DragonCon Part 2: Antitheism and Forbeck’s Law

Let’s start with the latter, shall we?

Matt Forbeck writes a lot of words. Tons of them. I used to hang out with him a lot at conventions, although we don’t get the chance to do that anymore. One time, I was sitting in a seminar with seven people on the panel. Seven!

Meanwhile, out in the audience, we counted only three.

That’s pretty typical for a gaming panel. I mean, if you get more than a dozen, you’re cooking with gas.

Looking at the audience, Matt says, “Time to move the panel to the bar!” Which is exactly what Forbeck’s Law is.

“Whenever the panelists outnumber the audience,
the panel moves to the bar.”

I’ve spread Matt’s rule as far as I can—even though I don’t usually drink anything stronger than Classic Coke—because the panel suddenly becomes much more intimate. Also, as Matt informed me, the audience tends to buy the panelists drinks.

This year, attending DragonCon, I noticed something odd. I never needed to invoke Matt’s Law. In fact, the panels were crammed with people. Loaded with them. Enthusiastic, full of questions. They just kept showing up. I’d only seen this in Poland—another story for another time—but never in the United States.

(Granted, I don’t do panels at GenCon, which is probably the exception to the rule. But only probably.)

I sat on six panels at DragonCon and all of them were a blast. One or two, however, suffered from the “too many cooks” problem. When you have six people sitting at the table and only an hour to talk, nobody gets to say anything meaningful.

(I’m pretty sure there’s no Law for that. Hm…)

But most of the panels only had one or two people—maybe three—and we all got to “get our stuff in” as professional wrestlers like to say.

One of the high points of the convention for me was a surprise meeting with an old friend of mine: Robert Boney. I met Robert when I moved to Georgia and we played a lot of RPGs together. He showed up with a beard and offspring who were polite and beautiful. Robert knew me when I was just 16 and still figuring out who I was. Modern psychology was just figuring out teen depression and didn’t quite know how to deal with it. Hell, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Despite my curious—and probably infuriating—problems, he remained my friend. And more than thirty years later, sought me out at DragonCon to say hello. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all we got to say. I hugged him as hard as I could and promised to keep in touch better.

Robert Boney and Friend

 

And so, “Hi Robert!”

At that same seminar, a fellow asked me a GM question.

Bonus for you, Faithful Reader! I don’t know if this is actually the case, but I learned this from Robin Laws, so I’m calling this “Robin’s First Rule of Game Seminars.”

 

All Game Seminars Eventually Turn into GM Advice Seminars

 

There’s probably a proper name for it, and I’m sure either Robin or Ken Hite will correct me within 24 hours of this posting.

Anyway, a GM question. He told me the story of a player who liked to cause trouble in a particular way: pissing off another player’s deity. Whenever the cleric’s deity shows up or they encounter a temple or a shrine, the trouble player—let’s call him “Bob”—does whatever he can to piss the deity off.

“So, he’s an antitheist,” I said.

The GM looked at me quizzically.

“He thinks gods are a bad thing for humanity.”

The GM nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I said, “Okay. First thing you do. Take the player aside and find out if this is intentional. Does he really want his character to do this and is he okay with in-game consequences for his actions. If he says ‘Yes,’ then, move on to Step 2.”

“What if he doesn’t say yes?” the GM asked me.

“Then find out why he’s doing it. But chances are, he’s doing it intentionally. And if that’s the case, here’s what you do.”

I told him, “Have the deity show up again. When Bob smacktalks the deity, have the god throw a thunderbolt or something. Doesn’t matter. Whatever you want. The thunderbolt bounces off Bob’s chest. It doesn’t affect him at all.”

The GM looked at me skeptically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean his antitheism protects him from divine magic,” I said.

The GM shook his head. “No. That will make him worse.

I smiled. “Yes, it will. He’ll jump up and down and shout and thumb his nose at the cleric’s deity and he’ll be a complete ass about it…until he needs a healing spell.”

That’s when the GM started to get it. He returned my smile and nodded. “Not just that god’s magic…”

I finished his thought, “… all divine magic. The healing spells, the protection spells, the buff spells.”

