The One Ring: Signy Fire-hair

My monthly gaming group has just finished our campaign of The One Ring: Oaths of the Riddermark.

Signy Fire-hair
Shieldmaiden of Rohan (Wanderer calling)

TOR Signy_minis 2

Signy’s minis, mounted and unmounted, painted by our GM.

Signy had always wanted to be a Shieldmaiden. Her mother, Emma, had been a Shieldmaiden and was also a great storyteller. Signy’s strongest memories of her are sitting at her mother’s feet by the hearth while Emma sang of the great deeds of heroes and plaited Signy’s bright, coppery hair, while Signy looked up at her parents’ swords and spears glinting in the firelight over the hearth, or of sitting in front of her mother while riding, and the terrifying joy of leaping over fences at a gallop. Her mother’s death in childbirth left deep wounds in Signy’s heart, and from a young age Signy feared death by childbirth as the foe against whom even a Shieldmaiden could not prevail.

In time, her father took a second wife and after the birth of Signy’s half-brother, Signy was given the care of a newborn foal. The dappled-grey foal became young Signy’s obsession, and the girl even slept in the stables some nights. Signy devoted herself to Renna’s training and to learning swordplay from her father and his thanes.

Despite her father’s attempts to keep Signy from feeling like she and the memory of her mother had been replaced, Signy still felt alienated from her father’s ‘new’ family. Even worse, when she was eighteen, Signy overheard her stepmother say that Signy should become a good wife to one of her father’s thanes. Indignant and proud, Signy rode away from the homestead for Edoras and the King’s hall. She was of age now; she would bring renown to her own name based on her own valor.

In Edoras, Signy became one of Thengel King’s outriders, riders tasked not only with carrying messages, but also relied upon for their tirelessness and speed. Her service as an outrider sends her far across the fields of the Riddermark.

Then, one winter, something began attacking a series of homesteads in the West March, her friend Felwyn’s homestead among them. Signy, Felwyn, and their friend Ava go to investigate, joining with two Gondorians and a Dunlending in what becomes only the first of many adventures…

TOR campaign 3c

L-R: Ava, Felwyn, Signy (a.k.a. the ‘Valkyries’); Falcon, Boriel, Trevir

*

The One Ring: Oaths of the Riddermark is the third The One Ring campaign my group has played. It’s set in Rohan in Middle Earth at the beginning of Thengel’s reign (Theoden’s father; Theoden is king in The Two Towers). The premise is that Thengel has returned from exile to claim the throne after his father’s death and is now trying to fix the corruption, rivalries, and distrust his father had created during the previous reign. The adventuring party here is tasked with helping the king unify various parts of the kingdom.

It’s a cool premise and makes sense for the lore of the world, but one I sometimes found frustrating as a player because I had built an archetypal Anglo-Saxon hero when I made Signy. Yes, she was skilled in Song and Awe, but not in Inspire or Courtesy — and it was Courtesy we needed the most. The success of several of our missions was determined by if they didn’t devolve into fighting, and I had built a character who had wanted to win glory and renown by fighting. I often felt like I had the “wrong” character for this campaign — except that I didn’t, because I had built a character that was “right” for this particular culture.* There seemed to be a disconnect between what the writers of the campaign wanted and the setting. I don’t know how much the other players felt this incongruence; however, I’m always going to notice medieval-related things more than the others, considering that I am the medievalist at the table. (The GM is a history teacher, but the medieval period is my speciality.)

TOR_Rohan_campaign

Fortunately, we weren’t all stereotypical Anglo-Saxon heroic characters: we had a smooth-talking Gondorian with us, and for a while a Dunlending to be a liaison with the other Dunlendings, and then this strange man from a place called Lake-town who claimed he’d seen a dragon (yeah, right), but who was also really good at talking to people. If we had all been Rohirrim though, maybe there would have been more fighting, because we’d have all botched the Courtesy rolls and not gotten along…

At any rate, Signy Fire-hair Orc-killer Kings-guard survived the campaign and did manage to win much renown during it, though perhaps not as much and not necessarily in the manner she had wanted. She may yet go on other adventures. We are returning to the north for our next campaign and picking up story threads (and some characters) we had left off with a previous campaign. What has been happening in Mirkwood and Wilderland while we’ve been riding in Rohan? I guess we’ll find out!


* Having two degrees in medieval literature, I think I’d have some idea of what Tolkien had in mind when using Anglo-Saxon source material for the Rohirrim…

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Reading & listening in 2018

Every year I keep a list of the books I’ve read and then add the list to the Books Read List page of this blog. If you look at the Books Read in 2018 list and compare it to the last couple of years, you might think that 2018 was a poor year for reading.

