State of Gaming and Other Projects

It's the last blog post of 2016, so I'm going to do a look back all my stuff for the year. At a minimum, it'll help me fix in my memory the fun stuff that I did.

Seeing as this is a Thursday post and therefore technically a gaming blog post, I'll start off with the gaming podcast I'm on: Technical Difficulties. We launched at the end of March 2016 and as of Dec. 29th (knock on wood), have yet to miss an update! We've completed two campaigns and are in the middle of both playing and releasing a third, as well as 17 episodes of one shot scenarios. Lots of multi-part one shots... Had an interview with Caleb of Hebanon Games, a couple bonus post-mortem episodes on our campaigns, and talked about Gen Con for an episode too. Played in eleven different RPG systems (good grief), three of which were play-tests: Red Markets, Upwind, and The Veil (which, honestly, I don't think we're going to release those two episodes; system was not our speed). All in all, we've released 52 episodes in roughly nine months and have 9 episodes in the backlog. Pretty good for our first year!

Speaking of Red Markets, I've just totaled the word count of what I've edited on this project so far: 235,108. Wow. I just... It doesn't seem like quite as much when you work with it in sections (with each section under its own contract). And the sections get shorter and shorter as Caleb realizes just how many pages its going to take to print everything. There's still a fourth section being written that I'll get to edit. I did my best to trim down the first two sections — pulled 4k and 2k out them. But this third one, I finally asked point blank for a word count Caleb needs to keep the entire book under the planned page count.

He needs me to trim a 64K word section down to 50K, or the fourth section is going to have to be severely cut down. I'm doing my best: pulled out 4K so far. But we'll have to see how close I can get to 50K. It's good to have ambitious goals, right?

I also got to do some writing for Red Markets! When y'all get the finished product, check out the d100 encounters table. I wrote 33 of those. :)

Also in 2016 Red Markets work, the con packet has gone out for play testing.  Tom, Partner, and I did meet our goals of having something runnable for Gen Con and WashinCon. We all ran at least one game at both of those conventions, for a reasonable mix of people who already knew of the system and folks who'd never heard of it before. We got some good feedback, refined some of the text, wrote the text we'd previously skipped (because we knew the information in our heads) in favor of time, and generally expanded actual explanations and GM tools. Thanks to Caleb's monthly updates to the Red Markets Kickstarter backers, we opened up a play test to run this packet for folks who hadn't written the packet. So far, we've handed the packet out to 123 people and already gotten 14 responses. Which is just amazing to me. Did have to turn one dude down — he wanted to get the packet so he could read up on the game before a friend of his ran it at a convention. I think the line was 'so I can mess with [GM] when they run it.' Not cool dude, not cool. Told him we preferred clean runs of the game and looked forward to hearing from [GM] with feedback. We are cutting off handing out the packet on Dec. 31st and asking for all feedback to be in by the end of Feb. 2017. So there's my project time in March planned out.

Speaking of project time, I have finally started making time for my personal writing again! I've started doing drabbles for my Monday posts and I'm finding them to be a) really fun and b) good exercise in letting go and writing without a plan. Now to work on consistently writing more than three or four hundred words. And describing things, instead of relying on the visual I'm using for inspiration to do it for me. Also, the fourth draft of my novel project is in the works. I'm excited for this draft — it should close up a couple plot loopholes and add depth to a couple characters. Hurray useful critiques!

Speaking of critiquing, I was part of a critiquing circle through Scribophile this year. I guess it was like a writing circle? Any rate, there were four of us and we all gave each other beta reads. Scheduling was interesting since we had folks from three different US time zones and one lady in France. Any rate, that was helpful in that I got some specific feedback (although Caleb's is playing a bigger part in this fourth draft of the novella) and worked on my critiquing skills more. Also my ability to express "uh... this is a problem," tactfully. Explaining that someone had accidentally written colonialism and racism into their epic fantasy aiming for anti-racism was tricky.

Finally, I also signed a contract to edit a second RPG project! They approached me! I'm so excited. I haven't actually gotten clearance from them to talk about it in public, so I'm not going to say the name. But I hope I'll be able to talk about it more in 2017.

