Category Archives: Journal of the Emerald Specter

Journal of the Emerald Specter 65: Playing the “Unique” Characters

I was three or four paragraphs into expounding on a topic I’ve already covered when I decided that I didn’t want to rehash the same information… and realized I didn’t have much more to say than I’ve already said. So, why don’t I just go over that little bit and move on to the topic of this particular column.

When thinking about Discovery versus the Orville, the Orville is the one worth watching. If I want dreary, un-Star Trek like Star Trek, I’ll go watch something other than Star Trek. CBS has not only missed the mark, they’ve actively started driving away long term Star Trek fans, of which I am one. I just don’t care about what Discovery has to say anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest again, let’s move to a little RPG topic I decided to come out and talk about… 

Wherever there is a roleplaying game, you can be sure that someone playing in that game wants to play something either completely off the wall or something that has been specifically stated they can’t play it…

In short, if you’re told in a Star Trek game you can’t play a Borg, one of the players will inevitably say they want to play a Borg.

I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted to play some unique characters, too, but I listen to the barriers erected by the person running the game and tried to work within that specific set of parameters. Basically, I’d try to come up with something interesting based on what was available and what kind of mood I was in.

There was a time, though, I actually got into an argument with someone over this very subject. Since the argument was involving Vampire the Masquerade, I’m going to go into depth on that.

I was coming into a group that the game master (GM, storyteller in VtM) had specifically limited the available playable Vampire clans to the Camarilla (meaning Brujah, Gangrel, Ventrue, Toreador, Malkavian, Nosferatu, and Tremere at the time), with no exceptions. So one of the other players, whom I’ll call Steve, wanted to play an Assamite… they are the stereotypical assassins of VtM.

While you’re looking at the list of Camarilla clans, you’ll notice that Assamite is not one of them. The GM didn’t want an Assamite in the game, so the request was understandably denied. Steve fought and fought, basically throwing an adult version of a hissy fit.

I was originally going to play a Brujah gang banger… then Steve and I got into an argument.

What I asked Steve, point blank, was why he couldn’t play an assassin from one of the available clans? His response related directly to the stereotypes of each of the clans (Brujah being gang members and bikers, Gangrel being woodland folk, Venture being uppity socialites, Toreador being airheaded artsy types, Malkavians being “ha ha” crazy, Noserfatu being sewer dwellers, and Tremere being conspiracy magician types). If you wanted to play a Ventrue, by Steve’s understanding, you HAD to play an uppity socialite.

I challenged Steve that you could be anything from any clan, meaning that the stereotype was a broad generality and Steve was not seeing that they could be anything but their most base generic surface features. Steve complained and I replied that I could be something that, in his mind, wasn’t possible.

May I also say that the GM found this argument very entertaining, mainly because Steve was being an inflexible ass and someone else was standing up to him.

Steve challenged me to do exactly what I said I could do… so I chucked out my Brujah gang banger, totally in the stereotype of the clan, and decided instead to play a Toreador assassin.

Yes, a Toreador assassin.

The Toreador, as a stereotype, are into art and music. They make paintings, sculptures, clothing, and all kinds of things that make them the generic airheads Steve thought they were because that’s how he saw “artsy types.” I want to go on record that I do not see artsy people like that, but in order to drive home my points, I’m using the Toreador stereotype in a somewhat derogatory way.

Silas Bancroft was born in the early 60s, grew up and was embraced into the clan in the middle of the “free feeling and loopy” 70s, finally to be trained as the personal assassin of the Prince of Memphis (Tennessee). The game was being played in the early 2000s and that made my Toreador a whopping 40 or so years old.

Steve was beside himself. How could anyone become a quality assassin in such a short period of time? That was along side the fact that if he wasn’t admiring the latest Jackson Pollock painting he couldn’t possibly function.

Well, Steve pointed out that the clan flaw of the Toreador was to be “unable to turn away from a thing of beauty.” That meant I had to play Silas as someone who couldn’t pass a bus stop advertisement because it was a pretty picture. How could an assassin be effective stopping to smell all the roses along the way?

The GM and I both understood that the weakness meant that Silas had his own beautiful thing he couldn’t turn away from… and I decided that Silas really loved the sight of the true dead. The reason he’d been trained as an assassin in the first place is his desire to see things die, in a most permanent fashion.

If you think that Steve lost his mind, you would be correct. He couldn’t tolerate this “complete lack of respect for the rules” and decided he didn’t want to play anymore. Steve then left.

Before I move on, I ended up playing that Toreador assassin until his untimely demise (which came when I botched an assassination attempt and was killed by the bodyguards of the target).

The whole point of this scenario was to show anyone that you can play something “unique” without having to bend the rules to achieve that goal. Steve really wanted to be the unique Assamite in a game that Assamites weren’t allowed in more than he actually wanted to play an assassin.

I’ve played in and run email SIMs that took place in the Star Trek universe. In those games, despite being expressly prohibited from playing “connected Borg,” you’ll get at least one player asking to be a Borg who is still connected to the Collective… why?

Someone reading this is probably one of those people and that person is probably saying they do it because they “want to shake things up.” Why? In a galaxy without Jedi, you want to be the one guy who still uses the Force as a Jedi? You need to absolutely be the one Borg who isn’t disconnected? The thing that makes you complete as a human being means you need to be the only person who is allowed to play a human Cylon when you weren’t allowed to play them?

Take the game that you are going to play in, look at the limitations, and figure out what you want to actually accomplish in the game and then work with what you are allowed to work with from that starting point.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a few actual play podcasts in recent days and I am overjoyed to hear things that I haven’t ever personally experienced: players creating characters within their limitations AND the players not being antagonistic towards the GM.

Yeah, the GM isn’t the enemy! A story is being told, it isn’t a competition!

I’m interested in telling stories with friends in a game where we’re all bound and playing within the same limitations. If I want to play something I can’t play, I will find a way to get as close to that WITHIN THE LIMITATIONS as I can… because I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake like Steve was in my example. He’s a delicate little flower that needed to have his way or he was taking his ball and going home… and he did.

Do what you can with what you have and let’s all start playing better games, shall we?

Journal of the Emerald Specter 64: Emerald Specter Chess Club

After a nearly 3,000 word rambling on my first draft of this column, I have decided to rid myself of the innocuous terminology from the first attempt to just go forward with something far easier to read. The other one was detailed, it explained a lot, I just didn’t really format the thing in a way that was productively explaining what the topic intended to explain.

So, here we go again with the second attempt! After a brief preamble, I’m hoping to keep things moving in a specific and cohesive direction.

On this day, November 16, 2017, I am announcing the official formation of the Emerald Specter Chess Club. I’ve had a chess club with the previous domain that wasn’t successful, but that had more to do with the lack of a specific direction than anything else. The Emerald Specter Chess Club, or ESCC, is going to combine two things that I love into one wonderful experiment of chess awesomeness. What are those two things? Chess and sumo.

The origin of this idea came to me when I was coming up with different methods of holding chess events towards the common goal of producing a competition that could be completed annually. While I came up with quite a few methods to accomplishing this, the one that really stuck with me was the sumo format.

Sumo Grand Tournaments, or honbasho, are held six times per year. Each honbasho pits every member of the top division against 15 opponents, one per day. After the 15 days have elapsed, a winner is crowned and from that series of results a ranking is produced. Without filling you with too much information, only the top division does 15 matches.

When I started working on this idea, I’d given it the working title of “Chess Basho.” Since I have made a few important decisions on how to translate the sumo honbasho format for chess, there are noticeable differences in how things are going to develop.

That’s the point of this column. I need to give the rules for the ESCC, or the previously referred to Chess Basho Project.


The ESCC will be organized into divisions of 12  with each player playing every other player twice (once with white and once with black). Every player will play a total of 22 games to try to score the highest possible results to compete for the tournament win, as well as titles.

