Roleplaying Game : The RPG

The GM of the Shadowrun game I’m playing in asked for requests and constructive criticism about the campaign so far.  For reasons unknown, that made me think about how long I’ve been playing RPGs.  I doubt this is of interest to anyone but no one is forcing you to read this.  I hope anyway.  If someone is forcing you to read this please let me know.  I doubt I can do anything about it but you never know. 

Here is my thrilling tale.

The year was 1987.  Iron-Contra was a thing.  A person was convicted of a crime based on DNA for the first time.  Prozac hit the market.  A bee parasite was killing all the bees in the US.  Wrestlemania 3 happened and somehow I watched it on Betamax and became a wrestling person.  The first Final Fantasy game was released (I would sue when Final Fantasy 2 came out for deceptive advertising just like I did with the Neverending Story).  Baggy dresses were WAY in.  Karate Kid action figures were totally radical.  World population reached 5 billion.  Whitney Houston released “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from her album “Whitney”.

I was at my grandma’s house hanging out with my cousin.  We were best pals when we were kids.  I haven’t talked to him in several years now.  Life, you know?  Plus he’s a like a good person who works for the UN and feeds starving people and I spend my energy on blogs and D&D campaigns that no one is even playing in. 

My cousin had a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, the TMNT RPG.  I thought it was super cool.  He said it was a game and I asked if we could play and he said “no” and my little 10 year old brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening.  Later on when I figured out how RPGs worked I realized why he said no, but at the time I was hurt and pissed.  But he was only 9, so it’s not like he could explain really. 

When I got home I VOWED that I would get my own RPG book and play.  I saved up my nickels and dimes for a few months and then rode my bike to the local game store and asked the dude behind the counter what I should buy if I wanted to start playing RPGs and with an aggrieved and HEAVY sigh and without looking up from his tentacle-porn hentai bullshit comic, he pointed at a weird upright rack that looked like it was for greeting cards.  Upon it was the “red box” – the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.  I think I paid 8 dollars for it.

I was hooked immediately.  I didn’t even really understand what RPGs were until I read that book and my mind was blown.  My friends, since they were friends with me, were all down to play and we were off to the races.  I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like had they turned their noses up at D&D and I had lost interest.  Two of those people I still game with today. 

I few months later when I saw my cousin again, I was telling him all about how I was playing D&D ALL the time and I bragged to him “I’m the best DM ever, no one ever survives my adventures” and he looked down his nose at me and asked “But do they have fun?”.  My little head exploded.  I never thought about trying to maximize the fun of my players before. 

I say this as a joke, but kind of not, right then I became a better DM/GM/whatever than a lot of people. 

Eventually I saved up enough to buy my own copy of TMNT & Other Strangeness (note to self, start erotica blog called Other Strangeness) and we started playing that a ton in addition to D&D.  As an adult I realize that the Palladium System is pretty terrible, but as a kid I loved it.  Especially TMNT with the pages and pages of hundreds of different animals (that were 97% exactly the same statistically) you could make into characters. 

We still have fun laughing at our young selves and the adventures we went on.  Two staples were “you go to this place for a fighting tournament and fight!” and “you’re going to rob Fort Knox”.  We have a personal meme of saying “How could I miss, I rolled a 20?!  You need special training!” I was by far the best GM of the group because my adventures had a little tiny bit of a story and sometimes even NPCS you weren’t supposed to kill! 

As someone once said, “On some level, it’s natural to look at the things your teenage self liked with some amount of disdain. To distance ourselves from our most embarrassing years, we often throw the things we loved under the bus.”

When we were a little older and had some money we got into a cycle of someone buying a new game, which we would play for a while, and then always coming back to D&D.  It was pretty much an unbreakable cycle of New Game – D&D – New Game – D&D. 

In ‘91 when Vampire the Masquerade came out, like all dorks we got super into it.  It seemed so much more mature and grown up than D&D.  I mean what’s a better sign of being a budding adult than being 14 and sitting in your parent’s basement pretending to be a vampire?  That’s when some cracks started to appear in our group though because some people didn’t WANT to pretend to be vampires, they wanted to be werewolfs and when you’re 14 you don’t know how to deal with that.  I’ve lived a SUPER hard life, these are my problems.

