Category Archives: Retrospective

Now On Patreon: Political Structure of My Longest-Running Campaign

Over at my Patreon, I’ve done a quick sketch of the political structure of my longest-running ttRPG campaign to date, the Sovereing Kingdoms. Begun way back, before I was a professional game designer, that campaign had as much stolen material as new ideas, since I wasn’t worried about things like publishing rights, or anything more than providing entertainment for my players. (Which there were many of — the Sovereign Kingdoms actually had many different games set in it — the Heroes of King’s Ford, the Squires of King’s Ford, Czardia, the Court of Aquilanne, Knight’s Watch, my wife even ran a campaign in it called The Emerald Sea.) 

Given how long ago I began setting up that campaign, it’s no shock to me that there are lots of things I did then that make me cringe now. But some of the setup still has promise in my opinion, and very little of it is neatly typed up. (I did my campaign notes by pencil in 3-ring binders at the time). In particular, there’s a lot about the core political situation I think still has a lot of promise.

The main powers of the Sovereign Kingdoms were broken into the High Court, the Royal Courts, Religion, and the Guild League. While these were not necessarily equal, none of them could afford to ignore any of the others. I go into the details over at the Patreon, and neither that article nor this preview of it are covered by the OGL.

Right now that worldbuilding sketch (and all Thursday blog posts) is Patreon-exclusive, because I need to grow my Patreon to keep spending time writing blog posts and other public content. However, once my Patreon funding level hits $1,000/month, I’ll go back to posting my Thursday posts free for all to see here, AND I’ll create and maintain an index page of all my PF2 articles for Patrons, so they can easily access all my online PF2 content!

Methods of Support
So, a lot of people have offered a lot of support, and I deeply, deeply appreciate it. Currently my primary plan is this Bundle of Holding offer, which runs through March 22. In addition to buying the bundle if that’s your thing, you can boost and share it on social media, which is a huge help. I may end up needing to turn to extraordinary measures, such as a GoFundMe, but I won’t be doing that until I know for certain I have to.

If you want alternative for offering support, I won’t refuse it. You can join or increase your membership tier at my Patreon, or if you prefer do one-time support through my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.


Health Update – The Colonoscopy and More

Here’s the tl;dr – I had my no-anesthetic/no-painkiller colonoscopy. We weren’t able to complete it, but did get about halfway, and it revealed issues I’ll have to deal with, which is going to mean meeting with a lot of doctors over the next few weeks. It’s serious, but we remain hopefully it can all get handled.

For the longer version, CW – blood, cancer, pain, polyps, and poop.

I had assumed my rectal bleeding was unrelated to my pulmonary embolism. Looks like I was wrong.

The prep period for this was difficult because I already tired easily, and going through hours and hours of cramps and body-emptying trips to the restroom was leaving me so shuttering exhausted I had trouble even standing. But I got through it, and got in to the colonoscopy today.

The first half hurt, but was manageable, But there was a point past which the pain was enough to make me unable to breathe, and see sheets of blinding white. Also, my heartrate and blood-pressure kept spiking at that point, soo the doctor and I agreed that was as far as we could go.

However, in the section we could check, I had two polyps the doctor described as “very large, very suspicious.” They could not be removed under those circumstances, but the doctor did get material for biopsy. That said the bigger one was bleeding, and “clearly undergoing changes.” We can’t say they are cancerous until the biopsy comes back, but the GI doctor is convinced the larger of the two is definitely cancerous.

In any case, they have to go.

First, of course, they either are or soon will be, cancer. But, secondly, the gastroenterologist said their size and definition mean they are very likely to be responsible for instigating my blood clots. If we don’t remove them, I run the risk of more and more clots, another embolism, stroke, and so on.

He also noted that these are things that have been around for years. Certainly if I had gotten a colonoscopy at 50, they’d have been visible already. (I cut myself slack due to the pandemic, but still.) And there’s a good chance that if I had gotten one at 45, we’d have seen them then. (When I was 45 the recommendation was still 50… and by the time I was 50, the pandemic was in full swing. I made a call to wait, and it was the wrong call.)

The doctors confirm to me that the fatigue, lack of focus, listlessness, and even brain fog I have been suffering in increasing severity since 2017 are in all probability the symptoms pf the polyps, and the blood clots they’ve been creating. I have been seriously ill for 6 or more years, slowing down, losing jobs, having trouble meeting my own expectations, and we couldn’t ever figure out why.

Well, now we know.

And let me be clear, knowing is huge. No matter how I tried to eat better, exercise more, take more antidepressants, for six years my life has been a slow-and-apparently-inevitable slide into disability. I have been disappointed in myself again and again over the past several years, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not work in the level of volume, quality, or even enthusiasm I expected. My life felt over, and part of my depression was seeing that things always got worse, and my life was losing it’s value to me.

Well, fuck that. I have literally seen the enemy now. I have a cause, and can focus on eliminating it, and recovering. There’s is a fight I can get into, and win my life back.

So, this process is going to go as fast as it can, but that’s still a matter of weeks rather than hours or days. Surgical removal is an urgent necessity… and complicated. I must be on blood thinners for the pulmonary embolism, and I still need supplemental oxygen when I sleep or exert myself. Those factors put the risk of me dying under general anesthesia at around 10%, even for something minor like a colonoscopy, much less surgery. But if the polyps are, as expected, cancerous, we need to get them while they are still stage 1 (assume we haven’t missed that already), so we can’t wait.

There are options, and I will be seeing a cardiologist, hematologist, and oncologist over the next few weeks, as well as my primary care physician. The hospital staff all agreed we’d have to “get creative,” but we can do that. We’ll gather all the info we can, consult, form a course of treatment, and carry forward.

This is, obviously, going to be tiring, time-consuming, and expensive. But my life is on the line, so I’ll handle each of those hurdles as necessary.

And I’ll try to keep everyone posted.

Methods of Support
So, a lot of people have offered a lot of support, and I deeply, deeply appreciate it. There are plans moving forward to try to help cover medical bills and loss of income, and when they’re ready, I’ll announce them here. I may end up needing to turn to extraordinary measures, such as a GoFundMe, but I won’t be doing that until I know for certain I have to.

However, if you DO want to offer immediate support, I won’t refuse it. You can join or increase your membership tier at my Patreon, or if you prefer do one-time support through my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.


About My Pulmonary Embolism (Pt. 2) – The Diagnoseificationing

This is a follow-up to my post describing the events that lead to me being admitted to the hospital with what turned out to be (amongst other things) a pulmonary embolism. There’s a tl;dr version near the top of that post, so I won’t repeat the abbreviated account here.

CW – ambulances, breathing issues, health issues, hospitals, blood and IVs.

Storytime: My Pulmonary Embolism, Part Two – The Diagnosificationing

This post picks up with me already admitted to the hospital, but with no diagnosis as to why I couldn’t breathe without oxygen, why just standing up left me trembling with exhaustion, or why my heart rate — once raised — stayed elevated for an hour at a time.

