Taking a break

It's just time to admit that I'm overwhelmed. Between my 9–5 job, freelancing, podcasting, preparing for a baby (had I mentioned that one already...?), and now some health issues with my Mom, it's just time to admit that I have been terrible at keeping to a schedule of regular posts and I'm not likely to be better at this soon. So, I'm taking a break. Going to try to keep writing and build up a backlog of stories to have ready to go when I can come back. 

But for now, I have to sign off.

Approach and RPG Design

I was talking the other day with some RPG design nerd friends (let's be clear, they're nerds about a lot of things, this was just the overlap we were talking about) about items and what makes items in RPGs fun. We've all gotten to the "because they let you do things you couldn't otherwise do" part, even if we're sure there's something else we're missing.

I pointed out that in the real world, technology (usually) gets invented to do a thing we already do better in someway, and then we figure out the new things it allows us to do. W said I was looking at broad technology, like computers, where they were looking at Joe PC's L33t MaGIc Haxxzor Rig. which got us to looking at the forest to figure out how to implement the trees, "Needs moar tree.", and the design failures of writing the forest, i.e. interchangeable and uninteresting items.

All of which has me thinking about the approach to RPG design issues. Is it better to start from the tree level: what do you want X to do in your game? Or is it better to start from the forest level: what makes X fun? How does that integrate and impact the other aspects of the system? How does X actually work in the real world and how are we importing it into the game?

... As you might be able to tell from having more forest questions, when approaching an abstract question like this, I default to 'forest' mode.

That said, my personal opinion is it depends. I know, real useful that. But I don't think this is something you can look at in isolation. A systemic, big picture approach is probably going to work better for a more narrative heavy system, one with more abstraction up at the systemic level. A deep dive into individual components, a more 'tree' approach if you will, is going to work better in systems where you want the difference between different items of the same type matter to game play.

Also, in my ideal RPG design scenario, you have multiple perspectives. Even if you're the sole designer for a product, being able to bounce thoughts and ideas off of someone who approaches things from a different perspective (writing groups are great guys) is going to get you a stronger product. 

That's the whole idea behind play testing, isn't it? Hand off your project to someone who only knows what's on the page (instead of what's in your head) and see if it works.

Convention Report

Partner and I went to a small convention a couple weekends ago (MarsCon near Williamsburg, VA) and got to play five different games in one day. It was great.

Bridge Simulator

This one was a cooperative video game (still in development). Y'all play the bridge crew of a spaceship out on a mission or part of a campaign. There are five stations—Flight, Tactical, Science, Operations, and Engineering—plus the Captain's seat. I played Flight and didn't crash our ship into a planet! I kinda picked a station last and got asked to play Flight, an option I was really nervous doing because I don't multitask well or have great situational awareness. I thought Flight would need both those skills, although less so than Tactical (they shoot the guns! pew pew!) but it turned out I was okay on the Flight station. We didn't die, moved at a decent speed (space is big guys), and I kept the enemy fighters that showed up in range and view well enough for my friend L to shoot them all to itty-bitty bits. Partner played the Captain, who doesn't actually get a screen to play with, and kept communication between the stations working well. Plus made some good command decisions. As I said, my friend L was on Tactical, her partner W was on Engineering (keeps the power routed optimally for what we're doing), and two folks we'd never met before were on Science (scan objects around us) and Operations (communicate with other ships). The set-up we played had a big main screen projector and everyone had a pretty big touchscreen in front of us. But! It's playable off a central computer and connecting via a browser. So, the four of us (Partner, L, W, and myself) could hangout together on the game from our homes. Which would be really neat.

www.strangehorizons.com for anyone interested.

Century: Spice Road

A competitive card drafting board game. This one is all about building and playing a deck that gains and converts cubes (theoretically representing spices) into the right combinations to purchase victory point cards. There's four different actions you can do during your turn: take a card from the market, play a card from your hand, pick up all your played cards, or purchase a victory card. The game goes around players' turns remarkably fast, too.

