Thursday, December 31, 2015

As we say in Academia, 2015/16.

So! It's the end of the year! That means it's time for a yearly wrap-up, along with everyone else's blog. :)

Things I did:

  • Got started getting tested for autism
  • Coordinated convention stuff for IGDN
  • Helped make the case for a quiet room at GenCon
  • Taught engineers why communication is important
  • Taught music students how writing fits into what they do
  • Finished Chill and delivered it to the world
  • Got my dissertation prospectus approved and outlined key parts of it
  • Got my first publication acceptance as an academic 
  • Got my first "revise and resubmit" as an academic
  • Developed my first material for Onyx Path
  • Met my oldest's girlfriend via Facebook (!)
  • Discovered Hamilton
  • Knitted some major projects, including the Pac-Man blanket, finishing Will's color stripe rainbow blanket, and a whole bunch of fingerless gloves
  • Discovered that corn, milk, and nuts really are not my friends at all any more. :( Luckily cheese and yogurt are still on good terms with my stomach, for the most part. 
  • Got accepted for a big conference in 2016
  • Got a travel award for that conference
  • Went to New Orleans for the first time (and presented at that conference!)
  • Got a new (to-me) car (thanks Mom!)
  • Knitted something for myself
  • Got a new (to-me) couch that's much nicer than our old one
  • Finished my language requirement for my degree, making me officially ABD (!!!)
Things I did not do: 
  • Keep from gaining back weight over the fall/winter
  • Maintain going to the gym
  • Actually write text on a draft of the dissertation
  • Read everything I should have read
  • Succeed in keeping all my friends from beginning to the end of the year
Things I will be doing in 2016:
  • Teaching a lit/comp class I designed
  • Revising and resubmitting that damn article
  • Writing my dissertation
  • Going to London for research (ideally)
  • Seeing my eldest graduate high school
  • Improving my knitting further
  • Potentially learning to use arduino stuff (it's SO COOL)
  • Getting new chairs for the dining room
  • Finding a way to keep my desk usably clean
  • Looking for jobs and assembling job search materials
  • Writing A Comedy in Five Acts
  • Getting my youngest's senior pictures taken
  • Spending a week in Michigan
  • Visiting my parents in their new house
  • Going to learn more about rare books at the Rare Book School
  • Spending time with my kids, when they're available
  • Starting a whole new phase of life, whatever else it might be
Y'know, all things considered, that looks pretty good. 

Rising Waters, Season 2 Finale (and DFA playtest)


My apologies for the long delay in posting; I have a few things I want to wrap up on the last day of 2015. First of all, I want to post the end of Season 2 of the Rising Waters game, and then I want to comment a bit on the Dresden Files Accelerated playtest.

When last we left our intrepid crew, they had gone to the librarian to get some word on their gifts. Jeffrey, said librarian, was impressed and rather horrified at the same time. He pointed out that these were some of the weirdest things he'd ever seen because of their combination of fae and demonic magics. These are not two great tastes that taste great together, and while it explained how fae magic could take on ghosts, for example, it did not in the least reassure him about what's going on.

The group was equally chastened, realizing this just got a lot stranger than they'd bargained for. They had to get back to the tea shop, though, since Hui had made Dylan promise to have Eldi back before dark. Nobody wants to be an oathbreaker, so they kept their word.

Once there, they began talking about what could be going on. Uno was dithering as to his choice, just like the Uncertain Ass-Kicker he is, when they hear noises outside. They go out and find Peter (Adelphia's boy toy) and Sidonie (one of her guards) there. Peter demands to come in and speak to Uno, which they finally do, only for Peter to reveal that Adelphia's been taken. Sidonie, injured but stable, tells of how it suddenly grew dark and they were ambushed, unable to see what struck them or how. When the dark passed, Sidonie was left alive, just barely, and Adelphia was gone. The rest of the guards had been killed and left lying where they had stood.

Eldi at this point flies up, her eyes wide and wings quivering. Uno springs up as well, ready to go. Dylan counsels patience, getting a weird look from Adia, but they agree they need a plan, and Zeke, meanwhile, goes out to take over watch of the house from outside, just in case someone followed Peter and company. Uno and Peter argue, as Peter accuses Uno of disregarding his duties, while Uno accuses Peter of selling Adelphia out, but neither gets anywhere. Discussion rages as Eldi faces returning to the Nevernever for the first time since her exile, and she reveals that the same creatures killed the lady she used to follow in the same way -- making her not really Wildfae, but exiled Summer fae! Uno realizes that's why Eldi seemed familiar to him, and together they decided this shouldn't happen to anyone else. Hui doesn't want her to return and face such danger, but they all promise Hui she'd come back safe and sound, and in the end she gives in, because she can't really deny Eldi anything. Meanwhile, in the dark outside, it suddenly gets much darker. Zeke turns to see what's there, but before he can get a word out, something hits him over the head, and then all he knows is darkness. [FYI, Zeke's player was gone for a week and we cleared this ahead of time. Also, Eldi's player drops out unexpectedly for the rest of the game.]

---

When the next session opens, the friends have discovered Uno's disappearance. They decide to marshall their forces, get all the artifacts together, and then cross over into the NeverNever and track down Zeke and Adelphia. Uno is like a man possessed; he pulls out his sword and charges forward, all his indecision forgotten. Dylan and Victor work together to open the portal to the NeverNever, and everyone goes through: Adia has Josh in the sugar skull so he can withstand the trip into Fae, Victor is carrying his potions and the letter opener, Dylan has his pendulum, Uno has the knight chess piece, and they all drink some tea before they go. Once across, they start walking through the Wildlands, looking for Summer and signs of who might have taken Zeke.

Intent is important in Faerie -- the land responds to it. They haven't gone terribly far, then, when they come across a valley that swirls with dark fog at the bottom of it. Believing that these are the fae who took Zeke, the party runs headlong at them, finding ways to get down the mountainside safely, with Peter and Sidonie bringing up the rear. Dylan dispels the cloud of darkness within their zone so they know what they're getting into, and what they find is a band of myrks dragging Zeke's bound body. Victor gathers all his Earth and Force power together and brings it to bear at the myrks stealing his friend away, while Uno draws his sword and takes on another of them. They keep the first half of the party engaged while the rest come up, trying to spread the darkness back out. Dylan keeps cancelling out their efforts, though, forcing them to fight in the light. Adia finds rocks to throw up in the air for Dylan to sling at the fae, which he does quite effectively. Victor likewise lashes out using magic, while Uno slices and dices. It isn't long until most of the myrks are gone, and the two left standing run for it. Victor is all for chasing them down, but Dylan stops him, pointing out that they're out in the open with a wounded friend to care for. Reluctantly, Victor lets the stragglers go.

---

At the beginning of the next session, Zeke comes around, and Sauriel uses his healing powers on Zeke's body. Only afterwards do they realize that there are now scorch marks in the earth radiating out from Zeke; apparently Faerie really doesn't like religious magic, go figure. Victor gathers up blood and fur from the dead myrks and anoints each of the party members, doing a tracking spell as there's surely more working for their boss, and that boss almost certainly has Adelphia. The track doesn't lead to Summer, though, as they thought it might. It doesn't even lead off into the Wildfae somewhere. It leads, like an arrow, straight across the NeverNever into the heart of Winter, the place where no Summer aligned fae ever wants to go.

Taking a deep breath, the group starts following the path. They largely don't stray from it, until they start getting close to Winter as the woods thin a bit, and fallen leaves blanket the ground, and a ridge of frost hardens the edges of puddles on the forest floor. There they feel the first occasional rumbling of the ground. Dylan uses physics to make his eyesight keen, just like binoculars, and see two ogres headed this way. Adia can hear voices whispering and starts to leave the path to follow them,  but Victor yanks her back. There's nowhere to hide unless they leave the path, but that seems like a very-not-good idea. Still, Dylan gets an idea, and creates a light-bending field around them all, so that the ogres never see them, accidentally tapping into the aspect of Shortsighted that they had. The ogres are talking to each other about looking for the group and that they must find them soon, cause there's only one path. Victor and Uno want to engage, but the rest of the group persuades them not to, and the danger passes, evaded with style.

As they get closer to winter, coming to the edge of the forest, where everything is covered with a light layer of powdered-sugar-snow and the trees are mostly bare, the group again spots two giants coming down the road out of winter -- two big blue trolls. The group remembers the battle they had with a bridge troll before freeing the Winter Knight, and how they're made up of thousands of mini-trolls, and doesn't really want to fight but is afraid they must. Adia wants to run off the path but can't bring herself to do more. Victor starts reaching into the ground to channel power from the earth, forgetting briefly that Earth is Faerie here.... and it accepts his offer. He gets lost in it, like with the Sight, and has to struggle to keep control. Adia freaks out and has a vision (thanks Cassandra's Tears) that the land itself is trying to drive them apart, but she takes it a bit too literally and starts looking for earthquakes to split them up, and no one believes her (like you do).

