Making the sausage… one step at a time.

I’ve been kind of quiet this cycle with regard to politics. At least online.

Not because I don’t have opinions, because Lord knows I have those.

It’s mostly because the process this time around has been so gods-damned tiring. And disheartening. Like, “occasionally hating on the entire human collective” disheartening.

The United States is a nation of over 300 million people, covering some three and a half million square miles. Which is to say, it’s massive, complex, and requires a lot of infrastructure to maintain. When you factor in our relationship to the other 190-odd nations and 7 billion or so people on the planet…

Let’s just say I think we need smart, dedicated people running things.

like smart people. I like smart people that are passionate about things, like studying those things, and wonder how to make those things better. I love talking (and listening) to these kinds of people, because I learn stuff.

It usually doesn’t matter what the subject is — math, literature, physics, film, sociology, video games… I typically find myself enriched. Knowledge and understanding are awesome.

As a tabletop game developer, I appreciate passion for systems. Understanding how a tweak in one place can have repercussions in another. Being able to follow the thread of cause and effect. Looking at numbers and testing outcomes to steer towards the most desirable outcome. (Not perfect because… well… strive for perfection, but don’t make it the enemy of the good.)

Humans are… messy creatures. As a result, politics and governance are messy and only get messier the larger the group of humans involved. But it’s how we live together, maintain the support required for the society we’ve developed, and solve the challenges we face as a species.

I understand and sympathize with the many, many people who are frustrated with the way things are. I’m there with you. I wish it was easy to change the world.

But it’s not.

With so many people, and so many competing interests, changing — improving — the world is a slow process. Strive for ideals, know where you’re aiming, but fight one battle at a time. Make deals and work out realistic compromise. Accept three steps forward when you can’t get five.

Work towards a better world, but understand that it is work, and is sometimes (often) a dirty, unsatisfying, thing.

But in the end? Worth it.

As recently stated in the excellent Luke Cage series on Netflix, “Always forward.”

(You may notice I didn’t talk about any particular candidate. That’s on purpose. I’m laying out my general political philosophy — after a fashion — and not interested at this point in diving into the morass of spin und drang that dominates current political and social media.)

Website minutia

For those who care, I’ve finally gotten around to migrating the blog posts from the previous version of the site to the new location. This gives you a couple hundred old posts going back over several years.

Some of the links are broken, and images need to be moved over. That will take some time as I go through, post by post, to add categories and such. I still have a bunch of other content to move over, so perhaps I’ll get to that at some point.

GenCon 2016 Schedule

For those who are looking to catch up with me at #GenCon, here is a rough schedule…
11am-2pm FASA Games Booth (#2029)
2pm-6pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
9am-10am FASA Games Panel (Crowne Plaza Penn Station A)
Noon-4pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
10am-2pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
2pm-4pm FASA Games Booth (#2029)
In the midst of that I have some other events and seminars that I plan on attending. As of right now, my Sunday is largely open up until we need to leave for the airport. If you want a chunk of actual meeting time, best ways to set that up are either to catch me during my booth duty, or send me a message via facebook or twitter.
If you’re there, hope to say hi!

How many lives?

Hatred dressed in the costume of morality.
Poisoned hearts. Corrupted minds.
Fear and anger, a loaded weapon
Pointed at the innocent by the guilty.

We are not other.
Brothers, sisters, parents, children.
Bone and muscle.
Mind and spirit.
When one is injured, we all bleed.

I try not to let their hatred,
Their ignorance,
Their fear,
Affect or infect me.
But it is hard.
The right things often are.

That was the year, that was

(With apologies to Tom Lehrer, whose album of the same name is fantastic.)

So. It’s New Year’s Eve.

2015 was a year, wasn’t it?

It started off kind of rocky, with the last two months of a four-month strike. After that ended, I went back to work to learn that I really didn’t want to be working there anymore. July came along with an offer for voluntary severance, which I took. The last five months of the year were spent on unemployment, living off the buyout money and dipping into savings. I start a new job next week… but that’s 2016. (Okay, technically I had my orientation and some initial training this week, but whatever.)

