Father, good & bad

My father died in 1996, but that was just the physical culmination of decades of slow suicide. My father drank himself to death, starting before I was even born, but escalating into high gear when I hit my teens, right about the time my sister went off to college. As he had to focus more and more energy on drinking, and managing to hold down a job while drinking, he had less and less of himself to use for anything else. When he was a child, he was a boy scout. By the time I was walking, he didn’t want to be anywhere wilder than a restaurant’s outdoor seating. Growing up I remember him throwing pizza parties for his university students. By the time I could cook, he claimed to be unable to understand how ovens worked. He earned numerous commendations and awards early in his career as an economist. In his last years, the university let him take early retirement out of pity since he hadn’t written anything in a decade, and could no longer face grading papers or talking to students.

My father taught me to play checkers, then chess, then go just as soon as I could move the pieces. Then he took me with him to the local bar, and watched over me as I played with other alcoholics in late summer evenings, after my mother had gone to bed. It was the only way I got much time with him, at that point. By the time I had to learn to shave, he was either unwilling or unable to teach me. My friend Marc Curlee did, instead.
He pulled pranks in college, and once tried to build the world’s largest hookah. By the time I came along, his need for solitude was so great my family literally had to add an addition on to the back of our house, so he’d be far enough away from my bedroom and able to have a space of his own even away from his wife, my mother. He taught me a lot about honor and honestly, but broke many vows and promises. He taught me to value work and savings, but hated his job and wanted to splurge money on luxuries he couldn’t possibly afford. He was an economics professor who loved gambling, though thankfully never to excess.
My father and mother made plans to take my wife and me out for dinner on our first wedding anniversary. My mother had to call me and tell me she was going to do it alone, because my father had moved out of the house weeks earlier, and the night of my anniversary he was so drunk he couldn’t stand or answer his own phone.
Somewhat later, through sheer willpower, he was sober for 6 months solid because someone at a treatment center told him he was an alcoholic, and it was impossible for him to go 6 months without a drink. Right after hitting the 6 month mark, he drank himself into such a stupor he fell and bloodied his head on his apartment wall. But he’d gone the 6 months, so clearly he didn’t have a problem.

A few weeks before he died, I sat in his living room, and told him if he didn’t get help and stop drinking, he’d die. He told me he knew. I gave up. Of course after that when he ended up in the hospital and the doctor told him he was dying, my father indignantly replied “No I’m not!”
He was.
I loved my father very much. I love him still. But I have come to realize that his greatest service to me is as a bad example. Many of my failings – my dislike of being told what to do, my craving for a lifestyle I haven’t earned, my fear of the unknown or uncomfortable, my hated of asking for help, my fear of failure – are very much like my father. And I saw what giving in to those less noble traits did to him. So I fight mine. Not always very well, and not without failures and setbacks. But I fight them. Because I have seen what the alternative is.
I have never been sure what first cracked my father, but I saw how his method of dealing with it shattered him. All I can do is try to learn from his failings.
I know my father loved me. I hope he is at peace now. Despite everything, I deeply honor the good he did for me, the care he gave me, and the fact he did his best to protect me, and teach me.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.

Comicpalooza Schedule!

Heya folks! Next weekend I’ll be at comicpalooza in Houston. Here’s what my schedule currently looks like:

Friday 2pm-3pm Panel: Writing and Designing for RPGs in room 310 A
Friday 6pm-8pm Staff and Guest Mixer in the Hilton

Saturday 12pm-1pm Panel: How to Make Games Your Sole Source of Income in room 370 A
Saturday 2pm-3pm Panel: The Business of Games in room 370 B
Saturday 8pm-?? I’ll be mysteriously missing

Sunday 2pm-3pm Panel: Monster Design 101 in room 372 C
Sunday 3pm-4pm Panel: Networking in the Gaming Industry in room 372 C
Sunday 5pm-6pm Panel: Ask Owen K.C. Stephens Anything in room 370 E

Monday 2pm-3pm Panel: Encounter Design 101 in room 360 B

For more info on Comicpalooza (and the AMAZING list of guests!) check out www.comicpalooza.com

Happy DM’s Day!