Divisions in the ESCC will be titled after metals on the periodic table, with the top division being the Gold Division. As membership grows, other divisions will be added and given their own designations (such as Silver, Copper, etc). Each division will have 12 players.

In the Gold Division, players will be ranked according to their performance based off of previous tournament results. Initially, the ranking will be strictly done from‘s Elo rating, but only for the initial launch.

When there are more than one division, the top four finishers in the lower division will be promoted into the higher division, and the bottom four finishers will be relegated into the lower division. Only the Gold Division will have no promotion for the top finishers, as there is no higher division to be promoted into.


The players in the Gold Division will be ranked from one to 12, alternating “east” and “west” (with east being higher than west), except for the titled players.

In order to avoid providing titles beyond the scope of the club, the terms “master” and “expert” will not be used. In order to avoid providing the sumo versions of titles, none of the sumo titles will be granted within the ESCC. The ESCC will provide titles, in ascending order: Sapphire Adept, Ruby Adept, Emerald Adept, and Diamond Adept. Each Adept title will have requirements in order to be promoted into or demoted from.

A player can be promoted into a Sapphire Adept (SA) simply by earning 5.5 points in a tournament. Players can be demoted from this rank by simply failing to score at least 5.5 points.

An SA can be promoted into a Ruby Adept (RA) simply by earning 5.5 points in a tournament. Players can be demoted from this rank simply by failing to score at least 5.5 points. Once achieved, there can be no less than two Sapphire and Ruby Adepts (combined) at any one time.

An RA can be promoted into Emerald Adept (EA) by achieving specific benchmarks. First, the RA must have scored at least 24 points over the last three tournaments, with the last tournament being at least a score of 8.5. There can be no results in these tournaments less than 5.5 points and a tournament win will eliminate the requirement of 24 points over three tournaments, simply allowing the RA automatic promotion to EA. Demotion from EA is a two step process: failing to achieve 5.5 points in a tournament will mark the EA as “chipped.” A second straight sub-5.5 point result will result in demotion back to RA. A player can return to EA immediately if they score at least 8 points in the tournament immediately following their demotion.

An EA can be promoted into Diamond Adept (DA) by achieving specific benchmarks. First, the EA must have scored at least 32 points over the last four tournaments, with no sub-5.5 point results as well as having won a tournament in the ESCC. Winning two consecutive tournaments as an EA automatically promotes the player to DA, as long as they did not score sub-5.5 points in the tournament prior to their consecutive wins. If there was a sub-5.5 point result prior, then the performance following the consecutive tournament wins must be 9 points in order to receive promotion to DA, else the previous requirements must be met. Demotion from DA is just like demotion from EA, the DA will first be chipped and then demoted with sub-5.5 point scores. In order for the EA to immediately return to DA, though, they must score at least 9 points in the tournament immediately following their demotion, unlike the 8 point score for EAs.

I know that all looks a little confusing but it makes sense. Unlike sumo, there CAN be demotion from the top most title.

ESCC Tournaments

The idea is to hold four tournaments per calendar year, quarterly. They will be Winter (beginning the second Sunday of January), Spring (beginning the second Sunday of April), Summer (beginning the second Sunday of July), and Autumn (beginning the second Sunday of October). The time control for these tournaments is one move per day, allowing for an accelerated pace and wrapping of the tournament results prior to the next tournament starting.

Ideally, players would participate in every tournament every year. Life happens, though, and a provision will be made to miss one tournament per year (12 months) without penalty. This would be treated as scoring 5.25 points (a score not possible in chess) when rankings are considered. If the player misses two tournaments in the year (twelve months), the result will be considered 0 points and rankings will be adjusted accordingly.


Prior to the tournament (as far in advance as is possible), a ranking will be released based on the prior tournament’s results. Scoring 5.5 points or more will result in going up the rankings and scoring 5.0 or less points will result in going down the rankings. The missed tournament considered at 5.25 points will leave the player as close to their previous ranking as is possible.

Rankings will always include east and west positions, with titled players being ranked in order at the top. A sample ranking follows:

John Smith   DA         -vacant-
John Doe    EA   Jane Public
Sally Smith   RA        Jane Doe
Bill Fold   SA     -vacant-
Someone   1   Someone
Someone   2   Someone
Someone   3   Someone


Since I’m realistic, I’ve decided to launch divisions with 12 players per division. This would make the rankings only contain 6 lines per division. If the need exists, due to the popularity of the ESCC demanding, divisions may be bumped up to 24 players per division, with two groups of 12 players competing (in an east and west format), with the top two finishers advancing to a special (untracked point) round for the ultimate winner of the tournament.

In the event that this would occur, revisiting the rules would be done in order to ensure that provisions would be put into place for the “advanced round” of play, as well as requirements on how many titled players could exist at any one point in time. 

The reasons that certain things here are spelled out in some detail is because I’d like to personally participate in the ESCC, at least initially. In order for me to do that, and be the “overseer of the ESCC” at the same time, I need clear rules and benchmarks for all of the above in order to avoid the perception of any impropriety. Thus, I am bound by the same laws as the rest, which is how things are supposed to be, without bias.

Is this a gimmick? Sure, and I’ll readily admit that. Is this something designed for super strong players? The intent is that players under 1700, ideally, would be the ones most interested in this (as players that strong or higher tend to be working towards specific chess goals). The tournaments will all be rated and no interested player will be turned away.

This isn’t in the official rules above because I don’t really know if this is going to be an issue in the future, but players who just stop showing up for tournaments all together will be “retired from competition.” Retired players can always come back into play, but they’d start at the bottom (the lowest division, untitled) and have to work their way back up.

I personally am hoping for at least five divisions of 12 players each. I’d love 24 players per division, but I don’t want to get my sights set too high. That would mean we’d have a Gold, Silver, Copper, Nickel, and Cobalt Divisions (with a possibility of bumping up the Gold to Platinum and eliminating the Cobalt). I won’t count my chickens before they hatch, though.

One thing I eliminated from the original draft of this column was the consideration of a “fighting name” (what the Japanese call shikona). Using the handles on will be sufficient and eliminate any possible confusion as far as who is who.

I hope you’ll join me in the inaugural tournament and in the ESCC (the link is here). Most likely the first tournament will be open to all, with the results hopefully enticing a few of those players to stick around after being ranked.

Thanks for reading.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 63: The Benefit of Hindsight

Technically, this will be a “random history” column, but will also fill the role of figuring out how to move forward with concepts and ideas… it’ll all make sense as I role this out.

The problem with this particular bit of random history, I find myself unsure of a heading image to use… I want to continue using headings that get made and I’ve already created three that I don’t think will ever get used again. I could be wrong, of course, but the idea of the headers is to give me ample options when I’m writing these columns.

So, with the thought process on this next one, I think I have covered a wide topic while still keeping the general topic at hand in one piece. Things will look a little weird in the beginning but I promise that I’m actually going somewhere with this, so without further ado:

In late 1996, Bob (of the Greatest Show fame) and I decided to form an American knighthood. Bob came from a background, of which I only vaguely remember, that had him and his hometown posse with lengthy “titles.” The idea that Bob would be able to add “sir” to that was something he was interested in. If you’re wondering, I also had a lengthy title, thanks to Bob inducting me into the gang, and after the knighting between the two of us, my title was now Sir Lor Tian Dark Tiger, Teydani Priest of the Werecat Clan. I haven’t used that in two decades, but I have retained the knighthood.

The idea of the knighthood wasn’t anything more than improving myself and having a background to do so. The Emerald Knights, as we were, had a bit of a falling out and when I left the Navy, I took the knighthood’s concepts with me back home.

I was going to build the Emerald Knights from the foundation that was what Bob and I had established. There was a small recruitment and I ended up adding friends (Viper, Dan, Kyle, and Angus). Yes, two of those are nicknames and rather than struggle with forcing my use of their real names, I’ll just call them how we all referred to them for all this time.

