Archive for May, 2009
Thursday, May 28th, 2009
You are a condemned criminal, convicted of heresy and treason. The judge offers you three choices:
1. You may be exiled, never to return to your home or work.
2. You may recant your teachings and promise to promote the state philosophy.
3. Or you may die.
Two great thinkers were faced with that choice. Each chose differently. How would you choose?
The Socratic Method
Most of what we know about Socrates comes from the writings of Plato, since Socrates did not record his own teachings. However, he was a famous philosopher in his own time and lectured at a school in Athens. Socrates felt that we lived in a world of absolutes, and that there were definite standards of Right and Wrong to which everyone should adhere.
Unfortunately, it seems that the authorities had some differences with his theories and manner of teaching. They accused Socrates of “corrupting the young” and of questioning the State religion. He was brought to trial and given the three choices above. Socrates was a proud man and said that he could not take back one word of what he taught because he spoke only absolute Truth. He also refused to leave Athens, because his school was there, and because he would be turning his back on what was Right by leaving.
It was during this trial that Socrates uttered his famous words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He told the jurors that all assumptions must be questioned and constantly rechecked. If he sometimes made unpopular statements, it was only because he had looked deeper into the matter and found the Truth. He could no more stop speaking it than stop eating or breathing.
While Socrates waited in jail for his execution, a group of friends bribed the guards and came to him with an escape plan. They said that he had much work left to do, and that he could not do it if he let himself be killed. They also appealed to his sense of honor by saying that, if Socrates allowed himself to die, it would reflect badly on his friends. People would say that they did not care enough to save him.
Socrates rejected both arguments. He said that, by the laws of logic, he must stay and allow the execution to take place. Here was his syllogism:
1. One must always do what is Right.
2. We have an implicit contract with the State to obey its laws. To break them (such as by escaping) is Wrong.
3. Therefore he could not escape. To do so would be to repudiate everything he believed in, and life would not be worth living.
Was he crazy? Or was he just very passionate about his beliefs? One thing is certain – Socrates showed an incredible amount of honor and courage by refusing to deny the things he believed in, even if that refusal led to his death.
Where do you draw the line? What degree of honor is important enough that you will sacrifice your life to uphold it? Are your principles enough? Or do you “barter” – Say it is worth giving up your own life if you can save a child… or a family… or a village? If that’s your standard, it may be a good one, but be aware that you’re really doing an economic transaction. You’re setting the price of your own life, and saying that you’re willing to trade it if you can get sufficient value for it, but not otherwise. According to Socrates, that price is Honor. He considered his integrity more important than his own life.
E Pur Si Muove – And Yet It Moves!
More than two millennia after Socrates made his choice, the great scientist Galileo Galilei was confronted with a similar decision. A century or so earlier, Nicolaus Copernicus had published a revolutionary book suggesting that Earth might not be the center of the Universe. In fact, a lot of his observations made more sense if the Earth revolved around the Sun. Galileo made his own observations, from which he concluded that Copernicus’s “heliocentric” theory was correct and the only sensible explanation for the apparent motion of the Sun and planets.
Scientifically, it made sense. However, Catholic Church officials had decreed that Earth must be the center of the Universe, and any contrary theory contradicted Holy scripture and must be wrong. That seems to us a bit like the state legislature that decided that Pi should equal 3, because it made for more convenient calculations. At the time, Catholics were seriously concerned that the heliocentric theory would shake people’s faith in God. They undoubtedly thought that much more important than a matter of theory concerning distant objects.
By all accounts, Galileo was unlikable and undiplomatic. He made many enemies both in the Church and among his fellow scientists. He considered his theories self-evident and proven by his observations, and could not believe that anyone would deny them without at least looking in the telescope for themselves first. This was the same sense of “I know what is True” that Socrates exhibited, and based on more evidence. However, publicly telling scientists and clergy that they are idiots is a good way to make enemies.
