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Rarer Than Astronauts?

Full-time, on-staff tabletop/pen-and-paper RPG writers with benefits are incredibly rare in the US.

I was told in 2000 there were more full-time astronauts in the US (149 at the time) than full-time, on-staff RPG writers. I suspect that was true at the time. There are fewer US astronauts now, and a lot more small companies with 1 or 2 people running it as full-time jobs, so whether it’s true now is going to depend on how you define things.

Getting on-staff at a game company as a creative of any kind (designer, developer, R&D, writer… titles vary by company) requires you to have a proven track record and a reputation for being someone that is easy to work with. In my opinion, nowadays the easiest way to get those started is by writing things for social media (one of the reasons I have a blog, for example), then work cheaply for small game companies, often for pdf-only or print-in-demand products. Hopefully you’ll get better, get more work, and come to more people’s attention. As your network of contacts spread and more people know about you, the size of company that is interested in working with you goes up.

The leap from that to an on-staff position is still a big one. I worked for Wizards of the Coast from 2000 to 2001, then was a full-time freelancer for most of the next 13 years before I got another staff job here at Paizo. You may have better luck than I did, or you may want to start your own publishing company, or begin a Patreon, or just do freelance work for several different companies, many of them smaller than Paizo.

Good luck to everyone who tries!

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Imperfectly Normal

I try to be open about my various mental, emotional, and physical issues. But I also try to not harp on them. I’m not sure what the right balance is, but as I sit 10 days from Gen Con, and the release date for a whole series of books that have eaten up a lot of my headspace, it seemed reasonable to offer a snapshot of how I am doing.

The idea here is not to bemoan my circumstances (I am fortunate and privileged in many, many ways) or ask for help (I have the support I need). But I do want people who feel their own limitations puts various achievements out of reach to be able to see the spectacular level of imperfection that is normal for me. Your path may well be much harder. I’m not trying to give some life coach pep talk. Just honestly share where I am, and let all of you who care to read it decide what that information means for you.

There’s more work to be done than hours or brain cells to do it, and even when I have the time I don’t always have the capacity. Numerous things that trigger many of my anxieties are all happening at one, and even knowing I have been through these things many times before doesn’t really seem to help me keep a handle on things. This is a spectacular confluence of events hammering my sense of calm. As an analogy–knowing ripping the band-aid off will hurt, and that it’s both necessary and temporary, doesn’t reduce the pain of doing it.

I’m not getting enough sleep, and I am stressing too much. These factors will build until after Gen Con, and then, maybe (but only maybe) I can get my life back to some semblance of normalcy.  Until then, I am desperately trying not to let anyone down, not turn over sub-par work for anyone else to have to clean up (a task at which I have apparently already failed a couple of times), and not cry in public. That last is trickier now that I work in an office than it was when I worked from home 90% of the time.

I know, intellectually, I am going to get through this. I am even proud of a lot of the things I am accomplishing, and I have no intention of giving up. But I also am being honest with myself–there are yet more rough times ahead. There will be great times mixed in with them, too. That’s kinda how life works. My depression is a wild card, but even that I’ll get through if it rears up. The important thing is to keep doing everything I can, whenever I can. Some days will be good. Some will be bad. And I need to keep to my coping mechanisms, and forgive myself when they break down.

I’m exhausted, and repetitious, and run down, and worried. But sometimes I am proud and excited, too.

To a lesser extend, this is what any major new release or convention appearance does to me. this year is just magnified significantly in all regards.

It’s all imperfectly normal for me.

Rosie’s Rebels

And now, at least for a moment, a change of pace.

When you are the storyteller, you get to decide what the story is.

Inspired by WWII slang, here’s an idea for a WWII pulp heroes team.

The German Ubermensch and the ‘31s (results of Japan’s Unit 731) had the Allies on the run by mid-1943. While espionage efforts managed to bring back some of the super-science being used to create those soldiers, results were nearly always incomplete. The US felt an invasion of the home country was inevitable, and grew desperate. Experiments had to be carried out, dangerous human experiments, but it was considered unacceptable to risk fighting men (even minority fighting men) that were desperately needed on the front.

Thus, women were asked to volunteer to be injected with unknown agents, exposed to strange radiations, and fed experimental chemicals. Most survived, but the overall casualty rate was still higher than a typical combat unit. In time, the knowledge gained helped turn the tide of war. But before that, many of the woman with the most exceptional test reactions were sent to fight on the front lines, despite the bias against their gender. Anecdotally, this was a result of the First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt, being told by a general that the United States would not send women to the front lines no matter how dire the desperation, and her calmly replying by asking he he felt the Nazi’s would miantain that policy once they took over.

Thus the first Special Troopers section was born, as the decorated unit of “Rosie’s Rebels.”

