Class Progression 1/3: Paladins

Throughout most of my gaming career, I played almost every classic character class under the sun, at least to some degree, in the majority of RPG’s out there. However, there were always certain classes to which I identified as “me,” the job, the career that I felt most represented who I, the Jesse, was and believed and went about life.

There are the archetypal roles in fantasy stories and games; the fighting warrior, the sneaky rogue, the scrutinizing mage, the stoic cleric. As other games came out over the ages, whether in my lifetime or otherwise, other playable classes emerged; things like rangers, paladins, monks, shamans, druids. Nothing here should be new to any experienced gamer, or roleplayer for that matter.

What I’m going to talk about today is how my preferences for certain classes changed as I aged. It came to my attention that there’s something of an arc happening here, as I mature(d). So let’s get right to it, eh?

In short, when I was young, I loved fighters, which eventually bled into paladins. After that, I became fascinated by the samurai, which led to monks, then eventually druids. These days, I favor the bard. It’s been quite the path.

During the earlier part of my life, I had a rosier look on things. I look back and recall that religion was never a central part of family life. I did not believe in a god because it was the tradition to follow, but because the concept was there and it’s something a small-minded child can easily grasp. I can’t say if this, a thing I can only describe loosely as “faith,” affected my decision-making when it came to choosing the character class I played as in games. I’ve known people like that; folks who played only paladins because they were, in life, so religious they could not even put themselves in the shoes of a nonfaithful.

Such people frighten me.

No, rather, I think it was the absence of real faith in my life that lead to my fascination with paladins at an early age. There is something that interests me, to this day, about a warrior who is no mere devotee (i.e., priest or cleric), but the closest thing to a mortal made into a weapon for a deity. Surely there are examples of this in both historical and modern concepts that are regrettably and profoundly stupid, but in a fantasy setting, where gods actually exist, this is big stuff.

I first came to practice the idea of a paladin while playing Diablo (the first one from 1996, not Diablo 2 in 2000, where an official paladin class was introduced). In Diablo, I played the warrior, and consumed as many tomes of Holy Bolt as I could find. At the time I thought turning the warrior into a “holy knight” was the coolest thing ever, even though in that particular game this decision would not be considered effective. But effective wasn’t the point; I loved it, I loved the concept.

Hold on guys, lemme just dupe this Glorious Platemail of the Stars and I’ll be right with ya.

The sound, the feeling of drawing energy from a source beyond, a true source of good, a holy source… this is what I’ve come to understand was, and may still be, one of my deepest desires in life. I am not a man of faith. Heck, I’m not even spiritual.

But I almost envy those who believe, because they have a certain sense of assurance that I will never have. Being spiritual is interesting to me, though it is not me; not anymore. You will much more likely see me subscribe to Buddhism or shamanism/animism than anything else. We’ll get into that later.

Yet still, there remains a certain part of me that thinks, with a mental sigh, “It must be nice to feel one’s place in the universe assured by a cosmic being.”

Naturally, I played Paladin a lot in Diablo 2. But the most defining moment for my exposure to what paladins could be, what they meant, was in one of the most influential fantasy RPGs I’ve ever played.

No, not Cecil from Final Fantasy 4. No, not Arthas from Warcraft 3.

I’m talking about the paladin class from Baldur’s Gate (1998). I can’t say I played the class to its fullest potential, but I did rock that game, and I had a blast doing it; the paladin provided a single-use heal – which in that game was kinda hard to come by – among a couple of various spells that were not so much deity-fueled, but morally fueled. Spells like Detect Evil and Protection From Evil were real things, and to this day I think the Dungeon’s & Dragons description of Evil is the most well thought-out, at least in terms of storytelling.

But what had the greatest effect on me, personally, was the Baldur’s Gate paladin spell Holy Might. Activating this not only provided nifty bonuses, but a rocking sound effect that I can hear in my ears even now, almost fifteen years later. A sort of baleful, angelic warcry that, I imagine, is among the last things you ever want to hear before someone puts a sword through your skull. That one spell, that one effect … that one sound … defined what a paladin is to me.