Some of those enemies convinced a Priest to denounce Galileo and the heliocentric theory from the pulpit, and arranged for the Inquisition to arrest Galileo. At first, he agreed to drop his “heretical” research and support the official Church stance that Earth is the center of the Universe. However, a couple of years later, Galileo published another work with additional evidence for the heliocentric theory, and he was arrested again.
Again, the choice was put to Galileo: Recant his theory, be excommunicated from the Catholic Church, or face torture at the hands of the Inquisition. To a devout Catholic, excommunication was equivalent to exile, so these were much the same choices as Socrates faced. Galileo once again recanted, and another ten years passed before he again published “heretical” work.
Galileo was obviously unhappy with this decision. He felt that he had to suppress the truth in order to continue to live and work. Despite publicly renouncing heliocentrism in favor of geocentricism, Galileo is rumored to have muttered “E Pur Si Muove” (“And Yet It Moves”) either on leaving the Inquisition chamber or on his deathbed.
Was Galileo a coward? Was he just being pragmatic? Did he feel that he could do more good for mankind and the cause of science by being free to continue his work, even though he did it in handcuffs? How would you have chosen in his situation? What would you do today if you were working on an important project, but were told to stop work on it because it was a dead end? What if you truly believed that your boss was wrong, but you faced the choice of being fired if you insisted on continuing? How much are you willing to risk for the Truth?
What Price Is Too High?
You might not have to face a choice between death, exile, and supporting a lie; but similar situations occur often. In the 1930′s and 1940′s, German scientists performed eugenics experiments on “subhuman” Jews and other captured prisoners. Today these are rightly considered atrocities, and yet that work was done in the name of Science. The experimenters may truly have believed that their work would benefit many more people than were harmed.
On the side of the Allies, what about the research that led to the atomic bomb? Those scientists were discovering fundamental secrets of the Universe in the fields of chemistry, physics, and engineering. Most of them focused on the science and tried to do it as well as they could. But when the bombs exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, they knew that their work was being used to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. Certainly many of them must have realized what an atomic weapon could do. Should they have stopped work, or obstructed it in some way? Did they believe – as President Truman evidently did – that those deaths were worth the cost? If the war had continued, possibly millions of Japanese and Allies would have died.
What price is too high for the Truth? For Science? For what you believe in? That is a choice which each of us must make every day. How you choose is the measure of your personal integrity and of the price you place on life, freedom, and your beliefs. It is worth spending some time considering scenarios such as Socrates, Galileo, Truman, and the Manhattan Project scientists faced, because someday you may find yourself faced with just as difficult a decision.
Thursday, May 21st, 2009
“You got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em.
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.”
– Don Schlitz
To the uninitiated, Poker seems like a game of chance. You are dealt a set of cards – some good, some bad. You have to figure out how best to play them. That’s a pretty good metaphor for life.
In poker, as in life, luck comes in streaks. Sometimes you get five winning hands in a row, and other times you don’t get anything. Luck tends to balance out in the end. If poker was all about luck, then there would be no real winners. Everyone would break even. And yet there are people who consistently walk away from the poker table with a nice win or a small loss. At the end of the year, they come out way ahead of the game. It’s all about knowing the odds and following through on them.
These professional players are subject to the same turns and runs of good and bad luck as the rest of us. Sometimes they go “card dead”. Sometimes they make an absolutely mathematically correct decision, but it doesn’t work. They may lose those confrontations, but somehow manage to come out ahead time and again. The winning players have a few simple rules, and it turns out they work pretty well in the game of life too.
Don’t Run Out of Chips
A famous poker saying is, “Poker isn’t a game of cards. It’s a game of money management resolved with cards.” Pro poker players know that their chips are their life blood, so they try to risk few chips when their hand is marginal and bet more when they’re pretty sure they’re winning. And they hate to go all-in unless they know they’re going to win. Where you might see an amateur player pushing all his chips into the pot hand after hand, the professionals prefer to play smaller pots where they can increase their stacks a few chips at a time.
