Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Holy shit, Mortal Kombat II came out on consoles twenty years ago

It was 1993. A Taco John's; downtown Dubuque. With the drab and burnt orange color scheme of the West-Mex fast food dimly lit corner diner, the garish red and blacker-than-Noob Saibot's garb cabinet would have attracted my attention even if I had already been deaf enough to miss the aggressive promises issuing from the speakers.

Two softshell tacos, meat and cheese, but only easy cheese, with a dollop of mild sauce. And an order of nachos with the extra-large tub of melted "cheese", if Mom felt like I'd earned it or Dad was the one footing the bill.

Once the order was in, I'd hop over to whichever quarter-devouring device was ensconced in one dark nook. I was already pretty addicted to the faux-meat and processed cheese-like substance rolled in vaguely-almost-tortillas by the time Mortal Kombat II made its way to the Midwest. Even a $10 million dollar marketing campaign only buys so much real estate in the fly-overs, and that was still a year away for the console launch.

I'd fed innumerable Washingtons to a wide variety of blinking, chiming, confounding cabinets before MKII, is what I'm getting at. Gauntlet made an appearance at least once; Galaga before that. There was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cameo, but that might have been after.

Whatever the hook, dungeon crawling or space battles, none of them appealed to me quite the way the fighting game did. Trying to learn the moves, master more than the easiest Fatalities, defeat the slightly-douchesque high school kid who you knew had to have bought a strategy guide at some point. There was no end to the struggle for guru status.

And there was a story. Sort of. The expanded lore caught my budding writermind and drew me in like sunlight pulls…you know what, that was a terrible simile. Still a better love story than Twilight.
But nonetheless, I found myself desperate to understand more of the Kitana and Mileena relationship. Were they like actual sisters or if Mileena really was adopted would that mean it would technically be okay if well and Johnny Cage? Fuck that guy. You can finish the other thought the way the prepubescent boy in you would.

Liu Kang's struggle and de facto protagonist status, I'm not entirely ashamed to admit, made him Cena-like in my book. I do hope your brainlash shuffling between two wildly different pop culture eras wasn't too severe.

There was also the bit about turning into a dragon. Figuring out how to do that would have been the highlight of my pre-teen years. I settled, sadly, for living vicariously through the tie-dye and impressively-deep-pocketed-JNCO-clad high schooler as he polymorphed and nommed on nubs with his finisher.

MKII was replaced eventually, probably by a terrible rip-off like Killer Instinct. We started using the drive-thru more often, and I gave over more of my scrounged change to side-scrollers and shooters at Aladdin's Quarter-vortex.

But twenty years after the game was released on the Genesis my brother and I pooled our Christmas allowance to fight over opening on the fated holiday morning, I still remember the old, and thoroughly delicious if my initial depiction implied lackluster flavor, Taco John's, and the familiar siren's call when Scorpion tapped back, back, low punch.

"Get over here!" indeed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"From His Royal Highness, the Grand Juror of Justice, His Most Esteemed Eminance, to the Plebeians"

In which I comment on the most terrifying horror story I've read this year. I've included the quotes I'm responding to, and you can read the wholething here. I've skipped some parts, but I tried to note them when I did.

"From His Royal Highness, the Grand Juror of Justice, His Most Esteemed Eminance, to the plebeians"

"It is also a terrible calumny; cops are not murderers." Wrong, cops who murder people are murderers. Being a cop doesn't suddenly imbue you with some kind of divine diplomatic immunity.

"Working the street, I can’t even count how many times I withstood curses, screaming tantrums, aggressive and menacing encroachments on my safety zone, and outright challenges to my authority." This is the paragraph that convinced me I was reading satire until my Twitter feed fed me humble pie by revealing that holy fucking shit this op ed is supposed to be serious.

"Challenges to my authority?" Wait, whaaaa? OMG, how dare someone possibly challenge your authori-tah, Most Revered and Infallible Peace Officer. Here's the kicker, your authority is vested in you by the citizens of the city, state or nation. You have no absolute authority. You enforce the laws of the people. When they disagree with those laws, they can actually change them. It doesn't happen often, obviously, what with the money all going to gigantamous class action suits and celebrity binge-drinking. But it could.

It is the height of arrogance and ego to look at the people you serve and say, "you all need to put yourself in my shoes" instead of "cops need to remember that they are human and aren't vicars of Christ and should probably put themselves in a citizen's shoes before they act."

Read it as satire, I promise the whole thing becomes a lot better.

I'll skip over the Checkers speech.

"Sometimes, though, no amount of persuasion or warnings work on a belligerent person; that’s when cops have to use force, and the results can be tragic. We are still learning what transpired between Officer Darren Wilson and Brown, but in most cases it’s less ambiguous — and officers are rarely at fault. When they use force, they are defending their, or the public’s, safety." You know, uh, in the overwhelming majority of cases, whenever anyone--not just cops--uses force, they're defending their safety. Actually, you can just substitute any other noun for cops and take out the reference to Darren Wilson's title, and this paragraph is still completely accurate.

"Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?" Or, or, and I know this is a crazyradical idea, we could make sure that cops don't, hear me out, get to fucking shoot, taze, pepper-spray, strike or throw people without having a really good fucking reason. I mean, it's ludicrous, I know, but, I mean, we could try it. I'll even throw in an extra idea for free.

Sometimes, we won't know ahead of time if the cop's reason was good enough. There are split-second decisions that have to be made, and we have to trust police training and experience is enough to result in the right choice.

So what do we do? In the aftermath, if it turns out the reason was bullshit, we prosecute the cop immediately.  We respect due process, but no dallying, no clandestine IA case-building. Nope. Cop gets locked up like everybody else and goes into the justice system. Easy-peasy.

"And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant (though a pat-down is still allowed if there is cause for suspicion). Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go." I get into this more a little later on, but this is a wonderful paragraph describing an imaginary place bearing little to no semblance of reality. My favorite part is where he specifically provides an exception for groping.

"Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force." This doesn't deserve anything more than a derisive, if hearty, LOL. But, I'll add one thing: this doesn't even make sense. If all a criminal had to do to make the cops stop was "submit" and cease "resisting," it'd be like the easiest fucking cheat code in existence.

I hate to gloss over it, but I'm going to go ahead and skip commenting on the paragraph where he makes everyone else's point for them without a trace of irony.

"An average person cannot comprehend the risks and has no true understanding of a cop’s job." Huh? Yes they can. It's not that hard. Also, policing is important and honorable work but it isn't coding in Java or running a foley studio. It's far more likely that cops have an over-inflated opinion of their job than "average" people lack "true" understanding.

"Hollywood and television stereotypes of the police are cartoons in which fearless super cops singlehandedly defeat dozens of thugs, shooting guns out of their hands." No they aren't. "Fearless super cops" who take down enormous mobs of baddies while sniping pistols from the criminal's hands? Those are rarely actual cops (I couldn't find any, but I'm hedging my bet). They tend to be, like, superheroes. You see the real cops around all the time, they're the ones sitting on the sidelines or holding up the yellow tape for the real star of the show.

"Real life is different." Oh, it so definitely is. Where you live, we've learned, cops don't regularly illegally stop or detain people, and if you ask them if you're free to go, they have to tell you. Oh, and they can't use excessive force. Sounds like a pretty cool utopia. Hollywood would probably love to hear about it.

"An average cop is always concerned with his or her safety and tries to control every encounter. That is how we are trained. While most citizens are courteous and law abiding, the subset of people we generally interact with everyday are not the genteel types." Okay. Full agreement here. The bad guys aren't courteous or law-abiding. They probably also don't recognize the word genteel. You showed them.

