On Screwing Up

I screwed up recently (not a new or rare occurrence), which lead me to begin running down my mental checklist for how to handle that fact. I realized I’ve never talked about that checklist, and that lead to:

Screwing Up. Next Steps.    

Congratulations, you screwed up. Now what?

This is my general guide for when you screw up on what to do AFTER the screw up. It is born of my professional experiences in the game industry, and personal experiences as an uneducated depressive introvert with confrontation, communication, and time management problems.

In short this comes from a LOT of experience screwing up, but they are all a specific set of screw-ups. Your massive personal failures may vary, and I am not a trained or expert screw up therapist.

Step One: Accept and Acknowledge

These are two separate things, but they are pretty tightly linked. Let’s start with acceptance.

This is specifically a guide for when YOU have screwed up. Not when someone screwed something else up and you catch the blame, or when the universe screws things up and you have to find ways to fix it. The built-in framework here is for when, yeah, you screwed up.

So, you have to accept that.

Acceptance is important for a lot of reasons. First, without your own buy in that you screwed up, you won’t be able to internalize the lesson that screw up contains. Second, acting like you screwed up when you don’t believe you did leads to resentment, among other things.

I’m not here to tell you when you screwed up. Just to say you have to take a long, hard look at major failures, and decide if that’s your own fault. If no, then you need to manage the disaster with an eye towards those factors that DID cause it. But if you screwed up, you need to accept that fact.

Acknowledgement in this case means acknowledging the screw up to those effected. If you fail to do something you said you’d do, or do something that causes problems for others, you need to let them know that YOU know.

This isn’t the place for self-flagellation. The object here is not to garner sympathy, or make yourself feel worse, or make the people who are negatively impacted by your screw up feel worse. It’s just a heads-up that yes, there’s a problem, you caused it, and you know it. Doing this right is tricky. I find efforts to spin why or how you screwed up often get in the way of a clean and useful acknowledgement. Sometimes people need to know why or how, or ask for their own purposes, and that’s fine (if it’s not private, which it can be). But the idea in this acknowledgement isn’t to cover your ass against the consequences (but in some environments you might have to do that, and only you can make that call). The idea here is to bring the other people involved up to your level of information in a polite, professional, and straightforward way.

Step Two: Assess

Okay, this entire article assumes you have screwed up. That’s the premise. This is about finding out how BADLY you screwed up, and what led to the screw up.

Step two is really about baring down on step one as many times as you need to. I personally think accepting and acknowledging at least begin before assessing—admit you screwed up and let people know there’s an issue as soon as you are sure there is one. But right after that, figure out how big a problem you caused. If that calls for accepting that things are worse than you thought (or realizing it’s not that big a deal), and updating anyone else affected, then do that. You need the information to continue this checklist.

Step Three: Mitigate

Nope, the steps aren’t all A words.

Now that you have an idea how big a problem you caused and how you caused it, see if there’s anything reasonable you can do to fix it. What’s reasonable is going to vary, and I can’t really give you hard rules for that. Small problems, or screw ups that it is easier for someone else to fix, or screw ups so massive or personal that anything you try only makes things worse, certainly do happen. You need to see if you can fix it, and if not can you make things better, and if not what can you do to minimizing making things even worse.

Those are of course, all super vague. Lemme give some examples.

If you are working on a project for someone and you know for certain you are going to miss a deadline, you have likely screwed up. If you accept and acknowledge that fact, and assessed the screw up, you should have contacted the person you are to turn it over to and let them know you are going to miss the deadline.

The next question is, now what?

If you are only going to be a little late and the person you are working with can handle that, then mitigating is making sure you hit your new deadline. If you can’t finish the thing at all, you may need to figure out what you can do, and see if that’s helpful. And certainly, you don’t keep hiding or obfuscating that the project is going to be late in the hope you can finish it before you get pinned down. That’s not mitigation.