Dylan is ready to stand his ground and fight, and Zeke has his cross in hand, but then, like a boss, Uno steps up and addresses them, engaging them in dialogue and social combat. Dylan does his best to help Uno with the intimidation and has summer heat and warmth follow in Uno's wake, melting the snow and creating heat behind him, which almost wrecks the whole thing by pissing off the trolls, but then he drops it as soon as he sees the problem. Victor wants to blast them with cold, but then he realizes that probably won't help and reluctantly lets go of the earth magic -- or so he thinks. The trolls take some social damage and then agree that they're supposed to bring Uno and his friends to see the lady, which is what Uno says they want to do... so they decide to escort all of them back, which everyone agrees to, because why fight before you have to?

It isn't long before everyone realizes that the cold is a thing here, and so they fight it in various ways. Zeke calls upon Sauriel, which works, but he again starts scorching the earth when he walks. Dylan creates little warm air pockets around himself and Adia. Uno carries the warmth of summer with him, particularly given his chess piece, and doesn't feel the cold. And Victor... well, the cold doesn't seem so cold anymore. They walk and walk, and a fortress in the mountains grows closer and closer. Uno recognizes it as Arctis Tor, and they're all really worried they're out of their league for a minute. Then they come to a valley where the road dips down and splits, and they take the left fork, off the main road. They come to a cavern in the mountain side, and the trolls gesture for them to walk in. Again they walk and walk, and their eyes eventually adjust, until they're standing in a dark room with a depthless pool, frozen solid. There's movement and the room brightens, and there standing before them is Uno's mother, looking radiant with her golden hair and shimmering ice-blue dress. She goes to Uno and holds him, scolding him gently for coming into Faerie just now, and telling him how pleased she is to see him regardless. Behind her is the Winter Knight, Ymir, scowling at everyone else.

Uno asks his mother what's going on, and when the group tries to get in on the conversation, she shuts them down. She explains that this is all for his good, and if he'll just mind her like a good son, he'll have all the power he ever dreamed. All he has to do is make one simple choice and he'll never have to do anything else but lie in the sun and do whatever he wants. It's all for him, you see, if he'll just do as she asks and not question her. [She tries to do social damage to him, and gets a success.] Dylan, watching Uno cave under his mother's attacks, manages to get past Ymir and blow up at him, telling him that he needs to get off his ass and make a choice! Stand up for himself! Be the Summer Knight! [Dylan also did social damage, and Uno took a point.] Uno, shocked out of the spell his mother's charisma could weave, realizes that he'll never be anything more than a tool for her, so he stops her the best way he knows how -- he makes the Choice and decides to be Mortal.

She screams and starts attacking Dylan, while Ymir goes after Uno and Zeke. Minions close in, and Adia again bemoans her lack of combat skill... until she realizes that Josh doesn't have to stay in the sugar skull. She checks with him and lets him in to possess her, and then suddenly she starts taking on Ymir too, using the moves of a Marine with multiple tours of duty. Victor, with Winter in his veins, hears a voice on the wind and realizes what it means... he looks at Uno's mother, calls her name, and dubs her Oathbreaker -- and the winds swirl and she screams as the title sticks.
Dylan falls back, trying to figure out where Adelphia is, and Victor struggles forward until his hand wraps around her throat. Uno stabs through Ymir, taking out the Winter Knight (who has revealed in the meantime that he means to move up in  the world by helping Uno's mother overthrow Titania and take the summer throne for Winter).

Dylan has a moment of clarity and grabs the chess piece from Uno's pocket. He takes it and tosses it into the pool, where the water starts to thaw and he finds Adelphia, frozen beneath the surface. He lifts the block of ice with her in it from the water, but discovers he can't hold it alone. Adia/Josh backs his brother's play, grabbing the Summer Lady and dragging her off to the side, where Zeke finishes thawing her and begins working on healing. Uno's mother tries to talk to Victor and win the upper hand (having Scale on the party), but his new Fae power and her status as Oathbreaker keeps him immune. Dylan sees the piece get cold and sink to the bottom and yells a warning to Victor, who rather than kill her, just offers her a long time to think about her crimes and drops her in the pond, which flash freezes as soon as she is below the water, trapping her in the heart of winter until someone (not likely Mab) decides to set her free.

Rather than walk all the way back, the group decides to open a gate right there, which gets them to London, strangely enough. After taking a bit to warm up and heal up, they all decide to take a short vacation before they head back home (and maybe see if the White Council would be kind enough to intercede with papers so they don't have to explain to customs how they got here). Adelphia offers to relieve Uno of his burden as the Summer Knight, but he decides to keep the sword and take his duties more seriously. Adia/Josh realize their relationship just got a lot more complicated, and have some things to work out. Dylan still wants to know who gave him the book, and hasn't yet forgotten the thing he found in the bay. Victor is wondering why he feels so much more comfortable in the cold and dark, and trying not to think about it too much, and in the meantime is going to look up Victoria, his contact in London, and maybe try to make a connection. Zeke has to catch up with his girlfriend and figure out what to do about this, not to mention Adia's flirting at him has him kind of uncomfortable even if he refuses to recognize it for what it is. And at the end of it all, as a stinger, Jeffrey the librarian leaves a message on Dylan's service, noting that it's the demonic side of all this he's worried about... and has Dylan heard anything? He'll talk to them soon.

DFA System

I really can't say enough good stuff about this system. At least part of why things suddenly took a turn for action is because the system suddenly got out of the way of my most system-averse player. The approaches almost made things too rules light at times, and my players were worried because they didn't have the number of bennies they'd had before, but then the average difficulty dropped a lot too, so they didn't need them as much. They remembered and used more of their stunts and powers, and aspects that would have been much more difficult previously (Adia's sudden possession, for example) was easy to handle. My players were thrilled with ritual magic and everyone worked with it, even people who hadn't normally been magic using. It freed things up in a way that mirrors a lot of the magic use in the books. I even got to experiment with something called Scale, which is a way the game experimented with having entities of hugely different power levels in the same scene. If it weren't for the Oathbreaker condition, it would have been really hard for the group to take on Uno's mother. Zeke threw his best scores and bonuses into a shot at her, and it only barely touched her. No one but Victor (the one who called the condition) could take advantage of it, and if he hadn't, it would have been a hell of a slog. I'm still not sure what it would have taken to take her down in a straight-up fight, but the pond idea was so brilliant I had to roll with it. Coming up with NPCs and monsters was much easier, and much more effective. I just really liked it from every perspective.

In short, whenever I come back to this game (which I will eventually), I'm definitely going to be running it in DFA. Thanks to Evil Hat for letting my group participate in the playtest. :)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

While we had the official McFarland holiday feast of Thanks yesterday, today I have the blog post of thanks! I am officially thankful for the following!


  • Matthew McFarland, as he manages through his wizardry to let me have a semi-normal life with food and friends and gaming and kids and a house and dogs and family and love. 
  • His kiddos, Teagan and Cael, who very patiently stand in with me for my own kids sometimes, despite being awesome kids on their own. 
  • His mom, Suzanne, who is a pretty darn good mother-in-law and who is one of my primary sources of higher ed encouragement.
  • His ex, Heather, who is sane and smart and patient and good-humored. And a cake wizard.
  • My dogs, who remind me that as long as we have petting and food and water and a nice place to sleep, nothing is all that bad. 
  • Alisdair, my eldest son, who is 18 and trying to find his way in the world. 
  • William, my youngest son, who is 16 and cutting a swathe with his humor and dapper choices. 
  • My advisor, Chris Flint, who is supportive and communicative and generally awesome. 
  • My students this year, who've stayed engaged and are working their way through academic writing. 
  • My cohort, as we all see each other through this crazy journey of getting a doctorate. 
  • Knitting, for giving me a thing to do that helps center me. 
  • My dad, for getting better from pneumonia, even if it's taking longer than we'd like
  • My mom, for being smart and capable and basically doing all the things this year. 
  • My gaming group, because they're awesome and they show up each week and I love them all. :) 


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why I'm not excited about the new Deadpool movie, or Neurotypical Emulation Protocols (NEP)*


I was out with my husband last night shopping and doing errands and getting dinner when we started talking about the new Deadpool movie that will be coming out next year. He's excited about it -- likes the acknowledgement by the studios that the former appearance of Deadpool was just dumb, likes that they're being true to the comics with it. I have thus said that, although I can also appreciate these things, I will not be going to see it with him. He wondered why that was, and so I told him, and he suggested I post about it, which I am now.