Oh, yeah, I also kept up a posting schedule here and on my Tumblr :D 

On the personal front, it's been a reasonably good year. For everything else Fuck 2016.

Happy New Year everybody. May the next year be better than the last.

More Red Markets Editing

So the capitalization guide has been enforced. All "--"s have been turned into "—"s (I don't know why those bother me so much!) Most spelling issues have been fixed or noted as something to come back to (mostly names which will need to be check against themselves for consistency). All major blocks of green "Microsoft thinks your grammar is wrong" have been looked at and mostly involved telling Microsoft to knock it off. Every it's, its, two, and too has been checked. 

I'm now on the 509th 'to' out of 1280. So far one has been altered. 

I seriously think I need to shuffle the order of my proofing hit-list. Right now it's in "what order did I think of it" order. Which in a lot of ways translates to how ofter I've made those errors in my own writing. One or two are from internet articles of common writing mistakes/typos that I've looked at and gone "yes, I need to include checking that when I edit."

So I think I want to reorganize this list. More or less reverse the current order, so the least common issues will be at the top of the list and the most common at the bottom. This way I'll get the easy mental boost of checking off a completed number on the list early in the editing process and have all those completed sub-tasks when I start the 'to' grind.

Everyone always has a lot of 'to's in their writing. Not that I've looked for conjugations of 'be' in writing, but at this point I could (crankily) believe that 'to' shows up more often than 'be'. (::grumble, grumble::)


Now seems as good a time to talk about self-care as any, seeing as I basically took all of last week off for that. Not the day job — couldn't get away with not going to the day job — but there was no writing or editing in the works last week. I avoided my news sources as much as I could, played video games, and practiced a lot of deep breathing.

Self-Care, a definition by the author: the act of focusing specifically on things, actions, and other stuff that make you feel better about yourself and your life. Focusing on doing what you need before work, projects, or other folks.

Why self-care is a good things is, at least in the abstract, so obvious to me that I tend to have trouble articulating why. It's... like the breathing masks in airplanes. You have to have oxygen before you can help someone else because if you don't, you could pass out in the middle of helping them and then you'd both be doomed. You have to have your head in at least a semi-functional state, or how could you produce any work? Or at minimum, at a rate that would be useful? Or of a quality that wouldn't necessitate going back and redoing it.

On the one hand, I was 'lucky' in that the need for self-care was so apparent (to me) after a very specific event (US election — last I'm saying about that). So I didn't end up spending time flailing at my writing or editing, not making progress or doing bad work. Not making progress (otherwise known as flailing) would have made me even more anxious. Which is the opposite of needed or wanted. Bad work would have involved losing time (overall) since I'd need to put in more work to fix it. Or I'd end up with bad work in the finished project, which is always undesirable.

On the other hand, specific events requiring self-care afterwards are kinda shocking and rather upsetting. I wouldn't say traumatic (in this case), but that's because I'm doing the thing where I say other folks have it worse than I do (which is true) so I'm consciously toning down the implications of the words I'm choosing.

And I get on my author's case for 40 word sentences.

Any rate. The first thing I did was contact the author I'm editing the latest project for and said "I'm going to need a few days to get my head on straight." Which, 1) was just the right thing to do, have to communicate with your boss; 2) a contractual obligation (which I honestly think should be a standard part of any contract); and 3) worked out great since the response I got back was "yeah, me too."

Next thing was to try out a new video game, one I thought would require a lot of focus and thus allow me to shut out the rest of the world. So I'm playing Duskers. To quote the developers in their sales pitch: "Pilot drones into derelict spaceships to find the means to survive and piece together how the universe became a giant graveyard." It's fun and frustrating — the drones are controlled through a command line interface; whee!

Third thing was using the three day weekend (Veterans' Day on Friday) to the best of my abilities. Which meant sleeping in, having relaxing mornings, seeing friends on Saturday, and getting lots of chores done on Sunday. Which is not how I'd expect most other folks to do self-care. But, doing chores around my home allowed me to impose my idea of order on my personal space. So that's helpful.