One guy in our group drifted away because he wanted to get drunk and throw up on girls while he was having sex with them, but for the most part we stayed strong.  Things slowed down a little during college but we still played a lot on weekends.  At this point I got into Shadowrun and various superhero games and we didn’t play D&D too much – we still Vampired sometimes. 

Gaming precious memory.  A guy I played games with but who had never played Vampire before came to play and I asked what clan his character was and he said “Wu-Tang”.  Classic.

A few years after college but before everyone had kids was the golden age of gaming.  There were times when I was playing (running mostly) three games a week.  Then came the dark times when everyone started having babies and I was forced to start going to game stores and playing with STRANGERS!!!

Those games were 99.99% stupid but at least I could laugh about them with my real friends.  It was interesting to find out that there’s 40 year old men that never “outgrow” the “my character is better than yours!” PVP all the time style of play.  It was also fun to find out how terrible a lot of people are at running games.  I suppose it’s mean to reminisce about how other people suck, but I still do it. 

Gaming precious memory.  I was running a game for STRANGERS at a game shop and during the third session one guy who was uber min-max power gamer man looks at me suspiciously and says “you’re just making this up aren’t you?!”  He was super pissed that I had the gall to create my own adventures instead of using published materials.  How was he supposed to win if I wasn’t using established material? 

It was at this point I was also introduced to the gamer phenomena of the guy who always plays sexy dark elfs with a weird BDSM background who want to roleplay out their seduction-assassination attack.  I assume with the internet and the free flow of porn, that’s not as much of a thing anymore.  I hope to god it isn’t anyway. 

Then came the times when people’s kids were old enough that we entered the silver age of gaming, still quite a lot but not enough for me.  The only bumps in the road were everyone wanting to have games at their house so they didn’t have to get someone to watch their kids and the great Jimmy Johns scandal of 2008 when everyone felt like they were getting ripped off because they always put in $10 and all they got was a $5 sandwich and a pickle and they never got any change!  “Dinner” was a part of gaming no more!

Then came the times when everyone was getting to a stage in their life where they had serious stuff going on at work and lots of activities to take their kids to and for SOME reason they started enjoying hobbies other than gaming!  They went on vacations and did things and went places and had non-gaming friends.  It was madness. 

Sidenote, I was single for most of this time and when I would hear about my couple friends getting together with other couples to game as a couple thing, I was jealous.  But then one time I did get invited with the other single dude in the group and that was worse.  Be careful what you wish for. 

For a while games dried up and I figured it was done.  I was bummed about it for a couple years, but I made my peace with it.  I came to find out that my friends were still my friends even if they didn’t want to play D&D all the time – shocking!  Just about the time I figured it was all done though, we started up a regular game night again. 

It became semi-regular instead of regular at times, but it was still going on when the pandemic hit.  Some of the crew stuck with gaming on Roll20 and the like but I didn’t care for it, I popped in and out here and there.  Now that we’re all getting vaccinated, hopefully in a few months we can get something going IRL again. 

Some people I know talk blatantly about gaming to anyone, I tend to keep it on the down low when I’m around outsiders.  At my core there’s a part of me that says “dude you’re 40, this is childish” but I don’t really let it get to me.  There’s not so much awesome fun stuff going on in life that you can afford to not do something you like just because it’s not “cool.  Because “dude you’re 40 and you were never cool anyway”.

What does the future hold for old Jerdog?  Once in a while at a game store or a convention or something you run into an old gamer dude.  I hope to be one of those.  I think it would great to be an old man in a nursing home playing D&D.  But if my friends stop being into it, probably I will too.  At this point I love RPGs but mostly I just love an excuse to shoot the shit with my pals.  There’s not as much appeal for RPGs just as RPGs for me anymore.  That’s a young man’s game. 

Procedurally generated duo part 2

Type – Magic, Magic Object  

Appearance – Medium, athletic 

Disposition – Laconic, fatalistic 

Age – 40s 

Origin – Europe, non-English speaking, countryside 

Background – Military 

Powers manifested – Early adulthood 

Other – World traveler

Abilities – Animal abilities (insect) 

Doc already did the work on this for me, thanks Doc!  The randomness lines up pretty well.  I’ll call this guy Amerigo Vespucci.  Do they still name people Amerigo in Italy?  I don’t know, but they do in my pretend world. 

At a young age, Amerigo decided that the country life was not for him and ran away from home, stowing away on a ship bound for Italian Libya.  With no marketable skills and a hostile populace, Amerigo was facing a grim and short life on the streets when he was swept up as labor by one of the many Italian government-funded excavations of Roman cities – which were used as propaganda to justify their claim to the area. 