Establishing a structure by which the Emerald Knights would operate was our first order of business. We established a hierarchy, recruited a few more members, and we were well on our way to being better. Our mode of self improving wasn’t quite solidified, though, as we were entrenched in trying to build that idea from scratch. The “from scratch” is what you should remember as I continue with this tale.

Building the Emerald Knights slowly converted from a self improvement group to creating shadows where shadows didn’t need to exist. A faction within a faction was eventually created, bureaucracy in our meetings was formed, and we stopped growing and sort of just treaded water at that point.

Here’s where things got rocky.

Trying to control things without necessarily having a goal in mind, I ended up driving a wedge between myself and Dan, the person I would have chosen as the successor to the “leadership” that was (at that time) myself. The wedge was so deeply driven that I hadn’t even spoken to Dan (or any of the others) for almost two years, when Dan and I started talking again.

Gone was the idea of doing anything with the Emerald Knights, as far as the group was concerned, but I did still want to get back to the focus of what the Emerald Knights was supposed to be: self improvement with some flowery caveats to entice the populace in general.

Here’s the call back to what I mentioned before, and in hindsight, I realize that building something from scratch when resources existed to build up from was a terrible idea. With several failed attempts at rising up into a management position in my working career, I realize that I should have formed the basis for the organization and stepped back to let the others grow that as I simply filled in with input now and then.

Basically, induct everyone into the organization with the idea of growing it in a certain direction and then stepping down from leadership into a more ceremonial role, leadership emeritus if you will.

If Dan, Kyle, Angus, Viper, or any of the others read this above description, they might be confused by what the ultimate goal initially was… we didn’t really have a lot of clear communication on that front, which was part of the problem. Reconnecting with Bob and bringing up the concept again, the Emerald Knights just kind of “died on the vine” as our distance didn’t make the idea of a knighthood (for self improvement or otherwise) feasible.

My concept for self improvement has had a resurgence in recent times (by recent, I mean in the last couple of years). Discovering bullet journaling, then building the BuJoRPG with self improvement as the very core of the system, I was making progress again on a solo level. I’ve never liked the solo idea in totality and believe that groups can improve better as we have each other to draw from rather than drawing from a single source.

This leads me to a more recent set of ideas that I’ve wanted to develop.

The core “tagline” of Freemasonry is “making good men better.” I’ve toyed with the idea of joining the fraternity several times, but after digging into what the fraternity did as far as ceremony, I’ve decided against becoming a member. Personally, the deep connection to a “supreme being” isn’t a terrible idea but intertwining that concept with almost everything is what really turned me off. The other item that bothered me is that while the fraternity claims to be enlightened (at least more than the common individual), they retain that women aren’t really worthy of being part of the group and thus Freemasonry is a “men’s only” club.

If the switch from the Emerald Knights history to Freemasonry seems jarring, bear with me. I didn’t have a great segue to get from one to the other.

Freemasonry teaches “good men to become better” by teaching lessons of allegory wrapped in symbolism and ritual. I think I’ve covered all the buzz words in that sentence. That all boils down to each lesson is a play, acted out by the initiate (the Mason seeking that degree) and other members, to “bring light to the Mason.” The concept of the “bringing light” is where I came up with the enlightenment bit, though I don’t believe they, themselves, consider themselves enlightened.

I’ve known for sometime, from the words of the Masons themselves, that if you look on the Internet, you’ll find everything you need to know about the Freemasons. If you look for yourself, the important thing is to push aside all the asinine conspiracy theories to find out exactly what is at the core of the organization.

What I was looking for, and will point you at now, are the lessons of the degrees themselves. Since the Scottish Rite has 32 degrees, I felt that the “more lessons” would better my self improvement far greater than just the generally accepted “three degrees.” Thus, I began my search for the rituals (as that is what I believed was what I needed to find). I came across a little bit more, though.

Discovering what the actual “play” of the ritual was, while tedious in its reading, contained the basic information I was looking for, I also discovered the lectures (which contain most of the same information but also go on to describe in more detail what needs to be learned from the ritual itself). I tried just learning from the lectures themselves but noticed, when I went back to look at the rituals, that the pair of them were important to have together rather than separately.

Thus, my research now includes both ritual and lectures, but also is expounded upon by dogmatic and esoteric research for each degree by Masons “of old.” Together, these sources flesh out the concepts that help make “good men better.”

I’ve done a lot of research that I plan to produce a podcast explaining each degree. The podcast would be a monthly podcast, probably be a little longer than I normally do (on a solo basis), and would each concentrate on one of the degrees of Freemasonry.

Things that won’t be included are the secret passwords and handshakes… mainly because they do not further my own self improvement and are what the Freemasons actually consider the “secret” portion of their fraternity. No conspiracies for world domination, no ritual butt sex, and no manipulating the world to suit their own needs.

Here’s where I tie everything together.

If I would have used the Freemasons as the basic foundation for the Emerald Knights, the Emerald Knights would still be a thing today. I don’t believe the general idea is lost but I don’t think that I, nor any of the others I mentioned above, could be the ones to resurrect it.

My own self improvement will be benefitted from researching the Masonic degrees. I’m not into the conspiracy theories, I won’t have a “grand organization” from which to govern others in their own self improvement, and I’m content to leave the past in the past. I’m not even sure that building an organization around this is necessary.

The morality within Freemasonry is rooted by their religious background, something to give a “reason to be moral.” Religion has used this concept to give others an anchor for their moral actions. If you need an anchor to be moral, then what kind of monster would you be without that anchor? I don’t need an anchor, personally, and since I don’t I’ll have to be content without the “brotherhood” aspect of Freemasonry that I think enriches the general concepts of their lessons.

Hindsight being 20/20, the Emerald Knights should have found a basic foundation from somewhere else (actual Medieval English chivalry, Samurai Bushido code, Freemasonry, etc) and built up from there. Coming up with the concepts from scratch would have meant (I now realize) decades of refining things that others have already done the work on.

Without revolving around self improvement organizations, this should be applied to everything you do. Want to create a roleplaying game? Why build everything without the benefit of looking at the work of others? Why not take the foundation laid down in other games and build up from there? What about bullet journaling? Why “recreate the wheel” instead of just using the concepts in the system already created?

Why do we make things so difficult on ourselves?

When I was young, just like billions of youths before me, I thought I had all the answers and knew everything I needed to know. What did I need from the older generations who had lived life and tried to pass on that knowledge to me?

I didn’t exactly shun that information but I should have listened a lot earlier, a lot more, and definitely put more effort into following the advice.

I sit here typing this column up as someone who has 40+ years under my belt. I’ve seen things and made mistakes that didn’t need to be made because those mistakes had already been made by others. Now I am the one who points out the mistakes I’ve made to prevent others from having to make them, trying to enrich the “youth” of tomorrow from coming to the same realization that I’ve outlined (in general concept) in this column.

Maybe there DOES need to be an organization that does what Freemasonry does, but be far more inclusive to the world at large?

I can’t be the one to build it, though… not alone, at least.

Thanks for reading.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 62: Fixing US Soccer

You’d all be so proud of me if you knew that I wrote this well in advance and didn’t wait until the last minute.

Oh, well now you do! Boom.

I was listening to the Total Soccer Show (the “10 Ways to Fix US Soccer” episode) and I decided that I wanted to throw my own thoughts in on the subject. I’m going to parrot a little of what the guys were talking about, but I’m also going to try and not JUST parrot what they said.

All of this stems from the US Men’s National Team being eliminated from the World Cup qualification. I’m not a big World Cup follower, I’d rather see the league play from any league other than the World Cup, but I’ll allow this to be the push to get things started.

In order to have a quality US Men’s National Team (USMNT) to compete and actually be a viable to win the World Cup, we have to take a look at the entire US soccer system and understand that it sucks. In fact, it sucks so much that it is the one thing that the general US population doesn’t “care about” because they aren’t any good at it.

Why not FIX the problem?

