Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

So, I really meant to post more in December, truly I did, but then the end of the semester happened, and then I fell and broke my thumb, which put a damper on my typing overall. I just got my cast off yesterday, and it's a glorious feeling. (See pic of my son cosplaying John Bender from The Breakfast Club to embody that emotion. :) ) It's sore, and I can't ask it to do too much, and I have a splint to wear at night for support, but it's so much better than it was.

So I have more about game design to post, but I'm going to take a bit to do the obligatory end-of-year post. 2016 seemed like a year of huge upheaval for just about everyone I know. Some good, some bad, but lots of it regardless. My eldest son moved in with us and started his senior year again, for example. He's doing well, but it was an adjustment. My dad had health issues but is doing okay. My car got wrecked (by my son) and replaced with my parents' old minivan.  I had a chapter approved for my committee and have started job applications. Our business got in with another distributor via the IDGN, which will be great for 2017. The presidential election happened, and we'll be dealing with that for a long time to come -- enough that I fear for what the world will be like this time next year. There is nothing to do but move forward, though. Dwelling on the past and what might have been only gets in the way of what needs to be done.

That said, I at least had some good things come of the past year. I went to London and got a ton of research done -- my first time overseas. I went to Rare Book School, and that was an amazing experience. I went to Metatopia and learned I might actually be a game designer after all. I get to lead an organization I love (the IGDN) and hopefully make a real difference over the next two years. Plus I've learned a ton about myself -- I did some healing and hopefully some self-realization and I've been working on putting that into practice. It's good. Hard sometimes, but good.

Tonight I'm watching a double feature with my husband (The Big Sleep and The Big Lebowski), having an awesome dinner (halibut) and ringing in the new year with some lovely wine. I'm also working through a job app and some additional work on my dissertation. Tomorrow I go see Matt's mom and we have a pork and sauerkraut dinner to bring luck on the new year, which will be awesome. I cannot pretend to know what the new year will bring, but I hope -- I hope -- that it will be kind to us. I suspect it might not, but I hope that it will. May everyone be blessed for the coming trip around the sun one more time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Game Design: Core Tenets

From the app game Monument Valley
So I've been bitten by the fantasy bug, probably at least part in reaction to the whole election stuff. This isn't unusual, really -- look at Tolkien -- but it's unusual for me, because working at WotC and on d20 stuff for so long had seemingly inoculated me against fantasy stuff. I still can't play D&D or Pathfinder. It's like a mental contact allergy, except it involves ranting and a reaction to classes and levels.

However, I've started putting thought into a fantasy game, and I think it a) actually has some legs and b) would be fun to play and c) does enough that's different to be worthwhile and not just another heartbreaker. So I figured I'd post about it as I go along and see what people think.

So, first of all, I've figured out I have rules for game design overall, and even fantasy games have to fit within them. Here are my rules.

1) There has to be a goal of play. 
I have nothing against sandboxes settings and systems, but that's not generally what I want to do. Frankly there are tons of generic systems and settings -- there's very little point in me adding to that pile just for the sake of it. I prefer games, though, that hew toward a specific type of play experience or genre emulation (and I can and do make the argument that even generic systems call out a specific type of game experience, but that's not the point of today's post).

2) Nothing is sacred.
There is no idea of game design that isn't better off removed at one point or another. I haven't wargamed with minis in forever, for example, and so I'm not interested in replicating that environment. "Because we do it this way" isn't enough to include something in a game. Go back to empirical philosophy, except instead of sense-based phenomena, go with play-based phenomena. If we can't confirm that it exists and what it does for the game we want, it doesn't belong there.

3) Power dynamics at the table are meant to be part of the design. 
So people organize into groups, and groups distribute power. A traditional d20 table has a GM with all the narrative power over the world (and some over the characters), while players have limited and largely reactive narrative power that applies primarily to their own characters and not much else. That's a lopsided, largely classroom dynamic. I don't think there's anything wrong with it necessarily, but it does lock the table into a specific style of play, and that style may not be the one you want.

4) Something has to be cool.
There a whole universe of ideas and themes out there, and games up to date have explored only a few of them, and those somewhat exhaustively. Novelty is cool. Fun is cool. Emotion and reaction are cool. People play games to be transported, whether for new excitement or a familiar comfort. Escapism or Nostalgia. That can happen through the type of game, the setting, the genre, the experience... there's a lot of ways to do it. Using a different die type is not one of them. Games have to earn their place in the world -- they don't come into being and get played just because. Find what makes it cool and build on that.

So those are my starting points. Let's see where they go.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Updates and Full Plates and Imposters

Oh friends, readers, and countrymen, what tales I have to tell you. I have returned from London and completed revisions on my first dissertation chapter. I have started writing using the research I did in London for my fourth (written second) chapter. I have been teaching a class and I have made a prototype for a new card game, which is not a thing I have ever done before. I have made hand-raised steak and ale pies for my gaming group, and shared the joy of Jaffa Cakes. My company has even just finished a successful Kickstarter for a new Chill 3rd Edition supplement -- Monsters. We not only met our very realistic (aka not lowballed) goal, but we exceeded it by 5k, and as a result will be adding extra content in the form of more monsters!

Closer to home and the present day, the weather is currently giving me fits as it yo-yos from 40s to 70s and back again, all of which triggers my migraines. Metatopia is this weekend, and I am not really ready, but I am likely as ready as I will ever be, and it will have to do. I am keeping up with my work hours, I just finished an uneventful bout of jury duty, and I gave a talk on using games in pedagogy to grad student TAs at my university.

When I list it all, it sounds like a tremendous amount of stuff to have happened in just a month, and honestly it is. At the same time, I feel like I get nothing done. Part of that is imposter syndrome, and part of that is my inability to judge time effectively. I am continually focused on trying to do something so that the thing I needed to have done does not become the thing that screws me over. I like to think of it as a healthy dose of mild fear, but probably it's just anxiety with a nicer name and a combover (see above).

For example, I just found out that next semester I'm going to teach the intro to lit course I'd previously proposed. I opened the syllabus and discovered that I wrote it for a MWF class, and I'm going to be teaching it TTh, and so I have to rewrite the whole thing. Gaaah. I also have papers to finish grading, rules to write up and print, books to read and take notes on and synthesize, and chapters to write. I could also list the things I'm behind on: getting job docs in place, job applications, and writing -- always writing.

If I can keep myself out of the fear hamster wheel, though, then I can actually get stuff done and seem to make a difference, even if it isn't always perfect or exactly on time. I wish I was the person who could be perfect and on time, but I'm not. If that makes me an imposter, then so be it. I cannot be other than who I am, and that's the most authentic I know how to be.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Things I've Learned in London: Week 1

This is the delicious fish and chips I ate.