My mother is an awesome geek, a fan of science fiction and real space exploration and fantasy of multiple descriptions, and to some extent boardgames — but not RPGs. They’re ust not her cup of tea, and that’s fine.
But when I was a pre-teen, and hooked on D&D, and no local group would take me in due to my age? She ran a game for me and a few friends, every Sunday, for about 2 years.
She ran us through scenarios from history, 1001 Nights, a lot of Excalibur myths, and plots from books she was reading at the time. We were 11 and 12, and she exposed us to political campaigns, romantic plotlines, the law of unintended consequences, exploration, mystery, and research games, and only rarely a dungeon crawl. Often, the answer to some vexing in-game puzzle required us to research some real-world bit of logic or history.
When we found another DM, she happily (and I think with relief) turned us over and never looked back. But she still has the “Dungeon Mistress” button I bought her at a Con a few years alter, and though she doesn’t *wear* it, she likes having it.
I grew up in central Oklahoma. I had a lot of friends who were forbidden by their parents from playing D&D. My mother instead ran a game for us, sat and talked with anyone we were playing with so she had an idea what kind of person they were, and encouraged us to have most games at her house (often in her garage) so she knew who I was with, and what I was doing.
So, Happy Mother’s Day, to my first long-term DM!
Thanks, Mom.

New Job

I don’t normally copy Paizo press releases, but in this case I’ll make an exception.
REDMOND, WA (April 3, 2014): Paizo Inc., publisher of the world’s best-selling Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as well as novels, game accessories, board games, and the wildly popular Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, is pleased to welcome the addition of Developer Owen K.C. Stephens to the Paizo design team.
A lifelong gamer, Owen K.C. Stephens began writing articles for Dragon Magazine in 1990, in the hopes of making enough money to pay for his RPG habit. In the decades since, his career has included work for Adventure-A-Week, Green Ronin, Steve Jackson Games, Super Genius Games, White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, and Paizo. Stephens will join Paizo to helm the development of the quarterly, 64-page Pathfinder Module line, working with both established Pathfinder authors and RPG Superstar winners.
Says Paizo Editor-in-Chief F. Wesley Schneider, “Owen’s been helping us build adventures, settings, and rules for the Pathfinder RPG since its earliest days—you’d be hard pressed to find a single author who’s worked on more Pathfinder-related projects. Now that the stars have aligned for all of us, we couldn’t be more excited to have him lending his expertise to the everyday work of making Pathfinder even more awesome!”
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is the world’s best-selling tabletop RPG, in which players take on the role of brave adventurers fighting to survive in a world beset by magic and evil. The Pathfinder RPG is currently translated into multiple languages, and the vibrant Pathfinder universe has been licensed for comic book series, graphic novels, miniatures, plush toys, apparel, and is being developed into a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.

Horrifically Overpowered Mythic Feats

Horrifically Overpowered Mythic Feats

Coming April 1st. Seriously.
But your shouldn’t buy it… these are too unbalanced to be of any use to you.
Requires both Mythic Adventures and the Genius Guide to Horrifically Overpowered Feats for use. Which is fine, because you shouldn’t use this book anyway.

Why the Movies SIGNS Makes Perfect Sense

I have explained before (at needless length) about why the movie 2012 makes perfect sense. (http://owenkcstephens.com/2014/01/21/why-the-movie-2012-makes-perfect-sense/). So, here is why Signs makes perfect sense.
The aliens are drunk frat boys in an intergalactic hazing.
Think about it. If rich (rich enough to afford stellar travel, anyway), entitled humanoids are running around naked in an environment that is 2/3 made of harmful materials, and they are so incapacitated they can’t figure out how a door handle works, and they are crashing children’s birthday parties, what else could they be but drunk teens performing stupid dare-based bonding rituals?
In fact, they are SO drunk their wormhole drive gives members of the preacher’s family time-traveling visions of the moments just before they hit the tachyon overdrive to leave the planet (“Swing away”).
It wasn’t an invasion. It was a flashing incident gone wrong.