Our recruitment system in the US sucks. We don’t foster the youth programs but a fraction of a degree to which other countries who ARE successful do. Forget about the idealized Brazil, Argentina, or other “mythologically” great teams… they aren’t myth, those countries work really hard to identify their quality players at a very young age and put them through the training they need to be big names on the world stage. The US, as far as I understand, doesn’t have anything even remotely close to a system that does this… and it shows.

Once the US recruitment system identifies and puts the new recruits through their training system, they need a place to go in order to grow. Every single other league in the world has a promotion/relegation (pro/rel) system in place except the US. Why?

The story about this, from most of the US citizenship, is that if a club wasn’t competing with the rest of the top leagues in the country, that club would lose all support.

That is an excuse.

Let’s look at the NFL… first as is and then as a pro/rel system. (Please note that I do not think American Football should have a pro/rel system installed.)

In the NFL, there is a system in place (the Draft) to reward teams who fail to have a winning record in the league. The Draft allows a small boost, in the form of a few new talented players, which can then lead to signing free agents who believe that newly drafted player can raise the team up. After a few more signings, ridding the team of naysayers, and maybe even a rebrand (planned over the course of years), those teams can rise up… possibly even to the point of making a decent Super Bowl run, or get close for several years.

Before free agency, a terrible team would linger in the gutter for a decade or more, being beaten down year after year until they get a shot to build up.

Now let’s look at the NFL with a pro/rel instituted… and for the purposes of this example, I’m going to make up a second tier league that I’ll call NAFL (North American Football League). The NAFL will have 16 teams, in markets that the NFL currently doesn’t fill (San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Memphis, Orlando,  Richmond… and five teams from markets the NFL could stand to branch out into in this part of the world: Mexico City, Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec, and San Juan).

The first part of this is eliminating “the NFL Draft,” which forces the “undrafted NCAA talent” to enter the general free agency market… and let’s eliminate the salary cap, too.

We now enter a “slump” where San Francisco and Indianapolis have really bottomed out, being the worst two teams in the NFL. After the Super Bowl, those two teams are relegated to the NAFL and the two top finishers in the NAFL, in this case Mexico City and Toronto, are promoted into the NFL in their places. This gives San Francisco and Indianapolis a reason to try harder to recruit better players, spend the money necessary to improve to be promoted, and the other NAFL teams are just as motivated to be the next ones to be promoted, too. Every team in the NFL has every reason to compete as hard as possible, spend what is necessary, and get the best talent they can to remain in the NFL.

The next season, maybe Toronto finishes last and the New York Jets finish second to last… Indianapolis manages to redeem themselves to be promoted again, along with the second place NAFL team San Juan getting their chance to advance out of the NAFL.

Yes, this scenario screws up the regional divisions a bit, but teams that suck will be given a reason to not suck.

The Barclay’s Premier League, or the English Premier League for the uninitiated, have four or five clubs that are really strong all the time with everyone else taking a swing at them and striving to beat them. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea are those clubs, with an occasional other club managing to compete at the highest level for a season or two. When clubs get relegated, they work harder to get promoted again, as well as making sure they don’t just get relegated right away again.

There is nothing even remotely like this in US soccer. So, let’s go all the way back up to my “recruit the youth” situation, with a concentration on the “system those young talented players can come up in.”

In a state of the league address by MLS commissioner Don Garber, the commissioner wanted MLS to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2022. With the “NFL style” system used in MLS, that isn’t going to happen. Despite what the MLS believes, we are still the “hey, I’m well past my prime but I can play in the MLS for a few years and make multiples of millions of dollars in the process because they are starved for the highest quality talent” league.

Things working against the MLS in becoming “one of the best leagues in the world” are: 1) time… MLS is one of the newest leagues in the world and since everyone likes to point at tradition, MLS is almost a century behind in the legacy department… 2) salary cap… because limiting the amount of money that can be spent, which also falls into limiting how many “designated players” a team can have, is always good for business (I say that with extreme sarcasm)… 3) no pro/rel… if you don’t want a club to fold or move on, institute a pyramid system so that team can be properly relegated and allow another club can rise up and fill their place, enriching the competition because someone else doesn’t have to spend money to “get in”… 4) thinking MLS will ever be anything close to the NFL… Garber has such a hard on for how popular the NFL is that he’s forgetting that simply “white washing US soccer to be like the NFL” isn’t going to end well, mainly because soccer fans don’t want MLS to be like the NFL, they want MLS to be like other world leagues.

Build a “tier two” league. Limit MLS to 18 clubs, 20 at the very most, and anyone wanting in to the MLS has to win their way out of T2. The US actually has two leagues that can fill the role of a tier 3 and tier 4, so why not bridge that gap and finally take the plunge to make the MLS the league Garber would like it to be: competitive on the world stage.

One last thing… if you want to compete with the world, you should be on the schedule that the world is on. Put the MLS in the fall/winter/spring and keep the players from dying of heat stroke in the summer. Very few leagues in the world compete over the summer, and ALL OF THEM are second tier leagues… because they can’t compete with the top tier leagues (your Barclay’s, Bundesliga, Ligue Un, etc).

Show the US how to excel by doing it on the same schedule, so that when there is an “International break” for the World Cup qualifications, the US isn’t in the midst of the MLS wearing our top tier players out in the process.

And now I’ve come full circle.

You want to be the best? Start beating the best at their own game, using their own rules, and competing when the best of the best compete… otherwise, Garber’s words are just going to be like some politician’s words when they’re just trying to get you to vote for them.

Enough preaching. I would like to see the MLS be more like the other leagues in the world… until then, I’ll keep watching the “real” football leagues in the world.

The Specter Show 040: Hurt

The PRO Chess League Podcast, the Greatest Show, some BuJoRPG talk, and a little bit more. The description isn’t great but I’m hoping you’ll listen anyway!

Host: DJ Allen
Intro Music: The Idea of You by Nine Inch Nails (from Not the Actual Events)
Outtro Music: The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails
Intro Lead in: Dirk Manning

Twitter: @EmeraldSpecter
Instagram: @EmeraldSpecter

Support Emerald Specter at Patreon!

Thanks for checking this out, you can find more at!

Hashtags: #TheSpecterShow #bulletjournal #bujo #BuJoRPG #BuJoRPG2 #soloRPG #PROChess #TheGreatestShow

Journal of the Emerald Specter 61: The Chess Story

I’ve told a chess story from the fifth grade on my websites for years, one might even say more than a decade, and I continuously end up coming back to revisit that topic from time to time. I’m not going to recount that story here, again, so don’t worry about that… but I wanted to talk a little bit about what I mentioned on the most recent Specter Show (episode 39) about integrating this concept in with a solo RPG experience.

I’d like to flesh that concept out a little bit here. Won’t you come on this adventure with me?

The roughest concept of what I’m going to talk about is my fifth grade chess club running itself like the WWE. Replace WWE with “UFC” or “poker on TV” if you need to not have glazed eyes at a professional wrestling reference, but that is the basic idea. We were 11, so give us a little break.

In my solo RPG research, I came up with the idea that I could integrate this concept (for adults) in with playing actual chess games to include in the “episode posts.” Bear with me, here.

Let’s create a quick character concept in a man I’ll call David Charles Price, who is a (roughly) 1100-1200 rated chess player and is aged somewhere between 35 and 40-ish. David is my character who is approached by John Smith (yeah, all that work to name the very next person John Smith) about recreating their “fifth grade chess experience.” After some discussion, the concept that anyone rated above 1700 wouldn’t like this idea and wouldn’t participate, so the rating limit is made at 1400 (initially).

Player invitations happen “in character” and test games are run (by test games I mean games played to familiarize everyone who is playing together gets familiar with each other’s style). The players who need help to compete are taken aside and taught to get better, while David C. Price and company continue into creating “personalities” and getting ready to compete “on camera.”

All of this would be character interactions in this RPG that I, DJ Allen, would be using to play the “Chess Story” scenario. Dice would be rolled and different strengths of players would be determined in their character creation.

The stage would now be set.

