Monthly Archives: August 2018

CHECK THE RIGHTS TO ANYTHING YOU USE IN PUBLISHING.

I am not a lawyer. None of this is legal advice.

I recently saw a post where someone noted the 5th Edition Compatible logo they had created for a company, which is therefore copyrighted art, kept being used by other companies without permission.

That’s a copyright violation, and it’s systematic of sloppy rights-checking and weak understanding of when you can use work other people created.

I cannot tell you how often a 3pp freelancer I’m working with has grabbed a logo, or art, or rules, and either not noted where they got it, or sent it to layout with a note “I don’t know what we need to do to use this,” or “I found this on the internet, I assume it’s public domain.”

NO! Bad freelancer! (Grabs the squirt bottle.)

No Bad Freelancer

(This illustration created by Jefferson Jay Thacker, from materials with free rights. Used with permission.)

If you didn’t pay for it, the *assumption* must be that it’s under copyright someplace. Only if a reputable source notes that it’s public domain (or even better-you do your own research to determine that it is) should you ever assume it’s public domain.

In most cases, I don’t think these violations and stealing of other people’s work is malicious. I suspect many people quite reasonable use things like online art to illustrate characters in their home campaigns, then make the leap to professional work and don’t change their behavior and expectations to match. They then see people using other people’s work using the OGL, Creative Commons, and in some cases terrible misunderstandings of Fair Use of copyright material, and without understanding what is and isn’t allowed those things muddy the waters further.

If you are used to working with Open Licenses, know that those licenses have RULES. Learn them, understand them, and know that what you can do under an open license is NOT the same as what you can do with material not released under such a license.

Creative Commons, similarly, has rules. Check the release and see what use is allowed.

Further, “I’m not charging for something” does NOT mean you get to use any copyrighted material you want. There are “fair use” exceptions to copyright, but whether you charge for something has NO bearing on whether you are allowed to use it–only the damages you may be liable for if convicted. What may be fair use if you hand out to your players is not necessarily the same as fair use for notes you put up on a website for anyone to see. That’s still publishing something, and the rules can be very different.

DON’T be the person who steal’s a company’s work, or degrades the value of an artist who is paid to create something!

ALSO SUPPORT CREATIVES
If you want more cool stuff, you have to pay for what is created.
For example, if you want more blog posts from me, you can back my Patreon!

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Who Are You? Who Do You Speak For?

As soon as any part of your career involves having your name attached to the things that make you money, you need to begin to consider who you are, and who do you speak for.

It genuinely doesn’t matter if that’s as a creator, or facilitator, or because your job comes with a nametag. Once your name is linked to your career product in some way, that should be assumed to follow you wherever you go, especially online. Of course with privacy, surveillance, and social media where they are today it CAN follow you whether your name is directly linked to your work product or not, but it’s far easier if that first step—publicly linking your name to your job—is handed out for free.

I’m not saying that’s universally a bad thing. Having my name be displayed on products I have had a part in and companies I have worked for has been a tremendous boon to me in building a career. (I am my own brand.) But it also creates a level of exposure. My anonymity is reduced. If someone doesn’t like something I say, they can easily link who I am to who I work for, and decide to take action based on that knowledge.

I try to make it very clear what hat I am wearing whenever I communicate in anything but the most private venue, and even for a lot of private communication. If I am working a Paizo event, I am speaking as an employee of Paizo. If I am writing a blog for the Green Ronin website, I am clearly communicating as a Ronin. And if I speak on my own social media, be that Facebook, blog, or Twitter, I am speaking as an individual.

But I can’t pretend that individual isn’t also linked to Paizo, GR, Rite, and Rogue Genius Games. Even if I feel my private thoughts should be judged exclusively on their own merits, rather than through the lens of who pays me, it’s been pretty solidly proven that may not be the case.

Now let me note that I am pretty experienced with this, and in general I have received a great deal of trust and support from all my employers, be that those that give me a regular paycheck or the ones who hire me for freelance writing and consulting. But that’s not to say over my 20-year career I’ve never had to defend myself for things I said in public, or that I am immune to blowback if I am seen as unprofessional or a liability. Mostly, the people I work with have my back. But when I speak, I need to remember that those words aren’t separated from my career by some invisible barrier. Even on my own time, even in unofficial venues, there can be consequences.

