The Den . . . errrr, Mancave Is Coming Together #RPG #nerd #game #gaming #DnD #ADnD #FASA #StarTrekRPG

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I told my coworkers that I was using one of the bedrooms in my new home into a den. They started calling it a mancave. Well, if this is a mancave, it’s the nerdiest one ever. I also can’t see it as a “cave” considering it’s on the second floor. It seems more like a man loft.

That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Last week, I bought a 6′ tall bookshelf that finally allowed me to unpack most of my gaming material. This weekend, I picked up a new desk, which again allows me to unpack office supplies and other things. The room is finally coming together, and I’m fairly well organized.

This den, mancave, or whatever you want to call it is oddly important to me. I’ve lived a rather simple lifestyle up to now. I’m used to a small place, and while this home isn’t what anyone would call large, it’s exceptionally large for me. In fact, it’s too large. It’s great that I have room for everything that I have and much of what I don’t have yet, but I spend 90% of my waking hours in this room. For lack of a better word, it feels cozy, and I’m jamming it with everything I want around me in my free time at home.

Do I have enough screens?

I have a lot of Jeff Dee originals to hang, but so far the only art on the walls is this guy over the desk.

Judging every one of my Google searches.

My cousin gave me a magazine rack. I asked, “What am I? 108 years old?” But I had just the use for it.

Though I may never read them again, I like having them.

Seriously. This is a mancave?

Almost one shelf per edition of D&D.

I have tons of other books not related to gaming, but the second bookshelf hasn’t even been put together. On the side of this bookshelf, I hung some memorabilia.

Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

As far as conventions go, the badges are from All-Star Comic Con 2018, GenCon 2011, synDCon I and II, and Winter Fantasy 2020 & 2022. And then there’s something on top of that bookshelf.

Okay, maybe it’s a mancave after all, but just barely.

The one thing that won’t fit are my musical instruments. I’m keeping them downstairs. That’s probably for the best. It’s a townhome, and the neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate any noise being upstairs near their bedrooms.

Make no mistake about it: My keyboard playing is properly defined as “noise.”

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I’m Glad “Save or Die,” Well, Died, But . . . . #DnD #RPG #1e #4e #SaveOrDie

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Save or die in RPGs refers to the notion that a character can be in a position where their life relies on a single saving throw. This is quite common in 1st Edition D&D (“1e”) but was completely eliminated in 4th Edition D&D (“4e”). Despite my enthusiasm of returning to 1e, I think its demise was a good thing. Much like ordinary swings of a sword, devastating but really cool attacks could be unleased on a character without taking them out of the game immediately.

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For example, one of my favorite monsters is the medusa, so I want to use them to their full potential and (relatively) often. In 1e, however, one medusa could take out the entire party before they could say, “The Amazon commercial with Medusa is stupid.” That’s quite a buzzkill, and it can destroy a gaming session. In 4e, however, I had no issues unleashing that petrifying gaze upon the group. On a successful attack roll, those in a close blast 5 were slowed. A failed save on their next turn left them immobilized. Finally, if they failed a second save on the turn after that, they’d be petrified. At any point in that process, a single successful save ended the effect. Poison and other fatal (or effectively fatal) effects manifested similarly. A rare few monsters had abilities with aftereffects, which were brilliant. If at any point you successfully saved, it would end the primary effect but would trigger a secondary effect requiring its own save.

Medusa: The Ancient Greek Myth of the Snake-Haired Gorgon

I’m not sure how I’d eliminate save or die in 1e, or even whether I should eliminate it. Messing with something so deeply baked into the game could create issues. Or not. 1e is remarkably adaptable to house rules. To start, though, I’m going to keep it.

So, make sure your henchmen go into each room first.

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A Follow up on Spell Components #DnD #RPG #4e #1e #5e #ADnD #TTRPG

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Yesterday, I discussed spell components. The conversations I had across Facebook and MeWe encouraged me to provide a quick epilogue to the spell components post.

