60 years are we’re not there yet…

December 10th, 1948 marks one of the most inspired moments of Mankind as a whole. The UN General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating in its preamble its most ambitious affirmation: “the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

It wasn’t the first text in the genre. In 1789, on both sides of the Atlantic, two different charters were created, both with the goal of establishing a set of inalienable rights of man: the American Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Even before that, as early as the 13th century,  the Magna Carta already established a set of rights that every subject to the British Crown would have assured, effectively binding the decision and power of the monarch.

In 1948, however, the universal scope of these rights reached its peak. Every single member of Mankind, regardless of gender, race, culture, religion, economic conditions, nationality or any other differenciating factor was recognized these rights, above any creed, government or any other decision power in their lifes.

For all due purposes, being part of Mankind took precedence over any other bond to any other social institution. Discrimination was condemned in all its forms, the right to property, privacy, freedom of association, religion, opinion and thought consecrated as paramount to the full development of the human condition.

Yet, sixty years later, the situation is only marginally better. Human Rights ONG’s are still profusely busy, having ample ground to dennounce abuse. In some cases, the situation has worsen rather than improved. And it’s our fault, our collective fault that it is so.

Whenever a political, economic or diplomatic decision has to be made, human rights are constantly shoved to the bottom of the priority list. They’re still looked upon as an utopic ideal, good for show, but totally impractical. They’re the first to be trampled, because they’re never part of a quick fix or an easy solution. Short term solutions never care for the whole picture and governments and corporations tend to go for short term fixes. Or, worse, they look at human rights as a huge threat to their power, since it inhibits them from the use of blind force. And, in most of the western world, they’re the governments we choose and the corporations we support.

Even in our daily lifes, we look at human rights as something remote and detached from ourselves, something that has no bearing in our private lives. But every single time we shun somebody, because he looks, thinks or believes different, we’re trampling human rights. Every single time we label someone, based on a differenciating characteristic, as a person of “non-interest”, every time we refuse to know someone based on a superficial evaluation, everytime we let our own selfish interests be more important than someone’s suffering or discomfort, we’re trampling human rights. Everytime we refuse to listen to an opinion, merely because of who the person is, everytime we feel we have the right of feeling superior to anyone else, we are disrespecting human rights.

I said before that I really believe that we can only change the world one person at a time. It is true in this case also. Starting with ourselves, we can build a personal code of ethics that never falls second to any decision in our lives. We limit ourselves to the that framework and never surrender it and we demand to be governed by those who feel the same way. Ever respecting, though, the right of others to feel differently… 🙂

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Back to work…

August is over and everybody is back from their vacations. We’re playing again and we switched from WOW RPG to DnD 4. And I’m happy :D.

One of the things that always bothered me in DnD was the amount of metagame knowledge that you had to have, so as to keep the sessions within a manageable time frame. The sheer number of spells and their different effects was overwhelming. The amount of options in building the different classes was huge and, worse, it was as diverse as the number of existing classes and races. Each time I had to create a new character, I had to enter a different world of rules.

I don’t know if I’m just a lazy player or if I’m just not enough of a geek to take pleasure in mastering the different chapters in the PHB, plus the different options in the DMG. 😉 I do know, however, that it felt too hard and too confusing to choose the right build and the right tactical option.

The 4th Edition solved all my problems. Since every single class acts through powers, and since powers work the same for everybody, choosing classes when building a character became extremely easy. On the other hand, encounters aren’t limited to combat anymore and for the first time I find myself looking carefully at my skill list to take actions beyond killing things and taking their stuff.

I confess I was a bit weary at first. When I first started looking at 4th Edition I feared that it had been turned into a glorified miniature game, closer to CRPG than my idea of what role-playing games are. My game experience told me it was not so. Moreover, since everything else was made considerably easier, I can concentrate more on the unfolding story and my character’s dilemmas.

So, I’m a happy camper, right now. :D. And I’ll get happier, when all my ongoing campaigns return to their normal rythm of play, now that everybody is back in town. To all my co-players, welcome back and let’s play! 🙂

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When a hug just doesn’t seem enough…

A couple of friends of mine got awful news about their son, today. I´ve been thinking about what to say or do, since I heard about it, so that I could somehow ease their pain. And I can’t.

