Mage the Ascension: PbtA Hack

mage card

This is not by any means a fully-formed idea, but it’s one that I kind of like. In a way, it’s interesting to  take a push-button mechanic like the core mechanic of PbtA and apply it to an open-ended, flexible game like Mage the Ascension. What buttons do you include? What must those buttons do? 

Design Goals

I want to focus on the flexible but costly nature of Awakened magic. I see mundane things being handled through conversation more often than rolls, to keep the focus on magic. There needs to be a harm mechanic and a Paradox clock – let’s say you are at -1 per harm taken. A certain points on the Paradox clock, the ST makes a Paradox move. As with my Fate hack, I’ll boil the Spheres down to seven: Correspondence, Forces, Life, Matter, Mind, Spirit, Time (eats Entropy). Prime can be cut because it is mostly concerned with meta-magic. Each Tradition is its own playbook. This is a work in progress

Character Creation

Distribute 3 +1s between the seven Spheres. You have -1 in any Sphere without a bonus. Circle one and describe your Avatar (Dynamic, Entropic, Pattern, Primordial). Choose your true Nature. Describe your Sanctum. Circle an advantage (things like a Node maybe). I can see different playbooks having different things to circle or choose – acolytes, thin places, cool gadgets, turf, etc. 

General Mage Moves

When a Mage does something mundane but dangerous or costly, roll +0.

  • On a 10+, it goes as well as it could.
  • On a 7-9, you succeed but there is an unexpected cost or problem – choose one of the following: 
    • You lose or damage something of value – the ST will tell you what
    • The cost was more than you expected – the ST will tell you what the additional cost is, including a favor or a debt owed forward
    • You succeed, but someone else pays the price. The ST will tell you who
  • On a 6-, the ST can make a move. Any resources you used in the attempt are damaged or lost.

When you use your magic to shape reality, describe your rote or procedure and roll +Sphere. The ST will tell you which Sphere applies if there is any question.

  • 10+ and you get what you wanted.
  • 7-9 and pick one mishap, otherwise you get what you wanted.
  • 6- pick three mishaps, otherwise you get some version of what you wanted. Or, you can flinch, distance yourself from your Avatar, and cancel the effect. You take -1 forward to magical effects you attempt, but the effect fails without other consequences. (With a 7-9 you can always mark Paradox to avoid other mishaps.)
    • Mark Paradox
    • The effect is not under your control
    • You draw unwanted attention
    • There are unintended consequences (ST move)

When you use your magic to inflict harm, describe your rote or procedure and roll +Sphere. The kind of harm will depend on the Sphere used, but harm is harm.

  • On a 10+, you inflict 1 harm in the way you intended, and have +1 forward to inflict further harm.
  • On a 7-9, you inflict harm but must mark one mishap from the Sphere move.
  • On a 6-, you inflict harm and also take harm in return.

When you use your magic to defend yourself against magic, roll +Sphere using the Sphere against which you are defending.

  • On a 10+, you stop the magical effect from affecting you and can choose one:
    • You turn it back on the attacker, or
    • You can protect a group, or an area, from the effect
  • On a 7-9, you stop the magical effect from affecting you
  • On a 6-, you are vulnerable to the effect (the ST makes a move)

When you improvise magic to defend yourself against magic, roll +Sphere using any Sphere, describing how you use that Sphere creatively (use Correspondence to defend against Time for example). 

  • On a 10+, you stop the magical effect from affecting you
  • On a 7-9, you stop the effect from affecting you, but there is a cost. Choose one: 
    • You take -1 to Sphere moves going forward
    • The effect strikes a nearby ally or innocent bystander – the ST will choose who
    • You lose access to that Sphere until you have time to rest and meditate
  • On a 6-, the effect hits you full force

When you improvise magic to affect reality, describe the improvisation and roll +Sphere. 

