Development Blog I: From Character, Story is Born

I’m going to start off the Development Blog for my  new RPG project, An Aria of Light, by briefly introducing the project itself, by introducing the primary (read: most important) characters of the first game in the trilogy, A Memory of Light, and by examining the process of writing each character.

Introduction

The project itself is tentatively being called An Aria of Light, and while I won’t explain the title too precisely just yet—as the story itself will make everything abundantly clear by the end of the final scene—I will say that I’m not one of those writers or designers who picks an arbitrary, “Hey this sounds good!” kind of title.  The titles I employ contain a great deal of meaning, and part of the fun for me as a writer is revealing, little by little, just how much meaning my titles contain over the course of the story, without every having to sit down and explicitly tell the reader, “Hey, bozo, this is what it means.”

An Aria of Light will be told in three parts (a trilogy): A Memory of Light, The Darkness Just Before the Dawn, and Light at the End of the World.  As with the title of the entire story, the meaning of each individual title will be woven into the fabric of the story and the characters themselves.  If you want me to get very technical, the games (and the story) will be presented in the manner of an aria in three movements: A Memory of Light is Movement the First, The Darkness Just Before the Dawn is Movement the Second, and Light at the End of the World is Movement the Third.  Just like a piece of music, each movement will be able, if necessary, to stand alone as whole and complete, with introduction, rising action, climax, and resolution, but together they will tell a much larger and grander story than any one of them could alone.

The games will be 2D, turn-based RPGs in the style of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, though lacking the painful cliches and requisite children-that-think-they’re-adults-but-aren’t primary characters.  The stories will be mature, and if the visual content will not be explicit (let’s be honest, how explicit can a 16-bit game really be?), the subject matter and dialogue will surely touch on subjects that are better left to the realm of adulthood.  I’ve chosen RPGMaker VX Ace as my engine of choice, simply because it allows me to be lazy and does not require me to draw every single graphic pixel-by-pixel.  Anyone who thinks this is not the best choice of engine is more than welcome to volunteer their time and services as Art Director on the project.  I’m ALWAYS open to collaboration :)

I’m planning a minimum of 30 hours of primary story content for each game (this does not include side quests, secrets, exploration, and BAMFing).  Almost the entire game world, due to the limits of the RPGMVXA engine, will be instanced (which, for the purposes of this discussion, simply means that there will be very little time spent on the world map—the vast majority of the areas in the game will be explored dungeon- or town-style).  That being said, the game world is already shaping up to be rather large; add to it the Lightless Reaches (read: the stuff under the ground), and it’s not unreasonable to expect that the player might spend 30 hours or more simply exploring everything the game world has to offer.

As a final note, I plan on composing the entire score to the game myself.  You’ve been warned.

A Memory of Light—Primary Characters

Now we come to the good part: the revelation of the four primary characters of A Memory of Light, the first part of An Aria of Light.  For posterity’s sake, I have at least 2 pages of history on each these characters, but because of my Causal system of belief (there are no accidents or coincidences, there is only cause and effect, blah blah), revealing too much of the characters’ history at this point would reveal a great deal of the story, so I’m simply offering some limited biographical information for the time being.

Note: all artwork was pre-generated by RPGMVXA’s built-in toolset.

Note: in regards to the Imperial Legions of Caledon, the “Roman” numerals are to be read as degrees, as in “the IX” = “the ninth.”

Ryne Talbot

Ryne Talbot

Born the only son of one of the last Knights of the Old Order, Ryne was trained from birth in the arts of war.  When Duned fell, his father joined the victorious Imperial legions, serving until he died when Ryne was 16.  Before assuming his father’s place as Lord of Brechin Dale, Ryne married Elayne Arin, youngest daughter of the Lord Vandros of House Arin, friend of his father’s and patron of his father’s legion, the IX.  Following in his father’s footsteps, Ryne joined the IX when he turned 18.  He was Lord Commander by the time he was 20, the youngest man in Caledon’s history to have command of a legion.  He servers with distinction during the Three Seas’ War, though his military service means that his two children barely know him.  When he is 26, a plague created by Valyrian wizards claims the life of his beloved wife, and Ryne’s heart turns cold with vengeance.  When the Empire declares war on Valyria two years later, Ryne and the IX claim their place in the vanguard, earning a reputation for mercilessness and fearlessness, feared even by their allies.  The Great War, as it comes to be called, lasts 10 years, during which time Ryne’s children grow almost to adulthood without knowing their father.  Ryne is the last of the Knights of the Old Order.  Ryne is now 38.

Cael de Laurentis

Cael de LaurentisThird son of the House of Laurent, the second most powerful House in the Empire of Caledon, Cael considers himself fortunate to have a respectable military career.  For a third son, the only real options for gainful employment are the priesthood or the legions, and Cael would likely have been rejected by the priesthood had he ever had any inclination to join, which he didn’t.  Cael, despite being a career soldier, is highly educated, speaking fluently the languages of all the Imperial provinces, as well as being well-versed in poetry, literature, mathematics, and astronomy.  Cael might have married at one time, but his love of strong drink and “good company” have resigned him to a bachelor’s life—not that he’s complaining.  Ryne’s oldest friend in the legion, Cael has been Ryne’s Lord Lieutenant since Ryne was first promoted to Lord Commander 18 years ago, and the two complement each other so well that words are often not necessary.  Cael would literally follow Ryne to the depths of hell and beyond.  Cael is now 36.

Joril Desmune

Joril DesmuneBorn a slave in the Junai province of Caledon, Joril was given a choice when the war with Valyria began—enlist and help rebuild the plague-ravaged legions to bolster their offensive against the enemy, and perhaps one day earn his freedom (admittedly, at the potential cost of his life), or remain in the diamond mines of his childhood.  Though only 14, Joril immediately jumped at the chance to be a soldier.  Joril was placed with the IX, under Ryne and Cael’s command, and experienced some of the bloodiest and most disheartening fighting of the war.  Originally, all the slaves who enlisted were enlisted as slaves, but after Joril saved Ryne’s life on the battlefield, Ryne freed all the slaves in the IX, making them an official part of the legion.  Beyond gratitude for his freedom, Joril found a genuine friend in Ryne, and a good man, and in Cael he found a tutor, someone who could educate him and elevate his social status.  It was not long after gaining his freedom that Joril was promoted to Ryne’s personal guard, a position that allowed the three men to continue their friendship.  Joril is now 24.