We said it together, “Everything.”

Then, I told him, “And the only way to get it back…is if he submits to the gods. If he humbles himself. If he becomes the penitent man.”

“Only the penitent man will pass,” he said, picking up on my cue.

I nodded. “That’s right. And until he does, no divine magic.

The GM shook my hand. “That’s awesome.”

“Another day’s work,” I said, smiling. He walked away and I spent the rest of the day wondering how that little trick was going to work.

Next Time!

Next episode of my DragonCon trilogy focuses on…well, you’ll just have to tune in to find out! See you then!

 

DragonCon Part 1: “Can’t I Have Just a Little Peril?”

The Distinguished Gentlman from Ultima, Lord British

This is the first part of a series of blog posts about DragonCon. Part 2 and 3 will be up soon!

I was at DragonCon this weekend and addition to staying up way too late and dancing way too much, I was also a panelist. The panels at DragonCon are different from the ones at gaming conventions because…well, people attend them. 

(For those of you who don’t know the Forbeck Rule—named for Matt Forbeck—”When the panelists outnumber the attendees, the panel moves to the bar.”)

The rooms were packed to capacity. Standing room only. In fact, on many occasions, there were people standing. I ran a 7th Sea panel that was full of fans eager to hear about the game. I was also on a “Making a Great Character” panel and a “How to Make a Game for Everyone” panel. (Short answer: Don’t.) I got to sit next to Lord British on that one, and let me tell you, the man is nothing short of the archetypal gentleman. I also got to hook up with the ever-brilliant Keith Baker (of Gloom, Eberron, and Phoenix: Dawn Command fame) and Clint Black (systems developer for Savage Worlds) and we all chatted about ways to make games more fun. There were a ton of D&D questions, and one suggestion I gave seemed to haunt me for the rest of the convention.

A GM started asking a question about the right way to handle hit points and before he could get to the end of his question, I stopped him. “Ditch hit points,” I told him. “They’re a redundant system. They do the same thing as armor class and saving throws. They all do the same thing. Instead, you should replace hit points with peril.”

I explained how this little system worked and the room seemed to light up. And for the rest of the convention, people asked me about it. “John,” they’d say, “I heard about this thing you use to replace hit points. Is it written down anywhere?”

“Nah,” I’d answer. “If you heard what it does, you know what it does.”

Well, after this blog entry, I can’t answer that question the same way. “Yes,” I’ll say. “It’s on my blog.”

The Always Wonderful Clint and Jodi Black

How It Works

PCs have peril instead of hit points. Just replace any hit points a character may have with peril. If your fighter has 34 hit points, she now has a peril threshold of 34. That means she can take 34 peril before hitting her threshold.

Whenever a character would normally lose hit points, they gain peril. If your character gets hit for 8 hit points, instead of losing those 8 hit points, she gains 8 peril. 

Your character can also take peril for non-combat actions. If you’re trying to sneak around and you get seen by a guard, take 1d6 peril. (I just made that up. If the situation calls for something less drastic, use a d4. However, I seldom use more than a d8 for peril, unless under really dire circumstances.) 

As soon as your character hits her peril threshold, the DM announces some sort of perilous consequence for your character. For example, if your character is in a duel, you may lose a finger or an ear. Or, if you’re fighting on a rooftop, the villain may throw your character from the roof to the cold waters below.

In essence, peril is a way to get around the humdrum, boring death mechanics D&D (and other games) have. “My character died? Fine, the cleric will pay 5,000 gold and I’ll be back.” May as well do a console restart, my friend, because at that point, you’re playing a computer adventure game. 

It opens options for players and DMs for when your character hits zero. It isn’t just death, it’s sometimes something much, much worse.

Fighting a vampire and you hit your peril threshold? Guess what? You’re a vampire now.

Sneaking across the city and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’re in jail.

Dueling a man with six fingers and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’ve got two scars on your cheek and your father’s sword.

Once you hit your peril threshold, it resets to zero. Lucky you!

The Very Brilliant Keith Baker

But What about Healing?