That isn’t all nefarious, either. If I make statements that make some perspective or current employer decide I’m an asshole, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to not want to work with me. That persona, of who I am online or who I am in business, is a fair consideration for people to judge me by. Indeed, I often boldly state that there are statements I make that if those cost me work, then I didn’t want to work with those people anyway.

But, being human, I also sometimes frak up and say things I regret. It’s worth remembering that more and more, I can’t depend on those things to go away because I erase them. And, just because I haven’t yet suffered from being targeted unfairly by bad actors for things I have said doesn’t mean I could never have that happen.

Of course as a cis white hetero male with an established career, I have a fair amount of built-in slack about these issues. Many people have the same privileges. I can’t really advise anyone on the “right” way to decide to handle these realities. I just acknowledge them, and decide what that means for me.

Because who I speak for means more than one thing. Yes, sometimes I speak for employers, and coworkers, and friends, and colleagues, and what I say or do can reflect on them. But I also have a pulpit, however small, and who I am is also defined in part by who I speak in defense of. When I am willing to take a risk. How I support my claim to be an ally.

I sadly fall short of where I think I should be on those points, but I do not forget them. A shortage of spoons, a risk-averse nature, a dislike of interpersonal confrontation, and even a concern that I am not the right voice to be raised on a topic often keep me silent. More often than they should, in fact, though I accept there are times where I am my best self by listening and learning, rather than opining and asserting.

I don’t expect I’ll ever be satisfied I have the answers on any of these issues. But I know know I need to keep asking the questions.

Who am I? Who do I speak for?

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The Aberrant Empire

Aberrations are usually presented as lone monstrosities to be slain for their loot, or fallen kingdoms of single aberration species well past their glory days.
But if dwarves and elves and humans can have multi-species nations, why can’t there be a vast, thriving, dangerous Aberrant Empire, where all things alien and unwholesome serve a single Aberrex ruler.

Aatheriexa taskmasters cruelly drive monstrous humanoid laborers and magical beasts of burden to build twisted basalt monoliths, work fields that grow fleshy fungus, and forge weapons designed to tip tentacles and adorn eyestalks using greenish metal poisonous to non-aberrant races.

Akaname commandos sabotage the wells, waterways, and sewers of major cities or strongholds too near the Empire’s borders, ensuring disease and infestation keep potential enemies weak.

Blightspawn priests rule over congregations of non-aberrant “hostkin,” who literally give their bodies for the worship of twisted gods and the incubation of elite Imperial species.

Brume inquisitors ensure the loyalty of all with the Empire and draw knowledge out of the memories of its captured enemies, while cerebral stalkers turn what’s left of any subject into a useful servant of the Aberrex.

Choker assassins end the lives of those who threaten the Empire in silent attacks, or slaughter those foe’s loved ones and allies if unable to crush the enemy’s windpipe directly.

Destrachan heralds sound the calls to mobilize Aberrant armies, and learn the sounds of insanity from their Aberrant nobles to let loose mind-shattering calls that blast psyche as well as flesh.

Ailing aberrations that have served the empire well join in final, dread rituals to combine into egregores, or yah-thelgaad, ensuring their experience and fell knowledge can continue to fulfill imperial needs for centuries more.

Ethereal filchers both guard the border planes around the Empire, and act as intelligence agents, stealing opposing forces plans from their very pockets.

Froghemoth juggernauts, directed by armored ghorazagh commissars, anchor mighty armies and naval forces, acting as living siege engines, and often ridden by khardajeen artillery.

Incutilis and their lords man flotillas and watery caravans, ensuring that the appetites of the Empire are met, and that those who oppose them are subdued and forced to serve the Empire’s needs.

Hyakume magecrats rule Imperial territories, each defined by a strange border that respects no boundary non-aberrant eyes can perceive.

At the center of the Empire, sits 13 tychilarius, jointly the Aberrex, an aberrant amalgam of all the Empire’s best, most loathsome agents and lords. Do they serve a greater master? If so, can mortal minds even comprehend it?

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Impostor Syndrome in the Game Industry

I once heard one of the most talented people I know say, unironically and in all seriousness, “I don’t think I’m qualified to be on a panel abut impostor syndrome.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

Some of the smartest, most talented, hardest-working people I know often express to me (usually in private, so no one knows) how doubtful they are that they are really good at what they do. I’d say this is mind-boggling… except that I totally get it. My mental issues aren’t a secret, but they absolutely include being afraid that everyone who is impressed with me or my work has just been fooled, and at some point the “truth” is going to come out and I’ll never be able to sell game material or my writing ever again.