I really wanted to get diagnosed, get a pill that fixed the issue, and get home. But as the staff drew 6 vials of blood, hooked two different sets of wires to my chest (one for keepsies throughout my whole stay, one just for a specific set of tests, which they applied and removed three times during my stay), drew 4 more vials of blood, stuck an x-ray plat under me, drew 4 more vials of blood, listened to my chest, drew 2 more vials of blood, and shuffled which “machine that goes PING” they had in with me at any one time, it became clear I wasn’t going home that night.

Eventually, a doctor confirmed it. Their then-best guess was severe pneumonia, with its stress and overexertion leading to tachycardia and arrhythmia… which is just a fancy way of saying “You’re sick, you were dumb, and your heart freaked out.”

And, to be fair, it turned out I DID have pneumonia. And was suddenly anemic. But those were just frosting, not the true Bad Health Cake.

So that night, they finally admitted me to the hospital. I had to wait from a Bariatric Bed to be available (fancy term of “partially inflatable fat-person crib”), did one final set of ER-based injections into my I.V., and took me up an elevator.

Oh, lord, the I.V. You know, I’m going to take a quick aside to talk about my I.V.

I have tiny little fuckers for veins. They hide, dodge, dry out, and are generally difficult for phlebotomists to deal with. When I was in the ambulance the paramedics tried to get an IV in my left hand… and gave up. Then they successfully started one on my right hand… and it stopped working while they were hooking up a bag. So they decided to try on my left arm, and (with a team effort) got one working.

That was the IV I had when I got into the ER, and within a few minutes, it stopped taking the fluids they were pumping into me. So the young nurse called the old nurse, and the old burse wiggled it, got it working again, and decided to tape it down more. We’ll that IV Mark 2.

Then they decided I needed multiple antibiotics, because my x-rays showed I had pneumonia… and the Mark 2 IV stopped taking in fluids. So the old nurse called a SNTTFST (Specialist Nurse Trusted To Fix Such Things), and he wiggled it, re-lay the tubing, used tiny shims of tape to keep it in just the right position, and then added more tape.

A LOT more tape. Like, a “this ductwork needs some tape” amount of tape.

We’ll call this IV Mark 3.

That survived until I got up to my actual hospital room, where a new set of injections has to be made directly into my IV and… it did not go. So the nurse wiggled it, and added some tape, and could flush it, and got my injections in through it. That was IV Mark IV, which I liked the sound of, and it lasted a full day.

But a little more than 24 hours later, my drip stopped feeding into my IV again… and the nursing staff was Not Having It.

So the Entire Nursing Staff On My Floor had a conference, held an exorcism, threatened by veins at gunpoint, and decided everything but the needle Had To Go. They reworked the entire tube looping, juggling, shimming, and taping process, and slapped a patch with a clear section right over the insertion point. I called this IV Mark V, also the Window of Horrors.

It lasted until I was discharged… but was visually gross. Below is a picture. You were warned.

(It’s not as comfortable as it looks. … Nope, even less comfortable than that.)

The only issue we ever had with the Window of Horrors was, once, a new nurse let the blood pressure cuff slide down halfway over it, and then turned on the machine to squeeze the hell out of my harm. And, in this case, the “Hell” that got squeezed out included a tiny stream of my blood, like a crimson water fountain for ticks.

Okay, enough of the aside.

My wife Lj had to go home to get the things we’d need for a stay of, we had been warned “a couple of days if it’s pneumonia, or up to a few weeks if it’s sepsis.” I got hooked into the wall-mounted oxygen, and a few banks of monitors checking my blood 02 levels, my heart rate, my respiratory rate, my blood pressure (originally set to take itself every two hours, eventually downgraded to a nurse doing it every four), my IV fluid intake, and I am sure a half-dozen other things I never know about.

For me, the main thing I hard to remember about the oxygen and monitors was, if I had to go pee, that required unhooking three sets of wired sensors, unplugging the rolling IV stand, and curling up enough oxygen hose to play out in the slow, daunting, exhausting, trip from the fat-cradle-bed 5 feet to the bathroom. It took planning, perseverance, and patience to go pee.

Lj wanted to stay in the room with me, but I saw the chairs they had in there, and began to tell her not to. An overnight in one of those not-padded-for-spit, kinda-reclines-but-not-really, hard-arms-that-dig-into-your-sides chairs would leave her back aching, her legs cramped, and her so sleeplessly tired she couldn’t safely drive. Trooper that she is, she refused to budge and insisted on staying.

Until about 3 am, when she had to go home before she was so pained she couldn’t. My wife is determined, not stupid.

The next 24 hours was hard on me, maybe the hardest of the whole time I was hospitalized. Lj got stuck at home trying to catch up on things left undone, and a thunderstorm, and other issues, and I told her not to come see me the next day because it was going to be too much for her. I cried a lot, because I couldn’t sleep (getting your blood drawn every four hours, and a nebulizer strapped to your face every 4 hours, and your blood sugar checked every four hours, but all by different people on different schedules, makes sleep tricky-at-best), and because no one could tell me what was wrong with me for sure, and nothing was getting better, and I was afraid this was what I had to look forward to for the rest of my life.

It was a dark place. The nurses noticed, and got me some anti-anxiety prescriptions, and that helped.

Thurs-Fri-Sat were better, though the longer I was stuck in the bariatric bed I was at war with, and went without a shower, the grumpier I got. But I finagled a better chair for Lj so when she did return, she could (and did) stay with me. And the diagnosis began to firm up. In addition to the pneumonia and the anemia, I almost certainly had a pulmonary embolism (that’s doctor-talk for “blood clot in your lungs choking you like an evil little chest-gremlin), which led to testing for and confirmation of a Deep Vein Thrombosis (doctor talk for “don’t sit in a chair for 12-14 hours straight each day or you’ll die”). Blood thinners were added. I began to be able to walk a bit.

Walking 35 feet while on oxygen before collapsing in a chair sweating like a Thousand Sons at a big Emperor of Mankind’s Birthday party may not sound like much, but it was a far cry from only being able to go 3-to-5 feet.

(Yes, that’s a 40k reference. I have a specific friend I snuck that in for.)

My doctor wanted to confirm my pulmonary embolism with a cat scan. … he wanted to, but couldn’t, because I was too fat to fit in any CAT scan they could get me to. But the proof of the clot in my leg, combined with the blood thinners showing improvement, finally convinced him to let me go home.

It was, as I noted at the time, victory in the tactical battle… but a strategic war remains to be fought. Pulmonary embolisms are serious, can be deadly, and this one nearly got me. And there are still unknowns — my lung x-ray suggested, inconclusively, possible lung scarring which would mean permanent lung capacity loss. I need physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, follow-ups with cardiologists and various other specialists. I have a serious bleeding issue that needs to get addressed, and it’s exacerbated by my being on blood thinners for at minimum the next 6 months.

