Comparisons

The impetus for this post is a document I had the misfortune of seeing at work. There was a section that attempted to relate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to running a distributed software simulation.

Let’s talk about comparisons for a moment. There are several ways I can think of to express a comparisons: similes, metaphors, allegories, analogies. A good comparison is a thing of beauty. It’s elegant and conveys the author’s intent well. A bad comparison leaves the reader at best confused. There are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind if you want to craft a good comparison.

Points of Similarity and Difference

Every analogy breaks down at some point. You can’t map everything in an example from one to another (usually). Some of the most tragically humorous things I’ve read involve trying to find a one to one mapping from one thing to another. (Game designers take note, hacking a system can lead to this if you’re not careful. I’ve been guilty of it myself.) When you use an analogy, make sure you understand where these points of similarity and difference are. This is less of a concern with similes and metaphors, but it’s still possible to come up with weak writing due to carelessness. Taking the time to come up with a good comparison shows respect both to your idea and to your reader. A good simile is like a mental image; something that engages your reader’s mind immediately and intuitively. It puts you and your reader on the same page. Without that foundation, you’ll typically find that your readers lose track of what you’re saying.

Authorial Intent

Confession: I love this phrase. I probably love it a bit too much. It’s very important for me as an editor to know why the author uses the words they use. More importantly, it’s vital for you as a writer to know why you’re using the words you’re using. Comparisons are no different. Does the complexity of the topic warrant a comparison of some kind? Are you just trying to whip out your massive vocabulary and impress the reader with it? The former is a good reason; the latter a poor one. Your primary intent should be to communicate effectively. That’s why you’re writing, right? To convey your opinion, your thought, your concept. To spread an idea like wildfire.

Allons-y! Onward, but wield your words responsibly.

 

Inspiration and Iron Edda: Memories

Last night, I was thinking about inspiration. I’m one of the stretch goals for the Iron Edda Kickstarter (you knew that, right? I think I’ve mentioned it before), and I’m already working on it because it’s fun, and I’m enjoying doing it.

It struck me that this is the first time I can remember being able to list the inspirations for the game. Usually, I’m thinking through an idea and have no clue what I’d say if someone asks. Had I published a game before now, the section in the book that gives you recommendations about media to consume that influenced me, it’d be blank.

This seems strange to me. Is it possible that a designer can design without knowing what their specific influences are. I think they can, but I know personally it’s made my designs less clear than I would want them to be. (I can think of one in particular that I’m probably going to have to rewrite.)

So what’s different this time around? It’s a bigger project with a higher word count for one. I’ve got to have a very clear picture of what I want to say and how I want to say it. The vision for that grows out of inspiration.

For example, I said in my developer interview (warning: Youtube link) with Tracy that I wanted the game to have hope with a sense of gravitas. The war with the dwarves continues, and the humans have fled into space. It would be easy to make the game grimdark, but that’s not me. Dealing with heavy themes is fine, but I always want some light to shine through the dark.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Well, what are your inspirations for Iron Edda: Memories?”

Ready for this? I’m cribbing from a lot of stuff. Here’s a bullet list with some stuff as it stands right now.

  • Lady Blackbird’s sense of wonder and adventure
  • Always / Never / Now’s mystery, intrigue, and the dystopian flavor of the setting
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Farscape
  • Firefly / Serenity
  • Doctor Who
  • Spelljammer (yeah, you read that right)

How’s that for an eclectic mix? Some of these inspire me with their themes, others with things that they’ve done with characters or environments. Does it seem like a mad scientist’s concoction? Just call me Dr. Frankenstein, I guess.

Allons-y!

 

Semantics

Today, there was almost a scuffle on the internet. Surprise, surprise. This one in particular revolved around the word inclusive. This word appears to have an inflammatory quality to it (see also: gender, privilege, and many others). I don’t want to rehash any of that particular discussion; I’d like to go a bit meta instead.

I have a thing that I always say, “Words have meaning!” Even when I don’t come out and say that directly, I imply it. I’ve been known to say to coworkers that I got their intent, but their words didn’t convey what they thought they did. I’ve got one coworker in particular that I say this to a lot. He appreciates it, although I’m sure it looks pretty jerky of me to outsiders. But I digress. We use terms to mean certain things (no brainer, right?). But we find very quickly that the way we intend a term is not always what the reader or listener hears. They bring their own interpretation to the table (as do we as the writer / speaker).

