Monthly Archives: October 2018
Birthday Memories on my Birthday
On my birthday, which is today, I tend to think about memories of previous birthdays.
I have a lot of great birthday memories.
I hold the first “OwenCon,” cutting up things like comics to make a flier, and pick an older friend to be toastmaster.
My mother has us all play a game where each kid has a balloon tied to one ankle, and you try to stomp out other kid’s balloons with your other foot.
My mother makes a pinata, which we bash the hell out of.
We stay up all night playing Dungeon, which a friend brought over.
We stay up all night playing Dark Tower, which a friend brought over.
We stay up all night watching the Thunderbirds anime, which is streaming on a pay channel we don’t normally get, but which is doing a free preview that weekend.
We stay up all night watching VHS movies.
I run a D&D game all weekend, as an adult, with friends coming and sleeping over.
My friend Carl rules a Rolemaster game all weekend. My character ends up with a magic tattoo which gives her dragon spells.
I discover my friends all went in together and got me a GameCube, so I can play Mario Sunshine. It becomes my favorite Mario game, to date.
My wife makes a pinata, which we bash the hell out of.
We go to see the B&W Dracula movie as a special theater event. The Spanish-language version filmed on the same sets plays afterward. We expect to just watch a little of it. We stay for the whole thing, fascinated at how much better a movie it is.
The common denominator for all of these, of course, is friends. (With games a close second)
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New Rules Have A Time and Place
For games with lots of rules, it important to consider where those rules are listed in a book, and how they are presented, organized, indexed, cross-referenced. This can often lead to chicken-or-the-egg issues, such as when you want to explain how actions work so people know what you are talking about when you explain how many actions it takes to reload a weapon, but you want to present some examples of things like reloading weapons to give context before you explain how actions work.
The end result is often a compromise, especially in game with multiple people designing, developing, and editing them.
For expansions to a game, like big books of new options for RPGs, it’s important both to stick to the kind of schema you used in the core rulebook (because that’s what people who need expansions to those core rules have already learned is your organizational standard), and to make sure that if you add brand-new things, you do so in the right place, and at the right time.
For example, if skills are broken into a number of different tasks in the core rulebook, chances are each set of tasks is presented with the relevant skill. But if you are introducing new skill tasks (but not new skills) in an expansion book, there won’t be exactly the same kind of section defining skills. But most likely if “Skills” was a chapter before (or otherwise had its own header—see my Writing Basics on headers), you want to recreate that header, with a new introduction nothing these are just new tasks, rather than whole new skills.
While all that seems pretty intuitive, there’s a corollary that I see violated surprisingly often, especially from writers who mostly work in supplements rather than doing a lot of work in core rulebooks. That is: DON’T introduce new expansion rules anyplace OTHER than a logical niche where you’d expect to find all such rules.
Let’s give an example.
Let’s say you have an RPG with a skill called Riding, which covers everything regarding the care and use of mounts. It outlines how you train a mount, how you get a mount to perform better, control a mount in combat, and so on. All fairly reasonable, and intuitively if a player wants to know how to interact with a mount, this seems like a reasonable place to look. (A lot of that could also be in a Combat section, but let’s assume in this case the game organized around skills.)
However, there are no rules for hanging down to one side of your mount to use it as cover against ranged attacks.
Now, a year after the RPG comes out, you release an expansion book. In this book you have a new piece of equipment, the combat saddle. The combat saddle gives you a +4 bonus to skill checks to hang down on one side of your mount to gain cover against ranged attacks. And since there are no rules for that, it gives the rules.
And that’s a problem.
No one knows to look at equipment for new combat uses of the Riding skill. And unless the combat saddle entry is extremely clear, there are going to be people who feel you can ONLY attempt this maneuver with that saddle. (And they’ll have a point, since having a piece of equipment give you a new option you CANNOT attempt without that equipment is one of the cases where putting rules in equipment makes perfect sense).
Sometimes the issue is even worse, because the combat saddle may only give you the new rules in passing, so they don’t really seem like new rules. Like if it says “You gain a +4 bonus to a Difficulty Class 15 Ride check to use your mount as cover,” then it sure SOUNDS like that’s just a quick reference of rules that exist in a full form later… but they don’t.