I have to learn how to sleep again, learn how to sit again, learn how to moisturize my sinuses again (nothing with glycol or petroleum… but I finally found an option and I do NOT want to set my nose on fire), learn how to eat again (and not the way I’d expect — I need more iron, magnesium, and protein), and it still takes significant planning to pee. (Especially if I need to pee at night — I have to either unplug the oxygen from my CPAP and reattach its own nose-valve, or have the separate oxygen tank nearby so I can swap from CPAP to tank…)

Doctor’s visits every couple of weeks, maybe for months. Bruising at the drop of a hat, maybe forever. Laying down every few hours to elevate my legs, BUT standing every hour to move them around. And every time my breath runs even a little short, I have to fight a wave of panic. The long stretches where my heart pounded for hours, and my lungs were on fire, and my brain was screaming that I was going to die with silent, gasping screams my final act on this Earth… they have left a mark on me.

Even if I was at full health, it’d be exhausting. But I’m not. I can sit totally calm without oxygen, but need it to do anything or stand and go anywhere. My reserves do not exist. If I do too much at 10 am, I’m still feeling it at 10 pm. Focusing on anything is tough, and thinking (or writing, which I admit does not always involve me bothering to think) tires me at a frightening speed.

I’m alive, but my life is radically changed. My capacity is reduced drastically. Maybe this is just-for-now. Maybe it’s forever. Most likely, it’s somewhere in the middle.

As my journey goes forward and evolves, and I figure out what I am doing about my career, my place in this industry, my total-lack-of-retirement-options, and my current health challenges (especially how they relate to this blog and outstanding projects of mine), I’ll let you all know.

Methods of Support
So, a lot of people have offered a lot of support, and I deeply, deeply appreciate it. There are plans moving forward to try to help cover medical bills and loss of income, and when they’re ready, I’ll announce them here. I may end up needing to turn to extraordinary measures, such as a GoFundMe, but I won’t be doing that until I know for certain I have to.

However, if you DO want to offer immediate support, I won’t refuse it. You can join or increase your membership tier at my Patreon, or if you prefer do one-time support through my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.


About My Pulmonary Embolism

Hey folks. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted to my blog much for the past week, and there’s a pretty compelling reason for that.

CW – ambulances, breathing issues, health issues, hospitals, and frank discussions of how fat people are treated by some healthcare professionals.

I was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. It wasn’t fun.

(This is me on Feb 16th…not having fun.)

For the tl;dr crowd: I was taken to the hospital last Tuesday (2/14/2023) with a blood clot in my lungs, kept there until Saturday, and am home now but still extremely week. I’ll need weeks, maybe months, to fully recover, and it could all happen again without warning.

Okay, that’s the extremely short version. Now, it’s storytime.

Storytime: My Pulmonary Embolism, Part One – You Should Go To The ER

I’ve been having health issues since 2014. In fact, I’ve gone to the ER once a year on average since December 2014, and have been suffering some infection or other literally 25% of my life for the past 8 years. A lot of that was colds, but I have also had pneumonia 4 times, bronchitis twice (once concurrently with the pneumonia), the flu 6 times (yes, despite getting a flu shot every year), the super-generic sounding “upper reparatory infection” five times, had long periods (weeks or months at a time) where I suffered apparently random sudden-onset fatigue that could shut me down as if someone had flipped a switch in my brain to make me unable to think to do anything except fall asleep… and had staph infections. A LOT of staph infections, involving more than half those ER trips I mentioned, and hospitalizing me once in 2019.

In short I have become, as a dear friend noted to me shortly before the pandemic, fragile.

The early days of the pandemic were actually a break of health for me, for about 4 months. I got more done, had more energy, and was never sick. But by the end of 2020, I was exhausted all the time, often with no explanation, back to getting pneumonia and staph infections, and often had trouble focusing on tasks.

So when I got a bad cold last December (having dared to go outside my social bubble to see tiny groups of people in well-ventilated areas, like my in-town family), and that turned into a bacterial lung infection, and that turned into pneumonia that took two courses of antibiotics and a course of steroids to get rid of the worst symptoms, I was not surprised. And when that left me with extremely low endurance, I chalked it up to being a morbidly obese man in my 50s who had been sick for six weeks. I mean, that pneumonia had been so bad my doctor had told me if I ended up having trouble breathing, “you should go to the ER.”

Sure, walking across a room left me slightly short of breath, but that was something I could fix (as I always had) over time. I wasn’t “having trouble breathing,” right? Just getting winded easily. I’d recover my endurance.

But oh, no. Not this time.

Unbeknownst to me, I have developed Deep Vein Thrombosis in my right thigh. This is a fancy way of saying I had a blood clot. And a bit of that blood clot had broken off from the mothership, moved to my lung, and begun reducing oxygen flow to my heart.

This is bad.

But I still had no idea what was going on. So I struggled along for another week and a half… and things got worse. I went from being slightly winded if I crossed a room to beginning to wheeze the moment I stood up. This freaked me out, and I made an appointment to see my doctor, and got some bloodwork done. I mean, I could breathe, so the ER wasn’t necessary. Maybe just one more round of antibiotics, and my doctor would need to see my lab results to know what to try this time.

I ran a game on Saturday the 11th, despite being unable to walk more than 5 feet at a time. I had to bow out of playing in a game on the 12th. I cried about how weak and tired I was on the 13th, and had to plan any moment requiring me to stand very, very carefully.

So, yes, something was obviously very, very wrong. And, equally obviously, I should have gone to the ER. And I didn’t. And there are multiple reasons for that, ranging from the expense (even with the insurance I scrimp and scrape t pay for, an ER trip is a bit hit to my budget) to my CPTSD (I can get panic attacks in any circumstance where I don’t understand what is going to happen). But a big one is… I’m fat.

Very, very fat.

Fat people have problems with healthcare professionals. A lot of that can be mitigated by finding one who actually treats you like a person, but at an ER you don’t get to pick your doctor. I have been told at ERs that my fever was “normal” for someone my size when I actually had pneumonia. I’ve been told a staph infection was weight-related acne, shortly before I began vomiting from it. My rheumatoid arthritis has been dismissed as weight-related osteoarthritis with a glance and exactly 0 testing. And, many, many times I have been told by a doctor, without talking to me or looking at my records, that a given problem is a side-effect of uncontrolled diabetes.

It’s worth noting, as part of that story, that I’m not diabetic. Never have been.

So, yes, I needed to go to the ER for days, and just muddled along in pain, short of breath, and constantly exhausted rather than face dismissal, insult, and misdiagnosis yet again.

And that brings us to February 14th. Valentines Day. And boy, did I have a heart-shaped surprise coming.

I had trouble sleeping (no shock, I’m an incurable insomniac, even with my sleep apnea well-treated and managed), so I got up late. My wife Lj was, as she often does, taking up the slack in what needed to get done and was herself exhausted. Since I was up to deal with things like expected deliveries, she lay down for a nap. And I decided to freshen up with a shower.

