Since Wes is leaving Paizo for new adventures, I have concluded it’s Wes story time!
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.
“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.
Wes has a Patreon! Go support it. 🙂
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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…
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!”
“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.”
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 spring, 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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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.
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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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Before today, I never wrote down the rules for the simplest RPG I ever designed.
It was when my father was in rehab for a couple of months, his last effort at getting over his alcohol addiction. While it’s not germane to the story at hand, I’ll note he got sober, and stayed sober for a year or so before he began his long, final slide. I value that time with him very much.
As I recall, the place was called Valley Hope. Families would come in for a week of therapy and counseling toward the end of a patient’s stay. I was early in my freelance career, so I could manage that, as did my mother and (IIRC) my sister.
During a group session we talked about what we did, and I mentioned I was trying to start an RPG-writing career. One of the other people there, who had obviously had a much, much rougher life than I and was early in the rehab process, approached me after group to ask what a roleplaying game was. I explained, and they said they’d love to try that, but obviously we couldn’t because I didn’t have any games with me.
But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
So I said I could run a game, it’d just be *very* simple. The interested person got another patient and we spent most afternoons playing. They both said the only thing they could imagine being other than themselves were bunnies, and felt convinced there was no way that could be in an rpg.
I mentioned not only Watership Down and Rats of Nimh, but that I had personally seen enormous rabbits in a friend’s huge yard drive off cats and dogs. They loved that idea, but knew nothing about country life.
So, I created a super-quick setting, inspired in large part by Rock N Rule, where household pets survived the death of mankind, and involved into urban societies. They both played bad-ass bunnies in the worse urban section of Pet City, known as the Dark Borough (yes, another bunny reference), who were out to take no shit from anyone.
The rules were simple. I’d establish a situation with a short narrative. Then each player would describe one response in turn, then I’d describe a complication, then we’d repeat until the scene was ended.
We had no dice, so we flipped coins. Everything had a 50% chance of success — tails your action works (they WERE bunnies), heads it doesn’t. They each had a single specialization (for one, it was combat. for the other, it was jumping). For your specialization, you got to flip twice and you succeeded if either was tails.
It’s worth noting that after the first session, a member of the staff watched a game, then asked we only play in the public lounge, which had staff in it 24/7. Given how delicate my two players were, I think that only made sense.
The rules developed a little. The simplest task needed only one success, modest tasks three, complex ones 5. We tracked them with hashmarks. A complication would remove a success (but they outnumbered me two-to-one on actions, so failure was extremely rare if they worked together), or create a weakness (forcing you to flip twice and win both times in order to succeed… but only for one round). Some equipment got found — I remember the Thumper, a grenade launcher, because of the Disney reference, but I think a magic ring and a magic mirror in a makeup compact also showed up, though I don’t remember details. I think the Thumper let one coin flip count as two successes in combat, and the mirror allowed you to open a new scene where you learned something useful if you got three successes… but those details are at best vague and I may be filling in blanks with more recent ideas.
Over seven days we played 8 or 9 times, once during each lunch break and once on some evenings. They both seemed to love roleplaying. I honestly think they needed a way to talk through victories while their own lives were fraught. I meant to stay in touch, but we only exchanged a letter or two while they were in rehab, and nothing after that.
But it was a pretty good campaign. They uncovered a spider mobster conspiracy to convince pets to live near webs, and to eat homeless pets. they beat it, making their dark, grim home just slightly safer. I hope I did more good than harm.
And it showed me that if what a group *wants* is to all work together to have a good time, with no concerns about balance or genre emulation or a lot of more advanced design concerns, nearly anything will work for the rules.
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I remember the first time I realized I was playing a game where all the players had different objectives. I was between 5 and 8 years old. The game was Pay Day, a boardgame (and a pretty good one) my father had bought because it actually taught some microeconomics.
I enjoyed the game a lot. My family often played it together. Often, we would play it in a weekend, and get to some other event if we “had time.”
At one point while playing, I saw my sister was playing badly. Really, REALLY badly. She was actively doing the things most likely to cause her to lose. She was, in essence, throwing the game.
My father was playing badly, though not as badly as my sister, and doing all sorts of odd things that seemed pointless and often resulted in disadvantages for him.
My mother was playing badly, mostly because she wasn’t paying attention.
Unsurprisingly with all that going on, I was winning.
Now my family were all pretty smart folks, so I was baffled for a turn or two. Then, it dawned on me.
My sister didn’t want to play the boardgame at all. She wanted to go to the mall. So she was making sure that she’d be as far behind in the game as possible to ensure she didn’t accidentally extend it by having a score close to the winner, causing us to carefully count everything twice.
My father didn’t care about winning. He was a professor of economics, and was curious how the game would handle corner-case economic theory. Since it was a game the answer was often “not well,” and discovering that was more fun for him than beating his under-teen children or wife at a boardgame.
My mother had food in the oven, and was making sure my sister and I weren’t too bored. She didn’t care if she won, she just wanted everyone else to have a good time.
Only I was playing with the objective of winning.
It would be some years before I ran into a game where the point was for the players to all have different objectives, but it taught me a lot about play styles, game balance, and objectives.
After that, it was much more common for me to play the game with just my father, which suited my mother and sister just fine, though sometimes they were in a mood to play and those games were better than when it was a formal all-family activity.