If you run out of chips, you’re out of the tournament. If you use up the last of your health points, you’re out of this life. Those aren’t winning strategies. Look at Russian Roulette as an example. You have a pretty good 5 out of 6 chance of winning each time you spin the chamber and pull the trigger. But the payoff is tiny compared to the cost of your 1/6 chance of knocking yourself out of the game. Poker pros try to minimize their “all or nothing” decisions.
Of course, not every all-in decision is really “life or death”. A poker player who busts out of a tournament can always enter another one. If you go for broke at work and get fired, there are other jobs out there. As long as you keep a bankroll or find a way to raise a new one, you can get back in the game.
Chris Ferguson, the 2000 World Series of Poker champion, did an experiment on his Full Tilt Poker site a couple of years ago. Starting with literally zero investment, he went up to $10,000 in 18 months. He played in freeroll tournaments until he won a few dollars, then slowly built up that stake. It took him 9 months to get up to $100, and another 9 months to reach $10,000, never risking more than 5% of his bankroll (once he got up to $100) in a single game. His point was that careful cash management trumps luck.
Raising is Better than Calling
Poker pros would much rather raise than call someone else’s raise. In fact, when Chris won that World Championship, he had one firm rule. He never called a raise before the flop. He either raised or folded.
If your opponent raises and you call, you have to show a better hand to win. If you raise, you have two ways to win. If your opponent folds, you immediately win a small pot with no further risk. If he calls, you can still show down a better hand to win. Good poker players don’t mind if they bet with a great hand and everyone folds. Those are chips they didn’t have to fight to win.
In life, passively accepting what happens to you is a form of “calling”. You may be able to live this way, but it won’t be very exciting, and you’ll miss out on most of the really big opportunities. My son and his friends used to say, “You have to go big to win big.” Try raising your stakes occasionally. Ask for a raise at work. Challenge yourself to do something you have never done before. Make the first move, and you’ll be surprised how often you get an uncontested win. Those little wins can add up to a lot of extra “life chips” to use when things don’t go your way.
Make Positive Expected Value Choices
Poker pros use the terms EV, +EV, and -EV a lot. “EV” stands for “Expected Value”, and it’s the heart of using luck to your advantage. To calculate EV, you multiply your chance of winning by the amount you expect to win with a particular action, multiply your chance of losing by the amount you’re risking, and subtract the second number from the first. If the result is positive, that’s +EV and means it’s a reasonable play. If the result is negative, it’s a -EV action. Go minus too often and you’ll find yourself out of chips.
When I worked with Chris Ferguson down in L.A., I once asked him a question about a poker situation. A player raised all-in, and I wondered whether I should call or fold with my particular hand.
To my surprise, instead of giving me a “Yes” or “No” answer, he first asked me how many chips my opponent and I had at the start of the hand. Then he went to the white board and listed all the possible results, and my expected value from each one.
My actual hand turned out to be the least important factor in the calculation. The important part was the amount of money involved in the play. Chris pointed out that you can’t really tell what cards your opponent has, but you always know the size of the pot and your chip stacks.
Every decision you make has an Expected Value. Take the time to find the choices that maximize your potential wins or minimize your potential losses. You’ll find they add up to a nicely profitable life, whether you measure your Value in dollars, friends, health, or fun.
Let’s say you are dating and trying to figure out whether to “go steady” with one person or “play the field”. Estimate how much time and money you would spend each way; those are your costs. Then estimate the benefits of each choice – A possible long-term loving relationship versus the fun and excitement of always being with someone new. Subtract the costs from the benefits and you will have an EV for each choice. Go with the one that is more “profitable” in terms of a happier life.
But make sure you re-think your choices as you get more information – Maybe you’ll meet someone really special who changes the whole equation. Or maybe your One True Love turns out to be a frog; that too calls for a new EV calculation. Poker pros re-evaluate their decisions at every round of betting.
Don’t Let the Bad Beats Get You Down
Bad poker players like to tell “bad beat” stories to anyone who will listen. A bad beat in poker is when you have a much higher chance of winning, but the dealer turns over a miracle card that lets your opponent win. Bad players think that they have been somehow “wronged” when they lose a hand they “should have won”.
