Halloween and Fantasy

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: This is Halloween, from The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Not-So-NaNoWriMo word count: 0 words


You know what I love?


I’m sitting writing this at work, wearing my full Renaissance nobleman’s outfit, drawing stares from a few people around me. I’m going to pretend it’s because I look dapper (and I do).

Earlier today, I had the privilege of giving a tour of the library (which I do pretty often for work) not as Reed Buck, failed writer extraordinaire, but as Alaskar, Lord of Libraries. Which basically means me in a posh British accent leading two freshmen around the library describing rooms and services. They put up with me, but it was one of the more entertaining tours I’ve given.

Halloween might be one of my favorite holidays. It definitely was as a kid. The mixture of unrelenting streams of candy plus being able to stay out late and run around with my friends and family was just too incredible for a child of my hyperactivity to conceive of. One of my first moments of freedom in childhood was the first year my parents let us go out alone trick-or-treating.

Now, I’m learning to love Halloween for a completely different reason. (Okay, well the candy too, but that’s now reserved for November 1, which I’ve dubbed “Clearance Day”.) My new reason to love Halloween is fantasy.

Many times when I reflect on me as a kid, and honestly me now, I think about how eccentric I am. I played with toys until I was 18, devising more and more fantastical scenarios, more and more convoluted plots, as I aged. Whereas most kids “grow up”, I just grew more invested, finding new themes and depth to add to my creative endeavors. Even now, I play Dungeons and Dragons and write fantasy novels because I love that process of imagination and play.

And that’s what Halloween is coming to represent for me. Here’s a day where (ideally) no one is judged and people can be whomever they want. Nerdy guys can pretend to be Prince Charming or Captain America; women can wear sexier outfits without being called “sluts”. It’s like the one day a year where everyone is given a free pass to be as weird, childish, freaky, frightening, or indulgent as they want.

Coming from a childhood where I felt like I was the only one who was really being myself, it’s pretty awesome to be able to see straight-laced friends crossdressing for a Rocky Horror themed party, or to be able to wear my D&D outfit in public for an entire day.

I know some people associate Halloween with candy, or with terror, or with the smell of fake fog. Some people associate it with really horrible memories, others with a sense of loss that their religious beliefs prevent them from joining. I know there’s a whole bad side to the holiday I’m kind of refusing to acknowledge.

But to me, Halloween is the annual day where everyone is just as weird and out there as me. And I freaking love that.

So get your costumes on, spookyfolk, and let’s get strange tonight.


-R.R. Buck


Let’s Do An Unofficial NaNoWriMo Together

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Operation Iraqi Liberation, by Anti-Flag)

Hi, folks.

It’s been a much better week than last week. I’m healthy again, I’m actually enjoying the exercise I’m doing with my girlfriend for once (WHAT), and work has been a little less hectic, although still just as busy. I feel like I’m just about getting into a rhythm for the quarter.

So this seems about the right time to turn it on its head.

I’ve not previously done NaNoWriMo for the same two reasons I don’t do a lot of things that would be good for me as a writer – convenience, and anti-conformist bullshit. With convenience,  I don’t want to be forced to write on a certain scale (i.e. 1500 words a day, or 50,000 words a month, or whatever) because I don’t want to get discouraged if I can’t make that goal.

The anti-conformist thing is a little stupider. I tend to think, especially where it relates to writing, that my writing has developed mainly because I’ve pursued it in a way that works for me. If it becomes too academic, where I’m constantly reading books on how to be a better writer, or I’m adhering strictly to a process someone else has set out for me, I’m not really writing the way want to write. And if that happens, I’m afraid I’ll lose the tenuous grip on writing that I currently have and I’ll fall back into a pattern where I don’t write every day.

That’s the worst thing I could imagine right now – to lose the schedule I’ve set out for myself and be back in a place where I’m not writing regularly. It’s already happened to these posts – I went from writing every day to just twice a week, although I like to believe that’s also because I can’t think of something new to post every day – and I’ll be damned if I let it happen to my creative writing.