As David C. Price, whom has adopted the moniker “DCP” as his persona, I would begin using my own games against real people as the chess games in this Chess Story to advance the DCP character into the story. I’m taking actual chess games to integrate them into my chess RPG story that I’d be telling.

Centered around the fifth grade chess club concept. The “What Would That Look Like” column discusses the idea of no restrictions and introducing this to the world at large.

I’m taking that column bulk and restricting the situation to chess players under a certain rating level. Someone who isn’t really following “profession chess” can even understand that someone rated 1400 will more than likely beat someone rated 1100 with some ease. This would have to be eliminated as our “rating system” for this RPG to be more interesting and to be presented more like the UFC than the actual FIDE chess federation. As a replacement, because I’m creating this around the concept of “under 1500” rated players, I’m suggesting using a martial arts style belt system (as an example, here’s one of the pages that gave me the idea).

You, as a potential chess spectator, are more likely to watch a game between two green belts (not really knowing which one might win) rather than a game between a 1412 rated player versus a 1356 rated player.

In the game, advancing from one belt to the next would require performing on the board at a specific level or maybe beating someone from the higher belt color. That can be determined through the playing of the solo RPG elements of the game, but everything would be outlined on the site for reference.

Would there be a specific career path in this Chess Story RPG? No, that would come out as part of the play. Maybe DCP ends up advancing until he reaches a wall that he can’t beat a specific player, or maybe every time he gets an opportunity at a championship he fails miserably (on the bright stage of the “main event.”). Maybe DCP becomes the strongest player in the league and becomes legendary player for others to aspire towards (or to aspire in defeating).

Obviously, if my actual games are the ones being presented, I’d have to be getting better along the way to be that “best player in the league,” assuming any of the characters end up being closer to the 1400 rated player, because I have my issues playing them at my paltry 1100 level.

But you wouldn’t know that if it was DCP (Blue Belt) vs. Giant Pawn (Blue Belt) for the League Championship… see how that modifies the scenario a little?

I’m not 100% positive that I’ll be running this exact thing as a solo RPG, but since the basic elements are present and possible, why not throw a little actual chess into the mix to make things a little more fun in my RPG?

The content will be produced and published on the site and I think that I’d have a grand old time playing the game (and the games). Hopefully, you’d find the story interesting enough to follow along, too.

That’s all for this week, see you again next week!

Journal of the Emerald Specter 59: Content is King

I’m not entirely sure what kind of banners I should use for this particular article. This is going to be another attempt at a full length article here, but I’ll be touching on different types of content (podcasts, articles, YouTube, storytelling, etc)… so, why don’t I do what I think I need to and just go ahead and make something custom?

I am all about making content. Content is the easiest thing I can produce without needing to be doing something for a living, somewhere specific, for someone else. Sometimes that content may seem erratic, sometimes that content may seem like a waste of time, but the content is always accomplishing the task of putting something on this site to keep people poking back to see what else I’m doing.

Last year, I started doing the ESPL (Emerald Specter Premier League) based on a project that I love from the Chris Creamer Sports Logos Concept forum, which is basically creating a league and developing the logos from their initial appearance until the modern day. In that thread, the AFA is in their 1987 year… the thread is HUGE. I bring this up because I had an epiphany the other day.

So, when I was running the ESPL, I had a big concentration on what was happening in the games (and the league) from week to week, with a passing “side enterprise” with the designing of logos (which was the whole reason I started the damn thing up in the first place). Veras (the creator of the AFA thread) runs some simulations in the background and gives some broader recap rather than an in-depth look “from game to game,” with a heavy concentration on what the whole point of the thread is: logo, uniform, and field designs.

Unless I wanted to go back in time and start doing the ESPL in some randomly selected year in the past and work my way forward, that approach won’t necessarily work for me. I do realize that the reason the interest waned somewhat was that I was being bogged down in the tedium of running a fictional league “in real time” rather than enjoying the process of creating concepts for the logos, uniforms, and whatever else… If I were to rebirth this concept, I’d be concentrating on the broader overviews of the ESPL and keeping the week to week format, but being far more general as I released the uniform and logo concepts throughout the year in a longer format (instead of a big logo reveal extravaganza followed by the tedium of details of the league).

Would you like to see a second attempt at the ESPL?

I have several podcasts at the moment that I’m enjoying producing with several others I’ve got in the “concept” stage. The Greatest Show, my long running YouTube (and our original channel) show that initially started out as a pre-produced show and turned into a live show (followed by a more produced version, so that I can release audio versions of the show again on a feed). The show was started with a forum for my best friend, Bob, and I to have conversations about “the good old days,” geeky topics, and whatever else crossed our minds.

The show developed into the conversations while watching my wife make wonderful food, which enjoyed a solid run of interest from all kinds of folks, and saw an uptick in our traffic. We developed into a later night show, moved away from the cooking segment, and added a whole slew of other hosts (as Bob was having a hard time making appearances). What we have going now is an attempt at running the show in seasons, rather than continuously, and we’ve only got experiments to run as we figure out what the next stage of the show is…

And speaking of that, we’ve added a regular rotation of guests into the mix. I got a good push of guests right up front and have since had an issue lining up more as the season progresses. I’m doing what I can but the effort is monumental in scope and I’m hoping to have a better process for the future.

I wanted to speak about this show specifically at length because there is an issue that has arisen where Saturday nights, while they work for the majority of the cast, don’t seem to be able to include everyone AND our viewership seems to have declined (in the live arena, anyway) because of the time slot. Metal Jesus has school, Rachel has a new job, Bob’s job is giant in scope, I have a fluctuating schedule, Kevin C. has activities from time to time, and Tricia doesn’t believe the time slot is convenient. All of these things make it hard to continue the show in the original vision and I’d be interested in getting some thoughts on the possible future of the show.

Options, before I move on, include returning to the “pre-produced” and uploaded version from way back, the cooking while talking version, and moving the recording time to a variable option to open up the possible guests that can be included in the future. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Specter Show is my personal show, which has only been me talking to the audience (save one episode that included me talking to my wife). In a conversation with my wife, I was told that I spend a lot of time talking about what I’m going to do rather than doing what I say I’m going to do. A good example of that is the BuJoRPG 2 beta, which hasn’t been touched at all in a month… more on that in a few paragraphs.

I originally wanted to keep the Specter Show “off the rails” so that I could talk about anything I wanted without worrying about sticking to a genre or topic. While that has worked in large part, there are episodes I’m not super pleased with because I’ve just sort of muted through and released a show to release a show.

One of the original intents of podcasting, for me, was to present myself as a viable radio personality that could carry a show for 30, 60, or 120 minutes (or maybe even longer). I’ve dropped my desire to be on the radio, not because I’ve lost interest, but because the radio isn’t going to allow me to accomplish the expansion that podcasting will… and that leads me to a history lesson of sorts.

When I originally launched the Lime Flavored Podcasting Network, I had the vision to create a lineup of shows that would give me a place to talk about a multitude of topics and build up a network like TWiT, which has blossomed into a viable podcasting business. The reason that TWiT works as well as it does is because they have a broad umbrella under which they operate: tech related podcasting.

The LFPN had an expanded topic lineup: the Greatest Show, the Lime Flavored Podcast (which made it to 50 episodes), Limelight on Apple (our tech news show), Echoes Darkly (our RPG centric podcast), and Comic Cast (our comic book industry show). When we (my wife and I) were into FitBit deeply, we also sort of launched a half hearted attempt at a fitness show, known as the FitBit Challenge… all of these shows collapsed for one reason or another except one, the Greatest Show. (In order listed above after the Greatest Show): one show stopped because the domain was sold, keeping up on tech was tough to maintain with busy lives, my co-hosts all became unavailable, and we just weren’t collecting or reading as much as we’d like to have been… that all led to the LFPN death, mainly with the loss of the domain, and a reevaluation of my dream.