*For the record, I do not yet have a diagnosis of autism. I have been referred to start the process of getting one, though, and my son is on the Spectrum, and my speech-language pathologist husband is convinced of it, so take that for whatever it's worth.

I have a large hole in my ability to get humor. I know that it's there, I know what triggers it, and I know what thus to avoid. I can tell when other people will find things funny, but I just look at it and try to make sense of it and completely do not feel whatever others feel when they see that. This isn't a case of "everyone's got a different sense of humor," although that is true. It's more about a side effect of coping with autism as an adult.

So, part of growing up and learning to adult as an autistic person is developing an ability to function in the world of other people despite not really understanding how it or they work. People on the Spectrum come to this in different ways at different times and some more than others, depending on what their particular symptoms are, how effective medication is at helping them, and how much they need and are capable of "passing," aka communicating with and reading other people enough to interact "normally" with them, or in other words, seeming non-autistic.

For me, I read. A lot. And I was naturally quiet and introverted, and I watched people and I listened to stories, and thus over the years I developed really good pattern recognition. I can't really tell what someone is thinking or feeling (unless I know them REALLY well, like with my husband and my children), though I have learned a bit about body language over the years, but I can take past behavior, stick it into my pattern recognition "program," and be able to say with a respectable accuracy rate what someone is likely going to do or why someone is doing what they're doing. It's not really reading someone or getting an emotional bead on them, but it's close enough. It does its work sufficiently well that I don't ping people as being on the spectrum unless they know me well and have seen the gaps in the protocol.

That said, it works on patterns. If too many unknowns get introduced, I'm completely lost. If I haven't predicted something happening and accounted for it, I'm completely at sea. And it doesn't account for my own reactions or ability to cope with things -- it's completely outward facing, if that makes any sense. I'm great at big picture as a result, and shit with detail oriented stuff -- unless it's something I can hyperfocus on, but then I lose sight of everything else. It isn't perfect. I'm not perfect -- far from it. It's just a coping tool, but one I've spent a lot of time refining in the name of survival.

So -- humor and Deadpool. So, keeping in mind the pattern recognition filter that I apply between myself and the rest of the world, the "hole" in my understanding of humor is randomness. I can't really abide it. It makes me anxious. Repetition of something that goes on long enough it becomes nonsensical, continuous non sequiturs, things out of order or stream of consciousness... random actions or words that don't seem to have a cause or appropriate response... gah. Even thinking about that makes gives me anxiety, much less being present for it. No pattern to read just makes all the things wibbly and brings out all my autistic brain, because it effectively shuts down that NEP filter and then I have to reboot things, and that takes time and a stable environment. Sometimes I can distance enough that I can maintain it even if I don't get the thing that's in front of me... usually that's when humor is going on that I don't get even while everyone around me is laughing hysterically. But this is why I don't go to chaotic places; I don't enjoy haunted houses, I don't like jump scares, I don't get a lot of non-representational art, and I don't like humor that depends on being random (the Three Stooges is sort of like this; I don't see the funny, I just see people randomly assaulting one another. No bueno). I couldn't watch 90s Cartoon Network, and I don't get a lot of postmodernist work for that same reason. Also certain memes, lots of animated gifs, 4chan, weird movies that play without sound in the background of busy noisy places, and surrealist stuff.

And this is why, when it comes to Deadpool, I'm going to give it a pass. The humor of it, from what I can gather, relies on him being rather random in associations and actions. I know from what past exposure I've had that I don't get it. I don't see an immersive movie of that being something worth buying a ticket for for me. I spend enough time sorting out my "threat evaluation" filter from just stuff that's going on. I don't need to give the poor overworked neurons any more to handle. So yeah.

Now, I'm not claiming that every autistic person does this. I know I've read things from a few that have filters and thinks of them the same way, but hardly enough to form an overwhelming sample. When I tell people that I want a diagnosis, though, and they say, "but you don't seem like you need it," that's because my NEP works. It does nothing to acknowledge my internal issues; nothing to show the stuff I go through, or how it gets in my way, or how it eventually undermines my relationships with people I like who don't know me well enough to understand how tiring it is to have that NEP filter running all the damn time when I'm out in the world, and how it robs me of energy to do other things that I'd like to do, but that need that filter even more. So if this sounds like you, know you're not alone. If it doesn't, but it sounds like someone else you know... a little acknowledgement of how hard they're working at normal goes a long way. Or at least, it does for me. Milage may vary. Caveat emptor.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

No guilt.



So everything happened yesterday. Earthquakes, floods, bombings, shootings, all over the world. Paris, Beirut, Kenya, Japan, Mexico. Probably some other things I've forgotten about as well, or else didn't hear of -- I was traveling all day, so my connectivity was spotty, and by that I mean perfectly reasonable. I try not to be online 24/7, and it's probably not a good thing for anyone to be online that much.

Facebook, in the wake of what seemed an unreal series of terrorist attacks in France, did the seemingly nice thing of doing check-ins for French users and a French flag overlay for profile pics to offer support. And really, it let a lot of people -- and by people, here, I largely mean American people --  have a way to vent their feelings and try to be supportive in some small way to the aftermath of the French bombings.  It was not long, however, before it was pointed out that no such care was given to the bombings at a funeral in Beirut, or to the ongoing issues in Syria, or to the mass killings at the university in Kenya. This is a perfectly valid observation; we have a real problem in the US media with only given attention to US and European concerns, and only then if most of the people involved are white. We don't get all the info because the information isn't made available to us to start with -- and even then, we don't respond to it all in the same way.

What then followed, though, were a number of shaming articles designed to guilt people over showing solidarity to France through these small symbols. I disagree with that, even as I agree with the larger point above, and now I will tell you why.

1) France and the US go way back, and there is still a fairly strong connection between these two countries culturally. Not as strong as with the UK, but it's up there. It's not wrong for people to feel strongly about something that happens in France when it's such an obvious link to 9/11 for Americans. It also doesn't mean they don't feel about other things too. See #2 and #3.

2) The news from yesterday, taken all at once, is overwhelming. Seriously. I still can't process it all. Expecting equal and simultaneous treatment of all the tragedies that happened yesterday is unrealistic; it's not how people's brains work. It's also not particularly helpful. We as humans can only process so much, only mourn so much all at once. Trying to handle more awfulness than we have bandwidth for leads to paralysis and despair. We have enough of that.

3) Getting onto people for showing support in one corner doesn't send the message that people should change their news sources or try to have a broader view. It just makes them feel bad for supporting anyone if they can't support them all. It stomps on an effort to express fellow feeling and kindness rather than redirecting it to a broader audience. People want to help and be nice; they are using the tool that was given to them. Give them different tools if you want a different response. Don't simply bash them for using the one they have.

4) Lift up that which you feel is important. Talk about Kenya. Talk about Daesh (and don't use the old name for them). Talk about Islamic leaders who fight against this message. Talk about Beirut. Talk about France. Talk about the larger global picture. Talk about Syria and refugees and (to get old school) Palestine and Gaza and Somalia and Israel and Iraq and Turkey and Hungary. Encourage a broader knowledge of the world and what's going on. Put up flags of solidarity. Use the black mourning ribbon above. Lead by example.

We've got enough bad to handle right now without turning on each other for trying to do some small good thing that, in the larger scale, is so very small. Can we all find a way to come together rather than tearing each other apart? I hope so. We need that right now so very badly.

Friday, October 30, 2015

*waves*

My dear readers, I am greatly happy to be able to post again. I was paddling my little boat along when suddenly a great wave of Grad School and Work came along and swamped me, and I've been bailing furiously ever since. I've just now gotten my head above water again. The final effort was a recitation from Cicero's First Catalinian Oration, lines 4-17, for my Latin 201 class yesterday. I am happy to say that I have survived it and now in some circles can be considered a real student of Latin. Apparently this is a traditional torture inflicted on Latin students once they get far enough in their studies. You can see you tube videos of it if you look. One person in my class even wore a toga-ish garment. I was not that dedicated.

Of course, naturally once one finishes a great work, one gets sick. I have no voice today, so my talking has been curtailed and instead I am using my online voice to write a post! I hope to actually write a couple of posts today -- I'm dreadfully behind on my DFA playtest reports and actual play summaries, and I've got another session on Monday. I've also got a meeting on Monday with my adviser to turn over an outline of my dissertation, and I've got editing and reading and everything else to do. Tonight we're having some friends over for snacks and such, and we're watching Halloween, as it's up in the rotation and I've never seen it -- something that seems wrong given my interest in gothic and horror-y stuff.