It’s easy to forget that, and it’s easy to forget that this is why we need to communicate. By X, do you mean Y, as I understand it? Does this mean conversations take a little longer? Sometimes it does. But sometimes it saves a lot of time because we don’t end up chasing rabbits down forlorn paths that aren’t germane to the discussion at hand. Use a term, define it if you expect people to misunderstand, and then be willing to refine it if necessary.

Then you’ll be communicating, and that’s a good thing.

Allons-y!

 

Impostor Syndrome, Advice, and the RPG Community

Before I get to the main point, let’s cover what Impostor Syndrome is for those who don’t know. Among creatives (artists, game designers, writers, you name it), there is a tendency to worry that you’re not a real artist or game designer or writer or whatever. Most of us struggle with it in some form, regardless of skill level, experience, or others’ opinions.

Having said that, Ryan Macklin posted an excellent post today. In it, he offers encouragement and reveals the lie of this kind of thinking. This plus some discussion in various places prompted some thoughts on advice — and how we respond to it — and the RPG community.

Advice

Giving advice is always a tricky business. We’re all different, a unique blend of experiences and beliefs that make us what we are. No piece of advice is going to be helpful to everyone at every point in their lives. It’s just not. I have a tendency to take advice I hear and put my own spin on it (see my post here) before I give it to someone else. I’ll usually put a caveat on it, like “This has worked for me.”

When presented with advice, you’ve got two basic options: I agree with this, or I disagree with this. If you prefer, you can change that to mostly agree and mostly disagree. If you disagree, it’s far better to say why you disagree and what you’d change. This keeps ideas flowing. It keeps things positive. It shows others that you’re actually thinking about what they said — almost always a good idea when talking with people.

The RPG Community

I keep hearing things about people not feeling like a part of the “community” at large. Let me tell you a personal story. I consider myself to have been in the community for about 2-3 years now. I’m not an unknown, but I don’t have a lot of credits to my name (yet). I have to say that It’s a great community. It has some problems (some very serious) because it’s made up of people. People can suck sometimes. There’s a low bar of entry. It doesn’t take a lot from where I sit to be included, and I say that recognizing I fit the status quo. But I haven’t seen anyone that makes an effort to be a functioning part of the community be denied. I have seen people turned away (which sounds strange to say) for being unwilling to listen or too cocky for their own good, although my memory would fail me if you prompted me for a list.

Twitter and G+ (the lifeblood of the tabletop gaming community in my opinion) are the on-ramp. Find a name on an RPG book you love, and you’ll probably see they have either a G+ account or a Twitter account (sometimes both). Get to know the people whose stuff you’re reading. It doesn’t take much more than listening and firing off a message that says, “Hey, I like this thing you did.” I know that’s hard for some due to various factors. If you’re one of those shy people, I don’t mind doing introductions (I’ve been known to do it before). Just make sure I know you a little bit by interacting. I promise I won’t bite (and neither will anyone else I’ve met so far).

 

On Writing and Guilt

Today, I want to talk about writing and guilt and family. Bear with me, as I’m likely to say things you might not agree with. That’s okay, we all have different experiences and ways of looking at the world.

My good friend, John, wrote a blog post today about Writing and Guilt. You should go read that first. Don’t worry; this post will be here when you get back. Did that? Good.

Let me give some context. I have a day job that’s not writing. I’m a software developer, and it provides very well for my family. Writing and editing and game design are a sideline for me. Sometimes it’s fun, sometime’s it’s not. In general, I enjoy it, and I have a knack for it (or so I think and have been told).

Having said that, let’s start with John’s point about the sense of duty that someone feels to their family. John’s partially right that this is a social construct, but it’s not just a social construct. I think it’s right that you feel a sense of obligation to your spouse and children (regardless of gender of you or your spouse, honestly). Can it be out of balance? Of course it can. We as humans can twist any good desire into something wrong; that’s part of our nature.

I want to be very careful in how I proceed here. I’m about to say something controversial and possible dangerous if taken out of context.

Not all guilt is bad.

Let me be VERY clear. A lot of the time, the guilt we feel is false. This is the kind of guilt that John is talking about. In my view, guilt is a good time to stop and consider the source of the guilt. It might be that you’re worrying when you shouldn’t. But it might be that you’ve taken this desire to an extreme to the detriment of your family.