  • That is some big fish. No, seriously. That's a MEDIUM. Really well done, too. Cod, but that's like the least adventurous fish they have there -- I just like cod. If you get the chance, go to The Fish House on Portobello Road. The upstairs waiter is this very nice Italian guy from Milan. Two thumbs way up. 
  • My hair loves it here. It's the humidity, I'm sure. Seriously, best hair in ages. 
  • Sweating. So. Much. Again, it's the humidity (and that I'm fat, I'm sure). Because the temp isn't that high and the exercise is not that strenuous, and it seems to depend on the room I'm in (if I'm in a room) as much as anything. Not terribly fun. Better on lower humidity days.
  • Laundry services. Expensive, but a super nice splurge. I can't afford to do it again, but I'm glad I did it once. They even got the spot out of my skirt! 
  • I got a coat. Actually, let's be clear -- I think I could be in love with Marks and Spencer. I've had to restrain myself from trying on lots of things in there. As it is, I have a nice waterproof light coat that's lined and will be super useful when it's cold and a bit damp, but not worth digging out the wool coat. 
  • This is the street I'm staying on. 
     London is hands down the most open city I've ever been in. I haven't visited New York, mind you, but I've been to Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Denver, New Orleans, Washington DC, Baltimore... To some extent, they all hold themselves like closed doors. You can fit in eventually, maybe, but that doesn't mean you're not a stranger. In some places this can be overcome (Chicago can accept you fairly well if you survive a winter there -- it's a bonding experience -- and learn about the customs of parking spots), while in some it's never changing. London... London doesn't care. You need some English to live here, but you can get by regardless. The half-understood conversations over a couple of different languages, the smiles over children's heads, the kind offer of a band-aid when I was limping... It's a little professional, a little distant, but largely friendly and willing to be the same towards everyone -- we're all here, after all. I appreciate that tremendously.
    This is me, on my street, with my coat.
  • Print is a living thing here. I think it has something to do with public transit, honestly. The fact is that everyone's a commuter, because cars for downtown London are a sign of insanity or driving for a living, in my opinion. As such, there's time to read. You can read on your phone, but signal is iffy if you need an internet connection. Also... I dunno. I suppose it's a lot less likely someone's going to steal a book, if it comes down to that. Also, the Evening Standard. The Metro. All the publications handed out for free on the evening commute or on the way home. People read here in ways I've heard about but never seen. It's fascinating and makes me a little wistful that I can't see this back home. 
  • People don't care or mind that I'm from the U.S. Thanks, Obama. :) 
There is more, much more, but I can't fit it all in here. I'll do a post on the British museum itself, even though I only saw like a quarter of it, tops. And I'll have to do a theater post at some point, since I went to see the Mousetrap and I will be seeing Cymbeline (or rather, Imogen) before I go home. I could go to a LOT of theater if I lived here -- it's astounding, really. So more to come. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

London research ramblings

So, I thought I should probably post a bit about exactly what I'm trying to research, if only to give myself a chance to work through it.

My initial plan was to look at reprints of famous novels, particularly in periodical format. Specifically, I'm looking at Novelist's Magazine, and trying to figure out what changed both in subsequent printings and in this particular format of the novel. I'm looking primarily for added illustrations, but I'll also take general decoration, typeface, layout, etc.

I wanted to look at two novels: Pamela and Joseph Andrews. The image to the right is the title page from an early edition of Pamela by Samuel Richardson. This is, of course, kind of appropriate, since Pamela was such a huge hit, and Joseph Andrews is Henry Fielding's response to Pamela by writing about her brother and his adventures.

Now, I know from research that both Pamela and Joseph Andrews were published in Novelist's Magazine. And obviously, the British Library has early versions of Pamela to work with. Unless I'm missing something, though, it doesn't seem to have print copies of early versions of Joseph Andrews. There's digitized versions, but I really wanted to work with the print so I can judge paper quality, how it was made, and thus try to discern who the audience for the work may have been. I could go to Irish printings if I wanted to -- they have Dublin printings -- but I'd greatly prefer to stick to London printings if I could, if only for consistency. My understanding of the Dublin press is that it was generally a cheaper printing, which is... well, not what I wanted to study, and less likely to include illustrations.

So then the question becomes, do I stick with Joseph Andrews or look for one of the other novels? Tomorrow I'm back to the library and I'll be making that decision. It's disappointing, though. Still, this sort of thing happens when you're doing research -- you never know what you'll find.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Things I Learned in London: Days 2 and 3

  • The coffee shop/bakery across the street from me sells the best latte I've ever had. No, seriously. It is that good. Here is it. Apparently it's part of a small chain, but if it serves coffee this good, I don't care. Also, their regular coffee is quite nice as well. The only thing I don't care for is their insistence that everything should be served on a small plank. A plank is not a plate. Even trenchers had a carved indention. It's not that hard, people.

  • If they tell you that they have crispy bacon, they're lying. Or else "crispy bacon" is code for "not-crispy-at-all bacon, but it has grill marks. See?" On the other hand, ham hereabouts is amazing, and I don't even really like ham all that much.

  • Public restrooms are hard to come by. Some places don't have them at all, some places hide them unless you ask.
- Traveling and being an introvert is hard. I'd been pushing myself because, after all, I don't have that long here, and I'd intended to do another day of that, but I just... couldn't. So I didn't. And I feel better for it. I wish I were young and able to keep going endlessly on four hours of sleep (or even seven) but there's no denying that this just isn't me anymore, if it ever was. I found the TV lounge in my dorm today. I've never been so excited to sit in a quiet room with exquisite windows and watch Wreck-It Ralph. Oh, and part of something on either the BBC or ITV about Victoria. Whatever. My ankles are thanking me. 
  • Transit here is amazing. Now, I have a thing about buses and trains. I didn't even remotely get to use them until I was an adult, and there was always a bit of a stigma about them, and trying to figure out how to use them makes me all kinds of nervous. I got over it in Chicago enough to use the L with decent competence., but I still haven't mastered the RTA in Cleveland. The Tube and the buses though? No problem! I'm sold. Whatever it takes to keep the trains running, we should pay for it.
  • This gentleman in marble behind me is George III. Yes, the one we fought the Revolutionary war against. This bust has him in a (in my opinion) ill-advised Roman get-up. Behind us both is the King's Library. He decided it was a shame that the British king didn't have a good library to speak of, and so he set about correcting that. 
As you can see from the picture to the left, boy did he ever. There is a square room many stories high (6,7?) in books all all the way around it, all in glass, in the center of the British Library. That is the royal library he created, that was bequeathed to the British Library by George V. Needless to say, that was one of the more awesome things I've been able to see thus far. 

- I shopped at a green grocer today. The differences between food stores hasn't stopped tripping me up yet. I have some semi-healthy plant material for my room, however, along with some cheese and juice. It's enough for snacking at any rate, without falling back into junk food. 

- "Veg" as such foods as "vegetables" are commonly called here, are strangely handled. It's as though despite years in the EU, they don't entirely know what to do with them hereabouts. I ordered a bacon quiche at the BL only to discover they'd hidden enough corn in it to call it a corn and bacon quiche, but they didn't. I ordered pasta last night with chicken, mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes, and got three halves of cherry tomatoes for the whole plate. I ordered a salad the other day and got a few greens, but way more Caesar dressing, rendering a lot of it only vaguely edible (again, see faux "crispy bacon"). Also, while I know courgettes and aubergine, what the heck is rocket? Greens of some sort, it seems? *shrug*

Tonight I think I'll finally try fish and chips, unless I decide to order in, as I've learned I can get apparently good fried chicken delivered -- the decadence! Stay tuned and see! 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Things I've Learned in London: Day 1

  • London has a serious thing going on with avocados. I mean, I like avocados a lot, and even I am now wary of finding them where they don't belong after a single day. Caprese salad should not have avocado. Just. No.
  • Yay, I'm staying in a Georgian townhouse, on streets with a lot of other Georgian townhouses! I can pretend I've come to London for a season and can leave cards for people!
  • Boo, I'm staying on the third floor in a Georgian townhouse, with three flights of stairs and no lifts, as they say! And the plumbing is wonky. And there's no climate control, though the gorgeous weather currently makes that less of a concern.
  • I can eavesdrop on everyone, and only half of them are in a language I understand! Fun! :)
  • Doggies are everywhere! Everyone's walking a dog. It's awesome.
  • People are generally nice! It probably helps that I'm generally nice too.
  • I still feel like I'm walking around a movie set. I'm not sure how many days it'll take me to be convinced this is a real place I am actually. Perhaps all of them. The strangely surreal plumbing issues at my dorm do not help this feeling, to be frank.

    Stay tuned for more! 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

#RPGaDay -- Orientation Week edition!

Here we are again with another installment of RPGaDay 2016! This week has been orientation week at school, so lots of meetings and prep for the next semester going on. Let's pick up where we left off, shall we?

15th: Your best source of inspiration for RPGs?
My players, always. I mean, that sounds kinda cheesy, but I'm very much a player-driven GM. I don't come up with a story I want to tell until my players do. I figure out storylines over time based on their choices and backgrounds. I mean, I watch movies and read books and stuff like anyone, but I don't tend to set up a story or anything. A huge part of my enjoyment in something comes from the people I'm with, so that's what matters first to me.

16th: Historical Person you'd like in your group? What game? 
Oh, this is such a weird question. Um, I'll reveal my 18th-century geekitude and suggest Jane Austen playing Monsterhearts.

