Friday, July 18, 2014

Thelana Character Sheet


LEVEL: 1      
ARMOR: 11 (nude)
Bow Sword: 3
Longbow: 3 / 6 range


  • Speed—+2 initiative (if lightly armored), Flee on 3, 4 or 6 
  • Armor of Flesh*—You endure suffering better than most. *As a racial bonus, add Wisdom bonus to Armor. Clothing or armor negates this ability. 
  • Heal: Heal self completely after 1 day in nature (outside of dungeons) without fighting or traveling.
  • Wilderness Survival: Negate penalties of forest travel. Avoid characters and monsters while moving through wooded areas.
  • Hunter—Reveal hidden monster from 3 spaces or another room

  • Bow Sword: 3 dmg (melee); 3 dmg / 6 (range)
  • Jade cloak
  • 50’ rope and grappling hook

XP: 0


What's this? If you're thinking you've stumbled across the wrong blog, don't worry! Every summer, I take time out from my hectic writing schedule to delve into one of my guilty pleasures: Tabletop Role Playing Games. And by the looks of this article from the New York Times, it appears that I am not alone among fantasy authors who find inspiration in games like Dungeons & Dragons. This year, I thought it'd be fun to marry my Quest Role-Playing Game to the literary world of Aenya. Who knows, perhaps some future gaming session will inspire the next Ilmarin adventure! Using my character building system from Quest, I present my first Aenya based character, Thelana! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014


These are my rules for advanced combat in Quest for the Talismans and the Quest RPG. You can also add these rules to any d20 gaming system. For more about the Quest Gaming System, choose the RPG link above.

The QUEST RPG motto is “if you can think it, you can roll it.” This mechanic allows for literally infinite possibilities during battle. With this motto in mind, players are encouraged to work with the GM to create action packed scenarios. 

The GM’s Role: As with standard actions, the GM sets the Difficulty of an action in combat, but must also determine the effects of the action and possibly the consequences of failing that action.

There are three types of Combat Actions: Directed Attack Rolls, Combat Action Rolls, and Defensive Actions: Evading, Parrying, Rolling and Absorbing.  

An example of an Attack Roll is rolling the d20 to hit—but players may opt for more interesting attacks by chancing to roll higher numbers; this is called a Directed Attack Roll. Examples of Directed Attack Rolls include: 
  • stun (s); enemy loses 1 round 
  • double damage (dd) 
  • knock prone (p); enemy loses 1 round and -5 ARMOR for that round 
  • blind (b) enemy loses 5 ARMOR permanently 
  • (k) enemy is killed       
For instance, when fighting an orc you could
  • Just hit him! / Penalty: +/- 0 / for Basic damage
  • Aim for his elbow / Penalty -1 / Stun
  • Aim for his kneecap / -2 / Knock prone
  • Aim for his head/ -3 / double damage + stun
  • Stab out his eye / -4 / dd + s + b
  • Decapitate him! / -5 / Kill (instant)
  • Aim for his potion / -3 / Potion falls before he can drink it.
Once the player calls the action, if the hit misses with the penalty, even if it would have hit normally, the attack misses completely. In most cases, attacks to the body deal normal damage including the desired effect. If the damage causes an unexpected kill—such as when rolling the knight’s epic blow—the GM may describe a more dramatic scenario; for instance, rather than wounding the kneecap and knocking the orc prone, the GM could say, “You swing for the leg and drop the orc to the ground. Blood gushes from the stump where its knee used to be.” 

With Combat Action Rolls, the player makes a Difficulty check before the attack roll. Some actions require only that you roll equal to or higher than the Difficulty, while other actions require a competing rolls. For example, if you wish to wrestle an ogre, you must roll higher in Strength than the ogre rolls; such actions are marked with a v. (verses) after the Difficulty. To determine a monster’s Strength bonus, divide its HEALTH by 2: an ogre’s Health is 10 so its Strength bonus is 5.

When creating actions, players should try to think like the character they are playing and not tell the GM what bonuses or penalties the action should do. For example, you could say, “I want to . . .