In the 1982 World Series of Poker, Jack Strauss pushed all of his chips into the middle, and lost the hand. But as he got up to leave, he found he actually had one last chip under a cocktail napkin. With that single $500 chip, he stayed alive, rebuilt his stack, and eventually won the tournament. He refused to give up, and to this day, poker players say, “All you need is a chip and a chair.”
Life is full of bad beats. It’s how you react to them that shows your quality. Complaining is usually a -EV action – It just makes you less happy, drives your friends away, and rarely accomplishes anything useful. Take your good luck and bad luck in stride. Learn what you can from your successes and failures. Then apply those lessons to improve your EV the next time you have a decision to make.
Live a +EV Life
Everything that happens in life is like the turn of a card at the poker table. It might bring you fortune, or it might bring you pain. Some gambles are thrust upon you, but you still have a lot of influence on the outcomes. Winning gamblers strive to keep the pot small on their close hands, and build it up when they expect to win. You can do that too – Bet big when you have positive EV, and pull back on the stakes when the risk is high. Make sure you survive the bad beats, so that you have time to prosper from the good ones. Place your bets wisely, stay in the game, and you will minimize the impact of luck on your life.
And do you know the really nice thing about real life? You only get judged on your successes, especially the big ones. Nobody cares about the hundred small – or even not so small – failures that may have come first. When your potential loss is small, almost every situation has the potential to be +EV. When you take positive action, it’s amazing how many barriers will just fold before your expression of strength.
Life is filled with small EV decisions that can add up to big wins or losses. You can hide from them and not accomplish much, or you can make the little investments of time or money that have a chance for big payoffs. That’s your best chance to really have an impact on the world around you. It’s also a lot more exciting than giving up.
Open yourself to the chances life offers, and live a positive expectation life. Play like the pros and make the odds work for you.
Friday, May 15th, 2009
One of the oldest arguments in Sociology is “Nature vs. Nurture”. Does our genetic map determine who and what we will become? Are our destinies instead decided by our environment and early training? Or is there yet a third possibility – That we continue to grow and change throughout our lives?
Lori and I don’t get out to the movies very often, but we managed to see two this week – Star Trek and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There was a common thread to the two films – Both looked at future Heroes before they came into their power. Corey is also currently reading one of Gordon R. Dickson’s “Dorsai” series, “Young Bleys,” which is also about the origin of an extraordinary person.
While James T. Kirk, Bleys, and James Howlett (aka Logan aka Wolverine) were in no sense “ordinary” as children, they all had to develop before they became true Superheroes. Along the way, they faced a number of “character challenges”, where they made life choices that eventually led them to become greater than they began.
Nature is clearly a powerful factor in both Wolverine’s and Kirk’s lives. Kirk’s father was a Starfleet officer who briefly becomes Captain of a Starship and sacrifices himself to save his crew. Kirk is born with the superior intelligence, charisma, and physical qualities that characterize a leader. He also appears to inherit his father’s willingness to take risks and make sacrifices despite never having met him. James T. Kirk would certainly be a Warrior in the School for Heroes.
Wolverine discovers his hand-spikes and learns that his half-brother has claws. They are different from those around them from the beginning, and their struggles to survive push them even farther from the common run of humanity. But Logan is not the same as his brother. Wolverine has an unbreakable sense of honor and rightness. He refuses to kill innocent people or to compromise his ethical principles. Although Wolverine appears on the surface to be a Warrior – he certainly has warlike tendencies – an argument could be made for placing him in the Paladin class. He certainly has the integrity and independent spirit to be a Paladin, and he has no desire to be a leader of others.
It would be easy for these heroes to “give up” – Kirk as a fatherless, reckless child constantly in trouble with the law; Wolverine as an outcast, hunted by anyone who knows of his “difference”. But instead, they fight, and struggle, and survive. And in the course of that, they learn. Kirk somehow manages to score highly on academic exams. Sure, he’s a smart kid, but so are most of our students and readers. What set him apart from the “merely above-average” crowd was that he loved learning as much as he loved danger and excitement. He never gave up, never accepted that he had any limits, and took the time and effort to excel in everything he tried. Kirk didn’t have superpowers, “just” an indomitable spirit and the drive to prove to himself that he could do anything. Kirk is the ultimate Warrior – A man of direct action and a self-assured leader whom others want to follow.