I prefer the skinning of a different game with the same mechanics (from the same designer) we played later in the con, which I'll talk about later. I did not win this game, in fact out of five players, if I recall correctly, I came in dead last. But I like the mechanics, I think I can see what I need to do to have a winning strategy, and now it's just a matter of getting the practice to get better. I had fun playing with friends and am happy that L and W are considering buying the other skinned version.

Potion Explosion and Tiny Epic Galaxies

Partner and I introduced these games to some folks at the convention, both friends we already know and a new person we met this convention. My description of Potion Explosion still holds and it's still one of my favorite games. Bonus, now that W's played, he's decided that the game really needs a marble randomizer tower (like a dice tower) and is considering making one (he does quite a bit of woodwork) over the summer. Assuming he has time.

Tiny Epic Galaxies is an area influence/control game with what you can do determined by the dice gods, although there is a mechanic for re-rolling utterly awful crud. Everything fits into this small box and the lid turns into a tray for containing those dice you roll. And the artwork in the box is great. The goal is to accumulate points through controlling planets and upgrading your empire (which incidentally gets you more resources towards doing things and controlling planets). There's a couple different types of planets which need different resources to gain control of them and each planet gives you a different benefit or optional action when you do control them. It's a tightly designed, fun game that I'm glad we got to introduce to a few friends. 

Century: Golem Edition

This is the differently skinned version of Century: Spice Road I mentioned earlier. It's the exact same game mechanics wise, just with different art and theoretical premise. Those cubes you're gaining and converting in Spice Road are knobby rocks here which represent soul crystals. Turning in the soul crystals (i.e. buying a victory point card) represents making those crystals into golems (as drawn on the victory cards). It just makes more sense to me, from a narrative view point. Also, I think the art is a little funnier and a bit cuter. So, I rather own and/or play Golem Edition over Spice Road. 

It was a good convention, full of board gaming.

Masada's Redoubt, part five — prepping to run

I've talked to 3 out of four potential players, our podcast is going to add a new cast member so I'll wait and talk to them to see if they want in as the fourth player, I've put together a spreadsheet to track all the things I've been talking about in this series, and I've put together an outline for what I want to happen in the first session. Oh, and I even have the first session scheduled! For February. Because we schedule one month ahead. Thank goodness.

Hopefully my players aren't going to read this particular post, or if they do they're bad at meta-gaming, because I'm going to talk about this first session I'm planning. 

Since the campaign is really about setting up the enclave, I don't want to do an enclave creation session, which would traditionally be the first session. So what I'm planning is to start the players out at the end of Operation Utility in the last site they were working to shut down. They'll have a certain amount of resources left (NPCs, vehicles, and other materiel) and then Gnat's Whisper comes down and they should realize they're all fucked. At least in terms of getting back to the Recession. 

If the players immediately move to 'we have to find somewhere and hole up,' I can just proceed forward. Otherwise time for Masada to walk in and give a speech. I should probably write that out, or at least write the first paragraph and outline the rest — if I don't, I'll have a hard time improvising in the moment. Knowing myself. Also at this point, I'll have to see if they choose to loot the retro-virology lab I'm starting them in and, if they do, whether they go for short-term medical supplies or long-term laboratory supplies. The specific supplies  won't affect the rest of this session but is all about what happens in future sessions. How long they spend looting will affect this session though, which I'll get into later.

Then a Red Markets Leg — loot a hardware store, loot a grocery store, or skip? The plan is that loot from the hardware store will improve the odds of the future enclave having enough housing and a working dock for fishing vessels. The grocery store will allow the enclave to feed itself for a little bit. Either option takes time. I'm thinking the hardware store could be looted in the next session without too much of the potential Haul going bad. The grocery store on the other hand... well it has been about two months since the Crash started, so the perishables have all perished. I guess the canned foods would still be good and the potential total Haul should stay the same... Oh! Hardware stores have garden centers — I should let the enclave get vegetable gardening going off of loot from the hardware store. Actually, I should make the players choose between what they're looting: tools, lumber, or gardening supplies.