. . . jump off the wall --- Difficulty: 12 --- If you succeed gain: +2 dmg.+reroll initiative --- If you fail you lose -1 round
and backstab that

Normally, when it’s the enemy’s turn to attack, you rely on your armor or agility to avoid harm—either your shield takes the brunt of the blow or you manage to dive out of the way. This is called an Evasive Action, but in some cases the player may choose more advanced defensive techniques, such as Parrying, Rolling or Absorbing.

To perform a parry, use Agility vs. Strength or Agility vs. Agility. Your weapon must be the same size (or larger) than the thing (weapon/arm/maw etc.) attacking you. A giant’s club or a dragon’s mouth cannot be parried, but an ogre’s mace, while slightly larger than a longsword, can be parried. You are allowed one parry per round for every 3 points of Agility. If you fail the first parry against multiple attackers, you cannot make a second attempt. To perform a parry, you must state your intent to do so before the enemy’s roll. Since you are not avoiding attack, ARMOR is not used in a parry, so the enemy needs only to roll higher than your d20+ Agility roll to do damage. If the attacker tries a special action, apply penalties to their roll.

Steel vs. Flesh: If you parry a limb with a bladed weapon, like a monk’s fist, the monk suffers his own damage. If the damage is significant enough to drop the attacker to 0 Health, the limb is severed.   

Steel vs. Stone: If an attack roll of 20 is parried (possible with Agility Bonus), whichever weapon is weaker, regardless of whether it is attacking or parrying, breaks. For instance, if a steel sword hits with a 20 and a stone club parries it, the club shatters; likewise, if the stone club is parried by the sword, the club still shatters. If both weapons are of equal strength, neither breaks. Weapon strength is based on damage, so a weapon dealing 4 is stronger than one dealing 3, and so forth.

Often, when a monster is too big to parry, the player can opt for a defensive roll. This technique uses the monster’s size to your advantage as you roll under its claw/club/legs, etc; it also becomes crucial against huge monsters with BASH—such as from a giant’s foot or an elder dragon’s tail. For the most part, shields and helmets are useless against BASH, so players must move out of the way or take damage. To do so, roll d20+ Agility vs. the monster’s attack roll.     

In unusual circumstances, players may choose to throw themselves into an attack, using the brunt of their armor to absorb the damage. This action may be called at any time (attack rolls are not made) and can be used only by characters with body armor. Damage is absorbed equal to the ARMOR bonus of the item, so a +3 cuirass absorbs 3 points of damage. The downside to this tactic is that for every point of damage the armor takes exceeding its bonus, it permanently loses 1 point of defense. For instance, a cuirass absorbing a hammer for 4 damage loses 1 ARMOR (target takes 1 damage), becoming +2; if hit again, it becomes +1. Once the armor’s bonus reaches 0, it falls apart, becoming useless. If the cuirass is used to absorb a smaller weapon like a dagger (which deals 1), it will take 3 separate hits before becoming damaged. Damaged armor may be repaired for half its original price.        


A good way to make new skills is to discover them by the Action Rolls you use in game. If, for example, you grow fond of “dive between enemy’s legs to escape” you can make it a skill by purchasing it through XP.

Once an Action Roll becomes a learned skill, you can attempt it without worrying about the effects of Failure. In addition, invented skills add to your Action Bonus. To determine a new skill’s Bonus, divide its Difficulty by 10 (rounding down) and add to the corresponding Type. For example, “jump off the wall and backstab enemy”—let’s call it Wall Jump—would add +1 (12 / 10 = 1.2) to Agility.     

To calculate the XP Cost of a new skill, multiply the Action’s Difficulty by 10. To learn Wall Jump, then, you would need 120 XP. Keep in mind that the GM may limit your skill based on situation (for example, if there is no wall nearby for you to use Wall Jump).     


MAX HEALTH: (Number of points of damage you can lose before dying)

ARMOR: (Other players/monsters must roll this number or above on a d20 to hit you). Armor is calculated using a base score of 8. Bonuses are added from items (such as a helmet) or skills (such as Speed which adds +2). For example, a knight with chainmail +1, a helmet +1 and a kite shield +2 (8 +1 +1 +2) has an Armor of 12. If a better item is purchased, subtract the old bonus before adding the new one. Bonuses do not stack for same type items. The amount of armor you can wear is determined by your Endurance score. With max Endurance +10, Armor tops at 18. Armor also affects Agility (see below).