I have to admit, I have an answer for this one, but Keith Baker’s was better. When he heard about peril and someone asked about healing, he brought this up. I think it’s brilliant and I’ll be stealing it (and putting Keith’s name in the thank you section) of my next game.

My answer goes something like this: healing is gone. It’s a narrative thing now. Can a cleric heal peril? No. But he can restore your confidence! A bard can do this, too. Restoring a character’s confidence is pretty much the same as healing, but once you’ve taken a wound such as a lost eye or limb, that’s it. That’s a permanent injury. And you can’t get rid of it. Just like Raistlin can’t get rid of his silver skin and bloody cough. Just like Elric can’t get rid of his albinism. Just like Jaime Lannister can’t regrow his hand. (Or Tyrion regrow his nose, if you’ve read the books.) 

Clerics (and bards) gan restore confidence. That’s it. And I usually only allow a d6. If you’re generous, anyone can restore confidence equal to their charisma bonus, but clerics and bards get to add a d6 to that. And only once per day. 

But Keith brought up a rather brilliant healing thing that I really liked. In a nutshell, he said his clerics can heal wounds, but they have to put the wounds somewhere. Good clerics take the wounds unto themselves or share them with the group. Evil clerics heal their own wounds and put them onto someone else.

I really liked that idea. So, I’m sharing it with you. 

Next?

We finished today talking about gods and next time, I’ll be talking about them again, but I’ll be putting on my Play Dirty hat. A young man asked me for some advice about a player of his and I improvised an answer. He liked it enough to take it back to his table. I’ll be sharing it with you the next time we meet.

And get a helmet. This one is rough.

Vote for 7th Sea at the ENnies

Summer is con season, but that also means it’s awards season. We got nominated for an Origins Award, won a Golden Geek, and now, it’s time for the ENnies.

Usually, I don’t get excited about awards, because I’ve won my share, but this year is a little different. People like Mike Curry, Rob Justice and Mark Richardson are up for the first time and it would be really cool to let them take the stage. That’s my plan, anyway.

So, yeah. I’d like to see the people who worked so hard to bring 7th Sea: Second Edition to life get some recognition for that. And you can help. Go to the ENnies website and vote. If you think we deserve an award, give us a thumbs up. That way, the folks who brought you 7th Sea 2e will get that recognition they deserve.

Thanks and see you at GenCon!

-John


For quick reference, here are the nomination categories. Thank you for your vote!

Click here to vote.

 

 

 

Gen Con 2017 Call for GMs

 

Friends of JWP and fans of 7th Sea! Want to help Heroes set sail, rescue loved ones, and vanquish Villainy?

We need Game Masters to run 7th Sea: Second Edition at Gen Con this year.

You get gratitude, glory, and greatness.

Oh, and loot, booty, and perhaps even a free badge.

For details and to sign up, follow this link.

May you have wind in your sails, dice that roll well, and good games in your future.

Sincerely,

Monte Lin
GM Coordinator

The War of the Cross: A Letter From John

Hi everybody!

It’s hard to believe that the Kickstarter launch for The War of the Cross is just one week away. We’re going to be publishing updates every day this week to talk more about the game and to share our excitement. Today, I’m here to tell you a little bit about the history of The War of the Cross board game. It all starts twenty years ago. Actually, twenty-two, but who’s counting?

Back in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in the AEG offices, Dave Williams and I (and others) were working on the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game. We were all first time game designers, flying without radar, fresh out of college and thought we knew everything. Dave and I began bonding over games, and as we talked, we found out we two mutual favorites: Avalon Hill’s Dune and Diplomacy.

Dune Board Game print-and-play recreation, Image from Board Game Geek

We used to talk about a board game that combined the best aspects of both games. Not a lot of math, intuitive rules, lots of diplomacy and secrets. But L5R dominated our time back then. Dave and I both went on to win Origins Awards—for Best Collectible Card Game and Best Roleplaying Game—and a lot of that had to do with the chemistry we had. Dave was in charge of mechanics and I was in charge of story, but I was always in Dave’s office making suggestions and he was always in my office making them, too. It was kind of like a guitarist and lead singer playing off each other’s strengths. That chemistry, I think, is one of the many reasons L5R really felt like capturing lightning in a bottle.