BAM—A seven-foot amazon of a woman and a marine, BAM was able to bounce attacks from small arms off her skin and throw a jeep, or even tip over a tank. While the “BAM Process” was one of the eventually successes of the experimental programs, no soldier given the “perfected” version was as strong or tough as BAM herself.

Cast-Iron—Already a brilliant engineer, Cast-Iron created a personal heavy combat armor during her downtime between sessions of experimental injections. Unfortunately she was so much smarter than anyone else that no one could understand how she built it, maintained it, or kept it running. In the end, only Cast-Iron ever used her infantry armor suit.

Eight Ball—People who meant Eight Ball harm always came to bad ends. No one was ever sure if this was a ’31-induced power, or if she was just naturally lucky, or if it was a string of amazing coincidences.

Gibson—Gibson could hear, and somehow send by thought, radio waves. She was also a spectacular tactician and soldier. While the official military account claimed her military prowess was a result of the same radiation that gave her radiopathy, history suggests she was simply overlocked for her combat and leadership qualities until she had a power. Leader of Rosie’s Rebels until the end of the war.

Gold Star—Despite dying during experimentation, Gold Star showed up for duty the next day. Though she seemed no more resilient to damage than a typical 38-year-old mother of three, her body and belongings always disappeared within a few hours, and she would wander in by the next day, along with her gear. Also a rated marksman and sniper.

Heat Wave—The recipient of a unique ability that was never duplicated in further experiments, Heat Wave caused flammable fuel near her to not be expended when it created fire (even to run an engine). Early on she simply had a neverending flamethrower and extended the range of any vehicle she sat over the fuel tank of, but near the end of the war her ability to produce combustion without expending mass was used to also give her a personal flight platform.

Retread—A veteran of the nursing corps during the Great War, Retread could temporarily access the memories and skills of the recently deceased… including Gold Star.

Sky Scout—Could inexplicable see her position from roughly 100 to 1,000 feet up if she closed her eyes. Also a pacifist Seventh Day Adventist and Rosie’s Rebels unofficial chaplain.

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The War with Facebook Algorithms

I have been experimenting with what Facebook posts of mine get seen, get likes, get shares, and so on.

Having controls is the tricky part. Did that post get no interactions because no one saw it because it was posted straight from WordPress and Facebook didn’t how it to anyone, or because no one cares about the idea of an independence sub-domain?

But having a range of topics, times, and sources, and comparing Facebook responses to how responses from other potential referrers, I am getting some sense of what does and doesn’t work.

Of course very few of you on Facebook will see this, because it’s posted directly from WordPress, AND I’m not hitting like on it myself…

The Slings and Arrows of being Professional

It is, I have concluded, inevitable that making my living creating role-playing games means I am going to often see people accuse me of being stupid, lazy, short-sited, and ignorant (as specifically different from stupid) on a fairly regular basis. I believe the reason for this is twofold.

First, roleplaying games, by their nature, invite deep senses of involvement. They are designed to be extremely engaging, to suck in players and GMs and provide glimpses of alternate lives where (hopefully) those playing are more interesting and more able to affect change than they are in reality. This is obviously a place where the small percentage of really dedicated fans will have deep senses of ownership. And since any addition or alteration I create for such games (which is kinda inevitable for someone paid to make stuff for them) can’t please everyone, SOMEONE is going to think the things they don’t like are a result of being unsmart, or being uninterested in doing the hard work to produce something better, or not being able to see the consequences that “should be obvious,” or not be well-educated and informed on either technical or emotional aspects of the material I am working with.

Second, the internet means the information about what has been added or altered can be easily (though often incompletely) disseminated to a large audience quickly, and cheaply, so the total population of people who know about it can be enormous, and thus the small percentage of those people that may hate a change, and the percentage of those people who feel that is a result of some failing on my part (as opposed to personal preference), still leaves a big enough pool that the percentage of THOSE people who are assholes about expressing those opinions have no trouble finding the places where their opinion can be quickly and easily (and perhaps incompletely) transmitted to me.

I understand and accept that.

It does not, however, either justify or indemnify the people who choose to be assholes for the dickish nature of their actions.

If you say in your living room that only a total moron would make a specific change, you’re venting.
If you take the time to type that as a post in a online venue the entire point of which is to allow you to give feedback to the people who made that change, you are calling those people total morons. Backpeddling and claiming that obviously your hyperbolic language is just your opinion doesn’t change the fact you were a dick.

It makes me wonder if the consequences for trying to make games that make people happy may not, inherently and inevitably, involve more abuse than if I wrote ad copy for a cereal company for a living.

Of course, as I note, I know this, and have for a long time. Being able to accept that fact, and work to deescalate where possible, and certainly avoid fanning flames, it part of my job whether expressly called out as such or not.

