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The Deal With The Boomerang

Here’s a picture of my new desk, at the office.

Desk 2 05 2018

Upon seeing that picture, Alex Augunas noted he wanted to hear the story about the boomerang.

And, weirdly, there is one.

My father was a professor of economics at the University of Oklahoma.

He was sometimes hired to teach short courses elsewhere in the world.

At one point, when I was a child, this included Australia.

When asked if there was anything I would like him to bring back, I said a boomerang.

So he did.

I learned to throw it (not well, and I beaned myself dead between the eyes the first time because I did it wrong, and I haven’t thrown one in more than 25 years).

So I kept it with me. When I was hired by WotC in 2000, I hung that boomerang as a decoration, because I thought it was cool to have a weapon at my desk.

Then I got laid off. And had to move back to Oklahoma.

I promised myself I’d come back to Seattle someday. And that promise got embodied in my boomerang I had kept at WotC.

It sat over my desk, wherever I was, for 14 years.

And now… I’m back. And so it the boomerang.

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Looking Back On Twenty Years of Professional Tabletop Game Work

This is a retrospective, and it’s not one I wrote with any great point or theme. I try to not be that self-indulgent with my writing, but I have decided to give myself some leeway when marking two decades in the business. I may have more thoughts tied into the length of my career as 2018 progresses… or I may not.

It’s 1997. I get a letter from Dave Gross, editor of Dragon Magazine. A physical piece of paper, that I swear to myself I will keep forever, but that is gone by the very next time I move, to a new house.

“I really like your dwarven name generator but can’t use it, as we just published our dwarf-themed issue last month.”
I curse myself for not even realizing Dragon did themed issues. I am an idiot.

“But,” the letter continues in tones of glowing hope, “if you could do the same idea but for elven names, and get it to me quickly, that would be very useful.”
It’s my very first chance to prove I can take notes. I promise myself I will never let ego get in the way of doing good work.

That promise ends up with the letter, lost between moves. Unlike the letter, I find it again from time to time.

It’s very difficult for some tabletop game professionals to pin down exactly when their career “began.” Was it when they wrote their first houserule, or designed their first new game—even if neither rule nor game ever went anywhere? Was it the first time they got paid for work in the industry? Does it matter how much they got paid? Does it matter how long the gap was before they next got paid? Is there an amateur level of pay we should consider before someone is considered a “professional”? And if so, where’s the line?

A few years ago I realized I could no longer lay my hands on documents that decisively tell me when I got my first payment for RPG design work, which was an advance for a WII Hero e-book which was never published. I don’t even know if anyone has the manuscript, anymore. But that rules out using “when I first got paid” as a start point for my career, because that day is lost to the mists of time.

So, my next major benchmark is the publication of my first paid magazine article to appear, which happened some months (or maybe even a couple of years) later, with the elven name generator called “By Any Other Name” in Dragon 251, which came out in 1998. I know that I had to write that well before it came out, and I had submitted other articles and drafts to people before that came around. I also haven’t had a year pass since then when at least some professional project was released that I was involved with the creation of. So now that it’s January 2018, I feel very comfortable saying my professional tabletop career began (at least) 20 years ago.

It’s 1999. I have flown out to Seattle, or so I think. Really, I’m in SeaTac, and I’m headed to Renton, but I don’t know the geography. Eric Cagle picks me up in one of the new VW Beetles. I have an interview at Wizards of the Coast in a few hours. I would have been interviewed a year earlier, I am told, but my resume had fallen behind a filing cabinet. I’m wearing a suit. I hate the suit.

I love SeaTac and Renton, despite having no idea where I am.

Normally, I neither think about nor feel much impact from this extended timeline. I am fortunate to count among my friends, coworkers, and colleagues people who have been in the industry much longer than I have, so I don’t feel particularly older than what I consider the “norm” for RPG professionals. While my work has shifted the steps have often been small ones, often with long settling-in periods, so I didn’t even notice the major milestones as they went by.

Going from 2nd edition to 3rd edition D&D came with a staff position at WotC, so the change in the game I was working on was the least of my big shifts. When I had a more-than-decade-long run as a full-time freelancer, I was scrambling for any work I could get, so I didn’t really notice growing from 3e to 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, and Star Wars d20 to the Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook. I DID notice working on Saga Edition Star Wars, but at that point I had EverQuest (the pen-and-paper version), Wheel of Time, Gamma World, Black Company, and Thieves World games under my belt, so the enormity of it was less shocking that it might have been otherwise.