Kaylan Reese

Kaylan ReeseKaylan was born a Valyrian merchant’s daughter, the youngest of seven children (five of them male).  Kaylan was always an innocent, caring, and compassionate child—she spent a great deal of her younger days with the Sisters of Serenity, a group of female magic users devoted to the Lady, their preferred aspect of the Maker, who preached peace and serenity and studied only those aspects of magic that allowed them to care for the sick and wounded.  Kaylan was only 7 when the war broke out, and her parents, fearing for her sister, sent her and her older sister, Kyla, to foster with the Sisters at their temple in Astos, hoping they would be safe from the war there.  Though the temple came under occupation in the last years of the war, the Sisters and their charges remained untouched by the violence experienced by the rest of the country.  Though her sister has become lost in the pleasures of the flesh, having been of a vulnerable and wild age when the soldiers of the IV occupied the temple (their first real encounter with men), Kaylan remained detached, believing in the Sisters’ teachings of purity and the sanctity of union.  Because of her sheltered life, even ten years of war and the deaths of her brothers and parents have not been able to dampen Kaylan’s spirits, or shake her faith in the good in people.  Kaylan is now 17.

There are two other characters which players will be able to add to their parties via very long and involved side-quests, but, because these further characters are optional, and do not affect the final outcome of the story, I shall allow them to remain a mystery for now.

Writing the Characters

Ryne

I’ve been truly blessed as a writer with Ryne’s character, because I’m simply fascinated with him and with his story.  I honestly started with a very bare-bones concept for Ryne—his name, his general age, the fact that he was a widower, and the fact that he was a career soldier.  I knew I wanted him to be heir to a legacy with some sort of impact on the story, but when I started, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted that legacy to be.

So, I started free-writing.  Free-writing is, for me, the most invaluable exercise in which I can engage as a writer.  The point of free-writing is to start with a subject, and then just start writing things down about the subject as they come to you, regardless of order, logic, or contradiction with previous ideas.  The point of free-writing is not to plan every single detail perfectly—the point of free-writing is to get as many ideas down on paper as you can.  It’s only later that you go back and pick and choose and streamline and revise.  Like I tell my students: “You don’t think about your first draft.  First, you write with your heart.  Then, you go back and write with your head.”  I do at least one free-writing exercise for each of my characters.  I say at least because sometimes one is not enough.  I have students ask me how many free-writing exercises they should do about a subject.  “As many as it takes,” is my invariable reply.  If one is enough, then great.  If not, keep going until you get there.

I say I’ve been blessed with Ryne’s character, and I mean it.  Not only am I fascinated with him as a character, but he’s literally the type of character who writes himself.  I only needed one free-writing exercise with Ryne, and it all flowed naturally and made sense.  All of it.  I didn’t change a single thing.  During the exercise, I was simply trying to stay the hell out of the way and let him tell his own story the way it should be told.  Honestly, I think that’s how all the best characters come into being.

I’m very happy with Ryne as a character, especially as my main character, the character who moves the story forward with his decisions.  He’s an interesting mix of internal conflicts and idiosyncrasies, a warrior jaded by war and the loss of his wife, a father who believes that he has failed his children by being absent from their lives, a man seeking redemption that he doesn’t believe he deserves and at the same time refusing to yield to any of these pressures, viewing them as weaknesses in himself.  There’s SO MUCH potential for growth in his character, and Kaylan is the perfect catalyst.

Kaylan

I’d be lying if I said creating Kaylan’s character was not an exercise in perseverance.  I struggled mightily to create a believable heroine.  It’s not simply that I am male, though that was rather a large part of it; my issue was writing a female lead who was innocent and light-hearted after ten years of brutal, oppressive, unrestrained war, and still had a woman’s maturity.  That combination of innocent and maturity led me a dastardly, grueling chase through the nether reaches of my imagination (a rather frightening place, I might add).  Of course, the simplest solution is often the best and most believable, and last night I realized that it had been staring me in the face from the beginning.

While I will go into further detail about the various nations and cultures of the world of Arinas in Part 2 of my Developer Blog (The World and Its History), I will say that the social climate and cultural atmosphere of Valyria directly preceding the Great War offered me the solution I needed in regards to Kaylan’s character.  In a nation ruled by an oppressive, errant tyrant, there is a need for a group of people whose work it is to relieve that oppression however they can.  I had come up with the idea for the Sisters of Serenity in the very early concepts for Valyria, and it finally struck me that their cloistered, puritan life and system of belief was exactly the thing I needed to make Kaylan’s character believable.

A young child, already predisposed to compassion, naive trust in people, and blindness to the less pleasant aspects of life would generally be devastated by, and become the most bitter and jaded of adults after having lived through, a war of vengeance lasting ten years and costing hundreds of thousands of lives.  If, however, that child were to be sheltered and protected by a similar-minded group of adults, she might retain her childlike views of the world and the people in it.  If that group of adults was composed entirely of women, the child would have an opportunity to learn about and emulate womanhood in its purest form—womanhood defined, not by men who could never know it, but by women who lived it every day.

A further challenge I encountered early on in the character-writing process was the age difference between Ryne and Kaylan, and how it would affect my plans for them to have a romantic relationship.  I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a hopeless romantic.  I quite firmly believe that no truly great story is complete without a stirring, heart-wrenching romance.  Of course, it wasn’t until after I had already written Ryne’s character that I realized just how great the challenge with which I had presented myself was—a 38-year-old widower and absentee father, falling in love with a naive, innocent, sheltered, 17-year-old virgin?  How the hell was I supposed to make that happen?

I realized that, of course, the age difference itself was immaterial, as their characters had given me everything I needed to make the match not only believable but moving.  Of course, I can’t tell you what that solution is, because it would give away most of the story.  Suffice it to say that it’s precisely because they shouldn’t logically be able to make a romantic relationship work that they do, in fact, make a romantic relationship work (and no, that wasn’t really a spoiler, since I didn’t say for how long they make it work or if they’re still making it work at the end of the story).

Cael

Cael has probably been the most fun character for me to write, simply as an exercise in ingenuity and comedy.  Cael is the witty one, the dry, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek best friend.  What I like about Cael, though, is that he’s not an immature, lazy rogue like Jordan’s Matrim Cauthon—instead, Cael is that guy who’s worked at your uncle’s auto-body shop for the last twenty years, always ready with a wink and a joke and some sage advice about things you’re far too young to need advice about yet.  He’ll strip down to his shirtsleeves and work harder at anyone else at building a fortified camp, all the while making tongue-in-cheek remarks about poets most people have never heard of in a voice like a boulder rolling down a hill, and still beat you senseless in martial training afterward.