"You don’t know what is in my mind when I stop you. Did I just get a radio call of a shooting moments ago? Am I looking for a murderer or an armed fugitive?" Uh, I hope I know what's in your mind when you stop me. Presumably it's whatever offense you just saw me commit. I assume you're considering the full ramifications of what you're doing, how it will impact a citizen of the city, state, or country you police for. You know, things like that. If you're supposed to looking for a murderer or an armed fugitive, I would hope that you'd be, I don't know, doing that maybe? Instead of stopping me for no reason since, keep in mind, I'm not the murderer or armed fugitive.

"For you, this might be a 'simple' traffic stop, for me each traffic stop is a potentially dangerous encounter. Show some empathy for an officer’s safety concerns. Don’t make our job more difficult than it already is."  Okay, I get it. I could be the murderer or fugitive, so that sucks for you. How do I help make your job less difficult?

Is this the list?
·         Don’t argue
·         Don’t call names
·         Don’t tell me that I can’t stop you
·         Don’t say I’m a racist pig
·         Don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge
·         Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary
·         Don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me

I'm actually fine with most of it. But, uh, one thing. That falls apart as soon as we get to the whole protesting thing. As a human being, I can and should do everything on that list in the court of public opinion if a cop fucks up and then an entire police department massively fucks up.

What follows is a series of what I call, "duh" statements. It's pretty obvious why.

"Community members deserve courtesy, respect and professionalism from their officers."

"Every person stopped by a cop should feel safe instead of feeling that their well-being is in jeopardy."

"Shouldn’t the community members extend the same courtesy to their officers?"

But, oh shit, the sentence didn't end there, did it? "…and project that the officer’s safety is not threatened by their actions?" Uh, what? WHAT? You are wearing body armor and carrying a fucking gun. You also have a shit-ton of training that the writer of the op ed kept referencing as if the instructors were angels beamed down to pass on their halos to the exalted officers walking this earth. Unless I am considerably more well-armed than I have ever been in my life, there is no action I could possibly take that would truly threaten a cop's safety.

If I tackle you and start punching your face, okay, a reasonable person would concede the point. Heckling you? Calling you a racist pig? Telling you that you can't stop me? Screaming that I pay your salary? Even, god forbid, walking up to you? You notice what all of those things have in common? Not a single one of them could possibly be interpreted to threaten the safety of someone paid to carrying a fucking gun and authorized to use it for apparently any fucking reason according to this piece.  

Nope. None of them. Not threatening at all. Not even a little bit. Not even if I was black.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

IX. Teamfighting


This is another large section, but don't worry, it's also the last. I've broken it into three phases, to provide a more effective play-by-play. There's been an underlying theme running through this whole blog: you are going to instantly start winning more games if you play better as a teammate and as a team. 

Teamfighting is where all the other sections come together. 

Think of your favorite teamfight memories. That chained CC where the enemy backline was on lockdown for six seconds of face-melting burst from your team's midlaner and marksman. Health bars disappearing as you all sliced through the enemy team.  

That happens when a team maximizes its synergy and everyone knows their role. It's a beautiful thing, I'd say if this were a 1950s B&W drama and not a blogspot site. Here's how you can make sure it always happens.

1) The Vision Game

Before any teamfight breaks out, a good team is going to secure vision of wherever the assault is planned. Proactive deep wards enable picks and skirmishes in narrow corridors where the team that seizes initiative can have a powerful advantage. The jungler and support should both have Oracle's by this point, and you 
can set up traps on the enemy side of the river as well as your own.

Moving as a unit is important while you clear wards during the mid and late game. Because of the possibility of a teamfight at any point, you need to be ready to react to a surprise engage. Generally, stacking your team so that the squishiest member is between one frontline tank, the other squishies and the other tank or offtank is preferable when moving through unlit areas. Know which way you want to scatter if you're facing any sort of AoE that could wreck a clumped team.

One last note on warding: don't be afraid to toss out a ward because you think someone else is about to. While it can be a minor waste of resources, there are a few situations in which it's beneficial to have multiple wards in the same location. As Sun Tzu never said, "You can't have too many wards on the battlefield."

2) The Engage

In solo queue, an aggressive, surprise engage can lead to by-the-book teamfight victories. Because of a general lack of cohesive tactics among solo queue players, the team that seizes the initiative can often springboard that into a clean ace with little more than an extra split second of entering "shit-we're-in-teamfight-now" mode. 

Having a tanky initiator who can competently engage a mid or late game throwdown is so beneficial, I'd say that learning how to do it right might have a better effect on your ranked tier than any of the other topics I've covered in what will eventually be this 15,000+ word opus.

As initiator, you're playing the minigame "catch-the-squishy," trying to create positioning mistakes with your aggressive dives and feints towards the backline. Your goal is obviously to isolate or crowd control-lock one of the opposing team's damage threats. 

But, and this part is often forgotten because it's dangerous (or useless) at the highest levels of play, there are situations in which engaging on a tank or off-tank can be the right move. For example, if a damage threat shows in a different lane, or if any champion without a teleport rears his or her head in any lane away from where your team is standing off with the enemy.

In that situation, going in on a tank is still fine, because you're 5v4, and even blowing a few cooldowns is worth making it a 5v3, which is statistically unwinnable for the downsized team (don't tell Uzi, I know).

2b) The Counterengage

As a result of the same issues I raised in the opening of the Engage section, the ability to counterengage competently and effectively is almost as valuable as being able to start a fight. It loses points because counterengaging implies that your team has already taken a substantial amount of damage after the initiation, and so the counterengage is inherently weaker than perfecting your engage. 

Still, doing it well means hitting Mikael's on the caught-out target and speed-boosting him or her to safety. Or it can mean separating the assassins and fighters from the tanks and other squishies, allowing your team to jump on isolated members of the enemy team.

Timing is everything for counterengage, too early and they have follow-up gap-closers. Too late and your carries have already been deleted. Depending on the champion you choose, your counterengage is going to be about either preventing damage (shields or heals) or re-positioning (displacement effects, crowd-control). 

If you plan to re-engage, preventing damage is usually going to be an initial priority to insure you have the health bars to brawl in a prolonged skirmish.

3) Who's the Beatdown?

I'm borrowing a concept from Magic: the Gathering of all places for this third section. This is the part where the frantic button-spamming and mouse-clicking happens, and one of the easiest ways of improving your standing is through knowing how to win once the CC starts chaining and the AoE starts raining. 

I've mentioned it over and over again, but I'll bring it up here, too. Knowing your role wins games.

Assassins and fighters built for damage need to be gapclosing to the backline and blowing up or zoning the ADC, AP or AD caster. The support and tanks need to peel and protect their marksman and other squishies. And the sustained DPS or AoE needs to position immaculately and pump out the damages.

I'll repeat this again here from earlier: if you are the marksman, or you are playing alongside a marksman, please keep in mind that the person they need to be shooting is the highest priority target within safe distance. 

Don't like that your ADC never seems to attack the enemy carries? Practice creating firing lanes or safe zones for them to position into in order to isolate those less-resilient champions. Practice peeling and bodyblocking. If they can't position correctly, the team can reposition around them, as well.

That leads into the last point. It's no one individual's fault if the teamfight goes south. That's why it's called a teamfight and not a ZionSpartan. The concept of who's the beatdown applied to teamfighting is understanding tempo and aggression. 

Does your team have an item or experience advantage? You need to be aggressive and dive harder than they are expecting. Keep in mind that a raw gold advantage that hasn't been translated into items does not signal that your team is the beatdown--you have to consider base stats and relative skill.

If you aren't the beatdown, then you need to identify defensive schemes that will minimize the opposing team's current strengths. Baiting a turret dive with a mobile damage dealer might be worth pulling the tankline back a little. 

Or maybe it means investing more in wards to make picks and avoid roaming death squads.