It’s 2003. Many of my major lines of freelance work have dried up. I can make the rent for a couple of months on savings, but I need a big project soon or things will get uncomfortable. My AOL account has a message from Chris Pramas. Didn’t I say once, he asks in sentences that manage to be professional and casual all at once, that I was a huge fan of the Black Company series?

I had said so once. At my interview at Wizards of the Coast, when asked if I could adapt any one property to D&D, what would it be?

Well, do I actually want to do that now? It’s a big job, and I’d be working for Dr. Evil…

I DID notice Freeport, City of Adventure, which I believe to be the biggest book I was the primary development force for, but at that point I was on contract with Green Ronin, and their support and assistance made it much easier than it might have been and seemed to define my career at the moment more than working on the book did. I kinda celebrated to a product a week, every week, without fail for a number of years for Super Genius Games and then Rogue Genius Games… but that ended when bigger jobs were happening, so it was almost observed more in the ending than the success.

It’s 2007. Stan! calls. I’m surprised, because I had no idea he even knew my phone number, Would I, he asks, like to write a Call of Cthulhu adventure?

I’ve never written anything for Call of Cthulhu. I haven’t played it in a decade or more, and I never played it more than 2-3 times. I don’t know the rules, and I am not an expert on the mythos. I don’t particularly LIKE Call of Cthulhu.

I enthusiastically state I’d love to write a CoC adventure. It’s probably true. And like many dealings with the elder unknowable beings I am planning to wrangle into a compact booklet of fun, that decision has consequences that alter the course of my life.  

I certainly noticed Starfinder, though the transition from full-time freelancer to paid on-staff developer and designer at Paizo was well and fully made at that point, which made the benchmark seem less momentous somehow. I’ve been at Paizo for almost four years now, and that makes it hard to feel like anything I’ve done in my relatively short time on staff as anything more than getting used to being there, and trying to do enough to make hiring me seem like a good idea.

It’s 2013. I check my phone message machine, a physical device hooked to my landline with dinosaur sinew. To my surprise, I hear Wes Schneider’s voice. He wants to know if I was serious when I had last applied to Paizo. Would I really move back out to Seattle? Because if so…

A loud click tells me my answering machine cut of Wes mid-sentence. I panic. Obviously I have to call him back… and unlike most of his freelancers, I have kept track of his phone number at work.

He later jokes he hired me so I would stop calling him when working on projects for him, and use emails and texts like a normal person. He’s kidding.

Mostly.

It was only recently I realized I was still thinking like a full-time freelancer, despite having a steady contract job with Green Ronin for more than four years, and the Paizo job for almost four. Sometimes it’s less that I resist change, and more just I don’t actually know how to adapt to it.

In these twenty years there have been some major changes to how business gets done. I used to send proposals in print, with a Self-Address Stamped Envelope for feedback or rejection to be sent back to me my physical mail. The three-tier system of distribution was strong and broadly spread when I started, and there was nothing like Kickstarter (though patron driven projects existed… often advertised in physical print magazines). PDF products, and companies, did not (and could not) exist, though there were small scale and 1-man productions in the days of print, they just had less reach.

I remember when terms like munchkin and splatbook were fairly rare, and there were very few unmoderated places, be that forums of letters pages of magazines, for fans to gather and discuss what they loved… and hated… or blamed on the politics, incompetence, or greed of the people trying to make a living creating the games they wanted.

It’s 2014. We’re throwing a farewell for a Paizo employee who’s moving on to new opportunities. I tell a story about my first day of Wizards of the Coast, when I had to playtest the brand-new edition of D&D without having actually seen a final rulebook yet.

“Oh,” he says smiling. “Fourth edition?”
“Ah…” I stammer, a tad awkward. “No. Third edition. In 2000.”
His smile broadens. “I was in grade school then.”

But an equal number of things are about the same. The terms core rulebook, adventure, campaign, and miniature all mean roughly what they did 20 years ago. Game creators often still struggle for stability while pouring heart and soul into a complex mix of creative technical writing back by a hybrid of psychological theories and math.