But really, these are just excuses. Many times when I’ve finally accepted advice of family or friends in regards to writing, it’s been not only not disruptive to my writing schedule, but also beneficial to the quality of my writing. Books I originally shunned became core resources for me in terms of the way I think about writing. And there’s also the not-so-small matter of this blog, which originally was a pain for me to keep up on, and now I’m so glad I did.

The point is, I need to push myself more – not just to write every day, but to try different things with my writing. But I’m not quite ready yet to make a full commitment to something as daunting as NaNoWriMo, of which I have done relatively little research.

So here’s my solution:

You and I (yes, YOU, fellow writer reading this blog) are going to do a pseudo NaNoWriMo. We won’t affiliate ourselves with the group, we won’t have daily reminders breathing down out backs, but we will get something accomplished this month.

That’s right, bitches. I’m challenging each and every one of you (well, those who aren’t already doing NaNoWriMo) to get some writing done in November. And if you don’t take me up on the challenge, you’re a square featherless turkey with an undersized wattle and an addiction to Mentos.

Here’s how my not-so-NaNoWriMo goes:

  1. You look at how much you wrote the last time you wrote a significant amount (whether it was 200 words or 2,000).
  2. You multiply that amount by 20.
  3. You write that much this month.

To compare, NaNoWriMo suggests 50,000 words in one month, which comes out to 1,667 words a day. That’s assuming you’re writing every single day of the month.

Conversely, I wrote 2,000 words today, so I’m going to try to do that 20 days out of the month (or more likely, a little less than that every day of the month). That gives me 40,000 words as a goal for this month. If you wrote 500 words the last time you were productive at writing, you would have to do only 10,000 words this month. That means you could get away with 333 words every single day.

Seriously, let’s give it a shot. You and me. We can do this. To remind everyone, each day of November, I’m going to put up my current Not So NaNoWriMo word count.

You owe it to yourself to give this a shot. So let’s get it on.

Yours, aspiring and perspiring,

-R.R. Buck

Life Counselor #4

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Good Times Roll by the Cars)

Hey there Goonist. It’s your son.

These ones are hard for me to write. It feels very personal, trying to talk to you while it’s still public. I know there’s a lot I’ve wanted to say to you that really isn’t fit for this setting – it’s the kind of stuff we’re emailing about and texting about right now. (Sorry for not responding, by the way – it’s been a pretty busy past few weeks. I’ll get back to it.)

You know, you’re pretty hard on yourself. You like to joke about being a bad parent, but I feel like the older I get, the more I realize it’s kind of impossible to be a flawless parent. And for whatever bad experiences we’ve had, you’ve still taught me so many things I’m thankful for.

Like, everything I like to put under the “Cub Scouts” bucket. Learning how to use a knife to whittle. Learning how to cook burgers and pancakes just right (which my roommates still get stoked on whenever I make them pancakes). Putting up a tent, “policing the area” when we were finished camping, and knowing which snacks are least likely to make me cranky while backpacking.

Or how about the philosophical side of things? One of the best things you could have taught me early on was to question. I started forming my own religious and philosophical opinions before most of my peers because you constantly inspired us to make considerations – not just about “what”, but about “why”. I find half of my wisdom is things I learned from you, and the other half is disagreeing with you about things you tried to teach me. Which I’m sure made for a very frustrating adolescent phase.

You taught me to take care of business – God, I hate even typing that out here, I’ve heard it so many times – but to also enjoy myself while I was doing so. You taught me the importance of providing service to people I care about, but I also learned from you and your experiences not to try to do too much.

There will always be a lot we disagree on, but even in disagreement, you’ve taught me things – how to stand up for what I believe in, how to critically examine authority sources, how to build my own way in life. These are things I thank you for.

I wish I could explain everything I feel. Some of it I’m not even sure I could put to words, no matter how long I tried. Mainly, I just want you to know that you shouldn’t be giving yourself guilt for your choices. One of the things being a young adult has taught me is that you can go into a mistake, knowing fully well it’s a mistake, with your head held high and own it. You can tell yourself that right now, for the sake of your sanity, you need to make a mistake, and that’s fine.