So what do you do? You talk to your spouse or significant other (SO). Find out how they perceive the situation. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if your guilt is right or wrong, but your SO should be able to give you insight and their perception of the situation. That’s part of their responsibility as your spouse / SO.

So you’ve determined that your guilt is well-founded. What do you do now? You can shift your priorities. Find time to write that doesn’t impact your family. Maybe it’s staying up later, or getting up earlier. The solution will have to be unique to your situation.

What if your guilt isn’t well-founded? Drop the guilt. Follow John’s advice.

I’ll close with an expanded version of my quote.

“If writing is important to you, then find time to do it, whenever that might be.” -Jeremy Morgan

2013 Recap

Recap posts appear to be a thing, so I thought I’d take the opportunity and be one of the sheeple. I am not afflicted with nostalgia; in fact, I have a really hard time reminiscing about the past. With that in mind, let’s review what all happened in 2013, shall we?

Mental Illness (Which I Don’t Talk A Lot About)

Mental illness is one of those topics that gets a lot of play in creative circles, including tabletop game design. I’m in a slightly different position than most, though. I myself do not struggle with mental illness. However, my wife has bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed in late 2011 and involved hospitalization. Most of 2012 was taken up stabilizing her, and this year has been the first year in our almost decade together that she has thrived. It’s been amazing to see, and I’m as proud of her as a husband can be.

Tabletop

This past year was a great year for me in regards to the tabletop hobby. Late in the year, I decided I was going to go to Metatopia. I’d been planning to go for the last two years, but circumstances prevented it. I even upped the ante: I was going to pay for the plane ticket with actual freelance gigs.

I’m happy to say I made this goal. I got to do more than I would have thought possible in the span of two months. I edited my first two projects, the Fate Core Character Journal (kickstarted successfully and one I need to double-check current status of) and Heroine of Heian-Kyo (which is currently in layout). I enjoy editing very much, and it’s something I will do more of 2014.

In the same time frame, I got to do my first actual writing gig, a short story for the “Trust Me” anthology to accompany the Doll RPG (another successful Kickstarter). The final story of the anthology is currently in editing, so I expect this to come sometime soon in 2014.

Metatopia was an amazing convention run by amazing people (big shout out to Avonelle and Vinny!), and I felt so at home there even without my wife and child with me. I will definitely be going back, maybe this time with a designer badge. Oh, and I have to thank John Adamus for letting me crash at his house so I wouldn’t have to pay for the hotel stay.

Although I was a bit passive-aggressive (how’s that for some brutal honesty?) about it initially, Quinn was a stand-up guy and allowed me to come onboard his Schism project and do some writing and design work for it. I’m hoping it’ll be coming soon, but I’d honestly rather see him finish Five Fires first.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ve got two projects lined up for 2014 already. One is the Iron Edda mega-project coming to Kickstarter in just two short weeks as of this posting. You’ve probably already heard me talk about it, and you’ll definitely be hearing more in the weeks to come. The second is a supplement / rules hack for Rosemont Bay (yep, another Kickstarter).

2013 was the year I also shelved some personal projects. Night’s Black Masquerade is done as far as I’m concerned. I’m no longer interested in pursuing it any further. It was a good thing to get my design brain engaged, and I needed it as a stepping stone. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll also notice that Planescape 4E is dead in the water, too. It was the first design work I ever did, and it (and Planescape in general) still hold a dear place in my heart. It’s possible I might revisit some of it in another system (13th Age, maybe?), but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Before I forget, I also had the opportunity to work on converting Farewell to Fear over to Pathfinder. It’s a project I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t finished, and I need to do it, both because I said I would, and Filamena deserves better than what she’s gotten from me.

Several paragraphs later, and I see I am truly blessed to have worked on so much in such a little amount of time. The trust each person has extended to me — a relative newcomer in game design — is both awe-inspiring and gratitude-inducing. I hope to continue to be someone that produces high-quality work reliably.

Gender Issues

Oddly enough, 2013 was the year that I became more aware of gender issues. This stems from two sources. The first is my amazing daughter (who turns five today). I strive to teach her to be herself, regardless of what that means. Pink isn’t her favorite color. She likes superheroes. Dresses she can do without, but she likes having her fingernails painted.