Cael is definitely the main source of comedy in the story, aside from the situational irony of which I’m so fond, of course.  But he’s also the source of some of the most moving pictures of loyalty and friendship in the games, too.  He’s more than just a noble or a soldier—he’s simply a good man, and he’s a good man in his own way.  I think that’s what makes him special.

Joril

Aside from the potential for a not-so-subtle expose on slavery, discrimination, and dreams of a better life, writing Joril has given me a very welcome medium for foiling Ryne and Cael.  The two think so similarly and are so often in agreement with one another that I needed a way to have them explain themselves to the audience without it feeling like a Shakespearean monologue.  The conversations needed to feel natural, not forced, and couldn’t pull the audience out of the game.  Thus, the character of Joril was born.

Joril was raised in a completely different cultural and at a completely different level of education from Ryne and Cael (read: none).  As such, things that make perfect sense to them without explanation completely baffle Joril.  Cael’s tutorship of Joril, and Joril’s constant questioning of everything he is taught—often with comical results—gave me the platform I needed to have Ryne and Cael reveal their beliefs and histories through dialogue, in their own words.

Plus, Joril is one of those characters without whom no story is really complete.  He’s a sweetheart, and kind, still very much a boy despite having lived through ten years of very brutal war.  It’s going to be interesting to write conversations about past actions in war (both good and not so good) involving a character as tender-hearted at Joril.

Conclusion

Well, that’s my Developer Blog, Part 1!  Any comments, thoughts, and questions are welcome, of course (as well as any offers of collaboration *hint hint*), but I probably won’t be able to answer any questions specifically related to the story of the games themselves. I’ll be happy to fill in any blanks about the characters’ pasts that won’t spoil later story points, though!

~ Rynok

You Can’t Do That, Ji Firepaw!

Before we begin, simply let me say this: I think this is one of the least rational controversies that has ever been sparked in the World of Warcraft community (all trolling in General included).  However, I feel that someone needs to offer the voice of reason, and so, at the request of Katarnas and Apple Cider, I’m posting this blog, both to illustrate my own views on the subject and to offer a platform for a lengthier discussion on the topic that doesn’t involved spamming the Twitter feeds of our collective followers.  Feel free to sound off regarding your thoughts on the subject, and on this post, in the comments at the bottom.  Just be sure to keep the discussion civil and light-hearted, and my finger won’t feel the need to twitch toward the “Delete” button :)


This morning (or perhaps late last night) Blizzard opted to change the dialogue for an NPC in the Mists of Pandaria beta, Ji Firepaw.  Originally, Ji made some rather, well, I’m to be honest here—I think his remarks to both genders were about as idiotic a thing as Blizzard has ever written (and I’m including the original BC Belf lore in that).  This image, courtesy of WoW Insider’s Josh Meyers, shows the original Ji dialogue for both genders.  The dialogue for both genders was changed to read as follows:

“You seem poised and ready. I can tell we are going to be good friends.”

Both my Twitter feed and the MMO-Champion forums blew up this morning with opinions regarding the change, and the discussion quickly polarized into two camps: ultra-feminists zealously defending the change, and hyper-sensitive misogynists claiming that anyone who called for the change in the first place was over-sensitive and overreacting to the original dialogue.

Seriously?

Now, the discussion of sexism and gender inequality in World of Warcraft has been raging for quite some time in the WoW community, but I am absolutely taken aback by the genuine hostility toward the change (and toward those who support(ed) it) that I’ve seen from some sectors.  One only has to glance through this morning’s MMO-Champion posts to notice a rather sickening amount of ad hominem attacks directed at main proponents of the change like Apple Cider Mage (who, by the way, has my full support in this) which is simply disgusting.  It is never permissible, ever, to attack someone’s character and value as a human being simply for disagreeing with you.  Everyone has their own unique set of experiences and beliefs that makes them who they are—who the hell are you to judge those experiences and beliefs (or opinions) as invalid?

I’m not going to bore you with another rant on the foolish inertia of the patriarchy.  I’ll leave that to others, because others do it far more credibly than I.  I, however, do wish to offer my own opinions as to the dialogue.

Get ready for a deal-breaker: from my perspective, there is no gender inequality in Ji’s original dialogue; however, I do see how it could be construed in that manner.  Now let me explain that before you start chasing me with your torches and pitch forks.  When I read the original dialogue, the dialogue for both genders strikes me as a comment on the toon’s appearance—one is based on curves, the other is based on muscles.  “Gorgeous” and “strong” are both words that can be used to describe appearance, and that is how I interpreted the dialogue.  However, Ji’s vague reference to strength in regards to male Pandaren led many players (both male and female) to the conclusion that Ji was praising female Pandaren for their looks and male Pandaren for their prowess in battle.  It’s not my place to say who is right or wrong—everyone has an opinion that is valid for their own preferences, beliefs, and experiences.

However, Ji’s original dialogue was still offensive to me—not because I construed it as gender-biased, but simply because of how absolutely fucking ridiculous it was.  What the hell does my physical attractiveness or sexual prowess (or lack thereof) have to do with anything that is going on in the Warcraft story during the Pandaren starting quests?  Ji’s comments were an insult to my intelligence, and quite frankly, incredibly sleezy.  Regardless of gender, his comments boil down to: “You’re physically attractive, so let’s be friends.”  This brings a whole other issue into play—the valuation of human beings based solely on physical appearance.  Sure, he’s talking to Pandaren—being played by real, living human beings.

And to be honest, the revised dialogue isn’t much better.  “You look poised and ready.  I can tell we are going to be good friends.”  So, because I know how to stand up straight, you want to be my friend?  How in the world does that make any more sense than wanting to be my friend purely because you think I’m physically attractive?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m glad the dialogue was changed and I’m happy for Apple Cider Mage and all the members of the community who helped make the change possible.  But let’s not pretend that Blizzard did anything other than re-wrap the same old package in a slightly less offensive kind of paper.  I see what you did there, Blizzard.  I really do.