In “Young Bleys”, by Gordon R. Dickson, Bleys Ahrens also has a rich genetic background – He is really, really smart. But his mental power is just a tool. He really takes off and begins to come into his own when he decides that he must know everything there is to learn in several crucial areas of study. He also decides that he needs physical strength and martial arts training so that his body will support what his mind can do. Over the course of many years of intensive work and study, he hones his natural abilities into those of a superman. Bleys Ahrens is clearly a Wizard – He analyzes everything, then acts on the knowledge. His domination over others is through manipulation, rather than the result of true leadership.
Bleys believes that he knows – better than anyone else – what the future of humanity should be. He devotes his life to bringing about the future he foresees, even though he knows that few will thank him for changing their lives. Bleys sees himself as a Paladin, but he does not have the Paladin’s wisdom and understanding of the Right Path. His pursuit of “the greater good of humanity” is driven by arrogance and ego rather than true caring. Young Bleys has the potential to become a super-hero or a super-villain, but neither path is preordained for him. A Wizard pursuing the path of a Paladin is a powerful force for good or evil.
Predestination or Chaos?
I think that both theories – Nature and Nurture – are missing something. Their proponents seem caught up in the idea of predestination – Whatever happens to us early in our lives takes charge over everything else. We don’t buy that. We think it gives people a convenient excuse for failing to take charge of their own lives. After all, everything important has already been decided, so what difference does it make what training or effort you take later in life?
Well, it does make a difference. People change careers. Businessmen fail, come back to fail again, then go on to succeed in their next venture. People pull themselves out of the ghetto, or the gutter, and go on to have useful and happy lives. Athletes have a heartbreaking loss, then come back with the performance of their lives. Current “King of Bowling” Wes Malott defended his crown today by making a comeback after missing an easy spare. He said, “Ironically, I had talked with a father with three kids before the show and I told them you had to put bad shots behind you and focus on making the most of your next one. That’s what I did. I could have given up, but I bounced back.”
A long-shot, “Mine That Bird”, just won the Kentucky Derby. Four race previews listed him 20th, 20th, 16th, and 17th of the 20 horses. One reporter commented that he was, “Too slow to be a factor.” The betting made him a 50:1 underdog. He seemed to fulfill that prediction in the early running, riding well behind the pack. But the Derby isn’t a sprint, and isn’t decided in the early running. Jockey Calvin Borel believed in his mount and focused on its strength, not its weakness. He used Mine That Bird’s smaller size to maneuver between the other horses and skim the rail to make his way through the pack. The result – The second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it. The way to buck the odds is to keep trying. Figure out what went wrong, but treat it as a learning experience, not a life-defining failure. Go back and try again until you get it right – or the random factors align in your favor – then keep on going. Your life is not formed at birth, and it’s not defined in childhood. Those just give you your starting position. So what if your critics give you no chance to succeed? So what if they put you on the outside gate? If you can’t run with the pack, maybe that’s a signal that you should ride in front of them. It just might be your chance to be a Leader.
Do You Want to Be a Hero?
Ask yourself this: How do you want to live the rest of your life? Do you want to continue to be an above-average person with o.k. results? Does that satisfy you? Does it thrill you?
Or will you be a Captain Kirk? A Wolverine? Someone extraordinary, a Hero? If you want to be more than ordinary, it will take more-than-ordinary commitment, effort, and willingness to fight the odds. It will be a lifelong journey, but one you can take a few steps at a time.
Better get started!
Thursday, May 7th, 2009
A good friend of ours, Richard Aronson, wrote a little tale – based on a true gaming event – that turned into a monster. We think the “tale of the tale” is almost as interesting as the original story, so we’ve invited Richard to be our guest blogger this week.