The point I was making applies to games yet to be designed, not to current editions, and the argument is a rather trivial one: The more valuable a thing is, the higher it’s cost should be. We can all get behind that notion, right?

A problem I have with 5th Edition D&D (“5e“), and I think most editions, is that there are a list of go-to spells (or class abilities) that everyone feels they have to take, limiting the diversity of builds at the table. I have no intention of trying to “fix” existing editions to balance material spell component cost and availability with the power of spells. It turns out that for 5e (the subject of that post), that would be a lot of work. Here’s a sample of those spells (and their spell components) that I’ve mathematically proven to be preferred by WotC themselves in creating NPCs, and I suspect players favor as well.

  • Feather Fall: a piece of down or small feather.
  • Fireball: bit of guano and sulfur.
  • Fly: a feather from a bird’s wing.
  • Hold Person: a small straight piece of iron.
  • Invisibility: an eyelash encased in gum arabic.
  • Lightning Bolt: a bit of fur and a rod of amber/crystal/glass.

As you can see, all of these spells have cheap material components that are easily obtained without the DM creating an illogical scarcity. Some popular spells (Counterspell, Dimension Door, and Misty Step) don’t even require material components. So, in 5e, even if you “enforced” components, it wouldn’t change a damn thing. That, to me, is a design flaw, and one I don’t have the desire to fix. However, where there’s a high cost for a spell (e.g., Heroes Feast), I’m going to enforce it.

That said, increasing the cost or scarcity of material components is just one way to increase the cost of spells. In 1st Edition D&D (“1e“), spell cost was assessed using casting times. Combat consisted of 1-minute rounds divided into 6-second segments (i.e., 10 segments per round). Initiative determined the segment in which a character was able to act (with some caveats not relevant here). Because spells had casting times measured in segments, a caster would start casting a spell in one segment, but the casting wouldn’t complete until a later segment. If a caster took a single point of damage during this time, the spell would fail, and the caster would lose the spell slot. Therefore, casters had a choice to make: either cast a weaker spell quickly, assuring it would be of (limited) value, or cast a more powerful spell accepting the risk that it could wind up to be worthless.

In other words, 1e used casting times to increase the cost of spells, and it appears to have done so quite well. Of course, without dividing your rounds into segments, casting times may not be a viable solution.

The moral of this story is that game designers really need to pay better attention to whether their systems lead a majority of players to make the same choices. Sure, some things should be better than others, but like in the real world with food, cars, houses, and everything else, the better things should have a higher cost, regardless of how that cost is assessed. That way, different players will create widely diverse builds, and we’d (or at least I’d) see more dynamic combats.

In 5e, material spell components seem to be the intended way to do that.

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Spell Components @Erik_Nowak @brian_c_taylor #DnD #RPG #5e

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I had a brief interaction with Erik on Twitter (yes, him again) within the context of 5th Edition D&D (“5e”).

Material Components

62,200 Vintage Apothecary Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock

I stand by my statement but want to clarify it. The spell, Fly, has a single material component: a feather. As Erik mentioned, Heroes’ Feast has a significant one: A bowl worth 1,000 gps. The reason there’s a distinction between the material components for these items is that Heroes’ Feast is far more powerful in the long run. It’s a 6th-level spell vs. a 3rd-level spell, so there needs to be something to balance that effect. This is obvious. What’s less obvious is that the bowl has to be encrusted with jewels, which requires a long process by a skilled craftsman. That’s a spell component with far more limited availability than “a wing feather from any bird.” Such scarcity puts a check on overpowered spells, or at least an overpowered application of such spells.

This isn’t rules lawyering; it’s game mechanics. If you don’t want game mechanics, why are you playing a game?

If a DM tracks material components that have a high financial or logistical cost but largely ignores those with a low cost, game balance is maintained without turning the game into a spreadsheet. It also gives players another strategic dimension. A player must choose between having to collect 1,000 gp bowls to heal up and fortify defenses, or an offensive implement that prevents that damage in the first place. The decision isn’t merely mechanical; it also affects what kind of character a player wants to play.