  • On a 10+, you get the effect you wanted, but pick one: 
    • The ST tells you one strange side-effect
    • The magic affects one additional object or person of the ST’s choice
  • On a 7-9, the magic affects the wrong person or object – the ST will tell you who, or what
  • On a 6-, the ST makes a Paradox move

When you meditate at a Node, roll +0, or +1 if it is a Node where you are expressly welcome, or +2 at your own Node.

  • On a 10+, you are suffused with Quintessence and take a +1 forward on Sphere moves.
  • On a 7-9, you are suffused with Quintessence and take +1 forward on Sphere moves, but the Node is depleted and no one can draw from it until it regenerates.
  • On a 6-, the Node is depleted and must regenerate.

When you use your magical perceptions, choose a Sphere in which you have at least a +1. The ST will describe what you perceive through that Sphere.

  • All: you can sense the residue of powerful magic enacted recently – the more powerful the effect, the longer its residue lasts
  • Correspondence: you exact physical location; precise distances from one object to another; the presence of a portal to another location
  • Forces: ambient mundane energies (electromagnetism, heat, etc.); see using another spectrum (ultraviolet)
  • Life: the health and general condition of living things nearby, your own health and condition in detail, 
  • Matter: material composition of nearby objects; properties of unknown substances; potential or chemical energy stored in an object or substance
  • Mind: whether there are nearby minds; whether someone is awake or asleep or in a coma; basic emotional state of those around you
  • Spirit: thickness of the local Gauntlet; nearby ghosts or spirits; whether a nearby creature has a soul (i.e., could reveal an android)
  • Time: exact time (including the ability to set an internal alarm); any nearby disturbances in time

When you use mundane means to escape danger, roll +0.

  • On a 10+, you escape! Describe how. Also, choose one:
    • Your attacker leaves you alone for now, or
    • You can help your allies escape too
  • On a 7-9, you escape, but your attacker has not given up.
  • On a 6-, the ST makes a move.

Tradition Moves

I decided that each Tradition should have at least one signature move. These are what I came up with:

When an Akashic fights mundane people with her hands, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she defeats even a large number of mundane people she’s fighting in flashy fashion. The player describes how she prevails.
  • On a 7-9, she defeats even a large number of mundane people, but takes harm in return.
  • On a 6-, she got herself in over her head. She takes harm and things escalate – the ST says how.

When a Cultist of Ecstacy seeks insight in a trance, roll +1

  • On a 10+, she can ask the ST up to three questions about herself.
  • On a 7-9, she can ask the ST one question about herself.
  • On a 6-, she gets a glimpse of a hard move the ST is going to make.

When a Dreamspeaker is solving a problem in her home territory, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, her knowledge of her land enables her to solve the problem.
  • On a 7-9, her knowledge of her land enables her to solve the problem, but the cost in time or materials is greater than she expected.
  • On a 6-, she has revealed a problem she didn’t know about before, or a problem she knew about is worse than she thought.

When an Etherite uses technology in an unusual way, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, the technology works just as the Etherite wanted.
  • On a 7-9, the technology works but there is an unintended complication. The ST will say what it is, or you can offer a suggestion.
  • On a 6-, the technology doesn’t work as intended, and there is a complication on top of that (the ST makes a move).

When an Euthanatos kills a mundane person, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, you kill the person exactly as you planned and get away with it.
  • On a 7-9, you kill the person, but draw the attention of either mundane authorities or a supernatural creature.
  • On a 6-, you kill the person but the ST can make a hard move.

When a Hermetic speaks lore, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, the lore you speak is true and helpful.
  • On a 7-9, the lore you speak provides a helpful hint for the situation at hand.
  • On a 6-, the lore you speak reveals a new problem.

When a Hollow One tries to make a connection on the street, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she finds just the person or information she needs.
  • On a 7-9, she finds the person or information she needs, but there is a cost. The ST will say what it is.
  • On a 6-, she’s made someone angry, or drawn unwanted attention, and didn’t find what she wanted. Or, she found what she wanted, but it’s much worse than she thought.