And then we're on to the main meat of the scenario, in my mind—the docks. This is where how long players have spent looting is going to matter. The set up is that there about 200 civilians on the docks and they players have to choose how they're going to deal with them: 1) fuck off to the island they've chosen to set up an enclave on and tell people to meet them there, 2) split the party with half staying to check the civilians for bites then evacuating them and half going ahead to the island, or 3) hold the docks for the checks for bites and evacuation. What the players shouldn't know is that there's been a countdown timer ticking down based on how long they've spent looting and when it reaches zero, an attack of Vectors at the docks. If they're smart, they'll have someone on watch and see it coming. But any rate, the options:

Option one gets them an easier time clearing the island of zombies—I'll have everything on the island have dropped into torpor so they can walk through, coup de gracing everything without using ammunition. But very few people are going to make it off the docks with few boats to actually populate the enclave. Well, not everyone died on the docks, I'll have a few boats floating in the area where everyone died from someone going Vector on the boat. That will give me a vignette or two plus maybe a job for the players to deal with those consequences: a boat running aground on their island or having to board and clear to get the boat for the enclave fishing fleet before it does run aground. 

Option two has two sub-options: the players hold the docks and the NPCs clear the island or vice versa. Either way, the zombies on the island will come out of Torpor during the push to clear the island. If the players clear the island, they'll have to clear as many zombies as possible and then fight the ones that come out of Torpor, the NPCs at the docks will loose 4 people and get about half the boats and population available evacuated. If the NPCs clear the island, I'll have the team loose 2 NPCs while the number of civilians and boats that make it to the island is determined by how long the players hold the docks. I'll give them a couple rounds to set up barricade, X number of civilians get onto boats per round, and the question is, what do they do and how long do they hold the docks. I think this will be the nastiest Vector attack.

Option three gets the most people evacuated before the Vector attack and they'll need to hold the docks for the fewest rounds to get everyone evacuated. But then they have to immediately go into the fight to clear the island and get the fewest rounds with the zombies in Torpor. Although theoretically they should have the largest number of NPCs as support.

Here's hoping I can keep this session appropriately bleak and tense. You know, my biggest weaknesses as a GM—and why I'm challenging myself this way.

Masada's Redoubt, part four — economy

A friend on Facebook had a really useful comment (thanks David!)  to my first post in this series, namely that it sounded like I wanted a reputational economy. I certainly do now. 

First, I know I want this tied to politics and players' rank. Second, I think I need to leave this in the background rather than an explicit system that the players know about. My thinking here is that this will all be occurring in a society where there's been a massive decrease in technology. The information web doesn't exist to track all the interactions that go into an explicit system like the one seen in Eclipse Phase. So the reputational economy in Masada's Redoubt is more informal and small town-esque. Which means run on gossip, really.

So I think I need to track the general attitude towards my players' characters, given them bonus or penalties in the background to persuasion checks when they argue for doing one job over another and other such enclave business, and make sure to give them rep spots (an already existing mechanic for reputation outside of enclaves) when warranted.

Really, it's time for me to sit down and build a spreadsheet to do my math / tracking of the enclave building subsystems I've outlined in the previous posts. Before I start loosing information from my head.  

Masada's Redoubt, part three — location

First of all, I owe an apology to all my readers on the West Coast. In my first post, I said I remember there being a bunch of islands off the coast near Portland. Portland is not on the coast. I was thinking of Seattle (or should have been). At least my memory of Puget Sound being on the West Coast was correct...

From cruising around Google Maps a bit now, I think I'll start the campaign here:

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 9.40.15 PM.png

There's a bunch of small islands to start on (small being easier to clear off) which should, if I recall my climate science correctly, be sheltered from the worst of ocean weather by the honking huge island known as Vancouver Island to the west and relatively easy access to the Pacific fishing grounds with that strait between the western part of Washington state and Vancouver Island.

Plus, if the enclave does well and gets ambitious, they can work on clearing all the casualties off all of Vancouver Island for living or agriculture area. Also, to the southeast are the connected (ish?) islands of Fidalgo, Whidbey, and Camano, all of which are in fact islands (or will be when the roads wash out) but easily connectable to the mainland. Good staging ground raids on the mainland or beginning to clear it out.