I know I can’t even begin to imagine the intensity of their suffering. There’s nothing I can say that will even begin to adress that much pain. All I can do is offer my shoulder and my arms, live through this horrendous time with them, if they want me to. Help with the little things that have to be done, when they think that even that is too much for them. Let them curl up in my arms and cry with them, if they don’t want to cry alone. Be at arm’s length, without imposing myself on them, and their need to grieve alone, if that’s what they want.

I wish I could offer them hope, at a time like this, but every word rehearsed in my head seems void and superficial. Most of all I don’t want to say anything that will only appease my own grief, and will do nothing for them.  

So I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to go through this. I’m sorry about my ineptitude to help you through it. I’m sorry if even this carefully chosen words, with only you in mind, will never be enough to help you and soothe you.

Most of all, I want to say I’m here. Whenever, wherever and however you need me, I’m here. For as long as you need, my body, my heart and my soul are yours. I’m here.

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Viva a Liberdade!!!

This blog is a direct product of the revolution that comemorates today its 34th anniversary. April 25th 1974 marks the end of almost fifty-year long dictatorship that sought relentlessly to mold an entire society to a rigid and paternalist way of seeing the world. Having an opinion was a crime, and every political dissent was to be squashed beyond all existence. The individual had no rights, nothing should exist beyond the model of society and morality that the gentlemen in power saw as the right one. There was a special branch of police to round up everyone that didn’t fall in line. There were family members, co-workers and neighbours ready to denounce anyone that didn’t conform. There were concentration camps, torture and death in prisons and previous censorship of every public manifestation of media reports or cultural production. There was a 13 year-long Colonial War that wiped out the better part of a generation, killing them or leaving them physically and psychologically maimed for life.

Yet, there was never a time without opposition. There was never a time without someone willing to speak out against the regime, at the cost of their own lives. No matter how many books made the forbidden list, there was always someone willing to risk everything to distribute them.

I don’t really care what ideology those men and women professed. I know there were a lot of communists risking their lives in clandestinity, as there were socialists and anarchists. But there were many who weren’t communists, socialists or anarchists, who also risked their lives, who also stood up for their democratic beliefs in the face of impossible odds. No matter what ideological background they had, they all had in common the dream of a better society, a better country, where learning, talking and discussing were possible. A country where art and literature were seen as more than a propaganda tool, where every individual spirit could grow and search for knowledge.

My generation was born immediately before or after the revolution. We never knew what it was to live in a non-democratic society. Though we can understand and relate to a degree, we have no personal experience of those times and our feelings aren’t half as strong about the revolution, as are our parents’ and grandparents’. The younger generations are even more distant from it and seem to have some difficulty, at times, to understand the full consequences of living under such a regime. To them, I propose some reflexion on the following:

If the regime would have been able to perpetuate itself, there would be no free and open internet services in Portugal. Writing a blog like this would be consider subversive. Role-playing games would probably be forbbiden and considered morally corruptive. So would computer games. The remarkable command of English that my generation seems to have would have never come to be. All the music we’ve been hearing for the last three decades would probably never reach us. The technological gadgets we love so much and can now order from anywhere in the world would be dificult to get and expensive beyond all limits. The rampant poverty in which more than half the population lived in those days would be our reality today. Our literacy rate would be laughable and those few that would be able to rise above this limitations would probably flee the country or end up in jail. The European Union would be a distant dream for us. Brand name products would be a mirage.

For all those reasons and many more we cannot afford to forget what this date means. Every new generation should be made aware of what transpired that day and why. Again, I don’t care what was the starting point of every individual group that fought the regime and ultimately brought the revolution into existence. I don’t care about the different agendas. I don’t care about petty political differences. What I do care is that the collective result of all that courage was the dream of a better Portugal, where I’m able to write without fear. A country where I know my 4 month-old nephew will have the opportunity to be the best he can be, and where his voice will be heard, no matter what he choses to say.


Dos que morreram sem saber porquê
Dos que teimaram em silêncio e frio
Da força nascida do medo
Da raiva à solta manhã cedo
Fazem-se as margens do meu rio.

