Monday, June 10, 2024

2005

Today, fellow designer Dom Dickey posted this in our MCG company Slack, "If Bowling for Soup wrote the song 1985 today, it would be about 2005," (like in this 2024 video, done in the same style, but about 2005: https://youtu.be/zaAYUZqZvlA?si=HLPyni4uOzER0x-4)

Of course, the 80s were much more formative for me—the last few years of junior high and high school, then off to college in 1986—than 2005, when I was mid-career at Wizards of the Coast. It probably has a bigger resonance than my life during my mid-30s. At least, that was my initial thought.

Still, watching the video made me reminisce with a friend. So I looked back into the picture archive, and what do you know? I found an image of me, my ex-wife (but still good friend) Dee, and that friend Greg Heck around with a brand new Honda Element my ex-wife had bought.

Now as it happens, the purchase of that car was preceded by one of the biggest arguments I've ever had. I was exceedingly pro-hybrid at the time (because there were no electric vehicles to be pro about in 2005), and the Element was not a hybrid. I got so mad I left the house, driving away in my Prius hybrid (model year 2005!) to cool off.

During the drive, I realized I had no say in her purchase, that I was being a tremendous jerk, and that I owed someone an apology. So I went home and did just that.

Dee purchased the car, we picked up our friends Greg and Teresa, and we went out to eat to celebrate. Someone ordered an olive plate for the table. Guess what? I hated olives. HATED them. But I was in a "changing my mind" sort of mood, so I tried a few. And you know what? I LOVED them.

And I have loved olives ever since. And you know what else I learned I loved? Changing my mind. Which is a habit that has served me well over the years.

I guess 2005 was more formative than I first gave it credit for. Go figure.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Planescape First Drew Me to 2E Dungeons & Dragons

I turned another year older a few days ago. My employer MCG is kind enough to suggest we take our birthdays off, so that's exactly what I did. It was a super-chill day. I got caught up on some reading (almost finished with The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz, playing Fallout 76 (started a fresh character), and come evening, enjoying Batgirl's wonderful company and the delicious meal she cooked.

In other news, I'll be appearing on Peter Adkison's "50 Years of D&D" series on Gen Con TV (streamed on Twitch) on May 25th, featuring Dungeons & Dragons second edition (2E).  (EDIT: Here's a link to the discussion and game on YouTube.)

Peter asked what was the first thing that drew me to 2E. Well, the first thing that captured my imagination was about four or so years into the release was the Planescape box set cover art and graphic design, featuring the entrance to a magnificent fantasy city in Robh Ruppel's dreamy artistic style. 

At the time, I knew nothing about Planescape other than it was 2E D&D, the perfectly evocative name "Planescape," and the aforementioned cover. Except, I also knew that I wanted desperately to go wherever Planescape was.

In a way, I got my wish, because it wasn't more than a year later that TSR hired me to work on D&D in 1995.

Long story short, I've been working in RPGs and writing fantasy and sci-fi novels ever since.

(Including my latest Patreon novel I've been plugging away at for the last several months, with my patron's help. My patrons get to see first chapter drafts, like this one I just published where Minerva, who—in an earlier chapter drop—encountered a three-headed manifestation of her greatest mistake in the land of dreams, seeks answers.)

Monday, April 29, 2024

The Moons of Earth

Hey friends!

While walking my dog Tesla today, I was catching up on listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Planetary Radio. One of the discussion topics was NASA's RPG, The Lost Universe. I'd heard of it previously—if you work in RPGs, I imagine you have, too. But it was wonderful to hear designer Christina Mitchell tell podcast host Sarah Al-Ahmed about the setting, including how NPCs in the setting used vacuum energy to power their magic. How cool is that?

Then, at the end of the podcast, Dr. Bruce Betts happened to mention another RPG he was fond of: The Strange. I have to say, that definitely made my day. 

Anyway, I moved from that episode to another where the topic was the naming of Venus's quasi-moon Zoozve. I was like, wait, what's a quasi-moon? It was long theorized, but the discovery of one around Venus was the first confirmation. (The podcast actually discussed how Radiolab is responsible for naming the moon Zoozve--its original designation was 2002VE. I recommend listening to the episode on your favorite podcast catcher.)

Since then, the planetary community has learned Earth has quasi-moons, too. Apparently SIX of them!

So, yeah, that's cool.

[Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash ]

Monday, April 1, 2024

And we danced! (at Norwescon 2024)


Happy April 1st! There is NOT a spider on your shoulder, my friends.

This last weekend, Batgirl and I attended Norwescon just south of Seattle. Norwescon has always been a sci-fi and writer-forward convention, but has also made room for RPGs in the last few decades. I've attended in the past wearing different hats—fiction writer, RPG designer, or sometimes both.