17th: What fictional character would best fit in your group?
Um... I'm not sure how to answer this question. Um, Felicity from Arrow? She seems the gamer type.

18th: What innovation could RPG groups benefit most from? 
Cheap effective teleportation. Online games are better than nothing and way better than they used to be, but face-to-face is still the best way to play. The ability to get people together across distances without involving long road trips/airfare would be the best thing.

19th: Best way to learn a new game?
Play it. Nothing else comes close.

20th: Most challenging but rewarding system you've learned? 
Wow. I've learned a lot of systems over the years, frankly. Hmm. FATE in terms of getting me to GM again. Storyteller in terms of the amount of freelance work it's gotten me (and, you know, meeting the current husband). D&D 3/3.5 in terms of the career jump it gave me.

21st: Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?
Er... I got nothin' here.

22nd: Supposedly random game events that keep recurring?
What even does this mean? I don't get it. Next.

23rd: Share one of your best "worst luck" stories.
Hmm. I think that's probably when my character got run over accidentally by another character. There will be words had when we pick up again. Tori (black lesbian welder/artist parkour-hobbyist) does not forgive shit like being run over easily.

24th: What is the game you are most likely to give to others?
Well, taking Tragedy in Five Acts out of the equation, as it's mine, I'd likely say Dresden Files Accelerated once it comes out. Alternatively, Fate Core/Fate Accelerated.

25th: What makes for a good character? 
Personality. Viewpoint. Story. Investment. I get the most fun out of rounded characters who make choices based on their own flawed perceptions, goals, and quirks. I want to see character arcs and see that story -- not an overarching epic, but a personal story in a potentially weird setting. I can play a bee and pretzels game where you magic missile the darkness, but it won't hold my interest very long. I'm too much of the narrative/theater school for that.

And we're caught up! Tune in next week for our final installment -- same bat time, same bat channel!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer's End

Here we are, coming to the end of another summer. I'm not ready.

My youngest son is going back to Seattle at the end of next week. I won't see him again until Christmas. I'm not ready.

My oldest son is starting school on Monday. He's getting a do-over on his senior year. This is his chance to make it work, and I'm overseeing it. I'm not ready.

I leave for London in a week and a half, and I'll be there for three weeks. I'm both terrified and exhilarated. I am not, however, ready.

Matt's already back at work. Has been since last week. I am still not ready.

Next week is orientation for the new semester. Definitely not ready.

I want to be ready. I want to be caught up on working and sending stuff over to my advisor. I want to feel like I've spent enough time with my kids, that I'm where I need to be, that I've spent enough time with Matt. Instead, I feel like things are coming to an end and nothing is quite okay, and that's somehow my fault. I feel like I am without recourse. All I can do is keep moving forward, and that's still not going to be enough. Change isn't impending, it's already here. I am being weighed and found wanting. I cannot be all the things I need to be, and do all the things I want to do, and accomplish it all in the time I have left. Something's going to be lost, and part of me will go with it. There is nothing I can do to fix it, because I won't know what it was until it's gone.

I know that a month from now, things will be okay -- at least, as okay as they can be. I will have gotten past the post and survived the transition and more or less gotten through, and life will go on. I'll be closer to seeing my William again, and I'll be getting Christmas visit tickets for him. Al will be established in school and we'll have a rhythm going. I'll be coming back home and seeing Matt again, and that'll be wonderful. Nothing will have blown up, and things will mostly be okay.

But now is not a month from now, and now -- in the moment -- I'm just not ready, and I'm scared and sad.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

#RPGaDay -- Week After GenCon edition!

Okay, so maybe we're doing this in weekly installments instead of daily. That's okay, right? Especially if I'm also writing on my dissertation?

10th: Largest in-game surprise you have experienced
I'd have to say in Monsterhearts (2nd or 3rd season) where it came out that Rook was kinda playing us all only. And when Dora left. And when Ginny's brother Bastian died. And when Austen and Briar actually became a couple. Okay, so lots of them. It was a big game for sudden plot twists.

11th: Which gamer most affected the way you play? 
Hrm. My ex taught me to play, but I don't know that he really affected the way I play -- he just gave me a space and means to do it, which I don't intend to discount -- it was a useful thing. I think honestly it might be my friend Trey. Trey was the first friend I made RPing on a World of Darkness MUSH, and our characters ended up getting involved -- I was a normal introverted human and he was an 8th or 9th gen Gangrel who was on the outs with the prince, so obviously that was going to go well. That was really the first game and RP where I was focused on character growth in story more than plot/game mechanics, though. It was pretty transformative.

12th: What game is your group most likely to play next? Why?
Oh lord. Well, I'm going to be gone for three weeks and they'll play something while I'm gone, but I'm not counting that. I think the next thing to come up is likely going to be Promethean 2nd ed. It's been a while, the book is out, and we've got a final chapter to go back to and finish for this chronicle. My character, Feather, may be approaching her New Dawn, and that's super exciting. After that -- hmm. Hard to say. We'll see.

13th: What makes a successful campaign?
Good chemistry among players and GM, and a certain level of commitment and buy in. Almost anything can be fun if everyone's consciously on-board for it and making the effort. At the same time, nothing kills fun faster than having to drag an unwilling player through a game, or constantly make sure there's enough people to play.

14th: Your dream team of people you used to game with?
Ooh. So, this excludes people I'm currently gaming with because I'm currently gaming with them. Um... My friend Phil from Seattle. I loved gaming with him. Tarisse -- she was so enthusiastic. :) Chey, before everything got weird -- we had great gaming chemistry. Trey, back before he got married -- his gaming changed after that and our chemistry in that department just vanished. Brannon -- I miss doing gaming stuff with him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#RPGaDay -- Gen Con edition!

Okay, so I was at Gen Con, and it was awesome and super busy and sort of a blur, and at night I came back to my room and fell over, so I didn't post a single thing. I didn't even knit, which if you know me at all is like "whaaaaaaat?" So yes. That said, here's my catch-up post.

2nd: Best game session since August 2015
Oh, good heavens. That's crazy. Um... I've got to say the final session of this season's Rising Waters game, which you can find here. I'm proud to say that despite difficulties and playtesting and all manner of things, my players found things getting wrapped up in ways they didn't expect, with loose ends getting tied up and new cliffhangers being generated. My perennial fence-sitter character finally chose a direction and now we've got new and reinforced alliances to move forward with, and now the focus gets to shift for the next season. My players were really pleased, and they're excited for me to come back to it, whenever that might be. I also learned that we really do love Dresden Files Accelerated, and whenever it comes out, that's what we're going to use when I pick it up again.

3rd: Character moment you're most proud of
Hmm. I'd have to say that I was most proud of Tori, my hunter character in Matt's Hunter/Mage game. A lot of my characters are just there, but Tori stood up and told me who she was and what she wanted in life in no uncertain terms. She's a proud gay black woman who doesn't generally trust the police or authority. She's a found-item artist. She can weld and draw and paint and sculpt. She has gorgeous hair. She doesn't take shit from anyone, but she can deal it out when the time calls for it. I really deeply love this character -- and it was super surprising to me to find out she was gay. She just was, and who am I to question it? She found herself awkwardly flirting with this woman she ran into, and that was... really cute. And awkward, and cute. Tori is awesome.

4th: Most impressive thing another character did
My friend Matt Karafa's character Hod accepted Faerie's invitation and went True Fae in order to let us escape as we freed some friends, and maintained who he was long enough to let us get out... with a warning not to come back. That was some hard ass RP, and we all got sniffly. Also, my friend Steve's character Felix merged with a scary faerie figure named Skin and Bones, to become Skinny Felix, who comes when you summon him in a mirror by name three times. Changeling the Lost, man. All the feels.

5th: What story does your group tell about your character?
Um... I think the best one is from the Atomic Robo game, where Effy, my combat biologist, refused to let anyone kill the giant carnivorous dinosaur who dropped through a time rift onto our island. She named it Boris. It had to stay.