Many years later, when the 7th Sea Kickstarter exploded, Mark Diaz Truman and I talked about making a board game stretch goal. And as soon as we did, I thought of Dave and the game we always wanted to make together. So, we gave him a call.

Dave jumped at the opportunity, but insisted we bring Luke Peterschmidt on as well. I’ve known Luke almost as long as I’ve known Dave. He’s been doing board game Kickstarters for a while and had the kind of experience neither of us had: actual production. That’s so important. So many landmines you have no idea are out there waiting for you, and Luke knew them all.

Dave and Luke drew up a board and started proposing rules. Mark and I threw feedback at them and things started moving fast. Big changes, little changes. But the goal was always the same: simple game, intuitive rules, no dice, lots of diplomacy, and secrets. We stuck to those goals and one day, I received a working prototype in the mail.

Meanwhile, Thomas Deeny and Mark Richardson—layout and cartography, respectively—started making a board. Thomas has experience in board game layout, so his insight came in useful as well. And, of course, Mark’s attention to detail added even more awesome.

Side-by-side of early version of map and final map

And now, as I write this, we have a game that I think achieves all the goals young Dave Williams and John Wick wanted those twenty years ago.

And let me tell you, honestly, no BS plug here: I love playing this game. I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since I got the materials in the mail. I’ve been playing it with folks new to strategy games, folks who play a lot of strategy games and a whole ton of grognards (a term I not only use as a compliment, but considering my age and time in the industry, now wear with pride). A local game designer here in Phoenix—a man with some merit—told me, “I like this game more than Diplomacy.” That made my heart two times too big for my chest.

The game also accomplishes another goal of mine: it broadens the world of 7th Sea. The 30-year long incident known as “The War of the Cross” has always been a kind of mystery. Everybody knows about it, but not everybody knows what happened. Now, with this game, we can tell the story of a three decade long war that nearly tore Théah apart. And there are secrets—oh, yes my friends, there are secrets—waiting for you to uncover in the game. The origins of the war go deeper than politics. And why did the war go on for so long? There’s a reason. It’s ugly and awful. And you’re going to be mad.

Let me say that again: you’re going to be damn angry. And when the Heroes of Théah discovered it…

Well, let’s just say you’ll be finding that all out in The War of the Cross.

See you there!

-John Wick


The War of the Cross launches June 20th on Kickstarter. We’ll be counting down with daily updates and sneak peeks of the board game on the 7th Sea mailing list. Sign up to receive those updates here:

Wonder Woman

The first person I fell in love with was Wonder Woman.

In 1975, when I saw her first, I was only seven years old. Sitting in the little room where our family set up the TV, watching her on the screen, I fell in love. Now, being only seven, I had no idea what I was feeling or even why I felt it. All I knew was I felt good when I saw her or thought about her. She wasn’t the first superhero I saw—I had already been collecting comics and drawing my own by then—but she was the first woman superhero I saw. And I was in love. My first love. The first time I felt my heart beating faster, my skin tingling, my thoughts turning to her…. It had nothing to do with sex—remember, I was only seven at the time. No, I was in love.

When I got older, our relationship evolved. I started becoming more complicated and sophisticated in the things I read and as I learned about her sordid past, I understood she was more complicated than I first knew. That’s because characters like Diana are more than just characters, they’re myths.

Myths are not stoic, nor are they made of stone. They have elasticity and they can stretch. I saw Diana as a living symbol, someone who could change as the times changed. Wonder Woman is a myth, a creature of great power. A woman of great power. All at once, she can be a symbol of peace and love and she can be a warrior. She’s big enough to mean different things to different people.

Like all myths, her strength depended on the storyteller. If the voice was weak, she was weak. If the voice was strong, she was strong. Myths are like that: they need us just as we need them. And that means when we engage with them, we must do it with respect. Mishandling a myth is a lot like mishandling a weapon. Symbols have power. And Diana’s power…

…ahem. Yes. I should get back on subject.