In any case, teamfighting in solo queue is often wild and chaotic and decided as much by misplays as great maneuvers. That only increases the value of practicing and mastering the art of synergy, as you'll see results immediately, reinforcing the benefit of the work you put in. 

VIII. Baron Nashor

Baron Nashor

This section is real simple: Baron Nashor doesn't exist in solo queue. Baron, and the Exalted with Baron Nashor buff granted by defeating him, is designed to provide a strategic incentive to skirmish in the mid-late game. Specifically, having the buff allows you to push objectives and dive turrets effectively when coordinated well. That last part is important. 

When used by a team that can coordinate turret aggro, maintain their formation, and focus down squishy backline targets while allowing the marksman to whittle down the tanks and utility roles, the purple buff is really strong. Realistically, the solo queue team you're on does not have that level of sophistication. At Diamond or Challenger levels, you may have the game sense to organically orchestrate that kind of play, provided everyone has bought into their role and is equally adept at performing it.

With that in mind, contesting the Baron buff in solo queue is almost never worth it. If you've built any sort of item or experience advantage, it is definitely not worth, as a semi-coordinated five-man push is going to secure at least two turrets if not an inhibitor past the 25 minute mark. You will also normally have the opportunity to grab dragon and purloin buffs from the enemy jungle.

The exception to the rule: There are actually two. You should always encourage your team to grab every free Baron you have served up to you. That's a no-brainer enough I almost didn't include it. But I'm specifically referring to clean aces, or four-for-ones or other incredibly favorable trades that result in you having smite and the carries needed to burst down His Majesty Highness, the Baron of the Rift. A two-for-two where you "know they went b" is not the situation I'm referring to.

The other is when, serendipitously, your whole team happens to be around Baron, at full health, when you catch them with their Armor/MR shredded and health bars half-missing, still attempting to slay the royal wurm. If you can't push towers and secure inhibs, because you all happen to be on top of the enemy WHEN THEY START BARON, then you're good to go in with that Crowstorm, that Unstoppable Force, that Assault and Battery. 

But read that last part again. If, WHEN THEY START BARON, one of you is botlane or getting blue buff, or farming away at those Mini Golems, then you all converge wherever they are and grab as many turrets as you can. Period. Especially if you have an item or experience lead.

Baron TL;DR: Don't bother with the beast in his pit. Take turrets and inhibitors instead. Most solo queue teams can't coordinate effectively enough with the Baron buff, and it's more likely that they'll throw than succeed with it so long as your team is prepared for the siege.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

IV. Laning

Yes. I'm aware I skipped ahead two chapters. Those are coming soon. 


Big bold letters inscribed on the sky in flaming font a mile high: NO ONE ON YOUR TEAM IS FEEDING. 

If you take nothing away from today's blog, remember those big bold letters whenever the urge to bemoan a teammate's peculiar affinity for dying on the enemy side of the river rises. Dude isn't feeding. You don't have a counterargument. He's not. He got beat. Maybe it was a lucky crit like he said, maybe he just doesn't know the matchup as well as he thinks. It doesn't matter. Maybe the jungler showed up. IDGAF. Still isn't feeding.

I'll say it again: dying three times in lane isn't feeding. You know that, I know that. It's annoying, and that guy probably feels horrible, but he's not feeding. Five kills? Approaching it, especially if he didn't secure shutdown gold in exchange for the fifth death. But probably still not feeding.

Intentional feeding is beyond incredibly rare. Thanks to Lyte's umpteen posts on the subject we all know the actual rarity, but even anecdotally, it happens less often than finding an extra McNugget in your six-piece. I've played close to 4000 games of League, and I can distinctly remember an intentional feeder popping up a total of 3 times. I've probably blocked out truly awful games, and let's say my memory is worse than Guy Pierce's at the beginning of Memento and say it's 10 times as common. That's still not even 1%.

Unfortunately, thanks to the sheer volume of games played each day, I know there are some players who see intentional feeders a lot more often than I do--and I could see it a bunch of times in a row at some point--but as a general rule, it's fair to say you should probably go back to that whole defaulting to trust thing and give them the benefit of the Yeah-I've-Gotten-My-Ass-Kicked-By-A-Fucking-Teemo-Before-Too.

Rant over.

Once you've gotten over the feeding fallacy, you can focus on the most salient part of laning. Beating your opponent in gold. That's it. Reduced to its skeleton, that's what you've got to do in lane to contribute to a win. Make more money. Warren Buffett up here in the Rift. If that means outfarming them through careful zoning and harass or just better last-hitting, great. Do that. If you can pick up more gold by counterjungling and dueling the enemy jungler 'til he's scared to set foot in his own forest, awesome. Do that. If roaming or aggressively teleporting for objectives or 3v2s means that you'll end up with a fatter stack than the guy on the other side of the river, fantastic. Do that.

We could debate how to define a winning lane along a number of different axes. But whether you think killing the enemy champion, taking the outer turret first, or having a fifty CS lead qualifies, you should know that come teamfight time, the best way for you to contribute to the victory screen is with an item and experience lead. However you come across that.

I'm not going too in-depth with each lane. Contrary to popular belief, there's a lot you need to learn organically as you play. But I have collected three tips for each lane, culled from the vastness of the interwebs in the form of pro player streams, analyst guides, and tournament reviews.

Top Lane

1) Know if you are building for diving the backline or tanking on the front, and know before the game even begins. Don't just assume the jungler or support is going to be able to peel and soak damage. And if you do plan to build for dueling and split-pushing, make sure the team is onboard. If they aren't, none of you are going to have a good time.

2) Focus on farming and winning skirmish trades, but if you have to prioritize one, concentrate on the CS. With the buffs to Teleport and the general level of sustain among viable toplaners, you can afford to come out on the losing end of trades--especially if they are missing minions to hit you. Whether you're going damage or defense, your build is expensive. Farm up.

3) Pay attention to the rest of your lanes. If dragon is a possibility, you'll separate yourself from other toplaners by knowing when to be around the pit and managing your lane minions to avoid missing crucial gold.  The same goes for countering 2v3s in bot with Teleport, or roaming mid after shoving for a surprise gank. Your team's top lane champion is often thought of as an island, and that's true to some extent, but it's actually more like a lumbering, floating warship that can make its presence felt well inland from the coast.

Bot Lane Support

1) Zoning. The act of positioning your champion in such a way that approaching the minion line to farm results in your opponent getting zapped with a fusillade of damage. Proper zone control can make a lane considerably easier (or considerably more difficult, if the enemy support is winning the zone war).

2) Vision control. Fortunately, the actual warding part of the vision game is usually helped out by the rest of the team in the 2014 season. But you can get a leg up on other supports by practicing de-warding, and using dangerous deep wards to carve out small advantages for your team

3) Building for utility can make a huge difference in solo queue. Some supports still try to build like an off-lane AP carry. Zyra, Morgana and Vel'koz can pull it off, but it still means sacrificing the ability to turn a teamfight with a well-timed Mikael's, or chase down fleeing foes with a speed bump from the Talisman of Ascension.

Bot Lane Marksman

1) Positioning is a real thing, but it's widely misunderstood. For one thing that hardly ever gets pointed out, positioning is highly relative. As you climb while playing marksmen, you'll hear about "bad positioning" and "great positioning" in somewhat disproportionate numbers. The TL;DR of positioning as a marksman is that you need to stay out of range of assassins/dives/burst while still DPSing as much as possible. Finding the right angles and maneuvering with your team instead of trying to force them to work around you will lead to more victories.

2) When your team is shouting about focusing the right target, they are not talking to you. This is an important lesson to learn as a marksman but it's equally important to understand no matter what role you play. 