To this day, I have been unable to locate that sound byte from the original game. When I do, you can be it will be safely stacked away with the others, possibly used as the alert sound for some kind of notification.

There was a paladin character named Bjornin in Baldur’s Gate, who acted as a quest-giver, and to bring him to your attention a scripted NPC would approach the player and complain about him. “He’s just staring at me. From across the (tavern) room. It’s like he’s judging me. Who gives him the right to judge anyone, eh?”

Well, in fact, a god somewhere, actually. A god that exists. And a good one, for that matter, because a paladin is not a paladin unless s/he remains Lawful Good, which is arguably the most boring of alignments, but certainly as Good as they get. Breaking that rule results in becoming a Fallen Paladin, at least according to D&D (I’ve yet to encounter a game where this has also happened, save perhaps Arthas from (World of) Warcraft, but Blizzard’s definition of paladinhood is vague and flimsy at best), which would essentially result in a disgraced being, reduced to a “normal” mortal for falling out of favor of their god, stripped of their power.

All this remains fascinating to me, but as I grew, my preference for such a class changed.

Next time, I’ll talk about the aspects of Eastern-styled fantasy warriors garnered my favor, as I went through a metamorphosis of my own.

Today’s music is brought to you fittingly from Baldur’s Gate, which will be mentioned again in future posts (though I promise not so excessively). This tracks is known as The Lady’s House, a bit that plays when entering certain temples in game. It’s a short piece, and in fact is not something I normally listen to except when in a very specific mood.

That mood? Something along the lines of a peaceful fantasy, letting my brain briefly drift into a state, into a world, where there are in fact anthrocentric self-serving deities out there looking out for us.

And then I come back to the real world. But it’s nice to dream.


ASMR Brother

Those of you familiar with ASMR  – if you haven’t already – ought to really check it out. I wrote about it not so long ago, and if you have an affinity for audio, whether specific sounds or songs, you’re better off catching up before continuing to read this post.


So I had an interesting conversation with my older brother of six years. He and I share a common ancestry as most brothers tend to do, and while we lead vastly different lives and offer the world vastly different personas, there are a few things in common that persist through the years.

I recently discovered something new.

So as I mentioned, I wrote about my personal discovery as a person who feels the ASMR effect. It was a sort of liberating eureka-esque moment of self-discovery.

“So THAT’S what that is!”

“There’s a name for that?”

“I thought that everyone felt that.”

Since learning and writing about it, I’ve commenced in not-so-subtle questioning of most people in my circles, questing for others who share this. It’d be too easy to just join an online forum devoted to ASMR-folk, as I’ve read there’s quite the Reddit community devoted to this. I guess I first wanted to see if there was anyone I knew who knew what the hell I was talking about before I sought the company of strangers on the internet.

I had nearly given up hope; none of my friends share this. I have met people who share my love for music, people who take their music more seriously than I do – people who want to start an indie label and others who can dance the night away at a club. No one felt the sensation that I described, though some could relate, or at least pretend to understand.

“It’s like chills,” I usually say. “Goosebumps, but in a good way. Been described as an ear-gasm or a brain-gasm — though it’s nothing actually sexual.”

Often I have to hastily add the last part since some peeps have actually suppressed laughing at me, supposedly experienced listeners who frown on my apparent lack of fandom for bands like the Beatles or Nirvana.

The thing about ASMR that I’ve discovered is that it does not necessarily cater to a specific genre, much less a band. Heck, when I’m feeling nihilisitic I’ll listen to Nine Inch Nails, because I like ’em in those moods, but none of their music gives me the ASMR effect. For me, at the risk of repeating myself too often, the effect is generated from music or cognitive connections — usually the music paints a scene in my mind, or delivers me to a sort of zone, and often enough the music will lay the foundation for thoughts that lead to creative eureka-isms, which trigger ASMR as well. No one I’ve spoken to shared this experience.