When people ask me about characters I’ve created, they often ask me why they feel so real. And I reply, “Because I treat them that way. As if they’re real.” When I wrote The Last Kachiko Story, I cried. I told my (then-)wife Jennifer, “It’s the most cruel thing I’ve ever done to a character.” There’s a moment in Daughter of Fate that broke my heart when I wrote it and every time I read it. (If you’ve read the book, it’s when Ignacio asks Elena to dance.)

Ideas are real. At least, as real as us. Even if they’re only electricity flashing through our brains, the electricity is real. The signals being passed from brain cell to brain cell are real.

Diana is real. She’s impacted and influenced my life in so many ways, there’s not enough space in the world to tell you how. But she’s just as real as me, just as real as you, just as real as anyone else.

I try treating my characters with profound respect, even the ones who don’t deserve it.
So, when I see characters I love mishandled—such as the gross and ignorant portrayal of Kal-El in Man of Steel—I feel like someone has taken a crap on a friend’s head. Or that someone slapped them and said, “You’re welcome” and walked away. I take it personally. Both as a fan of the genre and as a storyteller.

I tried explaining this to a friend of mine who told me I was taking things too seriously. “It’s just a story,” he said. My friend happened to be a Christian. I told him, “How about I make a movie called Jesus of Nazareth about a guy named Judas who’s the King of the Jews. He gets betrayed by this guy named Jesus who betrays him so he can sleep with Judas’ wife Mary Magdeline and that’s how the movie ends. Judas on the cross and Jesus and Mary humping like rabbits.”

His eyes got big. His mouth just opened wide. And I said, “It’s just a story. Don’t take it so seriously.”

And yes, Diana means that much to me.

Myths may be elastic, but if you stretch them too far, they snap. You can’t pull them beyond recognition. Otherwise, why are you using the myth in the first place? That’d be as silly as making a movie out of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and making it a parody of the book you were…

…yeah.

Or making a Superman movie where the whole idea of Clark being a farmkid from Kansas with the ultimate power set is thrown out the window so you can tell a story about an Ayn Rand übermensch who…

…yeah.

Ahem. Yes. I should say what I wanted to say.

I saw Wonder Woman tonight. Saw Diana in her new garb. And I don’t mean the costume. Paid my money down, sat with my popcorn and Coke and watched the screen.

And I remembered exactly why I fell in love with her in the first place.

A myth is only as powerful as the storyteller. And in this case, the tag team of Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot knocked me down and out for the count. My first love found herself two storytellers who treated her with dignity, respect, and most importantly, with love.

I can’t wait to see it a second time.

Awards Suck…Until You Win One

That picture is me holding the “Golden Geek” award for Best RPG from Boardgamegeek.com. See that look on my face? It’s a look of suspicion. As in, “I don’t trust you.”

I have mixed feelings about awards. And as award season begins this year, I find myself thinking a lot about them. I mean, I could write an essay about awards after awards season, but that seems…you know…disingenuous. Best to do it before all the nominations start so I can sabotage my company’s efforts up front rather than seeming to bitch about them afterward.

I’ve won a pretty good number of them. RPGA Player’s Choice Award for Best RPG, Origins Award for Best RPG (twice), I was on the design team for Best CCG (again, twice)…I’ve won my fair share of them. And winning an award is fun. It’s recognition from fans and peers that you’ve done a great job.

7th Sea Second Edition was the result of a lot of work from a lot of different people. Mark Diaz Truman, Marissa Kelly, Mike Curry, Rob Justice, Jess Heinig, Thomas Deeny, Mark Richardson, Brendan Conway, Sally Richardson, Amanda Valentine, Shen Fei, Giorgio Baroni, Manuel Castañon Gurerero, El Tio Drake, Young Yi Lee, Digeo Rodriguez, Beth Sobel, Meagant Trott…and that’s just to name a few. That’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to make 7th Sea a great game. And they all deserve recognition for their work.

But is it “the best” game?