And goodness knows there are lots of ways for this to happen. Sometimes game writers believe the ability to do something is obvious even though it’s never spelled out. Sometimes they misremember rules, especially if a rule was changed from a previous edition or cut in the development of a book. Sometimes the plan was to reference the new rule in 3 places but there wasn’t room in the book so it got cut back to just 1 reference… in a bad organizational spot.
There’s no one cause of this problem, and no one solution to avoid it. But it’s worth looking at, as a writer, designer, developer, and editor, to avoid adding rules in weird places.
Especially in expansions.
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Writing Basics: From Nothing to a Game Book
I got asked how the process of creating a game book happens, from the very beginning. That’s a great question. It really is one of the writing basics.
It’s also a really complicated question.
This is my best stab at a high-level, rough overview. This is based on being on every side of this process at some point over 20 years, and working for and with and as a lot of companies, but it’s not absolute by any means.
This is, at best, a sketch that covers a lot of different ways this happens, but there are companies that add steps, or skip steps, or do things in a totally different order.
It also varies a lot depending on the project. Here are some general steps, although who does what and when can change even within the same company.
- Someone comes up with an idea for a product. This may be a publisher who has looked at sales and resources, or it might be a freelancer who wants to pitch something, or it might be a line developer who is supposed to do X products a year.
- Someone matches the idea to a publishing schedule. That may mean you know you need exactly 44,000 words and sketches of 3 maps by January 4th, or it may mean “This can be a 700 word pdf, send it to me whenever you’re done and we’ll lay it out in a week or two.”
Big publishers are very much more like that first example, while smaller ones are sometimes more flexible.
If it’s a freelancer pitch, the freelancer and publisher work out terms. If it’s internal, you may need to hunt down someone to write it. Either way, the schedule and budget should be finalized at this point.
- An outline is done, so ensure the project will be the right size, hit the right topics, and so on. Often cover art is ordered and art and editing is scheduled at this point.
- Once the outline is approved by the people who are paying for the book, and the people writing it agree, the writing is done.
- Then drafts are turned in. Depening on the company they may be developed, or just edited, or laid out and then edited. That process varies.
If art wasn’t arranged for before, it needs to be now.
- Layout and editing and development is finished. there may be marketing text that needs to be written, or printing that needs to be arranged for.
- Book is released.
- Profit! (Hopefully)
And that’s it!
(It is never, ever that simple.)
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This isn’t an effort to actually solve the question of consciousness, or quantum mechanics, or determinism.
It’s just a though experiment to see if I can make a fictional cosmology I like enough to use in games and stories.
There exists a quantum-affecting energy pattern, the énorkos. Extremely complex neural systems are created by énorkos, which are linked to them. No other system can link to an énorkos. Essentially, complex neural system are discrete slices of the whole that is an énorkos.
An énorkos can perceive all quantum superpositions. However, any specific neural system linked to an énorkos can only perceive a limited set of quantum superpositions. This means that each neural system perceives what appears to be one “reality.” In fact all superpositions exist simultaneously, but each neural system perceives only one set of them encountered by the linked énorkos.
Whenever an énorkos encounters a new superposition, it subdivides into as many neural systems are necessary for one neural system to observe each possible set of quantum positions.
Thus, an énorkos is a quantum energy state that defines consciousness, with each neural system linked to it perceiving one possible combination of collapsed wave states. Conscious things appear to impact quantum superpositions because each consciousness sees only one collapse of a superposition. All superpositions occur simultaneously, but a “living creature” only sees on reality at a time.
Sufficiently advanced technology can create énorkos, or at least link artificial neural networks to existing énorkos. There is thus a concrete difference between a Siri-like computer program with so many billions of responses it can generate that it passes any turing Test, and a true “strong” AI which is linked to an énorkos.
Similarly, if a consciousness shifts to a different position relative to its énorkos is would need to move to an alternate reality, when in fact it is only perceiving the megareality of all superpositions differently.
Also, if you have a technology that can perfectly recreate a person, AND in doing so link their consciousness to the same énorkos as their original consciousness, that is the “same” person, while a duplicate that has no énorkos link, or links to a different énorkos is a “different” person, even if on a macro scale they behave in exactly the same way.
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Words of Wisdom. Sort of.
For more than a decade now, I have been collecting the most profound things I have written online.
Here’s a sample of more than 140 of the best examples.
“Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Goblins are the screaming, burning chaos of little minds.”