I’m saying this not because I think you’re making mistakes, but more because I think all of us in the family need to allow each other to make mistakes. There’s a lot of passion in our family, a lot of exuberance, and the tendency to assume we know the right way of doing things. But in trying to assist everyone we care about, sometimes we’re forcing them to do things the way we would do them, instead of just allowing them to make mistakes. And let’s be honest, we’re never really done making mistakes.

I think we’re most honest with ourselves when we’re admitting our mistakes and learning from them, instead of internalizing them or never dealing with them in the first place. And I guess I don’t think anyone can learn from their mistakes if everyone else is trying to prevent them from making them in the first place.

I hope you don’t read too much into this, Pops. I’m not really trying to convey any hidden messages or anything. I’m just trying to preach acceptance between the members of our family. It’s easy for us all to get so invested in each other’s lives that we stop letting each other live them.

Also, and I can’t believe I almost forgot this – I’m really proud of you. The stuff we’ve been talking about over email has been extremely helpful and insightful for me to hear, and I like to believe it’s helpful for you too. I really feel like I’m getting to know you in a way I’ve never known you before, and that’s gratifying.

(By the way, at some point I told Lindsay the barking spider joke. She fucking cracked up. So thanks for that.)

Yours, surrounded by idiots,


…and I’m sick.

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: The Official Cocaine Trade, by Christian Hansen & The Autistics)

Well, this has certainly been a crazy week.

The weekend before this, I went to a family reunion. It was technically a celebration of my two cousins’ marriages, and it included way more than just our extended family, but it still kind of felt like it was for us. I got to see some people I haven’t heard from in a while and play Frisbee with a couple of little kids, so I was pretty happy.

Then I came back and was like, “Huh. My throat is scratchy.” And I thought nothing of it.

And then came Sunday.

It’s been a while since I’ve been really sick for more than a day or two. My usual routine is to spend as much time as humanly possible in bed – I’ll do anywhere between 9 to 14 hours of sleep a night while I’m sick, and emerge from hibernation in two days pretty much cured. And usually, I don’t get sick more than once every couple of years.

Maybe this is my one time for the next two years (I hope so), but it was rough. Rough enough that I had to miss some work time on the busiest week of the quarter for myself and my coworkers. Somehow, and don’t ask me how, I managed to make a bunch of library tours I’d scheduled for the week, but every opportunity I could take to not be in office, I was either passed out amidst the book stacks or sleeping in at home.

Man, it’s Thursday and I’m still not better. I have a feeling this might be the last day, but I said that yesterday too. It’s gross and I don’t like it.

And you’d think with all the time spent in bed or on the couch, I could have at least managed to write something, but here I am putting out the first post of the week, and I haven’t even done creative writing this week. So that’s also pretty gross.

Anyway, I don’t have much to say and I don’t want to take up your time. If you’re sick like me, I hope you start feeling better soon. Otherwise, stay healthy. Get a flu shot if you can stand needles. I *almost* wish I had.

Yours, in sickness and in health,

-R.R. Buck

I’m tired.

I have to be real with you all. I really don’t want to write this post.

But there’s this stubborn part of me that’s saying, “You only write two posts a week, so just do it, dude.” So here I am, 8:30 and still at work staffing an event for the library, and I’m scheduled until 10. I’m gonna get off shift, head home, eat something, and go right to bed.

You know, it’s weird. The past two weekends all I’ve really wanted has been something quiet and low-key. And yet in both of those cases, I’ve had these weekends that somehow became a whirlstorm (yeah, I invented a word) of activity. I guess that’s what being an adult is.

Still, though, it feels kind of gratifying being so busy. I feel like I’m a real contributing member of society.

Anyway, the event’s wrapping up right now, so I should probably go help break it down. AND I POSTED, SO THERE.

Love you all. Hope you’re having a wonderful Thursday night.