Showering had been a chore for days, but I was determined to push through it. My breath got short, and my legs got weak, but I’m already nearly a shut-in thanks to the pandemic. I was determined not to be an invalid. No matter how much I gasped for breath, no matter how much my heart began to hammer, I forced myself to push through it. And when it was done, I sat down to catch my breath.

Minutes passed. I was still wheezing and my heart was still pounding. My vision was filling with spots. I nearly passed out.

“So, Owen, you finally went to the ER, right?”

Oh, no friends. No such thing.

No, I went and woke my wife and told her I couldn’t be the one to stay up to deal with things. I had to lie down. And, to be frank, she was pretty ticked about it. But she saw I was panting, thought I’d just done something requiring exertion despite being chronically short of breath and seeing a doctor about it the following week, and let me lay down. I strapped on my CPAP… and kept gasping for air.

I’m not sure I can accurately describe the nightmare that followed. Not only was my heart not calming down or my breathing easing, it was getting worse. My vision blurred. I waited. And waited. For 30 minutes. And then when I decided to call for help… I couldn’t. I could barely choke out words one at a time. Thankfully, we have a smart speaker system, and I used it to cough out a housewide cry for aid.

My wife heard, came and saw me, and asked if I needed to go to the ER. I finally said yes. So she started to get ready, and we discovered I couldn’t stand.

THAT is when we both started to get really frightened. I am slow. I tire quickly. I’m fragile. But I have always, always been able to get up on my feet and do the crucial thing when it mattered.

But not that day. Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. Call an ambulance.

The 911 call went well. Upon discovering I had some bleeding issues (another thing I was to discuss with the doctor a week later), the emergency operator made sure they *didn’t* give me the aspirin otherwise called for in this case. Eight firemen showed up, took my vitals and, to their eternal credit, never assumed anything about why I was unable to breathe and my heart was beating hard, fast, and unevenly. Then the paramedics showed up, took my blood oxygen, strapped an oxygen mask to my face, and it was immediately time for me to go to the ER.

The firemen rolled me back and forth to get two traps under me… and carried me out of the bedroom, around an immediate 90-degree corner, and out the front door. Now, I am a BIG guy. When I walk through a doorway, there’s no spare space. But somehow these 8 calendar-worthy men surrounded me, 3 to each side, one at my head and one at my feet, and walked me through doors I barely fit through by myself.

Which is not to say it was easy for them. They were carrying me out head first, when one of them noticed the gurney outside was set to receive me feet-first.

One panting fireman; “Hey, we’re bringing him out head first. Turn the gurney.”

One calm paramedic: “No, we’re set up feet first. Turn the patient.”

Eight panting firemen: “TURN THE GURNEY!”

They turned the gurney, and the firemen got me into the ambulance. My wife Lj was right behind them, sitting in our car.

For minutes. It took them a long time to consider me stable. The paramedics were monitoring my blood 02, my heart, my mental state… and had to decide which of the two Emergency Rooms in range was better qualified to handle me. Lj has to sit for long minutes, knowing I was in the ambulance, and for some reason it wasn’t moving yet.

But eventually, they made a call (the right one, to their credit, we’d work out days later once my issue was actually diagnosed), and I got my first ambulance ride.


Residents of Norman, Oklahoma may recall there was a high wind advisory that day. As I rode in the ambulance to the hospital, I got to hear the dispatch report downed wires… then reports of smoke, then brush fires. Then MORE downed wires. And a flipped car. It sounded like a busy day.

It was.

When I got to the hospital, there were no slots open in the ER. So I was parked, along with the paramedics, still on the not-designed for-7XL-scale-humans gurney, in a hallway.

For an hour.

During which time my wife couldn’t come see me. But eventually they got me in, and she could sit with me… and worry. All we knew was that if they took the oxygen off my face, by 02 level dropped like a rock. From 97 to 70% in the seconds it took to switch me from the paramedic’s tank to the ER supply. And we did not know why.

Thankfully, our good friend Carl had, as soon as Lj had notified friends I was headed to the ER, told her he was on his way. They let him come into the ER bay I was in, and stay with her. And for a few hours, we all waited, while they took blood, strapped electrodes to me, ran machines in and out, slid x-ray plates under me, and said they’d try to figure out if it was an infection, covid, an as-yet unknown virus (yeah, they called that out as a specific possibility), sepsis, heart attack, or something else.

But at least I could breathe… shallowly, with the help of a machine.

We’ll get into the move to a hospital room, the diagnosis, and my eventually discharge in Part Two… which will be out when it’s out. [Edit: It’s out, find it here.] This post represents all I have been able to do over Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and I have no idea how long the next post will take. I’ll do my best to update y’all as soon as I can.

I DO want to say that from firemen to doctors to nurses to account reps and outpatient services, everyone I dealt with was professional, efficient, never dismissive and (with the exception of one grumpy nurse who was at the tail end of an 14-hour shift) polite and considerate.

Methods of Support
So, a lot of people have offered a lot of support, and I deeply, deeply appreciate it. There are plans moving forward to try to help cover medical bills and loss of income, and when they’re ready, I’ll announce them here. I may end up needing to turn to extraordinary measures, such as a GoFundMe, but I won’t be doing that until I know for certain I have to.

However, if you DO want to offer immediate support, I won’t refuse it. You can join or increase your membership tier at my Patreon, or if you prefer do one-time support through my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.


Storytime Video: Backwards Bowling

I’m thinking of getting back into videos and maybe podcasts.

Here’s my most recent effort.

The Year. It is New.

A “New Year” is, of course, an abstract idea. A social construct. We could have marked its passage last week, or next week, or 71 days ago. If we did it on a solstice or equinox, that would at least be tied to some specific actual event. But instead, we have a rather abstract observance tied to a calendar that has a long history (though not as long as many people think) of being wrong, changing, and adjusting to meet everything from political needs to atomic calculations.

But the fact that this being the first day of a “New” year is a cultural decision doesn’t mean it lacks real power. Because of that cultural decision, the cost of my health insurance went up 16 hours and 40 minutes ago. (Well, it went up for a ton of cultural decisions, but the timing of that increase is tied to all of us collectively flipping from one calendar page to another).
How much money I make in the last 365 days and the next 365 days matters more for many federal laws than how much I made in 365 days centered on today. Many businesses are charging me for 365 days of service now, or within a week of now, because that’s how they want to define a year.

Those examples are more concrete, and less optional, than things like “new” year resolutions, but that doesn’t mean taking this shared moment to try to adjust our life course is any less “real.” And for the first time in a long time, I have major resolutions I have chosen to make now, because of the thoughts and decisions I came to when contemplating the past year (and the few years before that). Could I have done that contemplation at another time? Of course.

But I didn’t. Spurred by the mass delusion that is the flipping of a specific page on a communal dust collector, I’ve thought about it now. In preparation for now, even, which in many ways is more impressive. The imaginary temporal line in the sand has enough power for me to want to be ready for it, even though in no physical way is it significantly different than the line before it, or the line yet to come.

