Monthly Archives: November 2020
It’s been a dark year.
A dark 14 months, in fact, as my year-of-very-bad-things began in Sept 2019.But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be thankful of. And while its a tad cliché, I DO like taking these national moments to take stock of my own wealth of blessings and support and good fortune, and put off worry and gnashing of teeth over the very-real problems until tomorrow.
I have a roof over my head, I am secure in my next meal, I have a tight social bubble of friends I have known for 20-37 years. I have a loving wife, a dear housemate, a supportive family, and a panoply of friends who are no less great just because I only get to see them online at the moment. Many of my friends are so kind, generous, and supportive it staggers my well-exercised imagination.
I have a career that, though not free of hiccups, I am genuinely proud of, and that I believe makes a positive difference in the world. Many of my friends are part of that career, from bosses to work-for-hire producers, but even beyond those in my work life I deal with many of the smartest, kindest, most ethical people I have ever met.
And I have you, a community of geeks, gamers, thinkers, writers, players, weirdos and outcasts, who have embraced me in a way I would scarce credit had I not seen it, and felt it, over and over for years, and repeatedly and strongly during the rough past year.
And I am thankful.
It is less that I am thankful despite it being 2020, and more that I am extra thankful because it’s 2020.
Yep, more abilities for Gelatinous Cylinders, the bright red, reshaped gelatinous cube variant. Add then to the gelatinous foe of choice in your favorite d20 game.
Phantom Faces: Though gelatinous cylinders are no more intelligent than other forms of gelatinous monster, some can form a face, generally locked into one or two expressions, and repeat overheard phrases. They often repeat things said by those they consume, from prior to the victim realizing they are in trouble. This mimicry is mindless, but the sound is so perfect it cannot be distinguished form the original voices.
Tantalizingly Preserved: Gelatinous cylinders with this ability stop the passage of time for any nonliving material stuck within them, and do not dissolve items that were not living when they entered the gel. Thus they often have foodstuffs, valuables, and even high-end clothing preserved and visible, juuuuust out of reach unless you want to plunge a hand into the cylinder…
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Yeah, it’s themed and silly. But there are some ideas here you can apply to gelatinous foes in your d20 game of choice.
The Gelatinous Cylinder
Gelatinous Cylinders are a reshaped, deeply-red-colored offshoot of gelatinous cubes. While sages agree they are magically created rather than naturally occurring mutations, and it’s generally accepted the cylinders aren’t the desired end result, there are numerous competing theories as to what the creators were trying to do.
It’s often suggested their coloration was either an attempt to make sewer-cleaning creature that was more easily spotted by repair workers, or to make gelatinous foes more frightening by seeming to be soaked in blood. The cylinder-shape is also often held up as proof these were custom-built sewer cleaners, designed to fit through pipes. Others theorize are that they were literally made to be festive and silly-looking, possibly to serve as court jesters for the Oozing Empire of sentient slimes.
Gelatinous Cylinders can have a variety of strange powers. You can emulate a gelatinous cylinder by adding one of more of these abilities to your gelatinous cube state block of choice.
Sliceable: A gelatinous cylinder with this ability takes no damage from slashing weapons. However, when a slashing attack hits it, the gelatinous cylinder has a “slice” taken off. This slice is a gelatinous cylinder one size category smaller than the original and has the same stats, but with 20% of the original’s max hit points. The original loses 10% of its max hit points each time is spawns a slice. Slices cannot themselves form slices.
Small and Innocent Looking: A gelatinous cylinder with this ability can shrink down at rest, compressing itself to Tiny size. While in this reduced form and motionless, any ability or skill check to identify it as anything more than an innocent bit of edible food takes a -15 penalty. Once touched, the gelatinous cylinder explodes out to its full size and begins attacking.
We’ll do more gelatinous cylinder abelites tomorrow and Friday!
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Whether you write as your whole career, just do some freelancing, or write only for your own satisfaction but are driven to do that, it’s going to come up. At some point, you are going to find yourself needing to write while experiencing grief.
I wish this essay told you how to do that. It doesn’t. It can’t. I don’t know how. Every time I find myself having to do it, it becomes a new problem, because every moment of grieving is different. The problems grief causes change. Sometimes I lack motivation. Sometimes I find myself getting angry. Sometimes I can’t see the screen through the nonstop tears.
Whenever I talk about writing while grieving, a slew of well-meaning people come out and tell me to just give it time. I know they think I am just being too hard on myself, but I come from more than 20 years of writing professionally. This is my job. I’m a full-time freelancer again. I don’t get sick days, or bereavement. If I don’t write, I don’t get paid.
And yes, most people in the industry will cut you slack when you are dealing with something hard, but there are limits. Printers wont change their print dates for you. Conventions won’t shift when they are happening so you can have a big release bump a month alter than planned. People who make money by selling the work you are writing can’t hold off on payroll until you can get yourself together. Some projects have lots of slack built in, others have used it all. It’s worth talking to the people you owe work to, but trust me friends and fans, sometimes I have to write.