As long as I am here, I am choosing to place myself in that situation, and I need to take ownership of that as well—though my acceptance is still not license to those who act rudely or inappropriately.

Top Ten Signs You Are In A Horror Movie

Be on the lookout for these common signs of impending disaster.

10. There’s a creepy doll that always follows you. It’s got a ruined eye that’s always open.

9. You live in a neighborhood that is described as sleepy, untouched by time, or Castle Rock, Maine.

8. Someone went outside to take care of what should have been a minor issue, and has been gone for longer than you’d expect, but it seems perfectly reasonable for another single, solitary person to go outside to see what happened to the first person.

7. There is a persistent stain you can’t get rid of, no matter how you try. This is less about the stain than with the fact you are obsessing over it. Look, things get stained. We’re all adults. Deal with it. Bonus warning points if the stain is the color of dried blood and seems to spell something in ancient Sumerian.

6. You were mean to an old woman who tells fortunes.

5. Children are singing indistinctly in the background. Bonus warning if the sound seems to be coming from an abandoned child’s sanatorium from the 1930s.

4. Somehow, someone convinced you to stay one or more nights in an otherwise abandoned structure they inherited from a distant relative. I know housing prices are out of control, but that just means if Cousin Ida’s Quaint Cabin is empty, it’s because there’s a copy of the Splatternomicon in the basement.

3. You realize you and your four companion each represent one discrete, different archetype of annoying person audiences would enjoy seeing get killed.

2. The cat just sits in the corner, staring at you with might be pity, or might be disdain. Note that you do not have a cat.

1. There’s a local legend of a madman in the woods with unusual headgear (Halloween mask, hockey mask, welder’s mask, and a brown fedora are popular but not mandatory choices) who killed with a bladed melee weapon (axe and machete most common — bladed glove is overdone, and why can’t maniac killers ever go for a glaive-guisarme?). Bonus warning if you are part of a group researching said legend.

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Top Ten BAD Ideas for Science-Fantasy Weapons

When you mix high tech and high fantasy, all sorts of new options open up! BUT… not all those options turn out to be good ideas!

10. Atomic Grenades. A classic, and easier when you can use magical extradimensional spaces to neatly cut atoms. BUT – atomic explosions have a minimum amount of force possible: less than that and you didn’t create it through fission or fusion (magically enhanced or not). That minimum is still WAY more than you want for anything you need to throw. Minimum safe distances in miles do not go well with grenades.

.9 Underslung Spell Launchers. Oh sure, the idea of a wand or rod bolted to the bottom of a fully automatic laser rifle sounds cool at first… but who the heck ahs the skills to both lay down suppressing fire and know when to petrify the enemy? How much does it cost to reload that thing? And isn’t Gandalf dangerous enough without heavy ordinance?

8. Holy Weapons. I mean, they aren’t a bad idea for a few, specific users. But in general, you want your sci-fi weapons to be mass produced, and you don’t want that to change just because you’re adding magic to them. And does anyone *really* think there are enough holy soldier in the armies of the world to justify mass-producing these? Plus, eventually someone makes a holy hand grenade, and then the Monty Python jokes begin…

7. Earththrowers. No, not a sling, a genuine earth-thrower, that sprays a huge cone of earth, the way a flamethrower sprays a huge cone of fire. Neat huh? Well…. Not really. First, the reload tanks would make you sink like lead, and secondly once fire burns up everything, it’s gone. Earth just sits there, in huge mounds, making post-battle clean-up MUCH more expensive. And that’s not even considering the impact of creating hills around your primary target – WHY are you creating cover for the enemy? Best avoided.

6. Sonic Disruptor Axes. No sonic versions of axes. Because inevitably, someone will turn them up to “11.” Shrieking hammers are fine, however… as long as you are not prone to migraines.

5. Dancing Machine Guns. Having a sword that fights on its own is cool, so why not add that magic ability to heavy ranged weapons? Well, because machine guns already have “runaway” as an issue, and with no wielder to help take the recoil, the dance of the machine gun is too likely to involve 360-degree spins… and then everyone is a target.

4. Singularity Cannons. Yes, with enough science and magic you can create a singularity slug. But if it’s got enough gravitational pull to harm your enemies, you probably don’t want it anywhere near you, even in unfired-shell form.

3. Ghoulpikes. Oh sure, it SOUNDS like a good idea. Get an energized force pike, and mount a paralyzing ghoul hand on the end. But you know what happens when you energize a severed ghoul hand? You get charred-dead-cannibal smell, and NO ONE wants to be carrying that smell around. Also, it turns out most everyone is in armor anyway, so it’s hard to get the hand in to touch their flesh unless you shove it in a feeding port or something. Too difficult, and too disturbing if you succeed. Hard pass.