And, honestly, that plays into the theme I’m embracing for a new way of trying to survive, and to contribute to the society that I live in like it or not. To accept that the nonphysical has power, and that trying to dismiss it as irrelevant to the base, crass, fleshly moments of my existence is not just foolish, it’s delusional. My advantages are real, even when they are as unweighable as inspiration, friends, and hope. My drawbacks are no less obstacles to be overcome when they are moods and fears and morals rather than measured barriers of location, height, weight.


I am born down by vast weight, but the pounds and ounces of fat and hardened arteries are only a fraction of what crushes me. And its those invisible, insubstantial weights of depression and hopelessness that often drove me to add the pounds and ounces, which speaks to their greater power. I don’t have to go so far as the spiritual or religious to see how the things I cannot prove or falsify are often the things that are going to decide if I live or die.

Many times in the past, I have denigrated the idea of a “new” year, because the core elements of my existence don’t change when a date does. I’m aging by the analog moment, not in digital chunks. My failures, personal and public, come in deadlines strained until they die, not crisp seconds of fireworks making bright distinctions of a date passing.

But this year, this New Year, I am embracing the opportunity, as psychological and traditional and cultural as it is, to try something new. And even if the most important elements of my life and my effort at a different approach to it are too ephemeral to sift into a jar or pack onto a shelf, the results of a change in life view can be measured.

And I am beginning that measurement today.

While I wish joy upon all of you in every moment, that needn’t lessen the impact of wish you all a:

Happy New Year.

Storytime: The Insane 20-Person, 14-Hour, Multiple ttRPG Game System Adventure I Played In At WorldCon 1984

Over the weekend I was reminiscing about my first big convention, the 42nd WorldCon when I was 13 years old, and how I wandered around by myself in LA with hundreds of dollars for most of a week. For those curious about the whole post, it’s at the end of this blog entry.

But one of the things I have gotten the most feedback on from that story was mentioning I played in a “20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.” And, yeah, that was pretty crazy. Several people have asked me to talk more about that game, and it was darn near 40 years ago, but I’ll give a quick rundown to the best of my recollection.

There were lots of “Open Gaming” rooms at the 1984 WorldCon, spread over numerous hotels, which were set aside for people to just organize their own game sessions. I am sure there were organized tournaments and scheduled games as well, but I didn’t interact with that end of things at all (and still rarely do). Instead, I had a backpack with my favorite characters, a bunch of dice, some snacks, and a couple of rulebooks, and looked for people interested in striking up an ad hoc game. That was how gaming had been handled in the tiny convention that was my first taste of cons in Norman the year before, so that was what I expected to be the “standard.”

And, there was a pretty robust 24/7 gaming scene in at least one of the hotels, and I got a few games in. But the one I remember best started about 5-6pm, I think on Thursday (might have been Friday), and came together because a charismatic young man (I thought of him as “an adult” at the time, I’d guess now he was somewhere in his 20s, likely college-aged) stood on a chair in one of the biggest open-game rooms, and shouted he would run a game for any number of people, allowing any characters, from any game system, all together.

There was a lot of slack-jawed disbelief, but when he started setting up multiple fishing tackle boxes of dice, miniatures, and terrain, a bunch of us got interested and went over to see what was up. There were 20 of us players (give or take), and only 3 open round banquet tables in the room. I mentioned there were spare tables a couple of floors down and a young woman (older than me, but I thought not by much — I do not remember her name… I don’t think though it might have been Susan, but she had what I thought was an adorable Canadian accent) said we should go steel them. And she was leading the mission, because she was going to playing an Expert Thief.

So a few of went with her, rode an escalator down one level, cleared and grabbed two round tables no one seemed to be using, rolled them down the hall, had 2-person teams brace them on the escalator for a ride up, and rolled them down to the game room.

The GM had the now 5 tables arranged in a circle, stored his stuff on the floor under them, stood in the middle, and explained the game. First, he really meant any character, any game system. We each got to do one thing in a round, and he’d deal with each of us in our native game system. If there was one monster, the Metamorphasis Alpha characters would fire gyrojet rounds at it, the various D&D players swing swords and fling spells, and the Boot Hill gang (all of one table IIRC) could fan revolvers and unload shotguns. I’m pretty sure he played fast and loose with the rules, all the rules, but it never interfered with the game.

I played a high-level cleric who worshipped Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel, and carried said saint’s cudgel as an artifact. There were several D&D characters of various editions and classes, a flying psychic telekinetic blue whale and it’s ally a white 4-armed gorilla covered in chitinous armor plates, a Boot Hill outlaw gang (maybe called the Broken Trestle Gang?), and I am absolutely forgetting several folks.

The GM got straight to the set-up, explaining that each of us had a dream where we were told by a wispy voice that only we could save everything, and the End was coming to destroy the Demiurges, destroying all of reality, and we had to stop it. And then our characters woke up on an island covered in various ship, train, and carriage wrecks, with a huge ruby tower at the center. We roleplayed introductions briefly, dealt with the fact several characters thought they were still dreaming (or had gone mad, or were high on bad moonshine, or all of the above)… and then just as we were trying to figure out who would be in charge and what we were going to do, creatures that looked like the garthim from the Dark Crystal came wading out of the water to attack us, and they had small turrets on their shells with machine guns in them.

It was quickly clear that if you didn’t have cover, the machine guns would chew you up. And if you did have cover, the guns would chew it up in a few rounds. So we tried to cover each other and fell back toward the ruby tower. But we couldn’t get in the front door. So, the flying blue whale told us all to climb on board it, and it flew up the tower… and through a big crack in the sky.

And we went reality-hopping on a psychic mutant blue whale. If someone’s character died, they ran to go grab food (we all pitched in), then usually came back to watch, at least for a few hours.

I absolutely can’t remember everything that happened. We stayed up all night, eating cold pizza and drinking warm Pepsi, and I had the time of my life. There were undead WWII battleships, living “evil eyes” that would fly into the wound of a dead person to become a “third eye” and possess them, floating islands, reality and alternate planes curling back on each other, and at least a little time was spent in fantasy, Old West, and Generation Ship in Space settings. One of the D&D rogues ended up with a sawed-off Boot Hill shotgun. One of the Boot Hill gang members got a ray gun from Metamorphasis Alpha. The psychic blue whale sacrificed itself to save us when a spiked ghost train attacked us in the Astral Plane by crashing into it head-on, while an AD&D wizard riding it broke his Staff of the Magi on its cowcatcher.

We worked out that The End wanted all our worlds to stop existing, and had discovered our worlds all existed because the Demiurges willed them to, and all the Demiurges were gathered in one place, and it was going to kill them, but we could stop it. And the flying eyes all belonged to an extradimensional creature that served as a lookout for the End. It had a weird name, like “That Which Disapproves,” though I doubt that’s exactly right.

