Monthly Archives: April 2020
Let me clearly open with this:
I am not in danger. I am not a threat to myself or others. I have a strong support network, which includes a lot of really good shoulders to cry on, ears to listen to me, and kind voices to give aid when asked.
I often write about the things I am going through in a way other professionals mostly don’t. Sometimes, the fact I do so worries friend and colleagues alike. That’s never my aim, and I sincerely apologize to anyone I have made uncomfortable. Online explanations of my mental state are part of my therapy process. Writing things gives me power over them, and helps me organize and contextualize my feelings.
And, I want other folks who are struggling to know they are not alone.
I also want now, in the front, to note I have a Patreon. If you find this writing useful, or just want to toss me some support, it’s a great way to help out.
I am an aging, obese, depressive, introverted, socially-awkward independent creative with impostor syndrome, civilian PTSD, and a genuine fear of deadlines, disappointing people, and criticism.
If you are thinking to yourself “Wow, given all that it sounds like the ONE job you should avoid is freelance game writer,” you have a point.
In times of pandemic, you reassess your life choices.
But I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years now, and as much as I want to shrug and give up sometimes, it really is a defining part of my own self-image. Intellectually, I am well aware I have achieved success many people consider noteworthy. I am also aware that as a hetero cis white male I have had a lot of unearned advantages along the way.
I recently wrote online “One of the major advantages to doing business over social media is that I can literally be sobbing as I type smiley faces and multiple cheerful exclamation points.”
And I meant that it is, at face value, a useful advantage. I mean, when I was the manager of a parking garage in the 1990s, if I was sobbing not only could I not just go on with my day without people constantly asking me if I was okay, it would be considered unprofessional. It would interfere with my job function, the perception of me, and my own serenity. But when dealing with things in an entirely text-based format, as long as I am together enough to make the post look professional and upbeat, it is treated as professional and upbeat.
But of course, I only know that because sometimes I DO write marketing text and otherwise interact with fans and freelancers online while crying. Normally it’s a pretty rare thing, only happening when something is timing-critical. Like if there’s a one-day sale of a big product, or if a Kickstarter is ending. In those cases, even if I am depressed, or bereaved, it needs to get done right NOW, tears be damned.
The current situation, of course, is anything but normal.
Right now I am crying more than usual. I am also more often slumping into a mind-numb torpor where nothing gets done, more often ranting and yelling at the corner of the room, self-medicating a LOT more often, and walking away from everything in total disgust more often.
In times of pandemic, there are more tears.
That’s not to suggest I have it especially hard right now, compared to other people. While money is tightening, I am not totally unable to earn funds like some folks. My job hasn’t depended on my going anywhere but my home office since last July, and even before that it was work a company could (and in the case of my last full-time employer has) have people do from home. Even within my industry, the fact I have focused on digital products for my own projects is proving to insulate me slightly from the resounding crash of the physical product supply chain.
There are people under stay-at-home orders right now who, as a result of various factors often entirely beyond their control, have no home to stay at. I am in no way suffering more than average.
I’m not going it alone, either, thank goodness. I have an amazing support network. My wife of nearly 30 years is a constant source of comfort and aid. I have great friends, many of whom are going the extra mile to interact with me in video chats, discord forums, IMs, and so on. I have people paying me for my work, both in individual and direct ways and through companies and big projects, who are being understanding and patient with me, but also not letting me totally off the hook that I fall so far behind I can never catch up (thank god). I can get advice, or perspective, or sympathy in pretty much endless and instant supply. (Thank god.)
But I also acknowledge there are stresses in my life. I and my wife both fall into high-risk categories for the current pandemic. We’ve been self-isolating, and going out to places that are now closed (and spending money we currently don’t have) were among my best stress-relievers. And while I am not a fan of huge crowds anyway, I did love sitting with a small circle of close friends, and self-isolation for a month or so now has that off the table. I have some medical issues that cause severe fatigue, and it’s hard to differentiate those from depression or being overwhelmed by constant bad news and worry for friends and family.
Nearly every creative I have discussed it with agrees that it is HARD to get anything done right now. The fact that getting things done, and fast, is of even more importance as companies must pivot to deal with the new makes the failure to produce emotionally more challenging, but it doesn’t make it easier. And I completely support shutting down game stores and prioritizing crucial shipments from big vendors, but those things also put my entire industry at real, long-term, catastrophic risk.