-R.R. Buck

Reed’s Top Three – Blogs

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Man Overboard by blink-182)

What is this madness? A post in the middle of the day? Am I shirking my work duties to write this to you? Perhaps I’ve been “in the bathroom” for the past half hour furiously typing away on my phone.

Nah, I just have the day off. Which is nice, because usually if I have a day off later on in the week, I’ve already built up a to-do list that stretches on and on. So today all I had to do was get a haircut (check) and write an actually normal amount of words in my novel (check, 1026). So I’m feeling pretty great – in fact, after this, I actually have nothing left on my to-do list.

So let’s talk about my problems. Don’t worry, just one – I’m not very good at promoting my blog. I can’t tell if it’s because I really don’t care about this, or if I just feel uncomfortable trying to make people read what I write, but whatever the reason, I don’t do as much as I could to make myself public.

On the other hand, I love talking about other people’s blogs on here. It seems there are a lot of people with much better niches or much more wisdom to impart, and I’m glad to be able to let my readers know about them. Maybe in that small way the good karma will come back around to me, but if not… well, I can settle for 60 followers.

So let’s get started with my top three favorite blogs:


Dude, I freaking love this blog. Especially because I really don’t have that much time to read stuff anymore, Little Fears is perfect for me. Every day (or most days), they post a three- to four-line short story. It comes in the form of either a bad pun or a creepy moment. Their characters are super cute, their jokes are terrible in the best way, and their creepy stuff is actually really well set-up for being only a few lines. Both the puns and the creepy stories have this kind of “aha” moment in the last line which makes them incredibly satisfying to read. Be sure to check them out, especially if you’re trying to amp up your dad joke game.


This blog is incredible, and one of the first blogs I found when I was on here. It’s hard to encapsulate everything this woman talks about in her pretty much daily posts, but two main topics seem to come up time and time again – her battle against an eating disorder and negative body image, and her spirituality. She’s got this kind of no-holds-barred approach to describing her ED and the struggles it’s put her through, and although there are a lot of dark moments in there, I feel like it’s a really uplifting message overall – not to mention an incredible resource for anyone who’s having similar struggles. Plus, it’s beautiful to see her spirituality being her anchor.


She’s a great writer and supporter of beginning bloggers. She’s pretty much the only one who comments on the things I write here. And she’s got such an incredible wealth of resources about the writing experience and mechanics on her blog. Honestly, I may not have continued with this blog were it not for Rachel’s assistance, and I’ve tried to call her out numerous times here to help her with publicity (not that she needs it). If you’re a beginning writer or someone interested in the craft, I need not point you any further than Rachel’s blog. And if you’re a videogamer, she also runs a blog with her sister called DoubleJump which is pretty kickass, too.

There are a lot of other great blogs I’m subscribed to, most of them other beginning writers. Honestly, it’s kind of overwhelming to see just how many of us noobs there are out there. But there’s a silver lining to this cloud of first-time writers and artists – we have an awesome network of connections, advice, and wisdom accessible to us if we just reach out and take it. So if you’re a blogger or a new writer, do some exploration. It can only help you.

Yours, finished with his to-do list before lunch,

-R.R. Buck

8 Things I’ve Already Learned from Working Full-Time

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: And Now I’m Nothing by the Wonder Years)

I know, it’s a clickbait title. But hey, I’m too tired to care. I’m too tired for a lot of things.

Okay, that’s a little bit overdramatic. It’s crunch time at work – the beginning of the fall quarter always is when you work at a university – and I’ve been zipping all around, patching holes and putting out fires. And I’m not even the busiest person in my library. Hell, I only work 32 hours – that’s barely full-time!

Honestly, though, I’m learning a lot. And that’s why I wanted to write this post, despite almost being too tired to put a sentence in coherent order. It’s half for my parents, so they can laugh at my introduction to the business world, and half a warning for college students or people just about to start out in said world.

