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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.)

Story Time: F. Wesley Schneider

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

Mooncalf

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

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

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

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

So I sent him a 350 word version.

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

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

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

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

–Galiel the Astrologer, The Last Journal of Galiel

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

Patreon

Wes has a Patreon! Go support it. 🙂

 

You Can’t let the Whole World be Your Job

This is something it took me a long time to figure out as a freelance writer and developer, and it’s a mistake I still make much too often.

You can’t let the whole world be your job.

What I mean by that is you can’t allow every place, every time, and every contact to be work-related. Yes, you may be someone who gets freelance work done at 7am, 9pm, or 3 am depending on how your insomnia impacts you. But you can’t let your expectation be that you should be working at all those times.

Similarly you may well need to have your home workspace overlap with your personal space (though the tax benefits of a home office are not to be underestimated), but you can’t allow ALL your home space to be a place where work often gets done.

It’s great to have friends in the industry… but you need to have conversations and activities and interactions with them beyond things you do for your career.

The reasons for needed to at the very least carve out SOME time and space that is kept separate from work concerns are many and varied, but they can be boiled down to one basic idea.

Sometimes you don’t want to go to work.

Now, whether you can spare the time off, get vacation time, can take a mental health day, or need to play hooky is beyond the scope of this article. The important thing is, if you don’t want to go to work, and you have allowed your entire life to be defined primarily by your work, then you don’t want to get up and engage with life.

And that’s a problem.

Burnout, depression, imposter syndrome, introversion, and even panic attacks are not uncommon in creative writing careers. To survive, you need to know there is a way to exist outside your job.

Yes, your email may be ubiquitous, and your editors may always have a question, or a panicked demand, asking about changes, availability, late projects, and so on. But you can decide there are hours when that isn’t your problem. Time when, even if everything is on fire, you get to read a book, or sit on the balcony and listen to the rain. Whatever works for you.

I can’t tell you how to achieve work/life balance. There’s no magic number of hours per day, or per week, you need to take away from being “on call” to your career. But you need to know you CAN take time away. Subconsciously, your brain needs to be able to grasp the idea that after this project, this crunch time, this weekend, you have a place you CAN get away.

Because, to quote one of my editors, you are no use to anyone dead.

Speaking of My Career

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Anniversary of Upheaval

Lj and I arrived in the Great Northwest three years ago, today.

We are on our second apartment, our second vehicle, our second AFK, but still the same core jobs and circle of friends, which in many ways are the important bits. I saw core jobs because Lj lost her full-time gig 6 or so months after we moved, and switched to doing RGG bookkeeping and freelance layout full time, and I  have become the project manager at Rite since then. We have had two dear friends move nearby, lost another dear friend, and in many ways I still feel like we are finding our feet.

The only things I miss from our lives in Norman, Oklahoma are a few people, a few restaurants… and certainty.

We knew, in broad terms, what every week, every holiday, and every season would bring. We had strong, long-established social systems that had gone on without major change for decades. Progress was difficult, but so was confusion. Our lives were a known factor, though it was kept at a set level we didn’t seem to be able to rise above.

There are many ways in which we have adjusted. We know more people, have local connections, and get invited to many more things. There are ways in which we haven’t. It turns out 20 years of freelance game writing habits don’t die easily, and I still get grumpy when I can’t take a nap in the middle of a workday at the office. But I AM adjusting.

When we first arrived out here, we also both started getting sick a lot. In 2016 alone I had two trips to the ER and nearly a dozen to urgent care, on top of regular doctor visits. But the last of those was last August, and I haven’t had a major illness since.

This move was a huge step outside of our comfort zone. We sold our house, the majority of our possessions,  and moved away from our most solid core of close family and friends. I’d lived in Norman for 43 or 44 years before I left. That one year exception was 2000-2001, when I was hired by WotC to work on the Star Wars game and that was still what I  was doing when they laid me off 14 months later.

Now I’ve been working for Paizo for 36 months. I began as the developer in charge of the module line, then transitioned over to the Player Companions, and then got to be one of the Design Leads for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. I have grown quite a bit as a game developer and designer in three years, and these are opportunities I would not have had back in Oklahoma.  We have also made some awesome new friends, strengthened existing friendships, and just barely begun to build some social momentum again.