2. Vorpal Laser Pistols. So if I shoot him in the hand… his head falls off?

1. Plasma-Chuks. Look, we’re not saying laser swords make sense, exactly, but they sure seem safer than two glowing rods of death connected by a flexible joint, especially if you are expected to be able to hold those plasma-rods as part of wielding the weapon. Even if you have plasma-proof gloves (and if you do, why don’t you make ALL your clothes out of that material), it’s not a great idea to swing burning hot severing lines around your body.

Honorable Mentions: Monomolecular whip (a “finger-severing-device’), grenade of wonder, bazooka of the magi, and baleful transformation rounds (or “bunny bullets”).

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Top Ten Signs You’re in a Dungeon Designed by a Guy in his Mom’s Basement in the 1980s

Continuing the theme for the week!

10. One of the orcs has the “glaive” from Krull, another the “caber” from beastmaster, and a third has the bladed boomerang from The Road Warrior. And they all glow like the discs from TRON.

9. There’s a maze, which you have to map out every t-intersection, dead-end, and L-junction to escape. For bonus points, David Bowie is in it.

8. While there are shadows, there’s nothing else to hide in. And no real use for any other skills, of which you have 2.

7. When you’re not killing them, the monsters just hang around and talk shop or discuss the most recent episode of The Great Mordor Bake-Off.

6. If you score a critical hit, there’s a chance you remove your foe’s spleen. Even if you’re using a staff.

5. Treasure troves include an elfin mindstone, a clockwork owl, the 3-bladed sword from The Sword and the Sorcerer, a stringless bow that shoots energy arrows, the wishstones of Shannara, a sliver of the Dark Crystal, a lightsaber, an acorn of petrification, the Loc-Nar, and a map of the holes in creation that let you travel through time.

4. The entire dungeon is painted in non-photocopy blue.

3. There’s nothing for you, or anything else living here, to eat. And that seems perfectly normal and reasonable, and unlikely to cause an ecological disaster.

2. Grimtooth

1. The most dangerous monster is the Dragon… from Dragonslayer. Riding an AT-AT.

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Surefire Speculative Fiction Show Ideas

  1. “SPOOKED” When the randomly-selected patsy of a deep cover spy mission turns out to have an honest-to-magic necromancer as a sister, spies and ghosts face off in a world that runs from honeypots to ceramic urns and pits undercover against undead.
  2. “BLACK SPOT” For centuries the Order of the Black Spot have been hunting and killing pirates, working outside of government and outside the law. Now the King, Queen, and Jack of Spades, the royal family ruling the order, have mysteriously turned to the FBI to give information about bringing down both the remaining pirate organizations of the world, and their own Order.
  3. “CRIME AND CHAOS” When the government becomes the problem, who can the people turn to? A mastermind thief, greedy con, addicted stage magician, reformed pacifist ex-assassin, gray hat hacker, and disillusioned counterfeiter form the ultimate crime league, with their only targets the corrupted forces who now control law and order.
  4. “PLAN Z” Dozens of corporations and more than a few terrorist groups have access to a weaponized virus that creates undead, and the governments of the world are endlessly dealing with breakouts and pandemics in a desperate bid to prevent the zombie apocalypse. When a zone is too hot for any human to be sent in, the trained, international, experimental squad of soldiers who are immune carries to the zombie virus are sent in as Plan Z.
  5. “GOTHIC JUSTICE” When Lady Penanggalan went to sleep in 1800, she expected her monstrous partners to wake her in a century, as agreed. Now it’s 2017, and she’s discovered not only did the other Gothic Scions betray her, most have turned to run organized crime. She is pissed, and ready to work with human law if that’s what it takes to gain her revenge. But the most powerful of those scions, the dreaded Akephaloi or “Headless Man” knows more about Lady Pen’s sleep and why her allies betrayed her than she could ever guess.

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Fantasy Idioms

One way to add a little flavor to a person, city, or culture is to add a few useful phrases that take the same kind of place as “Who benefits?” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even just one phrase, introduced as part of a philosophy or something that’ll come up throughout a plotline, can help drive home a feel for a region,

There’s no need to overdo these, but I often find dropping in one or two can really boost player interest in a representative of a foreign or alien group. Here are some examples.

Gold sheds no tears.

The poison proves the plot.

Which god is thus glorified?

All accounts shall be balanced.

An arrow cannot recognize a king.

It need not be a dragon to burn you.

All who had the power to stop this are guilty of it.

All jackals scavenge, but even lions accept a free meal.

Those who pay the minstrel are the first to hear the song. (Yep, it’s a Patreon reference, snuck in as content. Mea culpa.)