A rolling d20 gathers no moss… and delays the game until it stops %*#^ing rolling!”
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A clear, accurate, useful map is priceless.
Edition Wars were BETTER back in my day!
A fool and his money are a miniatures games company’s target audience.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. A gamer is the same, but also wants to tell your company with a decade or more of experience how you could do things soooo much cheaper.
A game worth playing, is worth playing badly, on the path to playing well.
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I now understand why player characters often burn down kingdoms…
Better the devil you know than the one you don’t. At least then you know what bypasses its DR.
A house divided against itself cannot stand… unless that’s just step one of transforming into a robot.
A closed mouth gathers no foot. But with enough force, you can JAM one in there.
A good lawyer makes a bad neighbor, especially if actually they’re a superhero and villains keep dropping buildings on the law firm but some rubble crosses onto your property.
Editing (or being edited by) your spouse leads to a much closer understanding of each other… or divorce. There’s no middle ground there.
Theory: Sailor Moon is actually a were-sailor. She was bitten by a rabid sailor which is why she transforms into a hybrid scout/sailor form.
When you have a cat in your home, you MUST delight in every precious moment. Because one day you’ll wake up to a hairball in your eye.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Google Maps search.
*Absinthe* makes the heart grow fonder. Any other claim is a typo.
Moving is like doing homework so that you can exercise too hard in painful positions with the main reward being massive inconvenience.
What if you only lose your soul if picture’s taken while sneezing and no one says “bless you”? We’re one coincidence from zombie apocalypse!
It’s beginning to look like the term “testerical” may be my longest-lasting legacy. … I’d be okay with that.
A man cannot serve two masters. Well, he can, but it eats into Netflix time.
I plan to seed the ground above my burial site with caltrops.
So just LET my enemies dance on my grave…
I think Luke Skywalker has probably upgraded his prosthesis a few times since Empire Strikes Back. I think of that as my Personal Hand Canon.
I have no option about whether the chicken or the egg came first. I’m eggnostic.
I’m sorry the release date of the new RPG/Movie/Novel you were looking forward to got delayed, but…
I’m pretty sure my patronus is a fat badger. So far it doesn’t chase off dementors, but just kinda shows up and disapproves of them.
As a security measure, I like to keep passwords on post-it notes scattered around my desk. They just aren’t passwords I use for anything.
There are many ways in which game designers are like cats. Mostly, these are not related to being adorable.
Oh Fine. Apparently mixing dragons and turtles or dragons and lions is classic, but my Dragon Lobster is “dumb” and Dragolverinne “silly.”
If someone stabs you instead of crying out “touché!,” the correct response is to yell “Ouché!”
It’s hockey mask and machete, right? No wearing a human-flesh-face-and-chainsaw until after Memorial Day, as I recall Slasher Etiquette.
A man is known by the company he keeps. At least, he is if his company’s advertising budget is big enough.
A man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. His lawyer’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, either.
A man’s home is his castle. And the heating bills on castles are outrageous. I recommend renting a small fort or keep, instead.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to attack this stronghold, but I’ve had to reconsider every plan…
“Of COURSE you have. What do you expect from a redoubt?”
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. A college-level course can be catastrophic.
Honesty is the best policy… but honestly how many companies do you know that actually follow their own policies?
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Sentencing is even more complex, and allows an appeal.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Familiars mostly breed with fairy-dragons. And a few imps. Maybe a brownie.
All good things must come to an end. An unfortunate number of terrible things just go on, and on, and on…
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Or at least wash it off first.
Too many cooks spoil the broth. And is it too much to ask for SOMEONE to make a salad for table 7 if we have so many damn cooks?!
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or… isn’t broke? What if it’s broke but kinda works? What if it’s not but it’s crappy. This proverb sucks
Cleanliness is not next to Godliness. Unless your dictionary only has 7 entries.
You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Unless you use an ostrich egg. Then it just takes the one.
Keeps your friends close, and your enemies closer. “Prayer” only has a 40-foot-radius.
Birds of a feather flock together. Dinosaurs of a feather engage in sudden but inevitable betrayal.
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Unless it’s bulletproof glass. In that case, go ahead.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The squeaky kobold gets a fireball!
Jumping to conclusions can be bad exercise. Also, it provokes attacks of opportunity.