WEAPON/DMG: (Number of health points you subtract with each successful hit) Endurance determines the types of non-magical weapons you can wield (see below).

STRENGTH: Add this number to your d20 roll when grappling with an enemy. See Advanced Battle options. This attribute may also come in handy depending on the monster you are fighting. See Sir Marek’s Guide to Monster Hunting. The maximum amount of Strength a character can have is +10.

WISDOM: Wisdom helps you make good choices and avoid obstacles. In Quest for the Talismans, add this bonus to your Story Space roll. Wisdom also increases your chances of stealing, assassinating, haggling, persuading others, and anything requiring mental acumen. This attribute may also come in handy depending on the monster you are fighting. See Sir Marek’s Guide to Monster Hunting. The maximum Wisdom a character can have is +10.    
ENDURANCE: Your Endurance determines the heaviest armor you can wear and the heaviest weapons you can wield. Armor weight is equal to its bonus and weapon weight to its damage. With Endurance +5, for instance, you can use a weapon that deals a maximum DMG: 5; you can also upgrade your armor up to 5 points for a maximum ARMOR: 13 (or 15 with Skill bonus). The maximum Endurance a character can have is +10.

AGILITY: Add this bonus to jumping, climbing, tight rope walking and anything requiring physical dexterity. ROLL: Make a d20 + Agility vs. attack roll to avoid damage from monsters with BASH, since BASH attacks disregard Armor. For each point of non-magic armor, subtract 1 point from Agility. Minimum Agility +0 / Maximum +10.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Updated 7/19/2014

This is a list of Advanced Skills I use for creating characters and leveling up characters. It can be used for both the Quest for the Talismans board game and the AENYA RPG. Margins are a pain in Blogger, so throw me an e-mail and I can send you the whole file as an easy to read PDF. For more, visit the AENYA RPG link above.

The QUEST System is all about simplicity, creativity, and imagination. The goal is to maximize fun while minimizing complexity. To start playing, you must first make your own hero (or villain):

Guidelines for Making Your Own Hero (or villain):
  • STEP 1: Who do you want to be? There is no wrong answer—no choice that isn’t available. Want to be a ninja with fire powers? An undead pirate? A fairy like Tinkerbell? Why not?
  • STEP 2: Get creative! Give your character a name, a back story and a quote—something that makes him or her memorable.
  • STEP 3: Get some class. Decide whether you wish to make your own class or use an existing one. Unlike most games, you are limited only by your imagination!
  • STEP 4: Get some skills! Starting with a base of 2000 XP (experience points), purchase Health and Skills. Normally, Health should not exceed 15. You can even make your own skills as long you get approval from your GM.
  • STEP 5: How high can you jump? Add up your Action Bonuses to calculate your four basic Ability Scores: STRENGTH, AGILITY, WISDOM and ENDURANCE 
  • STEP 6: Grab your gear! Depending on which game you are playing, ask the GM what weapons you are allowed to start with. Normally, ARMOR should never exceed 15 and starting damage should not exceed 4.


QUEST begins the character building process with skills. After all, people do not choose to learn Kung-Fu because they are agile already—they learn Kung-Fu to become agile. The same logic is applied in QUEST.  If you want to be a great warrior, practice your sword techniques first, then go out into the world and bash some heads.

To advance new or premade characters throughout gaming, players need only to keep track of their XP. XP is gained by:
  • Killing a monster = 1 XP per HEALTH, x2 for * or x3 for ** 
  • As partitioned by GM’s during an RPG session for acts of heroism or creativity.
For every thousand points of XP, your character levels up, at which point you can purchase skills or make new skills. XP can only be lost by spending it on character advancement. Certain skills require lesser abilities or levels to be reached before purchasing its upgrade, or can only be used if certain items (like a shield) are equipped. Advanced skills cannot be purchased at the same time as its lesser component. For example, a player could not obtain both Slide Maneuver and Aerial Maneuver at level 2.

Advancement                          XP Cost                       Action Bonus 

Basic Training: Learn how      100                              +1/3 Endurance
stay alive longer; gain
+1 Health per purchase.
Heal: Heal self completely      300 + Armor of Flesh   +2 Endurance  
after 1 day in nature (outside                                                            
of dungeons) without fighting
or traveling.