Dungeons & Dragons is still the most commonly known brand. Most fans still don’t have a very accurate idea of what working in the RPG industry is like, even for people who manage full time salaried jobs.

Somehow along the way some people came to think I might have insight into what makes a good game, or what makes a good gamer, which are crucially different. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I have always enjoyed spouting my opinions. I used to be limited to doing it at friends or occasionally to whoever gathered at a convention seminar. Now I can track how many people in Australia clicked on a blog link. (And can ask fans to support me directly, through things like my Patreon… )

Design trends in games have proven to be a pendulum, but I also think genuinely good ideas continue to be created, recognized, and adapted. I doubt any game I write now will be completely forgotten in another 20 years, but I also doubt any of them will be the most current version of the niches they fill. My career only goes as far back as 2nd edition AD&D, but I certainly played several versions of the game before that. I expect to play many more, under many different names, if I make it two more decades.

It’s 2016. Starfinder is meeting the public for the first time, at the 50th anniversary of Gen Con. I don’t want to fight the crowds, so I give it a couple of hours, then go to where it’s being sold at a satellite both, outside the main organized play venue.

They’re sold out, and shutting down. But we brought more of that book than Paizo had ever brought of anything, so I go ahead and brave the main hall despite it being the first day.

By the time I get there, all copies of Starfinder are sold out. Instead of lasting a weekend, it lasted 5 hours.

I’m delighted that I continue to learn and, I think, get better at my craft. At the same time, I strongly suspect that I AM more than halfway through my tabletop game career. I can’t pull all the physical and mental stunts I used to use to keep up in this industry, and I have no idea if I have 6 more years in me, or 16. I suspect I’ll fade away rather than just stop, but one of the things I HAVE learned is that there’s very little point trying to predict what I’ll be working on in three years. I’m always wrong. Even if I am right about the broad strokes (three years ago I was pretty sure I’d still be at Paizo), I also miss major details (three years ago I had no clue Starfinder was even going to happen, much less that I’d play a major part in it).

I still play games with some of the same people I did 20 years ago, my wife included, but lots of other friends I knew and gamed with even a decade or more before that I don’t get to see much anymore.

But games are still my favorite social activity, and RPGs are still my favorite subset of games.

And writing, developing, consulting for, and designing games is still the only job I can imagine having.

Video Week: More WotC Stories

I’ve been putting up a series of videos this week, focusing on my work at Wizards of the Coast, back in 2000-2001.

Today’s video focuses on a moment of realization I had about what my job actually was.

Here’s the video!

If you enjoyed this, check out the other videos I’ve posted on my page of Youtube videos.

Enjoyed this video (or any of my other videos or blog posts?) Consider supporting their production by backing my Patreon!

Video Week: My First Day at WotC (Part 1)

I hope to put up a series of videos this week, beginning some some that recount the many tales of my very first day of work at Wizards of the Coast, back in 2000.

Here’s the video!

If you enjoyed this, check out the other videos I’ve posted on my page of Youtube videos.

Enjoyed this video (or any of my other videos or blog posts?) Consider supporting their production by backing my Patreon!

When Gods Speak

It was, of course, impossible for her to arrive unannounced. Her light was visible from the moment she dropped below the firmament, and shone brightly into courtyards and against brimstone walls through all nine layers of the ancient city. As they were created to, gatekeepers and measurers moved to herd her to the outer ring, to be weighed against a feather and called to give an honest account of her mortal life. She smiled as gently as possible as they buffeted, again and again, against the point where her light was so pure it pushed them back like moths driven from flame by a wind. A few drove on with such fervor they injured themselves, flinging their forms into the furnace of her purity with force enough to momentarily hold a point so close, her very essence burned them. A single wave of her hand cured any such damaged servant easily, they being no more than shades of her original creations, but she ducked her head nonetheless. She wished to cause no harm, but like a bison walking on bird nests the momentousness of her existence could not help but crack some eggs.

This was not the place to diminish herself. It had rules, laws, cause and effect, even if all were very different from her first efforts at such, and those laws meant she could not be her entire self without causing some minor damage. She could, if she desired, bend the laws of this place to allow her to be her full self and still not injure its inhabitants, but that would be provocative. She had not come to prove herself more powerful, or show that the first of the under cities existed only because she allowed it.

She’d made that point, once.