Das cicatrizes do meu chão antigo
E da memória do meu sangue em fogo
Da escuridão a abrir em cor
De braço dado e a arma flor
Fazem-se as margens do meu povo

Canta-se a gente que a si mesma se descobre
E acordem luzes arraiais
Canta-se a terra que a si mesma se devolve
Que o canto assim nunca é demais

Em cada veia o sangue espera a vez
Em cada fala se persegue o dia
E assim se aprendem as marés
Assim se cresce e ganha pé
Rompe a canção que não havia

Acordem luzes nos umbrais que a tarde cega
Acordem vozes, arraiais
Cantam despertos na manhã que a noite entrega
Que o canto assim nunca é demais

Cantem marés por essas praias de sargaços
Acordem vozes, arraiais
Corram descalços rente ao cais, abram abraços
Que o canto assim nunca é demais
O canto assim nunca é demais

José Luís Tinoco

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Yet another RPG week…

We’re back in Lisbon again, after another “RPG retreat”, as we pompously call our little role-playing vacations. As usual, we had about two playing sessions a day, one in the afternoon and another after dinner. I got to be GM again, in our “The Mountain Witch” game.

Once again, I was caught by surprise by how different it is to be on the other side of the game. Although this particular game is not very taxing on the GM, and counts heavily on the participation of the players, it demands a bit of prep work, more than I ever had to do in any RPG I played. I have to add that I first started playing with a group of very experienced players, most of them also experienced GM’s in different games. All of the players in this retreat fall in that category and I was a little bit scared of being “in control” of such a gaming table. I must confess I had some self-confidance problems when it came to making arbitrarial decisions, but I think that in the end it went pretty well. 🙂

My husband is intense in his passions. When he likes something passionately, he wants make the most of every single second he has, when he’s given the opportunity to do it. And he really likes role-playing games. I know that whenever we organise a retreat, he’s going to spend all his waking hours either playing or coaxing everybody else to sit down at the table and start playing. And I love to see him so happy and eager to play. 😀

This time, however, our tempo was slightely slower. We had a lot of “downtime” moments, when no one was doing much of anything. And I have to confess I loved it. No matter how long we have all known each other, for me, those little moments stolen from play mean sharing. Sharing thoughts, feelings, hopes and disappointments, getting closer to our friends, interweaving our worlds just a little bit tighter.

And then, there’s the other side of it. Being alone in the kitchen remembering all those moments and putting all the love and care I can in the preparation of our meals. The food is seldom fancy or elaborate and, although I’m relatively proficient in the kitchen, sometimes things go a little bit wrong. I always come out of it with a wonderful sense of elation, though. The kind of feeling you only get from a truly heartfelt gift to others. It doesn’t really matter if they are conscious of it or not, it’s completely irrelevant if I get validation from them or not. I’m at my best cooking for them, inspite of them. And it’s a wonderful feeling. So thank you guys, for letting me give you that small token of my love for all of you, and for letting me discover abilities and talents I never knew I had, through our games and our shared times. Love to you all. 🙂

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Gary Gygax 1938-2008

My first real experience with RPG came from playing an AD&D campaign with my husband, almost 15 years ago. I’ve played many RPG’s since, in different systems with different premisses, but that tingling feeling of discovering a new world and a new way to have fun with my brain will never be the same. Role-playing has become a very important part of my life, and an important chunk of the shared experiences between me and my husband. I long for the day when we both sit down with our children around a table and show them what sheer imagination can do.

I confess I don’t know much about Gary Gygax or his life. However, I know he changed my life deeply with the game he co-created. I think I’m a better person and a more creative one for having played his game. For that, my gratitude will never be fully expressed.

I’m not the traditional RPG geek. I came in touch with the game relatively late in my life. Most of the players around me have been playing since their teens. I started playing when I was already in my twenties, mainly because my husband asked me to check it out and see if I would like to play with him. My group of friends grew, as I discovered more co-players and attended RPG meetups.

But it all started with that AD&D campaign. So, thank you Gary, and may we meet again in whatever plane you dwell in now.

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My knight in shining armour…

After leaving Christmas and New Year behind, one of my RPG groups started to play again (finally! 🙂 ). But not without a fight…

Monday nights are for playing WOW RPG. We get together at my place and we play between 9.00 PM and midnight. I’ve got a good size dining table, and a large kitchen, so it’s the best place we can find to play. And for a while we kept up a good schedule, playing every week.