Weapon Mastery: You are       250                              Nil                     
master of your weapon—
knowing just how to place
a killing blow. Gain +1
damage with preferred

Superior Weapon Mastery:      Weapon Mastery          Nil                                           
+2 damage with preferred       +250

Speed—+2 initiative,               400                              +2 Agility                                
(if lightly armored), 
Flee on 3, 4 or 6

Ambidextrous:                          300                              +1 Agility                                      
Make two attacks/round
with two daggers (1 each)

Superior Ambidextrous:            Ambidextrous +100     +1 Agility                                    
Make two attacks/round          
with two one handed weapons

Slide Maneuver                       Speed +                       +1 Agility         
Slide to an adjacent square      Ambidextrous +200                             
while attacking. If hitting,
reroll initiative

Aerial Maneuver                      Speed +                        +1 Agility        
Stab medium humanoid            Ambidextrous +300                              
your dagger while leaping over them:
hit or miss, reroll initiative.
Cannot use with multiple
combatants (allies or foes)
in melee.

Thievery:                                  Speed +300                  +2 Wisdom      
·                     By passing another character and making a Wisdom vs. check, steal a single small item (gem, boots of
speed, talisman, etc.). If theft fails, do not pass, and other player makes one free attack and engages battle.
·                     Rob towns of gems or talismans by making a Wisdom vs. check. If failing, lose carried items and go to prison. Each turn in prison, attempt escape by making a Wisdom vs. check.

3-in-1 Blow: Make up to          250                              +2 Strength   
3 attack rolls in melee after                                                              
each killing blow                                                                             

Whirlwind of Carnage:            3-in-1 Blow +250         +1 Strength            
Make continuous attack rolls                                                            
after each killing blow to all                                                              
enemies in melee.

Epic Blow: On an attack           300                              +1 Strength                              
roll of 20, do double damage.

Superior Epic Blow:                 Epic Blow +500            +1 Strength                              
On an attack roll of 19—20,
do double damage

Joust: Pass an enemy               250                                                           
in mounted combat to joust,
bypassing initiative. Deal
double damage if hitting.

Aerial Joust: Pass an                Joust+                                                   
enemy on an aerial mount,      Aerial Mount
bypass initiative,                      +250
deal triple damage

Charm: Persuade enemies        250                             +1 Wisdom                              
to make peace (Diff. Check)

Focus Move—Move 1            200                              +1 Wisdom                              
space instead of rolling

Kung-Fu: Make                      Focus Move + Speed   +2 Agility           
attack rolls after each               +500                           +1 Wisdom                                         
successful hit dealing
1 damage

Superior Kung-Fu                   Kung-Fu +300             +1 Agility            
As Kung-Fu, but you deal
2 points per hit

Missile Catch: Roll a d20         Kung-Fu +300             +1 Agility         
higher than your attacker to
catch incoming missiles.

Qui Strike—On a roll of 20,    Kung-Fu +300                 
incapacitate any creature with
10 or less health. If the creature
has more than 10 health, the
attack deals 1 damage.

Superior Qui Strike:                 Qui Strike +300             
Effective against enemies
with 15 Health or less

Path of Peace:                         Superior Kung-Fu +300     +1 Wisdom                   
Using Kung-Fu, if an enemy
misses you on a roll of 5 or less,
the enemy is disarmed.

Way of the Lotus: Using            Superior Kung-Fu +300    +1 Wisdom                   
Kung-Fu, alternate between
damaging armor or
Health (MIN ARMOR 8)

Loaded Dice:                           100                              Nil                                           
+2 to gambling rolls

Bombs—                                  300                                                        
Learn to make bombs.
Bombs deal 8 damage in 20’
radius / range 1. Max carry: 3

Armor of Flesh: You endure       400                            +1 Strength      (armor negates)
suffering better than most;                                            +1 Endurance 
add Wisdom bonus to Armor. 