6th: Most amazing thing a game group did for their community
Ooh, hard. Game groups are often charitable groups on the side. I'm going to go for one I'm involved in and say the GenCon quiet room, because I think it fills a real need at the con for people who would otherwise find themselves quietly distressed and having to leave the con because they didn't have just that 15 minutes of refuge without a 20 minute walk back to the hotel.

7th: What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?
Um, the part that gets people together regularly to play games face-to-face. I am horribly introverted and bad at scheduling stuff. Gaming gives me a structure and lets me build relationships and share stories. It is really useful for me, and I appreciate its place in my life.

8th: Hardcover, softcover, digital? What's your preference?
There's not a huge difference between hardcover and softcover to me. I prefer both to digital, because I'd rather be able to flip pages, and most PDFs aren't sufficiently searchable for me to find that a reasonable replacement.

9th: Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session?
Time to have a meal and catch up on how everyone's been since we last played. A comfortable setting. Coffee. Possibly dessert.

Monday, August 1, 2016

#RPGaDay: Dice, dice, baby.

It's #RPGaDay time again!

I like taking part in this for a few reasons: one, I don't see a lot of other women doing it, and I think it's important to be visible like this. Two, I think it's fun. Three, it gets me thinking about aspects of gaming I don't normally stop and think about. Four, it gets me in the habit of daily posting to my blog for a month. :) So let's give it a go!

August 1: Do you prefer to use real dice, a dice application or program, or use a diceless system?

Real dice. I have a brick of yellow/blue six siders (originally to play Warmachine in Cygnar colors), a regular set of polyhedrals in blue/purple swirl, and a bunch of FATE dice, plus some extra d10s (reflecting the amount of time we spend playing Storyteller games). All of it I keep in an ARU (All Rolled Up) I bought at GenCon a few years ago. It is the best dice conveyance ever. 

I've tried using programs before, but I like the kinesthetic experience of dice. Programs just feel lacking to me. I also don't play online games, so it hasn't proven needful for that reason. Diceless systems can be fun, but (unless we're talking about cards) I tend to miss the randomness that dice provide. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Community dynamics and bad actors

UPDATE, 8/1: Heading out tomorrow for GenCon, so I'm closing comments. Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful replies.

I'm back from Rare Book School and so I'm just now getting to this -- my apologies. This is long and I go through a bit of social construction/community game theory to get there, but I think it's really valuable. Bear with me.
Okay, so once upon a time I came up with a list of currency types in communities, the sort of thing that determines status and the types of actions that garner those varieties of status. In particular, I was thinking about online communities, but there's a lot of cross-over into real life. They were: expertise, service, activity, investment, proximity to source, and celebrity.

So for example, let's say you're dealing with an online fan community. Expertise is a currency earned by knowing all the tiny details about whatever. If your fan group is about Whedon, this person is the most knowledgeable about every thing he's ever done. If it's about raising turtles, this person has raised every turtle known to man and remembers everything about it. When people have a question about the shared interest, you're the one they go to. Everyone knows it.

Service currency is earned by serving the group. Service Guy knows something about the main topic, but his real genius is in organization. He's the one who starts the Secret Santa every year. He's the one who comes up with group meetings, or cool badges for everyone, or ribbons to let people know who you are. He may be a mod on a message board or offer a place for people to meet up. He may be the person who always brings food to the game to share. Sometimes people might overlook these offerings, but he's a big part of why there's a community at all, and no one sells that short for very long.

Activity currency is earned just by being there. It's more complicated than that, though; these people are PRESENT. Activity Girl goes to every event. She replies to every email that requests a reply. She posts memes and starts new message board threads. She documents her turtle's daily life. She turns into one of the key members of an online community because online, presence requires visual action, and that comes from active participation. She doesn't know the most, she probably doesn't set up a lot of events or structure, but by god, if you throw a party she's going to show up. Alternatively, she may be dedicated to her craft, always working on refining it and sharing her process with her community. Both count for this. She's not the expert, but she'll show you her Whedon fanfic and the menu she's planning for her Much Ado about Nothing dinner party.

Investment Guy is a lot quieter than many folks, but he's been around the community forever. He may not know what Inara was wearing in the fifth episode, but he knows who the founding members of the group were. He is the institutional memory of the community, and often finds a way to contribute monetarily if that's needed. This isn't service; that's way more active than this sort of quiet activity, but if you want the greatest hits of the group, he's the guy you go to. When he knows your name, it makes you feel like family.

Proximity to Source currency is earned by having a direct line to whatever it is you're on about. This person owns a turtle rescue and sanctuary. This person may actually know Joss (or know someone who does) or worked on one of his projects, or worked on one of his property licenses. They have authenticity, even if their actual knowledge is limited. They are, however, the next best thing to the creator(s) of whatever everyone is fanning about, and they're relatively within reach. Bonus.

Finally, celebrity. This comes in a couple of flavors: first, you have celebrities who have fame for unrelated reasons who just like the same thing you do. Vin Diesel is a great example of this for game communities (I don't know any famous turtle breeders). He's famous because he's an actor -- gaming is just your common ground and the icing on the cake, as it were. Secondly, you can become a celebrity within the fandom for doing things that elevate its profile or that reach out to others outside the fandom. Felicia Day has some of this going on, but you don't need to be an Internet sensation to make that happen. If your blog is popular, if you cosplay and gain a following, if your Twitter takes off... all of that confers celebrity. Of course, the last method of getting celebrity is putting on a show -- if you entertain the group, you're a celebrity, even if it's just within your target audience.

I'll come back to that.

Groups work on all of these fronts simultaneously. They may value some more highly than others at any given time, depending on how closely they hew to the core interest of the group, but you can usually find all of them at play. Communities also often privilege some of these currencies above others, depending on what they want to encourage in their membership.

We have a gaming community -- specifically, we have a game creating community. That's our fandom. Some like OSR, some like "indie" stuff, some like D&D, some like Onyx Path (though the latter two are far more a player community than a creator community -- that's what happens when someone else owns the community sandbox). With enough differences, the OSR and indie creator communities have sort of split into two subgroups; there's some traffic that floats between them, but there's a lot of hard feelings over time so those who do migrate back and forth don't tend to mention it overmuch -- it isn't encouraged by either community. We privilege proximity/authenticity, activity, expertise, and celebrity within this community of creators -- and that, in my mind, is part of the problem.

A post went up a few days ago by a friend* about how abusive language and attitudes between subgroups harm the game creating community (and the larger fan community that follows along) as a whole. Note that this is my paraphrasing of what I feel he was trying to communicate. In doing so, however, he included some decisions that he and his business partners are taking, putting it on his business blog, and used examples from community members who were generally considered members in good stead, even though he was effectively calling them out. For better or worse, two of those examples were reactions from people in the "indie" community to one person who is a member of the OSR community. He took these as indicative of a larger issue, that may or may not have been set out in the open prior to his post -- certainly some people seemed to think it wasn't a problem. And things kinda blew up from there.

I get what he was trying to say. I don't really think in that post he was trying to tone police individuals -- I think he was trying to talk about a larger issue. Basically if you're going to talk about ethics and good choices, you have to exhibit the behavior you want to see as a community. He came across as trying to tone police individuals, though, and that ripped a big hole in the belly of his argument. In the words of Jaws, he did not bring a big enough boat to tackle the shark of community reaction that occurred, and his lunch kinda got chomped as a result.

And now I want to talk about why that happened. **

Remember above when I said how there was a third path to celebrity -- the path of in-group entertainment? Well, one way to accomplish that currency is to be a huge asshole to people outside the group -- whoever the group has a hate-on for, even if it's maybe just a YKINMK-on. These celebrities create and reinforce community standards and ethos through the followers/audience they attract. They are selective in who they attack; after all, if they attack the people who like them, they lose all that currency they've collected from the group. They are often stand-up members of the community they like and want to be part of; it's outsiders who have to worry. These internal celebrities cause as many problems as they solve, though. They antagonize others needlessly. They thrive on conflict, as that's their shtick. They drive a wedge between their communities (and their friends) and other people who might be allies or friends. Finally, though, there's an excellent chance that either a) they can't see what their behavior is doing, or b) they just don't care because in the end, they're getting what they want so long as they keep doing it. Trump's a prime example of this. There are others. So, like the hunters of olden days, they go out and rough up rival tribes for cool points and loose change, only in the modern day that can involve setting followers loose to harrass and send just shitloads of vile crap via every online access point they have.