In other news, we have a Kickstarter going and I'm developing this book. I'm really excited about how it's coming together, and it looks like we're going to fund if all continues its proper trajectory. I've got to get some more work off my plate this week/weekend so I can start the redlines on the drafts next week, but I should be able to do that. In the meantime, I'll try to get back to a more regular posting schedule so that I can subject you to dissertation prep and game stuff and all that goodness once more. Hugs to all of you, dear readers.




Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Rising Waters DFA Playtest: Character Conversion!

Mock-up cover, courtesy Evil Hat Productions
Woo hoo! So my group and I were fortunate enough to get into the Dresden Files Accelerated Beta Playtest, which has been a complete blast. Rather than making characters from scratch, we converted the characters from our ongoing game into DFA characters last session.  Before I go into what we ended doing this evening, though, I want to talk a bit about the playtest and the effects the change in system have had.

So, to no one's surprise, DFA is based on FAE (Fate Accelerated Edition). For those who've played the Dresden Files RPG, you'll know that it's FATE plus some clunkier bits as it tries to encompass the magic and setting and variety of critter abilities within one game. I love the game, don't get me wrong, but it's definitely not the most streamlined system in existence. The magic system in particular was far more complicated in practice than was convenient, and using it always slowed the game down for us -- particularly annoying when you're playing a Dresden Files game, wherein we had two wizards as a matter of course (well, one was a focused practitioner, but whatever).

Character Conversion

The conversion of the characters was really rather simple. Character types are called "mantles," and those are the sorts of things one expects in Dresden -- vampires, werewolves, magic users, mortals, etc. The playtest provided several mantles to choose from, enough that we were able to make the characters over again with a minimum of conceptual effort. No one really had to change what they were to make it fit, or even build a new mantle. Given that I've got:


  • Uno, a changeling summer knight/squire, 
  • Zeke, a lawman hosting an angel's presence (like a reverse Denariian), 
  • Eldi, a dewdrop fairy wildfae, 
  • Adia, a ghost-talking human who's good at sneaking and knows people, 
  • Dylan, a kinetomancer, and 
  • Victor, a White Council troubleshooter... 
I think that says a lot about the flexibility of the character types. One playtest change is that our partial practitioner now has effectively no difference game-wise from our White Council wizard except for the "element" of his magic, which really makes sense if you're not looking at it from a White Council perspective specifically. We could have cobbled together a partial practitioner mantle (the playtest didn't include one), but the player decided he'd rather just work with the full template given the changes.


I kept experience levels to beginning characters, and although there were a couple of bells and whistles that didn't transfer over, the flexibility of the stats/approaches instead of skills and the way stunts have been redefined and clarified made it a much simpler operation to tweak things to bring them in line with what the characters had been known to do. The approaches allow more flexibility in what characters are good or bad at in a given situation in addition to providing some sense of continuity in terms of character development and style. Also, the smaller number of aspects actually let people get rid of some that weren't working, making the lists more indicative of the characters overall. Stunts were well received, especially the formula given for creating custom stunts, which three of my players took advantage of with no issue. Some of the players, particularly Eldi's player, were concerned that by taking the stunts for Diminutive Size and Wings in addition to the Glamour core stunt of Wildfae she wouldn't be able to sufficiently contribute. That was before, however, we understood the role of ritual magic. I'll come back to this.

One notable result: One of my players is... well, not quite system averse, but he has a hard time internalizing rules. Great with RP and remembering story and stuff, bad with having his character actually do stuff and knowing what he can do and how things work. We have gone so far as to just make characters for him in previous games, just to cut down on the overhead and his frustration. By the end of DFA character generation, he answered a rules question for another player before I could! And that's with only one copy of FAE at the table (that wasn't open) and someone else looking at the binder with the playtest document! This has never, ever happened before to my knowledge. FAN_FREAKING-TASTIC!!!





Sunday, October 4, 2015

Boo rain-y-ness!

Today was a day full of cold and rain. I got halfway through the day, huddled under a blanket with long sleeves and pants and socks on and my hands freezing while I typed before I finally gave in and suggested we should turn the heater on. The high for today was 48 degrees Farenheit or so, which means cold. It's much more pleasant now that the heater is on, really. That said, it's OCTOBER THIRD, people. What the heck is up with that? The rest of the week should be warmer, and I'm glad of it, because I really don't need to be running the heater all winter starting now. That's crazypants.

I've been working on editing today, and I've almost gotten through a chunk of the book I'm working on, which is lovely to contemplate. I've also almost got the Totoro baby romper completed -- just two more snaps to sew on. And here it is! All done and laid out and ready to be sent to its new home. It is, admittedly, too big for said little girl, but it means she'll be warm this year for Halloween (and other times) and if there's one thing to be said about babies, they grow into things quickly.


Its intended recipient is a lovely little girl named Alice. For her, I put a flower on Totoro's head along with a leaf, because it just seemed right. Totoro is a bit bemused, however. And possibly slightly stoned. Something's definitely going on with those eyes, I'm just saying.









And then there are mittens! That's not Totoro bone sticking out the end, it's a cord so that the mittens don't get lost, like you do with small kids and mittens to prevent them from getting lost. So it's really not gruesome, I promise. Once there's a kiddo inside the Totoro romper, no one will even notice.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Desire to knit rising...

So I am currently anxious, because I have far too much going on in my life that have deadlines over the next few weeks. It's all good and workable, but it's all got to be done, and that's okay. But here's the thing -- stress makes me stim. (Stimming, for those that don't know, is a desire for tactile sensory input and activity that focuses on that sort of input. It's a neurological autism sort of thing.) Over the years, I've sublimated a lot of my stimming behaviors into things that can "pass" -- tapping my fingers together in time to music, running my hands through my hair, etc.. My husband always notices when I'm stimming, though, even when I haven't noticed it myself. Some people are just observant like that.

Now, though, in the past few years I've hit on like the best one ever -- KNITTING. I mean, could be crocheting, whatever, but for me it's knitting. The yarn, the motion, the fingers running over wood (I prefer wood to metal), the stroking the material and feeling the bumps and smooth parts and the fuzzy/silky/whatever aspect of the fabric... it's perfect.

The downside to this, though, is that the more anxious I am, the more I want to stim/knit, which gets in the way of writing and getting stuff done, for while I can read/watch TV and such while knitting, I can't write. (Writing also has a sensory component, but usually I'm not focused on it and it's neither as intense nor as varied as knitting.) I am currently making the second of a pair of socks (the first that are just for me!) and I've got yarn that needs using and I've got another pair of socks I promised for a friend, and and and and... there's a lot going on. But not enough time. And so I take my knitting with me and use it at school when I can and when I'm hanging out with the family and so forth. Tonight I'm going to the orchestra to listen to Mahler's 3rd. I'm going to knit my stockinette-stitch plain self-striping sock and I'm going to let the sound wash over me and focus on the tactile sensory stuff and just get my fill of it. And maybe then, I can get some more work done.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Project Ramblings: A Comedy in Five Acts

Game Design Thoughts Ahoy!

Okay, so A Tragedy in Five Acts. It's actually done a lot better than I thought it had any right to, and I'm glad about that. Word of mouth has spread enough that people are starting to run it at cons who aren't me, and it's turning out to be something of an evergreen game -- it sells consistently if not hugely, and that makes me happy. It's never going to be a sales leader, but it has something of a following, and that makes me happy.

That said, it's occurred to me of late that the endgame in Tragedy needs some reworking. It works great until you get to Act V, and then things stumble a bit in resolution -- it's not impossible to work it out, by any means, but the system that drives the game so well up until that point just stops mattering, and that feels rather abrupt to me. It's a thing I've been thinking about addressing in a second edition of the game, and the more I think about it, the more I want to press forward with it. Of course, that means that it's getting closer to the time of doing something about the long vaunted A Comedy in Five Acts game I've thought about, as I could release them both together.

Whereas Tragedy is actually a very cooperative game in many ways -- you're all working together to screw your characters over, and your own character most of all -- I don't think that can really work for Comedy. Shakespeare's tragedies are arguably all about social ties and how that can destroy you, whereas his comedies are much more about individual fulfillment. In Shakespeare's tragedies, everyone is together at the beginning but spins apart by the end, while the opposite is true in his comedies. Hence the narrative auction mechanic in Tragedy, which gets everyone competing but ultimately on-board with the same story. Works great to replicate the experience of his plots while maintaining the audience perspective of knowing more than the characters know. The question is, what do I do to get the same level of immersive audience/narrative experience in Comedy?