When a Verbena uses natural medicine, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she is able to heal using mundane means.
  • On a 7-9, she understands what is wrong, but it will require awakened magic.
  • On a 6-, it is much worse than she thought – the ST will say how bad.

When a Virtual Adept is solving a problem using a digital device, roll +1. 

  • On a 10+, it functions exactly as the Adept needed it to.
  • On a 7-9, the device functions as the Adept hoped, but she has pushed her luck and used up resources or drawn unwanted attention.
  • On a 6-, she draws unwanted attention and the device fails.

ST and Paradox Moves

Your Avatar is displeased, or detached, or distant. -1 ongoing to all magic. You are plunged into Quiet. You have drawn the attention of the Technocracy. You have drawn the attention of the Nephandi. You have drawn the attention of a Marauder. You have drawn the attention of mortal authorities. Echoes of your magical effect follow you, causing problems. You are marked by your magic in a way that is visible to everyone who meets you. There is lingering harm that will fall on you (or someone near you or connected to you) the next time you try to use magic. You are cursed and everyday things will go wrong in embarrassing ways. 

Mark XP

When you get a 6- result; if your relationship with your Avatar deepened; if you expressed your true Nature; if you learned something new and amazing about the world; if your life was in danger. Every time you get nine xp you advance.

Advancement

Increase one Sphere bonus by one; or circle a new advantage; or reset your Paradox clock to zero; or mark a new option on your playbook. Will there be enough moves to warrant choosing a new move at advancement? Not sure.

Well, there it is. That’s what I have for Mage the Ascension, Powered by the Apocalypse.

 

Merry AKA Uncle Shellworth

My character for our new campaign is a tortle monk named Merry, also known as Uncle Shellworth.

DB Munro ordered a dragon turtle egg for his circus. It was going to be the talk of every town they came to – they could raise it from the egg, tame it and teach it tricks. The circus would grow as the turtle grew. That was the plan, anyway.

The egg arrived, all the way across the Dead Fields, and DB Munro believed it would make him rich and famous.

When Merry cracked his way out of the egg, all of DB Munro’s dreams came crashing down around him. He kept Merry, the tortle, and raised him as a member of the circus. He never missed a chance to crack on his shell with a stick or shout insults – which Merry seemed to absorb with a plodding aplomb.

Merry grew swiftly, and was surprisingly strong after only a few years. He was trained as a strongman and sideshow performer. By the time he seemed fully grown (after about 7 or 8 years – no one has ever seen another tortle) he was enormously strong. Another performer, an alcoholic named Idren Bloodhand took him under his wing. Long ago, before he was disgraced, Idren was trained as a monk. He began training Merry as a lark, watching the huge turtle-man go through the motions of kata. Turns out, Merry had a talent for it, and absorbed everything Idren had to teach, including a love of alcohol and other intoxicants.

No one is sure why, but intoxicants of all kinds affect him differently from the way they affect mammals. It is hard for him to resist experimenting.

One night, Nix, another performer, came to Merry with a plan. She was going to escape the cruel hand of DB Munro, but she needed the help of someone enormously strong and hard to hurt. After some convincing, Merry agreed, eager to see more of the wide world and, though he remained quiet about it, quite uncomfortable with the ongoing verbal and physical abuse.

They escaped, and only barely crossed the Dead Fields with their lives, Merry carrying Nix for the last couple of days as her life nearly left her. At last they made it, half-dead, to Avalon’s Crossing, a village that serves as home for many cast-offs and folks who don’t fit elsewhere.

Nix made her way, using her skills to get by. Merry had never lived anywhere but DB Munro’s circus. He had no skills for dealing with regular folk. Fortunately, the Woodhall family of halflings took pity on him, and eventually adopted the six-foot-tall turtle into their family. The kids call him Uncle Shellworth.