I mentioned to my wife just yesterday that I haven’t adjusted yet. she snorted and pointed out it’s been three years. She’s right… but so am I. Not quickly do I become comfortable in a new environment.

Despite that, and seeing the financial and psychological havoc it’s played with our long-term plans, I am a bit amazed we took this huge leap. In many ways that’s not our style. But I continue to be convinced that this was a good move for me and my wife.

Being me, I also worry about it a lot. 🙂

Huge thanks to everyone who has pitched in, invited us over, helped out, and just shared a smile now and then to the transplants from OK.

ALSO

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Dystopian Factions: The Prags

These aren’t “for” anything yet, though I might incorporate them into some kind of Starfinder product at some point.

Prags

The Prags, or Pragmatics, believe that whatever produces the best end result, as defined by the self, is morally good. They consider ethics, philosophy, and religion to be flawed, though not useless, methods to measure how a given action will be viewed by individuals other than the self, which can be useful when determining if an otherwise-useful act carries too great a risk of backlash by those it does not benefit, reducing its value to the self.

Prags often support public governments and policies that support the poor and disabled, on the theory that it is impossible to know if the self will suffer some loss, and creating a safety net gives the Prags the opportunities to take greater risks to improve their own situation, knowing that failure will be mitigates by social programs. They rarely support anything designed only to benefit a specific ethnic group or class, because that either doesn’t apply to them if they are not part of the group, or it risks resentment to the entire class if the Prags are part of the group.

In personal interactions Prags strive to develop loyal friends and trustworthy reputations, as these things have proven long-term benefits. However Prags also openly admit they have an eye out for the U-B, or Ultimate Benefit, a thing that grants the self such an advantage that betrayal of ally and reputation is an acceptable cost to pay for it.

While it is clear that Prag belief in the potential of a U-B makes their allies slightly nervous, Prags see this as a benefit as well. An ally you are entirely loyal to is of more value if that ally is also aware that if the alliance proves to have much less value than expected, it may be suddenly and mercilessly jettisoned. This encourages allies to also keep a watchful eye on how much they consider a Prag’s benefits and needs. Many Prags also claim the the U-B is a theoretical construct — since it is impossible to know the total benefit gained by a complete betrayal until the betrayal is irreversible, some Prags claim no U-B could ever be so obviously worthwhile as to justify such a betrayal as pragmatic.

Such Prags often then wink.

Prags near the end of their lifespan, or stricken with an incurable disease, often arrange for a single final enjoyable event, which culminates in their suicide, to ensure their quality of life does not decline any further.

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Considerations For Game Industry Work

So, assume for a moment that you have to pick from a range of projects available to you, and you can’t do them all. This isn’t necessarily a matter of being blessed with 7 companies all offering you too much freelance. You might be offered one or two simultaneous jobs by a long-time source of work. Or you might be asked to outline which of several lines you want to work on during an interview. Or you might have no work coming in from other sources, so you need to pick a project of your own to develop.

However it happened, you need to pit project outlines against each other, and decide which one you are going to do. So, how do your compare apples to cthulhupunk airship murder mysteries?

Here are some factors to consider.

MONEY

How much are you getting paid, and WHEN are you getting paid. This is not the end-all be-all of these consideration, but you have to include it. How much, under what circumstances, starting when, and ending when, if the money? I have taking pay rates that were 20% of my normal take, because the publisher promised (and delivered) “Payment by PayPal within an hour of turning it over.” I’ve also had times where 10 cents/word in 13 months sounded better than 8 cents/word in 6 months. I’ve taken royalties for the life of a product over flat rates, and vice versa, based on my needs and hopes. (I almost never accept royalties for the first 1 or 2 years of sales, because that discounts things like compilations and rereleases, which have made me tens of thousands of dollars over my career, but even then the right terms would make me do it.)

Know what money you have, what money you are getting, how much you TRUST that you’ll get that money when you are supposed to, and what money you need. If you have regular payments coming in or a “day job” that means your writing/game industry money is all gravy, you can take bigger risks and wait longer periods than if you need $50 to make a care payment next month.

FUN

The less you need the money, the more you can worry about fun. I have honestly considered defining “professional game designers not as people who make enough money to cover their expenses with industry work, or people who get paid for anything game-related, but as people who get paid to do game work they don’t find interesting. (I then decided I’m not the fucking high poo-bah of who is a game industry professional and gave up on the idea of defining squat, but I DO think people who can and do make money on game projects that don’t excite them have a useful and rarer professional skill.)

