Category Archives: Retrospective

Video Week: My First Day at WotC (Part 2)

I hope to put up a series of videos this week, beginning some some that recount the many tales of my very first day of work at Wizards of the Coast, back in 2000.

Here’s the video!

If you enjoyed this, check out the other videos I’ve posted on my page of Youtube videos.

Enjoyed this video (or any of my other videos or blog posts?) Consider supporting their production by backing my Patreon!

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Video Week: My First Day at WotC (Part 1)

I hope to put up a series of videos this week, beginning some some that recount the many tales of my very first day of work at Wizards of the Coast, back in 2000.

Here’s the video!

If you enjoyed this, check out the other videos I’ve posted on my page of Youtube videos.

Enjoyed this video (or any of my other videos or blog posts?) Consider supporting their production by backing my Patreon!

Serious Talk about My Abuse

This is about the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. It’s the most I have ever said about it, and I say it simply in the hopes that others who have suffered will find some strength in knowing they are not alone, and it’s not their fault. If you don’t want to read about that, I certainly understand.

I’m not sure how old I was. Older than 7, younger than 12, but I can’t tell you where in that range. The abuser was someone I and my entire family trusted, but not a family member. They were my friend. The abuse occurred once, that I can recall.

I never told anyone. I didn’t know how, and the transgressive nature of what happened to me was so great I was afraid. Afraid I’d get in trouble. Afraid I’d be  blamed. I felt too much shame to tell my family, and had too many bad experiences with trust violations or lack of belief with other authority figures.

I was also afraid I’d be a social outcast. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I mean, 3 or fewer. Often only 1. Losing someone I could hang out with, that my tiny number of friends hung out with, someone important to my social existence outside the home, was more than I could handle. The idea I had to spend time with my abuser or be alone was horrible, but ultimately I decided to be with my abuser. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it happens. One reason I have said RPGs saved my life is that they gave me a way to make more friends. Once I had a few more friends, sometime in the 6th grade, I stopped ever speaking to my abuser. I think that hurt their feelings. I don’t care. As I was making that transition to new friends, suicide had begun to be a practical solution for me.

For years, I couldn’t tell anyone. I was in a youth support group for most of my teens. These were people I trusted, literally with my life in a few cases. But I couldn’t even hint that I had been abused. It has been so long, people would wonder why I hadn’t said anything.

I told one of them, a young woman slightly older than me, on a weekend retreat to a rent house. She burst into tears, and told me how many times she’d been raped. We talked about her, not me, and I think that was the right call. She swore me to secrecy. I’ve never said anything about it, and only mention it now because it’s impossible even for people who know me to identify her, for various reasons. She never brought it up in group. In fact, she really never talked to me again, and I understand. I hope she got help.

I had been married for years before I told my wife. I had been in therapy with the same therapist for years before I could talk about it in therapy, and it’s still something that makes me freeze if I try to talk about it in person. Writing is safer. And writing about it, when I can, is the main way I try, still, more than 35 years later, to someone grapple with it.

Return of the Cleric/Fighter/Thief

Okay, so it’s back to Old School Character Concepts. I never played a cleric/fighter/rtheif that I can recall (though some of those games were more than 30 years ago, so I’m willing to believe I just forgot a character or two), but it interests me as another idea it’s hard to pull off in Pathfinder. Given there’s already a warpriest for cleric/fighters, it seems clear an archetype for that class is the way to build such a class.

Cleric/Fighter/Thief

A warpriest archetype

Proficiency

A cleric/fighter/thief does not gain proficiency with medium or heavy armor.

Spells

Your spell list includes all 0-6th level cleric spells and most inquisitor spells. You cannot cast spells that modify a class feature the cleric/fighter/thief does not possess (such as judgment).

Blessings

A cleric/fighter/thief does not gain a blessing at 1st level, or greater blessing at 10th level.

Fervor

You cannot use fervor to heal yourself or harm foes. You can still use it to cast a spell on yourself as a swift action.

Channel Energy

You do not gain the channel energy class feature.

Sacred Weapon

You do not gain the sacred weapon class feature.

Bonus Feats

You may, in place of a bonus feat, select a rogue talent (but not advanced talent). When selecting feats (even non-bonus feats), treat your warpriest level as your fighter level and your BAB for purposes of prerequisites. When selecting rogue talents, treat your cleric/fighter/thief level as your rogue level for prerequisites and calculations made by the talent. You cannot select a rogue talent that modifies a class feature you do not possess.