Merry’s strength and quick mind was of great use to the Woodhalls, and in return they taught him carpentry – the family trade. They helped him build a nice little hut next to a pond, where he was most comfortable. Around 2 years passed, and Merry grew even larger and stronger. His shell toughened, and he learned to cook, because his new family of halflings love to eat. Every morning and every evening, he practices what he learned from Idren Bloodhand.

RPG Mechanic Round-Up #7

Meta-Round-Up

Progress and Drama

In the game text, instead of listing the result of a passed test in a resolution mechanic as “success”, describe it as “progress.” That is, progress is made toward whatever your goal was, or toward winning what was at stake. In parallel, instead of listing a failed test in your resolution mechanic as “failure”, call it “drama”, in that the dramatic tension increases in the scene or in the story. This could almost be the only change in how a system is written, but I think it opens up results in interesting ways.

Let’s say your D&D player does the classic thing and makes an absurd proficiency check – then they roll a 20, and even though there isn’t a “natural 20” rule in 5E for proficiency checks, they still expect something big from their absurd plan (seduce the dragon, pick the lock with mage hand, lie to the Inevitable’s face, etc.). So if passing the test equals “progress” rather than “success”, you can just describe how their absurd plan gets them closer to their goal. Similarly, for all of those proficiency checks where failure just means the story stops, if it is “drama” (or “tension” perhaps, or “threat”) instead of “failure” for a failed test, the attempt can be technically successful, moving things ahead, but they are now worse than they were.

Theme Music

Each player chooses a theme song for their character and queue’s it up on their phone. At any time during the session, they can hit play for the song, play a bit of it, and their character automatically succeeds on whatever it is they are doing. Maybe instead of Inspiration, players can gain bonus uses of their theme music during the session. Similarly, the DM can queue up theme songs for any Big Bads they’ll face, and those enable them to use a legendary save ability to choose to save on a failed saving throw, or to resist death for a round after being reduced to 0 hit points, etc.

Big and Small Advantages with Percentile Dice

This is a layer of complexity that one might not choose, but it occurred to me while listening (and enjoying) another How We Roll actual play of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. In CoC 7E there is an advantage mechanic, where you roll the 10s digit die more than once and take the worse of the two rolls. I thought that this made sense for big advantages and disadvantages, but for smaller advantages and disadvantages it would make sense to roll the 1s digit die twice and take the better or worse of the two rolls. This gives you an approximately 1 in 10 change of barely making, or barely missing, the roll, and isn’t a big deal, but could be an interesting tweak, maybe for when the player thinks they should have advantage but the Keeper disagrees. “Yes, but…”

Percentile Auto-Success

Rolling is not always fun. Games usually have some kind of hand-wavey rule about “only roll when it is interesting” or “only roll when there is danger involved” but even in games where that is spelled out enforcement is sporadic. It occurred to me, in particular in a percentile system, that it could be simpler and also more interesting to give each character a number of auto-successes equal to the tens digit of the applicable skill. So, again looking at Call of Cthulhu, your investigator with a Credit Rating of 57 could just have 5 automatic successes on Credit Rating rolls during the scenario (intended to be more than one session). The downside is that you don’t get any chance to advance when using one of these auto-successes, nor can you get a critical success of any kind. Maybe one could ignore this rule in combat, and of course the Keeper would be able to say that it doesn’t apply in a certain situation (like a Sanity roll, or a situation where the danger of failure is really interesting), but I like it as a rule.