Somatic and Verbal Components

Speaking of strategy, non-monetary components are also important. Ignoring components robs players of some of the fun. For example, Shatter has a verbal component. That makes sense. You shout to produce sound waves, then magically manipulate those waves to produce the damaging effect. If you remove that requirement, then the Silence spell is completely nerfed for combat, and with few remaining useful applications, the spell will largely be ignored by players. This means that everyone reverts to the same, short list of spells they choose. That’s boring (q.v., though it’s what’s happened for other reasons). This isn’t boring: Because NPCs may use Silence to prevent casting spells, PCs are given yet another strategy to consider during character design.

221 Casting Spell Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

The same is true of somatic components. Most players ignore somatic components when their PCs have been placed in shackles or tied together. PCs should have to pay attention to the components required by the spells they’ve chosen and make sure they haven’t placed their eggs in too many baskets. That is, they must make sure that some spells have no material components, some have no somatic components, and some have no verbal components. Do enough such spells exist?

How This Impacts Game Design

If there’s a problem here, it’s probably that there are too many spells with verbal or somatic components, so there’s no effective strategy to be had.

Let’s test that hypothesis.

As you may recall, I have a database of all 5e spells that I created for my one stop stat blocks project. You can find details for my methodology buried within this post, but I’ll point out that there are a total of 457 spells in those sources (deleting duplicates between the Elemental Evil’s Player Companion and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything). A simple query gives me the following:

 Number (Percentage)
V52 (11.38%)
VS149 (32.60%)
VM11 (2.41%)
VSM220 (48.14%)
S17 (3.72%)
SM8 (1.75%)
Number (Percentage) of Spells by Combination of Components Required

Material components are required by over 52% of spells, but never is there a spell that can be cast by a caster who’s bound and gagged but manages to pull a material component out of a hidden pocket. That is, there are no spells that require only a material component. 15% of spells can be cast with either a verbal or somatic component by itself, so those spells should be quite useful if material components are tracked. Almost 95% of spells require a verbal component, and over 84% require a somatic component. Clearly, the game designers didn’t intend for casters to be able to cast while bound and/or gagged.

Player’s Handbook8Demiplane
Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravinca0Encode Thoughts
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Control Flames
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Mold Earth
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Shape Water
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Thunderclap
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide1Absorb Elements
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide1Catapult
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide1Ice Knife
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything0Primal Savagery
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything1Snare
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything2Mind Spike
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything3Catnap
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything5Steel Wind Strike
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything6Mental Prison
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything8Illusory Dragon
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything9Psychic Scream
Spells requiring no verbal component.

I’d like to think that having a verbal component to, for example, a Power Word spell is more a question of flavor than mechanics. Even if that’s the normal approach, playtesters were probably forced to abide by the relevant rules when playtesting, and so the balance in the game was inevitably shaken out requiring components in most scenarios.

Consider that one of my criticisms of how D&D monsters are designed is that they all use the same spell selection. This list of spells is heavily weighted towards spells that are either overpowered or simple to remember without having to look up their details. For the first five levels, here are the top five spells by use by NPCs in the relevant sourcebooks (“preferred spells”). I skipped preferred spells higher than 5th level because there are far too few of those spells even used for a “top 5” list to make any sense, and besides, above 5th level none of those spells are used more than 8 times in all the sourcebooks combined.

