Most of my writing time is devoted to games right now, so I may not keep a regular schedule here. I feel more focused and enthusiastic about my writing, and I want to embrace the flow.



The events of a story take place in an eternal past / present / future that can be thought of as “narrative time.” Narrative time is not anchored to the unidirectional flow of time in which we live our lives. As a child one can read a story and follow the events as they unfold. As an adult one can read the same story and experience the same sequence and flow of events. Once complete the ending of the story does not become part of history as one can always reread it from the beginning.

Stories we tell in role playing also live in narrative time. As we move through linear time in session after session, we write the events of the story. Nevertheless, we can alway revisit earlier chapters, as players often do when recapping the last session before starting the current one. Storytellers sometimes borrow characters from one campaign for use in another, bringing the character as they appear at one point in the story into an entirely different narrative timeline.

Once they complete a campaign, players tend to speak about it in the past tense. One does not often repeat a previous campaign, so one might confuse the narrative time of the campaign with the linear time in which the sessions took place. On the other hand, insofar as the players are creators, the past tense may refer to production of the story rather than its events.

Role playing games take the form of a performance, one that may have artifacts like notes or maps associated even though the whole work is not fixed in a tangible medium of expression. When the performance is done, the players would sensibly speak of it in the past tense. The story told by their performance remains in narrative time, available for a future performance by these or other players. Translating the story of a campaign into a more tangible form requires realizing it in its narrative time. As a novel the campaign’s beginning and end become available simultaneously. As a game resource the story’s structure is flattened and laid bare, available for the past, present, or future of another campaign.

Communities form through behaviors and decisions, not by accident. A functional community requires members who regularly practice behaviors that sustain it. Spontaneous individual actions that demonstrate or reinforce a feeling of shared context, shared experience, and belonging make community formation possible. These same behaviors also enable individuals to recognize their shared sense of belonging and act intentionally, not merely spontaneously, to benefit the community. The community-minded tend to recognize a shared interest in modeling those community-forming behaviors in education or recreation.

Role playing games exemplify a number of core community-forming behaviors. Whether a game lasts for one session or many years, the players must collaborate to establish and sustain the game’s narrative and bring it to a satisfying resolution. The hobby’s emphasis on these behaviors enables players to feel a sense of belonging and can form the backbone of a long term gaming group’s social life.

I’m proud of myself for keeping up with this blog for over a year. It was not my first attempt at blogging, but it was the first one to cascade into a flow of essays that lasted for months. Looking over what I’ve written, I have unpacked a few closely held views, and I found more solid footing for some loose threads in my thinking. I had originally planned to bring together my academic training and occult training , and I don’t think I’ve woven the intended threads together. However, on reflection those two threads were not comprehensive, and I had left several threads and important influences aside. My desire for a closed network of beliefs has diminished with these essays. My ideas turned to other topics, and my writing on this blog has slowed down over the last few weeks.

After reviving an old fiction project, I began writing another campaign for my weekly role-playing group. As I fleshed out an outline I began almost a year ago, I found more ideas and reflections, more ideas than time. I have looked for the project that calls me out of rest to work on it, that means something to me and that I want to share with other people. As usual, it was something that has been with me for a long time.

I love storytelling. Reading was my childhood refuge, but I did not allow myself to try writing professionally because I was afraid the well would run dry. I often want to create but feel blank when confronted with a canvas. The urge tells me to create, but my hands do not know what to make. I wanted to find the well that would not run dry.

Of course all of that is a lie I tell myself. I have inherited a set of values that sees novels and fiction as worthy, and games as ephemeral play. I ignore my own efforts to craft and record intricate worlds for my players so they can project the stories they want to tell. Life is too short to ignore myself. I am glad that a wave of lucidity asked me to notice my desires, my impulses, my efforts, and the tangible products emerging from them.

I have a few active game projects now, and I want to give them a good chance of becoming finished products. Since the fragmentation of focus is the enemy of ambition, I will shift this blog’s focus to strorytelling, games, and roleplaying as I reflect on them while developing my own projects. The point of view will not change, so I will leave the flow intact, including this record of change.

Happy Beltane, time for something new

While I’ve posted an entry once per week since beginning this blog over a year ago, I am taking some time away for Beltane. I’ll return next week.


The Art of War arose from the Daoist reflection on warfare, strategy, and tactics. Daoist analytical methods emphasize the power of holistic frameworks. Placement of soldiers cannot influence the outcome if the soldiers starve due to broken supply lines. Sun Tzu and the classical commentators who expanded The Art of War brought together logistics, psychology, and martial experience to provide a holistic analysis of warfare. While not a Buddhist tradition, Daoist philosophy harmonizes with Buddhist philosophy as evidenced by influence on the Zen Tradition.