Also, given the proximity to the part of Canada that didn't get nuked, I think I'll be able to work in some interesting things mixing up the population between Americans and Canadians. Plus the politics between American and Canadian enclaves.

Masada's Redoubt, part two

Infrastructure! The word I couldn't for the life of me remember on that list of things I needed to keep track of was infrastructure. Sheesh.  

So time to walk through that Food stat I said I would last post. My initial thoughts came in bullet point format, which I'll just reproduce here:

  • Short-Term Supplies
  • Industries: Farming, gardening, fishing, foraging, preserving
    • necessary infrastructure
    • how much adds to:
      • human resources required
      • supplies generated per month
  • Effect on
    • morale
    • health
    • imports required
    • exports generated

Except, picture these hand written, less organized, and with little arrows between things. Keep in mind that I'm not sure how much of this is actually going to be conveyed to players and how often I'm just going to say things like "the enclave's supplies of food are getting low. You've got enough for a month or two, but if the fish harvest is low or there's a problem in preservation, you're gonna be in trouble."  

On to specifics. My thinking is that short-term supplies should just tick down by a set amount per X number (probably 100) of people in the enclave per month. Each industry should have two stats: the number of people working the industry and how much it adds to the short-term supply per month. Huh, maybe I should just rename 'short-term supply ' to 'supply' and fold the preserving industry into all of the others—you have to preserve the food (as appropriate to the food type) for it to add to supply. Obviously I need to have the players bring in the appropriate supplies (preservation, tools, or other wise) to improve the industry, but after that, I should probably leave it as flavor. 'Necessary infrastructure' is what the industry needs the players to bring in from outside because, for one reason or another, the enclave doesn't have access otherwise. I think I should rename this to 'Needs and Wants' and keep in mind that it can be materials, information (how-to particularly), and/or people (trained or untrained). And, to keep from having the same term refer to a subset under Food and a section all on its own, I'll rename Industries here to sectors.

On the effects section, I think these are derived stats and probably not anything the players need to see. I might let them, if they're interested, but given the over the internet set-up of our games/campaigns, I don't expect them to want to. It's just harder to share or peruse extra materials in the online set-up (in my experience). My thinking on morale and health was that the same food, day in and day out, isn't great from a nutritional or life-enjoyment stand point. Not to mention the hit to morale that starving to death is. I'm thinking that if the players keep the various industries in a reasonable balance, there shouldn't be any hits to morale or health from Food. Meanwhile, bringing home unexpected luxuries (like a score of sugar, some protein that the enclave doesn't usually see, or the material to start a new venture within the agriculture sector [why are chickens the first thing I think of?!]) should provide a temporary boost to morale. Imports, to the Food sector, should be something nutritionally missing from the enclave (and ought to provide the players ideas, if I'm GMing right) while exports could be any individual industry producing more supply per month than consumed. I am definitely going to have to keep an eye on the enclave population.

So after thinking through stuff as part of this post, the redone list of things under 'Food' looks like this:

  • Supplies
  • Sectors: Farming, gardening, fishing, foraging
    • needs and wants
    • manpower required
    • supplies generated per month
    • exports generated
  • Imports required
  • Effect on
    • morale
    • health

And that's more or less what the behind the scenes stats for the enclave I'm planning to keep are going to look like. I'll make a post about all of them once I think through everything and talk about how I'm planning to have them interact with each other, but the next post will be about location.

Project Development: getting my GM on

As if I don't have enough projects on my plate, active or waiting in the wings, I have an idea for a campaign I really want to run on my podcast. So in the interests of actually trying to get this idea into the light and make it happen, I'm going to chronicle my developing it on this blog. At least for a few posts. I don't know how many posts it will take me to get it where I need to actually start testing it with people / running the game. Or far enough along that I wouldn't want my players to get some insider knowledge. Or I hit the point where I really need their input.

Wow, I'm babbling a bit. Eh, this post at least is going to be stream of consciousness-esque.