Except my brother.

Let’s call him Forest so that you don’t know his real name is Forest. He’s six years older than me, has a family, a stable job, and was a huge influence on my gamer-upbringing as well as my musical tastes when I was a sprout. We have the kind of peculiar standoffish-yet-close relationship where we’re comfortable and share many things in common, but personal issues are usually something that are not brought up between us. I suppose that’s a long story in its own right.

And yet, I tentatively brought up the topic of ASMR one day, and lo and behold, he understood what I meant. It was a little different for him, but he knew. He described it precisely as others have, including myself, a sort of “chill” at the nape of the neck, sometimes running down the spine. Triggered by sound.

For him, it’s more specific sound effects, to which I can totally relate. You know that “sonic bomb” as used in Star Wars: Episode II, that Jango Fett uses in the asteroid field?

I could not find any audio clips of it. But it’s pretty nifty. Something not altogether different from the Inception Sound.

While the ASMR effect is something not terribly inclusive, it is a growing phenomena. There’s no knowing what percentage of the population has it, since most people who do didn’t, as my and my brother, have a name for the sensation.

What I do know is that this stuff has the makings of some excellent story elements. A nacent sense that only some people possess? Sounds like a mutation or a manifestation of magic in another setting, if you ask me.

Booktrack Studio Discovery

This is totally a shout out for a really interesting thing that, you’ll soon find, is completely up my alley.

If you’re anything like me, or have at least read my previous posts about sound or soundtracks while reading/writing, then you might find yourself as interested as I am.

Booktrack is an organization that specializes in integrating sounds and music into one’s ebook reading experience. In other words, they allow true ambiance to be heard as you read, which is seriously something I’ve been doing by myself for years. The difference, though, between me renaming my mp3’s for my personal amusement (and inspiration) and Booktrack’s methods is that Booktrack will allow for triggered events and synced sound — as you read whatever ebook, it’ll calculate your reading speed as you go, and the sounds you hear as you go will be heard at the appropriate times, based on what page and where you are in the book.

There’s an excellent demonstration here, as well as an accompanying TED talk.

Turn the page and perhaps the scene changes from one character’s perspective inside a jail cell to someone else’s outdoors in the forest — one might hear dripping water, clanging iron doors and the distant footsteps of jailor’s boots. Turn the page, hear wind through the leaves, birds in the branches and crickets in the grass.

Do you have a playlist for your writing, or your reading? Do you pick and choose various bits of ambiance to have going in the background as you do, well, life? Well I do, and the fact that this sort of thing is becoming a thing really has me excited. The best audiobook experiences I’ve had were the ones that were more akin to audiodramas, with bits of music or occasional sound effects to really spice up the listen. When I read, when I write, when I create or otherwise experience life, I like to have as many senses engaged as possible, and while I’ve heard of people who prefer to read in complete silence, hey, more power to ’em — but I don’t get it, personally. Clearly, things like Booktrack are not for those folks.

I suppose it’s akin to listening to music with words while reading/writing — something I utterly cannot do — yet I’ve read and heard of folks who do so without issue. Stephen King comes to mind, stating in his book On Writing that he’ll have classic rock playing in the background while working. When I hear words, I generally can’t focus, or sometimes will end up typing the words I hear by accident. How he (and anyone else like him) can do that is beyond me, but then again most music that people listen to is beyond me anyway.

At any rate, Bookrack is something I really dig, and plan to get invested in in the near-future. They currently have a whole list of public-domain books available for download, so you can check out and see what it’s like most easily. In addition, they’ve got a feature that actually lets you try it out for yourself, either with a story already available or with one of your own.

I am so on this.