Divine Finesse Training (Ex)

At 1st level, you gain Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat. In addition to the normal list of weapons it functions with, you can use it with your deity’s favorite weapon. In addition, starting at 3rd level, you can select any one typ e of weapon that can be used with Weapon Finesse (such as rapiers or daggers, though you may also choose your deity’s favorite weapon). Once this choice is made, it cannot be changed. Whenever you make a successful melee attack with the selected weapon, you add her Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier to the damage roll. If any effect would prevent you from adding your Strength modifier to the damage roll, you do not add your Dexterity modifier. You can select a second weapon at 11th level and a third at 19th level.

Trapfinding

At 1st level you add 1/2 your level on Perception checks to locate traps and on Disable Device checks (minimum +1). You can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Sneak Attack

At 4th level you gain sneak attack, as the rogue class feature. This increases by +1d6 at 8th level, and by an addition 1d6 every 4 levels thereafter.

Patreon

The cleric/fighter/thief archetype for the warpriest mostly functions fine without any additional feats or talents, since it can borrow from those designed for fighters and rogues. But it seems a sneaky warrior of a deity out to have at least one trick that combines hurting, sneaking, and spellcasting up her sleeve. Thus, the Divine Retribution feat was born and presented (as least for now) as Patreon-exclusive content.

 

Check it out!

Burnout, and the Rent

This industry eats people alive. That’s because it’s extremely demanding, draws in those who are passionate, but doesn’t pay well. I’ve been a full time game writer for most of the past 20 years, and more than a decade of that was freelance. A lot of people who began when I did have left, for computer games, novels, or in some cases security guard gigs or farming. They leave because the time demands, creativity demands, occasional unprofessional ruining either your projected income or something you love, and the pay is, compared to other things with similar demands, low. And often, they leave broken, vowing to never return.

To be clear, I don’t blame anyone for those facts. That’s the way the industry is. I work for, and with, a lot of great people who do their absolute best to take care of everyone they can. I’m not railing against some corporate greed, or claiming I could do better. heck, I’m a publisher as well as a writer and developer. I know what the economic realities are. I am very fortunate to have as many great employers as I do.  It’s just a rough business, and it’s somewhere between hard and impossible to do well by only putting in 40 hours a week.

So, I do more than that. But that’s not a universally good thing. I know I take on a lot, and I try to give everyone what is expected. And, I fail sometimes. Sometimes very publicly. I’m in my late 40s, I have two decades under my belt, and I still feel like this is all a learning experience.

And like a lot of game designers, I live locked in battle with two extremes—burnout, and the rent.

Burnout is real, and if you fully burn out you are done. There are lots of signs of burnout—never enjoying the work instead of only not liking some parts of it; not being able to force yourself to work on a specific project; depression; panic; confusion, as to why what used to work to get projects finished doesn’t anymore; apathy; slowing of new ideas; reduced quality; a willingness to cut corners in ways you know aren’t right (be that ethically, legally, or just not the kind of work you like to produce, depending on who you are and how badly you burned out).

But just because you can see potential burnout, doesn’t mean you can walk away. Everyone will tell you to… but they don’t know your budget, your needs, your situation overall. If you have people depending on your to provide for them, if you know you can’t survive a loss of income, if you’re going to be homeless if a project falls through, “taking a break” may not be a realistic option for you.

I have flirted with burnout more than once over the years. Sometimes I’d love to have walked away, but at that moment it wasn’t financially practical. Other times I knew if I could push through some specific project, I’d be fine. It isn’t always the big projects, either. Sometimes something small will suck up hundreds of hours of time, because you just can’t get it right.

On the other hand, you also can’t just ignore signs of burnout. If you see it coming, you need to do something. Stepping back from even one big responsibility can make a huge difference. So can powering through something to see the results of your hard work. So can assign for help, if you have people you can ask.

In my experience, those things don’t fix problems immediately. But if you don’t take steps like that, and burnout gets worse, you are traveling a dark path. One that has taken out better designers than I.

Big and important projects—new core rulebooks, connected series of adventures, new jobs that have extremely steep learning curves, ventures with partners counting on you—can be particularly brutal. And if you do more than one of those at a time, the effects multiple, rather than add.

But such projects also, eventually, smooth out. Either you finish them, or you learn the ropes.

It’s all too easy to end up in a position that is unsustainable, caught between burnout and the rent. But small changes do, eventually, make a different. Not everything must be sustained forever.

