3):
Richard literally believes that not only does he hold the throne of England in stewardship for God himself, but that -- as king -- he is literally more than mortal.
So Bolingbroke comes back from banishment and he says, "Richard, you made a mistake. You shouldn't have banished me and you shouldn't have stolen my inheritance. All I'm asking is that you repeal the banishment and give me my lands back."
From Bolingbroke's point of view, this is perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, there's a problem: Richard believes that he's divine and infallible. To Richard, that's what being king means: If you're a king, you're divine and infallible.
But if you're infallible, you can't be wrong. So when Bolingbroke says, "You made a mistake." What Richard hears is, "You're not king."
Which is why you get dialogue like this (Act III, Scene 3):
That entire exchange is literally two people talking past each other. Bolingbroke keeps saying, "No, seriously, I'm just here to get my inheritance." But what Richard hears is, "You're not king!"
Bolingbroke, unwittingly, throws Richard's entire sense of self into doubt and confusion. Take, for example, the conclusion of the famous "let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings" speech:
Richard never surrenders the idea that a king is supposed to be something more than mortal. And so, when he is forced to face his own mortality, he usurps and (ultimately) destroys himself.
THE DESTRUCTION OF GREAT MEN
Viewed through this lens, Richard II becomes the story of how two great men end up destroying each other.
Richard's destruction is self-evident -- he is deposed and killed.
Bolingbroke's destruction, on the other hand, is a slightly subtler affair. By the end of the play he has been crowned king and, to all appearances, proven completely triumphant. But that triumph is, ultimately, tainted: In the process of achieving it, Bolingbroke has been pushed inexorably into a state of self-immolating sin.
From Richard's point of view, Bolingbroke has usurped not only his crown but his very identity:
From Bolingbroke's point of view, Richard has forced him to become a forsworn usurper.
And it affects him deeply. In Act V, when his cousin Aumerle is caught in a traitorous plot, the Duchess of York pleads for her son's life. Bolingbroke responds, "I pardon him, as God shall pardon me."
Richard's death itself becomes a microcosm of Bolingbroke's despair: The deposition scene in which Richard "undoes himself" is fairly horrifying for Bolingbroke. Richard cedes the throne to Bolingbroke, but Richard's own struggles with identity make it anything but clear to the assembled nobles... which means that rebellion could still be raised in Richard's name. Richard has become a "living fear" for Bolingbroke, who says as much: "Have I no friend who will rid me of this living fear?"
Exton, hearing this, convinces himself that Bolingbroke has given him a command to kill Richard. He does so and brings the body before Bolingbroke to receive his reward. Bolingbroke is horrified:
And, again, these are lines which can be spoken with irony and a two-faced tongue. "My goodness, Exton! I can believe you would have done such thing! I am shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that there is gambling going on in this establishment!"
But how much more powerful is it if Bolingbroke is speaking from his heart? If he does, in fact, feel the heavy weight of woe and guilt and sin? If he is trapped between relief because his living fear is dead and horror that it was done in his name? If this speech -- which is the last speech of the play -- is not just political posturing, but the sound of a man's soul being ripped to shreds?
I'll admit that I have something of a soft spot for pathos, but I find this twinned tragedy -- the drama of polar opposites annihilating each other -- far more interesting than the story of a good king and a usurping bad guy (particularly since Shakespeare supplies Richard with more than enough faults to call into serious question his status as a "good king"). Watching the play unfold with this dynamic is like watching the interaction of matter and anti-matter in slow motion.
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|July 4th, 2008|
Last week we opened Richard II and tonight at 7:00 PM we open As You Like It. In this show I play Oliver du Boys, the villainous elder brother who attempts to murder his brother Orlando and, thus, sets in motion the entire play. It's a fun little show. So grab a chair or a blanket, grab a picnic basket, and come down to enjoy a pleasant evening at Shakespeare & Company's permanent outdoor stage before heading off to enjoy your fireworks of choice.