This may include some hard conversations with people you have let down. Again, straightforward and professional behavior is, in my experience, your best option. But you need to mitigate your screw up with appropriate levels of effort. Don’t cause more problems or become obsessed over the great lengths needed to fix a minor screw up. You can’t let even moderate screw ups take over your life. And if you can’t mitigate the damage you have done, you need to accept AND ACKNOWLEDGE for that too. People may be disappointed or even angry, but they deserve the truth.

Step Four: Learning

Most of my own screw up result from behavior I could have avoided if I had been smart or forethoughtful enough. As a result, after I realize I have screwed something up and done what I can to fix it, I want to examine what I did wrong. Making mistakes is human. Making the same mistake over and over is dumb.

Keep in mind, you often won’t get this right. It’s easy to take the wrong lesson away from an issue, or think your error was unique to a specific circumstance without recognize an underlying behavior that applies in a broader context than you think. Making a mistake about how you made a mistake is frustration, but it’s going to happen. So when you screw up, be sure to examine not only that specific calamity, but anything similar that you’ve screwed up before. In some cases, you’ll find you missed a larger lesson, and that’s your opportunity to finally learn it.

Take Away

None of this can fix the fact you screwed up, and while that’s unfortunate it’s also okay. Everyone screws up from time to time. Hopefully you’ll screw up less often than I do, and you won’t need a mental checklist of how to handle such situations. But because everyone screws up occasionally, I have found that when you tackle you own screw ups with honesty, clear communication, and an effort to fix both the issues you cause and the underlying problems that lead to the screw up, people are generally understanding. Not everyone, of course, but you can never control the behavior of other people. You can only control what you do, and imperfectly at that. Which is what makes handling your own screw ups in an adult and reasonable manner so important.

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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.

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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.

 

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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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Spring Elves

Spring Elves

Spring elves are between 25 and 110 years old—physically adult, but still in what staid and traditional elven society considers their “Spring Years,” too emotional and impulsive to be allowed to leave the safety and education of the home. They are essentially eternal teenagers, sure of their own intellect and ability, but largely incapable of considering the long-term consequences of their actions—a particularly troubling trait for the long-lived race. Spring elves are always, always supervised and watched over by older, most experienced elves, and kept from adventure, and as much as possible kept from any decision-making. While spring elves are physically and mentally capable of the same kind of training and education as young humans, these decades are a time when they are so wild, so free of consideration, that over the course of eight decades they only manage as much preparation for life as a typical human manages by age 16.

However, in rare circumstances, a spring elf lacks any of the careful parenting and sheltering from life the races has learned from long experience is necessary to prevent the just-post-adolescent elves from setting the world on fire. For example, the Elves of Solstice are an entire race rules by spring elves, given power and authority with no sense of responsibility. And the gods help everyone else.

Spring Elf

Standard Racial Traits

Ability Score Racial Traits: Spring elves are nimble and amazingly likable, and still have their youthful resilience, which is the only reason they aren’t all killed for weeklong benders and experimental magic, but they lack the intellectual focus of properly raised, adult elves. They gain +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, and –2 Wisdom.

Size: Most spring elves are Medium creatures and thus have a 30 foot base speed and receive no bonuses or penalties due to their size. Some are still size small, and have all the normal bonuses and penalties for that size and a base move of 20 feet.

Type: Elves are Humanoids with the elf subtype.

Languages: Spring elves begin play speaking Common and Elven. Those with high Intelligence scores are drawn to “fun” languages and can choose from the following: Abyssal, Aklo, Cyclops, Dark Folk, Draconic, Gnome, Necril, Protean, and Sylvan. See the Linguistics skill page for more information about these languages.

Keen Senses: Spring elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.

Impulsive: Spring elves gain a +2 bonus to Initiative checks, but they cannot delay an action (though they can ready), and take twice as long to take 20 on skill checks (as they are constantly distracted).

Elven Proclivities: Spring elves are immune to magic sleep effects, but take a -2 saving throw penalty against enchantment spells and effects. They gain a +2 bonus to charisma checks, and to the save DCs of their own enchantment spells and effects.

Low-Light Vision: Spring elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.

