Monthly Archives: June 2018
This isn’t a fun post. This is a mental health post, for me, and I don’t blame anyone for skipping it. The neat game rules and industry observations are still all available, this just isn’t one of those. And it’s going to meander.
Sometimes, my desire to write and publish posts for therapeutic reasons is put at odds with my internal censorship rules.
Some of those rules are based on ethical concerns–when I know and am bothered by something I’m not in an ethical position to reveal, whether than be the result of an NDA, or something I learned in confidence, or that I have reason to believe revealing would result in the harm of someone who doesn’t have harm coming to them over it.
Others are the chain of mental iron forged by my introversion, or family ties, or appropriateness, or common decency.
Sometimes I am just too mentally and physical exhausted to face the inevitable backlash of revealing my raw feelings on some contentious topic.
Sometimes I am ashamed. Those hurt the most, I think.
Sometimes I don’ feel like my opinion is on a firm enough footing of being well-informed and rational a topic. this is especially true when it touches on an area where I have significant advantages over other people who might be impacted by either the issue, or my thoughts on it.
Sometimes I don’t want to worry people, because it sounds worse than it is.
Of course it is the perversity of life that these topics, ones I don’t think I should share due to good and reasoned personal guidelines, are the ones which are most likely to infest my mind. Venomous thoughts I am ill-equipped to tackle on my own, and that seem similar to things I have defused with the coping mechanism of writing about them.
The more it’s something I have good reason not to talk about, the more it can be a relief to talk about it.
Of course therapy can help with that. And sometimes therapy can bring me to a new place where I can talk about an issue, either because I am better informed or because it has less ability to hurt me and others. This is what lead to my being able to discuss the fact I was sexually abused by someone I thought was my friend as a child.
Or to discuss the memory of kids in the Boy Scouts digging a pit as Scout-A-Rama, and having a young woman lure me out to it, and as a group encircling me and shoving me over and over until I fell into it. How they jumped on my back, and held me in place, and began to shovel dirt down around me. How, during this time, several of them laughed that I was stupid enough to think anyone would actually want to spend time with me.
I have nightmares about that still, sometimes. It feels like the worst bullying I ever received. It’s given me trust issues my whole life. I was almost never bullied in school, as a result of some unusual circumstances, but scouts was different. My troop was never involved—I think the troop fathers were too good at monitoring the group as a whole, and being strong role models. But when we gathered with other troops, and I was separated from the people I knew, it was different. It’s the main reason I gave up on scouts.
But sometimes it’s not something I can’t share because it hurts too much. It just wouldn’t be fair or appropriate to talk about it, and I want the relief I get from using writing as a coping mechanism.
So sometimes, I write about something else. And that can help, too.
Idea: Gelatinous Oozes change shape from cubes as they age, and gain special powers, based on their shape.
Gelatinous Torus: Gets increased speed and Spring Attack
Gelatinous Pyramid: Gets Spell Resistance equal to 15 + CR
Gelatinous Reuleaux Triangle: Gains the power of two other oozes, selected as random.
Gelatinous Apollonian Gasket: Can cast enlarge and reduce person, even on oozes, at will
Gelatinous Hyperboloid: Can cast haste and slow at will, and time stop once per day
Gelatinous Lemniscate: Gains the ghost’s rejuvenation ability.
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Microsetting: The City of Hoard
I’ve been on a bit of a Starfinder RPG and general essay kick recently, but I’m still a big fan of fantasy RPG settings in general, and Pathfinder in general. So as a palate cleanser, here is a microsetting, the City of Hoard!
The City of Hoard
It’s not formally called “Hoard” of course. It’s listed as Draconis Rekai Achael in the old Imperial Charter of Settlements, Drakkenhelt in the dwarven tunnel-maps, and Aerivermaeli in the elven Songs of Places. Among the academic writings and speech of most dragons and draconic-oriented scholars, it’s Brarguren’s Canton, an acknowledgement that the mighty Brargured has carved out land acknowledged by other nations as hers, and hers alone. But even those learned individuals generally call it “Brarguren’s Hoard” in casual conversation, and from that long title most common folk have taken to just calling the city “Hoard.”