So here are some things I’ve learned about working full-time:

  1. The first few weeks are always slow. Last year, when I started working for the library, I had to find busy work to keep myself productive (I hate feeling like I’m wasting time at my job). This year, I was afraid something similar would happen, especially when during the first few weeks, it didn’t seem very busy.
  2. …but it will pick up very quickly. I’m sure it changes from job to job, but within the third week, I kept getting pulled into new projects and tasks, such that I could barely remember what I had to get done on a given day if I didn’t write it down.
  3. Free time is no longer a thing. I only work four days out of the week, and I always thought the other three would be a great time to relax and settle down. But then there’s lab, and lab managerial duties, and laundry, and HOLY SHIT HOW IS THERE NO FOOD IN MY FRIDGE, and other teeny menial tasks that add up across the week. No such thing as a day off anymore.
  4. You will cherish the last few hours of the night. Because I’m an idiot who wants to live longer, I go out exercising three times a week with my girlfriend. On those nights, I’ll get back and start dinner at 8pm. That gives me three hours from the moment I get home until I have to go to bed again – and one of those hours is cooking. I’ve learned to love those hours like fluffy golden puppies. They’re the only time I have left anymore.
  5. Getting up a half hour earlier than you need to is the best thing you could do. It’s so stressful in the morning, trying to rush off for work and (maybe) get a bite of breakfast in. When I started waking up a half hour early, despite loathing the morning, it really made me feel more relaxed. I even got a bit of time to read, which is precious to me.
  6. You will really have to push yourself to find time to write. In the last week or so, I’ve barely written 1200 words, and my pace has just slowed to a crawl. It’d be one thing if I ended work on time, but sometimes I’m a half hour (in today’s case, an hour) late to end. Then you really don’t want to be sitting there typing for another hour. In fact, today I’m just writing this post and then going home – a compromise with myself that, as long as I write something, even if it’s not novel writing, I’ve done my job.
  7. Your coworkers become more like comrades during crunch times. I look around and I can see how everyone else is affected by this beginning-of-year slurry of requests and emails and appointments and meetings and reservations and everything else. And they can tell how it’s affecting me. We find little pockets of time to be with each other during the day, moments where we can put our guard down and indulge in a moment of calm before picking it all back up. Those moments are worth a lot to me.
  8. You’re going to miss your friends. I especially feel this way because I’ve kind of sort of a little bit halfway moved in with my girlfriend, spending a few nights a week at her place as a kind of moving-in experiment. I feel like I don’t see my roommates and friends as often as I used to, and the few times I’m with them, I’m just too tired to hang out. But even when I’m exhausted, just being able to spend time with them makes me inordinately happy. Maybe because I’m not trying to laminate a sign that’s had its design changed four times in the last week.

I hope I’m not representing it in a bad light – despite the exhaustion, I really feel like I’m doing good work for the university, and I have a lot of job satisfaction. It might be that the stress of missing yet another lunch period gets to me at some point, and then this blog might bear the brunt of my ramblings and ravings. But right now, I kind of like being this busy. I feel like I’m actually adulting, like not just playing at it. And that’s a pretty nice feeling.

I do wish I had some more time to write, though. But hey, if you really care about something, you’ll make the time for it.

And speaking of things I care for, my roommates should mostly be at home right now. So although I love you all very much… I’m gonna bail.

Yours, with stomach a-rumbling and head a-spinning,

-R.R. Buck

The School

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Soul to Squeeze by the Red Hot Chili Peppers)

I hate mornings.

I hate being dragged unwillingly by the toes and the eyelids from golden sleep. I loathe having to tiptoe past my roommates and the various others sleeping at my apartment as I stumble into the shower, stab at my teeth with a brush, and crunch through yet another bowl of Cheerios. I detest feeling the morning chill. I find the rising sun odious and the quiet tranquility of the growing day disgusting.

But there is one moment I love in the morning.

It happens when my sleep-addled brain is bouncing around in my skull as I walk my daily path to campus. My eyes are laden, my ears wrapped in a cocoon of calming music – a playlist I have specifically reserved for mornings. I do not raise my head, and I look around only as often as needed to be safe as I make my laborious way up and down the hills, up and down.