We played all evening, all night, and well into the next morning. Character after character died, but we knew it was okay, because if we stopped the End, they would live again, and if we didn’t we’d all cease to exist.

We ended up with just 5-6 of us left, in the Modern Era, in LA, hunting the End through the halls of a hotel… and finally found it. It was a scrawny, unimpressive, short boogeyman, lurking outside a room at the hotel. And it was looking through the door at… us.

Us, the players. We were the Demiurges. The End wanted to kill us, and if our characters didn’t stop it, we, as real-world people, would be killed by it. The idea thrilled me…and freaked me out.

But the last few heroes (including my cleric) destroyed the End, ensuring that the worlds of adventure would continue forever. And we realized we could, as our characters, go into the room and meet ourselves, as players. And in that moment, having gorged myself on junk food and soda and been awake for something like 36 hours and playing for 14, I believed. But, we decided in-character that might freak out the Demiurges, so we left.

Also, there was something about a dartboard. There was a folding-cabinet bar-style dartboard in that hotel conference room for some reason, and it came into play in the story of the End, but I can’t for the life or me remember how.

And the game ended. We exchanged long-distance phone numbers and address and promised to keep in touch and I, at least, had lost all that info by the end of the weekend.

Then I went and slept in the Anime Room, because it was closer than my hotel room.

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For those of you who want some context, here’s the story I posted on Social Media about my time at the 42nd WorldCon.

I don’t have kids, and I am well aware that things were different 40 years ago. But apparently even people my own age are shocked to learn my mother was fine with me wandering around LA on my own at age 13 with $500 on me.

Though to be fair, $300 of that was traveler’s checks.

It was for the 42nd WorldCon, and I was almost 14.

My mother went with me, and we had a hotel room, but we mostly checked in on a notepad in the room. We rarely saw each other.

She was filking. I was gaming.

I went to a Elfquest #20 Howl/release party. A woman dressed as Nightfall flirted with me and gave me first-ever romantic kiss (from someone I didn’t even know the real name of).

Saw the anime Lensman movie.

Was part of a banquet table heist so we could fit more gamers in a room.

Rode to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh.

Ate breakfast at a diner counter at 4am, discussing Return of the Jedi with some nightflyers who weren’t, AFAICT, die-hard geeks.

Played a 20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.

Bought my first junk metal wall-hanged sword.
Broke my first junk metal wall-hanger sword.
Bought my second junk-metal wall-hanger sword.

Got offered, and declined, my first beer from a stranger.

Ordered a delivery pizza just for me to eat watching movies, for the first time.

Saw, for the first time, ALIEN, Dawn of the Dead, Heavy Metal, Flesh Gordon, Dark Star, Sapphire & Steel, The Quatermass Experiment, Mad Max, Life of Brian, Clockwork Orange, and Zardoz. The video quality was often terrible, and some may have been taped off movie screens.

That was my 2nd or 3rd scifi convention ever, and it would be a high-point until I got to a Gen Con in the late 1990s.

I was a BIG 13-year old, in both height and weight. I’d never been unsupervised while away from my home town before. We didn’t have cell phone, or pagers.

Now as it turns out, I was fine. I can’t say if it was genius parenting, or luck, but the experience was formative for me in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was I saw how total strangers reacted when someone whipped out a big wad of $20s, and stopped doing that.

For Starfinder: Squimic the Mimic

So, I wrote Squimic for an adventure back in 2018. The idea was that in a grey experimental base, the PCs would find Squimic in a lab, the result of a project the grays did not yet considered a success. I wanted to introduce an NPC gun that would talk to characters and grow with whoever carried it. But, my idea was complex, untested, and would have required GMs running followup adventures to ad lib Squimic’s responses since the authors of those adventures were writing them at the same time I was, and had no idea Squimic existed and thus could not include any guidance on how it would react to the events they were writing about.

Ultimately the developers who did a great job polishing my raw text into a finished adventure simplified Squimic into a “Living Transmutation Matrix,” and I think they did the right thing. An idea can be fun and perfect for some groups without being the right fit for every adventure.

But, since that adventure came out years ago (and was released under the OGL), I feel comfortable presenting my original open content version of Squimic here, for anyone who thinks a little mimic gun buddy is a good match for their campaigns. I’ve included all the text that would have been in that adventure if they’d gone with my version, including background information on the project and how the PCs were to find and interact with Squimic, but not any of the plot points, proper nouns the publisher used, the adventure name, or any of the other material the publisher marked as Product Identity in their Open Game Content declaration.

Squimic was found in a lab where it had been consistently used by a robot to shoot troll polyps.

S.Q.U.I – Mimic

A search reveals a dirty and battered data-tag, marked SQUI-mic, with further information encoded in a small computer chip. A close examination shows it actually says “S. Q. U. I. – mimic,” though the periods and first “mi-“ were concealed by dirt. Anyone can use a comm unit in their armor, or any tier of computer, to read the full encoded information stored in the tag. This reveals it is for a Special Qualities Unified Initiative Mimic. It’s clear the project name is “Unified Initiative,” the branch of that project that created this project is the “Special Qualities” division, and the test subject is a mimic.

In fact, Squimic is the only even-partially successful prototype of a special project to create small, cybernetically-enhanced mimics that could switch between taking the form of tiny creatures (especially vermin, rodents, and pets), and useable technological devices. The grays hoped to be able to breed these creatures to serve as tools of their espionage agents, but were concerned about Squimic’s intellect and independent motivations. They hoped repeated exposure to threats that required assistance (in the form of the robot arm) would cause Squimic to “normalize” the concept of just doing what they are told.

(Some of Squimic’s many possible forms. Art by Hasibul)


Though Squimic is a living, sapient creature, they lack the ability to move or take most actions. Mostly they just take the form of various small arms, and shoots at things someone wielding them aims at and pulls their trigger (though Squimic can refuse to carry out such attacks if it wishes to). As a result, squimic is much closer to an item with some special rules than a creature, and is treated as such in its description.

Squimic can become any item level 1-3 small arm or basic or advanced melee weapon of light bulk or less that it is familiar with, and which uses batteries (of any capacity), darts, flares, petrol, rounds (of any kind) or scattergun shells as ammunition. It is currently familiar only with those the grays programmed into it (including all such presented in Chapter 7 of the Starfinder Core Rulebook, along with the tactical switchblade, wire garrote, personal cryospike, red star solar brand, subzero hail pistol, frost subduer, bruiser decoupler, bombard shellgun, vapor cavatation gun, bravado handcannon, and explorer handcoil from Starfinder Armory). Regardless of what kind of weapon Squimic is, they can accept any size battery, and use the battery for all ammunition usage of the weapon they are emulating (using the energy to generate darts, round, shells, and similar physical ammo as needed). Squimic can learn another weapon if it can examine one in detail over 10 minutes, and it meets all their other requirements.