Brarguren was an active dragon in her youth, traveling extensively as soon as she ceased to be a wyrmling, claiming temporary territories, exploring lands with no sapient creature settling them. There are numerous credible accounts of her worldwide, suggesting she did not limit herself to any one continent or trade route. Many of those tales speak of her establishing herself on the edges of major civilizations, speaking to their scholars and acting as patron for their great artists. Though she spent no more than a few decades in any one place in her first few centuries of life, she was intellectually active and curious during these visits, each year doing as much research and learning as any member of the shorter-lived races could manage, and thus compiling numerous lifetimes of knowledge in just a few hundred years.
She gained cunning and power in equal measure. Early descriptions of her make it clear her coloration was “bright” and “metallic,” but never matched her to a single hue. She can breath fire, but has also proven to have draconic and magic talents that allow her to breath acid, and ice, and even frozen acid. She can access the power of sorcerers, druids, and even witches, leading some to suggest she has studied as a shaman. She is also a mistress of illusion, or transmutation (or both), and certainly her appearance in the past few centuries has shifted and changes enough to suggest she is keeping her true nature secret, though she always has the same piercing, nearly glowing, amber eyes.
No one is sure when she became fascinated by architecture, urban planning, and landscaping. Perhaps it was when she carried out a vendetta against the Order of the Broken Claw as a young adult, joining and leading armies to sack the order’s cities on both sides of an ocean. Perhaps her visits to the continents of the Ivory Empire, Jade Kingdoms, or the lands of the Spice Road as an adult and mature adult piqued her interest in how different cultures build and grow settlements. Certainly her Guild of Masons was established at that time, and she forged alliances with dwarves and elves both to aid and learn from their greatest artificers, fort-builders, and urban engineers and planners.
What is known for certain is that as an old dragon, more than 4 centuries ago, Brarguren stopped her regular travels and claimed her Canton, a rich land with access to ocean, trade, field, and ore. The land surely would have been claimed by some nation before her, located between small kingdoms and in a route between major empires as it was, if not for the gorynych that laired there, and the twisted mutant cult that worshiped it. Brarguren was not the first dragon to seek to destroy the wicked creature known as “The Three Sinners,” but she was the first to succeed in destroying the gorynych and scattering the cult.
And to mark her success, she claimed the piles and piles of treasure the Three Sinners and its minions had collected…. And built a city.
People claim that early on no one lived in Hoard, but of course that’s not true. Expending money as a waterfall expends water, Brarguren hired hundreds of planners and thousands of workers. Even before Hoard had a finished building, it has inhabitants. Nor where buildings the first permanent structures to be raised. Brarguren had roads laid, and aqueducts, canals, wells, and cisterns built, long before any buildings. She gave broad guidance to her lord architects, and insisted their plans be revised many times, but did little of the direct planning herself. The first city was to be designed to house 10,000 citizens in wealth and comfort, and to have a network of towns to support it, but she also demanded plans be in place for it to grow. Even the names of its major sections, “First Ward, Second Century Ward, Third Century Ward,” showed what her plans were for its expansion.
Now, Hoard is 310 years old, a city of nearly 50,000, and one of the most powerful and wealthy trade cities in the world. Though Brarguren is the unquestioned owner and ruler of the city and the surrounding valley, including it’s roads, dozens of supporting towns and farms, minor auxiliary ports and shipyards in nearby islands, she rarely takes a direct hand in ruling or protecting it. The Canton Guard serve as both city guard in Hoard, and ranging military force throughout Brarguren’s lands, and the Dragonfire Wardens act as scouts, investigators, and game wardens further from the city. Both answer directly and separately to Brarguren, though their Lord Commanders (Guard Commander Alvric Krakarral—a human investigator—for the Guard, and Warden Commander Jealis Irontusk—a half-orc hunter—for the Wardens) are cagey about how how those reports are delivered. But 72 years ago when Brarguren devoured the then-Guard Commander Thurgen Thurgenis, the dragon made it clear she would react if her forces failed to report as she expected them to. Her lack of direct action since is taken as proof the Lord Commanders are doing as they are supposed to.