Because of Christmas and the New Year celebrations, and the flu, and people going abroad to work, and a miriad of other things, it’d been at least two monthes since we ‘d played last. Not that I’ve been idle all this time. First, my laptop got stolen, and I had to figure out how much of its contents I had backed up. Then my nephew was born 😀 and the whole family fell in love with this tiny little creature that, without doing or saying much, occupied as much of our time as his mother would allow. Then came Christmas and New Year and all that it entails. In the beginning of January, we started to get in touch with our RPG groups, so that we could start playing again…

Two weeks ago, we were able to get everybody from the WOW group confirmed to restart our sessions. My plan was to start tidying up the place monday after lunch, make some sandwiches and some drinks, and start playing at about 9.00 PM. Good, sound plan, not much potential for anything going wrong, right? 😉

The major advantage of electrical appliances is that you can go about your business while they operate in their intended task. So, if you have some laundry in the dryer, you can go and do any number of things while its program runs its course, right? Most of the time, it will do just that, without a hitch.

I’m starting to think I’ve got some karmic price to pay related to RPG, because that monday afternoon, my dryer decided to explode. I heard a bang and when I got to the kitchen, there was smoke everywhere. Luckily, the circuit-breaker snapped immediately, so there wasn’t any fire, nor much damage to the dryer itself. However, playing an RPG session at my place became impossible, if nothing else, because of the intolerable smell of burnt rubber. By now, I’m not feeling very happy. Not only am I facing the prospect of not washing or drying any clothes for the forseeable future, but my long awaited RPG session is beginning to look like a teasing mirage.

I would like to declare now that I love my husband. My life would be much harder, if he was not around. He was home, when it happened, and he managed to find a repair technician that fixed the dryer in three days (by friday, I was doing my laundry normally 🙂 ), as well as an alternate place for our session. I am a very lucky and very happy woman 😀 .

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Life always gets in the way…

I’ve been without a single RPG session for more than a month now and I’m going crazy for it. I’ve got at least four active campaigns, in as many different systems, and, although some overlap occurs with some players, in as many different groups. Still, I don’t seem to be able to play. Between the flu, friends going to work abroad, and a miriad of other insignificant little things, we don’t seem to be able to get together and play. 🙁

I can tell that I’m turning into a complete and utter game geek, when I get so frustrated that life gets in the way of my gaming. I know that all the things that are going on are important, and have to be adressed responsibly. My days and nights won’t be empty if I don’t play at all. But they will be such a drag…

It gives me no comfort to know that Christmas is coming (well, only as far as gaming is concerns… 🙂 ). When I was a kid, Christmas was something that I waited for. I had no responsabilities, nothing to get ready. All I had to do was wait for the presents and those special treats my mother and grandmother only made at Christmas. Old family recipes, closely guarded, only handed down from mother to daughter. Yummy recipes of cookies and cakes made from scratch, with a kitchen full of smells and my mother plunged elbow-deep in dough, with a ridiculous orange scarf in her head. She still does that part, but everything else, she passed on to me and my sisters. So, now, I have to literally get my hands dirty. 🙂

An then there’s the presents. I love to give presents. I even love to take the time to choose each one with special care, thinking of each person and what they like. I love gift-wrapping them individually and finding some nice little touch to top them off.

But all of this takes time and, since all the people I play with are within my age group, all of us need that time. I predict that in about three weeks, playing is going to get scarce again. The only advantage is that after Christmas, we normally come back with a vengeance. I hope we can keep our tradition of playing a session on the evening of the 25th… 🙂

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Playing without our hubbies…

A few monthes ago, a (female) friend of mine, who’s been playing RPG games for at least 15 years, came to me with an idea: to build an RPG campaign with no hubbies or boyfriends. Apparently, in a conversation with her sister, the question arose that the female players in our group of friends were only playing RPG games with and becase of their husbands and boyfriends. So we decided to test the idea and got a female group of players together for a PtA season. We decided we wanted a male producer, but it had to be someone who wasn’t envolved with anyone of the players.

We put up an ad in the portuguese RPG forum and a couple of candidates to the producer role replied. After some interviews and a healthy discussion between the players, we decided we would have two producers, alternating episodes on a “L-word” meets “Desperate Housewifes” meets any generic beach located character centered series. Simple project, hey? 🙂

I admit I had some doubts about the feasability of the project. Specially, because summer vacations got in the way and we didn’t seem to be able to find a common date to start the season, for a couple of monthes. My friend’s persistence had won over all our qualms so, last saturday, nonetheless, we played our pilot episode.

