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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.)

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

I have a Patreon. It’s how I justify taking the time to write a lot of this material on my blog. I’d love your support.

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

I began a Patreon! To assist with things like this blog, and this post. Why not go make a pledge of support? 🙂