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of “best.” In fact, it unsettles me. I don’t know how you evaluate any work of art over another. Is 7th Sea better than Masks (the runner up)? I don’t know. Or Wrath of the Autarch? I don’t know. I own both of them and I don’t know which measuring stick anyone uses to evaluate one RPG over another one.

Instead of definitive terms such as “better” and “best,” I like to use more subjective terms such as “favorite.” Pendragon is one of my favorite RPGs. I don’t know if it’s the best RPG, but I do know it’s one of my favorites. Over the Edge kicked me in the teeth with its design and presentation and I know other game designers have cited it as an RPG that influenced them as well. But is it “the best?” Very soon, Pinnacle will be launching a Kickstarter for the new edition of Torg. I love that game and can name at least ten other designers who do as well. But is it “the best?” I have no idea because I don’t know what criteria to use. And I’m pretty sure every person has their own way of evaluating games. Kind of like measuring apples and oranges but worse because everyone has their own definitions of apple and orange and what makes those things better than the other.

I’m also suspicious of awards because they make the whole creative process into a competition. I’ve already played in the Camarilla and I’ve seen what happens when you add PVP to the creative process, so no, thank you. I prefer helping and working with my fellow creators, not compete against them.

Awards also get into your head. Make you feel like you’re better than you are. Go back to the early days of the Legend of the Five Rings forums and look for my name. Yeah, you’ll see how quick awards can go to a normally humble guy from Minnesota’s head. It happened so fast, I don’t even remember when the transformation took place.

I remember winning the Best RPG Origins Award for Legend of the Five Rings. I was so damn proud, but at the same time, I also felt awful for the folks who didn’t win that award. I wanted to apologize. I loved their games. At the same time, I remembered that my mom—who threw away all my RPGs when Oprah said they were “Satanic”—was waiting by the phone to hear if we had won. I broke up on stage in front of a bunch of people. I was proud of what we accomplished, but at the same time, I was thinking of everyone else who was nominated and how they deserved the right to stand on the stage with me. They had produced games I loved. They deserved the same spotlight as me.

So, as awards season approaches, I view it with both hope and suspicion. Hope because a lot of the folks who worked on 7th Sea haven’t won awards yet and they deserve to have a moment standing on stage, feeling that joy and elation. And suspicion because…well, all that I’ve already said. To all the winners this year, I offer you my congratulations. And to all the “losers,” I offer you my congratulations as well. Maybe I’ll make my own awards and hand them out at the big cons this year.

Yeah…I’ll have to talk to Hannah about that…

#trekforthefirsttime

Last week, I got sick. The kind of sick that sits on your chest and won’t let you breathe. The kind of sick that gets into your head and screams until your skull starts to crack. The kind of sick that you have to fight all day long, so by the late afternoon, the only thing you want to do is just lay down.

That kind of sick.

My doctor tells me I caught a cold. No big deal. But the cold triggered asthma. I said, “Asthma?”

She nodded and said, “Asthma.”

Well, ain’t that fun?

So, I got sick. I had five different bottles of pills, kettles of hot tea, and the empty cardboard corpses of tissue paper rolls strewn around me. I couldn’t do anything except lay back, be miserable and watch Netflix.

Well, as it turns out, you can watch the entire run of Star Trek: The Original Series on Netflix.

I’m not a Trekkie, but I know a lot of them. Jess is a Trekkie, Chris is a Trekkie, Lenny is a Trekkie. Hell, even my dad is a Trekkie. But not me. I saw Star Wars before I saw Star Trek, so…well, you know how that goes.

Now, I may not be a Trekkie, but a whole bunch of people I love are. And because I love them, I want to understand the things they love…even if I don’t. For example, both Jess and Chris have Trek bathrobes. Jess has blue and Chris has gold. So, I got red. And one day, we’ll all be in the same place at the same time and wear them together. I also have an idea for a Trek RPG scenario I want to run for both of them. I won’t spoil it here, but it involves two of their favorite episodes from the classic show.

Yeah, I indulge in the things my friends love because I love my friends. And so, with my red Engineering robe on, I settled in and started watching the classic Star Trek tv show…for the first time.

That’s right. You heard me. For the first time.