Berserk: If reduced to 5              300                              +1 Strength      
or less health, go “berserk”                                                                  
—dealing +2 damage for
the remainder of battle

Superior Berserk: If                 Berserk +300               +1 Strength     
reduced to 8 or less health,                                                                  
go “berserk” for +4 damage for
the remainder of battle.

Dying Breath: If reduced         500                              +1 Endurance  
to 0 Health, you make a final                                        +1 Strength      
attack before death.

Stave Off Death:                      Dying Breath +500      +2 Endurance  
Continue fighting even if                                                                     
reduced to -10 Health.
Die at the end of battle.

Battle Cry: Once per turn,        300                              Nil                          
(day) you stir strength                                                                          
in others; those that fight beside
you gain +1 damage for the
remainder of battle.

Hunter: +1 to hunt, reveal        300                              +1 Wisdom                              
hidden monsters from 3 spaces
or another room (Diff. Check)

Superior Hunter: Hunt             Hunter +300                +1 Wisdom                              
success. Reveal hidden
monster from any location
or dungeon (Diff. Check)

Shadow Hide: Avoid enemies              300                   
until you attack them. (Diff Check)                                                    
Shadow Teleport: Use smoke  Shadow Hide +100            
bomb to escape battle (move                                                            
5 squares) or nearest T/L

Assassinate:                            Shadow Hide +300        
Kill by passing a medium                                                                    
humanoid enemy and making
a successful Wisdom vs.
If assassinate fails, enemy gains
a free attack and engages battle.

Shadow of Death:                    Assassinate +200              
Assassinate by passing
opponent and making a 
successful Wisdom vs./once per turn                                                                                   

Camouflage: Remain               300                                       
invisible to enemies                                                                            
until you attack them (Diff. Check)

Defensive Position:                  Hoplon +500                     
Subtract from damage and                                          +1 Strength     
and move it to armor                                                   +2 Endurance  

Hoplon Repel: If an enemy      Defensive Position       +1 Endurance      
(medium) rolls 3 or less              + Hoplon +500          +1 Strength      
to hit you, attack is repelled and                                    
the attacker suffers its own

Bull’s-Eye: On an attack roll    Bow & Arrow +300     +1 Agility                                 
of 20, kill medium humanoid                                                             
enemies with arrows   

Lucky-Shot: Roll twice for       Bull’s-Eye +300                                       
ranged attacks. Use the                                                                       
better result.

Wilderness Survival:                200                              +1 Wisdom                              
Negate penalties of forest
travel. Avoid characters and
monsters when moving through
wooded areas.

Ax Drawback: Surrender          Ax +200                      +1 Endurance  
initiative and your first ax                                                                    
attack deals +2 damage

Battle Execution: On a roll       Ax +Ax Drawback       +1 Strength      
of 20, decapitate medium        +200                                                   
humanoid enemies.

Skull Walker: Hop from                       Aerial               +1 Agility         
enemy to enemy (medium);     Maneuver +300                                     
make 1 attack as you land on
each head (must be no more than 5’ apart).
Fall prone if you miss by 5 or less.

Wall Run: Run straight             Aerial Maneuver          +1 Agility        
up walls (10’ max) to                     +300                                                    
escape enemies or reach
high places.

Buddy Blow: In close               Defensive Position       +1 Strength                              
combat (10’ circle),                 or Kung-Fu                  +1 Agility
when an enemy misses             +500
you, make a Strength v. check
to direct his damage to an ally.
Falling Thrust: From                Superior Epic Blow      +1 Strength                              
a high location 10’+,                +300
drop on an enemy for triple
damage Take double damage if
you miss by 5 or less

Wrestle: Pin an enemy             Armor of Flesh +300                                  
so an ally can attack him
freely. Strength v. check
each round.

Fencing: Deflect attacks           Speed +Superior         +1 Agility                                 
with your weapon—                Weapon Mastery
use weapon’s damage              +300
as an ARMOR bonus. Do
not stack with other skill
ARMOR bonuses.

Mounted Archery: On              Joust + Lucky Shot                                   
open ground, shoot your          +Mount +200               +1 Agility
bow while mounted,
evading melee attack
from most creatures.

Haste: Attack twice per            Fencing +500              Nil                                           
round with mastered weapon. 
Does not stack with hasted     

Titanic Blow: Deal damage      Superior Epic              Nil                                           
equal to your Strength bonus   Blow +500
with any two-handed weapon.