Reckless Abandon: A spring elf can reroll a single attack roll, ability check, skill check, or caster level check (but not concentration check) per encounter, immediately after determining the result of a failed roll. However, if the spring elf does this, the GM earns an impulsive token. The GM can later spend a token to force the spring elf to move to anyplace within the spring elf’s base move that is not obviously hazardous, as the spring elf is overcome by an impulse. This can begin a fight, set off a hidden trap and so on, though the spring elf gains +4 to AC and a +4 to saves against the initial effect of anything set off by this impulsive move.

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Freakishly Long Monkey Arms

Since someone asked:

Freakishly Long Monkey Arms

You have freakishly long monkey arms.
Benefit: though it does not increase your reach for purposes of making attacks, when otherwise trying to determine what you can carry (though not wield) or reach (for noncombat actions), treat your natural reach as being 5 feet longer.

Relic Masters: Magic for the Spell-Less (Pt. 2)

Okay, we now have a relic master archetype that every spell-less class can access, which boosts the options available to characters with Item Mastery Feats, and allows a character to focus on them. So, how we we expand the Item Mastery rules to expand the kinds of characters you can make with them?

More Feats!

Channel Spell (Combat, Item Mastery)

You can invoke a scroll or wand you possess through a different magic item.

Prerequisites: 1 or more Item Mastery feats, UMD 3 ranks, relic master level 3.

Benefit: When you have a wand or scroll on your person (somewhere you could retrieve it as no more than a move action), you can cast spells from it through any other magic item you are holding or wearing that has a spell from the same school as a prerequisite. Additionally if you have to make a Use Magic Device check to use the wand, you may take 10 on the UMD skill check when using this feat.

For example, if you have a wand of magic missile in your backpack, you could cast magic missiles from the wand (expending charges normally) — without getting the wand out — while you are holding a +1 flaming longsword (since the flaming ability has evocation spells as part of its prerequisites), and when doing so could take 10 on a UMD check to activate the wand.

Item Mastery Focus

You have learned additional ways to manipulate the magic of items.

Prerequisites: 2 or more Item Mastery feats, UMD 5 ranks, relic master level 5.

Prerequisites: For each item mastery feat you know that allows you to cast a spell a number of times per day from a magic item that has a spell from a specific school as a prerequisite, select an additional spell. This additional spell must be of the same school as the spell granted by the appropriate Item Mastery feat, must be of that spell’s spell level or less, and must be from the same class spell list. A number of times per day equal to your base Fortitude saving throw bonus, when you use an Item Mastery feat to cast a spell, you may instead cast one of these alternative spells. This counts as a daily use of the appropriate Item mastery feat.

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Relic Masters: Magic for the Spell-less

Though it is far from universal, there are several common styles of Pathfinder RPG play that cause groups to decide classes that lack any spellcasting ability are at a disadvantage, and that the disadvantage grows as other classes gain increasingly powerful spells. This is especially frustrating for players who have a character concept for someone who shouldn’t have spells (spellcasting would invalidate the character concept), but seem to then be penalized with fewer options in many encounters due to their lack of access to magic.

Item Mastery Feats are a great way to add magic abilities to characters that don’t gain spells or spell-like options from their class features. In a nutshell, they allow characters to force magic items to do things the item isn’t normally able to do. Since the Use Magic Device skill proves that spells are necessary to use magic items, and numerous classes can pick up just a little spellcasting without being a spellcasting class (such as minor magic from rogues), the idea that there is a technique to manipulate magic in new ways to do new things without being a spellcaster is in keeping with the suggested metaphyscis of the Pathfinder rules.

Item Mastery Feats can patch one or two holes in a character’s options easily, but using them to alter how nonspell classes play in general requires some new options. Some of those should be limited to characters who really focus on these feats, which is nromally rep[resented with the relic master archetype. However, that archetype can only be taken by fighters, and there are a lot of classes that don’t gain spells.

So, step one is to give rules for the relic master archetype to be usable by every class with no automatic access to spells, extracts, or similar broad-utility magic options. That means we need replacement options for the relic master’s powers at the appropriate levels for the barbarian, brawler, cavalier, gunslinger, kineticist, monk, rogue, slayer, swashbuckler, and vigilante.