Okay, so I want to run a Black Math game in Red Markets, but with a bit of a twist. First, Black Math in RM is a type of cult who's main ethos is that for humanity to survive some people need to take on the burden of killing as many zombies as possible. Because every human who dies is potentially a zombie who will kill more people and bringing in reinforcements to the human side takes at least fifteen years. If you're willing to put kids on the zombie killing line. Basically, it's a cult about upping your Kills to Death (K/D) ratio. A Black Math game would be a campaign where all the players are members of Black Math.

The twist I want to play with is that the leader of this particular branch of Black Math is all about the long-term. None of this going out in a blaze of glory with "a significant subtraction" — it's your duty to last as long as you can in order to build a sustainable community which can methodically eliminate zombies, reclaim territory, and survive against the American Recession government whenever the T-Minus Never comes.

First, I developed the leader of this group, bouncing ideas off of Partner and here's what we came up with. This person is an IDF soldier who was over in Colorado training American troops as part of an exchange program when the Crash went down. They were swept up into Operation Utility, in a company pushing west from Colorado, securing a variety of sites and moving on to the next. When Gnat's Whisper went out, the company was down to a couple squads, they were in command through attrition and knowing what the heck they were doing, and were going by the name Masada. Masada's reaction to the Whisper was basically a 'no shit, what else were you idiots expecting? Come on, we have another site to secure.'

Second, I figured that after surviving Operation Utility, they'd want somewhere very defensible. I remembered that there's a bunch of islands off of the West Coast, near Portland and figured an island would fit the bill nicely. So, I'm going to need to site down with Google Maps at some point soonish and pick out an island I think you could fit 500 (ish) people to live on. Not necessarily grow crops for 500 people on, just shove them all on the island.

Third, what did I want this campaign to be about? Well, I want it to be about building this long-term plan for the community. Which is slightly off from the ethos of RM, so there's going to have to be a lot of hacks / sub-system I build on-top of the current system to make this game. Which is going to be the majority of what I'll end up writing about in these blog posts, I expect. There's already rules in Red Markets for long-term investments, small businesses, and group retirements, so I don't think this is directly contrary to the assumptions of the game. But I do think I need to really think things through before we get to the table.

I also know I want to start the game from year one, basically right as the Crash is happening and you need to scramble to keep build your enclave. So I know I'm going to need to think through what sort of loot is available for the players to bring back to the enclave and how that changes over time.

I need to figure out the set of things the enclave needs to develop to become self-sufficient. The things that need to happen so everyone doesn't die in the short-term and how those help or hinder setting up long-term solutions. I'm planning on having the players be Takers in the original sense of the word in game, so they aren't going to be making bounty to upkeep their gear — which means I need a system in place to represent how much the community can put towards keeping them and their gear in functional order (whatever I set up for this, I'm going to call this 'stat' Support).

My initial list of things I'll need to track are:

  • Defense
  • Housing
  • Food
  • Industry
  • Support
  • Morale
  • Internal social structures

I'll walk through an example for Food next post (hopefully Monday), because I think that's going to be the easiest way to think through and illustrate how I currently think things will work. But before I go I do have some thoughts on the internal economy of Masada's Redoubt (because obviously that's what it named itself in my head) — a cross between a kibbutz and American military socialism. Don't argue with me, the American military, internally anyway, is fairly hierarchically socialist. Your housing, food, shelter, and medical care are supposed to be provided by the state actor (the military) plus you have an assigned job according to your abilities and training. What else is an IDF soldier commanding American troops going to use as a governmental model? Yes, military training to the point of self-defense (as well as defending any other civilians, particularly children) is mandatory for citizenship. I think I may need to dig into how Israel and Switzerland do compulsory military service. And I blame having read Starship Troopers at a semi-formative age. Heinlein's always blamable :P

A little bit of subject knowledge makes enjoying a thing more difficult

Here's a thing about writing more, doing editing, and learning about the craft of writing a bit (mostly through the podcast Writing Excuses [it's good, go listen guys]) — it's harder for me to turn my brain off and just enjoy a piece of media. I mean, I've never really been able to turn my brain off but it used to be easier for a piece of media (book, movie, TV show, whatever) to pull me in so I wasn't thinking about the structure, craft, or meta-stuff of the item. At least until after I finished reading or viewing. Then it's a lot of fun! It's how I'm a fan and how I incorporate ideas. But now I've got more tools to analyze with and I'm doing more analysis while consuming the media.