Not every project needs to be fun, but learn what you like and what you don’t, AND how it impacts your speed, satisfaction, burn-out potential, and so forth. If I love a project, I can do it faster and be happier, and that absolutely gets considered in my choice of projects.

GROWTH

Do you want to be better at what you do? Then value those opportunities that will help you grow. I have taken jobs, and even worked at companies, specifically because of the quality of designer, editor, and producer that lets me interact with. Working with great creative in different task and different kinds of projects very much helps me grow my skills. While I have never worked with anyone without learning SOMETHING from them, there are certainly people I learn more from than others.

Where possible, convince these people to be part of your own game company and pay them a cut of all the money you make, so they feel encourages to just sit around and say smart things. J (This is an advanced technique… )

CAREER PATH

This is harder to define, and not everyone is going to have the same career goals, but it’s worth looking at what projects will position you to do the things you want to do later in life. This can include taking types of projects you don’t have a track record with. For example when I had developed a strong reputation as a specialized game mechanics “crunch’ guy, I began looking for more adventures and worldbuilding projects to work on. And then right after those got published, I find myself in a game company interview being asked if I had done any adventures recently. (Phew.)

You may also find it useful to work with new people. A small project that doesn’t much interest you may be entirely worth taking if it gets your foot in the door with a company, property, or person you want to work with more. DON’T let yourself get taken advantage of (and if they want to, reconsider if you want to work with them), but do consider the value of taking on things outside your normal schedule or preferences to prove you can do a good job for them. I have, for example, taken more than one assignment on a Friday that was an emergency that needed to be done by Monday. Those never paid extra, but they did still pay well, and they let me prove I was reliable, useful, and able to work under crunch-time conditions.

Visibility can also be important. I did, in fact, “work for exposure” early in my career, writing reviews for TSR’s AOL content for no pay, and contributing to pro-am netbooks that were sold for money, without receiving anything but a credit. Those were both useful and paid off for me. Nowadays I’d recommend you NEVER do what I did, but it can totally be worth it to write for a blog or Patreon or social media without a guaranteed paycheck, assuming you own the material and that when money comes in you get your cut. I’m also fine with doing free work for projects that no one makes money on, like fan sites and charity projects, but beware. Those rarely boost your visibility any more than a good blog of your own material that you can control and own the rights to.

THE SCALES OF CONSIDERATION

No one but you can decide which of these factors are most important to you, and there are lots of other things that might influence your thinking. If you find something morally or ethically objectionable, don’t do it. If a friend did you a favor and needs one in return, feel free to cut them the same kind of slack you would if they needed someone to watch their pet for a vacation or pick up soup when they were sick… as long as it isn’t an ongoing thing.

And always check your assumptions in the middle, and at the end of each project. If it turns out you find satisfaction more important than money, it’s worth knowing. If you love doing something as a hobby but hate doing it as a job, it’s good to know. If you find it easier to make money writing games you hate than your existing corporate job, it’s good to know.

Contemplate, weight, balance, reconsider, and be ready to do the whole dance again for your next project.

SELF PROMOTE

And always, always find a way to turn every job into an ad for other ways for you to make money.

For example: “If you actually found that worth reading, why not become a patron, and support my efforts to blog on various topics?”

(Seriously, if this was helpful to you, why not throw a few bucks my way?)

Campaign Elements: The Wolf’s Head

Sometimes a campaign really needs a mastermind criminal with a vast organization at his disposal. Preferably someone with extensive resources, but who also prefer to keep a low profile. Such crime bosses may serve as foils, contacts, patrons, nemesis, or just background elements the GM and players can work off of as stories develop.

Of course, it helps if such master criminals and crime groups are cool and enigmatic.

So this is an idea of one option to fill that element. It focuses on the master criminal, the Wolf’s Head, and touches lightly on the organization, the Crime Guild. These descriptions are kept intentionally broad. A GM should be able to easily adapt the Wolf’s Head and Crime Guild to any genre, any game system, and any world or time frame. They can be pastiches for Lex Luthor and LexCrop, Moriarty and his Network, the Godfather and the Five Families, or Jabba the Hutt and his scum and villainy. Alternatively, a GM can use this as a starting point to build a whole new kind of organized crime group.