Twenty Three Years and Counting

Twenty three years ago Lj Hamilton did me the honor of marrying me and taking my last name. It was a decision I had taken more than a year to make, because I took it very seriously. It was also, bar none, the best decision I ever made.

Lj and I are a partnership, so we both get at least partial credit for anything either of us have ever accomplished. My writing career is a spectacular example of this, as without Lj’s encouragement, support, and help (especially in the first few years, when she took the time to edit my every magazine submission before it went in to the staff). It was her idea to submit  articles to Dragon and Pyramid, go to the TSR RPG Writer’s Work in Seattle, and apply for the job I got at WotC in 2000.

Together we’ve faced the deaths of family and friends, moved across the country and back, put in hundreds of hours of road trips (generally playing solo rpgs for half the time as we ground through the miles), screamed a few times, laughed a lot, cried an few times, and learned that while we cannot always guarantee our partner’s success, we can create an environment where it’s safe to try and fail.

Once we’d been married about a decade, we started being asked from time to time, what our secret for success was. Lj encapsulated it once, and it’s a great bit of wisdom I will never forget.

“If you love someone, act like it.”

Love you, sweetie. Happy anniversary.

D&D Turns 40

D&D is just a *little* younger than me. It turned 40 this weekend, and I’m 43. But it has been around for all the years I needed it, and I cannot adequately explain how important that was for me. But I’ll try.

I was first introduced to D&D in the summer of 1982. I was staying at my uncle’s house in Tennessee, the year of the Knoxville World’s Fair, while my parents took a trip to Europe. My uncle had a library at least as vast as my parents’ (and mostly with *different* books), and among them was the 1979 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I was enrapt.

But that’s *all* the D&D he had, and he’d never played. I wanted to play, and he was willing to run a game, but he wanted me to “figure out how to play” so he could run it for me. There were lots of clues how D&D was supposed to work, but without a Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual, I saw there was a lot of information I needed to fill in before we could try anything.

So, I set to work. I created my own notes for classes, and weapons (which, I remember, included light sabers, space axes from the Lensman books, and the kligat throwing weapon from the Star Trek episode “Friday’s Child”). I have no idea how good the rules I cobbled together were – no copies survived leaving my uncle’s house that summer –but they were good enough for us to get a few games in. It is thus literally true that I was writing rules for RPGs before I had ever played one.

After that I only played at conventions for a few years, though I got all the D&D books I could lay my hands on. My mother initially worried that I would “bother” the RPG players at the cons, as I was 12-13, and they were mostly college age kids. As she tells the story, she took a GM aside at midnight one night and asked if I was a problem. “No,” he said, “his take on his character is interesting. Let him stay.” I was hooked. It was like reading the classic SF and pulp books I loved so much, but better. I survived on Tunnels and Trolls solo dungeons when I couldn’t get to a convention.

When I moved from the local elementary school to a middle school, my game books came with me. As a result, other kids into D&D (and T&T, and Star Fleet Battles, and Champions, and a slew of other games that were blossoming) would see me with my books, and ask if I played. I was a fat kid, an introvert, and socially awkward. Having some flag I could fly that made other kids come to me? Having a subject we could immediately discuss? Those were miracles that changed me. Roleplaying was my gang, and D&D were our colors.

High school was harsh for me, and I can honestly say I was miserable most of the time and considered suicide more than once. But RPGs let me explore ideas I was too afraid to discuss, helped me form a strong social support group, and let me make friends I am still playing with 25 and 30 years later. Nothing else came close to letting me deal with my pain, and learn something about bravery. And planning, math, history, grammar … I doubt there is any positive aspect of my personality I can’t trace back to D&D.