Oh, and I started reading The Unreal and The Real: The Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin.

For me (and I fully expect everyone's self-care to look different) distraction, imposing order, and reading formed the core of my self-care plan. Distraction got me to stop continually thinking about what was upsetting me. See, my brain likes to try and make plans to deal or work around 'the problem.' But when the problem is something that I don't have enough information to deal with or it's just going to take time, then the Hamster Wheel of Despair(tm) comes into play. The Hamster Wheel is my brain continuously grinding away on one thought track without making any progress towards a solution; sometimes it is itself the actual problem. So that's when I need to break my brain out of that thought pattern by distraction for at least a few hours. Sometimes concentrating on deep breathing will break a Hamster Wheel in the making. If I catch it early enough. Imposing order on my home through chores lets me feel like I have some control over my life. Also I like the visuals of stuff being put away better, so it makes for more pleasant surroundings. 

The reading just makes me happy. I haven't been reading for pleasure enough (it's never enough...) this year. Starting a new book by an author I love just feels good.

How do y'all deal with your own Hamsters?

On to the next

So I turned in my final version of the GM section of Red Markets last Monday (a day early I might add), and had a signed contract for the history/setting section by Thursday. 😃

I did manage to pull the GM section's word count under 70k — 69,953 to be precise. So that made me happy. But I am definitely ready to not look at the GM section again for at least a month. I'm reasonably sure I've got part of the d100 table memorized. And not any of the entries I wrote either.

So the setting section. This contract is working a little differently than the previous two. The Player's section and the GM's section were complete before Caleb and I had the contracts for those in place. Which let us have exact numbers of words I was responsible for editing, which could also be handed off to me in one file.

The setting section is still being written.

First, let me be clear — that's completely reasonable to me. I have no idea when Caleb started migrating the setting information from his brain to paper, but I'm confident it was after he had a game put together. So you know, after he'd already written over 163K words of rules. Second, not only does he have a day job, but he's also doing the project manager thing on the Red Markets book, in addition to writing.

So this contract, for the first time, has a cap on how many words it covers. I don't know if having a ceiling on his word count is going to be motivating or restraining for Caleb, but the possibility of having to write, edit, proof, and get signed a second contract sure would be for me. What can I say, minor annoyances can motivate some hard goal setting for myself.

Meanwhile, I've got the "History of the Crash" section in hand to edit while Caleb finishes up the setting part. 

And I am in love with the narrator's voice.

I got fourteen pages in before my inner editor finally kicked hard enough that I did my usual first step of enforcing the capitalization guide. (And before anyone asks, it was the double dashes where there should be em-dashes that did it. 1) I blame Scrivener's export function and 2) good grief am I nerd.) I love her sass, I love how unflinching she is, and I love her nerdiness. I was already excited about being involved in publishing Red Markets, but I am so looking forward to Gnat making it out into the wild.

Normally I don't get political on this blog. But if you're in the US and eligible, please, for the love of everything you hold holy, get the fuck out there and VOTE on Tuesday. More importantly, VOTE FOR HILLARY CLINTON. And all the down-ballot races.

All the Editing

I am coming up on a deadline for editing the current section of Red Markets I'm under contract for. This is the GM's section and I am currently fighting to bring it under 70K words. As of writing this post, I've only got 232 more words to shave off to meet that goal. Which by the way, was not one set by Caleb. His line, I believe, was 'cut as much as possible' — I'm the one trying to hit a specific word count. 

I've gone from cutting an entire sidebar (about four paragraphs), to pulling sentences, to rephrasing clauses because the rephrased version uses one or two words less. I've read and reread this section so many times I think I've started to memorize passages. The other day I had to use the search function to check if a topic had already been mentioned, because the information's been in my head so long I just can't remember ordering anymore. 

You know that thing when you write and you've written a draft and written another draft and rewritten your story so many times, you're not sure what actually happens in your finished story and what ended up cut? I'm hitting that as an editor. ... I may be just a wee bit neurotic about making enough passes.