And then I am there. In front of the long tunnel underneath the ground, now surrounded by other students and faculty making their way onto campus. Many of them are like me, swaddled by earphones and bearing pinched, exhausted expressions. Some of them are awake. Some of them are jittery. Few of them seem to be paying attention to one another.

But I’m paying attention to them. I find myself moving through the crowd, trying to edge around them to see if by the time the light changes and we get to that tunnel, I can be in front. It’s a futile gesture I repeat every morning, and when the light goes green, I’m still somewhere in the middle of the pack, plodding along after the slower people in front of me. And for a while, I find myself dully annoyed – as annoyed as I can be when my morning state is apathy – that I can’t move at my pace.

But something happens in that tunnel. I’m moving along, and I start to force myself to relax my pace, and suddenly I am one of them. I move like a fish through a school, the stream of people steadily bearing me towards my destination. They wear the same faces; they find the same ways to avoid listening to or looking at one another. But somehow, in this awful morning moment, we are all the same. None of us want to be here, and we are united in that.

We move as one, speeding up and slowing down, and I can’t help but think that at least one other person is looking up and around like me, and thinking the same thoughts as I am. It’s something quiet and beautiful, to imagine that someone else sees things the eccentric way you do.

I wish this was every morning. Often enough, I’m too preoccupied with the incoming stress of the day, with the things that will happen tomorrow or the weekend, to even be aware of this single moment of togetherness. I move as the others do – without recognizing themselves as part of the school.

Yesterday, I noticed – only because of one other man. He was weaving back and forth, shaking our foundations in our ranks, trying to move past the others to the front. I watched him struggle, caught in the net, until the barest gap of space appeared in the front line of slow-moving people. He made his way sideways through them – I held my breath watching – and out to the front. I would have cheered, but I didn’t want to disturb the silence.

He made like an arrow away from the group, accelerating into his natural stride. And I watched him go, thinking about how I always tried to jostle myself to get into the same position at the front of the school. And I realized that on the days I succeeded, I looked like him – speeding away from those others who were so similar, who didn’t want to be here in the early morning walking under the bridge to class.

I thought about how, on those days when I’ve made it past everyone, I don’t feel like part of a group. In fact, I feel more like an aggressive loner, trying to smile at the people he’s striding past but unable to really pull the muscles of his face into a grin. Compared to this moment, now, suspended in a crowd, I realized that moving out of the school is so… lonely.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll forget all this and make it to the front to dash away. Or maybe I’ll jostle for the front, but only halfheartedly, knowing that I really want to be amongst this school. Maybe I’ll even stay towards the back, let the whole experience unfold in front of me like a flower coming into bloom. I know that if I hold onto the moment too tightly every day, its beauty will be ruined for me.

But every once in a while, I’ll let myself be a part of that school, and I’ll feel one with the people around me. And maybe that will make my morning a little bit less shitty.

Yours, contemplatively,

-R.R. Buck

Reed’s Top 3 – Board Games

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Pirates by Bullets and Octane)

You know, for a while, I was thinking about narrowing this to just “fantasy board games” or “high skill board games”, but maybe this will force me to be a little more selective. And that way, you all can be assured you’re getting the cream of the crop in… random blogger board game reviews.

Eh, whatever. If you didn’t know from any of my other posts, my roommates and I are avid board game players – but it goes back even further for me to my childhood memories of playing board games with my family. I remember bringing friends over and that’s what we would do instead of (or in addition to) video games, talking about girls, and stupid kid stuff.

Of course my favorite game of all time is probably Dungeons and Dragons, as it’s essentially collective storytelling (and we all know how much I like to tell stories). But this one’s for the non-nerds, the people who just like a good solid board game and might want some new recommendations.

For that same reason, I’m gonna take out the “classic” board games from my potential selection as well. Chess might be one of the greatest games ever made, but it’s not a relatively unknown thing; if I want to give you all some recommendations, they should be something other than chess or Clue or Twister.