Remember the first tip? You can scroll up about a millimeter on your mousewheel if you've forgotten already. Because positioning is paramount, you need to shoot the things that are safest for you to shoot. Is that backline Tristana shredding your tanks? Well, the team can try and rotate around to get you an angle on her, but it's still the responsibility of the assassin/AoE/fighter to take her down. If you try and dive in because everyone is screaming to "focus the ADC," you're going to die, and then Tristana is going to finish what she was doing.

3) It's damage per second, not damage upfront. If you're playing marksman as if you were an assassin or mage, you're not right-clicking enough. Learn your animation timing, practice kiting as often as you can, and don't ever forget to right-click on bad guys.

Mid Lane

1) There are a lot of mid champions, and even more midlane strategies. Understanding your goals entering into the laning phase, however, is a universal boon. Always have one. It can be to keep your opponent heading back to base every three minutes. Build a fifty-CS lead by twelve minutes. Whatever your goal is, modify it for the matchup and adjust your tactics accordingly.

2) Take Wraiths. If it's the enemy Wraiths, that's even better. Investing in a ward for the Wraith camp bush on the enemy side is always worth it, even if you never steal the gold. If you have to, take your own Wraiths. Most junglers have very fast clear times now, and with an additional camp on the far side of the map from the Wraiths, with careful timing, you can make sure you get a Wraith camp for every Wraith camp your allied jungler smites down. The extra gold is relevant, but even more relevant in mid-tiers is the extra ticks on your CS count. Building up 4 bonus minion kills on your score every 55 seconds can make it look to your opponent as though they are falling even further behind than they actually are.

3) Make the effort to understand how much damage your abilities do, especially in terms of a full rotation of skills. You don't have to get to Faker's Zed level, but basic calculation of approximately whether or not you'll kill your target in a teamfight or duel can boost your mana efficiency and cooldown management. The good news is that you probably already have an instinctual understanding of the damage you do, so it's just a matter of converting that to real numbers you can subtract from your enemy's health total until you've got enough damage to reduce it to zero.

Jungle Tank

1) The two main styles of jungler are different enough to warrant two sections here. As a Tank, the jungler is still responsible for objectives and crowd control. Because you will most likely have less damage than a carry-style jungler, knowing your opponent's "Smite+X" combo is even more important than it is for Jungle Fighter champs. You or someone on your team needs to hit the bad smite-wielder with CC the instant the objective hits that number, so you can pile on a bit of extra damage and use your weaker combo to finish it off.

2) Mobility boots are your best friend. Tanks who play in the jungle are much slower than their Fighter counterparts. That goes for movement speed and the time it takes them to kill off monsters. For that reason, ganks and the resulting gold are crucial for Tanks. Investing in mobi boots means getting around the Rift faster and creating more opportunities to killsteal your carries.*

3) Bringing that chainable CC hugely benefits your team if you can do it. If you're more of the meatshield-type, don't neglect picking up extra health. Ruby Sightstone's stats are a lot more attractive when you've got the Spirit of the Ancient Golem.

Jungle Fighter

1) So, when the Live Design team stated their intention to bring back carry-style junglers in the preseason, I'm not sure they envisioned Feral Flare's broken release state. But the item has stabilized now, and junglers who want to be clawing and stabbing their way in to the back lines have some solid build paths and strong options that include or ignore FF as needed. That's not much of a tip though, so here's one: many of the strongest duelists and damage-based junglers don't even use FF. But if you are going to, make sure the team is onboard with the plan in champ select. At the very least, explain how you'll use the Feral Flare to secure objectives and map control, along with swifty or mobi boots to wreak some turret-pushing havoc in the mid and late game.

2) That was a little long. When building damage, know your role in teamfights. You'll likely pick up some tank stats along the way, and you need to use those to initiate and burst the opposing carries with your AD as fast as you can. You need to count on your team to follow up. As a reminder, when it comes to your team, default to trust.

3) You are building for counterjungling, so make sure you do it. Opposing jungler shows bot and you're near upper red? Snag his wraiths or wolves, because you're not making it down there in time to contribute. Always leave a ward. When counterjungling, if you can, it is usually better to clear the camp entirely so that you have the timer and your counterpart doesn't. If you remembered to leave the ward, you can time the camps respawns to initiate a duel, or just take advantage of his poor positioning.


Worthy of its own section. The infamous killsteal. Whereby a champion blows all of their abilities to secure a +1 to the K part of their KDA. Oh, you thought I meant whenever a champion that isn't thought of as a primary carry kills an enemy that other allies were attacking?

Yeah. Hate to break it to you, that's not KSing. It's probably not the best strategy, either, but the vitriol spewed in solo queue should the support dare to press Q one more time while the opponent running away is at low health is astonishing.

In general, it's better to get extra gold on to champions who are going to be dealing damage in mid and late game. The addition of assist streaks only magnifies the effectiveness of this. But, damn. Gold in lane is gold in lane. Remember what I said way back at the beginning of this section?  Each lanes' goal in the early game is to generate more gold and experience than the opponents in that lane. Gold on the support still counts for bot lane, and gold in the jungler's purse still counts towards gold from the jungle.

If you're playing one of the non-damage roles, then by all means try to avoid getting kills that could be taken down by damage-dealers. But don't make it a bigger deal than it is. We've got more important things to do, like win the fucking game.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Last Guide to Solo Queue You'll Ever Need

This could have been three times as long. It would have been mostly fluff. I just thought you should know. I've broken this guide into a whole bunch of sections. Here's the Table of Contents. I'll hyperlink each section once I've posted it. Sound cool?

II. Runes and Masteries
III. Level One
V. Dragon
VI. First Tower
VII. Sieging and Countersieging

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Different Take on 'The Thesis That Launched a Thousand Sitcoms'

The quarter-century that has passed since Nora Ephron's classic means that any number of When Harry Met Sally... thinkpieces now litter your interwebs like husks of failed rom-com writers. Of course, I also have a take, but I wanted to try something a little, different.

EDIT NOTE: So, I actually published this under a different title first, so if you saw that version, I'm sorry. After hitting the go button, I stumbled across a tab I'd opened while researching and never actually checked. Mark Harris, over at Grantland, wrote a mind-numbingly brilliant thinkpiece on the film here: "When Harry Met Annie". Not only is that article neuron-melting, it also included the gem of a phrase I'm quoting in my new one.

Monday, July 7, 2014

More about the Noxian language I designed for a fan fiction I'm writing

So there is every chance this is going to go on for a while, but, sure. Let's do it.

Whenever I'm trying to uncover a language used in an already-existing IP, the first step could be considered a little boring. It's the research phase; before worrying about grammar or alphabets, I read up on as many words as exist in the target language. Noxus doesn't have many. Here's a quick checklist I run through along with specific examples from Noxian:

                1) Names -- while there are plenty of names in every language with no semantic meaning (James, Cathy), the majority of names will use the standard phonemes, giving you an idea of the breadth of consonants and vowels. Because of, as you identified, patronymics like "Le Blanc" and "du Couteau" we know that those names are untranslated, fixing "le" and "du" as some sort of articles.

                2) Proper nouns -- although nearly all of the lore (to be fair, all of the lore I could find, but I'm not discounting the possibility there is something I missed) translates non-common words to the English-equivalent, proper nouns often give away a title or phrase in the target language. For example, we know that Swain is or wants to be Grand General of Noxus. Assuming there is a Noxian language, it stands to reason that there is a Noxian equivalent to Grand General (otherwise that wouldn't have been the translation).

                3) Nouns -- the same as with proper nouns, although I haven't found as many Noxian nouns. We know there is a noun which means "quick move," or some approximation thereof, since Katarina uses "shunpo," a non-English word, as a noun. Whatever word it is, it can't have a good English equivalent, so we can re-create it once we've set up more of the Noxian tongue.