I think that Comedy is going to have to be much more of a "screw your neighbor" game than Tragedy is, at least system-wise. In Comedies, the characters are beset by unexpected (yet somewhat formulaic) problems that force them out of their customary roles and into intimacy with someone else. There are issues (mostly social, but not entirely) that can be overcome if they'll just grow up a little and think or feel or act their way through them. The ones who do are the heroes and heroines, the ones who don't are our comic relief. But before they figure it out, there are all sorts of struggles and fights and arguments (whereas in the tragedies, those are typically suppressed until the end of the play, when they explode).

So instead of fatal flaws, I think I need to come up with a "surprise!" deck of cards, which includes elements of the comedies that the characters don't see coming. I think I'll need one at the beginning to set the elements and one halfway through to mix things up even more. I'm also thinking that I need some sort of team mechanic, possibly having teams shift halfway through the game, and making it from 4-6 players -- matches of up to 3 couples are not uncommon in the comedies, but you need at least two couples to make it work, and conceivably two couples and a bad guy trying to keep everyone apart. (While I'm at it, I could make some reference cards, fatal flaw cards, and role cards for Tragedy II.) The question is whether it's a random draw, or whether players can play these cards on each other. That I think I'd have to run some playtests to find out.

The real question is, does the auction mechanic make sense for Comedy? I would like to have some sense of continuance between the games, so that people who know Tragedy wouldn't have too much trouble picking up Comedy, so I think I do need some sort of auction mechanic in place. Hmm. I wonder, though, if I could auction off plot cards, so they go to the highest bidder (or, conversely, are avoided by the highest bidder)? Can you also draw cards to play against opposing factions? Do different factions have different strengths and weaknesses? Are we auctioning off narrative control in the form of an idea that gets played out in the next round as volunteered by someone, or are we putting the narrative in the hands of the plot cards? While on the one hand I rather like the randomness, we'd have to be careful not to kill the narrative arc of the play -- maybe the available cards change per act?

Additionally, I think moving the director role around will still work (Ooh, what if I ended made a 4-player version of Tragedy that ended the points run at the end of Act IV, with the winner being director of Act V?) The next question, though, is do we have roles in Comedy? I'm not entirely sure that we do. Maybe instead of roles we have complications and relationships, with some echoes of Fiasco mechanics popping their heads in here. I actually really like that. Characters in comedies are much more defined by their relationships to the other characters in a personal way, whereas the tragedy networks are social or societal more than intimate.

Of course, the final thing I have to think about is leaving room in the game for customization of experience. Shakespeare, God love him, is really sexist and heteronormative despite the travesty roles (cross-dressing women) and some good representations of women (although we can talk about whether the fact that all the players were men dilutes that a bit, particularly if we try to set aside a modern perspective). That was edgy back in the day, but I don't want to enforce a boy-girl, boy-girl relationship dynamic in my games. One of the awesome things about Tragedy is that the freeform aspects of the game allow for all the latitude you want in setting up who you are and how you relate to other people. I don't want the addition of more formulaic elements to kill that aspect of the game. I'll have to find a way to keep that individual freedom of identity while still routing it through some very expected twists and turns in order to keep that Shakespearean comedic feel.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dissertation Chat: Latour

This recurring feature of my blog will be talking about various sources I'm using in my dissertation, both in the hopes of getting my brain around them using the "can you explain this to your friend/relative/spouse/grandmother" method of understanding concepts, as well as seeing what other people think of such things and fostering some discussion.


Our first topic of discussion today is Bruno Latour and his undying fights to bring science studies into the light of respectability -- and, you know, to reorient our relationships with the world as we know it at the same time. Just a little thing. No big deal.

So, if you don't know who Latour is, what you really need to know is that his primary theory, using the terminology that's been largely settled on (although he's still not entirely happy with it) is a thing called "actor-network theory," or ANT for short. The jist of it is that we tend to look at the world (and particularly science) in terms of subjects and objects. Subjects do things, and objects have things done to them. Pretty much textbook grammar, right? Except that Latour argues that not only is that a very limited view of the world, it's flat out wrong. It's not subject and object, it's human and non-human; they're not one prioritized above the other in terms of intent or action or ability, it's everything acting on everything else. Non-humans are capable of acting on their environments and on humans, just as humans do the same. Non-humans mediate human relationships and humans mediate the relationships between things. It's not a top-down hierarchy, it's a great sprawling network of connections and relationships and the in-between spaces of connections where things actually happen.

Also, non-human things aren't just things, like tables and computers (already a pretty complex series of connections and networks), but are also things like organizations and concepts and events. The history and practice of science, according to Latour, isn't just what happens in a lab report, but also the lab in the context of the organization, and the personal networks of the scientists who live there, and the various groups or people who have stakes in the research, and the places the materials for the research come from, and the political situation that surrounds the lab funding -- all of that comprises science and its practices, not just a given experiment in a given lab at a given time.

There is a lot more to his ideas, of course, including the idea that since humans make non-human objects, those objects contain scripting that tell humans how they should interact with the non-human objects in question. Design and bias, conscious or not, pervade the things we do and make, even if we don't think about it most of the time. He argues for the reclamation of human relationships with our surroundings, abandoning a false nature/social split that predicts the decline of the world and our corruption from a pre-historical cultural and moral purity in favor of embracing that human and non-human actors/actants are actually very closely entwined and will only become more so, and that this is a good thing as we realize that this has pretty much always been the state of man, rather than some form of degeneration (he's not a big fan of postmodernism, as this may show).

Whew. That's a lot of stuff and I've barely scratched the surface. Suffice it to say that Latour is a figure of controversy and has been for a number of years in all sorts of disciplines.

For me personally, I think what he's saying makes a great deal of sense. I'm not heavily invested in top-down vertical power structures, though, even if it's just people and things we're talking about. My whole life is networked effects, so it seems intuitive to me. More to the point, though, it works with my research. I think that the way we use things is heavily wrapped up in encoded social and cultural expectations. Looking back to the 18th century and the advent of consumer culture in Britain (as a sort of environmental/historical petri dish to set up our experiments in), it's a great way for us to see how non-human actants complicate questions of class and political visibility.

Even better, though, are objects in fiction. Why, you may ask? Because the 18th-century saw the advent of realistic fiction, where objects started being called out and included purposefully rather than just as a brief sketch tied into a plot event, mentioned once and never again. Objects weren't included as stage setting with no purpose in fiction in this period and setting -- if you as an author included blue curtains, for example, there were some real reasons why those curtains were blue, and it was related to the story or the character in question, and you could be pretty darn sure that your audience (largely homogenous culturally) would get it (or get it explained to them).

So if literary objects (the objects authors put in their novels) consist largely of references to real objects and cultural truths that humans are expected to understand, then they aren't anything but embedded cultural scripts. And if they're used to illustrate or embody cultural boundaries of race, gender, class, status, etc.... then how they are used (whether as intended or subverted) through their relationship with the human characters is pretty darn telling as to what those scripts might be, which tells us a lot in turn about society and the expectations (often unstated) that exist in that time and place. That in turn can teach us how to look at our own time and place and things and relationships, and maybe draw some conclusions for ourselves that are a bit overdue.

So yeah, that's Latour, at least from my perspective.

*Works that inform this include: "The Berlin Key," Pandora's Hope, We Have Never Been Modern, Reassembling the Social




Thursday, September 24, 2015

Diversity in Gaming, or not being the yardstick of the universe.

Bradley, by Timm Henson
Man, that is just not an exciting title. But I'm currently writing a mentoring guide about diversity in games, and so that's where my mind is at. The pic to the right was drawn by the amazing Timm Henson, and it's one of the Agents available for play in our free downloadable Chill character pack. His name is Bradley.

So, diversity means a lot of things. Basically it means "have a bit of everything involved, more or less equally spread around." That's harder than it sounds like when you're used to everything looking one way and you start changing it up. It can be difficult to think outside the box, and so most games and game companies historically haven't worried about it. There are some stand-out exceptions, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't so long ago we were having talks about passive cheesecake and chainmail bikinis being a righteous standard for portrayals of women in games (and in some places on the internet, people still do).

Thomas Simpson, by Timm Henson
For a few years now, I've had a game company of my own (and as a woman, that's a big step forward for diversity, lemme tell you). I share it with my husband, and we both write and work on everything. I still get overlooked a lot when people talk about "Matthew McFarland's company" and people tend to assume I do admin work (or worse, secretarial/accounting work), aka a support role to his creative genius. I think he is a creative genius, don't get me wrong, but it's actually closer to the other way round at least half the time. I'm good at production, bad at business oversight; faster at editing than writing; better at art dev stuff, but not as good as having a real graphic designer/art person (thank you, Thomas, for your awesomeness). Point is, I'm an equal member of the company and the games. And I'm a woman. So that's still a bit of a struggle in perceptions at times.