However, neither of those forces run the city (or any of the townships),and lack the power to makes laws or edicts. Laws are made only by Brarguren herself, and she hasn’t changed the short list of basic rules (outlawing slavery, insisting on equal basic rights for all sapient creatures, establishing the civil and paramilitary organizations in her lands) in almost a century. Edicts come from the Council of Stakeholders—made up of guild leaders, religious heads, neighborhood alders from Hoard and town magistrates from supporting settlements, representatives of the Guard and Wardens, hereditary members from important families, one judge from each court circuit, and ministers of various Hoard city offices—and are signed by the Marshal of the Exchequer (or become law without the Marshal’s signature if 2/3 of the Council of Stakeholders agree to do so after 90 days… which almost never happens).
The Marshal of the Exchequer acts as the chief executive of Hoard, oversees legal cases against any member of the Council of Stakeholders or judge within Hoard, and is in charge of the budget of the entire region. Since taxes are surprisingly low in Hoard, and city services are quite high, there’s a persistent rumor that the Marshal of the Exchequer pays for things directly out of some vast supply of wealth Brarguren has accumulated. While every Marshal of the Exchequer has always denied this is the case, and the city has had budget troubles many times over its three centuries of existence, the rumor remains common.
As for where such a vast pile of treasure might be kept… no one knows for certain. Brarguren dives into and flies out of the ocean harbor on most of the rare occasions she makes an appearance in the city itself, but no one has ever found any sign of an aquatic lair. The city center includes a massive, round, fortified building known as The Vault when used as a landmark, but it has no known entrance and its purpose is secret. The mountains that border the valley Hoard sits at one end of have numerous caves, but none have ever shown size of draconic habitation. Everyone agrees Brarguren must have at least one secret lair, but no one can agree on where it is, what it’s like, or how much treasure is piled up in it.
But it is known what treasure has gone into it, at least on some occasions. Brarguren does not directly defend Hoard or its lands, unless a threat arises so great only an old dragon could oppose it (such as the arrival of the Archtitan Oceator, more than two centuries ago), or when the Guard and Wardens have already suffered major losses and are clearly being overwhelmed (such as during the Wightblade Plague nearly a century ago). When she does become directly involved, however, she takes everything of value possessed by any foe she defeats—from Oceator’s Trident of the Wave-Gods to the ghost swords left over from the Plague. Hoard is safe from nearly any direct threat, but does not receive the spoils of war from foes it’s draconic owner finishes.
Help me With My Hoard?
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I have often described my freelancing career as being a “Content Provider.” Because for some of the things I have written for 1 to 29 cents/word, “writer” sounds too pretentious. My job is to give the people paying the bill the content they want/need, not to create my vision of high art and argue with the client that they should appreciate it.
Now, that doesn’t mean I keep my opinion on what is good a secret. When someone is paying me a contract rate to give my best effort, that includes letting them know when I think they are wrong on something. And I do–once per wrongness. After that, I give them their money’s worth with my best efforts applied to the way they want it done.
Writing exclusively the way I think it should be done is reserved for when I am in charge of the project, and even then I keep an eagle eye on whether I’m the one out of step with the target audience. Generally speaking I am working with smart, experienced people. I don’t want to dismiss their opinions even if the ultimate call is mine. And, to be clear, that is very much the exception in this business.
Obviously there’s an exception if I feel the content I am being asked for violates my ethics or is damaging for me to work on. That’s happened maybe once over 20 years, but I certainly have decline jobs for fear one of those two things would be true. And in that case, it’s time to refund any monies paid, apologize, and move on.
And as I noted this is for freelance contract work. If I am a staff writer or the publisher, my relationship, and responsibilities to my employer, changes.
So I don’t think anyone should be burning bridges or tearing their hair out over disagreeing with what the best game mechanic or writing style is with freelance writing. I DO think a polite note on when you think your idea is better (along with acknowledgement you are happy to do it there way if they don’t agree) is worthwhile.
But at least in my case after that? You provide the desired content.
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Gridiron football grew out of older games, and became a hobby sport. At that point, the money in the game was in producing the materials (equipment) for it, and to a lesser extent selling books with the rules.
Now, far more people watch football than play it, and the money is made by forming professional-level exhibitions and controlling the viewing of such, and related licensing. Making generic football equipment and rulebooks for it is a far, far less lucrative business.
This may just be the natural progression for all games.
In which case, adventure game companies are looking at the hobby they largely created giving someone else most of the money generated by the game.
(And hey, speaking of making money elsewise, please sign up to my Patreon so I can afford to keep making posts like this!)