So here we go with Reed’s Top 3 board games you may or may not have heard of:


(Skill level – High; Nerd factor – 2/3)

This one’s relatively well-known, so you might have heard of it. Catan is one of those classic high-skill diplomacy games, similar to Risk and, well, Diplomacy. But the main benefit of playing this game is that it’s not super long – a game of Catan can run anywhere from 45 minutes to over 2 hours, although it usually settles in around an hour and a half.

In the game, you play with up to three other people who are trying to settle an island called Catan. The island’s format changes every game, but there are always five different types of land available which produce five types of resources. Your goal is to gather resources to build yourself a little network of cities and roads – which then help you gather more resources, which help you build more, and so on.

Since the resources are spread out, it’s difficult to get everything you need, and that’s where the bartering comes in. You get to make any trade with another player, resource for resource, each trying to get the upper hand in the negotiation. It makes for some tense moments, but all in all it’s a really fun game.


(Skill level – Medium; Nerd factor – 3/3)

I’ll be the first to admit that Betrayal is not for everyone. It’s one of those special games that’s reserved for fans of “crawlers”, like dungeon crawlers or house crawlers. And that’s exactly what this game is – a house-crawler horror game where you end up turning against one another. I picked it out from a very extensive board game store in Los Angeles and I’ve been really stoked with the choice ever since.

The premise is basic – you and your fellow players are cooperatively exploring a house, the format of which changes every time. When you open up new rooms, different events happen to you – everything from having a phantasmal corpse reaching out for you, to finding a sacrificial dagger you can use as a weapon. Infrequently, you find “omens” – powerful items that boost your character’s stats. And each time you get an omen, you take a step closer to the second phase of the game.

In that second phase, one of your fellow companions betrays the rest of the party and becomes the “traitor”. The traitor then gets their own set of rules and a brand-new group of monsters under their control. The rest of the players – the heroes – have to try to fight off the traitor and the monsters long enough to accomplish their goal. The betrayal aspect is really the best part of this game to me – having your friends suddenly not on your team makes for some tense and exciting gameplay.


(Skill level – Low; Nerd factor – 1/3)

This game has been around in my family for more than a decade, and I’m so glad to have had it as a kid. And it tops my list not because it’s my favorite game – I love all three of these games for different situations and co-players – but because I think it’s the most universal game of my list. Pretty much anyone, from parents and children to young adults to experienced board game players, can pick it up and have a good time.

The game begins when sixteen people are gathered around a table, reading the will of their recently departed Auntie Agatha. These people all have millions of dollars coming in inheritance, but before they can claim their money, they have to escape the mansion alive. You as a player are given a set of heirs that are “yours”, meaning if they make it out the mansion, you get to keep their money – but which heirs you have are kept secret from the other players. Then everyone takes turns moving any of the heirs, including ones that aren’t their own, around the mansion.

The fun comes with the killing. Because the will hasn’t been officiated yet, any heir who dies while still in the mansion has their money transferred to the next heir in the will. So what you’re trying to do is surreptitiously move your own heirs out the door, while running other people’s heirs around the mansion, setting them up on the various traps (including a blazing hearth, a falling boar’s head, and a rickety set of stairs) that could lead to their demise. If you play your game perfectly, you can transfer millions of dollars to your heir right as you move them out the front door!

This game isn’t “low skill” in the same sense that Uno is low skill. It takes some foresight to try to move your characters in a way that allows you to accomplish your goals while hindering others. But really, the strategy is pretty easy to pick up, and it’s hilarious watching each others’ hopes rise and fall over and over as an heir is moved towards the door, then away, back to a trap where they’re killed.

If you’ve not played any of these games, I’d assess your desire for strategy and your overall nerdiness level, and choose based on that. The way I put it is, my mom loves to play 1313, and I can occasionally get her to do Catan, but she’d never really be interested in a game like Betrayal. Pick the game to fit your playstyle!

And that’s all for me folks. Here’s hoping that your September is significantly less sweaty than mine here in LA.

Yours, just now realizing how many of his favorite games involve murder,

-R.R. Buck

What Does it Mean to be Empathic?