Moving on to grammar, remember those fixed morphemes we identified in the names? Those are definite articles, which is our first clue to deciphering Noxian syntax.

As a romantic language, Noxian would likely have tenses and verb conjugations, formal and informal constructions, as well as at least twenty characters in its alphabet. The existence of both [v] and [u] is problematic in a way, since a simpler alphabet is easier to asterisk. But with [i] and [y] both dropping in as well, we have to assume we're dealing with at least 24. The proposed alphabet looks like this:

*a, b,c, d, e, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

(using [ph], for example--we haven't found any Noxian words that need an f, nor any good reason to have it around)

We can assume, from the stories we know, and the brief snippets of dialogue we have between Noxian characters, that there are two forms of Noxian. One formal, one informal. Let's also assume the formal version would be used in most political or judicial situations.

Based on the power dynamics on display in Noxian culture, I decided to assume that the formal version would be less comfortable for the average Noxian to speak. Once I decided that, it was easy enough to determine that ornate, descriptive prose with a flowing rhythm and soft vowel closings would not be the average Noxian's cup of tea. Thus, formal Noxian words end always with a vowel, where gutter Noxian or informal Noxian can end with either a vowel or a consonant, although never with the [ee] sound as used only in formal diction.

There are even subtler distinctions. [Ch] pronounced as [kay], as in Jericho, occurs only in formal Noxian. In informal Noxian, the [kay] sound is always represented by the [k] letter. From this, you should be picking up that Noxian is different from the formal and informal forms of most romantic languages. For all intents, Noxian is actually two completely separate languages, which I determined because of an inchoate conflict I've pieced together, where the nobility (who frequently use formal Noxian) and the military (comprised largely of non-noble Noxians using informal language) have grown further and further apart over centuries of arguments and dissent.

The Noxian Articles and Slight Variations:

Le -- the, informal
Du -- the, formal
Ka -- a, informal
Ke -- some (as an article, informal)
I -- a, formal
Ai -- an, formal
En -- an, informal

Noxian words and phrases I've used so far --

"Na kalyn" --"by the raven", informal Noxian. The formal version would be "ni kali". Here Anton is purposefully baiting Katarina, using gutter slang.

"docherni" -- Remember that this is pronounced "dough-KER-ni". It's actually an honorific, as Anton is trying to appeal to Kat's noble side. An English near-cognate, docherni means "Revered Daughter".

"druz'yami" -- Here's where we go uber-deep. This is a portmanteau of sorts, the kind of slurring that happens when a common suffix melts over the rest of the word. The full phrase would be "druz a du yami" or "a fight to the next level". "Druz" the noun form of the verb "fight". "A" means "to". "Du yami" could be "the top" or literally [ya] + [mi]"above me" but there's probably no reason to break up a word like that unnecessarily, so when combined with a Noxian tradition of formal duels to the death, "next level" describes rising to the occasion with a subtext of ascending from this world (or descending, we haven't examined that yet). You should recognize that this is a formal phrase, a well-worn cliché for instigating a duel.

"malen'mal'chik" -- Another one of those contracted phrases. Let's take a step back to why so many contractions? We can extrapolate from Draven and Darius's behavior, as well as Talon, Katarina, and Cassiopeia's impulsiveness, combined with the notion of a society governed by a culture of power, and the language would likely be gruff, workmanlike, as terse as possible in its informal version. Formal Noxian probably tends the other way, with flowery ornamentations and rhetorical flourishes. Remember that informal Noxian ends in consonants and occasionally vowels, while the formal version only ends in "[i], [e], [u], [o], and sometimes [a] or [y]". We can assume, since Noxian is a phonetic language, that "mal" is the root of the word "malen". It's even easier in this case, since the full phrase is "malen maleninichik," or "very stupid very stupid person." Literally, "bad brained boymanchild with a bad brain." Where "inichik" tells us that we're talking about a "inchik/boy child" who is older than he should be--that interjecting [i]--possessing of the prefix ("bad brained" or "stupid").

"Direya" -- The suffix [-eya] is attached to a noun to signify "little girl" or "daughter". "Dir" in this case would be "street". I'm pretty sure you can figure out the word from that.

"Kreshnaya" -- "Shadow mother". An unofficial term of address for one of the graduated assassins of the Sinister Blade. Can be used as a curse or pejoratively, as Marcus uses it here. Well, somewhat pejoratively, I think it's possible to detect just a little bit of begrudging respect.

"Nikiya" -- Just as "eya" means "little girl" or "daughter", "iya" is "wife" or "sister" (for those wondering, "aya" would be mother or grandmother). "Nikiya" is a term of endearment, where "nik" is "cute" and the full word translates as "cutie" or "little cutie." As you can undoubtedly imagine, almost every diminutive used with young women is unfortunately used as a pejorative when said to a man. It's worth pointing out that the same is true in reverse, describing or addressing a woman using the diminutives meant for boys would suggest weakness or a lack of power in the subject.

"Dai luta" -- "May you die with blood on your hands" or "Die in battle" or "Die bleeding". Traditional Noxian salute between soldiers.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

You Know That Scene in the Game of Thrones Season Finale You Really Hate? It's actually awesome. Here's why.

The Bear and the Maiden Fair

We're in that fallow period between seasons now, when winter looms but we've left Westeros behind until the snow melts in the spring. And with the threat of a hiatus on the back of everyone's mind, it makes even more sense to savor what we've seen thus far.

Sometimes, with Game of Thrones, it's the sweeping spectacle that sets your imagination soaring. Other times, you crash harder than a Stark kid thrown from a window, your spirit pulped like so many swollen heads in King's Landing. There are a few scenes, though, that raise the hackles of casual fan and Martin connoisseur alike. In the season 4 finale, "The Children," amidst daring escapes and far-less-cliché privy piercings, an enormous, hulking knight faced off against a hideous, loyal guardian in an impromptu dance-off to the death that felt as visceral as watching one of those "how McDonald's makes their beef" shock vids.

Widely derided, the scene sparked a brief tweetplosion that was quickly forgotten once Tyrion tracked Tywin to the toilet. Still, ask just about anyone their impression of the scene and as soon as they picture it, they'll make a face like someone just offered them raw seaweed from the Hudson, and grumble some monosyllables.

But those people are idiots. Here are five reasons why.

5) The scene is the culmination of a dozen allusions and symbolic foreshadowings.

Because the scene departs dramatically from the books, it actually came as a bit of a surprise to some tome-knowledgeable viewers. But within the show itself, there were several references to what was going to happen.

You can guess from the title that the repetition of the ballad "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" throughout the credits and closings, and as one of apparently the only two songs any bard in Westeros knows, are all interpreted as hinting towards the showdown of scary swordmasters.

But there's more, circumstantial, allusions as well. The long Samuel Beckett homage where the Hound and Arya met a dead man in the road directly mirrors the way Sandor meets his own unlikely end (and yes, I'm aware "we didn't see him die" and things-and-stuff-books-but-and). Waiting for Godot is many things, but a typical aside in a high fantasy murderfest it is not. All the more reason for us to have paid better attention to it.

4) Benioff and Weiss take great pains to show off scenes of Westerosi brutality, this short encounter does it better than any of them.

From the pilot to the season four finale, the showrunners behind our annual excursions in the wilds of George RR Martin's imagination avail themselves of nearly every opportunity to remind us that in this world, life is not only brutish and short, but as much of both of those things as possible. Regicide, fratricide, patricide, good old fashioned homicide, a hint of suicide, and tales of infanticide cover just about every Latin-inflected word we have for killing people.