Well, I would counter, it wasn’t as bad as 2013 or 2015. Even so, I would admit that I feel a little bit of disappointment in seeing that 2018’s count is twenty books fewer than 2017’s.

Screenshot_PodcastsBut then I would remember that 2018 could also be described as the Year of the Podcast and the Year of the Non-Traditional Narrative: in 2018 I began listening to and watching actual-play D&D campaigns podcasts and web series, Eberron Renewed and Critical Role.

For the past few years I have chosen a book series to binge-listen to during my long commutes for my summer teaching job. Instead of choosing a book series in 2018, I chose to listen to my friend’s D&D podcast Eberron Renewed. Some 90 episodes later (each weekly episode running between an hour and an hour and a half), I estimate that the amount of time I’ve spent listening to this podcast is the equivalent to about a dozen audiobooks. Eberron Renewed is just a very long narrative being “written” collaboratively and in improv.

And if I had been reading instead of watching Critical Role? Well, that’s another very long narrative being told in real time that also amounts to about 15 books in terms of hours. (Though I could just as well have been watching other TV shows to be honest, which I haven’t had the time for.)

Then there are the BBC and PRI news and linguistic A Way With Words podcasts I listen to at work, when I could be listening to audiobooks.

So it’s not that I’m not getting healthy doses of narrative, fiction, news, ideas: I am. I’m getting them from not only reading and listening to audiobooks, but also from unexpected, non-traditional narrative sources by following along other players’ D&D campaigns. Getting my entertainment from these sources and from playing RPGs myself with my friends has had me thinking about role-playing games as narrative sources, as sources or modes of entertainment: a form of oral narrative, community narrative, an exchange between those who create entertainment and those who are entertained by it and the nexus of when those groups happen to be the same people gathered around a table with character sheets and dice.

I’ll be exploring some of the ideas that have sprung up in my musings about RPGs as non-traditional narrative sources in an upcoming blog series.

Do you keep track of what you read? From what sources do you get your doses of fiction?

In memoriam: Ursula K. Le Guin

I am still processing the loss of one of my favorite and admired authors: Ursula K. Le Guin. I have read most of her fiction, including fiction for children, some of her non-fiction and translations. It is one of my goals in life to read everything she has written — fortunately for me and the world, she was a prolific writer. Her novels, in particular A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of Atuan, and The Dispossessed, have affected me deeply and helped shape how I see the world.

Last semester, I had the pleasure of teaching The Left Hand of Darkness and its related short stories in my Literature by Women course. It was the first text I chose for the course and I selected the other texts to complement it. That unit was the most interesting and enjoyable to teach and was perfect for class discussions about the role of literature, literary theory, reception of a text over time, delving into an author’s changing perceptions of her own work, and more.

Left Hand of Darkness teaching

I do not want to say that the world is less magical than it was before now that she is no longer in it, because every soul brings its own magic into the world and with new souls being born every day, the balance is maintained — an idea I know Le Guin would agree with. The magic she instilled into her works succeeds her and, thanks to the Library of America, will never be out of print. But gone is the hope of one more Hainish novel, one more story set in Earthsea, one more blog post about her cat’s antics.

Gone also is the slim hope of someday meeting her in person. I am sad that she will not see the completed 50th anniversary edition of the Earthsea saga, though I know from reading her blog that collaborating with Charles Vess was immensely satisfying for them both. I look forward to its release and of putting inside it my last signed bookplate from her, a gift I have been saving for years for precisely the occasion of a special edition of Earthsea.

in response to Charlottesville, VA

After the events of this weekend, I am compelled to condemn the actions of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who call themselves the ‘Alt-Right’.

Independence Hall Assembly Room - Philadelphia 2015

As a white woman, I condemn the words and actions of those whites who believe that they are superior to other humans based on the color of their skin.

As a Southern woman, whose family settled in the Carolinas when they were still but colonies, I condemn the culture of racism in the South and call for those roots to be torn out and thrown onto the fire of truth. Then move onward, because racism is an invasive weed that has roots spread throughout the country.

As a descendent of slave owners, I condemn all acts of slavery and its legacy in the discrimination and disenfranchisement of people of color. I weep that this is part of my family history.

As a Christian, I condemn the actions, words, and attitudes of those who claim to be Christians but are false prophets. ‘By their fruits you will know them’ (Matthew 7.20). Racism is sin and is contrary to the message of the Gospel and to the Kingdom of God. Before God there is ‘neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female’ (Galatians 3.28; see also Colossians 3.11), but Christ came for all, died for all, and rose for all. Each and every one of us.