Below are the rules for a “More Universal” Relic Master, that also tweaks the archetype itself to fix weaknesses that have been found in play since the archetype was published.

“More Universal” Relic Master

Skills

The relic master receives Knowledge (arcana) and Use Magic Device as class skills, but doesn’t receive two class skills of the base class, as noted below: as class skills.

Barbarian: Handle Animal and Ride

Brawler: Handle Animal and Ride

Cavalier: Bluff and Swim

Fighter: Handle Animal and Ride

Gunslinger: Handle Animal and Ride

Kineticist: Intimidate (already receives Use Magic Device)

Monk: Intimidate and Knowledge (history)

Rogue: Intimidate (already receives Use Magic Device)

Slayer: Intimidate and Knowledge (geography)

Swashbuckler: Intimidate and Ride

Vigilante: Knowledge (engineering) (already receives Use Magic Device)

Improved Item Mastery (Su)

At 3rd level, once per day, a relic master can use an item mastery feat she knows with a magic item that doesn’t have an appropriate spell in its construction requirements. The magic item must meet all other requirements of the item mastery feat. Alternatively, if she is using a magic item with an appropriate spell in its construction requirements, she can use an item mastery feat without it counting against the feat’s total uses per day. She can use this ability one additional time per day at 7th, 11th, and 15th levels.

This ability replaces or modifies a class feature gained at or before 3rd level depending on the relic master’s base class, as detailed below:

Barbarian: Trap sense

Brawler: Maneuver training

Cavalier: Cavalier’s charge. (The cavalier still receives mighty charge and supreme charge at their normal levels)

Fighter: Armor training

Gunslinger: Any 2 of the following 3 deeds: gunslinging initiative, pistol-whip, utility shot. Anytime the gunslinger gains new deeds from any source in the future, she may choose to forgo the new deed in favor of gaining one of these deeds.

Kineticist: Infusion gained at 3rd level

Monk: Still mind

Rogue: Trap sense

Slayer: The slayer does not gain the slayer talent normally gained at 2nd level.

Swashbuckler: Any 2 of the following 3 deeds: kip-up, menacing swordplay, precise strike. Anytime the swashbuckler gains new deeds from any source in the future, she may choose to forgo the new deed in favor of gaining one of these deeds.

Vigilante: Unshakeable

Relic Channeler (Su)

At 5th level, a relic master can increase the potency of a magic item she wields by investing it with a bit of her vitality as a swift action. If the item is armor, a shield, or a weapon, its enhancement bonus increases by 1 to a maximum of +5. If the magic item creates a spell or has a save DC, its effective caster level increases by 1. The bonus gained increases by +1 at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter, to a maximum of +4.

A relic master can use this ability for a number of minutes per day equal to 1 + her Constitution modifier (minimum 1 minute). This duration doesn’t need to be consecutive, but it must be used in 1-minute increments.

This ability replaces or modifies a class feature gained at or before 5th level depending on the relic master’s base class, as detailed below:

Barbarian: Rage powers gained at 4th and 12th level.

Brawler: Brawler’s strike or close weapon mastery (once this decision is made, it cannot be changed)

Cavalier: Banner

Fighter: Weapon training

Gunslinger: Gun training

Kineticist: Metakinesis.

Monk: Purity of body

Rogue: Sneak attack is 1d6 lower than normal for a rogue of the same level.

Slayer: Has 1 fewer studied targets than normal for a slayer of the same level

Swashbuckler: Swashbuckler weapon training

Vigilante: Startling appearance

Improvised Item Mastery (Su)

At 19th level as a full-round action, the relic master can select one item mastery feat whose prerequisites she meets but that she doesn’t already have. She gains access to this feat, though she can’t use it as a prerequisite for other feats or options. If she selects a different item mastery feat, she loses access to her previous use of improvised item mastery and any magic effect created with it ends immediately. Any daily uses of a selected improvised item mastery feat count against all improvised mastery feats selected in the same day.