Barely literate and with no education to speak of, Amerigo nevertheless was fascinated by archaeology.  Ignorant to the political nature of their missions, he looked up to the “scientists” leading these expeditions as brilliant men of knowledge.   At night, he would lie in his tent and marvel over the artifacts he had pilfered and dream of what the world had once been.

Amerigo resolved to become an archaeologist himself, but with no money and no real interest in “book learning” this was a pipe dream.  Amerigo did discover two talents on these trips though – an ear for languages, within a few years he could speak passably in several native tongues and enough to get by in several others.  His other talent was for getting into and out of places very quietly, especially places people didn’t want him.

One of those places was a temple with a bird motif in the deep desert.  Exploring the temple, Amerigo found a jewel-scarab of malachite and garnet – which he felt the overwhelming urge to swallow.  Upon doing so, he was mystically granted beetle-strength and beetle-agility!  Some old god with a beetle-head showed up to tell him something about it, but Amerigo ditched him and ran away from the temple.  He couldn’t understand what the old codger was saying anyhow.

Amerigo figured the best way to cash in on his abilities was to travel south to join the fighting in Italian East Africa.  It wasn’t.  Being beetle-fast and beetle-strong is fine and all, but in a conflict with personnel armed with machine-guns and flamethrowers, not to mention copious amounts of airstrikes and heavy weaponry, it doesn’t mean much.

Amerigo lost his stomach for the conflict quickly, but found that he was able to make money as a scout – leave the killing the dying to others.  Beetle-agility is a lot more useful for avoiding a fight, Amerigo found. 

Once the fighting was over, Amerigo discovered there was even more money to be made as a mercenary.  There seemed to be all manner of conflicts up and down the east coast of Africa and plenty of demand for someone who knew the terrain and could speak the language. 

Amerigo could have made a lot more money if he wanted, but typically after a paying job, he would spend months traveling and exploring alone, only returning to “civilization” when he ran out of resources.  Eventually, this resulted in Amerigo getting a reputation as being “unreliable” even though he always did what he was paid to do. 

Amerigo and Dino ended up being a perfect match – no one would hire Amerigo anymore and no one wanted to work for a crazy old man looking for “magic”.   Amerigo never mentioned to Dino that he knew magic was real because he had already found it, but he did take the old man’s money and lead him all across Africa with forays into the Middle East and even India looking for some true magic. 

Once the old man’s money ran out, Amerigo wondered where he was going to find his next meal ticket. But shortly thereafter, Dino returned, looking 60 years younger and ready to cause some trouble.

Stolen writing advice from someone better

Being a soulless Gen X mutant, normally I don’t try to help people or do anything, I just sit in my flannel shirt in my dimly lit basement listening to Alice in Chains and reveling in the fact that I don’t care about anything and only being happy when it rains.  And also not even then.  As a Xer I spend my time normally not caring about money or success or anything but Bikini Kill. 

Normally I wouldn’t post twice in a day either, but if I wait I’ll forget.  Sometimes I write myself notes of things to write about later and then I never remember what they mean later.  This has been going on for 30 years.

There’s a pretty common piece of writing advice which is “write a lot”.  If you feel blocked it’s because you’re thinking too much.  Just write something, anything.  Write every day all the time.  The theory is that you get better at something by doing it.  A basketball player doesn’t get better by thinking about shooting, they get better by shooting baskets in an empty gym. 

Part of the idea is that most of what everyone writes, except for a few geniuses, sucks.  So if ten percent of what you write is going to be good, you need to write tons and tons to make that ten percent pile as big as possible. 

For me, this advice was one of those things where I said “That sounds right” but didn’t really take it to heart.  Today though I heard something that really made it land for me. 

This information is coming to me 5th hand so the details are probably wrong but the gist is correct I think.  There’s a book called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  According to a different book that referenced that book that was referenced on a YouTube video that was referenced on a TV show that was referenced on a podcast I listen to, in Art &Fear they talk about an art teacher.

This art teacher decided to play a cruel joke on their class in the name of the social sciences.  They divided the class into two groups.  Group one was told their grade would be based on the number of pots they made.  Group two was told that their grade would be based on their best pot.  But hold onto your butts folks, because the first group was lied to, everyone was judged on their best pot. 