As an American, I condemn those Americans who would deny the freedoms of this nation to other Americans and to those seeking to build a better life in this country. This country’s ideal is to be a place where every individual can live to their fullest potential, regardless of color or creed. As a nation, we are far, far from embodying that ideal, but it is an ideal we should be pursuing in order to bring to reality — not limiting its promises to an arbitrary chosen few.

As a white Christian American from the south, I condemn the words and actions of white supremacists, both in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend and beyond, as antithetical to my own beliefs and as morally wrong, nor will I stop opposing them.

Photo: The Assembly Room in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, USA, where the Constitution was debated and signed.

the joys of audiobooks

One of the major counter-culture-shocks I experienced upon moving back to Texas from Scotland was the amount of driving I had to do. I had lived without a car for six years in the UK and managed both daily life and international travel without one. I took public transport, cycled, or walked. There was no need for a car.

Not so in Texas.

2017-07-01 - Highway 380

I may live only 2.6 miles away from where I teach, but the public transport that connects where I live and where I work takes 45 minutes for what is a 10 min drive; there are no bicycle lanes and Texas drivers don’t know how to drive around cyclists; nor are there footpaths/sidewalks between there and here; and also, it’s too hot for me to walk or cycle even if there were the appropriate lanes and paths for me to do so. The same problems apply for if I wanted to go to the grocery store, or anywhere else in my city.

Add to that: My best friends live in another city 30 miles away (approximately 45 minutes without traffic), my second job is in a different city also 30 miles away (40 minutes without traffic), and my church is in a third city (20 minutes without traffic). My health specialists are also scattered across the north DFW area and range from 35 min to an hour to get to, without traffic. Have you noticed a theme here? Without traffic. It seems like all of the major arteries in the metroplex have some amount of road construction, meaning that more often than not there is traffic.

2016-10-14 - I35 modern ruins

I haven’t mentioned yet that I hate driving. I get bored in the car. I find it stressful. I get tense even when the roads are relatively clear. I hate having to find parking. The first year or so back in the States I avoided driving as much as I could. I tried to use public transport. I tried cycling and walking. I didn’t go to weekly game nights at my friends’ house because I didn’t want to drive that far at rush hour. I didn’t have a church in my city. It was lonely.

That’s when K. handed me her copy of The Hobbit on audiobook. She hates driving, too, and also wanted me to come over more often. She promised that listening to audiobooks would make driving more bearable.

And it does.

Continue reading

going to the ballgame

Yesterday, I went to see the Frisco RoughRiders play the San Antonio Missions with my friends C. and A.

FRRvSAM 2017

It was great because I could support both teams. I couldn’t lose!

When I asked my friends if they wanted to go, they were enthusiastic, and then asked, ‘Wait — will it be all right for you to go? It will be so hot.’

It was a reasonable question. My chronic illness makes it easy for my body to overheat quickly. After my brush with heat stroke a few years ago, my body has been even more sensitive to heat. We haven’t reached the hottest part of the summer yet, but already we’ve had heat advisories and heat indices above 105 F (40 C). It is unsafe for me to be outside for any length of time when the temps go above average human body temperature. The game was scheduled to start at 7.00 PM, and though that would be cooler than the afternoon, it was likely still to be excessively hot.

But I wanted to go. It had been so long since I had been to a baseball game. I had gone to Missions games when I was a kid, and I wanted to see them play the RoughRiders.

One of the lessons I’ve had to learn about having a chronic illness is to not let the chronic illness ruin my life.

If I stopped whenever I was in pain, if I stayed indoors every time the temperatures rose above 98 F, then I couldn’t work, play, or live. I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I read ‘I won’t apologize for having fun while chronically ill’ at The Mighty. I would figure out how to stay cool at the game.

I looked up the ballpark’s policies for what could be brought inside the park and assembled a bag of supplies. I assumed that we would be in the sun for part of the game, at least until the sun went down.

My bag included:

  • a parasol
  • a folding fan
  • a spray bottle
  • a reusable ice pack
  • two instant cold packs
  • sunscreen lotion
  • insect repellant
  • a bottle filled with Gatorade and ice

It also happened to be ‘Thirsty Thursday’, which meant all drinks were $1 and cups of water with ice were free. I would be able to stay well-hydrated during the game. I made sure to wear light and loose clothing and noted the location of the first aid tent, just in case.

And you know what? It turned out that I was over-prepared. When we found our seats, our section was already in the shade. There was a consistent and gentle breeze. Despite the clear sky, beating sun, and heat advisory, it was surprisingly pleasant. The only items I used from my bag were the spray bottle, the Gatorade, and insect repellant. It was a thousand times better than what I was expecting.