Maria, by Timm Henson
For all that, though, I've got it easy. I'm a white woman married to a game industry veteran who has a day job. I'm in grad school, and while that eats a lot of time, it's a really privileged position where I have the opportunity to take risks and do creative stuff. We're not rich, but our bills get paid (I love you, Matt). I have been a single-income, family-supporting single mom working from contract to contract and freelance gig to freelance gig, making decisions about what bill isn't going to get paid this month. I have hustled so hard for money that I couldn't even think about doing something that wasn't going to result in getting paid ASAP, no matter how many creative impulses I might have had.

And even with all that, I wasn't "of color." I came from an impoverished background, but my teenage years were solidly middle class. I was the first of my family to graduate from college, but my parents both went. I am a US citizen. I am autistic, but all my limbs work. I have anxiety, but I can manage it and it's nothing more debilitating or unpredictable than that. I do not register to the outside world as having a disability, which has its own challenges and benefits. No one wants to deport me. No one sees me as a threat to national security because of my background or skin color.

It could be a lot harder, and I work to remember that every day. I am not the yardstick of the universe.

Rory, by Jenna Fowler
It can be easy to forget that whole yardstick thing, though. We gravitate to people like ourselves; it's where we as humans feel at home and understood. Diversity flies in the fact of that instinct, though; it pushes us to include people who have life experiences nothing like our own, to leave our comfort zones and instead make room for someone else's comfort. It demands that we, of our own volition, make room for other people and tell them, straight out, that they are welcome here, even if we feel like we would have liked that as well and didn't get it back in the day (whenever that was). It demands effort on a number of fronts, from trying to recruit people who have different voices and experiences to work on products, to thinking about presentations within games even down to examples and pronouns, to working to make the game accessible to those who are dealing with physical and mental challenges so they can play as well, to deliberately marketing to different demographics than the default (18-36 yr old hetero cis white men), to including art that represents people from different walks of life, different skin colors, different challenges, and yet are still capable, still actors -- people who you want on your side.

By making the effort to have a voice and enable others to have voices as well, to reach out and help people share in the gains that you've made, you actively make the world a better place, even if just by working in a small corner of it. By passing the microphone around, we create a full-bodied chorus. This is one of the missions Matt and I have with our company. We do not always get it right (no one ever always gets it right), but we make an effort and we learn from our mistakes, and I think that's the best anyone can ever do. If we all do at least that much, we can change the world we live in.


Friday, September 18, 2015

The past returns

So, I have this project I've been working on, and it's now crunch time. It's designed to be a Halloween costume / cute outfit for a certain little girl, and I only see her mom once a month, and I need to finish the dang thing like now because she'll be here this weekend. The big thing that has been holding me up, though, is that I've decided I need a flower on it. The pattern doesn't call for a flower, mind you. No, I'm the one who picked a flower to go on the hat, and I cannot convince myself to go forward without it.

Of course, as any knitter can tell you, it's not that you can't knit flowers -- you can -- but it's a lot of work and there's very little point when crochet does it so much better (knitting - straight lines, crochet = circles). You can do things in both crafts to offset these basic tendencies, but you're crafting uphill a bit in either case.

 So I decided, finally, to bite the bullet and pick up a crochet hook and start a flower. How hard could it be, anyway? Not that I've ever read a crochet pattern or done it since my grandmother taught me to make potholders when I was 9. I was nervous -- I haven't had any interest in or experience with crocheting since that time, and it's not like one remembers things like that. I've been puzzling through online instructions and explanations, and things were going okay... when suddenly I was crocheting. Like, single crochets without having to look at the diagram. In fact, I was convinced the diagram said I was wrong at one point and I was confused because the way I wanted to do it wasn't the way it said to... and then I realize it was, and the difference was that it was the way Grandmother had taught me.

All of a sudden, I was comfortable. It was like she was with me again, and worrying about the right way to do it or anything like that just faded away. I remember her hands on mine, and how her rose lotion smelled, and the way she'd guide me through things, and I suddenly feel like crocheting is a gift, because it let me feel close to her again after so long. Love you, Grandmother. Miss you.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

I have made a pair of socks that is too small for everyone I know


I really like these socks. I made them for my stepdaughter, because I wanted to use up this fantastic striping sock yarn I had and because I didn't have enough of it to make socks for me. So I made the first sock and it fit her like a dream, but then 2/3 of the way through the second sock, I ran out of yarn.

Given the tightness of finances during the summer, I put the socks on the back burner until I could afford to get more yarn. Finally, this past week, I did. I finished up the sock and gave it to her to try on... and she'd grown out of it. :(

The socks fit Cael, but they are made of wool and are fuzzy, and he doesn't care for them despite appreciating the striped awesomeness. So now I have this awesome pair of handmade kid-size wool socks that don't fit anyone I know at all. I am a sad knitter, if only for the fact that I could only wish that they would fit me, but there is no way on this earth that they will go on my foot. *sad trombone*

I will wash them and block them, and then see if anyone I know has someone in the 6-9 yr old range who'd take them. They deserve to have a home, really they do.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Status!

Okay, so I'm going to start doing periodic status posts to kind of keep myself honest about my workload and what I'm focused on at the moment. I'm working on balancing freelance gigs + coursework + school work + teaching + dissertation reading. I'm staying home today and not doing a whole lot out of the house (maybe going to pick up the ceramics I did with my stepdaughter), so hopefully I can get things done.

Here's my current statuses across the categories:

Freelance: 

  • Redlines for the one of the Dark Eras for the Onyx Path book; finished one era, still one to go. Deadline of Monday. 
  • Started in on the next chapter for Emerald City, the Interface Zero 2.0 book I'm working on. Got 500 words done yesterday -- aiming for at least that much today. 
Coursework:
  • Read another two chapters on Cicero. 
  • Finish translating Ad Familiares 7.1.
  • Study vocabulary.
Teaching:
  • Grade 11 1st drafts with global and local feedback for Monday. 
Dissertation Reading: 
  • Finish Pandora's Hope (Latour). Start something else -- non-Latour would be a good idea. Still debating whether I want to go back to a primary (period) source or read a theory piece. Butler is sitting on my desk, taunting me. Perhaps just to get it out of the way. 

That does sound like rather a lot, doesn't it? Ah well. We'll see what we can do.



Thursday, September 10, 2015

Letting Perfect be the Enemy of "Oh Just Do Something Already."

If you know me at all, it doesn't seem like this would be a problem I would have. And yet, I can assure you, it is something I struggle with on a regular basis. In looking around at the Internets of late, it seems to be something that others struggle with too, so I thought I'd write about it.

So there's a thing that happens where nothing is quite right. We can envision something as it should be and anything short of that seems like a pale comparison, practically a joke. When we could have the awesome of the perfect thing, why should we be asked to settle for anything less? Why shouldn't we push ourselves to achieve the thing that is obviously so much better?

This is a thing for me in my writing. It's a thing for me in my knitting. It's a thing for me in a lot of ways. It's an outlook I sort of struggle with when it comes to politics and compromise and solutions to issues at work. I have problems being invested in something and yet being flexible about it at the same time. I have worked REALLY HARD over the years at getting better at this, because frankly, the world does not give a damn what my level of investment is in terms of repaying me with exactly what I want. The world, as a whole, doesn't do that, as there are all these other people in it who also want what they want and have different views of perfection.

Not to mention that there are always real-world limitations: do I have unending amounts of time to achieve my goal? Of course not. Can I afford the materials I really want? Probably not. (I have an absurd desire for artisan yarn, for example, but $40 for 100 yds is not feasible on my budget.) Is my desire practical? Maybe? But hypotheticals aren't good at noting real-world applicability or practicality, so I'm sure there's something I've overlooked.

These real-world limitations also apply to other people. Obviously, everyone should just do X so that things would be so much better. But assuming X invariably also assumes that everyone out there is a rational actor who shares my brain, or at least my priorities and expectations, and again I've learned the hard way that my brain is only mine, and just because I feel something a lot doesn't mean anyone else feels it too. Nor do I have the right to expect that of them, because I know no one else has the right to expect that of me.

It's funny; I identify as a progressive liberal. Some people paint that stripe of political and social belief as idealistic; I view it as darkly realistic. I think that conservative political belief is idealistic because there's so much that's theoretical about it, and it relies so much on everyone feeling the same way and doing the same thing. That said, it's entirely possible to have liberal progressive goals be similarly idealistic. You can not only think that perfect is not only achievable, but that no other outcome is possible or desirable. I don't think that's the way things actually work, though; at the very least, I can't think of any historical examples to back up this idea. The way we get things done seems to be through incremental change; even the biggest breakthroughs that seem sudden can be traced back to a thousand tiny steps and alterations prior to the event. Everything is a step at a time; nobody can eat an elephant in one go.

