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Bruce Baugh
Lives in Seattle, WA
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Bruce Baugh

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Basic internet logic, which eludes so many: If I say "man, that pork chop was good" I didn't just attack your steak, your eggplant, or your beverage.
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Tariq Kamal's profile photoBruce Baugh's profile photoBrian B's profile photo
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Bingo, Tariq. There are so many shades of meaning that get lost - does it have to be good for anyone else, if so who, is it good all the time, is it a mild pleasure or a consuming passion, etc forever.
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If movie Wonder Woman has a costume more or less exactly like that, I'd consider that A Very Good Thing. 
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For my #nerdy9th entry (first and/or only as may be), I'm going to talk about someone who brings together two of my loves, natural history and good writing: paleontologist Peter D. Ward.

I discovered Ward via the first of his collaborations with astronomer Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. It isn't just complex life that's rare in their argument, it's the stance they took...okay, that's reaching too hard for the joke.

Traditionally, views about life beyond earth have fallen toward two poles: either life of any kind at all is very rare, or life of all degrees of complexity is quite common. I grew up with the argument over extraterrestrial life pretty much going that way - a dead universe, or a universe loaded with biomes as rich as our own. 

Discoveries made about life on Earth made the latter look more likely: the whole ecosystems that flourish around deep-sea volcanic vents, the communities that gather around briny seeps, also on the sea floor, extremophile bacteria happily hanging out miles below the earth in high heat and pressure, in waters laden with chemical goop that kills everything conventional in the area, in high-radiation conditions, you name it. It became clear, piece by piece, that life appeared very nearly as soon as it possibly could on the early Earth and that it will go everyplace it can, including places you wouldn't have though it could. 

Astronomical studies make a lot of use of the mediocrity principle, the idea that we (and what you're studying) is presumptively not freakishly weird or unusual until you can establish otherwise. It's a handy guide, as you look at new phenomena nobody ever expected to see, because it it feeds directly into new goals for study (hey, is this going on anywhere else now that we know to look for it?) and checking your data for possible sources of contamination (wait a sec, is this spike here the result of my spreadsheet doing something wonky?)

Applied to the info about life's flexibility and durability, it became easy and sensible to imagine bacterial life on places like Mars, Europa, and Titan, let alone a world that might be more Earthlike in its hospitality. And from there, the principle of mediocrity suggests, we can and should imagine the processes that shaped life on Earth giving rise to comparably complex systems just about everywhere.

This is where a complicating factor comes in, though.

Ward's specialty is mass extinctions, and particularly the Permian-Triassic one. If you're like me, and I know I am, if you know anything about any mass extinction, you're likely to know about the K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary ("K" because it was formally titled in German)) one, in which the dinosaurs got ganked. But it turns out it's the exception to the norm for mass extinctions. The others all happened over extended periods of time, and all turn out to involve layered climate changes.

The Permian one, for instance, seems to have involve millennia of catastrophically intense volcanic activity and mass discharge of methane deposits on the sea floor and several other things combining to produce overheating and acidic rain and depletion of seawater oxygen and...it's messy. So are the others. It's that impacts can't mess things up globally rather than locally, it's just that only one seems to have actually done so. More commonly, existing stuff on Earth runs amok.

The more we learn about the consequences of mass extinction events, the more fragile the whole history of life looks. The principle of mediocrity is hard to apply when you repeatedly destroy almost every participant, selecting mostly at random. Everything gets intensely contingent. Re-run things two or ten or a thousand times and you will, it seems, get wildly different outcomes every time.

The other thing that emerges is that there don't seem to be any brakes that can tell a mass extinction in progress, "OK, wait, enough, leave at least some." Restrain the forces contributing to a particular extinction some and it's...well, it's not quite a mass extinction, it's "just" a really hideous bunch of damage to the biosphere. Let them go a little bit more and you get a dead planet, or one that has to start over from bacteria. There are some feedback loops, but there are positive ones as well as negative, so that on the edge it can be a matter of flip...flop...flip...flop...flip flip...flop...flip flip flip flip bam

All of which is to say that there turn out to be a whole lot of ways to break a biosphere, and the more complex and specialized any particular participant is, the more trouble it's going to be in.

So the argument from people like Ward is that we may expect to find a universe filled with very simple life, but very little at anything like our level of complexity. Every world will have a tangled, complex history, and most will have an element in it of "...and then things got pushed too far, and all the complex life perished, and it hasn't yet reemerged."

Ward has written several books I highly recommend. Besides Rare Earth, he's done a bunch on his own about extinction events. They fold together insightful, wise writing about his and others' experiences in the field and lab, about the social operations of the life sciences, and about what they discover and interpret. Gorgon centers on the gorgonopsids, who best survived the Permian-Triassic extinction. Under a Green Sky goes into a lot more detail about recovering the tangled history of the Permian-Triassic extinction, and ties it into how scientists interpret global warming now, and more. But there's none of his work I would not want to hold out and say "Hey, if you're at all interest in this subject, read this!"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Ward_(paleontologist)
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Gretchen Sher's profile photoMark Carroll's profile photo
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I hope this isn't your only entry! :)
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Bruce Baugh

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Dad helped make this possible, along with so many thousands of others. I'm proud of their work.

http://www.space.com/26462-voyager-1-interstellar-space-confirmed.html
With new data collected by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, researchers can confirm that the far-flung probe is indeed cruising through interstellar space, as mission scientists announced last year.
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I just hope I live long enough for it to return to Earth as a vast alien hybrid and threatens to kill us all because we are imperfect.
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Bruce Baugh

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Frances's daughter sent this link along with the mail subject line "Fun Done Wrong". Click the Listen button to find out how right she was. It starts off as a pretty decent arrangement. Then it throws itself down the stairs a few times.

http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/some-nights-sheet-music/19853270?showMoreIds=7000000
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Ash Walter's profile photoBruce Baugh's profile photoGeoff Skellams's profile photo
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It's even more painful, because I've got that tune stuck in my head now. I think I may need to take some Mumford & Sons to alleviate that...
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RPG system musing continues. I hear there may be dancing elephants in the next auditorium, for those not into this stuff.