Don’t learn safety rules on accident. I mean, that’s better than not learning them at all, but still.
The heaviest thing to carry is a grudge. Though it still doesn’t slow down dwarves at all. which explains a lot, actually.
One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time. Another is glossy magazine covers. A third is bad olives.
Your mind is like a parachute. Always pack it yourself, don’t wait too long to use it, and it’s better with a giant picture of Daffy Duck.
Dress for the adventure you want to go on, not the adventure in your zip code. As long as the adventure you want to go on is HR appropriate.
Labels are for cans, not people. Nutritional information should be universal. If you’re on a desert island you need to know who to eat first.
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Also the forge, volcanoes, the Elemental plane of Fire, and Arizona.
It isn’t whether you win or lose that counts, it’s how you play the game. Although constantly losing may suggest you suck at playing the game.
Always get your ducks in a row. Then, one lightning bolt later, fried duck!
Wake up and smell the coffee. Because apparently you have the technology or contacts to have coffee get made while you are still sleeping.
A bird may love a fish, but where would they live? I mean, sure a houseboat, but let’s be real even most humans can’t afford a houseboat.
“Flopportunity” – A chance to make something that could be extremely unsuccessful.
“Evil Stew” – A thick soup made from everything in the house that is “about to go bad.”
Early to bed and early to rise doesn’t actually mean you’re getting any more work done.
“Like a bat out of a handbasket.”
You reap what you sow. Which means there’s a skull with a scythe and robe that’s quietly going around sowing the heck out of things.
You have to take the bad with the good. The facts of life. The facts of life.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but “You’re never too old to learn.” Which tells me the old dog’s teacher sucks.
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. So you need two cakes, which explains the American obesity epidemic.
You can lead a horse to water. Actually, can you? I am sure a few of you can, but it’s not as common a skill as it used to be.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That’s just how the pyrotechnics spell works.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Play musical instruments as the place burns to the ground.
The way to a man’s is through his stomach. The way to a man’s stomach is for a facehugger to burst out of a yonic egg and mouthfuck him.
Variety is the spice of life. So it comes from worm butts on a desert planet.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless you are paid by the word, in which case for SOME reason, it doesn’t count. 😛
Two heads are better than one. Though an ettin is only CR 6 and a hill giant is CR 7, so maybe one head is actually better.
Too many chefs spoil the soup, but not enough chefs ruin the restaurant.
There’s no fool like an old fool. Well, except a young fool which, just by process of basic logic, we can determine has some similarities.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but less than three to pet their belly.
There is no honor among thieves. Which may be true, but my MAIN issue with them is that they steal things.
Strike while the iron is hot. It’s more likely to give into your union demands if it’s uncomfortable.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, but the squeaky mouse gets eaten by the cat.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And bad intentions. And anything else the devil can get his hands on, he’s a pragmatist.
Rome was not built in a day. But it sure burned down fast.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of the pie is in the radius.
Keep the home fires burning. That way your enemies have no place to sleep or change their shoes.
Practice makes perfect. I suspect that’s why so many doctors and lawyers think they’re perfect.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Which is why the Devil’s Advocate is such a good lawyer,
The pen is mightier than the sword. But not the vorpal sword.
One swallow does not a summer make. Which is either profound on a ‘winter is coming” level, or the tagline for bad porn.
One man’s gravy is another man’s poison. Especially with Vishkanya. Though “Vishkanya Gravy” sounds like a nasty euphemism
One good turn deserves another, but you’re just as likely to roll a 1 next turn.
Old habits die hard. I think they’re mostly worn by vampire nuns and you have to stuff holy wafers in their hems after you deravelcate them.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Which I think means all venturing is painful, according to that other proverb…
Nothing hurts like the truth. Especially +1 keen flaming truth.
No pain, no gain. Of course there’s plenty of pain that ALSO produced no gain, so fuck that.
No news is good news.
No, seriously, nowadays none of the news is good.
Necessity is the mother of invention. But does invention ever call? Ever write? Nooooooooo…
Money doesn’t grow on tree. Except black walnut. Those things are cash cows.
Misery loves company. But honestly most company is kinda sick of misery.
A man is known by the company he keeps. Unless they’re idiots and never noticed him.
Look before you leap. It’s nice to at least know where you are going to go splat.
Love is blind. Love makes the world go ’round. Which may explain why we seem to be headed to hell in a handbasket.
Lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Because if your enemies line up for a lightning bolt, they quickly learn to spread out.
A leopard can’t change its spots. A cuttlefish can. A cuttlepard is CR 5.
It takes two to tango. Also, to flank.
Man does not live by bread alone. Normally he’s also near some other stuff. Maybe a chair, or a tree.
Good things come in small packages. So do evil things. Package size is a terrible gauge for moral value.
Don’t judge a book by its cover – there are critics that will do it for you.
Don’t cry over spilled milk. You’ll get your tears in it and make it salty.
Blood is thicker than water, and harder to get out of the carpet.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but the CR isn’t as high.
Clothes make the man. A woman probably made the clothes.
Beauty is in the eye of the generic non-IP floating eye-monster with ray attacks.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That’s what catapults are for!
Actions speak louder than words. Full-round actions, especially.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Unless it’s the heart that’s absent, which makes the body grow colder.
A watched pot will not toke.
A lion won’t eat where it sleeps, but a spider must. A spiderlion is CR 5.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Or a teleport spell. Plane shift works, too. Or just summon giant eagles.
If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. Unless what you love is working, in which case apparently you’re screwed.
The friends of our friends are our friends. Except Arlo. Fuck that guy.
A single stick is easily broken. A bundle of sticks is difficult to break. A stick golem is CR 5.
War has no eyes, and justice is blind. Leaving both vulnerable to sneak attack.
If you use your wealth, it diminishes. If you use your wits, they expand. If you use the critical hit deck, you lose a hand.
The foolish build walls. The wise build bridges. The wizard builds a staff of blasting.
The idiotic speak. The wise listen. The rogue rolls for initiative.
Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it. But you CAN tongue-kiss it.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, bring a cleric. And a summoner, preferably with one of the broken archetypes.
“If you wait long enough by the riverbank, the bodies of your enemies will float by. But writers don’t have that kind of time.
Can you imagine if dead souls had access to social media?
“Still in Limbo. Working off sins of things I did when I was, like, 8. Really??”
Hcum gnihton spelled backwards is nothing much.
The Black Pudding is not NEARLY as evil, NOR as moist, as the Ochre Bunt Cake!
People need priorities.
Arguing about a game online with people who don’t even play with you should never be at the top.
Go home spellchecker. Your drank.
Any popular game that has human interpretation of rules is inevitably going to have people bitch about how those rules are interpreted.
I am well aware that nearly everything I do could be done by a million monkeys pounding on a million typewriters.
As a result, my career is based in large part on flinging less poo than they would.
Mint absinthe. It’s the ghost of Christmas Passed Out.
“I kept thinking a shark fin was following me, but it was just a fluke.”
Never complain about anyone but yourself. And your dice. And fascists, because frak them.
A clean conscience makes a soft pillow. But so do the corpses of your enemies.
A smile is worth a thousand words. But for some people’s smiles, those are all words of warning.
Life is more than just surviving. That’s why we have refrigerators.
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Subtle Signs of Burnout
After I got to play a game last night, I ended up spending some great time talking to one of the players about career planning, the game industry, and burnout. (More time than I should have on a school night, but hey).
That left me with thoughts about burnout I wanted to share, so rather than sleep I typed them up and set them to post today. (Well, today if I set up this post-at-Xam thing correctly).
I’ve talked about burnout before, and given how large it looms in my life, I have to guess I’ll talk about it again. There’s a thin line between maximizing your writing/designing potential, and doing too much to be sustainable. Crunch time is a common threat in all levels of the game industry, and while bearing down and doing more than you’re happy with for occasional, short bursts is reasonable, sustained higher-than-healthy output is a different matter entirely.
Of course that’s easy to say, in the abstract, and harder to apply to your life in any way. I genuinely can’t tell you how to avoid burnout—that’s going to depend on your situation and temperament to a degree that makes any advice I’d give even less useful than normal. On the other hand, I do find that watching for signs of potential burnout—clues in my own behavior and thoughts that indicate I may be on an unsustainable path—useful tools. Seeing there’s a problem coming doesn’t solve that problem by itself, but it does arm me with the knowledge that I need to be looking for solutions.