Friday, July 4th - As You Like
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|July 5th, 2008|
As I celebrate this July 4th weekend -- one of my favorite holidays; the anniversary of this website's birth; and the always joyous occasion of opening a play -- my thoughts are consistently drawn back to the pending FISA legislation in Congress and the issue of telecom immunity. This is not unnatural, because the pending FISA legislation is a betrayal of the principles of government which were laid down by our founding fathers more than two hundred years ago. Since I consider the July 4th holiday to be a celebration of those principles and the nation those principles established, I actually consider it a celebration of sorts to take these issues under consideration.
Here's the basic run-down on FISA: In 1978, following an in-depth investigation of the unconstitutional and illegal actions of the Nixon administration, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Basically, this bill allows the government to perform warrantless wiretapping within the United States for a period of 1 year, as long as the "surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party". If a United States citizen is involved, then the government must obtain a secret warrant from a top secret court within 72 hours.
And, for all intents and purposes, the top secret FISA court has been rubber stamp since 1978. If you go to FISA and say, "Hey, I want a warrant so that I can do some wiretapping." Then you've got something like a 99.99% chance of getting your warrant.
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION
And here's the basic run-down on the scandal: The Bush administration didn't want to obey the law. So they had legal opinions prepared which basically said "FISA doesn't actually require what FISA says it requires because FISA doesn't state the requirement the way that we think it should be stated". They then proceeded to "allegedly" break the law. And by "allegedly" I mean "unless you actually believe their Bizarro World logic, then they broke the law".
Now, let's stop and think about this for a moment: The Bush administration, by deliberately circumventing FISA, basically said, "There are American citizens we want to spy on, but we don't even want to get permission from a top secret court that pretty much automatically rubber stamps APPROVAL on any requests to spy on American citizens."
And if that doesn't scare the crap out of you, then you aren't thinking hard enough.
The Bush administration claims that this was all about "protecting America" because the requirements of FISA meant that some horrible tragedy could happen while they were waiting for the constitutionally-mandated paperwork to be filed. There are two problems with that claim:
First, if you believe that bullshit then I refer you back to the FISA provision which allows the adminitration to apply for the warrant up to 72 hours after the wiretapping has already started. In other words, the Bush administration could already do the wiretapping now and ask for permission later... but whatever they were doing was so awful they never wanted to ask for permission.
Second, if you tear up the Constitution then a horrible tragedy has already happened. As Benjamin Franklin said: "Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." And our Fourth Amendment rights are, frankly, among the most essential of our liberties.
Which brings us to telecom immunity: The Bush administration wants to give retroactive immunity to the telecom companies they used to perform the "allegedly" illegal wiretapping. There are so many problems with this:
First, the argument is made that the telecom companies had no choice. But they did. Qwest recognized that the Bush administration's actions were illegal and refused to comply. Bravo to Qwest. If you want to support liberty with your pocketbook, get your phone service from Qwest.
Second, the argument is made that -- without telecom immunity -- the telecoms might be less willing to help the government perform their surveillance programs in the future. But here's the thing: Qwest had no problem continuing to cooperate with legal wiretapping programs even while they refused to cooperate with the illegal wiretapping programs. So what this argument really boils down to is that the telecom companies will be less willing to help the government violate the Constitution and illegally wiretap American citizens. You know what I think about that? Good.
Third, it's ethically wrong. If you or I were to break the law and then go to Congress and say, "Hey, we broke the law. Could you guys change the law and give us retroactive immunity?" We would be laughed at. It's clearly unjust. It's clearly nonsensical. And yet that's exactly what telecom immunity is.
Which means, in the final analysis, it boils down to two possibilities: One, they didn't break the law... in which case they don't need immunity. Two, they did break the law... in which case they shouldn't have immunity.
Either way, telecom immunity is a bad idea.
Why do I care so much?
Fundamentally because any violation of our Constitutional rights is a direct and meaningful attack upon America. There is literally nothing more dangerous in this world than your own government turning against you. And when your government begins stripping you of your rights, that's the definition of your government turning against you.
But, more generally, it's because this is only the tip of the iceberg. For eight years now we have watched the Bush administration systematically disassemble this country. They have engaged in profiteering. They have run roughshod over the Constitution. They have shown a complete disregard for the rule of law.
And there have been no consequences.