The temptation is, though, to accept only the perfect, which means that stuff you could achieve that falls short just doesn't get done. The perfect isn't just the enemy of the good, it's the enemy of "let's get something in place and see how it goes, and then we'll fix it once we see how it works in play." It's the enemy of deadlines, of increments, of moving forward. I'm not saying that people should rush crappy stuff ahead just to do it -- really I'm not -- but there is a point at which you have to be committed to "as good as this can get right now" versus a Platonic ideal.

I don't begrudge anyone their feelings; we've all got them, and they're all valid (even if I'd disagree regarding the validity of some of the criteria some feelings are based on). The Internet doesn't encourage us to take a breath and judge validity, though. The format encourages us to vent, and there's a comfort to joining a bunch of people venting en masse on similar topics. While social conversation and pressure are absolutely means to effect change and should be used, they can also serve as a distraction and get in the way, often elevating the theoretical, personal, "perfect" above less exalted compromises and solutions, and I think that's dangerous in the long run. If we can't accept a flawed (but fixable) improvement to the current problem over an ideal that cannot come to pass, then we aren't ever going to see change happen -- whether that's progress on my dissertation or a larger social issue -- and that, to my mind, is what's really unacceptable.

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Non solum canes sed etiam feles vivens promisce

This probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, but actually doing Latin translation, even the relatively easy stuff, is kind of kicking my butt. On the one hand, I actually seem to be able to do it, more or less, which is a vast improvement over this time last year. I lost a lot of ground over the summer that I'm slowly getting back, but it's a process that for now involves looking up nearly every freaking word and making sure that yes, that's the word I think it is in the form I think it might be, which means it means X.

Luckily, I actually like doing Latin translation, though I'll like it much better as I improve at it. It's code breaking, basically, and it's got the satisfaction of doing puzzles combined with "oh THAT's what that says!" What's funny is that I sort of approach my dissertation the same way, with my focus on objects and meanings and how we code or decode things. Apparently those letter substitution puzzles I loved so much in GAMES Magazine had a larger effect on me than I'd realized.

At the same time, it does feel a bit like the title to this blog post. I am doing my best to tread water, and the language is eating up more of my time than I want it to as I try to keep pace with the class. I know that's really the only way to do it -- to dive in and just take it on -- but right now it wants to eat my lunch. Also, Cicero was kind of an entertaining butt. That is all for now.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Things that happened this weekend:

I went to DragonCon and saw a ton of cool costumes.

I walked miles and miles, as I stayed in an off-site hotel.

I learned that Atlanta has hills downtown.

I saw 3-4 whale sharks -- I didn't even know that was a thing, but they're amazing.

I watched giant manta rays loop-the-loop.

I saw river otters sleeping in a pile.

I learned that the flight between CLE and ATL is surprisingly short.

I had some of the best biscuits I've had in a year.

I watched bits of 300 twice accidentally.

I learned how to use my phone as a personal internet connection.

I ran a game of Clue: A Tragedy in Five Acts that was called "Murder in the Caribbean."

I came home and now I'm going to go fall over. G'night.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Game and voices (semi-random)

So designing games.

One of the weird things I've discovered over the past year is that I actually have ideas about games. I have the game I made for Game Chef (called Vovetas), I have another all-ages game I'm still working out, I have Daedalus, and I have A Comedy in Five Acts still on my plate, in addition to some far flung ideas about the steampunk mad scientist game, and a couple other RPGs and other things that I'm doing freelance (and, you know, my dissertation and syllabi and whatnot but lets not talk about that right now).

I have discovered during this period of time that yes, I really am a game designer. Not just a mechanics inventor or writer or editor, but a designer, designing games from scratch. I have opinions about what works and what doesn't, and although I don't get things right all the time, I get them right often enough in games that I feel as though this is not going to be something I give up lightly. I think it's especially important given that I'm a woman, and it's really freaking time that women in game design got credit for their work, and put their names out there -- I'm far from the only one, but I may be one of the few who's in a position to really exert the creative control and have production experience behind it.

Which sort of brings up the idea/problem/question -- how do I make this work with my very real and important to me academic life? How do I use it to pull others up and have them see their value and hear their voices too? How can I make my games a more useful mirror to a wider world? If I have a microphone, I ought to use it for something useful as well as something fun, you know? It has taken me a lot of years, and only now am I coming to understand forms of activism and how they can work in my life. My social anxiety makes it hard for me to protest in public or go to major political events. I don't have a lot of extra money to donate to things; grad student stipends aren't all that, you know, plus I have kids who need support as well. But issues of representation, offering a chance for other voices, helping out where I can... these are things I can do.

One of the things that's been brought home to me from the latest ToR debacle is how incredibly wasteful it is to create something tasteless and harmful, just because you can. I mean, sure, you can do that. You can also stick your hand in a blender. Both of these beg the question as to why you would bother when you could spend your time in so much more enjoyable and productive ways. And I'm not even saying that you have to avoid darkness or awful things. There's SO MUCH value in looking at and talking about the awful things in the world, even though it's hard to do (I do focus on the Gothic, after all, and let me tell you, it does not shy away from icky stuff). But your goal can't be to glorify or dismiss the bad stuff. You have to give it its proper weight and horror. The only way the Grand Guignol works is if you take it seriously and respect it; if you play the horror for comedy or, worse, treat it as passe or commonplace, then you're seriously screwing up and probably some people will be hurt by it.

If, as OBS suggests, we are to view RPGs as art (and I think there's an argument to be made there), then artistic integrity is a thing. Respect your work and its potential power, both in terms of an artistic statement and in terms of your audience. Respect the people who buy and read your work and don't subject them to schlock (or worse, try to play them for suckers). Respect the content and take it seriously. Respect that you have a voice to use that can be heard, and that you have a platform for it; that's no small thing in this world. Respect yourself -- is this something you won't be ashamed of when someone comes up to talk to you about it in five years? If you can't answer that straight on, then maybe it's not ready for primetime yet. Because seriously: anything less is a waste of everyone's time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RPGaDay2015 -- The End

Okay, so I fell behind again. Here's the last lap, though, all in one fell swoop for all you patient readers who are, no doubt, endlessly interested in all my RPG stuff. :)

Day 28: Favorite Game You No Longer Play

Oh man. So... Shadowrun. Shadowrun was my go-to favorite for a lot of years. It was the first game I ever really GMd. I like how the fantasy races let us deal with some of the uglier aspects of human nature head on. I like how the magic gave it just enough fantasy without getting rid of all familiarity (and I'm a sucker for urban fantasy). I liked the cyberpunk aspects of it. I loved the people it introduced me to, many of whom are still dear friends to this day. It was my entryway to the industry, first in editing through my work for FASA Corp., and then through writing as I started picking up bits and pieces in the line. I haven't touched it since I parted freelance ways with Catalyst.

Really, the reasons for this boil down to two things. First, I really don't like the rules changes; 4th was going in an awesome direction, I think, but the departure of pretty much the entire creative team meant handing something new and fragile over to people who had no part in its creation and no reason to try to shepherd it until it gained its feet. It was a big change, and without that team to keep pushing it forward... it couldn't end well. 5th edition may well be an improvement over where 4th ended up, but I don't like the stuff they brought back that we were trying to get away from in the first place. So no.

Second, my taste in games has changed. I still like urban fantasy, but 80s urban fantasy cyberpunk feels super dated to me now. Also, the system is weirdly crunchy in odd ways (go 90s game design!) and that's not the sort of system I like. If I'm going to run games now, I'm going to do it using systems that are more intuitive and provide more narrative engagement. So, yeah, no more Shadowrun for me. Keep having fun, though, chummers, fake cursing and all. :)

Day 29: Favorite RPG Website/Blog

So, this one's a tie: First place goes to RPGnet. I've been a mod there for years, and now I'm an admin. I'm proud of my work there and the work of all the staff (all of whom are volunteer), and I think that despite the challenges that come with handling an userbase of 10k souls who enjoy playing games from all around the world, it's pretty darn reasonable and nifty. No one likes all the decisions we make as mods, not even us. Overall, though, it's a really good place to talk about games and a good, if occasionally fractious, community. Also, I'd like to say that I know its rep stretching back to the days of yore; to those who feel that way, I'd like to suggest that a) you haven't been by lately and b) if you pay attention to the Internet, then you know what a real Mos Eisley looks like thanks to 4chan and Reddit. Perspective in all things.