But more importantly, I see exactly what is occurring in the reactions to the change.  Because so many players are set in their belief that they are not inherently misogynistic (which, being raised in an inherently misogynistic culture by inherently misogynistic parents, makes that an almost certainty), any time someone raises their hand and says, “By the way, that’s gender bias,” they immediately pounce upon that person and attempt to  silence him or her.  The truth is, they don’t have a valid reason for their bias, and they know it, but they also have no desire to admit that they have a bias in the first place; their embarrassment, coupled with their denial, leaves them but one response—two little words, “Fuck you.”

So how about, instead of immediately assuming that people who find things offensive are only looking for things by which to be offended, or hyper-sensitive to a certain subject (which they may well be, but who are you to judge them if they are?), or simply seeking attention, why not step back for a moment and try to see things for their perspective?  Because really, that’s the only difference between you and them—an almost imperceptibly tiny shift in perspective.

Oddly enough, it’s that small, seemingly inconsequential shift in perspective that we call a miracle.  Who’d ‘ave thought, eh?

Re-visiting the Idea of Excellence

Most of the people who will actually bother reading this will know that for a very long time now, I’ve quite zealously crusaded for the pursuit of excellence in all things—both in World of Warcraft and in life in general.  I still believe that excellence is an ideal worth pursuing, but I’ve lately come to the realization that my definition of excellence was skewed. I dont’ mean skewed in the sense that it was wrong, absolutely; more skewed in the sense that it was wrong for me.  My definition of excellence was leading me in pursuit of a lonely, exclusive pinnacle which only a gifted few could ever reach.  But I don’t want to be alone on some lofty perch, watching the world go on below me, a perfect caricature of immersion in reality.  I want to be able to stand before God (or fade into dust and oblivion, if that is your preference) on that final day confident that I did the best I could to raise the world to His lofty standards.  But I’m not Atlas—I can’t raise the entire world by myself.  It has to be a group effort, a shared quest.


Before I continue, though, I wish there to be no mistaking my meaning; this is not an “I have the answer, you should all bow before me and follow in my wake” expository.  I am simply musing on my personal definition of excellence, the way it has changed and the way in which I see things now.  More specifically, I’ll be musing on the applications of my new-found views on excellence as they apply to progressive raiding and guild leadership in World of Warcraft.  This may get extremely wordy and possibly highly emotional before the end, and may stray wildly from the subject of World of Warcraft—you’ve been warned :)


Originally, my definition of excellence was the tried and true adage of “being the best one can possibly be at [insert chosen pursuit here].”  Excellence was a pinnacle of sorts, a place to be earned that said to all who bore witness, “Here I am, and here is what I can do.  Follow me, and you can achieve this glory, too.”  To have achieved excellence was to have the skill and knowledge and experience necessary to prove that I was not only worthy of consideration, but worthy of instructing others in the pursuit of similar endeavors as well.  It was a badge of honor, to be worn with pride, and earned with sweat, blood, and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

But this achievement also came with a terribly heavy burden to bear: the knowledge of inequity, both in myself and in others.  From this perspective of excellence, perfection was desirable but unattainable—there would always be some greater height to scale, some greater obstacle to overcome, some greater prestige to be won.  There would always be room for improvement; nothing would be ever quite good enough.  Everything became a competition, a struggle, a conflict with others.  In a raid, it was not enough to simply be a valued member of the team—I also constantly struggled to outperform the rest of the raid, to be the best member of team while still being a well-oiled part of the machine.  It was mine not only to bring what assets I possessed to the floor, but to constantly be hyper-aware of any improvements that could be made, whether by me or by the rest of the team.

Guilds became focused only on achieving realm or world firsts, and then being so consistent and efficient at progression that no other guild could touch us on Guild Ox or WoW Progress.  Guild ranks became structured around those raiders who had the most exemplary raid performance and most consistent attendance for successful progression.  Value to the guild came from one single thing—how useful a guild member was to guild’s pursuit of excellence.

I understand that most raiding guilds today are structured this way.  Everyone wants those achievements, everyone wants to be the best.  And many of these guilds are highly successful using this model, according to this definition of success—they hold highly coveted rankings on Guild Ox, WoW Progress, they consistently achieve realm firsts, their members are valued experts on their chosen classes and specs, and their World of Logs profiles are shining testaments (and ovaments, for the ladies involved) to high standards of play.

Unfortunately, interacting with a great many of these guilds and players is a rather miserable experience for most players.  Elitist Jerks, while an excellent resource on maximizing efficiency of play, is also one of the most exclusive communities on the internet.  Even a single grammatical or factual error in a post on their forums can result in a ban.  In-game, many top-tier raiders will not even respond to players asking their advice, and those that do usually respond with some form of griefing.  Applying to a top-tier raiding guild can be a harrowing, traumatizing experience for someone without the iron-hard skin of a life full of suffering and adversity.  Many of the bloggers I know have written moving and refreshingly honest testimonies and ovamonies speaking out against the dangers of bullying, but there is a frightening reluctance to admit (or even obliviousness to the existence of, which might possibly be worse) the fact that most top-tier raiding guilds are nothing more than conglomerations of bullies without consequences.  Elitist Jerks is a rather apt name, considering their behavior towards anyone unwilling to recognize their rather restrictive standards—and they admit this proudly, plastered boldly in black and white on the page detailing their forum rules.

For a very long time, I struggled with the contradiction of my disgust for this behavior coupled with my inability to act in any other way.  I proudly promoted a more open and accessible raiding community, one in which any and all were welcome to participate in the pursuit of excellence—as long as their definition of excellence matched mine.  I pretended that this motivation justified the fact that I was in reality no different from the bullies against whom I claimed to be working.  But I had not truly created a more open and accepting environment—I was merely disguising the same old rotted floorboards under a clean new roll of carpet.  No matter how many times that carpet was cleaned, the floorboards underneath were still rotted through, threatening to break at any moment.

And what kind of way is that to live?  What kind of way is that to interact with one’s fellow human beings?  Because at the end of the day, regardless of what we might do or say or pretend to, the person on the other side of the computer screen is in fact another living, breathing, feeling human being, prone to all the wants and foibles and idiosyncrasies that I am.  From a philosophical standpoint, that makes that person the same as I am.  By disrespecting that person, I also disrespect myself.  By holding that person as wanting, I find myself wanting, too.  The truth is, you cannot hurt another human being without hurting yourself, too—every wrong done to another leaves a mark upon the doer.  In short: the old definition of excellence was creating a race of miserable, hateful people.