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Tradewinds by Pepper)

I guess I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the way I interact with people. Some parts of the human-to-human experience are really easy for me – far too easy, in some cases. When I hear of someone’s pain, I can feel it and empathize with it. When I hear someone talking about something they’re passionate about, I almost find myself resonating with their passion, experiencing it vicariously through their words.

On the other hand, I often fail to understand when I’m crossing some sort of line in social interaction. A situation that to me feels entirely appropriate is actually taboo; a misplaced word or two leads to some strong offense taken. I’ve tried to be more vocal recently about explaining to people that I find it hard to interact, and to ask them to help me learn the skill better.

The confluence of these two places – my best and my worst – is when I hear of someone’s problems or issues. I think I talked about it in regards to my third tattoo, but I’ll reiterate it here: because of my intense feeling of empathy towards a person when they’re in trouble, I end up trying to control them, thinking in my own misguided way that I know the best solution for their problems. It’s a thing born out of love and a desire to help, but ultimately it’s a horrible thing.

So recently, trying to exercise my tattoo, I’ve run across several situations with friends and family where I tried to take the back line. Instead of telling them what to do, I listen, I offer support and a shoulder to cry on, and I hope that they’ll be able to make the decision that leads to the best outcome for them. And yet somehow, during all of that, I still end up at least interjecting my opinion a little bit – I don’t know if I would ever be fully able to keep myself from speaking.

It’s interesting, though, because as I’m listening more, I’m noticing how differently each person I interact with wants to be treated. It was a surprise to learn that some of my friends actually want me to make decisions or suggest courses of action for them; they felt too tangled up in their own troubles to be able to extricate themselves fully and make a decision.

All of this is surrounding an idea I had recently. It’s one of those nuggets of a self philosophy that you start to form when you’re changing something major about yourself, a little witty piece of text that will stick in your brain every time you’re confronted with a new situation.

The idea is, “Love someone the way they want to be loved. Help someone the way they want to be helped.”

I know, it sounds stupid, right? It’s a testament to how far behind I am that I’m just now discovering this. But interestingly enough, I have friends and family members who disagree with me on this point. They say, rightfully so, that this is in essence pandering to someone, instead of giving them what they need.

That’s a scary thought, because it’s one I had a lot as a kid. “Oh, you don’t know what you need, but I do. So I’m going to tell you what you need and you’re going to do it.” It’s that kind of egocentric thinking that assumes I know the world and you better than you know yourself, and I alone can treat you the way you need to be treated. It’s the kind of thinking I’m trying to stay away from.

Sometimes, it’s really hard to tell what someone needs. At those moments, even though I feel like an idiot for doing so, I ask the person directly – “What do you need from me right now?” And sometimes I feel like the person is internally rolling their eyes at me, wishing I would just know what they needed.

But if they answer honestly, I feel this – well, it’s like a surge of confidence that underpins the emotion I’m feeling. It’s like I finally understand exactly what I can do to help them, and when I’ve done that, I don’t have to lay awake agonizing over whether I did the right thing or if I did enough or if I could have done something else – I just know that I did, at the very least, what they told me they needed me to do.

And I guess that’s why I like this new philosophy. It doesn’t rely on me being a better judge of what is right and proper than someone else. It takes away that feeling of condescension, and even more importantly, that sickening feeling of having a friend in pain whom I can’t help. It makes me feel like I can do tangible things, make real steps in assisting friends with their troubles, without muddling the whole thing up with my neuroticism.

I don’t know why I’m talking about this. I was just bored and I started writing. But I guess maybe I’m asking you to reflect on it, and if you have an opinion, to tell me what you think. At times like right now, when so many people are getting offended and communicating poorly and not really trying to see the other side’s perspective, we could all benefit from open ears and shared opinions.

Man, what a strange mood I’m in. I guess I’m pretty tired.

Anyway, before I get too melancholy, I’ll sign off. Just… love each other, okay? Do your best to really listen to each other. I think that might heal a lot of our issues as a planet.

Yours, semisweetly,

-R.R. Buck