I’ve currently got three podcasts running, with one in a concept phase. The Greatest Show, the Specter Show, and the PRO Chess League Podcast (new, concentrating on the PRO Chess League). Since the last one hasn’t been running (due to the season starting in January), I’m confident that keeping up with three shows is a distinct possibility. I’ve offered shows to Kevin C., Metal Jesus, Bob, and Rachel… all of them are in some stage of development, but we’ll see what develops there. This is a good start, but as the title of this column says: content is king. Only three of these are producing any content.

Now I come to my “bread and butter,” the BuJoRPG. Since launching my initial bullet journal roleplaying game, I have developed that as far as I felt it could go before bringing out the next concept for what I thought was possibly, namely BuJoRPG 2. I had promised to release the first “version” (a post-beta) as it was developed but I’ll be honest, I’ve not had the time. I also haven’t MADE the time, either.

This is where my wife’s comments about talking about something and not doing it come in.

I have a concept for what I want the BuJoRPG to ideally become. That requires a lot of work and with the release of the open beta, I’ve asked for help and feedback. Since releasing that open beta, I’ve received neither help nor feedback on the BuJoRPG 2, making me think the effort is being wasted. Without a drive of an audience to see the result, I can’t be faulted for not wanting to work on the product. Would you like to know what I envision for this in the future?

Ideally, you’d order something I’ll just call the “BuJo Box.” The box will be prepacked and contain (at least, but not limited to): a lore book (for the BuJoRPG world of the Jade Realm), a preformatted bullet journal (for the BuJoRPG), some bullet journal pens (in various colors), some dice (since they are part of the BuJoRPG 2), a wall map of the Jade Realm (it would unfold to include the “basic” map, which is everything before “expansions”), and maybe some stencils to aid in the creation of the BuJoRPG style graphical elements.

Doesn’t that sound nifty?

Finally, I’d like to talk about some of the things I’d planned on for the future but will decide whether or not they’ll make the cut. These each will be a “mini-paragraph” of information, just to explain enough to let you know what I was hoping to do but might not actually develop it (to shut the door on the “talk about doing what you should be doing but aren’t” conversation).

A podcast for each degree of the Freemason Scottish (and York) Rite, as I wanted to learn the lessons they teach but do not like the religious overtones within the brotherhood. I’ve got all the materials ready, I’ve read what I need to, now I just need to put fingers to keyboard to write up the material and start recording. This is a “monthly” podcast, rather than a weekly one.

Serial fiction has been written, not edited by any of the editors that I’ve enlisted, and sits collecting digital dust in the cloud. With the Greatest Show crew talking about running an RPG before the show, this is being converted into the game that I’ll be running (inside the Green Ronin Fantasy AGE system, although probably more closely related to Will Wheaton’s TitansGrave version). There are modifications that I’ve made to the story but the general theory is in tact.

A re-release of SpecterFit, my fitness centric blog/column/podcast that would help you along your own personal journey to getting more healthy. Since I’ve been injured, I can’t really do much other than eat healthier and I haven’t written or podcasted about this at any length, so it’s sitting in development hell.

Specter of the Galaxy, which I’d intended to play No Man’s Sky at least weekly with the release of their Waking Titan release, I’ve taken multiple weeks off between the second to last and last podcast that have made the future of this in doubt… I just haven’t had the time with everything else going on.

In a few months, or within a few months, the Fire Pro Wrestling World game will be released on PS4 and I had intended to run a new eFed (electronic federation) on Emerald, which I haven’t run anything like this since 2002! The original eFeds from “back in the day” were all angle or RP feds, the FPW World fed would be a CAW (create-a-wrestler) style fed… but that requires a little bit of time.

With the declining interest in the “Greatest Show Fight Series,” I thought that running a two division UFC fighting league might be a possibility without centering around the hosts of the Greatest Show… but I’d likely wait for the next release of the UFC (UFC 3) before doing anything like this, leaving this dormant.

Spawning from the aforementioned “serial fiction” paragraph (since I have the planet’s entire history mapped out), I was going to launch a SIM (similar to those run on Obsidian Fleet) within this story’s universe… my server died, was resurrected, and requires lengthy work to get this to where it would allow me to do this, and I’d need a lot of help getting the flagship SIM working so that expansion into other “ships” would be possible.

Quite a list, huh?

Well, I’m hoping to get things moving in a generally positive direction. With the end of 2017 comes the “behind the scenes” development of a new look for Emerald, which has been planned for some time. I’m running through some concepts and will have something to launch whenever that is ready… but it is actively being worked on. With this new release, I would conceivably use that refresh as a way to relaunch things that went dormant, launch new things I’ve talked about here, or just freshen up the graphics on the site as a whole.

I’m done talking about doing things and not doing them… I’m going to do things, now.

Right now.

The Specter Show 037: Eraser

An unexpected server issue held this release up, it is corrected now.

Speaking of server issues, DJ discusses the server getting fried on October 1, talking about doing things that should be done rather than talked about, bullet journaling without the RPG, BuJoRPG 2, and a few other things. He even gets off on a tangent and literally gets lost.

Host: DJ Allen
Intro Music: The Idea of You by Nine Inch Nails (from Not the Actual Events)
Outtro Music: The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails
Intro Lead in: Theo Rossi

Twitter: @EmeraldSpecter
Instagram: @EmeraldSpecter

Support Emerald Specter at Patreon!

Thanks for checking this out, you can find more at!

Hashtags: #TheGreatestShow #Podcasting #TheSpecterShow #chess @TheoRossi #BuJoRPG #BuJoRPG2 #bulletjournal #bujoideas #bujoinspiration #bujogaming #bujoimprovement #bujofun #bujodesign #selfimprovement #PROChessLeague #PROChessLeaguePodcast #SpecteroftheGalaxy #ESPL #chess #health #nutrition #bodybuilding @MadebyTricia #madebytricia

Journal of the Emerald Specter 58: Changing the RPG Mentality

I’m going to angle towards writing another single topic column here, I’ve got my topic and I’d like to see where this thing goes. There is possibly a little more at the end but let’s get to the meat of this thing!

Specifically speaking, this one is about roleplaying and roleplaying games. I touched on this in the Specter Show but this is the place I’m going to flesh things out, thinking about exactly what I need to do in order to accomplish what I’m about to explain.

Kevin Couick and I have discussed running roleplaying games before the Greatest Show every week so that we can actually play the games we’re talking about wanting to play but never actually do play. Basically, we’re trying to figure out how to put up or shut up, and I’d rather do the putting up because I think this thing needs to happen.

In a typical gaming session, there is a ton of cross talk, joking around, odd pacing, sometimes there are props, and always a struggle for the game master (GM) to keep the players rolling towards the ultimate goal. Quite often there are also problems like players missing for a session, forcing side quests or just generally playing a different game. With these as the primary hinderances to the cast of the Greatest Show playing an RPG online, it is hard to think we’d be able to come up with a means of getting some gaming in (rather than just talking about all the games we want to play).

Kevin has been reading up on Star Wars: Force and Destiny, using a timeline to choose the era he’d like to run the game in as well as deciding what canon to use as the background. He’d like to see something around the Old Republic era (Sith War type era) and I’m into that as a player. I want to be a Force user in a war time situation where I can explore the gray area of the Force.

I’m exploring running a couple of different things, one being a return to the system that I know the best, being either a Vampire the Masquerade (5th Edition) or Vampire the Requiem (Blood and Smoke)… or starting out in a new system with an excitement that I’ve not felt about a system in a long time, using the Fantasy AGE system (either specifically TitansGrave: Ashes of Valkana or a setting of my own design). In either case (speaking of the broad systems rather than the specific products), I’m going to run something.

This means we need Metal Jesus to run something to be a three person rotation, allowing us options to play. If I had to guess what he’d run, I’m guessing Burning Wheel, which is something I’d be interested in trying. I’m sure he’d be interested in running something, and the rest of us would love to play in that something.

Here is the issue, though: not all of us are present every week for the Greatest Show.

