13 November 2010

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali's "Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Horse"
I'd been wanting to see Salvador Dali's works for a long, long time now, and had ever since I'd seen those banners with the moustached man staring down at me from lampposts.

"I'd like to go see that, " I'd say to my girlfriend.
"Yeah, me too!", said she.

And we put it off for a while. But it's hard to put off going to see one of the most striking, original, and creative artists of the modern age when the museum he's in had free admission yesterday. So we gathered ourselves up and went.

Let me tell you, actually seeing the pictures is a beautiful thing. How can you get a true sense of the detail that went into some of the enormous (easily 12+ feet tall) paintings through a computer screen or a book? It loses something ethereal and undergoes a transformation from an actual artifact of dedication and passion to a pedestrian image, little more than a postage stamp. It's a damn shame more people can't go out and see real art.

Speaking of damn shames, this excursion made me realize two things. One: How coarse I feel. Not because people around me are so fancy, or so enlightened when I am not, but because I felt like yelling at people to quit standing two inches in front of the painting so that nobody else can see it, or to move your ass, you've been standing there trying to look smart for ten fucking minutes or the always delightful, Will you quit goddamn giggling at breats, you pre-pubescent shitheads? It's never felt more bizarre to be outside of my comfort zone, to be honest with you. The only time I'm around real crowds is when I'm on active duty, and it's a different feel of a crowd. Sure, people are, as they say, gaggle-fucking around, but everybody has a purpose. You're not standing in the way because people need to get by, and if people need to get by, you all part like the damn red sea to let people through. I guess it has to be something in the training that makes you other-centered. Even if you're a selfish prick, you can at least realize that you're not the greatest thing out there. Hopefully.

The second thing I realized is that people are shallow and stupid and do not deserve a great artist like Dali. People would offer their silly-ass conjectures about what this painting "means" and what this is a metaphor for, like great art can be reduced to trite banalities and crass gestures. There isn't any sort of meaning of life hidden in art, there isn't some sort of greater spiritual message in beauty. "C'eci ne pas une pipe", catch my drift? This picture is a picture. It is what it is. Dali's most famous image, the Persistance of Memory, do you know why he called it that? Do you know why it was made?

Was it a comment on how memory isn't as persistant as we think, with the clocks representing the breakdown and inconsistency of that most rigid construct itself, of time? Is it a metaphor for how everything is flexible and flowing no matter how we decide to categorize it?

Let me tell you.

Dali was painting a landscape, and then wanted to add something a little more unusual to it. He then thought of adding soft clocks, painted them, and asked him what his wife thought of it. She said that anybody who saw it would never forget it. Thus the name. That's it. That's all the meaning you get.

Like my girlfriend said, "People need meaning. Art does not."

08 November 2010

Empty House!

My friends Jeff and Steve had spent the last couple of days at my place, a tiny two bedroom loft in midtown, and I have to say, the place feels empty already without them. Sure, there wasn't hardly any room left with the two of them sleeping in the living room/dining room area, but what do you need the space for? My girlfriend and I have our bedroom, my brother has his, and then the two of them camped out in the middle room, and we still had enough space to walk to the bathroom and the kitchen and back. Plenty of room for five people!

They're great fun. They're loud, they take up a lot of room, and they eat a lot, but they bring a happy glow to the household- except for my girlfriend, who pines for the quiet. Always the extrovert, I can't fathom not enjoying a bit of noise. We played a long-lasting round of Descent, wherein I almost defeated them as the Overlord- I'll skip the description unless you're fans of the game. Me and Jeff discussed the differences in our respective services, especially pertaining to organization and command heirarchy, with a good bit of friendly joking, of course. Silly grunt, you can't out-joke a Seabee. ;)

In other news, I seem to have sprained my big toe. It now hurts to walk, which is awful, since I have a habit of roaming the house and jumping and stuff when I get excited. Which happens an awful lot these days. It's a good habit, I suppose, since it helps to be a little active and besides, laughter is supposed to be good for your heart.

The only downside to hosting guests is that it takes a lot out of your free time, and I haven't had much time to post or to have quiet moments, which makes this blog suffer. Hopefully now that I'm down to just work and class, I'll have a couple more interesting thoughts to share with the world, and keep on keepin' on.

Side note: Does anybody else find "meta" comments about the state of one's blog to be entirely boring and self-important? I feel like I'm putting on airs, like there's somebody out there who's an actual fan of this author's boring, stream-of-conciousness thoughts. Which is absurd, of  course, but that's how it feels.

