GenCon 2016 Schedule

For those who are looking to catch up with me at #GenCon, here is a rough schedule…
 
Thursday
11am-2pm FASA Games Booth (#2029)
2pm-6pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
 
Friday
9am-10am FASA Games Panel (Crowne Plaza Penn Station A)
Noon-4pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
 
Saturday
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?

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

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

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.

A life half-lived…

As has been my habit lately, I haven’t been posting much of anything to this blog. Last time I posted was back in early October. It is now the tail end of March. That’s six months. Half a year.

Also, as is my habit, I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning as I am gripped with a case of insomnia and self-reflection.

We went on strike. The strike lasted about four months, from mid-October until the end of February. It was a long, difficult, frustrating process. I had my birthday on the picket line.

That’s kind of what inspired the title of this post. I mean, it’s kind of a play on a thought — I turned 40. About halfway through the typical life expectancy of a person. It’s also one of those lovely round numbers that we humans are so enamored with, the kind that makes you all introspective and shit.

And by you, of course, I mean me.

Going back to work four weeks go made me realize something. I do not like my job, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing it. Front line customer service is a draining, often thankless, annoying pain in the ass. It saps my energy. It makes me unhappy and short-tempered.

I’ve started looking for a new job, but my options are kind of limited. I had a very short college career — only completing one semester (that is a long story that I may get to one of these days). I never went back, for a couple of reasons. One, I could never decide what it is I actually wanted to do. Two, I am a generally lazy sack of crap that prefers to coast along as things are.

Now, with my family and financial situation, going back to school seems to be right out. Not that I know any better what I want to do now than I did twenty years ago when I first came up to this wattle on the neck of the east coast.

I really think I need to get out of Maine, or at least out of Bangor. This past winter was rough, and I don’t think that hanging around this area would be the best for me.

As usual, I don’t have the foggiest fucking idea what I’m going to do. Half my life is behind me, and I have no idea where the second half is going.

 

Insomnia

I don’t know where this one is going to go.

I’m sitting in bed, shortly after midnight, unable to sleep.

I’m not sure how much to talk about, or what to talk about.

Some things aren’t going well. The combined stresses of life, the universe, and everything are really weighing on me.

A couple of weeks ago, we learned (during our annual furnace tune-up) that we need to get the furnace replaced. This is a not-insignificant expense, and our financial situation was already tenuous enough.

The Earthdawn books are behind schedule. Part of this was an inability on my part to judge how much work was involved, as well as an almost pathological need for perfection. At this point, the Player’s Guide is waiting on art to be finalized, but the GM’s Guide is not anywhere near the shape I want it to be.

I am afraid. Of so many things.

The 9-to-5 is going okay. Not great. We’ve been working without a contract since the beginning of August, and there is a good chance that we will be going out on strike sooner rather than later. I don’t really like the job, and I really wish there was an alternative available that would provide for my family and not leave me waking up in the morning with bleak, fading hopes that things will turn around.

We are moving into fall and winter. Hopefully the anti-depressants and vitamin D supplements will stave off the worst of the winter doldrums.

I love my family so much. I can’t help feeling like I am letting them down, that I’m not strong enough, or good enough to deserve them. I’m scrabbling hard to keep us from sliding downhill too quickly, but I am having a hard time seeing any kind of positive direction at the moment.

I don’t know. I really don’t.

Hell, this whole post feels like some adolescent call for attention, a self-indulgent whine in the dark that things are hard, and I want them to be easier.

Some things never leave you. I can’t shake the feeling of that inadequate teenage dork who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, and is terrified of being found out as a fraud and banished to the outer darkness. But that was half a lifetime ago — I’m pushing 40.

Seriously, does anybody ever really figure it out? Intellectually I understand that on some level, nearly everyone is stumbling blindly in the dark, doing the best they can to keep their heads above water. But why does it have to be that way? The universe is a vast, dark, unfeeling place when it comes to the greater scheme of humanity, but why does our own balance seem so askew? I think that the cosmos has whatever meaning we give it, and right now there are so many of us on this speck of dust that know something is off, some sense of justice or decency or empathy that just seems to be lacking…

Is this a cultural thing? I don’t think so, as there certainly seems to be enough of this sentiment going around in the world at large — though American cultural dominance makes it hard to tell how much is universal and how much is exported.

I believe in the inherent nobility and decency of the human spirit. It is just very hard to see at times.

Fuck if I know. Another sunrise tomorrow, and another one after that. Keep moving forward, and try to bring a little bit of light and decency to the world.