So, this is a list of things I consider subtle signs of impending burnout. I need to note here that not only am I not a mental health professional, I don’t even consider myself a well-educated layman. These are entirely subjective, and based only on what I have experienced and witnessed. If you have a lot of these symptoms, and they don’t feel burnout-related, I recommend at most you engage in some introspection on whether you are in denial. But seriously, trust your gut over my generic list. Also keep in mind that I have a host of other mental health issues, from clinical depression to social anxiety to childhood trauma, that may cause me to view and react to my own conditions very differently than you (or anyone else).
But if with all that waffling on potential usefulness you still want to hear my thoughts, here are some things I have come to identify as subtle signs of growing burnout in myself.
- More reliance on caffeine.
If you find your coffee/tea/cola consumption is higher than normal, especially if it’s higher than you’re happy with, and it has been for some time, look at why. If you need the energy emotionally even more than you need it physically, that’s a strong indicator of impending burnout.
- Increased fatigue.
I’m dealing with various medically-induced fatigue at this point in my life, so this one is tricky for me. But that also means I’ve been charting my energy levels on a daily basis, and that’s lead me to conclude that when I am in early-stage burnout, I have even less energy than normal. It’s harder to get up, it’s harder to be energized, and it’s harder to feel enthusiasm for ativity, even activities I normally enjoy.
- Reduced enthusiasm.
Subtle signs can be subtly different. Increased fatigue is relevant when it’s time to actually do something, and I can’t find the energy. Reduced enthusiasm means I’m not even looking forward to things in advance. Now this can also be a sign of a depressive episode, so I have to be careful how I rate and respond to my own lack of enthusiasm, but I have certainly mistaken generic imbalances in my brain with those with external causal links before, and I now try to examine the why as much as the what, when I realize that issue is growing.
- Increased mental health symptoms.
Whether it’s more depressive episodes, more social anxiety, more nightmares, or more sudden rage, when I am beginning to burn out, all my other mental health issues get exacerbated when I am also beginning to go down burnout road.
- Decreased self-care.
Yeah, this is probably one of the causes of #4, but it’s worth looking for on its own as well.
- Setting aside recreational projects.
In my case, in addition to writing as a job, I often write for fun. That’s a very different process for me, and normally feeling like I have done all the “work” I care to in a day (or a week) doesn’t prevent me from having the urge to do recreational writing. Similarly, modeling, painting miniatures, doing holiday-based crafts or cooking, and playing games are all recreational activities that require some effort on my part, and if I find I don’t want to put in that effort over any sustained period, it’s a strong sign of burnout.
- Reduced creativity.
Being creative takes effort. If I have been pushing the part of my mind I depend on for good ideas, clever wording, interesting twists, or even just basic good writing, one of the first things I seem to run out of is general creativity. Normally, I am flooded with ideas—more than I can use for any one project—and many leap out of the dream-soup in my brain unbidden and without pre-planning. Since that ebbs and flows it can be hard to see early stages of reduced creativity, but when it becomes hard to come up with ANY ideas, that’s a nearly sure-sign of burnout.
A lot of things frustrate me, from personal failings to world events, but normally I can compartmentalize those to have a greatly reduced impact when I am writing. If my frustrations outside of a project begin to make it difficult to focus on that project, that’s a huge warning sign. If that frustration is turning into disproportional anger towards people or events, it may be time for immediate, drastic measures.
- Lack of focus.
If I can’t keep my attention on the things it’s most important I get done, that is a subtle but dangerous sign of burnout. Earlier in my career, I often found I could get more total writing done if I could hop between three or four different kinds of projects. Being tired of doing world descriptions didn’t necessarily mean I was tired of doing monster design, or GM advice, or creating spells. So if I feel an urge to move to a new project for a bit, I often just see that as taking a break while getting something different done. But if my muses are constantly talking me away from important, especially on-deadline, work it means they are likely suffering psychic burn damage.
So I need to watch for when I spend too much time writing outlines for projects not on the schedule, or character histories for characters I’m neither playing or publishing, or imaginary histories of worlds I have no plans for.
Or blog posts.
- Warnings from other people.
One of the interesting things about being very public about my thoughts, moods, hobbies, mental health issues, and faults, is that close friends and astute colleagues sometimes see shifts in my behavior before I do. The first time a friend told me it sounded like I was getting bummed over the direction of my work, more than a decade ago, I dismissed it. After all, how would she know what was going on in my head better than I did?