When I had just a few magazine articles to my credit, maybe that made sense. But now, after 20 years of this being my career? It just doesn’t jive with the facts in evidence. But even knowing that, I struggle with it on a regular basis.

That struggle has forced me to build coping mechanisms, many based on my pop-psych opinions on why impostor syndrome is an issue for me, and maybe why it is for other folks as well. In case any of that is useful to someone else (and, you know, why would it be given that I clearly have no idea what I am talking about), this article outlines some of those mechanisms.

Fake It Even After You Make It

A little humility can help you be likable and relatable. Too much humility gets you less work, less money, and less respect.

So, even when you have your own doubts, you may need to move forward on the premise that you actually can do the work, well, and are worth being paid for it. And paid well.

Sadly, no one else is likely to come along and be a great advocate for you. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. So when someone asks you your rate, or your qualifications, or your value, you tell them what you think an actual expert with all your achievements and credits would say, rather than equivocate and undercut yourself.

In my case, I often lean on the idea that I owe it to *other* people to have a good career, and to be compensated for the work I do. I can think about the impact of my being underpaid on my family, friends, and even society as a whole more easily than I can think in terms of what I am worth.

Luckily as a roleplayer, I can often think about how someone is confident in their value might act, even when I completely lack that confidence.

Trust the Mentors in Your Life

As I mentioned, I know a lot of amazingly smart, fantastically talented people. Some of them are mentors to me, varying from those who are better and more experienced in everything I do to those who are willing to give me guidance in one specific area where I’m lacking. While those people are often underwhelmed with their own accomplishments, they generally reinforce the public perception of my skills.

Even when I tell them all the reasons that perception is an illusion.

So, if I know these people are smart and wise and great, and they are telling me I’m not an impostor… there’s a logical conclusion there. Now, often my brain tells me the conclusion is “I have them all fooled, and when they figure it out they’ll never talk to me again.” But, since these really ARE people smarter than me, that just doesn’t make sense.

No, if I value their opinions, and I do, that has to include their opinions of me. Intellectually at least, even if I still reject the idea emotionally.

Good mentors can also be a great resource when trying to decide if you are terrified to take on something slightly different because you are your own worst critic, or if it’s a legitimate concern about something that needs skills and/or experience you lack.

Be A Mentor to Others

Obviously mentoring others is a good act for the industry as a whole, and if you have mentors, it’s only fair to pay it forward  by providing the same service for other.

And that’s the best reason to become a mentor. But it’s not why this is a good coping mechanism for impostor syndrome.

Nothing proves to your subconscious that you actually have value like helping others find their own value. You may well end up convinced the people you are mentoring are smarter, more talented, and better-liked than you are (that often happens to me), but being part of that process is still helpful to fighting off feelings you are somehow getting by with less skill than people think you have.

Analyze Failure Fairly

This one is particularly tough, and I’m bad at it. But it’s also crucial, so I feel I have to mention it, at least as something to work on.

When you fail, and everyone fails sometimes, you have to analyze that failure in a fair, even, and balanced manner. Otherwise, it just becomes one more reason to not trust or believe in yourself.

For me personally, that means waiting a bit from point of failure to analysis, because until I get some space from the frustration, anger, and embarrassment of failing, I can’t possibly do a balanced analysis. This doesn’t have to mean letting yourself off the hook if you made bad decisions, but it does mean giving yourself some benefit of the doubt on how circumstances played into things going wrong. Since I am bad at giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I try to focus on identifying what I want to do differently in the future to prevent a similar failure, and what signs I should look out for to try to identify potential failures before they happen. By framing my mental efforts in ways that seem useful in the future, I am more likely to be fair to myself.

That DOES mean that when I am done analyzing a failure if the answer I come up with is “I was stupid, this was entirely my fault,” it stings. But that pain can also help me prevent being stupid in the same way ever again, and that knowledge—that I have learned from the experience—can help fight feelings of total incompetence.