Also, know what helps. Or if you don’t know, look. I’ve been very public with a lot of my mental issues, and I have posted a lot of retrospectives, like this. These are both a release valve for me–a cheap and useful form of stress relief–and something I do because I would have loved to have this information in 1997, when I was writing freelance material but nothing had been published yet. It helps me, and I hope it helps someone else.

Each person must navigate their own path between these creative and financial Scylla and Charybdis. And sometimes you just have to strap yourself to the tiller, lay on sail, and hope you are still above water when you reach the far side.

But if you do that…keep those navigational charts, and try to avoid those waters in the future. Most people, myself included, bring burnout down on themselves. Try to learn from it.

You’ll keep making mistakes, of course. Just try not to make the same mistakes over and over.

Patreon

I have a patreon. It’s one way I try to navigate between burnout and the rent, and it has some exclusive content.

If you ever find my posts to be entertaining or useful, consider offering a dollar or two a month of support.

More Ways I Have Failed

I have, far too often and far too seriously, failed to use my position of privilege, protection, and visibility to improve the hobby I love so much. These are completely true examples where the fault is entirely mine. The list began here, but it’s not like I magically stopped failing people in this industry when I listed just the examples that leaped readily to mind.

It’s 2015. I am asked to suggest some freelancers who have done good work for me. Instead of going through actual notes or records, to create a list from complete and factual information, I rattle it off from my impressions, allowing all my biases and failings to color that list, instead of being diligent about at minimum making sure it’s robustly considered.

It’s 2016. A woman asks if she can get my opinion on the behavior of her superior in another company. I happily agree. She is being emotionally abused. I point this out, and act as a shoulder to cry on as she realized how terrible her situation is. I knock ideas around on how she can maybe eventually escape or at least mitigate her situation, since financially she can’t immediately leave it.

I do nothing to warn the next woman he might hire. I do not follow up with her. The abuse–which I entirely accept as real and serious–is out of my sight, and falls out of my mind.

It’s 2017. An industry professional at a casual gathering dismisses a broad category of claims of unsafe, biased geek behavior. I am too tired to argue, or even mention I disagree. I leave, with no suggestion I took issue with the statement.

There remains terrible, focused, often premeditated prejudice, bias, and actual abuse in my hobby. Not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not creating it yourself does not protect those who are vulnerable.

Story Time: F. Wesley Schneider

Since Wes is leaving Paizo for new adventures, I have concluded it’s Wes story time!

Mooncalf

The very first “Ecology of” article I got to write for Dragon Magazine was “Ecology of the Mooncalf” in #340. It was also one of the very first article I wrote with Wes as my contact person (maybe the second one I’d done for him). Wes told me by email we “might” have room from a short narrative introduction at the beginning of the article.

So I wrote a super-short short story introduction. I sent in the article, which began with about 500 words of fiction.

Wes sent me a very polite email to let me know that the article was great, but the intro was, it turned out, too long to fit. Knowing what I know now about Wes, I can tell he was just trying to let me down gently.

But at the time? I just figured I needed to trim it.

So I sent him a 350 word version.

Ah, replied Wes, politely. No, the article and art has pretty much filled the page. We couldn’t even fit in a 100-word intro.

STILL not getting the hint, I sent a trimmed-down, 75 word version.

Realizing he was dealing with an idiot, Wes just flat told me there wasn’t room for anything more than 25-30 words.
I sent him a 28-word version and, rather than continue to try to drive home to me that the article would not open with fiction, Wes just put it as a caption over the article’s art.

It read:
“Tonight I witnessed a dread omen—something foul descending through the nighttime skies as through from the moon itself.

–Galiel the Astrologer, The Last Journal of Galiel

Which I have come to realize, is MUCH more cool than the 500 word version.

Patreon

Wes has a Patreon! Go support it. 🙂

 

Empress of the Geeks Day and WorldCon 1984

Mother’s Day Story

Every year for the past many years, I have for Mother’s Day told a story about my mother, Empress of the Geeks. Most stories I have told more than once. About how she was a GM for a group of young boys not because she was a fan of RPGs, but because we wanted to play and no one else would run a game for us. About how she used those opportunities to sneak in educational missions at the end of each game, making us look up a definition of democracy to negotiate with lizardman tribes, or have to know all the States and their capitals to represent researching into ancient kingdoms.

Or the story of her saving Christmas by figuring out what to give an entitles little brat (that’s me) who refused to tell her what he wanted for Christmas other than “adventure.”

But I don’t think I have ever told the story of my mother and my first WorldCon.