On the plus side, this year did see the release of the Earthdawn Player’s Guide (PDF Version), and the electronic version of the Gamemaster’s Guide (that book is at the printer and will be out early next year). The response has been pretty decent, but we’re behind schedule, and that has made people not so happy.

In the aftermath of an enjoyable trip to GenCon, I decided to start pursuing opportunities in voice-over. That has been slow going, though I did produce and release my first audiobook. The rights holder was happy enough with my work that I’m signed for two more books with them. I’m working on the first of them now, and expect those to be out in the first part of next year.

The end of the year brings reflection, but also thoughts about the year to come. So here are my hopes and wishes for 2016.

  1. Get the production workflow for the Earthdawn books hammered out so that it doesn’t take another year or more to get the rest of our promised product done and out the door.
  2. Along those lines: Figure out what we’re going to do with future books in the line.
  3. Do more voice-over work. More audiobooks, and if I can get them, other VO gigs.
  4. Produce more content for this website. Entries, reviews, all that sort of thing. This may or may not include a podcast (which will help my voice-over and audio production chops).
  5. See if I can get some forward momentum going on the book that has been brewing in my head for years. And I do mean years.

That about does it for now. Raise a glass with your beverage of choice, toast to the year past and the one to come. We only get one go-round, an it’s important to make the most of it.

T’skrang and Gender Politics (Part the Second)

This post took a bit more time to put together than I expected. This is largely because it sidles up alongside some issues that are, in one way or another, sensitive. There has been quite a bit of discussion about gender issues in the greater gaming community (and I include both tabletop and video games in that).

My intention with these posts is not to push a particular agenda, but instead to discuss a realization that came to me as I was doing some development for the new edition of Earthdawn, and how that can be extended for any kind of world-building. Here’s that realization, as best I can sum it up:

The awareness of issues and experiences outside my own can lead to a richer setting.

This may seem kind of “world building 101.” However, it can be good to look at the basics, because the obvious isn’t always… well… obvious. Part of this also plays into that “controversial” issue of privilege. It can be all too easy for a creator to make the assumption that their own experience is all there is — especially when that experience is the societal “default”.

Awareness of other perspectives, and the difficulties that can be faced by those who fall outside the norm (in one way or another) are valuable for multiple reasons. It allows a creator a more varied creative palette to draw on. It can expand the potential audience for a work by offering characters and perspectives that speak to a greater variety of individuals. It can also avoid the problem of tone-deaf treatment of sensitive issues — especially ones that are widespread among certain segments of the audience.

I want to go into this by way of example, largely driven by the question:

“What if the Shivalahala Syrtis expresses as male after kaissa?”

(Check out the first post for a bit of background if that question doesn’t make sense.)

There are a lot of consequences and knock-on effects of that question. T’skrang society is matriarchal, and has been for as long as anybody is aware. Setting aside the underlying magic of the ancestral memories that get passed down the leadership chain, how would this society react to having this traditionally female leadership position being held by a male?

The other thing is trying to avoid broad-brush ‘everybody reacts the same way’ stereotyping. People (even semi-aquatic saurian people) are varied, and different people will have different reactions.

That said, we are looking at a pretty significant potential change to the fabric of t’skrang society. There are those who will accept it without batting an eye, while others could have visceral reactions against it.


To draw a parallel from present day, one of the most visible cases of gender division is the “blue aisle” versus the “pink aisle” in toy stores. Back in August, Target stores took steps to remove gender-based signage in their toy department. The move brought both acclaim and anger.

Even issues beyond gender equality and representation can be looked at for insight into the way people behave. The political landscape here in the United States has been divisive, antagonistic, and fiercely tribal. Gun control. Gay marriage. Taxes and business regulation.

Understanding those with a different point of view can help enhance a setting. It allows you to create authentic, fleshed-out characters rather than two-dimensional cutouts. There is a place for those, but if that’s all you have your world will be flat.

One other advantage to this awareness and ability to appropriately present different points of view — especially if you’re looking to expand beyond the work you create for your own group — is a setting with multiple points of view allows for varied stories to be told, and doesn’t needlessly exclude people because they don’t see a way for them to fit.