The gag is at the end of the semester (or whatever) the first group had made better pots.  The theory is that while group two spent all their time trying to make one or a few good pots, group one was cranking out pots right and left; ergo they got good at making pots, ergo they made a lot of crappy pots but the good ones they made were better than the people who were trying to make good ones. 

This may not even be a true story, but it made the “write a lot” advice sink in for me. 

I already write almost every day but nevertheless in order to write more, I will be starting a 5th blog with a new fiction narrative,  working title – Blood Orgy in The House of Pain.

The best writers use pictures instead of words

The other day my random Microsoft screensaver showed me this – Guatapé in Colombia. It looks like what I imagine the part of Madripoor where the rich people have their villas looks like. I share it because I am a terrible writer and can’t describe things. If you look closely you can see Mr. X waving!

IMAGE MAY BE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT!!!!

In other news, SPOILER ALERT, Madripoor was on the latest episode of Falcon & the Winter Soldier so now this entire blog is ruined because it seems like I was ripping off a TV show when I wasn’t at all, I was ripping off a comic book. Since Madripoor is already an expy of Singapore, I’ll have to re-write everything and make the place Ela is stuck in currently Thirteenapour.

BONUS MAILBAG – Since Ela is occasionally referencing Superman and other DC comic people, someone asked me if Marvel comics exist in this part of the Elaverse. They’re not supposed to. Since I already ripped off Madripoor, some very minor Marvel characters might turn up from time to time. Is that fair usage? I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. Yet.

OOC – I have become old

Normally I would post this on my rambling blog but being the super macho alpha male that I am I’d be mildly embarrassed if my friends saw this.  So I’ll hide it here.

I’ve never really understood nostalgia.  Whenever someone was pining for our days of youth I thought they were crazy.  Generally speaking your life gets better over time.  It didn’t track to me why would you look back with fondness.  I don’t miss the days when I had a crappy temp job and lots of debt so I lived in a trailer because I couldn’t afford an apartment and ate disgusting generic pizza rolls because I could get a giant bag of them for five bucks. 

Sidenote I don’t mean to imply my life was ever really that hard, I was still a white boy in the easiest country to live in in the world, I’m saying that my life is much better now.

But today for the first time I got an inkling of what people mean why they reminisce.  I think you don’t really miss your youth, you miss the way your friendship used to be. 

Whereas, today I was putting together a new computer desk and I thought about how in the old days one of my friends would have been delighted to take my old one.  Now of course no one would touch it with a ten foot clown pole.  We’re all adults, if someone wants new furniture they just get it.  No one needs (or wants) hand me downs anymore.   I mean, also no one would want it anyway because I’m the only person in the world who still has a desktop computer, but that’s beside the point.

In the old days any time anyone got anything it set of a chain reaction.  One of my friends got married right after HS so they had TWO incomes and therefore they usually got stuff first.  They’d buy a couch and then friend B would get their old couch, and that second couch would go to friend C, and so on.  Someone was replacing a couch they found in a ditch by their uncle Skeeter’s out in Minden. 

Back then it wasn’t just that we had less responsibility, there was also more of a sense of community in a small scale.  We depended on each other.  Now if someone moves they just hire movers, which is better, but it’s also kind of a bummer because it’s a signal that we’re all kind of our own entities now.  Moving a bunch of shit and bickering with your friend’s GF because she didn’t drain all the water out of the waterbed like he said and those things are GD heavy was kind of a drag but it was also kind of fun.  Plus afterwards you’d eat the cheapest pizza in town and play basketball.

Now as adults we don’t need each other like we did then.  We still hang out and we’re still friends, but we’re not a team anymore.  We’re just people living lives.  So I understand missing that a little now.  I’m not sure why I never thought about it before.

Last summer here in the Midwest we had an inland hurricane (who knew that was a thing) and many people were without power and had lots of property damage.  That was the first time a long time any of us really needed each other.  And honestly even that was pretty minor.  Because we’re adults now.  Even in a crisis most adults handle their own shit.  These days if one my friends really needed me it would probably be because something truly horrible was happening. 

Anyway, I kind of understand what people mean now when they sigh and talk about old times.  They don’t miss their old lives exactly, because our lives our better, they miss the way we were all in the same boat trying to bail out water.