Second, I've got to put up my husband's blog, Gaming and Related Services. He's got more actual play action than anyone else I know of, as well as movie reviews and game reviews and the occasional GMing article, etc. If you don't read it, you should.

Day 30: Favorite RPG-Playing Celebrity

So, we know of a lot of men who play tabletop RPGs, but have far fewer women that we're aware of. I'm therefore going to stretch and say Rosario Dawson, who's a huge gamer, does voicework, made a fantastic Gamora AND puts Daredevil back together again when he gets beaten up in the Netflix series. If she's ever at a con I'm at, I'll give her a game to try with her daughter. :) Thanks, Rosario. You're awesome.

Day 31: Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGing

So, my marriage. Playing RPGs led to working in the industry, and working in the industry led to working with Matt and meeting him, and meeting him led to reading each other's LJs back in the day and keeping in touch, and then that led to a relationship, and here we are married. And we own a game company together. We have kids and dogs and friends and love and a house that desperately needs more TLC than we can afford to give it, but such is the way of things. I am profoundly grateful for this hobby and this industry, cottage though it may be, and the ways in which it has affected my life.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day 27


Day 27: Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games into One


So, this isn't really something I do, and as a result, I'm not entirely sure how to take it. The closest thing I've done recently, though, is make the pitch to take one or more characters from out ongoing Deadlands game (specifically the scrappy orphan kid who's grown up under the tutelage of the Chinese kung fu master/laundry owner in Colorado) and transport him through the time shifts into Feng Shui 2, potentially taking some other characters along as well or else making new ones. I think it'd be awesome. :)


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day 26

Day 26: Favorite Inspiration for Your Game

So, my favorite source of inspiration, by far, is music. I regularly start my games by playing a song I feel to be thematic in some way -- it works great to get my players' attention, get them in the mood, and let them know the game is starting (thus transitioning them out of chat mode). I have gotten a bit out of the habit with this most recent reboot of the game I'm running -- it's something I should get back to, though. I also tend to use it at the beginning of the classes I'm teaching, if I need a way to get their attention and I can relate it to the lesson. I should definitely do it this semester, though. So yes -- always, always music.

(By the way, if you're interested in running Chill, you need to listen to Hozier's album. Seriously, the whole thing. All of it. If you haven't already. OMG.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RPGaDay2015: the last week's worth of entries

So school started and I finished an editing job and... yeah. Also, my corgi decided to chase a buck and suffered some muscle strain, and was the most sad corgi ever for a couple of days. (He's fine now). But yes, I let this get away from me, and now I must catch up.

RPGaDay2015: Day 20, Favorite Horror RPG

So, for a lot of years, the World of Darkness was like the only good answer to this question. I couldn't have picked a specific flavor of it until these last few years, where it was really Changeling: the Lost. There's a lot of resonance there for me. That said, I honestly have to say that Chill 3rd Ed has replaced it. My favorite thing, bar none, is being a person trying to fight off the bad things. That is the horror game I want, and I want some success to be possible. I wanted Kolchak the Night Stalker, etc. And Hunter sort of did that, but not in the way I wanted. Chill does. And yes, it's kind of a gimme, since my company made it, but seriously: I freaking love playing this game. It's all the good things.

Day 21: Favorite RPG Setting

So... I run a Dresden Files RPG game. I love Dresden with all the love a girl can have. That said... I think my favorite setting, bar none, is the Iron Kingdoms. It's crazy, I know -- arcane steam mechs and ongoing war and crazy creatures from the woods and everything like that. And I'm not even huge into fantasy! But I really, really, really like it. Something about it is just kitchen-sink enough to be my catnip. Now, have I played it? Nope. Do I know what the current system is like? Nope. I own the book, but I haven't really gotten a chance to look through it. That said... doesn't matter. The setting rocks.

Day 22: Perfect Gaming Environment

This strikes me as kind of weird, but okay. I have probably 70% of my perfect gaming environment right now. The changes I'd make are indirect, not-top-down room lighting, better chairs, and a bit less corgi interference, but the last one of these will come in time. We have an awesome Geek Chic table that doubles as our dining table, a dining room full of game books and the game closet, and it's right next to the kitchen and the coffee maker for great dinners and snacks and, of course, coffee. Oh, and I'd replace the sliding glass door with one that's more energy efficient and doesn't just suck the heat out of the room. And I'd love to paint the room a slightly more cheerful color, if I had the least idea how to go about painting a room. That's pretty much it.

Day 23: Perfect Game for You

What even is this? Okay, fine... the perfect game for me. Um... I like games with character development, with investigative and puzzle elements, and with some danger or weight to the character's choices. There have to be stakes that matter, you know? Story is more important than combat. Character relationships and choices have to have consequences and development. Mechanical/system advancement is not a huge thing to me; I'd rather start with most of what I need and earn new stuff in the story than get xp and have to save it up or figure out what to spend it on. I like games that last a long time, like years to get into the character and see where she ends up. That said, it's less a system or a setting and more a style of play, so I'd say there is no one single "perfect game for me." It's all in the execution.

Day 24: Favorite House Rule

Oh lord. Um... okay. This is a style of game I don't play anymore, but for fantasy games where it's ostensibly somewhat important... I hate buying random gear. I hate that part of the game SOOOOOO much. It just gets in the way, and unless we're REALLY going to talk about resource management and make that a central part of the game, having to remember to buy all the things my character would know she needs is just stupid. So I always house rule the Standard Adventurers Kit. Anything you can reasonably expect your character to need and consider part of her kit, she has. It costs a moderate amount of money, but not enough to keep you from buying the weapon and stuff you need (say 50 silver, in D&D money). I have never yet had anyone be sad about this choice -- that says something to me about the "importance" of gear in games.

Day 25: Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

Oh, man. So, I'm going to say the one I experienced most recently, which is the character/personality setup in Bluebeard's Bride, by Whitney Beltran. All the players are aspects of the Bride's psyche, and the one who's in control at the time is the one who takes damage and gets to ultimately decide what happens. They can all support or interfere with one another, and the way you determine who's in charge is who gets to hold the wedding ring. It's creepy and awesome and ultimately a really fresh take on a game system that is more often competitive than not. I actually forgot we were using a *World system when we were playing it. It's pretty darn amazing.

Okay. Back to one a day for the rest of the month! :)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rising Waters: Season 2.5, Session 3

Following the ghoul battle, everyone went to get cleaned up. Zeke's phone rings, though. It's his mortal, not-informed girlfriend calling to verify their dinner plans.  Ree'sha (I'm spelling this wrong, I know, but I don't have his sheet in front of me) asked if they were still getting together, and whether or not she needed to buy a new dress for his friend's wedding, since she got an invitation but she remembered his friend was a bit odd.

Zeke immediately went on alert, as his girlfriend was now planning on attending Uno's wedding when he still didn't have an invite, and from all they could tell, wasn't going to get one. He broke off from the rest of the group and set about getting dinner reservations and getting cleaned up and prepped for what might be a difficult evening.

Upon hearing that people were getting invitations to his wedding, Uno starts freaking out. People work on calming him down while they start checking with their own loved ones. Dylan calls his parents, who say they think they got something but threw it away. Eldi learns Hui got one and is planning on attending, because Uno is Eldi's friend. Everyone Uno knows is already going, and Viktor's contact didn't get one. Adia's ex got one and isn't planning on going, and wanted to know why she hadn't left town yet.

Adia went looking for her sugar skull, after realizing other people couldn't see Josh, and that's when it came out that Dylan had left it in the diving bell accidentally. The group minus Zeke finishes cleaning up and heads over to the Fells Point waterfront to try to get it from the diving bell without being noticed or getting in a fight with whatever. They went to get it and Eldi did some glamour, so while they almost got noticed, they managed to cover it and be fine. What they discovered is that the salt circle Dylan had surrounded it with was blown out all over the floor, omnidirectionally, presumably from when the demon voice was coming through it.

Since demons shouldn't be able to use the skull, though, Viktor starts studying the skull and looks at it with the Sight. He discovers that it's a) not a human skull, although it's related -- maybe a sidhe skull -- and the magics that power it are both demonic and fae, which shouldn't be a thing ever. They start looking at the other gifts, and it becomes clear that while some are of fae origin, some aren't, and some are blended, getting weirder and weirder.

Uno suggests going to the library to see the loremaster of Baltimore to ask about the artifacts and to see if there's anything he can do to get out of these contracts. They all take off tot he library and meet Jeffrey, the head librarian. He's pretty nonplussed by the articles wanted to go to library and see the loremaster to see if they could figure out what was going on, and how he could get out of this. He agrees to look at the artifacts, but he needs all of them in one place to do that. We leave our characters going to get the rest of the stuff and coming back to find out what's going on!