This ability replaces or modifies a class feature gained at or before 19th level depending on the relic master’s base class, as detailed below:

Barbarian: Damage reduction does not increase to 5/–

Brawler: AC bonus does not increase to +4 at 18th level

Cavalier: Challenges does not increase to 7/day

Fighter: Armor mastery

Gunslinger: Any one deed gained at this level is not gained. Once this decision is made, it cannot be changed.

Kineticist: Metakinetic master

Monk: Empty body

Rogue: Rogue talented not gained at 8th level

Slayer: Improved quarry

Swashbuckler: Any one deed gained at this level is not gained. Once this decision is made, it cannot be changed.

Vigilante: Social talent

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RPG Career Advice: Self Promotion

So… look. You have to promote yourself.

Yes, it’s a pain for a lot of people. And it can be uncomfortable or embarrassing, especially if you aren’t used to it. And doing it wrong can turn off some folks, especially early on, who may reply to your promotion with “Who the hell are you and why should I care?”

Those people are doing you a favor, though they don’t know it. They’re giving you a chance at more self-promotion.

Look, if you want an RPG career, you HAVE to self-promote. Because either you want other people to hire you to be part of their projects (in which case you need to get your name and work out there, so people know you are available to be hired and have some idea why they might want to hire you), OR you are doing your own projects (in which case you need to promote them, which if they are your projects is the same as promoting yourself).

Even if you currently have a stable industry job, you should promote yourself. This can increase your value to the company, increase the company’s awareness of your value, and give you options if a meteor strike that company and suddenly you don’t work there anymore.

I am not a social media guru or an example of vast success or riches, so take all my suggestions with a grain of salt. But I had significant problems with self-promotion for years, and these ideas are how I (partially) overcame them.

1. Promote Everyone Else

“Hey, I got to work on this neat project with Awesome Designer and Amazing Editor! They’re doing fantastic work, and I can’t wait to see the end project!”
“Neat Folks have a new Kickstarter, and it looks great to me! Check it out!”

Often the easiest ways to self-promote is to insert your promotion as part of promoting other people, and to simply talk about the things you find exciting even if you aren’t involved with them. Doing these things still puts your name out there, and when you promote other people you encourage them to promote you in return. For introverts, this can be much easier than talking up your own part in projects.

2. Just Do Stuff

Self-promotion doesn’t have to be about saying how great you are. If you put out a new short story, or a cool story hook, or a single feat designed to allow halfling war-bakers make potions out of muffins, you can just put it out, link to it, and make sure your name is easily associated with it.

One of the reason my blog is OwenKCStephens.com is that anything I put on there is easily tied to me.
One of the reasons I put a lot of stuff on there is so people see my name, associated with things they might like.
Creation is promotion, as long as you give everyone involved credit.

3. Have a Way to be Contacted

My email is not hard to find. I let everyone ping me on Facebook. My Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked from my blog. I have a Paizo.com account that accepts private messages. If you want to get in touch with me, it’s easy.
Now, there are good and reasonable circumstances that might make any or all of those a bad idea for the security, safety, or sanity of someone other than me. But whatever method you choose, from a specific work-related email to a forum you can moderate yourself, if you want work in the industry, you need to make sure people know how to get hold of you.

4. If You Mention It, Make It Easy to Find

I have a Patreon campaign. And now, just by linking it, I have made it easy for anyone who wants to give me as little as $1-$3 a month to support these blog posts to do that.

I have both made my point, and self-promoted.

If a project of yours gets a review, link to it in a way that makes it easy to find both the review and a way to buy the product. Endzeitgeist, for example, links to where you can buy the products he reviews when he posts them on his website. That encourages me to use the links to his site when i mention the review, since people can then click-through and buy my stuff. Because he promoted me, I promote him.

If you are excited by your new project, link to where people can find more ifnrmation on it. That increases the chances people will get excited about it, and that helps drive that they found this neat thing because you mentioned it.

If you are going to go to all the effort to promote that you work for multiple companies (such as Paizo, Green Ronin, Rite Publishing, and Rogue Genius Games), promote that fact in a way that helps drive traffic to them.