But I could not accept misery and hate as the only end in life.  If I craved happiness, and if excellence was intended to promote happiness, then should mediocrity then be the goal?  I rejected the idea out of hand.  Mediocrity is abhorrent; it reflects a lack of purpose, and a human being without purpose is one of the most miserable sights in all existence.  So what, then?  If the pursuit of excellence was leading only to misery, then I was pursuing the wrong thing.  But if pursuing the opposite of excellence had an identical end, my definition of excellence must be wrong.

People achieve epiphany (literally the realization of godhood made manifest in oneself, but more commonly used to refer to a sudden, usually life-altering realization or insight) by many different means, and I don’t think there is any right or wrong road to enlightenment.  For me, my epiphany came from a combination of intense psychotherapy and deeply emotional prayer.

The thought came to me suddenly, almost on a whim from God (or out of nowhere, if you prefer), that perhaps excellence was not a measure of ability or worth, and more importantly, perhaps excellence was not related to ability at all.  What if excellence was as inextricably linked to integrity and humanity as honesty, compassion, and understanding?  What if excellence became simply the word we use to describe the culmination of all the best aspects of humanity within a person?  What if the words “excellence” and “humanity” could be used interchangeably?

From this perspective, excellence still retains all those qualities which give it definition and scope—it still is a desirable quality, it still elevates the world to the lofty ideals of what is good, it still inspires and uplifts and serves as an example.  But from this perspective, excellence is no longer the struggle against others to be the best at something.  From this perspective, excellence becomes the struggle for others to be the best possible person to them that I can be.  The example is no longer one to be followed, but to be shared—by everyone, without prejudice or caveat.

Suddenly, I could no longer abide the person my previous actions in pursuit of a false definition of excellence had revealed me to be.  How could I not?  My only desire had been to sow happiness, and reap joy in return; but I had sowed only disdain, reaped only misery.  I could not change the person I had been—that person no longer existed—but I could decide to be a better person from that time on, to pursue a different kind of excellence for the future.

If the pursuit of excellence is the pursuit of humanity, then to be excellent is to be the best kind of person I can be.  If history tells us anything, it’s that the best people are those who love others, who accept others as they are, without condition or judgment or requirement for future improvement.  Suddenly, perfection is not some unattainable ideal that only the superhuman and genetically elite can ever experience—perfection is the willingness to accept imperfection.  It no longer is my job to fix what I might perceive to be the flaws of others—my only job is to accept others as they are, to choose to receive others as worthy of my time and love and attention (and help, if they desire it, and my silence, if they do not) simply because they are human.

Should I ever start a guild of my own again, its structure will be drastically different from the norm.  Ability will not be rewarded unless it is accompanied by a respect for and a genuine acceptance of and desire to help others.  All will have a say, regardless of rank or station or seniority.  All will be welcome, regardless of ability, experience, gender, ethnicity, age, political or religious views, sexual orientation, or station in life. The primary goal of the guild will be to create an environment in which players feel safe and accepted and respected, an environment in which they can have fun without worrying about meeting some ridiculous set of arbitrary (and, let’s be honest, unattainable) standards.

World of Warcraft is a video game.  Raids should be fun, above and beyond anything else.  Working together to accomplish goals and earn achievements should be an entertaining, light-hearted, happy experience, one that lifts everyone up instead of tearing them down.  There should be no feeling of “that attempt wasn’t good enough, we have to do better”—only the calm, encouraging knowledge that no matter how many times we may not succeed, we will eventually succeed.  The point is not to win—the point is to try, and have fun doing it.

Maybe I’m mad.  Maybe I have far too much faith in the human race.  Maybe I’m delusional to believe that this could ever happen in a game or in real life.  That’s fine.  The point is not where or not such a thing is possible—the point is to never stop trying to make it possible.

A Walk Around the Square

Warning: the following post is not related to World of Warcraft, except possibly by indirect implication.

Last night I had a rather new and exciting experience (for me).  For the first time in my life, I was able to spend an evening with another human being and make an actual, honest, real connection with that other human being.  There was no bullshit, no putting on of airs, no desperate attempt to impress her or to prove myself; we were simply two people getting to know one another.

Some of you will likely scoff when you read this, and that is fine—you have lived a life that enabled you to learn how to interact with people, how to connect with them and be genuine with them, and I do not grudge you this life.  If anything, I envy you such a life.  I, unfortunately, cannot say the same.  I was never given the opportunity to learn how to connect with people—I was too busy simply trying to survive.  It’s only recently, with the help of a very devoted and very expensive therapist, that I have finally begun to learn this most basic of human abilities.

I find myself amazed at the ease with which one can converse with another human being simply by accepting oneself and being genuine about who one is.  I understand that this is much easier said than done, and I cannot help but think that even those who have lived far more perfect lives than I have struggle with this to some extent, but my amazement remains.

Now, I very strongly suspect that last night was a very rare exception to the general rule of human being interaction (that rule being that initial interactions between near total strangers are awkward at best), but I believe that it is still viable proof of the level of ease and comfort that comes when two people choose to interact with each other simply as they are.  There was no judgment (either of one another or of ourselves), no attempt to get anything, and no ulterior motive.  There were only two people walking down a sidewalk bordered by fresh-blooming wildflowers, both fully accepting of themselves and of one another.

I’ve often wondered what it is that prevents human beings from accepting one another.  I have several theories—none of which I feel qualified to even attempt proving—but I’m not writing this to indict anyone, rebuke anyone, complain about the state of things, or lament a hopeless cause (and I’m not saying that this is).  I’m writing this because last night I experienced one of the most wonderful nights of my life, a night spent in complete acceptance of another human being, a human being who accepted me completely in return—not because we felt morally obligated to do so or because we manipulated one another into doing so or because we wanted anything from one another, but simply because it was right.  How could not want to share that with everyone?

I don’t know if I’m qualified to tell someone else how to live their life.  Truthfully, I don’t think I am.  And that’s one of the most liberating lessons I’ve learned these last two years.  I say liberating, because let’s be honest: knowing how everyone else is supposed to be living their lives is just such a God-damned burden.  It’s simply so much easier to accept people as they are, to love them regardless of their choices or idiosyncrasies (notice I avoid accusing anyone of having flaws, but that’s a subject for another discussion).  Oh dear, he used the L word.  Run for your lives, before you actually start to feel something!

But then, isn’t that the point?  Why are we here, if not to do everything we possibly can to make this world the best place possible?  If happiness is the goal, why hold onto things that make us miserable?  I’ve noticed something about people who spend their entire lives trying to tell others how short they’re falling of achieving happiness: they tend to spend so much time worrying about others’ lack of happiness that they forget to go out and achieve their own.