Today’s track, in the event that I apparently haven’t shared it in the past already, is a 40-minute-ish bit from Skyrim (also known as the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), one of the best atmospheric tracks I’ve found. Play this if you need a mood-setter for traveling in the wilderness, whether your character is a beast, a hunter, or nature itself.

Happy writing, dear readers!

Sound Off: Spectrums of Mana

Today will be a post not about writing itself, but rather a shout-out to some inspiration fuel I’ve recently discovered.

People familiar with my earlier posts might have gleaned hints of my gaming background – particularly my soft spot for a number of SNES-era 16-bit RPG’s. I’m painfully aware of the nostalgia factor in regards to many of them, but among the things that has stood against the test of time would be the soundtracks to a number of these beauties.

Secret of Mana is no exception. An earlier Square (not Square-Enix!) game from 1993 – a year earlier than some of the world’s most renowned titles in gaming. The composer for Secret of Mana was one Hiroki Kikuta, who has been thankfully busy, and this humble blogger would not be alone in praising his music. Numerous Overclocked ReMixes can be found, and not all of them are from Secret of Mana.

However, Spectrums of Mana, another arranged ReMix album of the Secret of Mana soundtrack, does not fly the OCReMix Banner, but was in fact brought to my attention by OCReMix itself. Twitter is a lovely tool.

So Spectrums is divided by three discs, and is free for download. I wish I had known of this project earlier, but better a couple months late than never. Each disc is divided by theme, or mood, which really is up my alley as a mood-listener. Disc 1, War, comprised of the fighting and conflict tracks, features heavy rock and powermetal influences. Disc 2, Peace, features the tracks that brought the mood of mystical settings and the wilderness, featuring slower, orchestral tempos. The final Disc, Spirit, is comprised of tracks that bring zest to this game – the upbeat tunes from towns, action scenes, and rather important story moments.

Perhaps having a pre-existing attachment to the original game and/or soundtrack creates a bond stronger than the average listener, but if you’re a fan of melody, this is something for you. I recommend it for anyone – especially writers – in search of an independent album made up of indie artists and musicians who, evidently, poured sweat and blood into their passion to make this.

It would be unfair of me to pick a favorite track, but I already did. It’s called Solum from Disc 2, a remix of arguably my favorite videogame theme.

And trust me, there are a lot.

This is a slower piece, for a scene in the game that is nothing short of sacred.

Happy writing, dear readers! Are there any mood-setting music you prefer for when you’re writing? I’d love to hear about them.


Music Notes

All craftsmen and artists have their tricks of the trade. Today I’ll share one on mine.

Like any writer, I have something of an obligation to write things down, particularly random ideas or thoughts that come at an otherwise inconvenient time. Post-it notes work well enough when I’m at a desk, and I usualy carry some form of notebook or journal wherever I go. I tried a voice recorder for some time but could never really get into the habit.

One thing I developed, and have yet to hear others doing, is something I simply call taking ‘music notes.’
Basically, I’ll be listening to the soundtrack of some movie or video game (I do that a lot) and will let my thoughts wander. Occasionally I’ll come upon an idea, sometimes directly inspired by the music, sometimes with the music merely establishing the mood.

So the process is simple.
-listen to music
-if an idea comes, write it down
-then write the name of the MP3 and (often) the time during the track, especially if it’a long or complicated.

This way, I have an auditory as well as visual cue for the idea/event/scene. This especially helps for things with a lot of emotion, or description I can’t fit at the time. I have many folders on my PC devoted exclusively to music notes, as though I were compiling my own soundtrack to a story. I find that to be a fun hobby in and of itself, and it’s proven helpful.

No doubt you get the idea. When I re-listen to a labeled song, coupled with (short-hand) notes taken at the moment, I am able to visualize things much more clearly. Naturally, the more I see in my mind, the better I can describe it with words.

If you’re a self-described audiophile like me, or even if you aren’t, give it a shot. Maybe music notes of your own will help capture those sporadic sprites of inspiration like that have for me.