I do think the editing down is going to have been easier on this section than the next one up for contract. Next up is going to be in-universe fiction, instead of the primarily rules-based technical writing of the GM's section. And while I'm going to really enjoy the fiction, I find it more ambiguous when to cut words in fiction. Technical writing, the question to ask is 'does this bit of writing support teaching the rule?' Fiction, I think the question is going to be 'does this passage support the feel of the game the author is going for?' And based on his writing so far, the answer is always going to be yes.

Eh, maybe I'm borrowing trouble. Maybe I'm borrowing the wrong trouble, too — going to be moving further into killing the author's darlings with fiction after all. 

Either way, it'll be fun.

Post WashingCon, The Writing Side of the Packet

WashingCon was a lot of fun – I’m really impressed by the amount of stuff they could pull together and how well everything worked in only their second year of existence. On a more personal level, Partner, Tom, and I ask had successful play test sessions, to one degree or another. Partner and Tom both had full groups on the first day; I had two drop outs (one of whom was good enough to email me the night before) on the second day, which happens. It's the second day, folks get tired and occasionally flaky. Any rate, I still had four players which was more than enough for the scenarios to work.

I think the scenarios themselves are ready. Any further refinements to how long they take to run are going to have to come from the GM’s style in running games (in my opinion). And making sure you actually have a four hour slot to run everything in. I might want to add the stop and leg I took out of the caravan route back into that scenario, but only with a caveat to the GM to only include it if you have players familiar with the system and don't need to teach rules.

So I think the most gains we're going to make are going to come from working on the player's Quick Start rules and advice to new GMs sections. At minimum, the Quick Start needs to go through another draft. And we need to write the advice section at all. As a group we had skipped that part of the packet before Gen Con and WashingCon because all the of us have SOME experience GMing. In Red Markets even.

The Quick Start, despite needing another draft to my mind, is in pretty good shape. It helps to be able to copy/paste sections from the full text. It's just a challenge of cutting down appropriately. And not losing all of the system flavor in getting to the bones of the rules.

Since the goal is 10-15 pages of rules that simultaneously sell new folks in the setting and flavor, it's rather like trying to write 10-15 of ad copy that is ALSO technical writing. Which is bloody tricky. And why I'm so glad I just need to edit down to it, rather than build it up in writing.

Now I understand why folks like co-writing

One of the projects I have going(? it's on the back burner? something something) is a novelization of a scenario from Roleplaying Public Radio (I'd prefer not to say which one precisely until there is a release date - in a lot of ways, it's not going to feel real until then). And the other day I got to have a sit down with the author of the scenario (Caleb) for his reaction to my current draft.

First, you know, YAY! I really respect Caleb as an author and a GM, I know how much work he's got going on with his own projects and day job, and he still took the time to look over my stuff. So that's cool.

Second, thank gods there's somebody around who can draw my laconic ass out. The man writes "book length response" emails, which let me tell you, are the most useful critiques I've ever gotten. I mean yeah, it helps that he knows the backstory I didn't manage to include, having written it in the first place. And having an MFA in creative writing can't hurt.

But damn these suggestions will tighten up the plot and give at least two, probably three characters a lot more depth.

"[But I want this to be your story,] not a story with my exact suggested changes," he says.

Maybe if you didn't suggest a way out of a minor plot hole, cut a link out of the coincidence chain, fix a player being psychotic/sociopathically stupid, gave another character more to do than trail their boss like a good enforcer, fixed who got a core clue so it makes sense in character, and made it more noir, then? ;D

So I'm all sorts of excited to work on this project again. Just as soon as I prep for running an Eclipse Phase scenario at GenCon, finish editing the parts of Red Markets currently on my plate, get back from GenCon, pack up our apartment, AND move. You know, just got those things to take care of first.

This is when I wish I was better at juggling multiple writing projects at once.

Going cross-eyed over here

I think I never want to write a 'to' again...

So I've finished an editing pass on the player's section of Red Markets focused on cutting words. Started with 98,304 on June 27th, finished up a couple days ago (July 8th) having got it down to 95,115. Three thousand may not seem like much (it's about 3% of the original), but I'm pretty pleased. To get substantially more, I'd have to start throwing out ideas and complete rules sets. Major no-no, that would be.