01 November 2010

The Level Grind

Alex Schroeder on my last post:
I think that the reason D&D works the way it works is that as you go up in levels, the game itself is supposed to change. Ordinary men going through a military career will end up as veterans on 2nd, 3rd, or 4th level. Some rare commanders will reach 5th level. But adventurers will want to fight trolls, and giants, and dragons.

More hitpoints is what allows adventurers to proceed to the next type of D&D game, going toe-to-toe with tough brutes.

As they gain even more levels, hit-points start to loose in importance as magic items and spells, and the appropriate defenses gain in importance. Now you want to go up against nagas, and mindflayers, and beholders. No problem!

To me, that's the D&D secret nobody told me about: Every level range has a different "feel" to it, appropriate encounters, strategies, tactics, items, concerns, and so on.

The mental disconnect only happens, I think, if you take your level 8 fighter and fight bandits, or fight alongside henchmen. If you don't want the level 8 fighter to shine like a madman, like a prince of Amber, like a hairy foot god of war, then it's easy to point your finger at the hit-points. An alternative point of view might suggest that perhaps the adventurers should not gain more than a level or two in the first place. That keeps them within the level range where fighting bandits and goblins and remains a cause for caution.

I don't think that one way or the other is intrinsically better than the other way of playing the game. I do think, however, that the default rules imply a certain progression through the monster manual, if you like. Conversely, if you limit hit-points, I think you will have to massively change monsters. I'm not sure whether just reducing hit-points is appropriate enough. My guess is that higher level monsters also need to have their melee attacks reduced, otherwise an unarmed mind-flayer isn't just dangerous because of his mind-blasting and his brain-eating, in addition to that he'll also be a fearsome melee fighter (which he is not, with the default rules).

The entire thing is an interesting thought experiment. I'm not sure I'd want to go there, however, because personally, I like the changing nature of D&D as you go through in levels (and I therefore accept side-effects like knights being infinitely superior fighters to squires and henchmen, etc.).

 I'd like to start by saying that I agree with the spirit of this entire remark. There's really nothing wrong with the game as written, and it's a lot of fun to play as a level 8 Fighter and be a powerhouse of death and be tough as nails, able to slay a band of lesser men with only a couple of scratches to show for it. Similarly, I agree that the feel of the game changes dramatically, and not necessarily for the worse. Low-level campaigns are ones where the cauliflower-eared fighting man reigns supreme, and the most deadly threat is the sword in your back, but high level ones are where wizards are the deadly ones, and even the most staid of fighters are brandishing +4 Vorpal Greatswords and have quivers full of Arrows of Dragon Slaying and stuff.

I suppose the most fundamental disconnect comes, as you say, when you have to look at the monsters and realize that what is portrayed as a weak, but mentally powerful mind flayer can wrestle men to the ground and beat them to death with their bare hands, or when you realize that the sort of threats that require a 6th level party can nearly decimate a kingdom. Or when you realize that you're going to have to hit a fiery dude fifteen times with a sword to get it to quit trying to eat princesses. Or when you realize that your fighter can get straight chomped on by a troll a good four times and still get up and smack him with yet another axe chop. It's not particularly interesting, especially when you consider that, despite claims to the contrary, hit points as written are entirely toughness and not some sort of "strength of will and luck" and stuff. When's the last time you had to rest for a day to recover one point of your luck?

Regardless, I don't think there's really a reason that we have to throw out higher levels just because it's tied to health. I can't think of a less impressive fighter than one who never gets any better at dodging as he levels, and only learns to take a punch better. A man like that is a guile-less butcher, not a warrior. With just an easy tweak (perhaps applying the THAC0 as a bonus to Armor Class, and then halving hit point gains after level one?) you can make a fighter that's dodging and weaving as well as getting more grizzled and hard to kill.

And see, it's cool that D&D isn't really meant to emulate sword and sorcery fiction- it's sort of a science-fantasy game, with fire and forget spells and everybody trying to wear as much armor as possible and a high death rate and exploring dungeons created three world-spanning armageddons ago. It's a very cool feel for a game, but it's not the only one possible by any means. With just a couple of tweaks, you can make it into a more historical game, where killing trolls and dragons means that you're planning out a major invasion that would be the focus of a campaign in and of itself, instead of a session of hack and slashery made possible because you've got 80 hit points and seven +12 axes or whatever.

But I digress. Again.