So how do we make the world the best place it can possibly be?  I don’t know—I suppose that depends on what makes you happy.  For me, it starts with accepting others, genuinely and completely, and ends when you’re able to look around and see all the beauty and love that there is in the world.  Is there also ugliness and suffering and fear and hate?  Sure.  I’ve borne more than my fair share of it.  But there’s hope, too, and that’s a thing that all the pain, all the fear, and all the hate in the universe can’t overcome.

You can live your life the way you choose.  The beauty of being human is that you have that choice.  As for me, I’ll keep on chasing love, down every ally, every road, every river, and every stream.  Sure, I’ll never be a cosmic Jewish zombie and have an entire religion founded after me, but then, I don’t have to be.  I’m just me.  And you’re just you.  That’s all that matters.

I guess the question you have to ask is, “What if?”  What if that person you wrote off could have been your best friend?  What if that smile you chose to keep to yourself could have saved someone’s life?  What if that kind word you didn’t think was worth your time could have made that person’s entire week?  What if?

So, what are you afraid of?  I think it’s like Bertier tells Julius in Remember the Titans:

I only saw what I was afraid of, and now I know I was only hating my brother.

A Small Glimpse Into the Life of an Elitist Jackass

I’ve read a number of moving and refreshingly honest blog posts in the World of Warcraft community over the last several days (specifically, a heartfelt dip of the head to Nymphy, Apple Cider Mage, and WoWExlucis) regarding psychological trauma and the truth about the “person behind the avatar,” and—conveniently ignoring the fact that my blog has a current readership of me, myself, and I—I’ve decided to make my own contribution to the already quite deep pool.  I’m under no illusions that my input is neither needed nor solicited, but perhaps it might offer those who interact with me—whether in-game, on the forums, or on Twitter—some insight into why I am the way I am, and why realizing my recent resolutions to change my normal behaviors is so damned difficult for me.

I could say that this blog is about bullying, but it isn’t, really.  Do not misunderstand me, I am adamantly opposed to bullying in any form, and have put forth my own safety and freedom as collateral in the past to prevent it from happening, but I myself was bullied only briefly, and it stopped after primary (read: elementary) school—Shane Thornton’s broken nose, sprained wrist, and three cracked ribs in the school yard when we were twelve saw to that quite effectively.  I was raised in a small community, and from a very young age had a reputation as the bloke with whom you simply didn’t fuck.  It ought to tell you something that when Clint Eastwood spoke that infamous line in Gran Torino, it was to me that my friends and family immediately turned, that pointed, knowing look in their eyes.  I can proudly say that I have never intentionally been a bully, having always preferred my solitude.  But then, intention and reality are not always the same thing.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  In order to tell this story properly, I must start at the very beginning.

The first thing you should know about me is this: I was not born—at least, not in the conventional sense.  Sure, I came out of my birth-mother’s womb, in all my newborn, naked, bloody, screaming glory, in the middle of a thunderstorm at three o’clock in the morning (that last is fact, by the way, and not merely my literary right brain speaking), and the doctor handed me to the nurse, who took me behind the curtain and cleaned me off before handing me back to my birth-mother.  But this is the point where all normalcy in my life ends.

Within six hours, I was alone in a crib in a strange woman’s home, with six other starving, crying, screaming infants, whose mothers had also decided that they were not worth keeping and raising.  I spent over a week in that horrid place, with no more human contact that was absolutely necessary for the woman who ran the home to feed me twice a day; otherwise, all I knew of human contact for the first nine days of my life was the incessant screaming of children whose mothers never came.

On the ninth day, however, my adoption papers were apparently finalized, because I was reunited with my birth mother for literally as long as it took for her to give me away yet again.

So let’s be clear on this: nine days old, and I’ve now been abandoned twice by the one person in the world who was always, no matter what, supposed to be there for me.  It’s hard to think of a more promising start to a happy childhood.

Fast forward three and half years, since I have only incredibly vague and disjointed memories of my first three years of life.  What I do vividly remember is my father (adopted) sitting across the living room from me and my mother and telling me quite calmly—as two smelly, sweaty strangers are going back and forth behind him, carrying his things out of the house—that he and mommy won’t be living together anymore.  Fun fact #1: It’s the day after Christmas.  Fun fact #2: This is my first conscious memory of Christmas.

Within a few months, my mother introduces me to her new boyfriend (whom she was seeing before my father left, I discovered recently), Jim.  I need to be very clear on something: I disliked Jim from the very first moment I met him.  My mother expected Jim to replace my father.  Replace him, as if I was going to spend the weekend with a family friend or distant relative every other week.  Jim, of course, was raised in an old-school, Catcholic, Scotch-Irish family; he was the man of the family, and he’d be damned if he didn’t make me into the son he wanted me to be.  I vividly remember him saying one thing too many to my four-year-old self one night, and in a fury I took off my shoe and hit him with it as hard as I could in the testicles.  Ladies, if you’d like a better idea of just how badly that hurts, think about this: every male reading this just winced involuntarily and covered himself out of pure reflex.  What I remember most about that night is the two hour lecture I received about the difference from acceptable to unacceptable behavior.  Not once did either of them ever bother to ask me why.

That November, my mother married Jim.  The only reason the month is important is because it represents the fact that my mother was remarried less than a year after my father left.

But the speed with which she found another man is not as important as the fact that Jim proceeded to physically and emotionally abuse me for the next twelve years.  If I left my Hotwheels cars (remember those?) laying around, he picked me up by my collar and put me against the wall, eye to eye with him, and gave me a shouted lecture about picking up after myself.  If I did not hear him address me, he grabbed me by my collar and shouted what he wanted me to know into my face (more on this in a moment).  If I ever showed the slightest intention of standing up for myself, his hands were around my throat before I could finish my first sentence.  No matter how many times I swept that God-damned porch or mowed that God-damned lawn, it was in accordance with his standards—it was always, “Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.”  I spent the first sixteen years of my life trying to please him, and my only reward was a preternatural affinity for physical violence and the ability to be completely invisible while in plain view.

When I was ten, I was diagnosed with bilateral congenital sensoneural hearing loss.  For those of you who don’t have medical degrees, that means that I have severe hearing loss in both ears, I was born with it, it’s caused by nerve damage of some kind, and that I will eventually go deaf (the latest prognosis from my doctor was probably twenty-five, which is only two years short years away, and thirty at the latest).  Small wonder that I could not hear Jim addressing me half the time.