I met Richard through Mensa in the late 70′s. We had both recently gotten into D&D, and I had started up a game for the Los Angeles Mensa group. Richard started his own campaign and introduced me to a couple of other groups. The Cal Tech players had developed their own D&D variant called “Warlock” with more detailed combat rules. And there was Ed Whitchurch, who ran a store called Le Maison du Guerre (that’s “The House of War” slightly misspelled). Ed ran a unique campaign that mixed fantasy gaming and tabletop wargaming, not to mention as odd an assortment of players as you’d find anywhere.
It was in Ed’s game that Richard picked up the story of “Eric and the Gazebo”. Richard added a few embellishments and wrote it up for a few newsletters. And then it spread. Lori and I were amazed to pick up “Knights of the Dinner Table™”, and find the characters retelling the story… without crediting the original source. Later, the characters in Nodwick had a gazebo adventure. And in the online RPG RuneScape, you can build a Gazebo. If you examine it, the game says, “Run away, it’s the Gazebo!”.
When we did a “humorous stories” panel at DunDraCon and asked how many in the audience had heard of Eric and the Gazebo, nearly everyone raised their hands. Just four hundred words, but they turned into a worldwide legend. Here’s Richard’s story of the building of the Gazebo.
The Tale of the Tale
by Richard Aronson
Back in 1985, I told Lee Gold and her RPG group a story. That story, of course, was “Eric and the Gazebo”. And Lee told me, “Now you have to write it up for ‘Alarums and Excursions.’” [A&E is the oldest and longest-running fantasy role-playing game publication, started in 1975. It recently published issued #400.] Since she had the power of life and death over my characters, I did so.
Then Corey and Lori Cole read it in A&E. They reminded me that I was supposedly contributing editor to “The Spell Book”, the magazine of Mensa’s RPG SIG, and they’d cut my salary by half if I didn’t write it up for my column. So I wrote it for them, with some minor tweaks.
From “The Spell Book” it was reprinted in Corpus Christi Texas’s newsletter (which I was told about when I received a copy of that issue) and then it was reprinted in a Mensa newsletter in North Carolina that never told me or asked my permission. And then “The Mensa Bulletin” sent me a letter; they’d read it in North Carolina and wanted to reprint it nationally. Oh, and if I could make it maybe 50-100 words longer, then it would completely fill a page.
“The Mensa Bulletin” ran it in 1989. And John Chu, a Mensan teaching at the University of Buffalo, asked me if he could reprint it on the Internet. In 1989, the Internet was not exactly public. It was used by academia and defense contractors. I was making a very nice living coding proprietary encrypted email for a Fortune 100 because there was no alternative. Ah, simple times. So I told John Chu, “Sure, as long as you spell my name correctly.”
Roughly five years later, I was a professional game designer working for The Sierra Network. I was on a humor panel at DunDraCon in San Ramon. I told “Eric and the Gazebo”. After the panel, an irate and less than fully hygienic (but scrawny and therefore not scary; I am many things but scrawny is not one of them) accused me in a loud voice of having stolen the story from his friend.
Plagiarism is a relatively minor concern to a professional programmer. It’s very serious for a professional game designer. So I had to start regaining control of my copyright. When I got back home, I did a Yahoo Search (I don’t think Google even existed yet) for “Eric and the Gazebo”. As I recall, there were over 3,000 hits. John Chu’s was there, and it attributed me properly. Most of them didn’t.
In order to protect my copyright, I had to contact these people and tell them to give me credit or remove my story. Most of them had no problems with giving me credit. A few asked for some proof of copyright. That cost me some stamps, unless they were willing to believe John Chu’s attribution as being the earliest version on the internet. A Google search today shows 13,000 hits for “Eric and the Dread Gazebo”. Included in the top 10 was an Australian web site which did not have attribution.
Okay, so my characters in Lee Gold’s game avoided some rotting diseases.
Some people got some laughs, and I’ve met some folks that were, for the most part, worth meeting. So I’d do it all over again. But next time I’m arming myself with a torch of gazebo slaying first. Plus FOUR.