The Wolf’s Head

The Wolf’s Head is a mastermind villain and organizer of all forms of outlawry. He or she holds the highest position in the Crime Guild, a combination of organized crime cartel and training-ground for talented individuals. Each Wolf’s Head carries the position’s official scepter of office, a long cane with a silver wolf’s head and the words caput gerat lupinum (“may his be a wolf’s head” in Latin) engraved around the base of the head of the cane.

The Wolf’s Head traces its origin back to writ’s of outlawry in early English common law (or any older nation in worlds lacking England). An outlaw was literally being “cast out of the law,” no longer subject to the protections a person received from the law and thus able to be treated as a wolf. The write included the words caput gerat lupinum, and in many cases was considered the most serious possible sentence.

According to Crime Guild history, one of the earliest people declared an outlaw under this system build a vast network of outlaws, and took the first Wolf’s Head title. Over the centuries that organization has come in contact with, and absorbed, the thousands of organized crime groups from every continent, nation, and ethnicity, forming the massive, worldwide Crime Guild. While the goals of the Crime Guild vary somewhat, they tend to remain institutional – focused on earning and protecting money, influence, and power and building a large cadre of loyal agents. Many guilders are important members of other groups, ranging from crime families to law enforcement agencies, but some few work directly for the Crime Guild. These generally answer directly to the Wolf’s Head, and through them the Wolf’s Head is free to pursue any goals he or she desires, as long as the Crime Guild on the whole continues to grow and prosper.

The holder of the Wolf’s Head title changes periodically, and apparently at random to outside observers. Each Wolf’s Head must nominate one Alder of Crime every 3 years (though killed alders need not be replaced). Each Alder is able to secretly vote to “retire” the current Wolf’s Head (though they can change this vote at any time). Such votes are kept with several ArchNumbers (Numbers being living cogitators who keep all the Crime Guild’s records, and ArchNumbers being senior examples). The Wolf’s Head also ranks the alders, from best to worst, and gives that information only to the ArchNumbers (and can change the rankings at any time).

If at any point 2/3 or more of the current Alders have voted to retire the current leader, the Numbers inform the entire Crime Guild. At that point all Alders try to kill the Wolf’s Head. If they succeed within 30 days (also known as the Hunter’s Moon, as the alders hunt the ultimate wolf), then whichever alder still alive that was highest ranked by the previous Wolf’s Head becomes the new Wolf’s Head. If not, the current Wolf’s Head retains the position, and the ArchNumbers ensure every alder that voted to retire him is killed (to cull those who mistakenly thought it was time to change leaders).

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My Teachers: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and RPGs

Science fiction taught me that being smart and creative was valuable.
Fantasy taught me that monsters can be defeated by both champions and brave common folk.
Roleplaying games taught me I could make friends.

Gotta Catch this *One*

Lj and I ran errands today, and ended with lunch at Godfather’s Pizza in Federal Way. They are apparently a major Weekend Birthday Party stop, and it was fun to see so many very different families having fun together.

About halfway through our meal a new family came in with birthday decorations including a very large Pikachu balloon. Just as they came in, the string on that one balloon broke, and it escaped upwards to an elevated corner of the ceiling.

A few minutes later, the mom borrowed a broom and was trying to bat the balloon down to get it within reach. After she had tried for a bit, i could see she simply lacked the height and arm length to pull it off.

I went over and asked if she would like help from someone taller. I have been told I can be imposing, so I stayed out of her personal space and kept my arms to my sides as I asked. She enthusiastically agreed she’d love help, and passed me the broom.

I almost got the balloon twice, but couldn’t quite keep the balance long enough. I asked the very helpful Godfathers employee who was assisting if they happened to have a *second* broom. Lj asked if I planed to use them like forceps, and I confirmed that was the case. We got a second broom, I managed to use the two as enormous tongs, and recovered the balloon into the mother’s hands. She thanked us profusely.

This is a VERY different kind of work that I have been doing lately, and it felt really good to help out with a random child’s birthday decorations.

Also, I caught a pikachu.

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Geek Movie MiniReview: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island was, for me, a delight. It knows it’s a giant monster movie with roots in grindhouse and pulp, and it isn’t embarrassed about that at all. But it also sees the benefit in things like characterization, story, pacing, and development.

I clapped with childhood glee, laughed, cried, and gasped. I am exactly the target audience for this.

In my binary digit-based review system, it gets a thumbs up.