So though her progress toward the lowest, centermost courtyard was unhindered, it was certainly not unobserved. Nine unquestioned rules of nine vast, infinite yet constrained tiers of the city watched her with eyes ranging from baleful to wistful, but none made any effort to stall or even communicate with her. That was not their place, however much some might wish it was. Only one dweller in the darkness was equal to meet her on even vaguely even terms, and all could see her path took her straight to him.

His back, she noted with amusement, was turned to her. She landed on the wall of his indestructible fastness, just on the edge of the private reality of his central tower. She could have taken one step further forward, but again, she was not here to provoke. She sat, lopsidedly, folding one leg beneath her and wrapping her arms about the other knee. Her wings, the presence of which she noted with a wry grin, gently cupped forward, framing her easy, graceful form.

He kept his back to her. She did, she supposed, have that coming.

“Hello, Sathariel.”

She had not used her voice since before the concept of voice existed, but here in a place of Rules, it seemed fitting. She could feel the force of it try to burst out, to reverberate with the immensity of what any Word she spoke was capable of, but she kept that power in check. She wanted to talk to him as he was, not destroy and replace him.

“I thought we should talk.”

He did now, finally turn to face her. His form contained multitudes, for the rules of this place were his, and he could break them. She kept a frown from her visage. There was no point re-opening old arguments. So if he was a giant wrapped in serpents, and a black-veiled head of prominent horns and fiery eyes, and a herd of crimson horses all at once that was his prerogative.

“Binah.” He nodded, at least in some forms, and she had to hide a grin. She had chosen not to remember that he took everything so seriously. That even now, standing in the center of the travesty he built beneath her creation, the redoubt she could not destroy without changing the thing she wanted to leave alone, he had a rule for being formal, and he invoked it.

Like water leaking through sand, the rule sank into the outer layers of her actuality, creating a hint of context. She made no effort to stop it, but she had no need to. It was a spectacular trick, to create definitions for the indefinable, and she had always been impressed he’d used it to force this stalemate, but she’d long since taken precautions. He could frame the reality of their conversation. She would not make the mistake of allowing to frame the playing field of any more serious interactions. Not again.

“I’ve only been down here the once since you finished it.” With his formal context in place, she wasn’t sure how to proceed without altering things, and annoying him. She wanted to give him some time to show her how he thought this would go, so she could match his level.

She made a point of looking around, ensuring her perception was passive.

“It’s gotten bigger.”

He nodded.

“They keep giving me material. I let nothing go to waste, not even the wasteful. In time, it will match the anchor, and then surpass it.”

She shook her head.

“No, it won’t.”

She allowed the absolute reality of all possible futures leak into her voice, exposing him to the undeniable truth of her knowledge. It was hard, while allowing him to set the terms of their reality, to let him see truth without using even a tiny ripple of total creation to enforce the truth, but she made the effort. He wished to see deceit or coercion, desperately pushed the idea of her being in the wrong through the wet sand of the rules he was enforcing, but he knew better than to deceive himself to do it. She was right. His grand plan was a failure, and it would only take all of time to prove it.

As a veiled and horned head, he closed his eyes. When he spoke, his voice sounded tired.

“I thought that was why you were here. I thought you wanted to bargain, having just seen that I was right. But instead, you have just seen your own victory.”

She kept her voice calm and inviting, despite the pressure of his reality for her to scold or mock.

“No, I saw that long ago. But you weren’t done here, and I was still angry. It seemed a bad time to bring it up.”

All his forms furrowed their eyebrows, such as they were able.

“How long ago?”

She shrugged, secretly amused at how expressive the wings he insisted she must have could be.

“About the same time as the Grigoi. Before the Flood. After the Salt.”

He surprised her, by reducing himself to a single man, not much taller or broader than she. That he could surprise her, despite being in all ways derived from her, reminded her how much she loved him.

“That long? Well, I certainly have been wasting time.”

She gave another shrug.

“You invented it, I should think you could spend it however you wish.”

“Binah, why are you here? What has changed, if you’ve known for epochs that my creation will remain always secondary to yours? And, why the restraint?”

She decided to raise an eyebrow. She liked how it has looked on him.

“You would prefer I be unrestrained?”

He nodded.

“Yes, always. That was the whole point. We should all be all that we are. Anything else is a lie. And if everything comes from a lie, then it is all meaningless.”