Readers and fans and customers are often lazy. Make it as easy as possible for them to give you money, follow your posts, or read your thoughts.

Game Fiction: Fairy Doctor

This began life as flavor text for a feat called “Fairy Doctor,” an idea from my longest-running fantasy d20 campaign.

It… got out of control.

And I STILL need to write the feat…

Fairy Doctor

Cyble ran one thick finger down her archlute’s top string, listening intensely to the soft brushing sound. She needed to ensure every string was taught and tuned, to ensure none failed in the confrontation with the sirenwraith shortly after dawn. On the other hand she also needed to be quiet since her companions were all sleeping, and she also didn’t want any of them failing in the morning.

It was, perhaps, then understandable that she didn’t notice the winged mote of light sneaking up from the far side of the campfire, despite the fact she was on watch. Her party members knew she could get distracted by her work even in the middle of the night, and thus rarely gave her watch duty. But this time she was the only spellcaster who hadn’t expended any spells, and she had assured them she was too focused to sleep.

Even so, they had left Stumper, Hawkin Green’s faithful hornhound companion, to keep watch with her. Stumper had, of course, seen the winged mote. Had even sniffed it once. Stumper had then laid his head back down.

So when the mote suddenly hissed “Psssssssst!” in Cyble’s ear, her reaction was reasonable. A bit rough on her archlute, but it had thin mithral reinforcement for just such rough uses.

The mote was slapped to the ground, where it stopped glowing and held up two tiny arms in a gesture of surrender.

“Mighty doctor, stay they wrath! I am but a simple fey, come to beg they aid! For I have ails, and…”

“Oh for FU..” Cyble choked off her own voice just as she began to shout. She glanced around the campsite, but the other adventurers really were too tired to be woken by her near-outburst. Grim Gelda stirred, but settled back into her patchwork skin sleeping roll.

Cyble fixed her gaze on the “simple fey,” a sprig-sprite no more than three inches tall, with the dewdrop leaf attire of a minor noble.

“Listen you little shi… shifty annoyance! This is not the time for that “fairy doctor” stuff. I have real issues to deal with!” She managed to put some of her lung’s impressive power into the rebuke, despite keeping it quiet and focused on the intruder.

The sprig seemed unphased. “But you ARE the fairy doctor! You save Reseld Queen from the morosity that claimed her! Not for seven generations..”

Cyble cut him off with a sharp wave of her hand. “Reseld was just depressed, and I sang a song to cheer her up. That’s it! If I’d know she wasn’t actually a bunny…”

“The Bunny Queen!” the sprig interjected proudly.

“Shut up! My point is I am not some mystic doctor of fairy ills. I just cheered up one fairy, one, and she couldn’t keep her yap shut about it!”

The spring nodded enthusiastically. “Indeed, one song and our beloved Majesty of the Cotton-Tail was back to her cavorting self! And then you saved the Lady of Dawn’s Gold…”

“She was broke, it all,” Cyble interrupted.” I gave her one gold coin.”

“And the Prince of Berries…”

“He was choking. I hit him. It’s not my fault he spit out that seed and survived.”

“…AND the entire Dewdrop Brigade!”

Cyble paused. “Okay, they had devil chills. But it was Grimmy who cured them.”

The sprig’s smile literally glowed. “You found them, assessed their ills, and found the cure in another mortal! You are a fairy doctor!”

Cyble sighed.

“If I diagnose your problem, will you leave me alone?”

The sprig nodded so hard his antennae slapped back and forth from his face to the back of his head. The noise was so ridiculous, Cyble could not help but smile.:

“Fine, but make it quick. And quiet! What’s wrong?”

His expression fell.

“I am small.”

Cyble gave the expression her acting maestro had called “deadpan.” The sprig got the message.

“Of course to you I must always seem small. But my heart, it is smaller. It struggles to meet the inside of my chest with each beat. Food has lost its taste. Flowers are no longer sweet to smell. I cannot match my shadow’s gait. In ways I was once enormous, I have shrunk into a shell.”