The Original Story…
Here’s the version we printed in the Fall, 1987 issue (#13) of “The Spell Book”:
Richard Rambles On
by Richard Aronson
Humor is hard to define. Vocal humor is always easier than written humor, and acted plus vocal humor easier still. Think of how many movies/plays/TV shows you have laughed out loud at, then think of the surely smaller number of cartoons/comic books you have laughed at, and the yet smaller number of books (without pictures) you have laughed at. So I have been handed a tough assignment — make people laugh with only the printed page for my instrument.
Actually, if I could draw, I’m sure I’d be allowed to use a graphic device, and perhaps one will be inserted by ye Editors, but ever since they moved out of L.A. I’ve had much less input into the actual production values of The Spell Book, so I really cannot do more than suggest, whereas in times past I was able to say: Hey, look, right here should be a picture or an ink blob or something to liven up this otherwise drab piece you wro…. But I digress. While I can recount many tales that would (and have) make (made) people laugh out loud, I can think of only one that might, might mind you, work in this altogether restrictive setting: Eric and the Gazebo.
Let us cast our minds back to the early days of Fantasy Role Playing, back when ye Dread Gygax was loose upon the land. Funny how humor and horror can start out so alike. Let us go still earlier (yes, it is permitted to breathe sighs of relief) to the days before Gygax (and the courts) thought that he owned FRP. In the early seventies, Ed Whitchurch ran “his game,” and one of the participants was Eric Sorenson, a veritable giant of a man. This story is essentially true: I know both Ed and Eric, and neither denies it (although Eric, for reasons that will become apparent, never repeats it either). If my telling of it does not match the actual events precisely, it is because I’ve heard it many different ways depending on how much of what type of intoxicants Ed had taken recently.
The gist of it is that Eric, well, you need a bit more about Eric, or else I won’t fill quota. Eric comes quite close to being a computer. When he games, he methodically considers each possibility before choosing his preferred option. If given time, he will invariably pick the optimum solution. It has been known to take weeks. He is otherwise in all respects a superior gamer, and I’ve spent many happy hours competing with and against him, as long as he is given enough time.
So, Eric was playing a Neutral Paladin (why should only Lawful Good religions get to have holy warriors was the thinking) in Ed’s game. He even had a holy sword, which fought well, and did all those things holy swords are supposed to do, including detect good (random die roll; it could have detected evil). He was on some lord’s lands when the following exchange occurred:
ED: You see a well groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo.
ERIC: A gazebo? What color is it?
ED: (Pause) It’s white, Eric.
ERIC: How far away is it?
ED: About fifty yards.
ERIC: How big is it?
ED: (Pause) It’s about thirty feet across, fifteen feet high, with a pointed top.
ERIC: I use my sword to detect good on it.
ED: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Pause) I call out to it.
ED: It won’t answer. It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Pause) I sheathe my sword and draw my bow and arrows. Does it respond in any way?
ED: No, Eric, it’s a gazebo!
ERIC: I shoot it with my bow (roll to hit). What happened?
ED: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it.
ERIC: (Pause) Wasn’t it wounded?
ED: Of course not, Eric! It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Whimper) But that was a plus three arrow!
ED: It’s a gazebo, Eric, a gazebo! If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don’t know why anybody would even try. It’s a *)@#! gazebo!
ERIC: (Long pause. He has no axe or fire spells.) I run away.
ED: (Thoroughly frustrated) It’s too late. You’ve woken up the gazebo, and it catches you and eats you.
ERIC: (Reaching for his dice) Maybe I’ll roll up a fire-using mage so I can avenge my Paladin.
At this point, the increasingly amused fellow party members restored a modicum of order by explaining what a gazebo is. It is solely an afterthought, of course, but Eric is doubly lucky that the gazebo was not situated on a grassy gnoll.
That is the story of Eric and the Gazebo. It’s funnier when I tell it in person. Isn’t it always, though. Be seeing you…