I met my wife through roleplaying, and discovered it was as useful for having something to talk to girls about as it was to make friends.  (At least, for the most interesting girls!) In time I learned that my ideas were developed enough I could be paid for them, and a career was born. I strove to be worthy of Dragon Magazine, and later was hired by Wizards of the Coast, where I made more friends with folks I’d have never met if not for this game.

My career has gone many places since then, and now I find myself acting as freelance writer and developer, and small-time publisher in my own right. That has brought ANOTHER whole wave of awesome folks I never would have met otherwise.

D&D gave me hope and direction as a child, and saved my life as a teen. It introduced me to my wife, gave me a career, and put my wife through college. There have been many games that have taken up more of my time for specific periods over the years, and now I spend more time with pathfinder than my original love, but it all goes back to D&D.

Happy birthday to the Dungeons. Happy Birthday to the Dragons. You helped define my life. Thank you.

Why the Movie 2012 Makes Perfect Sense

The movie 2012 isn’t a disaster movie. It is a misunderstood sweeping supernatural epic about angry gods, failed shamans, and what kinds of sacrifices are needed to appease elder forces of dread.

Jackson Curtis is the last scion of a long line of shamans, mixing both many bloodlines of ancient Irish and Celtic origin and (somewhere in the woodpile) one of the last Mayan shaman bloodlines.

As his last name suggests, “Curtis” was destined to be a polite messenger, a harbinger of new things brought in with proper ceremony. When the Mayan Long Count calendar rolls over, shamans of his line were to help define what forces would describe the new age.

While that shouldn’t have actually happened in 2012, the Mayan gods are more driven by belief than math, so the erroneous common perception that December 21, 2012 is the date of the turnover drives their divine actions rather than a centuries-old accounting of days.

But when the Mayan Gods look to see how the Welcome Shamans have prepared for the new age, all they find is Curtis, and his only real work of storytelling (the main way shamans prepare society for the future) is a extremely unpopular book called Fairwell Atlantis. The gods of fire, water, and earth are angered by his total failure, and look to his story.

From movie’s viral tie-ins, we know this book is “This first person account of a disastrous flight aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis is nonstop suspense from the start. Opening lines are crucial in setting the tone of a story, and Curtis hits his mark running with, “I am watching Martin die in the pitiless vacuum of space.” This poignant blast from Captain and Chief Systems Engineer Troy Scottsman screams emotion and vulnerability in the harsh environment as his Flight Commander drifts slowly away.

On the outside, Farewell Atlantis is a hard core science-fiction-mystery-adventure novel with larger than life characters. The premise of a Galactic Alignment has played havoc with gravitational forces as the planets cue up. The proton bombardment on planet Earth’s thinning magnetic field in the wake of excessive solar storms brings uncertainty to the future of mankind. As the space shuttle orbits the doomed planet Earth, a saboteur prevents the crew from helping those on the ground.

So, taking their cue from his “shamanistic” description of the new age, those gods seek to destroy the world, and kill Jackson Curtis himself, in keeping with the first line of his book. Their powerful psionic and divine energies create readings so bizarre that the scientists who try to understand them are driven mad, resulting in nonsensical ramblings about neutrinos and other crazy theories that SHOULD tell the audience that science is being killed by supernatural forces too horrific to comprehend.

The Mayan Gods of Air, however, decide they *like* Curtis, and seek to save him. Air is the thing most dearly needed in his book (about a spacecraft), and his description of “solar storms” in the story are taken as an appeasement by the Air Gods on the power of storms. So they send him warning (if dangerous) winds, buoy up his airplanes, and divert debris from crushing him at the last second.

In the end, the Mayan Gods accept the Great Arcs and those who die just outside them as living sacrifices and new temples, and end their divine rampages. (And apparently SOME shamans in Africa are still doing *their* jobs, since the continent is largely spared).
When seen in this light, everything in the movie makes sense.