A lot of creatives are very engaged with the public nowadays, myself included (to the degree I can manage it). That can have lots of rewarding interactions, but it can also lead to people giving you very public feedback. That feedback may be valuable to your work, or it may miss the point entirely, or it may actually cause you problems in being seen as open, or competent, or paying attention. If you want to be a public professional creative, in my opinion you need to respond to your viewer’s feedback professionally.
And here, I am specifically talking about responding to true feedback. If someone is trying to threaten you, or your right to exist, or your livelihood in a comment disguised as feedback, you are in a much more serious situation that’s flatly outside the scope of this essay—take steps appropriate to their intent, not steps designed to respond to a normal comment that’s well within the reasonable back-and-forth of the public creative.
My most recent public feedback? So, my mother (Empress of the Geeks) called me out on twitter about my Laser Dress design. “If laser dresses are weapons. aren’t they forbidden at all important (diplomatic etc) parties? What use is that?”
First, let me say how much I love that I live a life where I can do a fairly silly, opening-of-an-80’s-animated-series-inspired, a co-worker threw the idea over a cubical wall and I ran with it, off-the-cuff design for a piece of armed formalwear for a roleplaying game… and my mother can (and will) critique it online. Most of my fellow game designers have to mourn that their families don’t really get RPGs, or what they do for a living. My mother’s connected enough to tell me if she thinks I’ve missed a bet. ❤
Regardless, that’s feedback in a public venue. Now, how to respond?
First, personally, I believe in staying polite. Don’t ever be the one to escalate, it doesn’t help anything. If you think someone isn’t worth responding to, just don’t respond to them. You can try ignoring them – most people lack the time to hunt down and pester every creative they question, so this often works. However, it’s not universally effective. If you feel you need to be clear you are disengaging, I recommend not beating around the bush but not being rude. “I appreciate the question, but that’s not something I am going to go into.” or “That’s outside the scope I of what I want to get into.” Have both worked pretty well for me. The point is to be clear to someone who doesn’t want to let something go that you don’t want to get into—just tell them you don’t want to get into it. They don’t get to decide what conversations you have unless they are paying you directly under some kind of contract. (And no, buying your stuff doesn’t count for this purpose—they are a customer, not an employer.)
In this case, I’m happy to engage and respond with my mother, so I wrote a response.
“First, that assumes that they aren’t designed for diplomatic parties among races where going unarmed would be an insult. Judge not aliens by our own cultural norms, Mom. :)”
So let’s be clear, my mother has a point. The main reason I didn’t address her point in the original write-up is that it’s as much a joke as it is a serious piece of equipment… and my mother isn’t the right audience for that joke. But I did go to all the trouble of writing it up as useable equipment so… why? Why did I bother?
My unofficial material for Starfinder is very much third-party publisher material, and in general I trust GMs to figure out what they want to use that material for. Maybe laser dresses are rare, and no one normally knows what they are. Of course if that’s the idea, the rules should have covered how to identify them, so listing that invites a further debate, which isn’t what I am looking to do here. I want to respond, in an engaging and friendly way, without leaving a huge opening for other people to jump into.
Now, in this case I have an advantage of knowing my audience. She raised me, after all, and introduced me to science fiction (and fandom, and cons, and her brother introduced me to RPGs, and she was my DM for many years when I was a kid – we’re a pretty geeky family). So I know she’s read a ton of classic science fiction, which often asks questions like, “what would it be like if an alien culture was radically different than our own?”
So, I can use that to craft a response that notes she has a point (“Yeah, laser dresses aren’t going to be legal in most high-end parties based on our culture”), while pointing out that doesn’t mean it’s not a reasonable item (“Starfinder is set in a whole galaxy of adventure—there are tons of cultures not based on ours!”).
But, I made a mistake.
It being my mother, I ripped off a response on-the-quick, and didn’t think about it again until this morning. When I re-read it, it felt… a tad patronizing. I didn’t INTEND to be patronizing, but the tone and wording are more dismissive than I meant them to be. And that’s one of the risks of communications online. All you have is the words, cold and hard on the screen, and missed tone is all too easy. I included a smiley face, which has become the punctuation of emotion in e-missives, but I don’t think that’s good enough. I should have carefully reread my repost, as I often do when talking to new folks, and made sure the tone was friendly and polite.
Sorry, mom. I’ll try to do better. 🙂
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