The second is a collection of wonderful people in the gaming community that defy gender normalization in their own unique ways. People like Tracy Barnett and Joe McDaldno keep me honest when it’s easy for me to forget that gender is anything but simple.

In Closing

So much has happened this year that I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. I haven’t even begun to name all of the amazing people that I’ve met and interacted with. If you want to know more about any of my current or upcoming projects, I can certainly point you to more information. And, if you need an editor, a freelance writer, or a freelance game designer, let’s talk! I want to help with your project if I can.

Allons-y!

 

A Quick Rant about Stories and Emotions

I need to let my editor voice rant for a bit. I heard from someone I care deeply about that someone told them not to read anything that could provoke an emotional response.

No emotional response? Seriously? One of the most important things a story can do is provoke an emotional response. Whether you’re reading fiction or someone’s biography, the emotions you feel as you read are one of the greatest things you can hope for, both as a reader and a writer.

If I write an epic tale of war ravaging a galaxy, I want you to feel emotions about it. If I tell you an intimate tale of two lovers, I want you to feel emotions. Heck, if I write copy for an advertisement, I want you to feel emotions.

Emotions are what connect us to characters. It’s one of the tools an author has in his toolbox. If I can get you to feel something (whether it’s joy, hatred, or a mix of the two), I’ve done my job. As an editor, if I can get the author to think about what kind of emotions she is trying to provoke, I’ve done (part of) my job.

If you’re a reader, and you’re not processing your emotions, then I’d say you’re not reading deeply enough. Think about the best stories you’ve read. What makes them great? I’d wager a large part of your fondness is based on either the emotions you felt as you turned the pages, or the emotions that you now feel either from the story itself or the memories surrounding the story.

With all due respect to the learned individual that told my significant other this unconscionable half-truth, you can stick this particular piece of advice in a very dark place and never utter it again.

Rough Mechanics for Iron Edda: Memories of Iron and Bone

A dear friend told me the last post was fluffy and asked too many questions without defining things.

Let’s change that.

Laby Blackbird and Always/Never/Now use pregens to increase the speed of getting to play. Memories will do the same. I’ll create 5-6 pregens (7-8 if I need to) to give players the opportunites to pick from a diverse group. I know for a fact that we’ll need a pilot, a captain, an engineer, some muscle, a magic cannon, at least one trans* character, and multiple PoCs. I’d like to keep the PCs human, but that’s a conversation to have with Tracy.

In LB/A/N/N (Ed: I’m starting to like the arcane feel of this acronym), each character has several Keys that help define the character and award XP for playing to character. In both games, a player can Buyoff a Key and take another. One thing that Will did with A/N/N is to give some of the pregens a locked Key (one they coudn’t Buyoff); I like this approach, and I think I want the Clans and the Bonebonded to be a key. This would make the Clans pretty central to the experience, which I like.

LB/A/N/N characters also have Traits and Tags (think Fate Aspects with Tags from Technoir). Traits and Tags fit well without having to do anything, so in they go. The Traits and Tags let the players know what kinds of things their PC is good at.

I haven’t decided whether I want to use LB’s more freeform style or A/N/N’s structured narrative branching. I could go either way on it. If I want the PCs unraveling a mystery related to Ragnarok, then A/N/N’s structure would work better. However, the holdfast generation lends itself well to LB’s style, so that might make more sense.

An idea that came to me earlier in regards to how to handle the ships involved making one of the pilot’s Keys be tied to the ship (it makes sense for this to be the Bonebonded’s “Clan” Key). The ship itself would have a Trait (possibly two), and I’d want to bind the ship and the pilot together. This means I need a feedback loop between the two that I need to think through more.

Iron Edda: Memories of Metal and Bone

“The dwarfs came for us, and we raised the bones and the runes against them. We fought the good fight, but it wasn’t enough. They overran our homes. We all thought it was the end of the world — Ragnarok, but it wasn’t. The world kept spinning, and we withdrew to the only place left, the stars.”

“It’s not easy being a pilot, let me tell you. Flying this thing made of giant bones is harder than it looks. Those forms we had planetside? The big ones? Trust me, they’re nothing compared to our giantships.”

Iron Edda Logo

In case you hadn’t heard, Tracy Barnett is launching a Kickstarter in January for Iron Edda, and I’m on the hook for a system / setting book. This post will lay out initial thoughts and let me process a bit out in the open (since it works well for Tracy). Apologies if it rambles all over the place; it’s how my mind works.