  • Cantrips: Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Light, Minor Illusion, Ray of Frost
  • 1st: Shield, Detect Magic, Magic Missile, Mage Armor, Cure Wounds
  • 2nd: Hold Person, Invisibility, Detect Thoughts, Misty Step, Scorching Ray
  • 3rd: Dispel Magic, Counterspell, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Fly
  • 4th: Dimension Door, Banishment, Stoneskin, Blight, Polymorph
  • 5th: Scrying, Hold Monster, Cloudkill, Wall of Force, Cone of Cold

I’ve played with hundreds of different people through organized play, organized weekly game days across the Washington, DC area for a gaming club over about 250 members, and ran a convention for a couple of years. In my anecdotal experience, this is nearly identical to the list used by PCs, but I can’t technically prove that. Almost no one responds to my polls. 🙂

So, just for shits and giggles, let’s look at what happens to the numbers above when we limit ourselves to preferred spells.

 Number (Percentage)
V2 (6.67%)
VS11 (36.67%)
VM1 (3.33%)
VSM14 (46.67%)
S1 (3.33%)
SM1 (3.33%)
Number (Percentage) of Common Spells by Combination of Components Required

The numbers are too small to take too seriously, but they look about the same with the exception of spells requiring only verbal components (only Dimension Door and Misty Step). In case you’re curious, Counterspell is the only preferred spell requiring only a somatic component. So, preferred spells can be even more often nerfed if we enforce components. If we do so, perhaps we’ll see a more varied suite of spells at the table, but not by much in 5e. There don’t seem to be many alternatives that avoid the need for particular components.

What Have We Learned? Not Much.

I think this was a bit of work to say simply that the game was balanced during playtesting under a strong assumption that casters could be nerfed, especially by one another. Not enforcing components just further aggravates the existing problem of only a few spells ever being used. In the end, I’m sure people are having fun even if they don’t worry about components, but if a DM wants to remove spell components, I’d much rather see the DM remove them to urge players to choose spells other than the ones on the preferred (spell list, giving several spells the ability to be cast with only one type of component.

Food for thought for game designers of the future and those willing to do the work in changing 5e now.

Variety is the spice of life.

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Artemis & Orion @MythsExplained #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg #folklore

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The Constellation Orion is one of the most beautiful constellations

Happy Mythology Monday and Valentine’s Day! The obvious thing would be to share a video on one of the love gods or goddesses, but that’s too easy. No, I’m choosing a love story from mythology. The problem with doing so is always results in stories of tragedy or tragically dated in the material. This is the best I can do in keeping with the theme.

At least it isn’t the rape of Persephone. Yuk.

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Paleozoic Monsters #DnD #ADnD #gaming #science #biology #paleozoic

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s a continuation of my obsession with how to deal with aquatic encounters.

I discussed how there are plenty of viable aquatic PC races in 1st Edition D&D (“1e“). This image contains more threats, much of which don’t appear (as far as I can tell) among official 1e bestiaries, and I’m sure there are plenty of options from other eras to add to what we have. If 1e weren’t so human-centric, the writers may have done a better job contemplating aquatic campaigns, and then we’d have more of these. Perhaps some reskinning is in order.

Oh, and happy Super Bowl Sunday! Go Sean McVay! Remind Daniel Snyder how much of a dipshit he is!

Someone stat that shit!

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WotC’s New Stat Block Format @Erik_Nowak @Wizards_DnD #copyright #DnD #RPG #5e

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I had a discussion during Winter Vantasy: The Return with Erik with respect to Wizards of the Coast’s (“WotC”) new stat block format. The new stat block has some rearranging of material, but that wasn’t the subject matter of the conversation. We were discussing the removal of spells and spell-like abilities from the new WotC stat block. Erik doesn’t like it and referenced my concerns about the complexity within the current stat block format. Erik referred to my position as “ridiculous,” but WotC’s switch proves that Erik’s view is the minority one. I didn’t have a large enough internet footprint to prove it on my own. More importantly, however, Erik understandably mischaracterized my position. I wasn’t saying that the Monster Manual got it wrong. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve mentioned before that I think it’s the best RPG bestiary I’ve ever read. My concern is that WotC didn’t supplement it properly, then attempted to shut me down when I did.