But so many of those scenes hinge on a kind of violent voyeurism. Shock porn for the sake of social media impressions. From the first surprise beheading to the last bolt-interrupted bowel movement, the torturous eviscerations and bloody conflicts and headzit-poppings all elicit gasps and groans but go too far to linger beyond a graphic, crimson-smeared image.

When Brienne of Tarth and Sandor Clegane, the Hound of House Lannister face off in the rocky outerlands of the Lords of the Eyrie, over a not-nearly-helpless Arya Stark, they do so with the words of heroism and glittering knights, but wearing the ill-fitting armor of soldiers aching their way through the last years of a war. The lack of music, the heavy clangs and thuds as the titans clash, the scene finds its song in the roughness of its intercourse. There is no great triumph to be found here. No medals or gold for the victor. Just two tortured souls battling each other and themselves while clambering over the boulder-strewn heather.

3) It freed Arya to become herself

The Arya Stark who turned over her coin with a quip and a wink and found herself sailing across the Narrow Sea is not the Arya who served Lord Tywin at Harrenhal. Nor the Arya who watched her direwolf die at the hands of a cruel butcher. Nor the Arya who looked on in horror from the crowd when her father was slain by an even crueler mockery of a king. In all of those situations, she was under the "protection" of someone. 
Only through Brienne's errant gallantry was Arya freed of her final captor.

Inversely, by failing Arya in her duel with Sandor, Brienne was chained by the oath she'd given Catelyn Stark. Yes, the scene labored on long enough to be uncomfortable, and it's true that dying atop a jagged piece of granite was a death unworthy of the Hound. But it happened in a way that allowed Arya to recover from the untimely passing of her aunt and the morbid catharsis she'd giggled away in the canyon during episode eight. It happened in a way that severed the shackles around Arya's wrists. She has no more ties to the Seven Kingdoms, only a life she has to figure out how to live.

2) It's aesthetically beautiful, the perfect microcosmic summary of the entire western storyline.

Yeah, this is the art-house, slightly pretentious entry. But, you can't ignore the symmetry in the scene. Or you could, but that'd make it infinitely harder to prove this point. Podrick and Brienne; Sandor and Arya. A Lannister and a Stark-by-oath, a Lannister and a Stark-by-blood. An ugly lady knight against an ugly male ex-knight. A young boy who thanks to Tyrion's pampered-at-least-before-prison lifestyle acts more like a lady-in-waiting. A young girl whose unfortunate circumstances and karma-stockpiling left her pretending to be a squire. There's also the parallel, probably inappropriate anywhere-but-Westeros tension in each pair.

The mortal combat adds another dimension by symbolically reflecting the plot of the show thus far. The older Stark narrowly defeats the Lannister only to lose what she was fighting for. Like every victory we've seen up to this point, this one rings hollow in the end. The giant was defeated, the Mountain toppled, the Lion put down on his throne. As Daenerys freed Slaver's Bay,  Arya was freed. She'll sail upon the waves, albeit headed in the opposite direction.

The cinematography frames the fight perfectly. Eschewing the hectic jump cuts from Mance's assault on the Wall, the ponderous, lumbering camera clunks along with each crushing blow. There's no commentary, just a glum, almost voyeuristic look at the kind of ordinary violence that happens every day in the world of ice and fire. It's pretty much the best "Previously on" ever.

1) It was two monstrously strong fighters beating on each other like a platemail-clad heavyweight main event at Wrestlemania

So what if it was more late-career, less-agile Undertaker versus never-agile, somehow-late-career-only-like-two-years-in Brock Lesnar, and not an epic Warrior vs Hogan clash. The fight, for all its tracking, silent cinematography, bears rewatching for how intricate the choreography is.

If you've never tried to duel with broadswords before, you probably don't appreciate how much harder it is to fake a realistic showdown than to perform a swooping, leaping blade-ballet. Dirty, rough; lit with the grime and grit of the barren Eyrie-environs, the plodding pace of the confrontation underscores how banal one on one combat can be. There's no weeping orchestral score or blazing-white Gandalf charging down a hill. Just two herculean soldiers, smacking each other with swords and spilling black blood on blacker soil.

Ben Snyder is a writer at Riot Games who spends most of his time trying to master the dying art of calligraphic Sanskrit. That's not true at all, and he's even pretty sure that's not even a thing. Follow him on twitter, @RiotExLibris, or find him on the Riot community sites with the same tag.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More from In Times of Cold Rain

So, to be fair, there's been almost no response to any of the openings I posted on earlier. I think this means either that I need to decide myself, or that none of the ideas are worth following up on. I wrote a few extra words for a couple of the novels-in-vitro so I'll go ahead and share them before returning to some sort of regular blog content.

In Times of Cold Rain

“I’m sorry I missed your call, I had a problem with the car this morning,” he explained into the phone, twirling a pen through his fingers and idly clicking at the keypad.  “It’s nothing, really, I’m sure.  I’ll get it into the shop and I’ll be back on the road in no time.”  He listened to her reply, nodding with his face frozen into an impassive glare.  “No, I know, I was going to be home, but I need to get take care of the shop in Champaign,” he paused again, waiting for her to finish.  “It’s not a big deal,” he argued, “I’ll be back next week.”  Her voice sounded like a screech through the earpiece.  “That’s bullshit, Erin, and you know it.”  He held the phone away from his face and mimicked her piercing cries.
                “What are you doing?” Josh said, standing in the doorway.  “The conference call is starting.”
                Fuck off, he mouthed to Josh, then returned the phone to his ear.  He cupped the receiver and mouthed to his assistant, pick up the call, and I’ll join in a few minutes, trying to mime his instructions with his free hand.
                Josh couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of his boss acting like he was playing charades at the home of a developmentally-disabled twelve year old.  “You got it, boss,” he said, and set the coffee down before heading to his own desk to join the conference call.
                “Are you done, yet?” he said into the phone.  “I’ve got an important call I need to be on.”
                He stood up, sliding the chair back to the wall.  “I know, babe, I know, it’s hard for me, too.  I’ll call you back later and we’ll talk some more about it,” he said, “all right? I’m going to go.  I miss you,” he finished and set the receiver back in its cradle.  He picked up the coffee and took a sip.
                “God damn it, Josh,” he hollered.  “This tastes worse than your girlfriend’s asshole.”
                Outside the room Josh just shrugged, he hadn’t made the coffee.  “Yes sir,” he said into the phone, “he’ll be right on.”

*   *   *

Monday, March 10, 2014

Choose the novel: Neverend

This is it, the last of the prospective novels I could end up finishing. What you should know thus far: whichever of the six or seven novel openings I post racks up the most comments will be written in full. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story. Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy is my offering to the YA gods, and The Heat of the Frozen Road is my offering to all fifty shades of grey. The final one is back in the literary space, with a horror-thriller twist. I present: Neverend.


If you add up the odds of everything that could kill you in any given moment, you're something like two thousand percent more likely to be dead than alive whenever you dare draw a breath. You don't have to believe me. I've died enough times to know at least most of the thirty-four trillion flavors.

Sometimes, dying only sets me back a second or two--barely any lost time at all. That happens most often. Sometimes I fucked something up real bad. Then I have to go back further. It'd be easier if I had someone to talk to. No one believes me when I tell 'em. I can't prove it, of course. Even if I stood in front of a guy and died, we'd rewind to just before it happened, you'd never see the attempt. Not that I've ever tried to kill myself. There's entirely too many other ways to shuffle coil.

I don't know why this happens to me. My best guess, and it took me years to figure this out, so don't laugh, my best guess is that it has to do with a first death that even I don't remember. I figure it happens in the future. And if it ever happens again, if I make it that far, that'll be it. It's game over. That's why I keep rewinding, to keep me off the path that leads there. Leads to really dying.

I could be wrong.

