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Bad Nights and Coping Mechanisms

It’s late, and I’m tired. Today was a massive failure. As a result, I feel like a massive failure.

So, to coping mechanisms.

Though I do not believe it emotionally, or intellectually, I am going to keep telling myself everything is going to be all right, and that things will get better. There are risks to this, but it serves me better than despair, so that’s the mechanism. It has to be rote, or I won’t do it when I most need it. I have sometimes dug up my old checklist, from when I literally could not trust myself to make smart care decisions on nights like this. I’d stare at the times, and feel total apathy. But doing something seemed smart, so I’d do those things. And check them off, each as I did it, no matter how minor. Some lists even include not doing things, so I get to mark those off just by properly focusing my sloth.

The coping mechanism says I have to go forward assuming I can fix things tomorrow. I can’t keep the failure of today with me, count all my progress against the negative value of this and all the failed days that came before. That’s stacking the deck against myself. I need to have a realistic assessment of what is possible, but that’s about looking forward not weighing down measures of success with things I could have gotten done if I just hadn’t failed miserably on a range of occasions.

I do know, looking at my track record, that sometimes I pull it out, and sometimes I don’t. I also know I am a bad judge of my ratios of success to failure, and that smart people I trust often have a very different opinion of how I am doing. That all gets added to the coping mechanism calculations.

But there’s no point on hammering my brain any harder about this tonight. That hasn’t worked since I was 35. When I am done, I am done.

I need to go through my checklist of things to try to give tomorrow the best chance. What I eat, what I read or watch, how late I stay up, whether I take my prescriptions—these things feel utterly pointless right now, but I know they are not. However bad things are, there is no point in making them worse.

I am bad at self-care, but making every effort I am able to is part of the coping mechanism.

Also do the best you can to take care of yourself, and forgive yourself of your failures.

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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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Updated List of Very Fantasy Words

The most recent update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words!
Here!

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Metagames and Ethics

A lot of people define the concept of the “metagame” differently, but the definition I run into most often is pretty close to “actions taken outside of normal defined gameplay that are driven by or the result of game rules, but not defined by those rules.”

So if you are deciding what cards to put in your CCG deck? Metagame. Sure which cards you CAN put in a deck are covered by rules, by actually choosing them and adding them to your deck is not defined, and you do that before you start playing the game itself with someone.

Choosing a feat to pick when you gain a character level and update between sessions? Metagame. Making props for your larp session? Metagame. Buying themed dice so your fireball looks cool because you have ten red-and-gold d6s? Still metagame.

But the definition I see most often can also cover actions that occur during the game. “Outside normal gameplay” doesn’t limit you to actions before or after the game, as long as they aren’t things controlled or referenced by game rules. And this can have expectation clashes. I have never had anyone get morally upset if I bluff in poker, but I’d expect everyone to be pissed if I used loaded dice in an rpg. But what is and isn’t acceptable isn’t always universally clear to players.

For example:

In the 1990s I played a game with some boardgame enthusiast friends that features a Bell, Book, and Candle (it was not Betrayal at House on the Hill, but I don’t recall the name). EDIT: It MAY have been Castle of Magic, though I am not certain of this.

It was the first time playing the game for all of us. Each player has a goal card, which outlines your victory conditions. You could have the candle lit or unlit, the bell rung or unrung, the book open or closed, and some other specific things could factor into it (are you out of cards, in anyone in their starting space on the board, and so on). If the exact combination of things your victory card says occurred, you won. Now many of these elements you had to just wait for, but everyone had some control over the bell, book, and candle. That meant if you moved for the book to be open, someone else could decide that meant having it open was on your victory card, and move to close it. Of course if they ALSO needed it open…

So obviously a big part of the game was figuring out other people’s victory conditions, while simultaneously concealing your own. Hoard resources to make a big state change when it’s close enough to your victory condition that no one can stop you, or make changes apparently at a whim so no one thinks you are moving toward your actual condition.

Since it was friends playing, we often wheedled each other about making or not making changes, which was part of trying to guess others’ victory condition while concealing our own.

Then when we took a break a friend took me aside, and suggested we team up. He had, he claimed, guessed my needed bell book and candle states, and he needed the same. He suggested a specific order we work together to fix those, and then whichever one of us managed to get out other needed conditions met first would win.

I like cooperative games, and it seemed reasonable, so I agreed.

So we worked together to fix the bell in one state. Then we fixed the book in another.
And then he won because the candle was already where he needed it. He didn’t need the same states I did. He lied, to convince me to help, and got me to agree to do things in a specific order so he’d win before I could.

Now, he and I talked it out, and came to understand where we were coming from. To him, this was all part of the metagame of what we were playing. No different from Diplomacy, or bluffing in poker. Lying was part of his game strategy, and only acceptable because we were playing a game that highlighted deception. To me, it was not something the game explicitly called out, and thus a lie is a lie is a lie. (Though, confession time, part of my social anxiety includes preferring a rigid adherence to rules, because that makes it easier for me to understand how I am supposed to react in a group, and when I don’t I sometimes panic.)

I took this as an example of a place where expectation conflict caused an otherwise fun game experience to end on a sour note, and have tried hard to remember what we appear to be encouraging players to do in game material I have written, developed, or consulted on ever since.

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Updated List of Very Fantasy Words

A weekly (?) update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words!
Here!

(Do you enjoy the content on this blog? Why not become a patron, and support more free material!)

Updated List of Very Fantasy Words

A weekly (?) update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words!
Here!

(Do you enjoy the content on this blog? Why not become a patron, and support more free material!)

A (Revised, Partial) List of Very Fantasy Words

Real, not newly-minted, words, I almost never encounter outside a fantasy RPG or novel. Newest entries are bolded.