Twelve days to work through 98K words feels pretty good. I did this first pass by really grinding away at the sentence structure level, until about halfway through something clicked in my brain and I could see the sentences and occasional paragraph that should come out. The two examples I could condense down into one. Things like that. I mean, I was also copy-editing for the misplaced commas and whatnot at the time, so a sentence level focus feels right. But a second pass is definitely in order, this time with that willingness to yank sentences I developed in the first pass.

Directly after finishing up the first pass, I started making these shorter passes looking for specific things. And by shorter passes, I mean I used the find/replace function to step through the document to only look at specific words. Passes I did:
'It's vs. its'
'Affect vs. effect'
'Numbers vs. digits'
'There, their, and they're'
'Your vs. you're'
'Hear vs here'
'We're, were, and where'
A pass to double check the instances of 'will' future tense
and the one that really made me go cross-eyed:

'Too, two, and to'

'Too' and 'two' weren't so bad. But do you know how many 'to's there were in 98K words?? 3122. Three thousand, one hundred, and twenty-two. And I touched/laid eyes on every. single. one. You know how many needed to be cut or changed?


Copy-editing == a neurotic drive towards perfectionism. Oy gevalt. 


The editorial meeting when the author and I discuss my proposals is going to be interesting. I'm going to be advocating moving an entire section from the player's section to the game master's section. Also advocating for a reordering of a major section of mechanics (negotiations). And defending a couple subsection reorderings I just went ahead and did.

Text isn't great about conveying the presence or absence of sarcasm, but I want to be perfectly clear: I really am looking forward to that meeting and debating those changes. 

Pretty sure that means I'm in the right job. 

About that Editing Thing

Editing the player's section of Red Markets has been my primary focus for a couple of weeks now, but I felt like I needed to ramp it up with the Kickstarter winding down (1448 backers! whoo!). Which got me to wrap of the clarity pass last Sunday (the 19th, not the 26th) and enforcing the style guide on Saturday (the 25th).

First, thank goodness for control+F.

Second, thank goodness for Find and Replace.

Look, I don't know how copy editors did this before the age of computers without going insane. By the time I finished enforcing capitalization choices with these lovely tools, my eyes were crossing to the point that 'upkeep' looked funny. I don't know what it was, but putting a 'p' and a 'k' next to each other just made the word look wrong. Somehow. I did eventually figure out that was the correct spelling. I'm just saying, I can't imagine going through a physical document line-by-line, red pen in one hand and a copy of the project style guide in the other. I think my eyes would slide over so many things...

So, salutes to the copy editors of yore and everyone who still works that magic by hand.

Now that I've got the ten pages of style guide (three and a half of which are just what gets capitalized and what doesn't), I'm on to the hard pass – trimming the word count down. It's the hard pass because the author is bloody good at this whole writing thing. Which means that thoughts build up on each other from each sentence. And there's very few obvious digressions within a sentence to cut out. Which is, you know, an extremely good problem to have – I'll enjoy going over this thing line-by-line because I'll like what I'm reading.

Won't prevent me from going a little cross-eyed on the third read-through, looking for another couple hundred words to cut. But I'll enjoy it.

Last push on the Red Markets Kickstarter

So by the time this goes up, the project I've been editing in all of my spare time since late May, the Red Markets Kickstarter, will have less than two days before it wraps up. As of this writing, the 60K stretch goal has been unlocked so we're going to get the Gaming the System Guide – Caleb’s part design analysis, part advice document on how to make the Profit system drive other settings.

Now, this being my Monday post which is my writing day, I know y'all are mostly here for that side of things, but please do check out the Kickstarter. Even if you've never played a role-playing game, I think this is a good system to check out the hobby with. And it's a great system for exploring a variety of stories in an economically scarce setting.

As I've said, I’m the editor on this project. And, as much as this makes my health-economics trained partner despair, a solid chunk of my reasoning behind signing onto the project was “ooooh, I’ll get to see the rules sooner.” Yup, unabashed nerd. Which is honestly how I got this job.