For those who are familiar with PtA, you know that a lot rides on the pilot. If a chosen concept doesn’t work, the pilot will surely provoke its undoubtable demise 🙂 . Truth be told, I was expecting it to be so on this pilot. The concept for the series was complicated and a little (or maybe more than that 🙂 ) crazy, there were several people at the table who had never played together, so there wasn’t much going for it.

I bow in eternal reverence to my friend, because I had the time of my life on that pilot, and most important, everyone around the table seem to have the time of their lives too. Enacting the love troubles between a group of very different women, that all they had in common was the fact that they were all lesbians was a blast. 🙂

Better than that, we are all, as far as I know, heterossexual. And it dawned on me that people in love are people in love, no matter their sexual orientation. Their character and their traits are going to determine how they react to situations much more than the fact they’re same sex lovers. The stupid and hilarious situations people get themselves into over sex are exactly the same.

So, the game’s afoot. I’ll continue reporting on our PtA season, as it unfolds. We’ll be changing producer for the first episode, and I’m curious to know how this two producers situation will play out.

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The Power of a Good Heart….

The Dalai Lama has come on a four-day visit Lisbon and I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the 1200 people who attended his three-day teachings on Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. The text itself is a wonderful poem about generating compassion and fighting off negative emotions and about taking the Bodhisattva’s Vows. The Dalai Lama knows it extremely well and has stated several times how important this text is in his own life. So it was wonderful to be able to listen to his teachings on the different chapters of the poem, watching his enthusiasm and feeling his own personal conviction about compassion and loving-kindness.

But the most important day, im my opinion, was the fourth. In the morning, the Dalai Lama attended an inter-religious conference, with representatives of the major religions present in Portuguese society. The meeting itself is nothing new to the Dalai Lama, since promoting inter-religious tolerance is one of his self-declared main goals and he attends them wherever he goes. This was the first time, however, that such an encounter of the differents visions of the divine was held in a mosque. Islam has been taking a beating from a lot of quadrants around the world, for the last several years. It has largely been held responsible, as a whole, for the actions of a few deranged fanatics. It is seen, unjustely in my opinion, as a particularly intolerant religion. The fact that the muslim community commited to host such an event on their place of worship validates and encourages the hope that someday we may look first at our similarities rather than at our differences.

In the afternoon of that same day, the Dalai Lama held a public conference for about 10000 people, which I was fortunate to attend too. On a much more secular note, His Holiness talked about the need to develop a good heart and compassion on all aspects of human life. Compassion, in Buddhism, has a very clear meaning, as does loving-kindness. The Dalai Lama used the example of the relationship between mother and child, the closeness, the self-sacrifice, the unconditional love and acceptance that, in its higher form, that relationship ensues. Compassion means taking that unconditional, fully accepting love, that expects nothing in return and extended it to the whole of Mankind and to all living beings. It means being left without a single enemy, in a world full of brothers and sisters, without having to depend on the actions and words of anyone to feel it. And you don’t have to be a buddhist to pursue it. You don’t even have to be religious. Because, although every major religion has this concept at the core of its doctrine, the beauty of his notion is that it focus on us humans, on the respect and care we all should have for each other, no matter who we are or where we come from.

Asking for world peace has been banalized to the point of being turn into a caricature of empty speech (after all every Miss Universe candidate is supposed to ask for it in her interview, right? 🙂 ). The difference of generating compassion is that it comes from inside out. You don’t ask for world peace, you make it. You build it every day of your life, in every interaction with others and the world, no matter how short or distanced it may seem. You build it at home first and then translate it to the outside world. You make it a core value in your life and measure every single thing you think, say, feel or do against it.

As with any other path, chosen or not, you’ll trip or even fall along the way. There are times in any of our lives when anger or sadness or pain seem to be overwhelmingly strong, when patience is the last thing on our minds, when nothing seems to matter more than being right and standing our ground no matter what. The beautiful thing about compassion, is that we can extend it to ourselves, and ask forgiveness from ourselves and others and get up and get back on the path. As with any trained habit, each step becomes easier, after you’ve taken the first stride.

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