I was introduced to D&D in 1982, and by 1984 I was buying D&D, Gamma World, Tunnels and Trolls, Arduin Grimoire, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, Dragon Magazine, miniatures, dice, and so on. I was hooked.

My mother took me to my first science fiction convention in 1983. It was a tiny affair in my home town of Norman, OK. I’d guess attendance was 500 or so. It was a one-shot con that never took off.

And then in 1984, she took me to WorldCon, in Anaheim, CA. My sister didn’t want to go. My father didn’t want to go. But I did, and my mother did, and she set a financial goal for me (to be met mostly mowing yards, mostly for my grandparents) early in that year. I met it, and she booked flight and hotel rooms… and gave me half the money back as spending cash.

She set down ground rules… but they were amazingly lax given my age. And then she… trusted me.

This was a 4-day convention. Cell phones were not an option. I was barely a teenager. And she trusted me to set my own schedule, get my own meals, handle my money, and not do anything stupid.

Well, not do anything TOO stupid.

I listened to panels with Gordon R. Dickson and Jerry Pournelle. I shared a bus-ride to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh. I saw Robert Heinlein. And I gamed.

Oh lord, how I gamed.

Homebrews. Boardgames. Card games. Miniature games. As I recall, my first introduction to Car Wars, Warhammer 40k, and Champions. I had my first TPK. I had my first game that ran past midnight. I played a Gamma World game where the PCs ended up going back in time, coming to the convention center, finding the room we were playing in and, under a cloak field, debated whether nor not to kill us, the players and GM, to prevent us from thinking up their cursed world—WHILE we roleplayed that event. And I won’t lie… at that age, with that much Mountain Dew in my system, at 2am… the idea my own PC was arguing to kill me freaked me right now.

I ordered my first steak dinner by myself. I took my first taxi ride by myself. I went to the release party for the last issue of the first series of ElfQuest comics, got into a drum circle, met an older girl, and had a puppy love weekend con romance with her as she made appointments to hit specific games with me.

I saw my mother every day, at least once. She made sure. She asked how I was doing, checked that I had money for food, made me tell her my approximate plans. We had a legal pad in the hotel room, and we each wrote down where we were going… at least roughly.

The freedom had a major impact on my ability to trust myself, and it all came from the fact my mother trusted me. But her main accomplishment in this regard wasn’t that weekend.

It came in the weeks and years before, when she raised me to be a child she felt she could trust. I didn’t make that easy. And I know she must have had reservations. In retrospect, I can see some of the slack-giving moments that came before, and at, that con.

And while yes, I did some stupid things, I survived just fine.

And it was a major watershed in my life.

And she made it all possible. She knew when to hold my hand… and when to let go.

Thanks, Mom.

Patreon

My mother’s also pretty pragmatic. She absolutely won’t mind that I use a story about her to boost my patreon, where you can support me in writing these stories, and my other geekly productions.

The Persistent Places in my Dreams

I have, since I was a child, had a few persistent places that show up repeatedly in my dreams.

So, I name them. To give me power over them.

Sadly several are where I have my worst nightmares. The Bad House. The Field of Discarded Things. Sometimes when I realize I am in one of these places in a dream, the name lets me identify it as unreal, and I can wake up. Some I have eliminated entirely, at least I think. I haven’t had a dream on the Storm Road in years.

Others are places where I have dreams that are more disturbing than frightening–rarely pleasant but not true nightmares. The Park Under the Moon. The Walking Garden.

But sometimes, and almost always only just before an alarm wakes me, I get to go to the Springlands.

And that makes the rest of it all worthwhile.

 

I have a Patreon. feel free to back it. 🙂

The House the Jedi Bought

Storytime

Years and years ago, when applying for the mortgage on my previous house, the mortgage underwriters just kept not being sure that my 100% freelance income could be considered stable or reliable enough to give me a mortgage based on my previous decade of constantly having money and paying bills. This was exacerbated by the fact we had avoided debt, and thus avoided things like credit card and car payments that boost credit reports.

Our mortgage agent got increasingly frustrated (with the underwriters, not us), and after weeks of this back-and-forth, and asking for more documents, and unexpected delays, she just asked if I could provide ANYTHING else to suggest my freelance rpg career should be considered more than a hobby.

Flippantly, I said the underwriters could do a Google search on my name, with my middle initials included.

The mortgage agent raised an eyebrow, and I told her I was the first hit on Google with my full published name, and the first few results it would link me to official Star Wars products.

She did a search, sent an email to the underwriters, and we got approved within 24 hours.

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