I was fitted with hearing aids (one in each ear), and immediately I became the kid no one wanted to play with at recess or sit with at lunch.  It’s an unfortunate truth in this hearing world that nobody wants to fuck with the deaf kid.  I did manage to make a few friends by the time I reached the sixth and seventh grades, all rebels and rough-around-the-edges outcasts like me, but the fact that we were all outcasts only served to emphasize the fact that all of us came from broken homes and that we were ourselves broken.

When puberty hit, it was like somebody took a nuclear warhead to the Hoover Dam somewhere in the back of my head.  Suddenly, I had nothing left inside me but an unbridled, unquenchable, unstoppable rage.  I lost myself in three different martial arts, had four different therapist, ran and lifted weights and hiked and spent long days alone, meditating and praying and doing everything I could imagine to alleviate my rage.  I had no idea from where this rage was coming, no clue as to what was causing it or why it wouldn’t leave, but it did teach me the very valuable lesson of iron self-control.  I discovered that the only way I could ever interact with people was to be simply empty—the rage was still there, but buried so deeply inside that to the outside observer I simply appeared to lack the ability to feel.

I came into my full majority when I was sixteen, and my parents’ home became a war zone.  Finally able to defend myself, my rage gave me the courage I needed to put an end to Jim’s abuse.  We never actually came to blows, though we came within a hair’s breadth on numerous occasions, but hour-long shouting matches, fist-sized holes in walls, and doors slammed so hard the hinges broke became the norm in that house.  It also probably did not help that two other things happened during this time period that only worsened my already much-deteriorated state of mind: my best friend, who was gay, killed himself because he did not think that anyone cared whether he lived or died (even me), and my father, deadbeat though he already was, moved back to England, leaving me entirely alone to face my demons.

Eventually, I simply could not stand to live with myself anymore.  I saw the effect my constant battles with Jim were having on my mother and my step-sister, and I simply could not justify hurting them and frightening them to satisfy my rage any longer.

I spent the next three years of my life homeless, living out of my truck and bumming around from one friend’s couch to the next.  I did many things of which I am not proud during this period of my life, and I will not go into detail about all of them here, but suffice it to say I lost whatever innocence and goodness and decency may have been left in my broken, twisted soul, and that I know what it is to take a life.  I had a series of not at all healthy relationships, including one in which my partner was raped (and, justified or not, I almost killed the bastard as did it—I would have, if my best friend had not been there to stop me), and the fact that none of them worked out because I continually sabotaged them only added to my self-loathing.

When I turned nineteen, something in me snapped.  I was sitting in front of my computer, playing World of Warcraft (my one escape from the endless pain that was my existence), and I simply stopped.  I couldn’t see the screen, I couldn’t see or hear anything going on around me, I could barely even breath.  I saw, more clearly than I have ever seen anything else in my life, that I could no longer keep living the way I had been—something had to change.  I realized that I had two choices: get help, because obviously my own methods of coping simply weren’t working, or die, and get it all the hell over with.  The one thing in my life which I have always considered a point of pride is that I have always, always, valued my life too highly too consider suicide.

I checked myself into a mental hospital, and spent a week crying my eyes out in front total strangers, because I did not think that I had anywhere else to turn.  Luckily for me, when one of my doctors took the initiative to do some research into my background and called my mother to tell her where I was and what was happening, she dropped everything and came straight away to get me.  For the rest of my life, I will always be grateful to her for that.

I’ve spent the last four years in intensive therapy, dealing with all the traumas left in my psyche from the abandonment and abuse I’ve suffered in my life.  I went back to school, and finished my B.A. in 18 months.  I’m currently working on my graduate coursework, functioning in society, learning how to connect with people and build healthy, lasting relationships.  I’ve reconciled with my mother and step-sister, and begun to finally build a life for myself.

So I suppose that the point of all this was to say, “No matter how bad it gets, it’s never too late to heal.  It doesn’t have to be the end.  It can get better.  I promise.”  I’m living proof.  Please, if you’re suffering, if you’re struggling, if you’re hurting: don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.  There are people who love you, people who care, people who want to help you.  There is a better way.

And for those of you who wonder why it sometimes seems as if I’m one person in the morning and another in the evening, it’s simply because I’m a broken man.  I’m still in the process of healing, but I may never be fully healed.  But that’s okay.  Not everyone gets the fantasy.  Honestly, I’m just happy to be alive.

And this is me.

Concerning Excellence

When I resurrected my blog last year, I kicked it off with an introspective on the the marked decline of standards and expectations in modern society, and more specifically, in World of Warcraft.  Revamping the blog for a new year and a new me gave me cause to look back over my previous writings and evaluate both the content and the quality of my work.  While my grammar then was nearly as impeccable as it is now, I was struck by how differently the internal motivation that drove those posts is from the motivation that drives me today.  In short, I came across as a bit of an ass.  If you’d like to read the post and see what I mean, you can still find it all here.

In all honesty, I am not ashamed of the kind of writer, blogger, player, and person that I have been in the past.  Why bother?  It is not in my power to change the past, and I would not do so even if it was within my power—to spend time changing the past would take valuable time away from the present, time that I can ill afford to lose.  All that I can do is act and speak differently moving forward into the future, and that is exactly what I plan to do, starting with this post.

I will freely admit, however, that this is proving quite a challenge.

Moving from the perspective of an elitist jackass (for let’s be honest, that is precisely what I was and what I still am to some degree) to the perspective of a leader and a teacher is not an easy thing to do.  Any change of perspective is difficult, as anyone who has ever tried to step away from a situation and see themselves objectively can testify or ovify (your spell-checker will tell you ovify is not a word, but quite frankly, I’m not a misogynist, and I’m tired of being limited to misogynistic language).  The challenge is only greater when the goal is to shift from a perspective at one extreme end of the spectrum to its opposite at the other end of that spectrum.

Only today, I made a joke on the New Player Help and Guides forums about a misuse of the word alas to one of the other regulars, Xunn (you can find him on Twitter or visit his personal blog here), and the error was so minor that, instead of being humorous as I intended, the comment only made me sound like an ass.  It did not help that my perception of an error in his use of the word stemmed in no small part from my own misunderstanding of his intention.  My long-ingrained perfectionist nature automatically assumed that there was an error in his post simply because he used the word in a manner with which I was not myself familiar, and it was not until Xunn’s response forced me to step back and reconsider the situation that I was able to see it.