So Caleb Stokes, the author, offered up a previous version of the rules for play testing to the Role Playing Public Radio community last summer. I'd heard discussions about the system and the setting and so rather wanted to play. Buuuut, I didn't have a group I thought I could talk into playing just then (or meet regularly enough to provide decent play testing notes). But I really wanted to at least read the rules. Maybe I could provide feedback from just reading the rules? That wouldn't really help with how things got played, which was (presumably) what Caleb really needed. Oh, I know! I'll copy edit the whole thing!!

And somehow, it never occurred to me to stop that project when I found out the beta rules version was 250+ pages (in Microsoft Word). Nor when I found an online gaming group who wanted to play Red Markets.

So yeah, I copy edited 250+ pages. Because I thought that was a fair trade for getting to read Caleb's intellectual property for free. So I emailed that off. And a week or so later, I got an email back.

"Would you be interested in some paid work on the next draft?"


And that's how I got on my first RPG editing job. :D

On to Editing

With half the votes, Poor Private Collins is my next writing project. Hurray small sample sizes! (Seriously, with four votes, two people got to decide what I'll write next.)

So, I thought I'd have a week or two between when the last post went up and editing Red Markets would get started. But uh, well. No. Caleb is a smart project manager and sent me a contract for building the project style guide pretty much as soon as he caught his breath from the pledges blasting through his goal. On day one of the Kickstarter. :) 

The project style guide is done and hopefully in use by a freelancer or two by now. As for me, I'm on to editing the player's section of the core book. Roughly 98K words in this section, which comes out to 195 pages in Word. I've got a day job so most of the work on this project has been happening during my lunch break (and whatever time I can squeeze out after dinner). With that consideration, I'm quite pleased to be on page 94 at this point. Less pleased that I'd intended this pass to be the 'kill-your-darlings' pass and it's turning into the clarity check. (Kill-your-darlings is a phrase at least a few writers I know use for taking out those lovely turns of phrase which have made it through iteration upon iteration of writing but don't work so well anymore, because all the surrounding text has changed.) A clarity pass is absolutely necessary to be sure, but wouldn't it'd be more effective to check for clarity after cutting text? Oh well, I knew there'd be multiple passes through this document.

Time to ignore some household chores and devote more time to editing. Aiming to get through the gear list in the next day or two. 

Getting ready to run a game

We’re going to be recording some play tests of new RPG systems for the next couple of sessions over at Technical Difficulties and I’m on tap as the GM next session. New, successfully kickstarted, Powered-by-the-Apocalypse cyberpunk system - the cyberpunk is why I’m the GM, this being more my wheelhouse than anyone else’s. So we finalized our recording schedule last session, namely last Saturday. Which gives me one week to read a new system and come up with a scenario... Okay. I got this. I swear.

First thought: Gibson. Shamelessly steal plot from Gibson. Try Burning Chrome. Short stories will be faster to reread and it’s only going to be a 2 or 3 hour session. Novel plot will take longer.

Second thought: Does this system have a quickstart guide? Yes, they do? Glory be, that should make life easier.

::starts reading::

Third thought: ... SHUT UP EDITOR BRAIN!

So yeah, apparently I can’t read this system without wanting to edit all the things. To do both developmental and copy editing. I'm gonna claim that since I sat down to read it as part of a play test, my mind was already in editing/critique mode about the rules. Yes, I know editing is not the same thing as looking at rules with a critical eye. I know this. Really. But… yeah, sticking with my story here.

I'm not saying I think this is a bad system. I know the fundamentals of how the rules work are going to be solid, I've used this engine before (Monster Hearts uses the Powered by the Apocalypse engine too). The experience mechanics look interesting and certainly focus the game in a particular direction. It's just...

Cyberpunk systems are crunchy systems, you know? The tech is important to creating the feel of cyberpunk and maybe it's that I've just never tried a more narrative cyberpunk system before, but I'm having trouble seeing how a collection of tags to describe equipment is going to create that lived-in technology feel.

Rather my job as the GM isn't it?

Wish me luck folks. This is going to be the first scenario I've come up with from start to finish, run in a new system, created in less than a week. Deadlines impose creativity!

I'll just keep telling myself that...