So if venting anger in the direction of aggressors is bad for overall communities, but being aggressive is a way of gaining currency within a community... what's left? How can we condemn victims but reward transgressors (even across two subgroups) and still have a leg to stand on? Screw victim blaming. Screw enabling missing stairs. Stand up, people, and let's work together on this.

So, I think my friend's argument has a point, but it's really short on practical advice for dealing with known bad actors -- "missing stairs," to borrow a term -- both within and without community groups. If being aggressive is bad, is it fair to say it's bad across the board? What about people who've been victimized in the name of social currency? Do they get to be angry? Can they be aggressive in return? What about when those victims are part of a traditional minority whose voices are regularly silenced? How does that intersect with the boundaries of a fan community that's larger than the identities of the individuals in question? Being told to silence rough language and apologize will serve the greater "get-along" good, but it won't serve our community members. Instead, it fractures a community as ever smaller, safer circles get created for conversations in order to avoid being policed.

Can a community enforce polite discourse and still leave room for expressing anger and outrage in a way that isn't immediately overlooked? I'm not sure. What I do know, however, is that the current status will not hold, and the shit that's happened over the last few days is Not Good For Anyone.

Another thought, then. When it comes to our game creator communities, can we alter them so that "celebrity" isn't one of the currencies we privilege? Can we widen our criteria for "Expertise" so it doesn't apply just within our subgroups? We are game creators, after all -- if we don't like the system, we can just change it. House rule that mother. Rule Zero, my family, Rule Zero. Stop rewarding in-group celebrity currency to people who tank against people outside our immediate communities. Let it be known that individual actions have consequences and then hold offenders to it, by god.

Switch your celebrity currency to one of the other types (Wil Wheaton did it, so can you) if you're one of those bad actors. You too can change, if you are willing to do it. Exclude those who attack others needlessly, but let them back in if there's change. Reward people for making games, not picking fights. Positive reinforcement is a hell of a lot more effective, anyway.

We can flip this around. We are not that far apart in many ways. We have to understand, though, that this is behavior that, as a community, we all enable. I don't think we're villains. I think we're people who've been playing a game we didn't really pay full attention to, and we don't like the results we're getting. It's time we gave it the attention it deserves.

*I've got friends on all sides of this thing. It's one of the reasons I'm posting. I don't agree with all of the content of that post or the actions being taken, but my advice was not requested or needed, and I wouldn't have expected otherwise. Again, bear with me.

**I get that this is a simplification in many respects, and it leaves out the very real personal feelings and history involved. I apologize for the inevitability that this may cause more pain to someone accidentally. That said, I don't know that history or those feelings (as is appropriate, given that I am not them) and I cannot stay at the individual level and hope to talk about this in any useful way. Mea culpa.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Writing and Shootings and ... yeah

I cannot stay silent. Silence is assent.

Two new names are on this list. Add in the police officers shot in Dallas. Add in the protestors who were also shot (but thankfully, not killed).

This is not the way we should live. This is not what we should be. I fear for my students, for my children, for their friends, for their parents, because this touches everyone. This is why Black Lives Matter. This is why we cannot accept easy answers. This is why we have to dismantle the system, address racism, train our officers to do better and be better, and hold them accountable to a higher standard. This is why we must invest in inner-city neighborhoods instead of leaving them to rot. This is why we must examine hiring practices to ensure we aren't excluding minorities just because. This is why we must always strive to be better than who we are -- because who we are as a society kills people.

Join the ACLU. Join the NAACP (you don't have to be African-American, and if that makes you uncomfortable, think long and hard about why). Donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Get involved with your local city and community government and advocate for police oversight and training -- that's where it starts. Donate to The Trevor Project. Lift up the voices of the people who are affected by this daily. If your body can't participate, lend your money and your voice. Hold space for the people who can do more. Support is necessary to make this work -- be that support.

We cannot be silent. Silence is assent.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Game Design Ideas

So, despite the fact that I need to be dissertating (and I am, I promise!), I keep having ideas for games. Some people do this with short stories; some people do this with article ideas, or crafting ideas, or whatever. I've gotten to the point that I do it with games. Now, I'm a person who believes that it's not the idea, but the execution that makes something awesome, so I don't mind talking about my ideas. I also think there's only a couple of people in the industry I know of who might be willing to take them and run with them, so it's not like there's a huge risk. As such, I'm going to list out my game ideas and hope that they'll leave me alone until next year, when I can actually start to do something about some of them. If, of course, some of my fair readers wants to comment on some of these ideas and tell me what they think, I'd be interested. Do note, these are mostly working titles.

  • Vovetas: My Game Chef entry from last year -- a rotating card game where you pass cards around the circle so the right person can combine them to get the cards you need into the center. In Alpha test -- needs work. 
  • That Looks Like A...!: A kid-friendly card game (also good for drunk people) where cards are clouds of different values, and you put them down in a random pile, trying to get points. You get to pick up the pile when you can identify a shape in the clouds and say "that looks like a ...!" filling in the blank with what it looks like. Debating adding in effect cards to change the shape or get rid of clouds or add more. Not even in alpha yet -- need to make a prototype and playtest. 
  • Tragedy 2nd Ed: Having some thoughts about how to rework the end game (the point at which it stops being a game), adding more or having fewer players, and tightening the play time required. Also providing readings and lesson plans. Still just random thoughts at this point. 
  • A Comedy in Five Acts: Ironically, a less cooperative game than A Tragedy in Five Acts. Possibly including more cards/randomness. Only a vague collection of plans right now. 
  • Steampunk Mad Scientists: A 4-player game with sliders to mark how evil/virtuous you are with your plans to take over the world. Based heavily on Victorian novels with dirigibles and political stuff and a bit of realism (child labor, anyone? Will you or won't you?) Basically four people make plans, and then at the end of X rounds, the best and the worst battle for ultimate control, and the other two help or hinder as they may, spending the resources they've accumulated. 
  • Gothic: What we do not have and obviously sorely need is a gothic RPG, and I am the woman to bring that about. I haven't thought anything more about it at this point, because I would just dive in heedlessly. 
  • Dragon Keepers: This would be an entry-level, teen-appropriate skirmish-level minis game. It would have a vague anime feel to it. Sides are composed of a teen leader, a dragon (or equivalent), and then lesser troops. A simplified system for ranges, no measuring -- map based. No overly sexualized characters, but having diverse representations. And yes, I've worked on minis games before -- I know this is crazy and would require huge amounts of funding, and I haven't even begun to source minis yet -- but it would be SO AWESOME.
  • Victorian Illuminati/weird science/psychic investigators RPG: There are games that try to do something like this, but they tend to get bound up in Steampunk and/or Mythos. There's nothing wrong with either of those, per se, but I feel both get overdone. This would be more The Prestige meets The Others meets The Woman in Black meets the most recent Dracula TV show, with a sprinkle (no more) of Van Helsing and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, except the focus is on people, not monsters or literary figures come to life. Ideas only at this time. 
There you go. For now. Happy to talk about any or all of these in whatever amount of more detail I happen to have. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Their registration system is awful, but they've got a cute mascot!
So we're back from Origins. Matt covers some of the general stuff that he did as well as the administrative headache stuff we experienced here in his blog. I'm not going to retread a lot of that, because I lived it once and my stress levels don't need to repeat the experience at this point. I am deeply sad my "All My Circuits: A Tragedy in Five Acts" hack didn't get any players -- I chose the theme for the game to be in keeping with the theme for the con, and it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun.

Now, that being said, what did we do at Origins? I worked the booth a lot, spent a lot of time I wanted to socialize off in my room by myself, which makes me sad too (stealthy pine nuts, I abjure thee! Cigarette smoke, my bronchitis-affected lungs abjure thee as well!). I didn't get to do anything like as many things or talk to as many people as I wanted to. That said, there were some successes that happened.