Fortunately for me, Xunn is a person of integrity, and was willing to forgive my injudicious remark once I realized my own error.  He valued my acquaintance enough to call me on my shit rather than simply write me off, and for that I am grateful to him.

But all this merely goes to prove my point, that change is never easy.  I have been an elitist, a jackass, a perfectionist for so long that this shift in perspective is turning out to be more of a process than a simple decision.  All the internal elements are already in place; now I simply have to work on breaking all the bad, external habits.

I would ask you all for patience as I go through this process, and not to give up on me just yet, as the incident with Xunn this morning was not the first instance in which I have failed to live up to my own desires, and I am certain that it will not be the last.  What I can promise is that the day is coming when I will be able to say, with full faith and credit, that I have realized the example which I wish to set for all the word to see and follow.

But I have recently realized that achieving that realization will mean nothing if I have done so alone.  I cannot think of a more tragic irony than to scale the heights of greatness, only to look around and realize that one has lost everything that would have made reaching that peak meaningful.  It is not my wish to achieve excellence, and then to look around and realize that I am the only one who has achieved it.  I have spent my entire life alone in one manner or another; I have no wish to be alone any longer.

What I want is not to lift myself to the highest standards of excellence and the ideal; what I want is to lift the whole world up to those heights.  While it’s true that we educate by example, it’s also true that the most effective leaders are the ones whose leadership leaves others uplifted, inspired, and full of confidence—not in their leaders, but in themselves.  And that’s not only the kind of leader I wish to be, or the kind of teacher I wish to be, it’s the kind of person I want to be.

I’m not there yet.  In all reality, I may never be that person, that teacher, that leader.  But I take my oath here and now that I shall never, ever, as long as there is breath left in my lungs, stop trying to get there, because it is one of the most fundamental truths of my existence that my brothers and sisters deserve only the best of me, and the best of me is what I shall endeavor to give them.

So this post marks the turning point in the goal and focus of my involvement in both the World of Warcraft community and in my own life.  No longer do I seek only to set an example of excellence; I seek now to first set an example of integrity, of respect, of courtesy, of consideration, and of acceptance.  No longer will I lament the loss of things we cannot get back.  Instead, it’s time to turn our attention to the things that we can change—that is to say, to the kind of person I am and the kind of example that I set. I cannot change the way others think or speak or act, I can only change the way in which I receive them.

It’s time to stop waiting for change.  Change starts with me.

A Concerned Letter from a New Player Help and Guides Regular

Greetings!

The New Player Help and Guides section of the World of Warcraft Official Forums is an excellent resource for both new and veteran players, containing many useful guides and providing a safe and sensible environment for players to ask their questions without fear of arbitrary criticism or unwarranted rebuke.  That being said, I’ve begun to notice some rather alarming trends that I feel need to be addressed.

First and foremost, I’d like to say that the “regulars” who make a point of regularly reviewing the NPH and answering any questions they find there work extremely hard to ensure that the NPH remains an easily accessible and readily useful resource for players.  We spend just as much time reporting trolls and requesting moderator action against especially offensive posts and posters as we do actually answering valid questions and writing guides we feel might be useful to other players.  In fact, there are days when it can sometimes feel as if all we do is report trolls.  Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not looking for undue credit or constant thanks.  I simply think that the community at large needs to understand what it is that we do on a daily basis, and why it is that we do it.

One of the most obvious trends I’ve noticed lately is posters who simply don’t bother—or can’t be bothered—to read the stickies at the top of the forum before they post.  The regulars of the US NPH forum have done an excellent job ensuring that the stickies at the top of the forum are all useful, well-written, and relevant.  We don’t want a cluttered up, troll-ridden, ultimately useless NPH—we’ve seen enough of the EU NPH to know that’s not the way to run a forum dedicated to helping other players.  Generally when we come across posters who have obviously not read the relevant stickies, we simply point them in the right direction and move on.  Usually, the point is accepted and everyone is better for it.

Of late, however, I’ve noticed an alarming increase in disrespect toward the regulars.  Again, please understand that I’m not asking you to fall to your knees and worship us.  But in light of everything we do to keep the NPH the useful resource that it is, a little common courtesy doesn’t seem like all that much to ask in return.  You don’t have to thank us every time we answer one of your questions; you don’t have to follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our blogs; you don’t even have to remember our names; all we ask is that you at least attempt to be civil and polite when posting on the NPH.  That’s all.

This is especially true of those players who attempt to write guides for the community’s consideration.  Almost all of the NPH regulars have written at least one sticky-worth guide, or have simply been around long enough to know what makes a good guide and what doesn’t.  If you want to post a guide, be prepared for criticism.  The more preparation and thought you put into your guide, the more useful it is likely to be, and the less criticism it is likely to garner.  The best guides get added to Icedragon’s Newbie Guide Listing, a comprehensive list of all the excellent guides on the NPH that we simply don’t have room for at the top of the forum.  If you think you have a useful guide, post it and let the community decide.  We may sometimes come across as harsh, but we’re always fair.  Regardless of what we have to say, though, please understand that any criticism we offer is intended to help you improve as a writer.  Responding like this would-be guide writer is both distasteful and counter-productive.

The bottom line: the NPH and the regulars who help to maintain it are here to help you, not hurt you.  We do it because we can and because we care.  We remember what it was like to have no idea what to do next, and want to provide a safe and happy place for players to come for advice and a point in the right direction.  There are, however, several things you can do to make our jobs easier:

  • Read the stickies at the top of the page before posting.  Chances are, we’ve already answered your question or a question like it, and a little reading could save you the trouble of starting a new thread.
  • Be respectful of both the regulars and the other posters.  Few people actually like trolls, and fewer still like belligerent, demeaning, overbearing jerks.  Spread courtesy and respect, and you’ll reap the same in return.
  • If you’re writing a guide, be prepared to accept criticism.  We’ll never bash your work just to bash your work; if we’re offering criticism, it’s because we believe your guide could truly benefit from our suggestions.  We only want one thing: for the resources we offer players who come to the NPH to be as useful and coherent as possible.  We’ll let you know if we don’t think your guide is worth saving, but this is so rare that we generally encourage would-be guide writers to post their work and see what happens.
If we all work together to accomplish the above, the NPH will continue to be a useful and easily accessible resource for both new and veteran players.  Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope to see you around the forums!
~ Rynok
NPH Regular