Monk Agility: Add your           Skull Walker +500       Nil                               Non-Armored
Agility Bonus to ARMOR;
Do not stack with other
armor bonuses.

Indomitable Will: Learn           1000                              Nil                                           
Basic Training techniques
at half the cost (50 XP)

Worldly Wisdom: Double         1000                            Nil                                           
XP gains from each victory.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lost in the Woods and Naked!

Look! That deer is naked!
Do you ever feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day? You know, where he wakes up every morning to the same song, "I've got you babe . . ." because his entire life is a repeat of the same day?

Last Thursday, I was in that Groundhog Day rut, and wanted to do something crazy, to carpe diem!, to remind myself that I exist. But carpe dieming (TM) means different things for different people. For some, it's to go bungee jumping or fishing, or to max your credit card at Macy's. For me, it's shedding my clothes to reconnect with nature. Now, I'd like to say that my decision to do this was for research purposes. My next book, Naked in the Wildwood (working title) will feature a naked girl (Thelana) living alone in the woods, struggling to survive. Besides volunteering for the TV show Naked and Afraid, which I can't do because I get migraines when I skip lunch, it's always good to experience what you plan on writing. But in all honestly, I write about going primitive because of my deep seated desire to live that way.  

There is a park I sometimes visit with the family that has a nature trail, but is no way clothing optional. Fortunately, the park was near empty, being a weekday afternoon with most kids in school. I drove around looking for the trail, but couldn't find it, so I settled on a secluded spot away from cars. By now my heart was racing. I'd been nude in public before, on beaches and in the woods when I was twelve, but things were different now. Here I could be arrested, or worse, be marked as a sex offender. So I had to be really careful. I got out of my car wearing only my black shorts and Crocs and proceeded to the woods. Looking back toward the road several times, I nervously slipped off my shoes and shorts. Being nude in the outdoors, I cannot help but think of my place in history, in geologic time. Doubtless, some proto-Indian stood on the same spot, feeling the same sensations on his bare feet, the same wind and sun on his shoulders, fourteen-thousand years ago. Consumed by fauna and flora, surrounded only by what has existed for millions of years, my everyday concerns melted away, as did my sense of self. Some people find security in stuff, but as Henry David Thoreau expressed in Walden, possessions can be a burden. The connectedness of social media, and the Internet, are like shackles to me. Sometimes, I crave the freedom of getting lost. Feeling ever more bold, I hid my things at the base of a tree (a really random tree), and went out exploring, without shoes, without shorts, without keys or cell phone, in nothing but my body. I didn't even bother looking back. You'd think I was planning to live my entire life there, so great was the urge to go.

The trees were so densely packed that I had to move slowly, but it gave me cover, should some random person come along. Contrary to what Nike might tell you, I never felt the need for shoes. Being Florida wetland, the ground was soft and moist, and I could feel every dead leaf and root underfoot, and those things that look like straw (tree hair?) covering the ground. That's not to say it was the Ritz Hotel. I cut my leg, but that only served to wake me up, when my life so often feels like I am sleep walking, and yesterday blends seamlessly with tomorrow. If it's one thing I hate, it's excessive comfort. Put me in an easy chair and I might as well be dead.

The climax of my experience was coming across deer, four young does just minding their own business. One looked right at me, and I sensed that it wasn't afraid, only curious. Had it ever seen a naked human before? Did it even recognize my lack of clothing? I like to think we shared some kinship, being out there as our mothers' made us, in that moment of wordless communication. Perhaps they could sense my vulnerability.

Alas, I could not be free forever, as civilization (and the occasional book, movie, wife and kids) beckoned. And I planned to write a chapter that day, so I headed back toward my clothes. But, they, were, gone! Where the fuck were my clothes? And that is when I learned an important lesson about being out in the woods. Apparently, trees look a lot alike. Surely, my shoes and car keys and shorts had to be in that other tree.