Final Fantasy Action Selector

Remember old school Final Fantasy where you had the action selector when each character’s turn came up? It looked something vaguely like this:

  • Fight / Run
  • Magic
  • Drink
  • Item

I was thinking about something like this for new players. Frequently, players at my table forget all of the various things their character can do when it is their turn, especially at higher levels. What if new players had something like this, printed up by the DM, with their abilities on it? Something for a Druid might look like this:

  • Melee Attack
  • Missile Attack
  • Shapechange

And one for a Rogue more like this:

  • Melee Attack
  • Missile Attack
  • Dash
  • Disengage
  • Hide

Of course, the player can put whatever is interesting on the selector, and can always do things not listed, but it might be helpful to just have that at a glance. I’ve seen a lot of new players stare glassy-eyed at their complex character sheet when their turn comes when really they only have two or three viable and interesting options. The problem is that it takes significant system mastery for one to know what those few viable and interesting options are.

 

Fate Core Vampire 5: Mechanics

/tg/ - Traditional Games

Mechanics

This is, obviously, a catch-all for things I haven’t covered yet but which come up in game. As always, I’m trying to strike a balance between Fate Core mechanics and Vampire the Masquerade themes and “feel” for lack of a better word.

Advancement

At the end of each session, PCs can either add or change an Aspect or swap the position of two adjacent Skills on their pyramid. PCs cannot change a high concept Aspect without GM approval.

When an Issue is resolved in the story, that marks a minor Milestone. At each minor Milestone, every PC gains a bonus Skill at +1. If they already have the maximum number of Skills at +1, they can move one Skill from +1 to +2, and on upward as appropriate. After 5 minor Milestones, this will result in a Skill being raised from +4 to +5.

Blood Bonds

To be blood bound to someone is to lose a part of one’s self and be subsumed by one’s domitor. If you are blood bound, erase one of your Aspects (besides your high concept or clan flaw Aspect) and replace it with “Bound to X” with your domitor’s name. This Aspect counts as a consequence that your domitor can tag at will without spending a Fate point, but otherwise functions as any other Aspect – mostly for compels of course.

If you ever break the blood bond, you can replace it with a new Aspect.

Fighting

Because vampires are vampires, they can normally defend against bullets with either Athletics or Physique.

Aggravated damage is a possible moderate or severe physical consequence. Vampires cannot use Physique to defend against damage from Protean claws, fangs, fire and sunlight. Fire and sunlight deal double damage to vampires, causing as much mental stress as physical stress.

In order to bite in close combat, a vampire must first grapple her prey with Physique. She then bites with Fight, and her fangs do +1 damage

Frenzy

A vampire can always choose to frenzy rather than take a mental consequence – a brief frenzy in place of a minor consequence up to a severe frenzy to avoid a severe consequence. While frenzying, the GM can compel the character without offering a Fate point, but the player still has to spend a Fate point to resist the compel. There are still the three types of frenzy – fear, hunger and rage – which will color the kinds of compels the GM can offer.

When you frenzy, clear all physical stress. During the frenzy, you also have armor 1 and your melee attacks deal 1 additional damage.

During your frenzy, if you drink blood this can still let you ‘treat’ a hunger-related consequence.

When a character is ‘taken out’ with mental stress, she frenzies against her will. Obviously, this frenzy will always be a severe one. This is why “riding the wave” can be preferable to some vampires, especially if they are less concerned with doing horrible things.

After a session in which you frenzied, you might want to change an Aspect to reflect what happened, or reduce your Empathy or Will and raise another Skill in its place.

Hunting

As described previously, my current system for hunting calls on the players to make two Skill rolls in order to be successful. If they succeed with a cost or concession, it is often related to breaking the Masquerade or possibly encountering danger or a rival. Often, the first Skill roll has to do with finding their prey (Empathy, Notice, Streetwise) and the second has to do with how they get them to do what they want (Charisma, Fight, Manipulation, Resources, etc.)

Each night they wake up “Hungry” and must hunt against an obstacle of +2 to treat that minor consequence. If they are already Hungry and wake up the next night, the hunger becomes a moderate consequence, and they must hunt against an obstacle of +4. If their hunger becomes severe, the obstacle becomes a +6, and they are almost certain to kill someone, because if you kill someone and drain all of their blood, that is one surefire way to clear all hunger consequences.