Don’t Compare Your Secret Apples to Other People’s Public Oranges

I am personally convinced one major cause of impostor syndrome is the tendency to take all the things you know about yourself—your struggles, your doubts, your dissatisfaction with what you produce—and compare it to only the public, successful face of other people. After all, if you know you could have done better on a project, and no one else ever talks about how they could have done better on any of their efforts, that means you’re worse than them, right?

But it doesn’t.

Especially as social media has become ubiquitous and especially in creative endeavors where having a reputation as a smart, well-liked, talented, successful creator can mean better opportunity and more pay, most people you are comparing yourself to have no incentive to air their doubts, problems, or failings. So if you take the sum whole of all the problems you know you have, and compare that only to the public face of other people, you’re not making a fair comparison.

Everyone has problems now and then. Most people have doubts, and the ones who don’t are honestly often assholes and/or people suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect. But since such things are often taken as weakness, not a lot of people discuss their problems in depth. And even those who do often frame their doubts and struggles in a positive way, or hold back the truly painful or embarrassing things they’d rather not be well-known.

That means that when you look around at your peers, you are certain to see their achievements much more clearly than their letdowns. If you try to compare that to everything you know about yourself, including all the things that aren’t obvious from the outside, you’re grading on a negative curve. Of course all of your reality doesn’t compare to the curated public appearance of other people. Especially since you are most likely to [ick people with the highest visibility to compare yourself to, and those are the people who do the best job making themselves look good.

This is another place where having a mentor, or even just a trusted peer, can be extremely helpful in maintaining perspective.

Celebrate Every Achievement

Ultimately, I think impostor syndrome is more about fear and gut feelings than rationality and logic, and as a result all the well-reasoned efforts to talk yourself out of it in the world can only go so far. For the emotional component, you also have to make sure you celebrate your own achievements.

Every publication. Every interview. Every review—even bad reviews mean you impacted someone enough for them to take time to write about it. Abso-damn-lutely every award or honor, even the ones you think are dumb or should have gone to someone more deserving. You celebrate all of it.

I recommend celebrating it publicly, because private celebrations often seem less impactful, but you do you. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but you DESERVE to be proud of everything you make. The very voice telling you right now that no one wants to hear about your new book, or the blog post you wrote, or your review of an obscure fantasy movie from 1973, is the same one that tells you that you aren’t a “real” creative, and that you don’t measure up to other people.

The fight to take the credit you have earned IS the fight against impostor syndrome.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Yes, or course, that’s the entire point of rejecting impostor syndrome. But here I literally mean don’t assume you aren’t monetarily worth the best rate you can get. I have seen people actually undercut the price agreed upon for a project before anyone else mentions money.

Don’t do that.

On very, very rare occasions offering to do a job for less might be appropriate. If it doesn’t meet some aspect of a contract and it’s entirely your fault is the main one… and even then it’s rarely something you should bring up without the other party at least suggesting things need to be adjusted.

Instead, as for raises. See if your per-word rate can be increased. Suggest you deserve perks, like more free copies, bigger credit, more advertising for the project, or opportunities to cherry-pick assignments.

A Caveat

I can’t tell you if you need to fight impostor syndrome. There are people who are legitimately trying to punch above their weight, and for those people this advice could do more harm than good.

But if a lot of your fans, or a few of your peers, or even one of your mentors keeps telling you that you’re more awesome than you can possibly accept?

Then you probably are.

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Awesome 80s: Gazer Guns (for Starfinder)

Some weird, awesome stuff came out in the 1980s, that impacted my geek trajectory significantly. The Awesome 80s line of blog posts is about sharing some of the things I have been inspired to create by movies, shows, games, and literature of that decade. In this case, it’s gazer guns, optical weapons that use the optic nerves (or cameras) to access the nervous systems.command circuits of a target and shut them down.

This one is a bit more obscure so I’ll mention, there was this 1981 science fiction film written and directed by Michael Crichton called Looker

Gazer Guns

Gazer guns create bolts of intense optical patterns that, when perceived by optical nerves, travel directly to the brain and can short-circuit the nervous system (or control circuitry) of nearly any creature with sight. Gazer gun attacks are made against a target’s EAC.