Cyble’s expression softened. She scooped the spring up, and set it on the apron covering her ample lap.

“Have you lost anyone close to you recently?”

The sprig shook its head, though large dewdrop tears formed at the corners of its now-huge eyes.

Cyble thought. “Pining after a girl?”

Another head-shake. This was going to be some weird fairy-problem, Cyble realized.

“When did this first begin?”

The sprig’s voice quavered. “Ten nights ago, as the first star sparkled. I looked at it, and wonder who else saw it. A hawk cried out. A child began to cry. And my heart sank, and I have been small ever since.”

“A child?” Cyble latched onto the one element that seemed un-fairy. “What child?”

The sprig shrugged. “I was near a town. Rocks-over-water, or some such.”

“Bridgeford?”

The sprig nodded. “Near an old farm. There was a child within, one old enough to care for itself, but seasons and seasons away from playing adult. It cried.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

Again, a shrug. “It’s mortal. It’ll play at being adult, be adult, learn to make cakes, gain a sliver of wisdom, and die.”

Cyble was trained to read as much into tone of voice as much as the words they spoke. And the sprig’s voice held a slight quaver, which deepened as it spoke.

She knew fairies had extreme emotions, and often it was a bad idea to let them interact with other races. The slightest insult could begin a lifelong grudge, and saving one could result in having them hunt you down for help for years afterwards. But if handled carefully, a fairy could be a real boon to a crying child.

“So, clearly the child saw, and wished on the same star.” She spoke slowly, making it up as she went along, but the sprig nodded again, and wiped a tear from its face.

“And,” she continued, “the child must have made a wish. Children do that. But the wish didn’t come true, and that made it cry. Children’s wishes” she added hurriedly “can’t always be granted. Sometimes it’s impossible, and sometimes it’s just a bad idea. But a sad child wishing on a star… you must have gotten star-worry.”

“Star-worry?” The sprig seemed confused. “I’ve never heard of it.”

I imagine not, Cyble thought. I just made it up.

“Star-worry happens when a star wants to help someone, but it can’t. Someone else looking at the star. Someone like, say, a brave and wise fairy, gets infected with the worry. That’s why you got small. The worries of a star are pressing you down.”

The sprig shook. “I am doomed!”

Cyble smiled. “Not necessarily. The star is worried about the child who wished on it. All you need to do is make sure the child is all right, not starving, not being beaten, and the star will stop worrying about it. Then you can stop being small. BUT!”

The sprig leaned in, its ears actually getting slightly bigger.

“You MUST be careful. Mortal children aren’t fey. You can’t just bathe her in gold or grant her a wish. Like a caterpillar struggling to escape a cocoon to be a butterfly, if you remove all the obstacles in her life, she won’t grow strong enough to survive. But if you add to her woes, she may never escape her childhood at all.”

“But… but… “ The sprig nearly wailed. “Then what can I DO!?”

“Your kind garden, yes?”
The sprig drew itself up to its full, miniscule, height. “We grow the sweetest berries, the brightest flowers, and the hardest stumps!”

Cyble nodded. “Good. That takes care, patience, and time. That’s what the child needs. You don’t know yet if the child is a berry or a stump. You can’t know how much rain or sun it needs. But if threatened by fire or blight, that you can assist with. When the child is no longer at too great a risk.\the star’s worry will lift, and then so will yours. Can you do that? With subtly, and care?”

The spring, to its credit, tilted its head and clearly thought hard. Ten long seconds passed. Then it nodded, once.

“You have found my ail, and given me the course for cure. I’ll go to Rocks-Over-Water, find the sad child, and gentle shepherd it through any grave threat. I am saved!”

The sprig began to glow again, and its wings hummed as it flew up to Cyble’s right pinky finger, which it took in both hands and shook vigorously.

“Thank you, THANK you, good fairy doctor. I shall spread word of your wisdom far an… ummmph!”

Cyble was sure not to squeeze to hard, but she kept her grip on the fey firm.

“Tell. NO. One. Clear?”

Slightly blue in the face, the sprig nodded.

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