In times of pandemic, my chosen career is not essential.
So yes, I am worried, and weary, and worn. And ultimately I am safe, and privileged, and supported. And I really wrote all of this both to assure those who worry about me that I am no closer to any tipping point or brink than normal; and to let other people who feel like they aren’t coping well know they are not alone.
None of us know what the next few weeks, months, and even years will look like. That lack of certainty, and the need to change how we do everything–from ordering groceries to teaching children to talking with friends to playing and creating games–is exhausting. Every day is both the first day of school, and a stroll by the edge of a very sparse minefield. Stress is a constant companion, and uncertainty is a mist that conceals every road.
I am sure I’ll get through this. I’m sure we’ll collectively get through this. Maybe not unscathed or unchanged, but still whole at the far side.
And maybe, if we work at it, we can improve society with the things we learned in a time of pandemic.
One of the core concepts of any post-apocalypse RPG is survival. This is definitely true in GammaFinder, as the world is full of poison earth, acid rain, toxic water, deadly environmental effects, baked earth, rusted, twisted metal… it’s harsh. Just traveling beyond a settlement, even if nothing rises to the level of an encounter, is dangerous.
And, as it happens, Starfinder has a Survival skill.
But making Survival rolls daily, and making people think about where their character sleep, find water, hunt, how they avoid heatstroke, dodge poison ivy, and so on gets boring.
So GammaFinder has a Weekly Survival Check.
Weekly Survival Check
Each group makes a Survival check each week. The DC is equal to 15 + 1.5 x the average CR of hazards and monsters in the area, +1 per person in the group. (When in double, if there is a titan nearby, the GM can assume the average CR is within the Titans range. Otherwise if the area is not known to be particularly hazardous, assume an average CR of 2. Yes, 2. GammaFinder World is rough).
If multiple people make Survival checks, the highest check result is treated as the primary result, and each character in the group after the first who succeeds adds one to that highest result. The following additional factors modify the roll, as can previous rolls (see results, below).
Weekly Survival Check Modifiers
Group begins week out of food and water: -5
Group has no wilderness gear: -2
Group has at least 1 piece of survival gear for each member: bonus equal to the highest item level of such gear every character has. (For example, if 4 people have a piece of 5th level survival gear, but one person only has a 1st-level piece of gear, the bonus is +1. If six people all have a piece of 3rd level gear, the bonus is +3).
You not only need to know if the group succeeded or failed, but by how much.
Success by 5 or More: Things went very well! You slept in protected spots, avoided unpleasant allergens and minor hazards, and found plentiful and quality food and water. You do not use up any of your carried food or water resources, and everyone in your group gains a +2 bonus to the next week’s Weekly Survival Check.
Success by 4 or less: You use up resources (such as food and water) normally, but manage to avoid being run down by the constant dangers of the GammaFinder World.
Fail by 5 or less: You didn’t manage ideal conditions, but it’s livable. You might be sleeping in a cold, cramped space under a large rock, eating grubs, drinking water that’s slimy but not poisonous, or just dealing with gnat bites, rough terrain, sunburn, weariness, and so on.
Everyone in the party takes a -1 penalty to skill checks, including next week’s survival, until you succeed at a weekly survival check or you get a good night’s sleep and food in a settlement. This is cumulative if you fail by this amount in consecutive weeks.
Fail by 6- or more: Why did you ever leave your hovel?
Everyone in the party takes a -2 penalty to skill checks, including next week’s survival, until you succeed at a weekly survival check or you get a good night’s sleep and food in a settlement. This is cumulative if you fail by this amount in consecutive weeks.
Everyone temporarily has their maximum Stamina Points reduced by 1 per character level. This lasts until the group succeeds at a Weekly Survival Check by 5 or more, or get 2 good night’s sleep and food at a settlement.
Want More GammaFinder?!
I now depend on my Patreon for more of my income and support than I ever expected to. If you find any value in my blog posts or videos, I could use help with the Patreon. If you can spare a few bucks a month, it’s a huge help. If not, even just sharing and linking to my blogs, videos, and the Patreon itself is a huge help that just takes a moment of your time.