Later Zen-influenced reflection on the martial arts echoes both death imagery in Zen and the holistic analysis characteristic of Daoism. Like The Art of War before it, The Book of Five Rings holistically reflects on warfare and dueling. It describes a warrior philosophy of detachment from both life and death, liberated from fear to enter battle but forsaking glory found in murder. While Buddhist ethics discourages combat, its analytic methods have been successfully applied to the practice of violence.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition contains a panoply of demonic images that project anger and force. Wrathful Buddhas sit wreathed in flame, indifferent to the changing conditions of the world. Beings with tusks and other bestial traits reject attachment to beauty. In the Tantric framing the awakened mind has been freed from the distractions of attachment and desire. When focused the awakened mind focuses completely, embraces emotions indiscriminately, and channels force precisely. Wreathes of flame represent ever-changing phenomena and the awakened mind’s detachment from it while remaining within it.

Meditation focused on mandalas and other intricate images feature in all Tibetan Buddhist lineages. Vivid images invite close inspection and the long gaze required to cultivate mindfulness. Demonic images may be jarring at first but found soothing or comforting after long exposure and a different perspective. Working with the images and the Buddhist concepts they represent serve as powerful teaching tools.

Despite rhetoric that glorifies the free market as the guarantor of ownership rights, late stage capitalism is marked by a concentration of ownership. As wealth flows toward the owner class, the working class becomes less able to acquire ownership rights in property and durable goods. Where a professional class family might have owned their home in a prior generation, their late stage descendents find themselves doomed to tenancy. Possessions of significant value become inaccessible outside of lease or subscription. Ownership narrows in the late stage because capitalism chiefly invents means to extract further capital from resources and transactions. As processes are fragmented and outsourced, opportunities for rents appear at points of transaction, expanding the set of facilitators obstruct what might otherwise be a frictionless process in order to extract rents from both sides. In the tenant society, consumers pay for the privilege of use but remain empty handed.

Zen literature references not only death but the act of killing in describing the path to liberation. Koans from the Blue Cliff Record advise that a disciple must be ready to take life to grasp the dharma fully. Seeing life and death as no different is said to be the attitude of the ancient sages.

These statements reflect confrontational interpretations of Buddhist philosophy. All of them can be interpreted charitably and aligned with the framework set down in even the most ancient lineages of the tradition. Yet, the Zen tradition reaches for provocative inferences within that framework. The vivid images and incongruous claims require the student to address deeply held attachments such as identifying with the body or illusions of permanence. Violence is not given prominence, highlighting that we bring assumptions of violence into thinking about death. Zen practice directs students to examine, question, and abandon assumptions because they often obscure attachments that should be let go.


Just War Theory outlines conditions under which the use of force by a state actor can be morally justified. Philosophical traditions have addressed the moral justification for war since ancient times, all over the world. The problem can be easily framed. Morality in general forbids harming another being due to a simple reciprocity of duty and obligation. Moral duties derive from universal principles, commands that are applicable in all situations no matter the participants. A moral duty against causing harm can be readily derived from this configuration of shared desire and the universality of moral duty.

All moral agents, indeed all sentient beings, desire to avoid pain and therefore violence and harm that can cause pain. Given this shared desire, an agent avoids being the cause of harm to others because they want others to avoid being the cause of harm to them. An agent who desires to harm others but not to be harmed themselves must embrace an inconsistency that explains why they are permitted to harm while others are not. The two desires are considered inconsistent because, with respect to a desire to avoid harm, the agent who wants to harm is the same as other agents. One must articulate a reason that they would be permitted to harm while others do not share the same privilege.

A successful Just War Theory must provide an account of circumstances that suspend a general moral duty to some extent. A Just War Theorist must argue against the grain of morality and identify a configuration of conditions or events that render immoral acts morally permissible. In fairness to Just War Theorists, the circumstances identified are generally fairly narrow. When facing an invading force, when other paths to resolution are exhausted, and when violence now will not preclude a peaceful resolution later, Just War Theorists will generally agree that the use of force can be morally justifiable.

When one compares those conditions to the causes of war over the last two hundred years, one labors to find a “just war.” World War II often enjoys the status of a morally justifiable war, but the designation becomes more fragile in light of the atrocities committed by all parties, the imperialist motivations that motivated war in Europe, and the Iron Curtain that divided erstwhile allies in the aftermath. For the most part wars prosecuted by so-called “great powers” find their justification in greed, in power, and in revenge.

The wars familiar to a 21st century person are the wars of empire, of colonization, of hegemony. An examination of the Roosevelt Corollary and the Bush Doctrine readily shows motivation to assert sovereignty beyond national boundaries. While the overt reasoning includes preserving security or preventing worse consequences, the actions that follow from those foreign policy frameworks reinforce the dominance of one group by the subjugation of others. Just War Theory serves only to identify heroes and villains in propaganda in service of imperialist ends.

In the clash of empires the proper protagonists are the people trapped between clashing villains. Imperial governments act out of disregard for people other than their own, and even then often only their own wealthy and privileged citizens. The interests of the owner class become the interest of the imperial state. If a foreign country is not a peer considered either ally or enemy, it is merely a collection of resources and territory, both prize and battlefield of proxy wars. For all the good intentions of scholars, Just War Theory fails to safeguard against improper violence. Instead, it advances a contradiction to support imperialist interests and transmute violence into a noble duty.