I forgot that many people in my circle of trust are much smarter than me. Ignoring warnings and burning out reminded me.
Now I DO often know things my friends and mentors don’t. If I have changed medications, or a someone close to me died, or I pulled a 100-hour week and finished something so I don’t have to do that again, a lot of things may come out that look like burnout but are just dealing with the fact life is often imperfect.
But I don’t ignore comments like that anymore. I consider them, contextualize them, and add them to the evidence of my condition that I take seriously.
Speaking of My Career
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Let Me Tell You About My Character (Velor)
Seriously, this is nothing more than a character history for a Pathfinder game I’m playing tonight. I wrote it yesterday, and decided to post it. There’s nothing particularly special here, it’s just a quick look at what I consider a typical character history for a d20 game PC.
Velor was born to the warrior-hero Varri in a yurt belonging to the Wildtusk following of the realm of the Mammoth Lords during the depth of winter. She passed him to a shaman within minutes of birth, saying the infant would carry her name but in no other way be a child of hers. She left the following within a day, and though her name and deeds echoed back to Velor many times, he never again laid eyes on her.
Her words were repeated to him many times, “In no other way a child of mine.” Velor knew Varri had great deeds to perform, and did not begrudge her wishing to do it without the responsibility of raising a child. At the same time, the two married women shamans who did the work of raising him took the duty of his upbringing seriously, though they owed him no debt of blood or kinship. Velor came to believe that responsibility could not be forced upon you, but once you took on some duty it could not be put down until fulfilled or another is found to replace it. Raising a child was a sacred duty, but the childless are more free to take risks and struggle to end the evils of the world without needing to worry about their need to care for a younger being.
Velor sought to follow in his birth-mother’s footsteps, to be strong and able to defeat evil. But his two mothers also ensured he was well-educated, by Mammoth Lord standards, and taught him the basics of the spiritual world and the gods. In particular, he was struck by tales of ancient Thassilon, an empire that had long since ended but the evils of which insisted on lingering to the modern day. Obsessed with the idea that the rightful time of Thassilon and all its works had passed, Velor learned the ancient language and considered becoming a shaman so he could use spirts to seek out and remove the evils of Thassilon. Following in his adoptive mothers’ footsteps, he began spending nights deep in the dark snow, alone, meditating and seeking to make contact with a spirit of his own, a creature to guide and serve him. Weeks passed. Then months. Then years.
Then something answered.
As Velor knelt in darkness, so far from the Wildtusk camp that its fires were little more than points of light, a great black rose grew from the ice before him. It spoke to him, a quiet whisper in the wind he could barely hear, but which also filled his mind with every word. But this was not a spirit, and what it offered was not to serve Velor but to burden him with responsibility.
Some things, it said, must end. And if they continue on past their time, they must be destroyed. Velor could become an agent of those endings, to shoulder the holy duty of annihilating those things that should no longer exist. It would cost him everything. He would have no child to carry on his name, would have no place within his following. He would be forever struggling, with no home to call his own and no rest or reward in this life for constant toil. He would suffer, and fail, and watch friends fall, and someday die, in abject failure, with blood on his lips.
And in the next life, he would be reforged as an even greater tool of rightful ends. He would continue to struggle, and destroy, and act as an agent of the sunset of evil, eternally. His path would not be that of his birth-mother, or his life-mothers, but the path of a weapon of the gods. A bringer of destruction, for those evils that could only be ended through violence. There would be no paradise for Velor. Only an eternal existence of bloody service, for the greater good. But Velor felt the righteousness of the Black Rose’s cause, and knew it sought only to destroy those things that were blights on the world, wicked forces that, like boils, could only be cured with a sharp blade.
Velor did not hesitate. He swore his service to the Black Rose, to become the executioner of those things that must be stopped. He took up arms, naming his javelins the Black Thorns, and the specially-forged curved two-handed blade Woundgiver. He stayed with his following long enough to ensure he was capable, that he could survive on his own and be useful to the Black Rose, rather than immediately placing himself in situations where others would have to risk themselves to save him.
But before he was sure he was ready, word came from a fur trader, that Thassilon’s name was spoken more and more to the South and West, in the lands of Varisia.
Within a week Velor left his home, to fulfil the responsibility he had undertaken.
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OGL Declaration: This post is not released under the OGL. No part of it is open content.