There is one more aspect I want to address, which will wait for final part of this series. Hopefully it doesn’t take as long as this one.

T’skrang and gender politics (part the first)

I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks working on wrapping up the setting chapter for the Gamemaster’s Guide for Earthdawn, summarizing what has (and has not) changed with the time jump. Part of this has involved going back to material published for earlier editions, looking at the situation at that time, and deciding what might have changed on both a large and small scale.

This has actually been pretty fun, in a “What if?” sense.

In the course of this, I realized there was one decision I would need to make that if not handled appropriately could have… troublesome repercussions from a gender politics standpoint (especially with regard to issues around matters of trans identity and exclusion).

For the sake of the uninitiated, I’m going to give you a big ol’ data dump of setting information to set things up here.

The t’skrang are a race of semi-aquatic lizard folk in the Earthdawn setting, they are generally a boisterous and exuberant people, with a culture that revolves around feats of daring, courage, and storytelling (with a healthy dose of tall-tale exaggeration thrown in to enhance the teller’s role in the story).

T’skrang have a matriarchal society, led by a lahala, the eldest female in the clan/extended family. This is more than a ceremonial or political position. Through a magical ritual, the lahala is granted the collective memories and knowledge of all prior lahalas from the line. Of course, this has the potential for complications if the lahala dies before the ritual is performed (not passing on the memories), or is corrupted by a Horror (and therefore passes that taint along with the memories — a factor that will come into play shortly).

As additional bit of necessary detail, t’skrang are born (hatched, actually) without a biological sex. It is not until puberty — which the t’skrang call kaissa, that the child’s biological sex is expressed.

All of this is lead-up to a bit of setting detail in the Earthdawn game. Many t’skrang settlements are part of a larger community called an aropagoi, or “Great House”, led by a shivalahala (“lahala of lahalas”) with the same sort of racial memory tradition. The shivalahala of House Syrtis — one of these aropagoi — is known as “The Prophetess” and provides guidance to those who undergo a pilgrimage to meet with her.

One of the prior holders of the title was affected by a Horror’s curse, and the subsequent shivalahala’s have all been unstable and gradually gone insane. In a radical break from tradition, the most recent t’skrang granted the honor was a seven-year-old child. It appears that the change has stabilized the mental health issues otherwise plaguing the position, as the child has displayed a wisdom and restraint that had been lacking for a while. However, there are those (in setting) who wonder what will happen when if the child expresses as male after kaissa.

For the fourth edition of Earthdawn, I decided to advance the timeline by a few years. As I said earlier, this means I need to look at the way things were, and decide how (or if) they would change. I was working on the aropagoi and realized — after doing some math — that the shivalahala Syrtis would undergo kaissa in the time between the prior edition and the new one.

So a decision needs to be made. Thinking about the matter, it turns out not to be straightforward, if I want to be aware of and sensitive to matters of real-world gender politics and social issues.

Let me be clear, I am not upset by this in the least, or cursing the “evil conspiracy of social justice warriors” for making this a question with interesting implications. As a straight white male, the increased awareness of social justice issues (especially in the RPG industry) has brought to light things that I would likely have been blind to just a few short years ago.

That is a good thing.

This post is already longer than I intended, so I’m going to close it out here for now and do a follow-up to explore some of the issues and implications that have come to mind over the last few days this thing has been bouncing around in my head.

Well that’s annoying…

So there was an update to WordPress, and it broke the old theme I was using.

I’ve patched this together in the meantime, but I don’t know how long the site will stay looking like this.

Today had been going pretty well. And then… just kind of slid downhill.

On the plus side, I did put some more reviews up.

Some new content

I’ve started working on something I’ve been meaning to do ever since I launched this new version of the site, namely migrating content from the old version over to the new one.

You should notice a new category up at the top of the page, where I will be posting reviews of RPG products that I wrote several years ago.

There’s a lot to migrate, so this is likely something that will go in fits and starts over the course of the next several weeks, but I plan to restore a lot of the content originally available through this site, including episode reviews and other commentary about Xena: Warrior Princess, some of my early fiction, and the adventuring journals from my old Earthdawn campaigns.