Adamant
Analect

Barrow
Chronicle
Cozen
Cthonic
Deliquesce
Dimunition
Deosil
Dour
Draught
Eerie
Ethereal
Fane
Fel
Froward
Geas
Glyph
Imbue
Harrow/harrowers
Lanthorn
Legerdemain
Lucubration
Miscibility
Offal
Palimpsest
Periapt

Phylactery
Puissant
Raconteur
Rill
Scry
Souk (or souq)
Sup
Sward
Taciturn
Tome
Venerable
Wain
Welkin
Widdershins

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The Biggest Payday Ever

Through Rogue Genius Games‘s bundle with John Reyst at the Open Gaming Store, I have now received the biggest payday the game industry has ever provided for me.
Which breaks the record for my biggest payday ever from the previous month, which was ALSO from John Reyst and the Open Gaming Store.
This amount is potentially life-changing. I’ll be bale to pay off debt my wife and I have carried (and paid interest on) since at least 2011, and maybe longer. It doesn’t get us OUT of debt, but it changes the cost of paying for these loans so significantly as to completely alter our budget concerns, and will likely improve our debt-to-credit ratio so much that even what we can’t pay off will become cheaper as we get better interest rates and/or new options to refinance the remaining debts.
So, why am I going on at such length about this?
First, a huge THANK YOU to John Reyst is in order. John, the business you built and the community you have created are amazing. I have always been a fan of d20pfsrd.com as a publisher and a gamer, and I am amazed and thrilled your Open Gaming Store has done so well. You should be very proud of both of those things. And, you have worked with me on everything I have ever tried to do with both those places.
I had no idea that THIS would be the idea that would catch fire, blow up, and amaze me, but you deserve full credit for doing such amazing groundwork, and helping me set this up and run it.
Second, a similarly huge Thank You to everyone who bought the bundle. The bundle itself got a lot of positive reviews, and I can’t say how much I appreciate that, on top of the people (including friends, colleagues, and even other publishers) who spread the word about this deal over the course of weeks. A lot of people said if we’d extend the bundle by a week or two they would budget their next paycheck to get it… and the numbers say they did exactly that. I am humbled by the trust that slapping down $30 for words about a game represents.
Third, to my fellow creatives… make at least a few things you own! Or if you can’t manage that (and not everyone can) make some things you get royalties on forever!Even if I had been paid some *awesome* per-word rates for the things I wrote for Super Genius Games and Rogue Genius Games, and it would not have been as much money as I earned from bundling them. By owning some of my material, I created not only a modest ongoing income stream that’s continued for years now, but I built up a backlog that gave me the opportunity to create this bundle at the time and with the marketing I thought best. I first started this with a bundle at DriveThruRPG to cover some unexpected bills. And make no mistake, that did VERY well for us too. And, more importantly, it came at a time when we really needed it. But both of these bundle sales were only possible, and beneficial to me, because I owned the words I’d written.
As a final note, right now Fat Goblin Games is running their own bundle at the Open Gaming Store and on their website. Now, I have nothing to do with this bundle (other than inspiring it, but the point is I have no stake in it and get nothing from its sales). But it is an AMAZING deal — 293  books with over 3,000 pages of content for just $30.
So… maybe go check out THEIR mega bundle.

Groundhog’s Day, 1990.

I was 19 when I first began to wonder if I should marry Lj. We were living together, we did nearly everything together… but I knew I was young. Neither of us had a job. We had no way to even pay for a wedding. And I took the idea of a sacred vow to put someone else before and above myself, forever, very seriously.
I thought about it for months. Lj knew I was thinking about it. We’d looked at rings. I knew what she liked. She waited. I wrestled with what I saw as the most important decision of my life.
It was.
In the end, this one thing decided me. When I fantasized about a perfect future for myself, when I let myself dream about the best world I could think of…
Lj was always in it. Always.
I was just a few days into being 20 when I proposed…. on Halloween.
We got married on Groundhog’s Day.
One-quarter century ago.
Smartest decision I ever made.
I love you, Lj. Happy Anniversary.

More Than Two Decades

Twenty-four years ago today, I married Lj Hamilton, who opted to stick my last name onto the end of hers and become Lj Stephens.

Lj was already my best friend. She was also already a bad-ass gamer chick, an artist, a writer in her own right, she had a lot more going on than I did. I knew it was a big step and it scared me, but since we’d been living together for more than a year, and dating on-and-off for a while before that, I thought I knew what being married to her would be like. In many ways I was right. In the crucial ones, I was wrong. Being married is different than living together, in the same way camping is different than sleeping in a tent in your backyard.

I’ve been married to my wife for more than half my life. We have had ups and down, both together and in regards to one another, but I have never regretted getting down on one knee and asking her to be a permanent part of my life. But make no mistake, marriage is work. Having someone be part of your life means they are there for your good and bad, and for their own, and you promised to never leave, which can make you feel stuck. We did the work a marriage takes, and we love each other enough to keep doing the work. The results are worth it.

Everything good I have done in 24 years she suggested, helped with, or encouraged me to do. Every bad habit I have gotten rid of she helped me fight. Every sorrow has been comforted by her, and every victory celebrated. I have no doubt she has helped me be a better man, and that’s just a small part of why I love her.

Twenty-four years ago today, I made the best decision I have ever made. Later this week (Wednesday, at 6pm) she and I invite you all to come join us in celebrating this accomplishment (along with her birthday). The moment deserves commemorating, and our circle of friends and acquaintances is part of the environment that has made our marriage so great for more than two decades.

Then the next day, we’ll wake up to an alarm again, groan and moan as we get up and get to work again, and smile when we hold hands in the car again. That’s what marriage is. A joining, but a joining that has to move forward with real life.

I plan for many more milestones with my wife, and many more celebrations of that one really good decision.