This last time around, I decided to focus solely on gaming. Which is why I sat on and moderated some fun panels including worldbuilding RPGs, RPG sessions 0 suggestions, making RPGs more welcoming to new players, and strategies for teaching RPGs to young players.

I also ran an adventure called "Bitter Seeds" from the pages of my post-apocalyptic worldbuilding book Rust and Redemption. And guess what? Garth Hill (a patron of my Patreon) flew out to attend the convention and actually cosplayed as his character, The Kid! (The Kid was a psychic "phreak" who could interface with computers with his mind). The game was fantastic and I've got to hand it to Garth and the other players for a great job dealing with challenges that included them rolling more 1s than I've ever seen, no joke.

Batgirl and I also danced the night away two nights in a row! When it comes to dances, there's really no better place to dance in a judgment-free zone than at a dance at a geek convention!

Monday, March 4, 2024

March Roars, Snow-Hail Falls


Heya Earthlings!

As spring roars in like a lion (it snow-hailed on me today while I walked our dog Tesla), all sorts of activities are jumping onto my calendar. The big ones are a short trip to Austin with Batgirl for vacation, a company summit where MCGers gather from around the world to hang out in person, and the sci-fi and gaming convention Norwescon 2024.

At Norwescon, I'll sit on several game-related panels and run a tabletop RPG adventure called Bitter Seeds—PCs in this post-apocalyptic scenario must find and retrieve viable grain from a before-times seed bank. Doing so requires that they overcome raiders, radiation, and other threats of the wasteland, including a mysterious warlord that has no face. If you're in the area and would to play, there's still room (as of the time of this writing)—sign up here! Don't worry, I've got a pre-generated character for you :). 

As all this is happening, I've agreed to play in another RPG game. Scheduling has proved a bit challenging, given the game I'm already in. Thankfully, there's a lot of overlap between the two groups, so despite the challenging schedule, we're all mostly in the same situation. 

Did I say challenging? My challenges are nothing compared to Baz's situation (the main character in my current Patreon novel), who was tracking the delivery of refined dream being smuggled out of the Nightland. His investigation was off to a promising start until someone collared him behind the pot shop. My latest Patreon post picks up right after that if you're curious.

[Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash]

Friday, February 2, 2024

Dice Make a Hard Man Humble

Photo by NASA Hubble Space Telescope ]
Hello Earthlings. Last night on the way home from a tabletop RPG game, I heard a chorus of frogs singing in a marshy, wooded area. The same chorus I always hear when Spring is near. Which is usually March, so that was weird.

But I took solace in the frog-song anyway, because in that game, I experienced an especially horrible run of bad dice luck that saw my "champion" humbled. It was a tough fight to be sure, but my friends, ouch. Tough fights are fine, but when you're consistently rolling at the wrong end of the bell curve, even WITH five second chances (you can use XP in the Cpher System for re-rolls, and I used up three of my XP and two of my friends' XP), I still couldn't land a telling hit or avoid a devastating blow. Afterward, Sean (a co-player) said, "Are you really a warrior?"

I was still smarting this morning, but with the day to give me some perspective, I'm ok with it. My character survived, and it makes for an interesting story. And maybe will knock my cocky "spellsword" character down a notch or two. In fact... I need a new character arc. I'm thinking of some version of "Fall From Grace" (of his sense of self-importance).

Speaking of someone facing mishaps, my latest Patreon post (Chapter 7, scene 3 of Dreamrider in the Nightland) picks up from scene 2 where Minerva met a three-headed entity that stepped out of the boundary between regular dream and what she regards as the realm of nightmare. One of the three visages is a manifestation of her greatest mistake...


Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Zeigarnik Effect

I heard an interesting discussion on the No Stupid Questions podcast yesterday talking about closure. Specifically, something called the "Zeigarnik" effect (in an episode called Do You Need Closure?). The idea is that people more easily remember unfinished tasks than tasks that they have completed. 

Apparently, this brain mechanism extends to emotions, too. The idea is that our feelings linger — whether they’re positive feelings, like joy, or negative feelings, like frustration, when we don't get a complete understanding of what caused them. Obviously, this sucks on the negative side, and is why you should always talk things out when you are frustrated with someone.

But what about positive emotions? I'm making a bit of a jump here, but I can imagine it's related to why people are drawn in by wonder and mystery. Especially in a story or RPG session (though maybe in research, too). In the beginning, we don't know what's going to happen, why it happens, or what the consequences will be. 

But maybe thanks to the Zeigarnik effect, we are drawn in by the mystery, exploring it until we discover all there is to see.

Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Just like Minerva, here in scene 2 of Chapter 7 of my latest Patreon novel. In the last scene, she decides to make an early dive into the Nightland (like, at 9 am) to learn more about someone who's done her dirty.



Monday, January 1, 2024

Sustainability Goals


Greetings from 2024!