Which is all a very long lead-in to: Star Wars: The Last Jedi has one too many try-fail cycles in it. Try-fail cycles being a writing term for plot structure I've picked up from Writing Excuses. It makes the middle a bit saggy and draws the whole story out too long. The thing is, I can recognize that but haven't figured out what I'd have cut in order to tighten up the pacing — everything in there contributed to characterization, even as the plot got a little overcomplicated. 

I really liked The Last Jedi though — about an 8 out of 10 on my personal metric. I love that the film continued with showing the First Order as predominantly entitled, white men (in positions of power, there's quite a few white women in the First Order), the good guys were women, people of color, and women of color who listen to each other and work together. I love that the message about mentors is not they need to be perfect — they need to teach their mistakes too. Everything is feeling like the more grown-up, nuanced version of good vs. evil of the first trilogy. And I love it.

Writing, Time, and Word Count

So uh... This blog has gotten away from me...  Guess I know what my New Year's resolution is now. 

The first draft of the PostHuman Studios contract was due today, but I emailed it in last night. Just wanted to make sure it got to then sitting business hours and I just didn't think I could guarantee that if I was sending it in after my day job. So, the first draft of two thousand words is in. It was, of course, not my literal first draft — I revised and copy-edited it before I emailed it in. But it's the first draft they'll see and the first one I'll get feedback on from the game designers. Which is so cool.

I found I had a hard time getting started because I was finding 2k words intimidating. I don't know why, I've written four times as much as that (once) on a particularly good writing day. Doing it for pay makes a lot of difference to me, apparently.  

What got me going was a) terror of a deadline (what can I say, I do know my own motivators) and b) setting up a Scrivener project. I took the proposal I'd sent, picked the six sections they'd liked best, and copied the pitch text from them into six documents in Scrivener. And then, violá! I didn't have zero words towards the project done, I had about 300 done. Much easier to get started. Plus the mental shift from needing 2k to needing 300–350 six times. 

Outlines and small chunks. It's how I get moving forward.

Make that All Acceptance

Turns out I DID get that writing assignment from PostHuman Studios, they were just slower than they wanted to be getting back to people. Which, you know, happens. I had actually wondered if the guys were Canadian (and I had forgotten that) given that the original timeline had them working to choose writers over Thanksgiving.  

So, lessons learned so far: 

1) Even when there's a theoretical tight deadline for the writing, assume from the start that it'll take longer for assignments to go out than stated. If the folks assigning projects meet their goal, it'll be a nice surprise. 

2) Don't send 'hey guys, if you have time, how could I improve my pitches to you for the future' emails until actual rejection (I'll count hearing through other sources that assignments have gone out as rejections). Or a month. A month seems reasonable.  Just thinking this writing as a business thing through, as best I can.

3) When looking at your schedule and personal capacity to write (and meet stated deadlines) when deciding whether or not to pitch, look at your schedule under the assumption they'll get back to you later than they think they will.

I mean, unless this particular company has a reputation for being very, very good at time management and getting back to their freelancers quickly.  

I'm fine in terms of my own time management and the first & final draft deadlines, but partially that's because I already wasn't traveling for the winter holiday. So, as part of that thinking through writing as a business, I'm just seeing how it could have been a problem. 

Time, as they say, to put my nose to the grindstone and get 2,000 words out. Wish me luck guys!

Rejection and Acceptance

As expected, I was not selected by PostHumans Studios for this project.

Well, I'm assuming that since it is 5 days past the day they said assignments would go out, a first draft would be due in four days, and I haven't heard from them. It's not unexpected, nor was I counting on getting it for any reason, but you know. It would have been really cool if I had. Any way, I've tossed my pitch email into my writing group to be savagely torn apart so the next one will be better. 