Add up all the lost time over the years since it started happening, I'm maybe four or five years older, brainwise than it says on my birth certificate. I just turned twenty-four according to the doctor.

The most time I've ever lost was nine months. I'd been working as a line cook, til a grease fire sent me back to the day before I'd accepted the job. Too much dangerous shit down that path, I suppose. I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did. Not as surprised as I was the first time I met a girl that I was really meeting for the first time a second time around. It's like meeting a porn star, or trying to hang out with a friend's girl after you've seen her hidden album. She had no idea who I was. I'd seen her naked. It made me feel dirty.

I'd like to say I got over it. I didn't. Haven't seen that girl in a few years. It's happened a couple of times since the first. Haven't seen those girls either. Maybe one of these times I'll die alone. Maybe it'll be less awkward. Maybe not.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Choose the novel: The Heat of the Frozen Road

Only one more opening left after this one. TL;DR of the story thus far: whichever of the seven novel openings I've posted scores the most comments will be written in full online before a live studio audience. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story.Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy is my offering to the YA gods. This one? This is a bit of a flashback for me. The Heat of the Frozen Road is a, well, novel. Featuring strippers, debauchery, drugs, gambling and a trip to dancer's El Dorado: Alaska during the rig off-season.  

The Heat of the Frozen Road

She slammed the door shut as soon as I set the last box in the van.  It was hard to believe how much the girls managed to pack.  I looked down at the small bag I was bringing.  Toothpaste.  Toothbrush. Roll of toilet paper. And that's about all of the personal stuff I feel like sharing.  Fair enough; I had a change of clothes, two paperbacks, a carton of smokes, and a twenty-four pack of condoms I bought at Sam's Club.  Those were hidden, covered by the extra boxers I brought along.  Maybe a bit presumptuous, but it was a long drive to Anchorage, and there were going to be more than a few late nights.

"We don't mind leaving you here," the other girl, the one I didn't know very well, or at all, threatened me.  Alicia slapped her ass.

"You said I could bring him with," Alicia reminded her.  She put her arm around me.  I wanted to think it was because she was standing up for me.  Looking back, it was as if I was a well-trained dog and she wanted to show off all the tricks I could do.  I guess it's better to be a talented dog, if you have to be one.

The girl whose name I still can't remember scoffed and folded her arms in front of her chest.  I should have caught that as the first sign of trouble.  No good can come from a woman who has to cross her arms six inches in front of her shoulders.

"Do you have everything?" Alicia asked me.

"Nah, but I'm pretty sure I have enough."  Sometimes I could be a literal minded person.  Other times, I was just an idiot.  The only time it ever really got me in trouble was when I was younger and someone told me to go fuck myself.  After the awkward moment with my dad, I decided that not everything could be taken at face value, and that whenever possible, you shouldn't do anything alone.

She giggled a little bit, and it almost sounded genuine.  The pout on her girlfriend's lips only made her laugh harder.  When the van door slammed again, she looked at me.

"I promise, she's a lot of fun, she'll like you," Alicia said, her thousand watt smile cutting through the early morning fog that had snuck up on us.

"As long as her idea of fun doesn't end up with me in handcuffs and leather underwear, I trust you," I winked.  I headed towards the passenger side but she stopped me.  She gave me the keys.

"You volunteered for the first leg, remember?" she smiled again and actually batted her eyelashes.  She might have been being sarcastic, but it was effective either way.

I settled in and pulled out towards the highway.  As it turned out, the first leg ended up being about eighteen hundred miles.

Day 2 -- Morning

I hadn't been in an IHOP while sober in about five years.  I sat down across from the girls who looked as ragged as I felt.  I almost would have thought that they were the ones who slept in the van instead of the hotel I paid for.  Had there not been a month's worth of costumes and shoes stacked on every available inch, it might not have been so bad.  As it was, I had no interest in looking in a mirror.  I kept my head buried in my notebook, scribbling away, writing ideas for the first article.

"Whatcha writing?" the other girl asked, a drop of water teetering on the edge of her porn-star lips.  Alicia rolled her eyes.  I let her explain what I was doing.

While I listened, I thought about when I pitched my editor on the idea.  I didn't think he'd actually go with it.  Even after driving over a thousand miles, I still wasn't sure it was happening.  None of the sentences were coming out right.  The paper had more cross-outs than coherent words.

"When can we read it?" the other girl asked when Alicia finished explaining.  She leaned over the table, almost falling out of the thin blouse she hadn't even bothered to button all the way.  Alicia noticed that I noticed and slapped my hand.  I pulled it back and used it to shield the nonsense I had scrawled on the page.

"I'm still working on it," I protested.  She recoiled and threw her hands up as if to say she was sorry.  Alicia's laugh was like the sound of silk sheets rustling over a piano; soft, smooth, with a melody.  There isn't much a laugh like that can't make a man do.  It had the same effect on her girlfriend.  The other girl calmed down and ordered them both strawberry pancakes with whipped cream and real fruit.  I got my usual omelette.

"I'll let you read it before I send it in," I said.  I don't know why.  Writing is the closest a man can come to having a baby.  And just like a baby, it's never a good idea to show it off before it's popped out, bloody and crying for attention.  Otherwise, you only wind up with the first part.

Day 2-- Evening

I was out in the van, grabbing a fresh notebook when the first drunk asshole was tossed out.
"I din't ev'n touch 'er," the man belched.  "Bitch is lyin' and shit."  I could tell he was wasted.  It was an impressive feat considering it's barely after seven and the club didn't open until five on weekdays.

When Alicia first told me about the pilgrimage she and the other girl were taking to dancers El Dorado, I had a hard time taking her serious.  The thought that some small oil rig town in Alaska was filled with piles of singles and stacks of folded hundred dollar bills was as ludicrous to me as the prospect of tagging along.
It was her idea, in the end.  I still hadn't expected the editor to sign off on it.  It probably helped that I pitched it to him after we finished a bottle of greasy gin and vodka doubles.

Admittedly, the idea seemed a lot more glamorous back in the Midwest, not crawling around the van listening to some unknown Don Draper wannabe splatter chunky beer on the pavement.  The Lounge dressed itself in flowing neon, the blacklights and red trim giving it a look that wouldn't be out of place in the trendiest neighborhood in SoHo.  Some out-in-the-woods type places settle for a cheap, hand-painted sign and plywood instead of dark tint, but The Lounge went all out on massive jet black bay windows, a valet booth, and an elegant wrap-around drive that had only recently been stained by the stumbling drunk's post-adrenaline heaving.

I found a new notebook around the time the unruly patron fished his car keys from his pocket.  I was glad I was heading back inside.  I wouldn't have been surprised if the van had a few new dents when I came back out.

It is possible The Lounge spent as much money inside as they did with the façade, but it was impossible to tell.  A long walkway led to the main stage, but the only source of light was the red frame of the admissions stall, glowing softly like the emergency lights at a movie theater.  I skipped the ticket window and made my way back inside.

The stage was dimly lit in the way that Hitler was kind've racist.  Red and purple neon trim provided the illumination.  Renting a spot in the line-up was cheap--which was why the girls stopped there--but I could see why in the first two hours.  With the lights as low as they were, the girls became indistinguishable from each other, just brief glimpses of a smile or two, and short flashes of what might have been tits or bush.  I doubted there was any money to be made at the place.

But the bar was serving me free drinks, and the bartender found the idea of writing appealing enough to spend most of the first part of the night flirting with me and tugging on her boobs to push up more cleavage.  I went outside with Alicia and the other girl a few times to smoke, and the lady behind the bar looked sad every time.  I was hoping I might not have to sleep alone in the van when the other girl grabbed me and started pulling me towards the door.  I could almost see Alicia arguing with The Lounge's owner.