1) +Amanda Valentine  and I worked with +Evan Torner to salvage our hoped-for Kids Track that was harpooned by Origins and work it in with Games on Demand. As a result, for the first year Origins GoD had a kid's track that featured young GMs running games for both adults and kids, and adult GMs running kid-appropriate games. It was a small start as we were so late getting it together, but the results were really positive and we're going to move forward with it for next year as well. Our young gamers deserve to have options that aren't D&D or Pathfinder, there are wonderful indie games available for them, and the next generation of GMs needs a chance to practice their craft in a supportive atmosphere. It's a win all around!

2) I got to play Baker Street, a Sherlockian RPG set during Holmes' disappearance after the Reichenbach Falls incident. You're all Londoners who've been recruited by Watson to help solve the problems of people who haven't gotten the memo that Holmes isn't around anymore. Watson can't do it himself, but with enough smart people on the job, maybe they can make up the difference. It's got a fun investigative mechanic and a lot of ready-made cases you can run. The GM was great and I really enjoyed my character. My one complaint was that of the female pregens available, one was a prostitute, one was a flower girl who explicitly addresses the fact that she's not a prostitute, one was a street urchin, and one was an opera singer. This is compared with all the upper class and professional male characters. I enjoyed my Eliza-Doolittle-knock-off character, but a greater attempt at parity and/or not having all the women in "professions" that were or were often confused with sex-workers would have been lovely. BTW, I don't think this was at all intentional -- they were pulling from literary sources from the period, and if there was anything in Victorian Britain that was problematic, it was its gender issues. (Also, Woman GM! Whoo!)

3) I got to play in an alpha playtest of Pillars of Fire, Cam Banks' upcoming game (also woman GM! Woo!). +Renee Knipe ran a lovely intro adventure with lots of conflict potential to keep us moving. It's an attribute (which I think might need its name changed, because they really aren't like your standard set of attributes) and a drive (there's about 10 of them -- love, loyalty, justice, curiosity, etc.). They form a dice pool of d6s, with 1-3 counting towards successes and 4-6 counting toward powering up your special powers. This encourages action on the part of the characters early in the game, which is really nice. You can also help each other out, which raises the difficulty slightly, but pays off on more difficult actions when teamwork is more important. I really enjoyed this game, and I'm looking forward to playtesting future versions of it. I loved the setting and the multi-faceted nature of the characters, as well as the fact that they all have some built-in blind spots that are easily incorporated into play.

4) Con food has steadily improved over the years, and this year was no exception. BareBurger is awesome. The number of delivery options that are a) tasty and b) not pizza is vastly improved. The Brazilian BBQ place (all the meat, all on skewers) is very tasty and a good time. The Happy Greek is worth the walk down into Short North, as is Jeni's if you miss the Market hours, and North Market is still worth its weight in gold. Even the food court, which is a Columbus Convention Center staple, is improving in some ways -- I look forward to seeing it after the renovation is complete.

5) Our sales (the IGDN and Growling Door respectively) were up slightly, though it didn't feel like it. One big problem is that, particularly with indie games, sales and having people play in your events have very nearly a 1-1 correspondence. If people enjoy playing your game, then you'll like have 2 our of 5 people purchase it -- sometimes more. Word of mouth counts for a lot, and if no one plays, no one talks. Our events getting fubared meant fewer sales than we expected for the companies who were running events, at the same time as our expenses were up because we brought materials and even personnel to run games that didn't happen. Games on Demand took in a couple of our orphan GMs to run stuff through them, but that's not what they're there for, nor is it something we could or should rely on. It's problematic, and I'm not sure what it's going to mean for next year.

In short, I like Origins. I wish it was easier to work with reliably. I know we're not the only people with horror stories from this year, particularly as it relates to events, and that worries me. I would like to continue participating as a vendor and in running events, but doing the math on it gets harder each year, and that's a problem I don't have a solution for.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bronchitis and Game Chef (or not)

I did not Game Chef this year. I wanted to, and thought I might, but then this whole bronchitis/hives/low potassium/dissertation thing happened and I was like, yeah, maybe not. And so I didn't. No one in the McFarland household did, although my stepdaughter at least came up with an idea. From what I've seen on G+, a lot of people were really taken with the theme and ingredients, though, and there look to be a number of fun entries to come out of it, which is awesome. 

One of the things I've been musing on since I decided not to do Game Chef this year, though, is how high the bar to entry actually is for making room in game design for new designers. I mean, on the face of it, it's simple. Anyone can design a game, any time. But in reality, game design is a time sink. You need free time to think, to plan, to come up with mock-ups, to play, to write. You need stability and space and a way to find at least an hour every few days to yourself when you're not so exhausted that you can't see straight. If I were working a regular 40-hr week, I don't know if I could do it. If I were still seriously poor, I'm pretty sure I couldn't do it. If I were still a single parent, I don't think I could do it. If I had more serious or ongoing health issues on top of any of that, I definitely couldn't do it. There just aren't enough spoons.

There are a lot of assumptions that go into our game design communities, and one of them is that you have the time to carve out of your life and fashion into a game. If we were to make a list of demographics who have that time and energy, I think we'd find that a lot of people who might otherwise be interested do not have the real world support and stability to engage. For that matter, they may need to know that eventually something tangible could come from this endeavor in order to justify it. For the fun of it may not be enough to let them focus on something that doesn't necessarily assist in the rest of their lives.

I am very fortunate in my life and situation. I was not always so fortunate, though, and so I look at people who are in the situation I was in a few years ago, and I wonder how I could help broaden the game community to those people. I try to do it by being visible in my community and working with games, teaching others to play and design and incorporate gaming into their professional lives, and finding ways that games and game design can be made accessible by those who are hesitant to commit scarce resources to an endeavor that may take investment on their parts. I also do it by paying a fair rate to freelancers in my own business, and encouraging others to do so as well. Lastly, I try to lift up people whose voices and ideas might otherwise be drowned out. It's not much, but it's something. That's the game I play.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My son lives with me now.

In what is undoubtedly the biggest change in my life in years, my oldest son (now 18) has moved in with Matt and I. He's going to finish high school here with us, and then we'll see where he ends up for college and whatnot.

It's strange having him here, but good. Like most teenagers, he must be lured out of his room with food and activity, drawn back inevitably like the tide when these things are finished. Between being introverted and having his own room for the first time in ages and ages, he's busy inhabiting his space and has little time for anything else if given his druthers.

As for me, I have assumed the mom mantle again like a familiar robe, slipping it on even as I attempt to treat him more as an adult. Some of my efforts to do so are made more difficult by the issues that brought him out to me again, admittedly, issues that have to do with his ability to handle adult life and school and time management and environments too full of sound and fury, to be poetic about sensory issues for a moment. The fact is that for all that his birth certificate declares him to be 18, he is not quite ready to be 18 yet. He does not have the skills for 18 yet. So we walk a line between teaching him skills most people his age have picked up by osmosis and giving him the respect due to someone for making it to the age of legal majority without any significant hiccups.

One of the things that's both familiar and challenging is trying to give him the tools I've developed for coping with stuff over the years in ways that a) don't seem provoking and b) are useful to him. I don't know if he's had any support for dealing with his autism while he's been living with his dad -- I suspect not. So we're revisiting a lot of the skills he learned back when he was seeing a therapist -- breaking tasks down, trying to imagine things from multiple perspectives, figuring out where communication isn't happening with the outside world but needs to, getting a grasp on how long things take and how to track them to make sure they happen.  There's also issues with getting in better touch with his body -- we're working on mastering shaving, for example -- and figuring out routines that will stand him in good stead and how to establish them again once they've been disrupted.

Also also, there's all the medical/dental/vision stuff to be caught up: he was behind on a scheduled immunization for Ohio, he needed to see a dentist, he needs new glasses. All of which we can handle, but which requires oversight and which he is not prepared to see to himself yet. He's been looking for summer jobs and had some interviews, but he's figured out that yes, his social anxiety is getting in the way, and we're now working with a therapist to figure some of that out.