Kindred Society

Any given Elysium will have at least a couple of Aspects. One of them is based on who the Keeper is, and the other is based on the location itself.

Every Sabbat pack has a reputation Aspect that applies to other Sabbat as well as any non-Sabbat who have the misfortune to have heard of them.

It’s hard to get the attention of powerful elders and influential Kindred, especially without the help of a Harpy or other socially connected vampire. Vampires are secretive and understandably paranoid. Some sample Contacts difficulties:

  • +2 the Prince’s Seneschal, your local Sabbat bishop, a Harpy outside of Elysium, your Clan Whip, a Black Hand cell in your city, an Anarch or Independent, or any vampire outside your Sect who is in your city
  • +3 a Black Hand cell leader, an Assamite for hire, a member of the Archbishop’s pack, your Clan Primogen,
  • +4 the Prince, the Archbishop, one of the Primogen outside your own Clan,

The enmity clause: if you fail in a Contacts roll, you might end up finding just the right kind of person, but unfortunately, this particular person doesn’t like you

Recovery and Regeneration

Vampires are assumed to always be slowly regenerating dead tissue and healing injuries. Blood is often required to ‘treat’ physical consequences, however, and can also help with hunger-related mental consequences of course. (Hunting to treat a minor consequence is against a obstacle of +2; to treat a moderate consequence is against a +4, severe is +6, etc.) We’ll use a somewhat simplified version of the recovery rules in Fate Core.

  • At the end of a conflict scene, clear all stress boxes.
  • At the end of a scene, clear any minor, treated consequences.
  • At the end of the session, a treated severe consequence becomes moderate, and a treated moderate consequence becomes minor.
  • Untreated consequences stay where they are.
  • As in the core rules, some consequences are treated other than with blood – with Empathy, Knowledge, etc. Whatever makes sense for the consequence.

Ritae

Function like necromantic and thaumaturgic rituals. Sabbat pack priests should probably spend one Refresh to get an Extra representing their knowledge of the basic Ritae.

Spending Blood

In a recent game, I let a player spend blood by making their character more hungry (minor consequence upgraded to moderate) in exchange for having a +2 on Athletics, Fight or Physique rolls for the scene (player chooses one).

Staking

Like, torpor, staking is an option for “taken out” in a conflict between vampires, as long as one of them has a stake handy. If the player hasn’t mentioned carrying the stake, then she can spend a Fate point to declare that she remembered to bring one. Either she can use the stake to deal physical stress until her victim is taken out, or she can beat the vampire into submission and then stake her to take her out. As a weapon a stake is awkward, and so grants no damage bonus.

Torpor

Torpor is one option for “taken out” in a conflict between vampires, and therefore might happen more often than normal. A vampire who is fed vampire blood awakens from torpor relatively quickly – and is also now one step blood bound to whomever woke them. Otherwise, the higher the vampire’s Will the sooner they will come out.

And that’s it for now. I’m really enjoying my online Fate Core Vampire game, and using the rules I’ve posted, you can run your own. As always, comments welcome.

Friend, Honest, Pastor – Pick Two

I’ve been in a few interesting conversations on FB lately about what it is like to be a pastor, or a parishioner, and whether genuine friendship is something that a pastor can offer a parishioner. Generally speaking, it seemed like parishioners felt like pastors could be their friends, for the most part, but most pastors pointed out issues with this perception and practice.

There are boundary issues, honesty issues, and safety issues for the pastor in her position at the church which do not exist between the pastor and her friends. There are issues of power and politics, of employment and theology and core values at stake. A pastoral relationship is a particular kind of relationship, it isn’t a stand-in for every kind of relationship. That way lies boundary violations galore.

I came up with a pithy way to represent the problem: with regard to your pastor, your pastor can be your friend, your pastor can be honest, and your pastor can function as your pastor – you can pick any two of those three.