My favorite comedian of all the times, Paul F. Thompkins, has a bit about how you should never talk about your therapy because no one wants to hear it.  But I will anyway.  Years ago I saw a therapist at work for a while because it was free.  I don’t know if I really buy therapy but I was curious.  Which I realize now is kind of a dick move, I should have left that free therapy for someone else. 

Anyway, one time I told the lady how it bummed me out that I didn’t hang with my friends like in the old days and she said (in a nicer way) “yeah, you’re adults, that’s how it works, grow up buddy”.  Which was depressing in and of itself but is true.  Things change. 

The truth is out there

Pictured above “news van”

As one would anticipate from an international trading hub, Madripoor has newspapers from all over the world reprinted in many different languages, as well as a multiplicity of local newspapers.  The competition between these news outlets is often fierce, and like almost everything in Madripoor, sometimes crosses the line into criminal violence.  They range from the publications celebrated and respected across the world to glorified scandal sheets, half of each issue consisting of very poorly printed pornography.  Below all of them in terms of respect is the sporadic and confusing newsletter put out by Dan Hui sang.

Dan Hui sang aka News Dan of the News Dan News Van aka the Dan Man with the Dan Plan roams the city in his armored “news van” seemingly endlessly, day and night, like a shark always in motion – a shark that eats news.  Dan Hui promises to deliver news without “government propaganda or corporate spin” but largely presents news that no one would pay money for, which is why his newsletter is distributed for free out of the back of his van – and stuffed into doors of annoyed households at random when he has extras.   Which is always.

Dan Hui likes to focus on the NBH and “super” community for his news, which he feels is an area underreported by traditional news sources.  He weaves increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories about the underlying meaning of any action taken by superpowered individuals and their connections to what he sees as global shadow government controlled by corporate interests.  He reports on stories that he claims are “news that can’t be found anywhere else!”

If anyone bothered to check or pay attention, they would discover that once in a while, Dan Hui actually does scoop official sources, particularly when it comes to being first on the scene at some kind of super-powered incident.   Dan Hui has no fear when it comes to hurtling into dangerous situations to provide a first-hand account.  The two main reasons he has survived this reckless behavior (so far) are his tank-like armored vehicle and his intern/driver/bodyguard Xu Yiyang. 

Yiyang is able to elevate her adrenaline levels to give her superhuman strength, stamina, and agility for short periods of time.  This comes at the cost of exhausting herself and the probable eventuality of suffering total catastrophic organ failure.  The origin of these power and why someone with this ability would be serving as the assistant to a man who has significantly less credibility than The National Enquirer are both unknown.  

Despite his reputation and flamboyance, Dan Hui truly is a skilled reporter and works hard to pry the truth out from wherever it might be hiding.  He employs a network of informants to gather information for him that is staggering in its scope. He is fanatically devoted to what he does, believing that governments and corporations are all corrupt and represented by propaganda masters that fill the news with lies. His passion is exposing the truth, and he will go to great lengths to get it out there.

He is, predictably, quite paranoid. He believes that he “knows too much” and that the “secret masters” will take him out as soon as they get the chance, so as to stop him from exposing the truth.  In his more lucid and retrospective moments, Dan Hui wonders which truth would be worse – that there is a massive worldwide secret conspiracy trying to kill him, or that no one knows or cares what he’s doing.  

A critical question for the future of everything everywhere

I’ve been thinking about doing another art commission because paying people money to draw me pictures is a good use of my paycheck.

My first thought was I wanted Ela in a jumpsuit like Bruce Lee wore in Game of Death. But then I realized that probably everyone would assume that instead it was a reference to The Bride from Kill Bill. Which is a fine film (the second part anyway) but I hate when my reference is mistaken for another reference! Because my life is very hard and challenging with many obstacles.

So the question is should I go with the game of death jumpsuit anyway? And if not, what sort of outfit would be better? Also I want her to be casually holding something to show how strong she is. A car is too much but I can’t think of something better. A safe? Something like that but not that.

Here’s another question, why can’t some talented comic book artist find my blog and love it and just draw me free pictures all the time? I mean is that so much to ask? That I get tons of free stuff all the time? I mean what kind of world is this?

My girlfriend really wants me to have a portrait of Martialla done and I do too, but I have kind of a specific image in my mind of what she looks like and I am terrible at describing what I want because I am terrible at describing things. Which is why I am a great writer.