"Motherfucker," she yelled, poking her finger into his ribs.  A rather large bouncer--the one I had seen earlier with the drunk--hovered nearby.  "There's, like, four fucking people in here, and the only one getting dances is missing her teeth."

The other girl explained to me that the owner had signed up too many dancers.  I knew that stage time was worthless, more like an advertisement than a way to make any money.  At twenty-five to a hundred bucks a song for a private show, it was obvious why it was a problem if no one was heading for the VIP.

"I told you, it's slow now, but it'll pick up," the owner grumbled in what sounded like a Louisiana drawl, even though we had made it through into Montana already.  "You can't leave now.  You've got six hours."

I was standing behind Alicia when he said it.  The other girl started trying to walk around both of them to the exit.  The bouncer blocked the door.  Alicia is barely five feet tall, but she wasn't backing down.  I couldn't see her face, but I remembered the one time I had ever seen her mad at me.  When someone carrying the delicate lines of an elf princess is fixing you with the kind of glare usually found on arch-villains and lawyers trying to be serious, it's a shock.

"There's no reason for us to stay," the other girl jumped back into the fray, her already dark hair a black halo surrounding her pale face.  She put her hands on her hips and stood next to Alicia.  Even in the dim light it was obvious they were the two hottest girls in the club, and I could see the bouncer almost drooling.  Between the two of them, the girls might have weighed as much as one of the bouncer's legs.

I tried my best to look intimidating, but nobody was mistaking me for a bodyguard.  If you want to look non-threatening, there are few ways better than holding a pen and a pad of paper. Just ask Clark Kent.

"Oi, let 'er go," a very deep, very British, and very female voice came from the office the owner had stepped out of earlier.  A grotesquely fat woman ambled into the space where we were all standing.  If the bouncer was capable of eating Alicia and the other girl, the woman who started eye-fucking me as soon as she saw me would have used them as toothpicks.

It was hard to see in the light, but the most frightening thing about her wasn't the four hundred pounds she had to be hauling under the Coogi tracksuit she was wearing; it was her face.  She had high cheek bones and soft eyes.  Her full pout was wide, showing off a brilliant white smile.  She was beautiful.  A unicorn.  A nothing butterface.  I'd heard of them before but never seen one.  If she sent a picture to you from the shoulders up, it's hard to imagine you wouldn't meet her for a drink.

"It's slow," she admitted, pulling the owner out of the way.  The bouncer gave her a quizzical look, but let us pass.  Alicia tugged on my arm.  The British woman was licking her lips.  As we walked to the car I found myself horrified by at least four scenarios that would eventually give me nightmares.

Choose the novel: The Weaponslayer Trilogy: Forged

So, I'm a little late posting this one. Sorry about that. Quick TL;DR: whichever of the six or seven novel openings I post racks up the most comments will be written in full on this here web log here. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story. Weaponslayer: Forged is my offering to the YA gods. 

Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy

                The Rainman crept through the flickering shadows, gesturing for her to sit with his long, twisted fingers.  As he passed by the broken light, she could see that he walked with his arms and legs forming almost a straight line, as if he were sneaking along girders and steel rope even in his own living room.
                ‘I am,’ he stuttered, ‘very pleased to make your acquaintance.  I am Rejil, Rainmaster of Holshard Waterworks.’
                She slunk back into the plush softness of the spherical chair.  ‘My name is Sarah.  I was chased out of the Upper Tier, something was after me, I got lost up here.’
                Rejil nodded grimly in the dark, his violet eyes sparkling in the fragments of candlelight that danced in the wind.  ‘I have seen you, Sarah.  You are not like the others.’
                She shrugged and sat up on one elbow, watching the Rainman perch in a sling.  ‘I’m younger.’
                ‘What was it that chased you?’
                A boy, she almost answered.  The Rainmaster wouldn’t understand.  Something about Azrel was wrong.  His damned amber eyes.  She felt like an insect trapped in sap whenever she saw him.  But he had not dared pass the smog line, and she was alone again.  Well, alone with a rather strange old man watching protectively over her.
                ‘Can I get you something to eat?’  He finally said after she declined to answer his question.
                She nodded.  She had not eaten in hours, and she could feel her quickening metabolism burning calories at an alarming rate to compensate for being so high above the Tiers. 
                ‘How long was I out there?’ she asked when he returned with a steaming broth and a slice of bread.  She sopped up some of the broth and bit into the bread.  She smiled, the soup had been made with Pure water.
                The Rainmaster slung himself around the room, hanging on lines stretching across the ceiling of the cottage.  He seemed to be looking for something, his long limbs flaying about, tossing books and stacks of paper with his hands and his prehensile toes.  ‘Not a long while,’ he said as an afterthought, absentmindedly picking up a worn looking volume and flipping through it.  ‘You should be fine.’
                She could feel how chapped her lips were, and the tips of her fingers felt as if they were covered in rust.  She ran her hand through her hair and shivered to feel the frozen strands.  ‘Thank you for taking me in,’ she said.
                Rejil nodded sagely.  ‘I found it,’ he said, holding up a shimmering red leather quarto.  The pages seemed thin, even from across the room.  She could hear the wind whistle through it as the Rainmaster flapped it in his hand as he made his way back across the room to her.
                She took it from him and wiped the back of her hand across the jacket, scattering dust in the air.  She gasped when she saw the title.  ‘Songs in Silence,’ she whispered.  ‘This was my mother’s favorite book.  She read from it to me every night until I was Gathered.’
                The Rainmaster sat patiently in front of her, not even nodding as she spoke.
                ‘How did you get this?  When I Returned, after being Forged, I searched all of the libraries and bookstores for this.  Everyone said it didn’t exist!’ she opened to the first page, reading the words aloud.
                ‘Your father was a great friend to We Who Live Above the Clouds, we saw him often in his journeys.’
                She stared at the ancient Rainmaster, her jaw open and bubbling with a dozen unasked questions.
                ‘You did not know your father,’ Rejil acknowledged, ‘but he knew very much indeed about you.  He was proud when you were Gathered, and he mourned your mother for years when the Infection took her.’
                ‘She was Infected?’ Sarah mumbled, her head dropping back to the pages of the book.  ‘They never told me.’
                ‘We knew, and some of us were able to recover some of her things for him.  And for you, though only he was confident that you would make your way here.’
                ‘Where is this place?’ she asked, the green glow of the cottage suddenly assaulting her with its strangeness.  Even the sky outside the windows was lighter and falling away from her, as if gravity was tugging on the very color of the air.
                ‘We are far above the clouds, dear child, we are in the Fourth Tier,’ the Rainman said, taking her hand in his own and caressing her forehead.  ‘You ran very far, and came very high.’
                ‘Where is my father?  Is he here?’ she pushed the strange old man away from her, standing despite the rattling in her knees.
                ‘We have not seen Davyd in a very long time.  He left for far Rindaven nearly two dozen moons ago.  He has never returned.’
                Less than two years, if she was as high up as she thought.  The journey to RIndaven would take at least a year if he were going by any of the traditional routes.  ‘Rejil,’ she barked, making a mental inventory of what she had brought with her on her Watch before Azrel had interrupted her.  ‘Did my father know how to Cloudtravel?’  The Rainmaster choked on his sip of broth.
                ‘Where did you hear of that?’ he demanded.
                ‘It doesn’t matter, all right,’ Sarah protested, ‘I just need to know.’
                ‘No, he did not.’
                Maybe the foolish boy who threatened her might have some use after all.  That is, if he really can Cloudtravel, she thought.  They could make it there only a few months or even weeks after her father.  Maybe she could stop looking for answers in the smelly old books of the Upper Works religious catalogs.  It was like Rejil had said, she really was different.  And her father might be exactly the person to tell her why.