Honest Friend = Not Pastor

Your honest friend cannot be your pastor. If someone is honestly talking to you about the deep things that friends talk about, they cannot also be your pastor. They can’t be your pastor if you know about their criminal record, or their affair, or how much they want to strangle some of their parishioners, or how sometimes they lie from the pulpit because that’s easier than telling the truth and making enemies or being unemployed.

Pastor Friend = Not Honest

Your pastor friend cannot be honest with you, for the reasons listed above. She cannot tell you all about her life; cannot tell you some truths, especially about herself and her own life, but possibly about you and your life as well. I’m NOT saying that pastors who have friends in their congregations are lying – what I am saying is that they will always have truths they cannot tell you that they could, in theory, tell a friend in their life who is not part of their congregation or community.

Honest Pastor = Not Friend

Your honest pastor cannot be your true friend, any more than your therapist or your lawyer can be your true friend. An honest pastor will have to tell you things you may not want to hear, and should be maintaining good, healthy emotional boundaries with you at all times. An honest pastor is also a professional, among other things, and it gets too confusing to have to alternate between wearing the ‘pastor hat’ and then wearing the ‘friend hat.’ One of those hats is going to stick – either the pastor part, or the friend part, will suffer.

Not All Three

This is my understanding and practice as it is right now, at least. I even have friends among my parishioners, but as their pastor, there is always going to be an appropriate distance there. Being a pastor is messy, and the lines between different kinds of relationships can blur, but for me at least there is a definite limit beyond which I am not going to go with a parishioner, if I want them to remain a parishioner.

Suicide

I do not like telling stories about myself. It isn’t that I think people should not tell stories about themselves generally (though memoir is one of my least favorite genres of writing) – if you have a story to tell, more power to you. I just feel like…the stories I have to tell are about other people. Mostly made up people, if you get down to it. Make of that what you will.

I don’t think my life is particularly interesting, and I also have a really bad memory. I don’t remember whole swathes of my life, for reasons I can only guess at and don’t want to get into. Suffice to say, in the rare event that someone tells a story of something they remember me saying or doing, especially years ago, there’s a good chance I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about. They say that people with depression have smaller hippocampuses, and maybe that has something to do with it, I don’t know.

But I listened to Mike Perna’s episode of Bard and Bible a few days ago, and I decided, OK, I’ll tell a few brief Doug stories. These stories are about suicide, so if you don’t want that, now you know to skip this post. (These are not all of my stories about suicide, but they are the ones I’m telling today) I respect your time, so I’ll keep them as brief as I can while still maybe making sense.

First, I’m perpetually the New Guy, and before that, was perpetually the New Kid. I counted, and I’ve moved 24 times in my 37 years of life. No, I’m not a military brat or anything like that. I’ve just moved a lot – with my family as a kid, then as an adolescent, then as an adult.

As the perpetual New (Fat, Nerdy, Short) Kid, I had to sharpen my natural defenses. The key was always humor. After being pretty steadily beaten up and bullied and made fun of up through elementary school, I put together that if I was able to be consistently funny I would generally be safe. Not all the time, but most of the time. Being my dad’s fifth child and my mom’s third child meant lax parenting, so I watched a lot of late-night TV even as a kid. I watched a lot of comedy specials, and as much as I could, I’d absorb them, and then replay them at school with my own spin in order to shield myself with laughter. By Middle School I had a pretty solid repertoire of Robin Williams and Richard Pryor, among others, and was always someone who was trying to be funny. All this to say, Robin Williams in particular saved me from a lot of ass-kickings. Beyond that, he always seemed like an amazing person. He’s a lifelong hero, the kind of rare, wild genius that I feel privileged to have shared the world with.

Next, I’m a teenager and I have a crush on this girl. She and I are really close friends, actually. We hang out a lot; when I sneak out, it is to go hang out with her. She knows I have this boundless teenage love for her, and she does not feel the same way, and we’re both aware of all of that. It was what it was. But I’d take what I could get, so we spent a lot of time together.