Kevin and I discussed the solution to this on one of our post-show conversations, that’s running episodic stories that may or may not have a longer term arc involved. This would allow us to explain away why one of us is missing without completely ruining what we play. That would mean that the Green Team story I was running would need to be “rejiggered” a bit in order to fit this new format, and that leads to what I wanted to talk about.

My personal storytelling style (in the RPG sense) is epic in scope. I don’t think I’ve ever had a “one shot” or short term story in mind… ever. Thinking episodic, I’d have to make the story into smaller “missions,” allowing for the absence of one of the players and allowing for a larger arc to be referenced for cohesion. This would allow for “seasons,” too, and we could have guest players pop in to play in “character focus” stories, kind of like a real TV show having a character focused episode now and then.

All this use of “episode” allows for another term to get entered into the record: season.

If I run TitansGrave: Ashes of Valkana with the idea that I’m going to have a 13 episode “season one,” that means I can do that and then take a break to become a player for Kevin’s 13 episode “season one” of Star Wars: Force and Destiny. Both of us could then become players for Metal’s 13 episode “season one” of FATE of Us (a use of the FATE system with a random title, no relation to what he’d run).

When we all complete our “season one,” then what? Well, assuming we are the only ones playing/running seasons, then we return to TitansGrave season two, then Star Wars season two, and FATE season two.

Basically, I’m suggesting we become the HBO of RPGs.

Would Bob fit into this rotation? I’d like to think so. I’d see his games being more “one shot” stuff, maybe being more attuned to “feature length” style games, like a two hour one off… or maybe he’d bring in a system and do the 13 episode season and enter the rotation.

This doesn’t mean we wouldn’t try out other systems being thrown into the mix, either. Maybe after Kevin’s season one I run a 13 episode season of Vampire the Requiem before we get to Metal’s FATE of Us. Maybe Metal adds Numenera into the mix after my TitansGrave season. Hell, maybe we even get another new cohost who jumps into the mix with their own game season and we have a bigger option available to play.

The point of this is that we actually get to play the games. But how would the episodes differ and be as streamlined sounding as I make them?

For the explanation, I’ll be the GM of TitansGrave and I’ll have Kevin, Metal, Tricia, and Bob all as players. Each “episode” would have to be far more focused, as GM I would have to design things to not spend 20 minutes hoping the characters uncover that clue that will lead them to the next stage of the story. The clue would just have to be there, obvious, and lead the characters to the end of the episode so that everything is wrapped up at the end of our session. Cross talk and joking around would have to be minimal, as well as everyone being dedicated to being involved in moving the story forward and utilizing randomization minimally. This might all mean we roll dice less, or that we forego the investigation rolls to get the plot moving forward. We would all have to be very focused on moving forward and telling a story, collaboratively, and getting to the point of each episode… because our time is limited.

This type of gaming lends itself to being recorded, minimally edited, and released as either an “actual play” or the events in story format that are based on the “actual play” (that means I’m eliminating the mechanics and only including the actual story elements for the presentation).

Could we all be that focused? Sure. Would it happen right out of the gate? I wouldn’t expect that to be the case but with each of us being supportive, I think we could definitely get really good at playing episodic adventures.

As the GM, how to I cut up my “formerly epic saga” thinking into smaller chunks? For me, personally, that means taking my “designed as an RPG adventure” story and turning it into a TV drama-like format. Kevin is the mage, Metal is the barbarian, Tricia is the cyborg, and Bob is the half breed tank and each of them has a backstory that I can use to jump to when one of them is missing. Maybe Bob’s erratic appearances mean his tank only shows up in these flashback sessions or maybe he just plays the part of the antagonist in these sessions. If Metal is out at a concert or wedding and can’t make the session, maybe that is the session we see his character’s inability to score a ride to the castle comes out and the others complete the quest without him… or maybe we delve into Kevin’s backstory and tell that one instance where he didn’t save his buddy during a battle.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I can think sage length adventure but I need to have consumable chunks that can be wrapped up relatively quickly while still tying into the overall epic in the background. I’ll have to be more prepared for whatever gets thrown my way as well as being able to improvise the story I’m telling based on who shows up for the session.

That is something I’ve never done before.

Another single topic column in the books. I’m hoping this is a possibility for the future and I’d like to think we could include the full Greatest Show roster to be a part of the adventures… and if we trim down our show time for the Greatest Show to an hour rather than two, we have more time to actually plays these games…

Can I entice Bob to show up for regular gaming sessions? That is the question that plagues me at the moment. We shall see.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 57: What Does That Look Like?

I have talked many times about how a chess club that I played in around the fifth grade was the greatest chess memory I had. I have also talked many times about how I would love to recreate that in a more adult manner (by which I mean toned down and changed to actually work for adults). I have also talked many times about how I have tried to start up “online clubs” to get this ball rolling, but now is the time to look at what I’m saying and evaluate.

This column will be mostly, if not entirely, about this recreated chess club.

Part of the reason I’m going to write this is to actually write down what I’m talking about and part of the reason is to show me whether or not this idea will actually work as I envision it. Expect a definitive result when this column is over, because the second part of this is to see if talking the hell out of it will actually show me that I’m completely out in left field with this idea.

Instead of rehashing the story as a whole and then talking about how to adapt that, I’m going to include the snippets of the story in and amongst the rest of the talk. Enough talking about talking about it, let’s just start this shindig.

Chess is a game that is accessible to anyone. As long as you have the basic pieces and a board, you can play the game. Hell, there is even a way to play the game by just using pencils and paper to move your pieces… I’ve even done this myself when a board wasn’t available! What I’m saying is that anyone can learn the basics and play the game.

Those who study the game in detail are the ones who rise above the others.

You can look at me and claim that American football is accessible to everyone. You can say that hockey is available to anyone. Basketball, tennis, and even baseball are all accessible by everyone… supposedly.

Unlike all those sports, chess is available for anyone who puts forward an effort. Those sports? They all require some athletic gifts to rise to any “decent” level. Sports have barriers that genetics can actually block.

Chess does not. If you really apply yourself to the game, you can go from a beginner to a “club strength player,” which has different meanings as far as a rating goes… but the point is, chess is open to anyone who puts forth the effort, regardless of genetics.

When I was taught the game, I fell for every single trick that my teacher wanted to use on those who didn’t know any better. The Scholar’s Mate? Yes. Losing both rooks because I tried to bring them out early? Yes. The queen trap where the opponent gets the queen out early, takes out a ton of important pieces, and really decimates me in the process? Yes, I’ve fallen for it all. I would say we all do, in the beginning.

I would go so far as saying that my rating in the early stages was an average of 600-700, which for anyone who knows would realize that is low. I was ten, so it was acceptable. I kept pushing to figure out how to get better, and that meant playing more games.

What I’m hoping for in this “new age chess club,” which I’l hereafter refer to as the Internet Chess Experience (or ICE for short), is that we bring in people who are interested in learning the game and helping them to build up their playing strength. ICE should be a gateway for anyone wanting to get into chess with a presentation that is more “excitement” than “professional chess.”

Some of the games that were played early on were just between about four or five of us, with two of the players being heads above the others. As someone who was a big fan of the WWE back then, I saw the opportunity to try to convince everyone else that we could structure this like professional wrestling and work some fun into this new game that I learned.

To my surprise, when I brought up the idea of championships, everyone went all in. I wasn’t the only wrestling fan and they all saw that they could have fun doing this, too… so we created a “World Championship” that was won by one of the two strongest players in their initial playoff. I’m going to call this the Gold Championship, because there would be more championships to come.

At the age of ten, as most of us were, we didn’t know about the world of professional chess. We weren’t aware that Garry Kasparov was trouncing the competition in the “real world” as the World Champion, competing in (and dominating) tournaments all over the world. We weren’t even having tournaments, we were just having “single games” against one another.