On the acceptance side, I've got four (oh gods...) freelancing contracts lined up — one writing and three editing. Two (the writing and an editing) are in the Red Markets universe, which always makes me excited. One was contingent on a Kickstarter making, which it did, so now I'll be editing goblins having crazy adventures in a post-apocalypse, post-human world — 'ooooh, what's this do?' BOOM 'I'm okay!' 'You lost a leg! That'll take a week to regrow!' — in January after the last of the play testing wraps up over the holidays. The last one is really the most tentative contract as it too is contingent on a Kickstarter, which hasn't started yet, making its goal. If it makes, it's not on the plate until January either but I'm hopeful and looking forward to space adventures.

Making a Pitch

So my favorite RPG system, Eclipse Phase, the one that got me to find my favorite Podcast that prompted me to start writing, got me my first editing job, find my writer circle, and led to this blog (among other things), yeah that RPG? The publishers put out a call for proposals to write for a booklet (on plot hooks) in the upcoming second edition.

I missed the tweet initially, but someone in my writers circle saw it and asked the group if anyone planned to submit a proposal (because we're all capital-N Nerds about RPGs), which got it on my radar. 

Guys, I did it! I sent in my proposal yesterday! I don't talk much about my self-doubts about my writing here because, honestly?, I cope with them by ruthlessly ignoring them, but they do exist. Mostly around trying to get published/paid. If I'm writing something for my own amusement or just to share here on the blog, no shame, no trouble showing other folks. Heck, very little trouble dealing with solicited critique. Haven't gotten any unsolicited critique so far, so we'll see how that goes down, if it ever happens. 

But the second I think to submit something cfor publication/money? Man. AGONIZING over the email submission. Poking Partner to read my email for mistakes/error/social blunders. Staring at the send button. It's no fun.  

But this weekend I came up with 12 plot hooks/ideas for the setting that I'm happy with, distilled them down to one sentence pitches, added a couple opening and closing lines to the email and sent it off. Even got a short 'receipt acknowledged' email back from the developers this morning. (Well it was sent last night after I went to bed, so I saw it this morning.)

I'm just... happy with myself for following through on this and pitching. If (if, if, if) I get this job, it'll be my first writing credit for something I pitched. And that's really exciting.

Wish me luck guys! I'll find out on Thursday. 

A Writing Experiment and Some World Building Thoughts

In the long list of writing prompts I've saved or created for myself is using the pronunciation guide to words as an alternate version of written English. Initially I thought about writing something and then translating it into the pronunciation version. But then I realized I don't have a particular setup I think would benefit from this translation. So there's no reason I can't take something I've already written, translate, and see if anything interesting comes out.

Three short sentences I wrote at the end of a post from the very, very early days of this blog on the left, pronunciation version on the right. I'm using Merriam-Webster for the pronunciation guide here.

(')ō 'wel. 'fərst 'dräft 'är 'shit af-tər 'ȯl. 'tīm 'tü 'get 'bak 'tü -'rī-tiŋ.

Oh well. First drafts are shit after all. Time to get back to rewriting.

First thing I noticed — boy is it a pain looking up pronunciations word-by-word. Glad I decided to go with some short sentences. Second things is that this system feels, to my Western, English-speaking, non-linguist butt, like a pictogram system for sounds. One image (the letter and any diacritical marks) means one and only one sound. In contrast to English letters where the pronunciation changes based on surrounding letters. I mean, the second version is going to be more flexible and we'll get more words out of fewer symbols. But imagine if various languages actually used the same alphabet/pictogram system based on pronunciation of the sounds. You wouldn't have to learn how to pronounce a new word. You would learn how to speak a language as fast as you learned vocabulary and grammar.

Seems like it'd be a good idea for a lingua franca or trade language.

The Weather Report

"And now for the weather on Mars."

"Thanks Sigrid. Well, looks like the communities down in Maja Valles better hunker down, because they've got an amber skies dust-storm baring down on them. After that, the rain storm the latest mishap with the orbital reflectors generated will be slamming into them. So make sure those environmental seals are working right folks. You've got two days I'm afraid.

In good news, the wind currents in the new atmosphere have been holding steady — the observer balloons from NASA, CNSA, and ESA have all remained up and in their expected flight paths. Folks out in the Hesperia Planum should be able to catch sight of the ESA contingent tomorrow. The engineers are asking for everyone to send in any photographs they catch of the balloons, tag them @ESA, or #hesperiaballoon on the network — they're hoping y'all will catch any damage the onboard sensors have missed.