Of course, I’m exhausted today. Being outside for four hours still wore me out, even if it wasn’t sweltering. But I budgeted for the exhaustion; that’s part of having a chronic illness.

Baseball, fireworks, and friends — what more could you ask for in a fine summer evening?

Photo: The Frisco RoughRiders vs. San Antonio Missions in Dr. Pepper Park, Frisco, TX.

Catification: Climbing Wall

climbing wall_2016-02-19Raise your hand if you’ve heard the term, ‘Catification’. No? Catification is a term coined by Jackson Galaxy (of My Cat From Hell fame) that means making a feline-friendly environment in your home.

For instance, since Willow literally spends more time in my (our) flat than I do, she ought to have some ‘say’ in the decor. This flat is her home, too.

One of my first catification projects was to build a climbing wall for her. Only one wall of my flat was suitable for it, and she would have to share with my research bookcases. My goal for catification is that it meets both Willow’s and my needs.

Benefits of having a climbing wall for your cat(s):

  • It expands your cat’s territory vertically, thus maximizing space.
  • Higher territory gives your cat(s) a place to escape from other pets, small children, or vacuum cleaners.
  • Destructive cats are bored cats: a climbing wall adds interest to your home for your cat.
  • Climbing the tree and jumping between (or across) levels keeps her fit and healthy.
  • The tree and sisal rope provide plenty of places for your cat to scratch her claws.
  • It looks nicer than a pre-built carpeted cat tree.
  • You can integrate your own furniture, such as bookshelves, so that the wall serves a double purpose.

The climbing wall is made up of a few shelves, a tree, and a branch. The mirrors are cosmetic. In the end, this climbing wall cost less to put together than it would have been to buy a short, pre-built, carpeted cat tree.

Wait — a real tree?

Willow’s climbing wall features not only one, but two real trees. I had originally planned to wrap a length of PVC pipe with sisal rope, but when I mentioned the cost of buying enough sisal rope to do so to my parents, they offered to bring Willow a tree from their tree farm in South Carolina.

Fun fact: Climbing trees is not instinctual for cats. I had to teach Willow how to climb the tree! Once she grasped the concept, she was climbing like a pro. Now she races up the tree in a flash.

The tree is not itself affixed to the ceiling or floor. Each end is capped with a bit of PVC pipe attached to a thin board, and it is the board that is attached to the ceiling. Friction and tension keep the bottom of the tree in place. The ends of the PVC pipe are wrapped with sisal rope.

In addition to the tree, Willow also has a ‘lounging shelf’, which is pictured above. This shelf is different from the others because it is covered from carpet squares I chose from the carpet samples at Home Depot. The lounging shelf is one of her favorite places in the flat. She sometimes slept in the basket until she grew too big for it; then it became a useful place to hold her toys.

After about a year, I started thinking of ways to modify the climbing wall and make it more interesting again. When visiting my sister for Thanksgiving, she showed me a branch that had fallen off the big ash trees in their garden during an ice storm. She had kept it because she thought I might like it for Willow’s wall. I did!

The current version of the climbing wall features more tree than shelves, which makes getting to the high shelves more of a challenge for my clever and energetic cat. Because the ash tree is very hard and the bark isn’t very deep, I wrapped parts of it with sisal rope to provide more grip. I also used the sisal rope to attach the branches to hooks I put in the wall, and the base of the tree is in a dark-stained, wooden bucket full of rocks.

We also use the wall when we play with Go Cat’s Da Bird toy: I’ll make the ‘bird’ fly up to the high shelves and flit away just as she catches up to it. When she has her nightly ‘crazy time’, she literally runs up the walls! Willow sometimes leaps from one high shelf to the other, nimbly slipping through the space between the top right branch and the wall to land on her lounging shelf. She also leaps from the sofa onto the middle of the right branch. Soon I will need to wrap more sisal rope around it as she wears away the bark with her climbing.

If you have the room for it, I recommend getting a branch or two of real trees for your cat(s). Willow has never scratched any of my furniture because she has plenty of her ‘furniture’ to scratch instead. Cats scratch to mark their territory, sharpen their claws, and to stretch their backs, and they’re likely to prefer scratching something natural like tree bark over fabric. Although both of my trees came from family sources, you could ask a local tree and lawn service if they have any particularly large branches you could use. That’s what I was going to do before my sister offered the branch that fell off of her tree.

In another year I will change the wall up again. Best to keep Miss Adventure Paws on her toes!