The damage dice of a gazer gun don’t indicate points of damage, but instead the number of rounds an affected creature is dazzled. If a gazer gun affects a creature that is already dazzled, the creature is instead dazzled, flat-footed and off-target for the duration indicated by the damage dice. If a gazer gun hits a target that is already dazzled, flat-footed, and off-target, the target must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 weapon item level +attacker’s Dex modifier, minus any penalties that apply to the attack roll) or be dazzled, flat-footed, off-target, and staggered for the duration indicated by the damage dice. If a gazer gun hits a target that is already dazzled, flat-footed, off-target, and staggered, the target must make a Fortitude save (same DC) or be dazzled, flat-footed, off-target, and dazed for the duration indicated by the damage dice.

A creature dazed by a gazer gun does not notice the passage of time while dazed, and is not aware of events that happen within the condition’s duration.

A gazer gun cannot make attacks against creatures that cannot see the attacker, including those that are blinded or sightless.

All gazer guns are of light bulk, and have a capacity of 20 and a usage of 1.

Untyped Small Arms
WEAPON LVL Price Damage Crit Range
Gazer, astarte 1 200 1d2 Staggered 20 ft.
Gazer, qetesh 4 2,500 1d3 Staggered 30 ft.
Gazer, hathor 8 10,000 1d4 Stunned 30 ft.
Gazer, turan 10 19,000 2d3 Stunned 40 ft.
Gazer, nanaya 12 44,000 2d4 Stunned 50 ft
Gazer, venus 14 90,000 2d5* Stunned 60 ft
Gazer, xochipili 16 200,000 2d6 Stunned 70 ft
Gazer, prende 18 400,000 2d7* Stunned 80 ft

*If you do not have access to d5s, this damage can be 1d4+1d6. If you do not have access to d7s, this damage can be 1d6+1d8.

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Cthoul (for Starfinder)

The Cthoul are horrific creatures that exist as much in higher dimensions of realist as they do the Material Plane. Though their forms can shift and morph depending on the circumstance, their true nature being too foreign to mortal comprehension to ever be entirely perceived or grasped, they are most often encountered as think humanoid creatures, with bulbous heads, long tentacles emerging from their lower face, and spindly, clawed fingers.

The Cthoul are not native to our reality, and much of their power comes from their power to draw rules of operation from their twisted, alternate dimensional extensions to wrap and pervert the natural environment. Their home dimension–a palce so wrong by any reasoned thought it is known only as the Inversity–is not well understood, though it is known it has easier access to the lands of Leng and the FiendWebs than normal space. It is believed to be a reality that was entirely formed from the unconscious dreams of the Great Old One, Cthulhu, and that the Cthouls appearance is a trifle of the cosmic demands that reality made on life which evolved from it’s befouled origins. The Cthoul themselves do not speak of this theory, and while they alternatingly venerate and enslave horrific elder beings, they have no special affinity for, or understanding of, Cthulhu.

Ancient, often mind-shattering histories of long-lost alien civilizations claim that once the Cthoul ruled a vast Empire that spanned all of known existence. But that ur-reality was split, with different gods and other cosmic powers scrambling to carve out alterverses over which they would hold sway, and the Cthoul were cut off from much of the mortal mortal existence. Now they can reach realms conceivable by humanoid minds only rarely, though their banishment was neither complete nor absolute. Their twisted star vessels of indescribable color seem able to invade our reality only when those who crave their secrets summon them, or the conjunctions of planar energies form weaknesses in the weft of spacetime they can violate.

Cthoul’s very presence places pressure on the sanity of those who perceive or approach them and they seem sustained (or at least entertained) by this effect, causing them to also be known as lucidivores or “mind eaters.” They are physcially extremely strong and resilient, though each Cthoul appears to be harms by some substance or energy, but there is no commonality to what that is. They also have powerful psionic powers, and know fell magics that can pervert, twist, corrupt, and blast everything from common matter to the very souls of those who oppose them.

Cthoul plans always follow some horrific, aberrant logic, and often involve steps that occur on alternate planes of reality, making their purpose or goal literally incomprehensible to mortal minds. That said, their schemes and efforts always seem bent on creating horror, fear, pain, and despair, and some appear to take particular pleasure in torture specific species, personality types, or even accursed individuals. to be the object of a Cthouls attention for years, or even generations, in particularly dreadful, for they cannot be bargained with or trusted, and their minds can conceive of ordeals no sane being would contemplate, much less inflict on living beings. And even if driven off, slain, or utterly destroyed in normal space, most of a Cthoul exists in reality beyond the reach of even the most powerful outsiders, and once their multidimensional selves heal, they can return to execute more foul events.

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