I didn't entirely panic, but panic was knocking on my consciousness. Over and over, I told myself to stay calm and focus and not to lose it. My stuff had to be around someplace. Finding them was only a matter of time. Unless, of course, some jerk came by and took them. I mean, anyone finding Volkswagen keys was sure to make the connection to the one car, a Beetle, sitting in the parking lot. But I had not heard anybody come through the woods. I was certainly alone, and my stuff had to be somewhere, they just had to be, I assured myself. But how far from the road had I ditched my things? And why the Hell hadn't I picked a more conspicuous place? All the while, crazy scenarios kept popping in my head. How long could I search before giving up? Hours? Nightfall? What then? I would have to come out onto the road, completely naked, to seek help. Maybe a park ranger would see me and call the police. Or that lady with the baby stroller I'd seen earlier might lend me her cell phone. How embarrassing would that be? And who would I call? My wife? What would I say to her?

"Um, hi honey. Listen . . . no, no, I am not at Barnes & Nobles. Actually, I kind of need your help . . ."

That would haunt me for life. And yet, despite it all, I was exhilarated. Not for a second did I feel regret. After all, this was the adventure I was seeking! The Quest to Find My Keys! A day like this could never be forgotten, never be confused with a Groundhog Day. I searched tree to tree, climbing over logs and trekking mud and ducking under brambles (this is when I cut myself) no longer concerned with being seen. At one point, my skin caught a spider's thread long before I could have seen it, a beautifully colored nasty looking thing, which acted as a convenient landmark.

After about an hour, I noticed the blue tint of my Crocs. Of course, I was relieved, but felt no less bold. I walked naked to my car, got in, and started to drive home. Nobody could possibly see whether I had my shorts on, could they? Is it even illegal to drive naked? Sure enough, the first car to drive by was police, and I made damn sure to follow the rules of the road. But the next vehicle, I KID YOU NOT, was a Google Maps truck, the one with the spherical camera on top. OK, I thought, now God is just messing with me.

My story, being true, ends anti-climatically. At home, I hosed off the mud and jumped into the pool. But I'd found fuel for my fiction, and at least I can say that, on May 29th, 2014, Nick Alimonos truly lived.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What is 'Naked'?

Is this naked?

What does it mean to be naked? Western civilization seems to understand the concept, and most people will agree that, regardless of personal belief, public nudity is not the status-quo. But there is constant disagreement as to what constitutes nakedness, how to define a public place, and when or where and under what circumstances the human body should be regarded taboo.  

The other day, I went with a friend of mine to the beach. His eight year old daughter was wearing a rather small bikini bottom that kept slipping off her butt. At one point, she was digging in the sand and you could clearly see a good four inches of plumber's crack. It didn't matter to me, being a nudist and all, but I jokingly remarked, "Your daughter is on the wrong kind of beach." He turned to me, somewhat offended, and said, "She's just a kid." OK, I can understand if she was two, but eight? When and where does society draw the line? If she were nine would that kind of exposure be less acceptable? What about ten? Eleven? What if she were completely nude? It's quite common to see a toddler running around without a bathing suit; most people don't mind. But at what age does nudity become taboo? And who decides?

Things get more confusing as you add variables. For instance, we could agree that any and all adult nudity is unacceptable. But again, what constitutes nudity? Is a T-back bikini, which reveals part of a the butt cheek, OK? What about a thong? How short do you cut your bathing suit? Years ago, thongs became illegal in Clearwater, Florida. Some lawyers actually drew up diagrams, which looked like a surgeon's guide to liposuction, to help police determine the parts of the gluteus maximus that were legal. I have yet to hear of police pulling out a protractor and geometry book to arrest someone, but the whole thing is preposterous. It gets worse when you consider how differently bodies are shaped. One diagram doesn't fit all. Skinny women with bony butts have less inches of cheek than obese women. Does this mean obese women are at a higher risk of breaking the law?