Other commentators want me to build everything around their favorite grief roadmap, such as the 7 stages of grief. If someone is totally unaware of some of thinking on how grief works, mentioning the existence of various roadmaps can be useful. But, again, I’ve been here. I know the maps are out there, and I also know the map is not the map is not the territory. Some grief follows different paths. It may jumble the order, or hop back and forth, or find brand new trails of misery, especially through my already-compromised brain.
So, advice from the outside tens not to do me much good. Support can help, like a blanket against the cold–it doesn’t make the cold any less, but it helps you to weather the storm. Of course some support helps more than others, and beyond noting that support that does not give pointless advice or make demands on me in return for the support has a much better track record than those that do, I can’t really tell you which will help more for any given grief.
Because every grief is different, and I can’t analyze it until i am at least mostly past it.
But the grief itself is not really the problem when writing. It’s the symptoms it causes, and those I can try to work through. Sometimes I’ll be successful. Sometimes I won’t. But I’ll get more writing work done by trying than by giving up on it.
So, what have I found works best?
*Accept that it’s not going to be as fast as if you weren’t grieving. Yes, maybe you need it to be for career purposes, but reality often doesn’t play nice with career goals. Take steps accordingly. Reach out to people you owe work to see which projects can spare some slipped deadlines. Cut back on expenses. Consider scaling back optional projects. Whatever you can do to reduce the impact of your reduced capacity.
*Prioritize. Don’t spend a lot of mental time and energy on it if that’s hard for you, but take a moment to decide what is most important. There’s very little as annoying as realizing you’ve been grinding through something you could have skipped, and not touched the crucial thing that needs all your time and attention.
*Write down every step you take. I, at least, suffer serious memory issues when grieving. Having a single place where I keep track of any deadlines, extended deadlines, changed project scopes, and so on, lets me go back and see where I am on things.
*Consider timing things. Need a break? Decide how long you need, set a timer. Having trouble focusing on work? Decide to hammer on a project for 20 minutes, then walk away. Need to do some online research? Set a timer so it’ll pull you back if you go down a rabbit-hole. Much as I have trouble remembering and tracking things when i am grieving, I often lose track of time. A nudge that I’ve been checking Facebook for 10 minutes when I meant to look up a single thing keeps me from wasting what time I have.
*Forgive yourself. If you can. If not, see if you can get therapy to help you forgive yourself. Some things are going to go wrong. I can’t say anyone else will forgive you, and you may make life hard for others or end up damaging your career. But you know why, and there’s no point in adding guilt or anger with yourself to the heavy emptions you are already carrying.
*Make self-care checklists. I often wallow in my grief, and if I am not sleeping, eating, taking my prescriptions, or socializing at all, my writing is going to suffer. Yes, sometimes I need to put off socializing to make more time for writing, or pull an all-nighter because the drop-dead deadline is 8am, but for the long haul, you can’t be an effective writing machine without fuel, downtime, and maintenance.
I wish I had more advice. But the one thing I can add is that writing through grief is possible, but will always take more effort and produce less results. Try to be kind to yourself and others when you have no choice but to give it a try.
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An essay on a specific element or ttRPG game design.
When I first got into playing RPGs, a round of combat was generally viewed as being a minute. As a result, no one worried about how long it took to draw a sword, reload a gyrojet pistol, or get a potion out of your pack.
I’m not saying none of the games had different action economies. Just that no one I played with ever worried about those things. You could do one thing a round, maybe two, and it was assumed in-play that you could get the gear you needed for that.
That changed, over time. Some of that change grew from better-written rules in more games to handle the action economy for such issues. Some from games moving to shorter durations for player turns (though I don’t remember ever having to declare I was drawing a pistol in Car Wars games, where a phase was 1/10th of a second).
Now most popular RPG rulesets have explicit rules for determining how long it takes to draw a weapon, change a battery, sheath a wand, dig a potion out of your bag, and so on. It makes sense. It helps with verisimilitude.
I’m not convinced it adds much fun.
I’m leaning toward trying some games where it is just assumed you can have any one set of held equipment at the beginning of your turn. Things you have to strap into or carefully adjust still take time, but if you want to be using a greatsword one round, twin nickel-plated Colt .45s the next, and a zippo lighter and healing potion the third, fine.
Changing gear in the middle or a round still takes time. Otherwise we hand-wave it, and focus on the interesting things characters are doing with their equipment, rather than making them waste a turn getting what they need to have fun ready.
This could be adapted to nearly any game system, though games with Quick Draw options, or limited charges as a power balancing factor, or characters who focus on equipmentless options in order to have reduced effect for increased readiness might nee tweaking.
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!