And finally, the first outdoor crops of soil fixers have taken hold over in Tharsis Montes. The agri-guys over there are estimating a minimum of a three year pilot study before the fixers are available to the public. They sure did emphasis I needed to mention that's three Martian years folks, not Earth years.

This has been Elnur Anastasio with your weather update. Stay safe and watch out for dust devils everyone."

About that schedule...

I did say I was hoping to start updating regularly and on-time again... Obviously failed that, but I really want to do an unboxing video of the book I edited for my next post and well, that's going to take a little time seeing as 1) I need Partner to play camera-man and 2) I've never done one before so I have no idea how long I'll need to fight with SquareSpace to upload a video.

Tl;dr version: Look for a video as my next blog post either Friday or Monday.

Thank you everyone for your patience

The Stabby Knife of Healing

The Stabby Knife of Healing

Wonderous Item, Weapon, Common

Despite the pleas of many herbalists, druids, mages, and artificers, these items are known in the common vernacular as ‘that stabby thing that heals you’ or ‘the stabby knife of healing’. Typically short and thin, these knifes are clearly designed for close, delicate work, having almost no reach and a small actual blade. Although commonly found on many healer’s persons or in their workshops, very few are available to non-healers. The blacksmiths capable of work this delicate are few and far between and those with the skills tend not to jeopardize their working relationships with the mages who enchant the final product by selling it to non-healers or allowing a non-enchanted version onto the market.

Several adventurers have obtained an artifact of this variety without awareness of its properties and been surprised when the secondary effect went off. Some of them even survived this revelation.

These knives inflict 1d3 cutting damage on a successful attack, followed by 1d6 damage being healed. The writer is unaware at this time how healers are reported to avoid the first infliction of damage on their patients.


Hey all, sorry for disappearing for a week. I've been battling some writer's block and time management... stuff. Trying to recalibrate and get back on the writing habit. So, here's hopefully the first of my next streak of unbroken on-time blog posts. I'm aiming for oh... at least six months. Hope you enjoy this one.

Harford, March 11th — At 6 o’clock, the electric lights’ harsh glow in Mr. B---’s stately town home drawing room was diffused through the glamour rendering the room like the grounds at his estates in L--- County. At 6:01, several ruffians of the anarchist Radical Truth Brigade had overpowered Mr. B---’s staff and detonated a spirit bomb underneath the drawing room. This reporter is sadly obliged to say that many young ladies and not a few of the men present were thus unmasked as practitioners of glamourist vanities.

The men were most egregious is their usage, everyone thus unmasked hiding faces running to paunch, between 10 and 15 years of aging, scars, missing teeth, and in one memorable case, a missing eye. The collective shock of so many prominent men unmasked from the vanity of projecting virility no longer in their possession quite distracted the crowd from the young ladies for several moments.

Once the crowd’s attention turned to the young ladies, this reporter observed that most of the ladies thus unmasked were practitioners of the feminine art of subtlety, having used and lost no more from their glamours as from their make-up cases. Several had chosen to dress-up their sartorial choices, but again dear readers, they seem to have done no more with their weaves of glamour than a skilled lady with a needle and good thread could do.

No, dear readers, the shock of the night came upon viewing the unmasking of the notorious blue-stockings and agitators for ‘female emancipation’ Miss A--- and Mrs. C---

Dear readers, once the glamours of the night were removed, they were revealed as stunning examples of feminine beauty. Graceful of arm and neck, fair of skin, and, in Mrs. C---’s case, stunning blue eye color.

Miss A--- granted me the favor of a brief interview on her way to her carriage under the condition that I quote her completely. Condition agreed to, I asked her why she chose to appear to society in her typical plain manner, bespectacled no less (said spectacles having disappeared with the glamours). Her answer, and true to my word, cited here in its entirety: “You try being most improperly propositioned at age twelve because your bosom has begun growing and see what you value.”

Miss A--- did not vouchsafe me the name of the cad who so accosted her seven years ago.