People used to say things to me like "Bush is the worst President ever!", and I would politely disagree. I have a rather deep knowledge of American history, and I would trot out various examples of incompetency or coruption and say "maybe one of the worst, but he's got a lot of competition".
But over the past four years, my opinion has shifted dramatically. We have had incompetent Presidents. And we have had corrupt Presidents.
But what makes George W. Bush really stand out from the pack is his amazing ability to be both at the same time; to fail on all fronts at once: To destroy not only our domestic economy, but to ruin our foreign reputation and our ability to defend ourselves. To not only sap the national treasury with the most heinous of cronyism; but to actively erode our civil liberties and most essential rights. To not only govern incompetently and cause the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands; but to actively assault the Constitution itself and undermine the fundamental principles on which our government operates.
And since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 I have patiently ground my teeth in frustration. I have accepted the logic that impeachment is unlikely to succeed and politically inexpedient for a number of reasons. I have been (relatively) content to let the bastard rot out his term in office so that we can then get down to the work of fixing this nation.
But there is a difference between simply not prosecuting Bush and his administration for their impeachable offenses and actively pursuing the exact same policies as the Bush administration. And, frankly, that's what telecom immunity is.
And what makes it so utterly assinine is that this is completely unnecessary. The Democrats have won three congressional elections in the past year to fill vacant seats; all of them in deeply red districts; all of them with Democratic candidates openly opposing telecom immunity. The voters have already rejected the bogus logic of the Bush administration. The bill was, in fact, already dead in the water.
So telecom immunity is (1) unethical; (2) encourages violations of the Constitution; and (3) has no political value for Democrats. The term "bad idea" is wholly inadequate.
Months ago, when the issue of telecom immunity was making its first pass through Congress, I wrote to my senators -- Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar -- and told them both the same thing: "I will not vote for anyone who votes for telecom immunity."
Amy Klobuchar wrote me back and told me that she strongly opposed telecom immunity (which, as far as I know, is the same opinion she holds today).
Norm Coleman sent me a form letter regurgitating the Bush administration's talking points (which means that Al Franken will be getting my vote this November).
But this puts me in something of a quandary because now Barack Obama has decided that he's going to vote for telecom immunity. He's supposedly going to fight to strip the immunity clause from the bill, but if that doesn't happen he is intending to vote for the bill.
So for the past week or so I've been struggling with this issue. If he votes for it, will I vote for him?
And, after a good deal of consideration, I've come to the conclusion that I meant what I said when I wrote to Senator Klobuchar and Senator Coleman: I will not vote for anyone who spits upon the Constitution and supports the illegal activities of the Bush administration.
Which means that I may not be voting for Barack Obama. If, in fact, Senator Obama votes for telecom immunity this week, he will not have my vote in November. In my opinion, a vote so blatantly against the Constitution and the rule of law is a vote which disqualifies one from serving in public office.
Even if you don't feel as strongly about this issue as I do, I urge you to take action during the next few critical days. Let your elected officials know that this is an important issue. Let them know, whether they're Republican or Democrat, that you find it intolerable to offer up the rule of law and the Constitution as sacrificial lambs. And if they're Democrats, question the sanity of kow-towing to yet another "compromise" from the Bush administration in which George W. Bash gets everything he wants and the American people get the shaft.
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|July 11th, 2008|
Awhile back I mentioned that I'm not very good at publicity. Case in point: Last Wednesday, on July 9th, I appeared live on local television to promote the current season at Shakespeare & Company. The half hour program featured an interview, costumes, and a swordfight. I have absolutely no idea what it looks like, and neither do any of you because I completely neglected to mention it.
But I have a chance to make up for it, because the program is going to be re-broadcast on the Suburban Community Channels in Ramsey County. If you live in the communities of Birchwood, Dellwood, Grant, Lake Elmo, Mahotmedi, Maplewood, North Saint Paul, Oakdale, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township, or Willernie you can tune to Channel 15 at any of the following dates and times and catch the program:
July 16th - 2:30 PM
July 17th - 2:30 PM
July 18th - 4:00 PM
July 21st - 3:00 PM
July 23rd - 3:00 PM
July 25th - 4:00 PM
July 28th - 3:30 PM
July 30th - 4:00 PM
July 31st - 3:00 PM
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