In the midst of all this, I find myself oddly both overwhelmed again and content. I know this pattern; I know this routine. He is my gentle, funny, punny son who lives largely in his own head and reminds me so much of me as a kid. I have missed having my children with me. I have missed my sons. I still miss my other boy, who is having a hard time without his brother, and who I am there for as much as I can be. But having this again... it is more than I thought I would have again, and I will cherish it. I have not lost my son -- he has found his way home again.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Robinson Crusoe's Stuff, pt. 1.

So I'm doing this taxonomy thing, and I have an urge to post progress somewhere so I won't lose all sight of it in the morass of sadness that is this particular form of archive creation. I have finished the object/term listing for what I consider the opening section of Robinson Crusoe, wherein he is a man-child trying to go to Sea in defiance of God and Father and everyone with sense.

I am now into parsing his time as a slave, which goes much faster. I'm pretty sure I'm recording things that aren't anything like the objects I'm supposed to be focusing on, but honestly... rather do it and not need it than need it and have to go back and do it, right? And I know that making an archive is a pain, but even the work I've done this far tells me that it's necessary to do. I also did one for Swift's "Lady's Dressing Room," but as that's a not-overly-long poem, it wasn't too taxing (hah hah). In addition to potential objects, I'm listing out things like references for time and distance and communication and society and different types of people and economic concepts, etc. It's possible these could count as objects, in the greater scheme of things, but I'm pretty sure they don't. It's tempting to just list every capitalized noun, but I'm trying to avoid that. I'm also trying not to list things multiple times in the same section unless there's some distinction to call it out. This might be a problem later.

I am color-coding the sections, so that I have a notion about what portion of the book things will be in. I may, lord help me, eventually need to go back and count the number of times something shows up, but I don't THINK I will and I REALLY don't want to. If that comes up, surely I could track down a concordance that someone else has made, right? Or just do a search? Lord I hope I don't end up needing frequency or page references to examples. I think I can use the color coding to narrow down any searching I might need to do.

In any case, I'll pop back and discuss this more as I move through and sort of discuss the findings I come up with.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Object Taxonomies

So I'm at the point in my dissertation where it would be most convenient if my page count were rapidly increasing, but my most recent meeting with my advisor (combined with stupid health stuff that's mostly at the annoyance level but might be kicking into bronchitis (see you Tuesday, doc) has pulled that all to a grinding halt. Instead, I've had to step back and go into a bit of an organizational fury, making spreadsheets until I keel over.

See, the thing about making a dissertation about objects and the role they play in fiction and how we interpret them means we have to talk about that very thing, and that means I'm making claims, and that means that I really ought to be making those claims consistently (assuming there is a consistent claim to be made) and that means that I need to organize the objects that are being used in my source texts into some sort of use-order, which means making groupings and deciding what those groupings mean (and along the way, what is an object -- any noun? Only those things which interacts with characters? Something else entirely?)

Therefore, I am currently halted in writing new page count as I categorize and taxonomize (yes I made that up) the object systems in the novels in my first chapter. This is not a small undertaking, but it'll make a baller set of appendices and likely basis for new work later on. I do not plan, despite the pic, to create a Linnaeus-style taxonomy, but that's what people think of so here we are. :) It's a bit like game design -- you have to figure out the elements and what they mean/what you think is important before you can build a system that does what you want. As long as I remember that, I think all will be well.

I am also working on (in my copious spare time between exhausted slumps) knitting, cleaning, making ice cream, planning my summer, buying plane tickets for my non-present child, and getting ready for summer trips. I am also planning to take part in Game Chef this year, along with Matt (who is now out for the summer -- Yay!), my stepdaughter Teagan, and my son Alisdair. This should be exciting. I'll try to remember to post about it here.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Origins and GenCon!

So, I forgot to mention. If you're interested in the games that my game company puts together, we're going to be at both Origins and Gen Con this year. We'll be at the Indie Game Developer Network booth at both cons, as well as running games. I'm running a one game of A Tragedy in Five Acts: All My Circuits edition at Origins (check the on-site book), and then I'm running two sessions of A Western Tragedy in Five Acts at Gen Con, Thursday at 10AM and then 6PM. There are still tickets open for the 10AM game.

In addition, we've got games of Chill 3rd Edition going on, and even a couple of curse the darkness games that Matt's running. Also also, we've got the long-awaited SAVE: The Eternal Society book nearly out the door, coming to you this summer in print and PDF! Let me know if you have questions -- see you there!

Game Design and Boobies.

Now THAT, my friends, is a title. But I digress.

This is me. Taken last fall, over on campus. I have too many things to carry with straps, as you can see. I am also heavier than I would like, but I've largely made peace with that. Also, I have this weird camera smile. I blame the overbite. But whatever. I am cis, female-identified, heterosexual. I have glasses and I dye my hair purple in places. I also, although this picture does not show it, have boobs.

My chest is not going to go down in history as one of the perfect chests of womankind. I am no Phryne. But breasts, I have them. And now that that's settled...

I am also a game designer. A game designer, and I have boobs! Imagine! How did this happen, may you ask. Were they added later? [No.] Do I have a secret lab of subordinate male game designers whose work I claim as my own, in exchange for baked goods (as that's one of the things that breasts enable, right)? [Er, No. How weird. What a terrible supervillain that would make.] Am I sure they're really games and not, say, knitting patterns? Or maybe recipes? [Yes, they are games. Don't try to cook them or wear them, at least not without SIGNIFICANT revision.]

Despite my ownership of a pair of breasts, I have worked in the industry since 2000, and been a gamer long before that. I write, edit, develop, and design. About the only thing I don't do is layout and art, and that's because I know both my limits and many people who are so much better at those things than I am. I even now co-own a game company with my game dev/designer husband, whom I married years after we met WORKING ON GAMES TOGETHER. Crazy, huh? In fact, I was an Industry Insider Guest of Honor (before the title got changed) at Gen Con 2012! I gave talks! There are pictures!

Wanna know something even crazier? I'm not the only one. In fact, thanks to grad school and the limits of my sanity, there are MANY people who can fill out a blouse doing much more incredibly awesome work in gaming than I am, currently. In fact, I am officially on hiatus from doing game stuff until my dissertation is done, which naturally means that I'm coming up with game designs like stupid crazy. Blargh. Stupid game-design boobs. But I digress.

Now, I don't want to imply that having boobs is necessary for being a game designer. There are many perfectly good designers out there with no obvious biologically female secondary sex characteristics. And I don't wish to denigrate pectorals generally speaking, because everyone has those, regardless of gender, and well they should. They're terribly useful. Logically, however, if I can do game design while owning boobs, and other people can do game design while not having girl-boobs, then... perhaps game design has NOTHING to do with secondary sex characteristics! Or even primary sex characteristics! Perhaps it's just a thing that people (and some animals) can do, as play is a fairly universal thing we all do. Perhaps we've just forgotten that this both is and is not such an elevated pursuit -- there are awesome and important issues wound up in this format that even the smallest child among us can master, much less, you know, men and women. Don't get so carried away with special status because you've played/worked on a game, you know? Or if you're going to, then really make it something worthwhile, because it is.

All of which boils down to mean that anyone who's taking issue with the 2016 Gen Con Industry Insider slate because there are a lot of women on it (for the first time!) is having a serious gap of understanding just what gaming is, what the industry is, and how much bigger it is than any one of us. There's been a lot of that going around in geeky culture of late. I get it. It's hard to feel smaller than you were used to. That said, it's past time we as a whole come to grips with it, and by "it" I don't mean boobs. I mean the fact that we have a LOT of long-past-due recognition of women in the industry to make up for, going back to the sidelining of women into "editor" credits back at TSR when they frankly did a lot more than that. Women have been significant contributors to the tabletop gaming industry from its inception, both as support and as content creators. It's long past time we give recognition where it's due, regardless of boobage. In short, support the awesome slate Gen Con has finally put together. Don't be a boob.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Not that I don't have enough things to occupy my mind right now, but one of the things I really loathe about my brain is the lovely "trip into work" anxiety that happens on a regular basis. I'm really not sure what the exact trigger is, but as I start thinking about the day or the week or the whatever, even if it's stuff I'm looking forward to or that I've done before, I find that become a deep-breathing, heart fluttering mess. I have to manage my feelings and my blood pressure to keep from obsessing over... nothing in particular. It's really dumb. Anything I pick, as soon as I figure out how to handle it, the anxiety then moves to settle on something else. It's free-floating; it's just me, there's not really anything in particular to be anxious about. 
I'm not the only one who has this, and I am on medication for it (it used to be much worse and constant, although I didn't realize it at the time). It's just such a pain. It's like I'm constantly worried that I'm actually going to discover that up is really down, or right is really left, and I won't be able to compensate for it. I will come home and find that I live in a topsy-turvy world, like above, and everyone will realize that I wasn't expecting it and things will not be okay anymore. 