Lady Blackbird / Always / Never / Now

If you haven’t checked out either Lady Blackbird or Always / Never / Now, set a reminder to do that after you read this post. The following bullet list are things from LB/A/N/N that I need.

  • Traits
  • Keys
  • Secrets / Edges
  • Pregens

War of Metal and Bone

In addition, Tracy wants to ensure come commonality from WoMaB so we have to retain the clans (I’m not too worried about that) and the holdfast generation (this makes me a bit nervous). The clans are easy enough to work in, probably as Traits. Each PC gets a Clan Trait or is Bonebonded. Done. The holdfast generation presents some interesting challenges. I can see two possible paths for that right now. One is that the group has a home base of operations.

The second (and more interesting, I think) is to make the holdfast the ship. Obviously there’s some design work to do there. The ship corresponds to the bondbonded form in the base setting, so the pilot is always in bonebonded form. How do I handle the interaction between the ship as bonebonded and the ship as holdfast? Does this put too much spotlight on the pilot? How do I make the rest of the crew important?

I’d love to see something more akin to runic warriors flinging themselves across the void to attack opposing ships, but I don’t want to fool with the question of breathing in space.

What about Ragnarok? Why didn’t it come? I’d love to get into some of the myth here and say that something happened to avert Ragnarok. Now it’s back on the table, and our intrepid heroes have to figure out how to stop it (or possibly accelerate it).

Well, it’s a bit rambly, but I needed to get the thoughts down somewhere. Feel free to leave feedback (seriously, give me feedback) here or on G+ or on Twitter.

 

Metatopia 2013 Recap

Metatopia was awesome and amazing. I met so many wonderful people, and I didn’t have a negative experience all weekend. This is only the second convention I’ve attended, but that bad is set very high. I will go out of my way to come every year if I can. Pound for pound, I think it’s the best convention value I can imagine.

Playtests

Iron Edda is a project that excites me, and not just because I may get to be part of it. It’s a fantasy Norse setting for Fate Core. This is something Tracy Barnett has been working on for a while. It started with a setting for Apotheosis Drive X, became the setting for this first novel Sveidsdottir, and hopefully will be the start of his first product line. The game play is fast (as expected from a Fate Core game) and fun. During the playtest, some excellent feedback led to some awesome mechanics for runic magic and how non–Bonebonded players could some as brightly as their larger counterparts.

Five Fires fills a role that I haven’t seen any other RPGs fill. How do you replicate the experience of creating something like a real lyric or a breakdance routine? Add an innovative city creation scheme and some really amazing conflict resolution mechanics and you’ve got something special. This one’s a fantastic game even for someone like me, who’s not really a hip hop fan. I didn’t need to be because Quinn Murphy is a talented game designer. If you’re not following him, you’re missin’ out, fool. <mic drop>

Psi-Ops presses you into the role of a post-WWII spy with psychic abilities. This one’s diceless and uses a custom card desk of 54 cards (0-9, 5 suites, 4 trumps) as its resolution mechanic. It took a little while for me to get used to it, but it models the uncertainty of a chase or covert pursuit well. The chance to play in other time periods and the way the mechanics blend the card deck and what’s on your character sheet means I’ll be watching out for this one. This also gave me the opportunity to meet a new (to me) designer, Jody Kline.

Odyssey is the latest hotness from Will Hindmarch. After the playtest, I backed the Indiegogo campaign. It’s that good, people. It’s a story game with some great scene creation techniques and fun XP system. It includes variant rules and uses a package mindset (playsets) that combine the rules in interesting ways. We played a ragtag crew fleeing authority on an aging spacecraft a la Firefly.

I was looking forward to playing Architects of the Twisted City because I can’t turn down something that the author describes as Nobilis crossed with Planescape. Brett Gillan had to miss the convention unfortunately (I don’t know why), but this gave me the opportunity to do something completely new and outside of my comfort zone…

LARPs

Shoshana Kessock is a name you should learn, if you haven’t already. She ran an awesome freeform LARP called Service (which she designed and wrote). It was intense and moving, and I’m still processing everything that happened in it. It taught me some interesting truths about myself and revealed some uncomfortable things I’m still pondering. Look for a follow-on post with more details.

This is just part of the awesomeness that I got to experience at Metatopia! There will definitely be follow-up posts as I continue to ruminate on all my experiences.