Our enthusiasm, to read “smack talk matched with a fast paced chess game,” emboldened a few others to join our little group to bring us up to a much deeper level of competition. That influx of new players allowed me to teach someone, take advantage of them in the same ways I was initially prey to, and then help them become a better player in the process.

We had enough new players come in that we created a “secondary championship,” which I’ll call the Silver Championship. The best players would compete for the Gold Championship and the rest of us played for the Silver Championship. Joining the top two players were only a couple more, and even those new “strong players” were a far cry from the playing strength of the two top guys.

Back when this was going on, someone in the WWE who was vying for the World Championship wouldn’t bother with the Intercontinental Championship because they were “above that level.” Those guys who were too strong to play in the “pool” for the Silver Championship didn’t necessarily get much better.

This is where I need to take a sidebar to explain that we didn’t play in tournaments. Yes, I said that already, but that meant we weren’t having multiples of games against the exact same people over and over again. Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Chess Champion, plays his top rated opponents (the ones who would be top contenders for his championship) more than ten times a year. Every year.

Without us in the fifth grade chess club doing tournaments over and over again, we didn’t have that issue. If the top guy, our Gold Champion, wanted to defend his championship, he made a deal with the competitor that would be a challenge and a good match via handshake to compete for a “title defense.”

(Another sidebar, somewhat related to the topic. I’ve avoided using the word “titles” to describe championships because titles in chess refer to something different. Titles are Grandmaster, International Master, FIDE Master, etc. Championships are different. Knowing this, if I slip into using the word “title,” I’m referring to the championship. Americans use the word to describe championships, despite that not being correct. Carry on.)

What I’ve described so far is a two tier system, where the top tier “headline” our little events and the second tier filled out the rest of the event. Our events, by the way, were named in epic fashion and would be promoted by all involved to those who didn’t have a match to be a part of them. Chessmania, Battle on the Board, and Knightmare were just a few of the events that pitted several of us against several of the rest of us.

ICE would have to remove the constant, annual tournaments that pit the same players against each other over and over again. So now, I’ve discussed having single matchups that focus on two players rather than larger tournaments that happen often. I’ve even suggested that ICE use the “two tier” system. Let me elaborate on these points, starting with the tiers.

This ICE idea would need tiers of competition. Because I understand that there is a vast difference between a 1000 rated player and a 1600 rated player, I’m suggesting we have at least four tiers, if not five. The top tier would be the “best of ICE” level, where you’re noticeably stronger than the other tiers and shouldn’t be competing “down to the tiers below.” ICE is about improving as much as spreading the game to others. Using chess terminology (i.e. pieces), the tiers could be King, Queen, Rook, Bishop, and Knight. I only suggest using five tiers because the Pawn level would be the “developmental pool” that doesn’t get to be appearing on events.

Ratings are another thing that would have to disappear. If players see John Doe is 1623 and Joe Smith is 1419, then the expectation is that John Doe will win (definitively). That vast gap means less when players are rated 2400-2700, but one still looks at the ratings expecting the higher rating to win. Spectators who aren’t deeply involved in chess analysis aren’t going to watch a 1600 face off against a 1400 because the 1600 is going to win. The tier system groups up people of a similar strength without broadcasting that their playing strength is “1600.”

Players who “sign on” for an event as competitors are also expected to build the hype for that event. If John Doe and Joe Smith sign up to play each other at Chess Fest ’17, then they should be doing what combat sports do to build that excitement: promotion.

Were you interested in watching Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor box? How about after they started “jawing” at each other in public, boasting, making great claims of superiority, and trying to make their fight the event to end all events in 2017? They promoted the crap out of that thing and as a result got a lot of people to put down $100 to watch the fight.

Back when the fifth grade club was running, and trying to explain the hype machine part of that in the more modern day, I would say it was a combination of professional wrestling and chess. What people read, or heard, was that the games weren’t real and therefore not worth playing. What I actually have as an example now, that works hundreds of times better, is UFC and chess… or poker broadcasting and chess.

Before I get into the angle I’m working here, let me say that taking a current event (like the FIDE World Cup) and presenting it like ESPN or the Travel Channel presents poker events would be a great way to start showing chess off. I’m going to stick with the combat sports analogy, though, as I think that the poker angle relies a lot on the network and commentators to do the hyping where the players, in my ICE example, are the ones responsible.

When the UFC signs two fighters onto one of their events, those fighters do a promotional tour and hype their fight. The UFC puts effort into the hyping as well, but the fighters are really the ones doing the heavy lifting. Each fighter claims superiority, explains how they’ll conquer their opponent, and they do this right up until the fight is over, where the actual winner stands in the Octagon and explains their opponent was a great fighter and they were happy to have fought them.

Why can’t this be a thing in chess?

In ICE, we would hold events like the UFC or professional wrestling. These wouldn’t be tournaments, or at least not all of them would be tournaments. With each tier having a championship, each tier could headline an event in a one versus one style matchup. The rest of the event would be filled with competitors battling other competitors in their tier to try to work their way into a championship match in the future. Everyone on that event card would then do as much hyping as they could to build up the event and bring in potential spectators.

I can already hear the groaning that chess isn’t a spectator sport. I even pointed out how the “poker on TV” system would work great for professional chess currently but isn’t ideal for ICE. This is the part where I tell you that professional, or traditional, chess time controls aren’t a thing in ICE. In ICE, we don’t go any slower than Rapid Chess.

Rapid chess time controls are 15 minutes for the first 40 moves, with 10 seconds per move increments added for each move. This makes a chess game far quicker than a traditional time control and far more interesting to watch. Rapid isn’t even the fastest mode of play I’m suggesting ICE concentrate on, either. I think that Blitz should be the “normal” time control, being a fixed 10 minutes per player (meaning a total of 20 minutes per game). Games would end quicker, require more action in a shorter time, and this is where the spectator part of the sport comes into play.

Draws also happen a lot less often at this level.

So now we have the ICE Chess Fest ’17 event headlined by a “two game match” King Championship by John Doe vs Joe Smith, with several others on the card in various tiers to give as much exposure up and down the ICE organization as possible. Doe and Smith haven’t met yet in ICE, have almost no history against each other, and their ratings aren’t a thing in ICE so we aren’t distracted by a number… the event happens, knowing that the next event is three weeks away and is filled with a whole card of other players in a similar situation.

Having gone this far in the column, does this sound like something that isn’t at least a little appealing?

The last thing I want to address in this column, relating to this ICE idea, is the types of players (both level and personality) that would benefit from this format.

I do not believe that a 2000 rated player or higher would benefit from ICE, as they actually have potentially lucrative careers in the rest of the chess world. That being said, there would be a personality that would also need to be present for this to work, and that would be the extroverted personality. I’m talking about someone, not unlike myself, willing to promote themselves and their playing strength against all comers in an interesting way.

Everyone is a potential member of ICE. If there is a 2000 or above rated player that is interested in joining, I wouldn’t turn them away, but they would have to get used to the style of play ICE would promote. If Doe vs Smith is scheduled in two weeks, those two shouldn’t be playing each other in any public forum before hand (as that would diminish their great collision at the event). Scarcity needs to be manufactured, a little, in order to help build the vision of what I’ve been talking about for more than 2,500 words now.

The idea is to build a place for the rest of us to play, in a larger forum, with our own setting, hyping our own games, and competing with people of a similar strength encouraging us to get better in the process.

If I’m the Bishop Champion, but I’m dominating the division to the point where all of the “best contenders” have already been beaten, then moving into the Rook Championship contention is where my goal should be and would allow those who haven’t had a chance to shine to do so in my absence.

Maybe, just maybe, if you give this proposal a consideration, the idea is worth building upon. Ideally, an event formatted in just this manner would be a good example of what I’m trying to explain and I’m hoping that this lengthy explanation lets you ponder the idea further.

I would love to hear some feedback on this issue, too.

Since I’ve spoken my peace, I’ll leave you with this as the first single topic column since I went to the Journal of the Emerald Specter format… hopefully you enjoyed reading it.