Important Note: I’m not 100% certain that WotC’s stat blocks have been changed in the way we’re all assuming they were. I’ve seen a sample of the new format (below), but it was for a low level creature whose stat block would be simple anyway. Thus, this discussion comes from a place of partial ignorance, and I may get some things wrong. Take this all with a grain of salt.

When you look at a complex stat block (e.g., Mummy Lord), unless you have a truly eidetic or nearly eidetic memory, there’s no way you can effectively run that stat block as written, especially if the encounter is a combat encounter. There’s too much going on, and what we’ve all seen (and I actually got Erik to admit to an extent!) is that every DM just gives up and resorts to using the common spells they all know: Magic Missile, Hold Person, Fireball, Counterspell, etc., even for higher spell slots. Why? Well, first you must figure out which sourcebook contains the spell in order to look it up. If it isn’t a Player’s Handbook spell, you may not know, so you wind up searching through a couple of books before finding the correct one. Second, you must read the spell, which could take a while if it’s not one like Fly. If it were a spell like Fly, you may not have to look it up at all, which is why Fly is one of the spells to which DMs eventually resort. Something like Control Weather has far too much going on for most people to memorize. Erik is sometimes willing to do that, but there are very few players whose eyes don’t glaze over with boredom during that long process. Moreover, if you’re playing with a real-world time limit (e.g., convention play), that’s certainly not time you have to waste. At the table, the spell’s details should be right in front of your face. I don’t understand why anyone would disagree, and those with eidetic memories shouldn’t care one way or the other.

That said, in theory these stat blocks provide a framework for the culture of that creature. (In my second stat block/copyright post, I mathematically proved that WotC fails to do so, but that’s not relevant here.) So, the Monster Manual itself shouldn’t eliminate that complexity (I know; WotC can’t win with me), but rather use it as a framework for creating specific monsters within that cultural framework but suited to the encounter at hand. That last sentence is a tough read, so here’s an example. (I’m going from my memory, which is not eidetic.) The Couatl has both offensive and divination spells. If your encounter involved the Couatl using Detect Thoughts to aid in an interrogation, then you wouldn’t need the Couatl to have Shield. On the other hand, that position would be reversed if the Couatl were to engage in combat against the PCs (i.e., it would need Shield but I don’t think, from memory, Detect Thoughts would have value). The Monster Manual stat block provides you the spells a Couatl needs for all situations, but not every Couatl will appear in all situations. In fact, I doubt any will unless the Couatl is a PC, but a Couatl PC is clearly not what I’m talking about. For NPCs at the table, you need only the spells that that specific NPC will need in that specific encounter. Everything else muddies the water. However, it’s good that all situations are covered by the general stat block in the Monster Manual, because that’s what you use to build such table-based stat blocks.

So, in my ideal world, this is how WotC (or any game designer with sufficient resources) should approach their stat blocks. Make them as complex as WotC did in the Monster Manual, using only spell names as shorthand to make the stat block printable, but modify their online tools with check boxes allowing DMs to pick which spells and spell-like abilities appear on a final stat block at the table (whether in hard or soft copy). For that final stat block at the table, make sure that the spell descriptions are presented fully so that there’s no need to resort to multiple hardcopy resources to know details that are relevant to the combat, but at the same time make sure that the stat block isn’t cluttered with irrelevant details. If there are no online tools, provide one-stop stat blocks for all NPCs (as I did) as a PDF. They could also provide PDFs containing generic spell entries with coded placeholders such as, “Magic Missile, Atk: [L]+3+IntMod, . . . .” (or whatever it is), so that DMs could copy and paste them into their own stat blocks as needed. All my project did was the one part of that process that I could, which is something WotC didn’t do.

I fully appreciate that some (most?) game designers can’t do this. Online tools are a huge investment of time and resources they may not have, but some in the gaming community do. Game designers simply need to stay out of the way and allow the community to do that heavy lifting for them. On the other hand, WotC has both the time and resources to create this ideal that appeals to the most people, but they’re still getting it wrong, probably because there’s more profit in selling a new hardcopy (which I suspect will be very good nonetheless).