I'm not one for explicit New Year resolutions, though I sometimes decide to make a change in my life and attempt to create new habits around that desired change. One such change was to think about sustainability, when possible, when it comes to buying goods.

I haven't turned my life around by any means. But I've made a few small strides.

It was actually two or three years ago that we got a subscription to Ridwell, which promises to actually recycle various stuff that normally ends up in a landfill, including plastic films and multi-layer plastic, among others. 

About the middle of last year I decided to try Bite, which cuts out the plastic toothpaste tube that goes into the landfill after a few months, as well as the weight of the liquid being shipped, in favor of tiny tablets you chew to make instant toothpaste. That's been working well.

And just as I decided to make my next shampoo purchase one that didn't include a huge plastic bottle that goes into the landfill every few months, Batgirl read my mind and got me a solid shampoo bar. I'm looking forward to trying it, right after I use up the fluid in what is hopefully the last shampoo bottle I ever buy.

I wonder what's next? Suggestions are welcome, if you've discovered sustainable products or hacks that achieve similar ends.

In novel-related news, I've got more chapters to drop at my Patreon. If all goes as planned, scene 2 of chapter 7 will drop tomorrow. Stay tuned, patrons! I'm grateful to each and every one of you!

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Extinction on Earth
























Ahoy Earthlings!

We stand on the doorstep of December. It's been weirdly cold and dry here south of Seattle. And weirdly high in AQI (which means bad air quality) according to the purple sensor Batgirl gave me as a gift the holiday before this one. I'm sure it's all fine (/sarcasm). And reminds me that last night we finished watching a show on Netflix called Life on Earth.

Life on Earth is an interesting name for the show because a title that would more accurately reflect the content would be "Extinction on Earth." The show steps us through Earth's various epochs and how most life in each subsequent period was almost entirely wiped out. This has happened five times! I knew that, but the documentary "David Attenborough" style (voiced by Morgan Freeman) really brought it, you know... to life.

But you know what? Batgirl and I agreed that watching this repeated cycle of mass extinctions followed by life returning was weirdly calming. It made us less worried about humans "destroying the planet." I mean, yeah, humans could kill themselves off, but not all life. And there's some peace to be had in that. Right?


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Objects vs. Sentiment

Storage unit treasure?

How was your Labor Day, if you celebrated it? 

Here, the extra day off gave Batgirl and me enough mental headspace to decide it was the weekend to finally deal with our storage unit. We've maintained it for the last decade. Along with the crawl space under the house, we call it "where sentiment goes to die." It's out of sight, out of mind, which allows the sentiment to drain out of otherwise inanimate objects. Plus, hey, we've been paying rent on all that slowly draining sentiment!

So we grabbed the few things that still tugged at the heartstrings despite where we stored them, and are making plans for how we can get rid of everything else. Lots of completely useful stuff in there, so we hope we can ask the storage facility to help us auction it off like they would for a tenant that simply abandoned their unit. 

Hopefully, the specimens we collected from those alternate dimensions that one time won't escape and ruin the sale.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Unmei


Hey everyone,

I must admit that I've done precious little writing over the last week on my Patreon novel. That's because our kitty Unmei's situation reached a critical point in the middle of last week, culminating in a stressful weekend and a tearful goodbye to Unmei on Monday.

I only knew Unmei for the last 11 of her 18 years, but in that time she became as dear to me as any pet can. 

One of my favorite stories about her is the "Song of the Sock" (as Batgirl named it). A few times a week, we would hear Unmei meowing with some fervor upstairs, until we came up to see what it was. Unmei would be found innocently standing about three feet away from a lone sock (as pictured here). In all the years she did this, never once did we see Unmei actually carrying a sock. Or even near it. A few times I'd try to sneak up, and still failed to catch her in the act.

It doesn't take a genius to realize what was actually happening: Sock gremlins. And Unmei was keeping them at bay. 

For this, and for all the other reasons, we're going to miss this little cat.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Genghis Redemption

In just two days, I'll be heading to Genghis Con in Denver, CO, USA. I'm excited to attend the very first gaming convention I ever attended for a second time. The first time was about 30 years ago, before I was part of the gaming industry. (Well, I may have had a couple of Iron Crown freelancer publications to my credit, actually.) So if you're in the Denver area, I hope you'll come by and say Hi. 

As it happens, I went to college in Colorado and then lived and worked there for several more years in the biopharmaceutical company (NeXagen, which became NeXstar, finally purchased by Gilead) before I left for a job at TSR. Many of my college friends still live in the area, and I'm looking forward to catching up with them once the convention is concluded. Should be interesting!

Until I leave (and when I get back), I'll continue working on the post-apocalyptic title Rust and Redemption, one of the new genre books MCG is crowdfunding. The campaign is active as I write this, but it'll wrap up in a couple of days as well. If you're looking for some post-apocalyptic inspiration, check it out!

[ART: Photo by Ramez E. Nassif on Unsplash]