Squimic can have one “ready” form they can assume as a full action (currently a vapor cavatation gun), and it can take any other form over the course of ten minutes. Squimic’s ready form can be changed with an 8-hour period of “downtime” that functions like sleep.

Squimic is currently treated as an item level 5 weapon for purposes of hardness, HP, saves, and so on. They act as though they had a tier-2 computer with an artificial personality for purpose of what skills they have and at what bonus. They count as both a weapon and an aberration for purposes of what spells and effects can function on them, and if an effect can work on both the caster may choose how to treat Squimic.

Squimic can grow in power if someone provides enough UPBs for it to eat and makes a successful Diplomacy check (DC 15 + 1.5x Squimic’s current item level). Squimic can never be of higher level than the number of ranks in Diplomacy of the character attempting to convince them to grow, and the highest item level small arm or melee weapon of light bulk they can become is always their current item level -2. Squimic’s effective computer tier is always equal to half its current item level.

Squimic can only consume raw UPBs, or functioning and fully-repaired weapons, armor, and armor upgrades. Items must have an item level no greater than Squimic’s item level +2, and if they have an item level lower than Squimic’s -2. Squimic gains only 10% of the UPB value of the item. The total UPBs Squimic consumes determines their maximum item level.

Item Level Total UPBs Consumed

6 4,000

7 6,500

8 9,000

9 12,500

10 19,000

11 24,000

12 32,000

13 48,000

14 65,000

15 110,000

16 150,000

17 235,000

18 350,000

19 550,000

20 900,000

Characters may well have questions for Squimic, which they answer to the best of their ability. Some typical questions and answers are detailed below.

Q: Who are you? (or What are you? Where did you come from? What’s your name?)

A: “I don’t know! I woke up next to a broken tube, and everything was shaking. There was a tag on the tube marked “SQIU-mic,” so I guess my name is Squimic.”

Q: How can you become a functioning weapon?

A: “Oh, I can become all sorts of things! They just… appear. In my head. And if I think real hard, I turn into them! I… I don’t know how. Or why.”

Q: Who created you? What are your plans now? What can you tell us about this facility?

A: “I don’t know about anything outside this room. There was some sirens and explosions earlier, but I didn’t go look what made them. I have no idea where I come from, or why I was brought here, or what I am going to do next!”

Q: Why were you a plasma pistol?

A: “I kept being put in that broken case with those squirmy things, and they’d try to hit me! And there was this robot arm that would squeeze me, so I became different guns with the robot hand pulling my trigger, to see what would keep the squirmy things from hurting me, and this worked the best.”

Squimic has no hostile intent toward the PCs, though they defend themselves if attacked. They are afraid to explore beyond this room by themselves, and are unwilling to be sent anywhere on their own, but are willing to accompany the PCs, and even act as a weapon for a character as long as the PCs promise not to use them as an expendable scout or abandon them.

Squimic is happy to help, as long as the PCs treat them reasonably well (not sticking them in a bag, not using them to look around dangerous corners, and so on). Each time Squimic feels abused its attitude toward the PCs goes down one step (beginning with neutral), and it takes a Diplomacy check to improve. Squimic functions as a standard weapon for anyone they feel neutral or better towards, but refuses to function for anyone they feel unfriendly or hostile towards.

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I Am A College Dropout And Professional Writer

I do not have a college education.

I can, technically, list “some college” on forms or resumes as my highest educational level, but I got 0 credit hours from that “some college.” It wasn’t a great time for me, and I failed everything. Yes, every single class. For three semesters in a row. And, really, the impressive part of that story is that I talked my way past the admissions panels and deans of schools twice after failing every single class I took. While my close friends and colleagues know I can be a tenacious debater (I mean, I also talked my way into my High School diploma, which I was technically 1/2 credit short of earning), I have to suspect being a cis white male who was the son of two university employees (a professor and an executive secretary trusted to log information about radioactive materials) has as much to do with it as my blessing of blarney.

I was invited into a scholastic fraternity too, after three semesters of all-failing grades. So, yeah, I was treated by a nonstandard set of rules.

But I gave up, and walked away, and got jobs as a pizza delivery driver (a few times), movie theater usher (for one week, before I quit), banquet setup crew, short order fry cook, and the manager of a student union’s parking garage. All the while, what I wanted to do was write, preferably for big professional game companies.

And that left me in a bit of a pickle when I was applying for those professional jobs in the game industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As tempting as it was to write “Education: Talked my way into a High School Diploma and got enrolled in the same college three times despite failing ever class every semester — ask me how!” I’m not a big risk-taker when it comes to promoting myself. I was aware that cutesy things (sending in your resume as a character sheet or formatted as an adventure, doing it on pink paper with sketches of unicorns in the margins, literally folding it into origami that popped open as you tugged on it) were things some other applicants did, and that I just lacked the aura of whimsey to pull off.

So, for years: “Education: High School Degree, Aegis English Advanced Writing Program, Some College.

(And “Aegis English was just a special talented student program in High School, but I figured it sounded cool, and if someone asked me about it at least I was at an interview stage, where I could pile on the effort to be a strong advocate for my position.)

I picked and choose from other jobs that made me sound organized and team oriented. Being a manager of, well, anything was better than a big gap in my work history. Customer service at a bank suggested I could pass a background check. Most of the rest of it? Chucked in the proverbial bin.

Once I was actually on-staff at Wizards of the Coast for 14 months from 2000-2001, that became the crown jewel in my resume for a while. I figured a staff game industry job, followed by dozens of freelance projects for the same company, suggested I did good work. Then repeated freelance work for other companies. Then there was regular work for Super Genius Games. Then a developer gig for Green Ronin, which became the thing I built all my resume around.

And I began to wonder… was listing “High School, Some College” helping me, at all. Or, with no degree to point to, no specialty listed, no ongoing education in years, was I just highlighting one of my weaknesses? If I could get some staff jobs and tons of freelance, didn’t that matter a ton more than a sheepskin? No matter how undereducated I was, I could clearly put words together in a way that generated repeat business, which ought to be proof enough I wasn’t an idiot.

Now, to be clear, if I HAD had a degree in anything relevant, like English, Literature, History, Archeology, Film Studies (you know, just to mention some stuff there are Paizo employees with degrees in), sure, I’d include it. But there comes a point where the fact I was the manager of a parking garage, or could bread and fry cutlets, doesn’t really say anything about my ability to be a good fit for a staff job about making up worlds and rules and adventures.

It was actually my application to Paizo in 2014 when I decided “Fuck listing my education, with its high school and a few hours of college but no degree. I have more than 15 years of relevant, noteworthy, easily referenced work in this field. No one gives a shit if I don’t have a degree.” What I did do on that resume was list every single publication I had been paid for and was credited with. Every Dragon article. Every d20 Weekly byline. Every sourcebook, pdf, online adventure, and official website rules-answers article. Pages and pages of them.

Quantity, I felt, had a quality all it’s own.