Now if we could come to an agreement as to what constitutes nudity for every kind of person and swimwear, things get hazy when we try to define a public place. Wearing a thong at the mall or at a restaurant may not go over well, of course, and unlike the beach, shoes and shirts are typically required. But what about public locker rooms? The other day, I needed to ride my bike eleven miles from the beach, but my bathing suit was soaked. I could have tried the hand dryer, but it was mounted too high, and the numerous changing stalls were intimidating. If men are too shy to undress in front of other men, they're likely to be offended with my bottoms in my hand. OK, what about your own backyard? While technically private, laws regarding nudity even on private property depend on many factors, and differ from county to county. After all, I can't strip on my driveway without getting arrested. Do I have a high enough fence or hedges? Do your neighbors, like mine, have a two story house with windows looking down on your property? What if the fence has a hole in it so that a child can look through it? According to Florida law, nudity is not illegal unless it is in a "lewd or lascivious manner," but what the heck does that mean? Lewd and lascivious are even more ambiguous than nakedness, which is why I constantly worry about my neighbors calling the police. Who knows whether a judge deems my playing pool volleyball with the family lascivious. I am sure a lawyer could get the charges thrown out, but why go through the hassle? For all I know, my neighbors might be nudists themselves. Or they might be Bible thumping Baptists who believe the sight of genitalia damaging to their children. I suppose I could stick to nudity within the confines of my own house. But again, I have seen some scary news stories about people arrested after they were seen through their windows. There was even a story about a couple who lost their two kids for months to Child Protective Services after taking their bath time photos to Walmart.

Things get harrier when we consider specific body parts and their functions. What if you have to pee behind a bush and somebody sees you? Embarrassing, perhaps, but should it be illegal? Recently, Facebook changed their policies regarding breast feeding photos after a public outcry. Now here's a switch, the general public coming to a consensus that showing naked breasts is OK, whereas a privately owned company disagreed. Whatever the reason, female nipples (but never male nipples) result in either mass hysteria or complete indifference. Since 1992, it has been perfectly legal for a woman to walk bare chested in New York City, and yet, all live television broadcasts are delayed seven seconds due to 2003's Nipplegate, after Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" revealed part of her nipple during the Super Bowl halftime show. It forces me to wonder: How can it be OK for a woman to show her breasts in public, even in church (according to Pope Francis), as long as she has a baby in her arms? Why do we assume that children are not harmed by the sight of (nipples + baby)? Do babies somehow nullify whatever psychological affects nipples have on youth? When I was in Morocco, my wife's cousin pulled her breast out in mid-conversation to feed her child. Even for me, it was a bit of a shock. After all, Morocco is a Muslim country, where many women can be seen in burqas, a garment covering every part of the body from head to toe.

But let as assume, for argument's sake, that nudity is unacceptable but for inside your own heavily fortified bathroom. What about depictions of the human body? Colleges throughout the country bring live nude models into the classroom. And these classes are not nearly as rare as you might think. The public recreation center next to my house, where my daughter studied drawing and sculpting, offered human figure study using live models. People also seem to accept the unclad body in Classical or Renaissance art, so while comic books are never allowed to show Wonder Woman's nipples, nor can Disney ever hope to make an accurate Tarzan or Jungle Book film, not a single customer has ever complained to me about the topless mosaic mermaids in my restaurant.

How about this?

In X-Men: First Class, the character Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, decides that to be true to herself, she will stop hiding behind clothing. Even though her natural "body" is blue, with some scales added over her "naughty" bits, her closest friend, Charles Xavier, is shocked, remarking, "Why are you naked?" In the followup movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mystique uses her acrobatic skills to effortlessly take out her enemies, in nothing but her blue skin. Does this make Mystique a naturist mutant? Is she even really naked? Or does her mutated physiology make her like an animal, for whom clothing is extraneous? Perhaps the concept of nudity is limited to our own species, and that, not needing clothes, Mystique is exempt from the rules of our society.

All this confusion brings to mind the countless efforts by anthropologists to define the term race, which they eventually stopped trying to do, accepting that there is no such thing. We do not typically define a thing by its absence. We do not have words for people who do not wear hats or who do not have jobs, except to add a prefix or a suffix, to say "that man is hat-less" or "he is un-employed." Using naked to describe a person implies some special characteristic in that person, when nakedness is our most basic state of being. It would be more accurate to say "that man is pantsless." Like White, Black, Christian or Jew, terms like naked are inherently meaningless, deriving from the limited perspective of our time and place in history. This is why governments have such difficulty determining when or where the human body should be legal, because while we can all agree on the ethics of theft and murder, what is or isn't offensive will always remain open to interpretation and prejudice.