Now, I’ve seen a couple episodes before. About…three, I think. “City on the Edge of Forever” (because I’m a fan of Harlan’s), “Trouble with Tribbles,” and “Balance of Terror” (at the urgings of many Trekkies). And I have to say, I liked all those episodes. In fact, “Balance of Terror” even beats out Harlan’s episode as my favorite. I loved that one.

But as for the rest, I’ve never seen them. Never once sat down and watched TOS. So, I figured, it was time. I started writing brief notes about each episode on my Facebook with the tag, #trekforthefirsttime. And the response has been pretty fun. At least it gets my mind off the fact that I can’t sleep because I can’t stop coughing.

Now, as of this writing, I’m not finished with the series. I’m halfway through Season 2—just watched “Conscience of the King”—but I still have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you about the experience. Specifically, as a Game Master. Because that’s the hat I’m wearing when I watch these episodes. And it’s gotten me thinking a lot about a Star Trek RPG.

As I began watching, I noticed that there are three kinds of episodes. I’m dubbing them:

  1. Kirk vs the Machine
  2. Kirk vs God, and
  3. The Good Ones

In “Kirk vs the Machine,” Kirk beats a godlike machine or android by using logic or absurdity. I didn’t like it the first time, I didn’t like it the rest of the times. I mean, it’s clear these episodes were written (or, in many cases, re-written) by people who don’t understand what the word “logic” means. It’s infuriating as someone who studied philosophy to hear “logic” thrown around so freely. In the world of Star Trek, nobody can agree on what “logic” actually is because they all have different definitions. Just like folks can’t agree on what “god” is because…

Well, let’s talk about that one, shall we?

And another thing before we get to the last category. Any episode that ends with someone solving the problem with technobabble is just not for me. Instead of Scotty saying, “We re-routed through the Jefferies tubes,” he may as well be saying, “I waved me magic wand and made the problem go away.” That’s boring. It’s like telling Dorothy should could have gone home at any time by tapping her heels together. I call bullshit. But more on that in a moment.

Let’s talk about Kirk vs God. Yeah. I…just…can we just not talk about this one? I mean, I’m the openly atheist in the room and this one just makes me feel dumb even thinking about.

As for the third kind of episode, this is where we get stuff like “Amok Time,” “Space Seed,” and the always delicious “Mirror Mirror,” along with the previously mentioned “classic” episodes. This is the real stuff. Nothing gets solved because of technobabble. And the reason is simple: there are no easy or simple solutions to the problems in the episodes.

Everyone likes talking about the Kobayashi Maru test: a test of character. And how Kirk fixed the test so he could win. But what’s interesting to me is how many Kobayashi Marus there are in the series. No good choices. Just choices. And you hope you made the right one.

“Balance of Terror” is an hour-long series of vague choices. Any one of them could doom the Enterprise at any moment. Kirk and his crew have to be at their best against an enemy that’s just as smart, clever and capable as they are. As fun as it was to see Khan in Star Trek 2, I would have loved to have seen the unnamed “Romulan Commander” make a return.

“City on the Edge of Forever” is another example. There’s no tricorder reading that can solve the problem of having to watch another human being die.

“Amok Time” sticks in my head for so many reasons, all of it weighing heavy on the dynamic chemistry between Kirk, McCoy and Spock. I understand why this was the first episode of the second season. Hell, I wish it was the first episode of the first season. And again, there is no easy solution to the problem. Sure, McCoy pulls a bit of trickery out of his med kit at the end, but the choice was still Kirk’s to make. A choice for his best friend.

These are the episodes that resonate in my head because they are about watching characters I care about—and yes, I’ve grown to care about them—facing real and certain challenges. The banter is fun. I like the banter. But what hits me hardest are the real moments of the show. When the characters talk to each other. And when they face dangers with no easy answers.

Remember that the next time you sit down at the game table. Do you remember your character’s stats? Do you remember how cool the initiative mechanic is? No. You remember when your character had to make a choice and nothing on the character sheet could help you.

That’s when shit gets real.

So, more of that, if you would Mr. Roddenberry.