(It was also, I have since been told by people who had to read it, a bit much. Nowadays I tend to lump things like Dragon articles and official advice columns into an entry that says “Various articles for Dragon Magazine, published from 1998 to 2009, list available upon request.”

And I can safely say in nearly a decade since making that decisions, whether applying at small ttRPG game companies, megacorporations, or start-ups, no one has asked me what my educational background it.


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The 40th Anniversary of My First RPG Character

I remember my first ttRPG character, who was also my first D&D character, quite well. I made him in the summer of 1982, when my sister and I were staying with our aunt, uncle, and cousins while our parents took a trip to Europe. My uncle had a copy of the 1st edition AD&D DMG in his Den of Geeky Stuff (along with an Apple computer with a flight simulator, Go and Shogi sets along with books on rules and variations on those and Chess and other classic games, model train books, model trains, a vast collection of Oz and Asterisk and Obelisk books, and I am sure some things that someone did not make a permanent impression on me). I was drawn to it, he saw me reading it, and he told me if I could figure out how the game worked, we’d play.

Since we only had the DMG, “figuring out how the game worked” turned out to be my first foray into RPG design, which thus precedes me ever actually playing an RPG. But that’s a story for a different time.

I named my first player character VanBuskirk. Now, a specific, small subset of classic scifi fans will immediately know where I got that name – it’s a secondary character from the Lensman series, which I was obsessed with at the time… and oblivious to the failings of. I still love those books, but not only do I embrace others’ criticism of them, but I also have my own critiques as well. The first Lensman story, “Galactic Patrol,” will hit the public domain in a decade or so and I may… okay, that’s also a story for a different time.

In Lensman, vanBuskirk is a Space Marine, and a heavy worlder, and a big guy, and a wielder of Space Axes, and if you happen to have played games I had a PC in, a lot of those elements may well strike you as familiar. So, you might think I’d make my PC a dwarf, or half-or, or at least a human. But, no, I decided to play an elf, I suspect largely due to the influence of the Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings movie. Of course if I’m making a character based on an axe-wielding Space Marine, I must have made him a fighter, right?

Well… fighter/magic-user/thief.

See, as best as my young self could figure it from just the 1st ed AD&D DMG, an elf could take three classes at the same time, and why wouldn’t you do that? Being a fighter meant I could have a Space Axe (yes, I wrote up special rules for space axes.) Being a magic-user meant I could “put on my screen” (a personal defensive barrier, you know, the shield spell). And being a thief meant… well, it meant my character wasn’t stuck in a dead-end career. See, elves had a level cap as fighters and magic-users (yes, I mean they literally couldn’t gain above a given level in those classes, which at the time didn’t feel weirder than Strength going from 3 to 25 but potentially having a percentile score if you had an 18, even though no other ability score than went from 3 to 25 had a set of percentile sub-scores if you had an 18). So, if I wanted my fighter/magic-user Space Marine to keep growing in power as well, he had to be a thief as well.

Is that Power Gaming? Maybe. I’ve been guilty of that from time to time, over the decades. I honestly feel a chunk of it isn’t my fault – if your character concept is Lancelot or Superman or Jedi Master Luke Skywalker or a Highlander, or even a Space Marine, you are going to want to be able to pull off the kind of badass stuff those characters do. And, especially in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot of discussion in the game-playing space of considerations beyond following the rules, not cheating, and everyone working together. I’ve learned a lot of lessons since then, and often have fun playing someone with one or more major flaws, but that didn’t come naturally to me.

My first game with VanBuskirk was run by my uncle, and the other player was my sister. She thought the whole thing was pretty dumb, and while I rushed to go explore the “dark opening in the rocky ground, with uneven stairs descending into a lightless pit,” she could not imagine why her character (who had food, and money, and camping equipment) would think that was a good idea. My uncle was GMing for the first time and tried having her see glints of gold at the bottom (which did not impress her, she *had* gold), making it rain (her character just pitched a tent), the area begin to flood (in which case she DEFINITELY wasn’t going underground), and then, in desperation, having her hear a cat crying in distress from the bottom of the stairs.

She rushed right in.

We had a single fight (to save a golden-furred kitten), and that was the end of the game. We never picked it up again. I was hooked forever. My sister was… not.

But VanBuskirk kept popping up for several years. Since I had no one at home to play with, my mother got advised to get me Tunnels & Trolls, which had solo adventures, and I made a new version of VanBuskirk (who had a wild career, from Buffalo Castle to a dungeon run through Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon, Naked Doom, Dargon’s Dungeon, and Beyond the Silvered Pane, to eventually tromp for months through City of Terrors, the associated Arena of Khazan, and down into the Sewer of Oblivion).

He became one of my main supporting NPCs in early AD&D games I ran (along with Frost the Gadget Girl, Father Mathew Cuthwulf – Bishop of Cuthbert, Sasha the Seeress, and the Archmage of Twelve Towers – all of whom have their own stories, for another time), and was my main playing-at-conventions characters throughout my teens. Conventions were one of the main places I played ttRPGs for a while, and everyone would just pull out a pile of coke-stained paper character sheets and find something the DM would allow. To accommodate this, VanBuskirk existed at different character levels, loot totals (from “scant” to “Monty Haul” to “Mounting ion cannons on the mechanical spider he claimed after taking it from Lolth, who now works for him”), and even multiple rule systems. For a while, if I was playing a fantasy game, I was probably playing some version of VanBuskirk.

And then, sometime in late middle school or early high school, I… stopped. I don’t remember the last time I played some version of VanBuskirk. But as I had more friends, and played in more regular campaigns with continuity, and used conventions more as places to play something new, VanBuskirk stopped meeting my needs. I kept all his character skeets for a long time. Then just a few key ones. Then just his original T&T sheet and one yellow parchment-patterned D&D-compatible sheet with a vaguely demigod version of him.  

And then, one day while moving, I realized I hadn’t used him for anything for more than a decade. And I let him go.

There are characters I get the itch to replay or recreate, from time to time. Father Cuthwulf and Frost, to name two. More recently Solnira, Temple, Kilroy, Celestial, and Lord Brevic Falkavian. I don’t do it, because like ice sculpture, or performance art, part of the appeal of the memories of those characters are the time and place in which they existed. If I tried to remake them, in a new time, a new game system, or with new players, it wouldn’t feel the same. And, besides, I have hundreds of ideas for characters I have never gotten to play, so why take up rare game slots with things I have done before?

But I never have any urge to recreate VanBuskirk. He met my needs when I was first gaming, and I appreciate all he did for me and went through in the name of my entertainment, even as a fictional character, but I don’t need an elven Space Marine fighter/magic-user/thief with a giant spider mecha anymore. Even if I was in a game where that was a reasonable character concept (and, yeah, I’d play in that game in a hot second), it’s not VanBuskirk I’d be going for.

But he came into existence 40 years ago this summer, and while I don’t think of him much anymore, I thought he deserved this one memorial. And, I hope, people might enjoy hearing how insane my first few ttRPG character concepts were.

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