And yet. 

Once I get through my class, and get food, and get settled for the day, it goes away. It's not a constant. And I'm grateful for that, because I know other people have it so much worse than I do. But that doesn't mean it's not an incredibly annoying way to start my day. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Apolitical" gaming

So this is related to the kerfluffle regarding Emerald City Tabletop Coalition, OrcaCon & GeekGirlCon, and Chance Daniels. I'll start by saying I am connected to some of these people online via friends of friends, but don't know them personally. You can get caught up on the origin of the story here:

FYI, I don't know Jessica personally, though I think we've met at a con once? I follow her on twitter and such because we're in the same community and I hear good things about her work.

Reportedly, for the tl;dr version, ECTC removed mentions of OrcaCon from their feed because they viewed it as a "3-day political event that also had some gaming," and Chance stated that they/he viewed GeekGirlCon the same way. OrcaCon, fyi, is a new gaming con held in Everett, WA in January that has an inclusive focus; the theme for 2017, according to their website, isn't dragons or robots or superheroes, but rather "Race and Accessibility in Tabletop Games." OrcaCon wants everyone to be welcome to gaming, even those who historically might not have been -- especially those people, frankly. It is emphatically not a party con, or a fandom con. It is a gaming and panel con, where everyone plays a lot of games and talks about those games and talks about what games do and why they're cool (and sometimes why they aren't, and how to fix that). GeekGirlCon, also held in the greater Seattle metro, is about girls and geeky stuff and gaming. It's a female-friendly space, run largely by women for women (and those who identify as or are even just friendly to women and people in general).

A lot of my friends have been commenting on social media today about how their presence in gaming is, according to this, political, and will continue to be so until gaming and society change. I think according to the definition being applied by ECTC, that's true. If existing outside a very small norm runs the risk of rocking the boat, then bringing questions of race, gender, age, orientation, and culture will always be "political." When those questions automatically come with you; when you are "other" in some way, even in the spaces in which we're all just having fun; when you have to have questions about the status quo because it was never designed with you in mind, in a space where design is an inherent part of the experience -- these are the ways in which the "political" is inevitable.

I am political. My presence is gaming should not be political. I have a right to be comfortable in a game-oriented space, and if a few accommodations can ensure that without trespassing on anyone else's experience of gaming, then that should be common sense, not a political statement. I have been a gamer for over twenty years, and worked in this industry for over fifteen. I am not a newcomer; my presence and that of others like me isn't news. My pedigree, such as it is, has helped to pave the way for new people who may or may not resemble me, but who have as much right to be here as anyone else -- and that is truth. If you want to call it political, fine, but ask yourself who's making it that way, because it's not me.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Norovirus 1, Michelle 0

So sometime (it may have been at my surprise birthday party, sadly) I picked up the dreaded norovirus. It basically ate my life starting Sunday morning (I'm still not recovered, but I seem to be better). I threw up four times in twenty-four hours, and I will not discuss the other events. Seriously, it was not messing around. I haven't been that sick in that way since I was a little kid. I managed to keep drinking ginger ale, despite the fact that I knew it was all coming back up anyway. And this morning, I've managed to eat two saltine crackers! Whoo! I can also be enough myself to post this, whereas yesterday I slept something like 20 hours out of 24, and sitting up for fifteen minutes was cause for another nap. I couldn't even manage to watch Poirot, my go-to when I don't feel well, because a) they had scenes of people eating and b) I couldn't follow the plot for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.

Si, loyal doggie that he is, apparently spent the whole day laying outside my bedroom door. He's a butt, but he's also incredibly sweet. Matt is taking care of me and helping clean up after me, which is greatly appreciated, because I don't have the wherewithal to do it myself right now. Things are okay, though. That is all.

Friday, January 29, 2016

I've been a bad blogger...

... but I've gotten a lot of work done, so that's something.

I've finished three knitting projects and started on two (2!) pairs of socks, one color work and one plain that a friend requested. I'm looking at starting on a star-stitch scarf, because obviously we all need another scarf in the world, and I can't let this yarn I bought that's the wrong size for what I want to do go to waste. It's really pretty, even if it is far too yellow for me to use in a lot of ways. (I look like death with yellow next to my face. Seriously. Not a good thing.)

Sephi got out of the yard yesterday and went wandering, and I went this morning to pick her up from animal control (she's fine -- the lady there knows her and knows us, we just couldn't get back by 3:30 to pick her up, given that we finally got the call at 3:25). All is well, though we have to make sure her paperwork is caught up and get all the collar batteries for the invisible fence updated.

My gothic class is going really well, and students who were nervous about the reading are falling in love with some of the books I've assigned -- and honestly, there is nothing that makes me happier. None of my students are English majors, so while I'm asking them to think about the literature in ways they aren't used to, I'm not asking for the same amount of rigor and depth that I might require if this were an English lit class instead of more of a culture class. What I'm finding, though, is that my students seem to have picked books to focus on that they find meaning in -- that they enjoy reading, and that's as much of a surprise to them as to me. If they come to a love of literature in my class and discover that there's something out there for them, as well as learning how to write a thesis statement and structure a document/argument, that is all I can ask for. It's so exciting. :)

Also, my class is all women/queer folks. I decided to ask people to let me know if they prefer anything that wasn't female pronouns (the first time I've done that) and one of them emailed me, letting me know they prefer "they" rather than "her," and thanked me for asking. :) I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like I did a good and welcoming thing. I've also got a transwoman in class, and she let me know straight out she preferred female pronouns (though I'd already been using them with her, because I hadn't thought about it and she gave me a female name) and I'm really excited to have her perspectives and participation. I kind of love my class.

Si has a new larger crate and he loves it. We'd bought him a bed, but Sephi unexpectedly took to it (she normally hates bedding, as she gets too warm and the footing is uncertain) but since she liked it, we gave it to her and ordered a new one for Si. In the meantime, he's still resting in Leo's crate (comfy bed) whenever he gets the chance. Dogs are weird.

In Growling Door news, I'm working on developing SAVE: The Eternal Society. Final drafts are in and compiled, and I'm starting the dev pass today. I've also finished an outline for Daedalus (Eeeee!) that I'm super excited about. I've stepped back from the writing of it, as realism trumped desire, and I'm contracting an awesome slate of writers to work on it. I should probably make that a blog post in and of itself. Duly noted.

In health news, things are good overall, except that my anxiety is ramping up. On Monday I go get a mouthpiece to help combat the TMJ I'm developing and that'll stop me from grinding my teeth, and train me back out of it. Also, I have an appointment for next month for genetic counseling, to talk about testing me for Fragile-X. Read this if you're not sure what Fragile-X is. I am both excited and terrified, even though I know what it is and have every reason to suspect I am at least a carrier, even if I don't have the full mutation. Knowing for sure would be a huge relief, though, and could help protect me as I get older -- at least a diagnosis would mean it's in my records.

I've finished reading a biography of Daniel DeFoe that I got from one of my profs. I found it useful, but I'm glad to move on from it. I also finished Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, which I need to write about at some point, though I feel like talking about it without also having read Bodies that Matter is a bit pointless. However, I don't know that I'm going to have time to fit in reading BtM while I'm dissertating, and that's really the more important activity at the moment. I'll keep thinking about it.

Oh! I have Fallout 4! I love this game so much. I'm avoiding spoilers because I have this weird thing where if I feel like someone I know tells me about story/world elements, then the discovery is ruined and I don't enjoy it as much. All the same, though, I really like it. Good stuff.