So yeah, WotC can’t win with me, but only because they’re choosing to lose. We’ll see how the final product shakes out.

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Pick Two, but Only Two #DnD #RPG #TTRPG

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No time for anything clever. Here’s something stupid.

I choose Fly and Magnificent Mansion, which would remove my transportation, food, and housing expenses.

With all that freed-up money, who’d need Charm Person to get laid?

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Another List: Nightmares @xaertosh @TheIdDM #dream #nightmare #education #xenomorph

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I’ve been providing some more lists lately. I’ve been known to do that. This one stems from a random Twitter interaction.

I have three recurring nightmares. I’m afraid to share them because someone like The Id DM might infer some deep-rooted emotional issues and have me committed, but I’m rolling the dice. 🙂

High School/College

Let’s start with the one mentioned in the tweet. This is one has the longest context. My high school and college days were pretty rough. I was always working at least 30 hours while going to school full time, and in college I was a physics student, which isn’t exactly easy. I should have graduated from high school after three years, but my parents wouldn’t allow it. I transferred to a public school for senior year because I was forced to pay for private high school, and I needed the break before college tuition kicked in. I wasn’t allowed to have close friends, so that part didn’t represent too much of a change for me, but my guidance counselor screwed up, which — long story, short — resulted in my spending my last semester in night school to take a required class that wasn’t offered in the second semester. Rather than graduate a year early, I was stuck in night school with people who had failed the class the prior semester.

At the University of Maryland, I was a full-time student majoring first in engineering, then moving to physics. I was working 30-40 hours per week (depending on the year), and I had to take the public bus to class, which took over an hour each way. It was a miserable experience. My law school days were just as busy, but a 28-year-old can handle that sort of thing much better than an 18-year-old. Ergo, I didn’t do so well at Maryland (2.6 GPA) and took 6 years to graduate. It also didn’t help that roadblocks were placed in my way. For example, my parents moved homes when I was in my last year of college. They were too cheap to pay for movers, so I had to do it almost single-handedly. That took time away from studying for an upcoming quantum mechanics exam. So, the day we finally finished, I sat down to study for the exam coming the next day, and my mother started yelling hysterically. She was angry that I hadn’t organized my room yet. Knowing that the yelling wouldn’t end until I did (making studying impossible anyway), I had to take that test without having a single minute to study for it. Graduating with a physics degree from a well-respected program (always within the top 15 since I attended in 1986) without being able to study is quite an achievement, but it wasn’t easy. My family never wanted me to succeed.

Now, all that may sound like the nightmare, but that was real. The recurring nightmare is that, in my last year of either high school or college, I realize that I miscalculated my credits. I’m always one class short of graduation. There’s always some vague notion that failure to graduate on time will cause logistical issues for me (e.g., starting a job, relocating), so I scramble to find a way to adjust that. The nightmare ends before I can resolve the issue. Considering how wonderful an experience law school was, it’s not surprising that this recurring nightmare never involves Chicago-Kent.

Being Chased by Xenomorphs

There’s no context here other than the fact that I’ve seen every movie with xenomorphs in it. They never quite catch me, but it’s always terrifying.

Missing a Flight

My habit has always been to be 15 minutes early for everything. I’m one of those types that considers that on time, and being on time is being late. So, I have this recurring nightmare of racing to, or within, the airport to make the my flight. The flight is always the last available flight that day, and much like the school dream, there’s always a vague notion of a need to make that flight. I’ve been to Seattle only twice, but that’s always where I am. It’s clearly because it’s a west coast city, so having to fly cross-country means you have to make your scheduled flight, but I don’t know why it isn’t some other city. I’ve missed a flight only once, and that was the airline’s fault. I came close only once because my connecting flight was on the other side of the airport, and I was walking with a cane due to my recently-developed arthritis. This isn’t a real world problem for me, but it’s apparently on my mind quite a bit.

I have issues, but so do all of you.

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