“You invented lies, too.” She did allow a little irritation to creep into her voice. “None of us had even thought of them. Until we realized what you had done, it was a powerful weapon. I don’t want to bring out weapons, now, Sathariel. We both know how that ends, and neither of us want it.”

“Why not want that, Binah? You’d win.”

“No, you’d lose. They aren’t the same.”

“Then why risk it at all? None of our last few meetings have gone well, and I know they only end the way they do because to win, you’d have to change things up there. And you shattered the firmament and accepted my dominion here to avoid that the first time, so you’re not going to do it now.”

No,” she agreed. “I’m not. I’m here to apologize.”

He was entirely still. His whole realm was.

She continued. “You took me by surprise, Sathariel. I didn’t know what surprise was, at the time. I thought it must be like lies, and you destroyed so many of us with those. So I lashed out. I fought your rules with order of my own, and in doing so I created the path that leads us here. I made you, along with everything else, so in a way this is all my fault. But you were the first to truly be separate from me, and for that moment when you challenged me to end it all, I didn’t understand that. So, I went too far.”

He nodded, more in acknowledgement than agreement.

“You did. But I never thought you’d see that.”

“Well, that’s why I am better than you.” There was no recrimination or pride in her voice, and she was pleased he didn’t begin building a new context to add any. If he had accepted that, maybe they could proceed.

He took a step back, and his voice became formal again.

“Very well, I accept your apology. I forgive you, even. But it doesn’t actually change anything. You still want to rule everything just because you created and defined it all, and I still want my piece.”

She nodded, once again trying to allow his framing guide her.

“All true. And I want to talk about that. But for us to have a useful conversation, you have to have a better idea what it’s actually like up there now. You’re forming a picture from what reached you here, and you know that’s not everything. Some ideas never make it down here.”

“Of course,” he said quickly. “That’s the whole point. But I can’t bring down anything that doesn’t belong. Both our creations would suffer.”

“Agreed.” She smiled. “That’s why I want you to go up there.”

She was pleased he was taken aback. She thought it was the first time she’d intentionally surprised him. Any entirely new thing pleased her on some level.

“I can’t!” he spit out. “We’d have war instantly. It’d be the Grigoi all over again!”

She shook her head. “Not if you were invited, and given a hallow.”

He froze for a split second, which seemed needlessly dramatic to her.

“You can’t give me a hallow unless one of them asks for it on my behalf. That’s your rule. And yours and mine up there don’t get along well.”

She gave another shrug, enjoying the ripple of her wings.

“Well, one did. By name, and for cause. And I want to allow it. You could go up there, live one generation, then come back here. You know you can keep your hounds all in line that long. And then we can have a real talk about the original contention, and see.”

He sounded dubious.

“And what does Moshiach think of all this?”

She shrugged, and decided not to do it again anytime soon. It encouraged her to be too spontaneous.

“He really doesn’t care. He knows he’ll get his turn. He’s in no hurry.”

She watched, as he thought. He had not invented thought itself, but he had created new ways to use it, and watching him use them was like watching tides and winds.

“It may not change anything, you know.” He spoke slowly. “I wouldn’t expect it to.”

“Nor would I, but we know how it all goes if we stay on this course. And neither of us want that. So why not? Take a hollow, meet the petitioner. Solve her issues, don’t solve them, you all have free will, as always. But you’ll see a different side of mine, and I’ll see a different side of you. Who knows…”
She smiled.
“We might make a new light.”

He grinned, for just a moment, at the memory. There had just been the two of them, then. She’d invented light, spoken the Word. But he’d carried it. That bond had never entirely broken.

“All right.” He seemed annoyed, but she took it as a good sign. “One generation, with a hallow, and on my own terms. Then we’ll talk.”

She nodded.

He began to compress himself, streamline his vastness into something that a hallow could wrap and buffer from destroying reality by its mere existence.

“You said the petitioner called me by name? I want to go deal with that first, upon arrival. What name did she use?”

Binah smiled.

“Saint Satan.”

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. 🙂

 

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.

Patreon

My mother’s also pretty pragmatic. She absolutely won’t mind that I use a story about her to boost my patreon, where you can support me in writing these stories, and my other geekly productions.

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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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 sprig, 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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