Messing around with various chargen styles for a character I like has been fun! I mean, genuinely fun. There are times it's educational but not especially enjoyable. But this weekend's stuff? Fun stuff.

At the moment I'm thinking about things to do with the Mythic GM Emulator in slow moments, since coordinating with others is so tricky. (This is mostly a health matter. I can write about it if folks who haven't seen the account before would like to - and feel free to say so in comments - but it is not primarily a matter of a different set of online tools or anything like that, so you can skip right past suggesting such. :) )

What I find is that there are things I like about both the Risus/OTE level of resolution and the Jadepunk level. Jadepunk is about as complicated/detailed as I care to get right now, but not more so; I can imagine getting simpler than Risus, but imagine it costing me distinctions that I like to use in play. So that's a handy thing to know about my spectrum of tastes just right now.

In the end, therefore, the choice for me comes down to how much detail I expect to want on a regular basis. That's partly a function of what it is I'd like to do with Mythic, and I haven't really nailed that down. But I feel like I've advanced to a more interesting level of uncertainty. :)
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A pretty nifty thing, for generating relevant yet unexpected development in solo play, basically. http://www.mythic.wordpr.com/page14/page9/page9.html
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Have them in circles
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Bruce Baugh

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I’m mean, sure, his mother’s maiden name was Walker which just happens to be the maiden name of Jane Austen’s mother. And yes, my parents live at Robin’s Roost, which is the old Walker farm that just happens to have been in our family since the mid-1800s,…
I’m mean, sure, his mother’s maiden name was Walker which just happens to be the maiden name of Jane Austen’s mother. And yes, my parents live at Robin’s Roost, which is the old Walker farm that just happens to have been in our family since the mid-1800s, but that’s total coincidence. Clearly, my family has a long …
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I'm finally getting to read Demon: The Descent, and so far I'm loving it. The theme of inhuman beings learning how to build human identities is one that fascinates me, and I love how wide a net the game casts through popular culture. 
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Bruce Baugh's profile photoStew Wilson's profile photoBrian Griffith's profile photoChris Handley's profile photo
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Agreed, and so loaded with that quality of seeming inevitable once read but altogether surprising to me. I love that.
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I need someone else to write/illustrate the adventures of Thomas Ligotti the Tank Engine.
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...as if the condition of Man were something that could be situated on an island, as if the greenness of the all-encompassing land were anything but a tumor...
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I'm taking a break from RPG Net, since I find so much getting under my skin and me not disengaging well. Dunno how long I'll do it for, and it's a lot less about the site than about me. (That is to say, this is not an invitation either to explain how I just need to buck up and use the site better or to explain how it's been the devil all along.) 

I'm also disengaging from a few of the people I've been following on Facebook and Google+, where I realize that they leave me stirred up and unhappy without sufficient payback in terms of useful-to-me knowledge, entertainment, or whatever. This'll be an ongoing project for the next little while, starting with that "keeps me stirred up" category and the one for "people who make time to mock and harass friends who matter a lot to me".

I'd like to be a happier me right now. That starts with not being a more unhappy me, I figure.
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I already am, truthfully, Paul.
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Doctor Fish-Man, PhD, likewise approves of this.
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RPG system pondering ahead. The snack bar's open, I'm told, so the rest of you can go get some refreshments.

As a bunch of my regular readers know, I do love me some Over The Edge. It's always had a select few things that nagged at me, and looking again at Risus reminds me of what they are. In no particular order:

#1. Number of features. 3 positive, 1 flaw works well for many characters, but not for all. Yeah, I know that OTE characters can develop more traits in play, but sometimes I just plain would like to start with more.

#1a. I've gotten kind of skeptical about the necessity and/or desirability of separating out narrow and technical traits. My experience with games that have a narrative priority, like HeroQuest and Fate, is that it comes out about all the same in play. It matters less what you can, in some theoretical sense, do with a trait in the multiverse of possible settings the character might be in. If you want to use it about as much as other traits, and it's about as important as other traits would be in play...just go ahead and rank them on the same single scale.

#2. Measuring damage, and combat generally. I like universal systems with simple rules, and with player-defined traits. Hit points and the relatively detailed combat mechanics in OTE feel to me like a little outcropping of convention in a system that's otherwise very comfortable sailing its own way. Risus' approach, where all kinds of conflict-like interactions use the same rules and damage or the moral equivalent thereof is measured in temporary reduction of trait ratings, feels right to me.

#3. Powers. The fringe powers system in OTE is mighty fine for the Al Amarjan milieu. It just doesn't begin to scale well for settings with full-blown magic, super-powers, etc. It seems to me that Risus and Fate are on the right track with just applying the trait in suitably magical/powerful/etc. ways and quantifying the effect as you would with any other you use.

Sometime I should poke at the WaRP SRD to deal those in and see how it looks. :)
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Bruce Baugh's profile photoMarcus Morrisey's profile photoJohn Till's profile photoJeremy Buxman's profile photo
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Careful with that "we". :) Lots of gamers like to fiddle not at all, which is why there are still a bunch of groups contentedly playing AD&D, or BECMI, or Call of Cthulhu, or whatever, for decades on end. Most of the time, I want something very much like WaRP.
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