One night, I’m dropping her off at home (I had an early birthday and was an early driver among my friends), and she tells me that she’s going to commit suicide. I beg her not to, but she has made up her mind, tells me goodbye, gets out of the car and goes inside. I’m just sobbing in this Chevy Blazer for I don’t know how long. Eventually she comes back out, gets back in, and tells me that she won’t. If I’ll stop crying, and go home and go to sleep, she promises she won’t.

Then she does.

Next, a year or two later, I’m in my dad’s office. It’s very late, and I’m so depressed and upset and angry and sick of the shitshow of being alive that I have taken down the case where he keeps a revolver. Six bullets shine in little shaped holes like board game pieces. (Not a simile I thought of at the time) With shaking hands I open the mechanism that lets the cylinder fall to the side and I start putting a bullet in each chamber. Why more than the one bullet I’d be using? I have no idea. Symmetry, maybe.

I remember the nauseating weight of it in my hand.

I hold the gun, hands still shaking, feeling like I’m going to throw up a clot of darkness out of the pit of my insides; thinking about whether I’ll feel the impact of the bullet to the side of my head, or just feel a hot dry shove and then nothing, or what. Will I go to Hell, or just fall and never hit the bottom?

I would love to say that Jesus came to me then, or that I thought about the people who loved me and how I’d hurt them, or what it would be like for my dad to wake up to a bang and find my brains all over his shelves. I thought of those things, but I had already thought of those things, and yet there I was in that room, in that moment, weighing whether to end everything because that would also end the pain of being. I knew I would hurt people, but I thought they were misguided. They didn’t understand, would be better off without me.

What happened was, I hit bottom. Whatever step there was before the very last step – that’s where I stopped. I felt like I had fallen a long way, but had slammed into a cold concrete floor, and would not fall any further. I would hurt horribly, would be miserable, but I would not fall farther than that. Not now, anyway.

Feeling like I was going to pass out, I put the gun and bullets back exactly as I found them, went back to my room, told no one. I’d continue to fantasize about killing myself for the next fifteen or so years, but never did it. Obviously.

Next, I’m working as a barista in San Anselmo, California, while going to seminary. I’m at Marin Coffee Roasters and in walks Robin Williams. My hero. The shimmering barrier of humor between me and innumerable ass-kickings. The guy who, for all intents and purposes, is the person I want to be. Yes, he suffers from depression, I’ve read all about that and his marriage troubles and his drug abuse and so on – but he does all of these things and is also world-famous for being hilarious and wonderful. Meanwhile, I’m a broke, depressed Seminary student. He did things in the world – I was just a fan. Yeah, I’d trade lives with the guy, no question.

He was a big bike-rider at the time, and Marin Coffee Roasters was kind of a bike hangout, so he comes in and orders a small mocha. I make him his small mocha, and he says thanks; shares a small smile. I am literally clamping down on all of the things I want to tell him, just boiling up inside of me, because honestly he looks exhausted and I don’t want to impose on the guy. Well, I want to follow him home like a whimpering puppy and hope he takes me in, but the mocha is all I give him.

Last, Robin Williams commits suicide on August 11th, 2014 – three years ago today. Three years later I’m still basically without words. He got to that moment, and bottom for him was just one step farther down than it was for me. He fell past where I stopped, and that was that. The person I desperately wanted to be for years was dead, and I was alive.

And then Prince, and then Chris Cornell, and then Chester Bennington, about whom Mike Perna spoke so eloquently on the Bard and Bible podcast, which set this post in motion.

If you want someone to talk to, I am always available, for this, for anyone, any time. I don’t advertise that, but maybe I should. I have talked to other people who have been in that place, and I have been there, or somewhere like it.

You can also talk to other people who want to help, and who want you to live.

I don’t have a conclusion for this. No summation, no lesson to walk away with. Just what I wrote. Just that and no more.