Loss of a Beloved Pet


This post is sure to be a bummer, as it’s about losing a pet. Feel free to skip it. It’s going to be pretty disjointed, anyway.

One of the things I have talked about on and off for months was the failing health of my last cat, Cortez. Sadly he had a clear, sudden, obviously irreversible turn for the worse overnight, and we had to have the vet end things for him today.

I had Cortez for around 15 years, longer than any other pet I’ve had. We had three cats as little as a few years ago, but over the past couple of years lost the other two. Now with Cortez gone, for the first time ever in this house, I am totally alone. There is no living thing sharing this space with me, until my wife gets home tonight.

Cortez was a very special pet for me. He had a mixed reputation among my friends – some were actually afraid of him, some actively (but respectfully) disliked him, and some thought he was wonderful. Only four of all the people who have entered my house besides myself and Lj could consistently and safely pet Cortex, and much more than triple that number had been attacked by him with enough force to shed blood. To most of my social circle, he was a grumpy enigma.

Cortez absolutely was grumpy. He was also the very first cat to leave the box his litter was born in (his mother’s owner named him after an explorer as a result – he was Cortez before we got him, and we first met him at two weeks though he didn’t come home with us until later). He was also viciously loyal to his brother, vaguely tolerant of the elder cat we eventually added to our home, and surprisingly vocal about his defense of our doors and windows against outside animals.

Cortez was an explorer – first one to walk the perimeter of any new place we took him, but also agoraphobic. He *wanted* to go outside, but always froze as soon as he realized the was NO CEILING. We kept him and his compatriots as indoor-only cats for their own sake, but I’m pretty sure he’d have been a magnificent alley cat… if he’d been born outside. As it was he was fat, and soft, and much more wailer than warrior.

He also loved me in a way I have never seen any other cat love. While he was as randomly cuddly or stand-offish as any cat under normal circumstances, if I was sad or sick or hurt, he *always* came to me. And if he was stepped on he rushed to me for protection… even if I was the one who stepped on him.

He’d given us some scares over the years, and at least three times the vet told us he likely wouldn’t last more than a few more weeks. The last of those proclamations was over a year ago. Cortez was too stubborn to get sick and die on any schedule but his own. When we last thought his time might be up, the vet ran tests and concluded that while his body was riddled with cancer, all his organs were functioning normally. He put him on long-term pain control, and he was fine again for three months.

Yesterday, that ended. We made all efforts to find another way to give him more time, or perhaps to give more time with him, but his strength was clearly and swiftly gone. I will do all I can to heal and preserve a sick cat, right until that causes the pet distress or pain. His time was up, and he was kind enough to let me know.

I spent most of the night holding him, and called the vet as soon as they opened. Lj got a chance to say goodbye, but he was already barely with us. He has always hated car rides, but made only a single weak complaint as I took him to get some rest at last.

When Cortez had to stay overnight at a vet’s office some years ago, he was so violently aggravated he ended up in a larger dog cage with a sign that said “Warning, will strike!” He has always hated other animals. And yet, as he sat in the waiting room while I was at the counter, when a kitten got lose from its owner and rushed up to Cortez’s carrier, my grumpy, vicious, violent cat just pushed his nose through the grill, and nuzzled the young striped tabby, who promptly nuzzled back, then went off to play.

Cortez got the last laugh, and was an enigma to the end.

At the end, he was nuzzling me, because I was crying. It was the fasted and most peaceful I have ever had to let a pet go.

If loving your pets was enough to keep them with us, Cortexz would have lived forever.

I wrote this during what feels like the tail end of what I have called “The eye my hurricane of my grief.” I expect to be intermittent at best for a day or two at least. If I don’t respond to something, please don’t take it personally. I’m not sure yet how I am going to process this loss. Other, obviously, than writing about it.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,917 other followers