D&D Ela was pretty awful, 70’s funkadelic superhero Ela is much less horrible but I kept some things – like her vanity and cattiness. Which worries me sometimes because it seems kind of stereotypical to portray a female character that way. When I first started this blog I had a “contact me” thing, which I did away with because it was mostly people scolding me for being a gross man writing a female character that they didn’t like. But my girlfriend thinks it’s funny when Ela makes mean comments about other woman so one woman is on my side so it’s fine. That’s how complex societal issues work.

Midnight on Dagger Alley (OOC shamboozling)

I thought the title of that module was Midnight IN Dagger Alley but it’s not.  It’s Midnight ON Dagger Alley.  Which doesn’t make sense.  Or does it? 

As you all know, Wednesday is when I post world-building and background stuff for the funkadelic 70’s adventures of Ela 2.0.  But I don’t feel like it today so I’m not gonna.  In the old days of D&D Ela, I never would have dreamed of not posting EVERY day like I promised the zero people that read it.  But these are new times where rules mean nothing.  I’ve learned that the less I post, the more people seem to like it.  I don’t take it personally. 

“Jeremy what are you doing?  Don’t you have another blog for random thoughts?”  No, that blog is for deep personal reflection and is only for my dear friends and 8 (and counting) Russian bots.

I was playing DND (yay!) on roll20 (boo!) the other day and after the customary 7 to 99 minutes of fucking around, the game began with the DM letting out a huge sigh and saying “okay then”. 

I thought in that moment “I think that’s how all my DND games have started”.  Which is an exaggeration, it’s probably not even most, but maybe 30% of them have been something like that.  It reminded me that as much fun as playing RPGs is, it’s a lot of work. 

Sometimes my friends and I sit around and shoot the shit (before covid you know) but more often we’re playing a board game or a RPG.  I often wonder how people that don’t game maintain friendships.  What do they do?  Talk to each other without any agenda?  Awful.

It’s kind of a bummer though because it means that someone has a part time job that’s necessary for friendship time.  Which I guess is okay because friendship is something that should require some work, but being a DM is kind of a drag.  I love running games and obviously am the best at it in the world, but even I sometimes am just like “ugh, I don’t really want to do this tonight” but you sort of have to or you ruin it for everyone. 

In the past few years, I’ve seen tons of “gmless” RPGs and “zero-prep” adventures, I hate-follow one blog where the blogman talks at length about how any adventure that requires any prep is utter shit and the person that wrote it should die.  Being a judgmental old man, I turn up my nose at these things – damn millennials want to have the fun of DND without the work?  In my day there were only two character classes and you had 8 STR and you got killed by a gopher and you LIKED IT DAMN IT!!!

But I get it.  If you can have fun playing a game without having to bust your ass, why wouldn’t you?

What I’m saying is that I beat Zelda without the wooden sword when I was a kid and I thought that was great.  But then the internet was a thing and I found out that tons of people have done that.  So I guess my proudest accomplishment now is that I threw a 20 sided dice and turned off my friend Joel’s Nintendo from a legit 20 feet away when he was being a jerk and playing Dragon Warrior while we were all waiting for him. 

That’s a lie, I didn’t do that, one of my friends did.  But as I get older, I’ll start to remember that I did it because memory is stupid.

Once in a while other blog people say on their blog that people should read my blog.  The people that read their blog never do, but I still appreciate the tiny crumbs of attention thrown my way like young crows like it when you toss them corn. 

If you like wrestling or comic books or pop tarts, you should read this – https://swoproductions.com/home/ – they also talk about anime sometimes but nobody is perfect.

If you like seeing DND where a TON of work is put into making it look awesome, you should read this – https://storiesfromthewifeofadungeonmaster.wordpress.com/

If you like Shadowrun but hate its insane rules system, you should read this – https://doubleproficiency.com/

If you like goblins with ballistas, you should read this – https://goblinwithaballista.com/

And if you think that Stephen Amell should hire me as a writer on his new wrestling drama HEELS, you should read this – https://cultissuchanuglyword.wordpress.com/ and then badger him on social media. 

Out of character interlude – Expert professional writing tips from the world’s greatest writer and human (me)

Writing that title reminded me that I worked with a lady who said that she was the third smartest person in the world – her parents being the first and second.  She didn’t seem that smart to me but the third smartest person in the world would be smart enough to not seem smart right?

Since I started writing on wordpress I’ve been reading a lot blogs about D&D and some about writing.  A common topic people bring up is how playing D&D (and other roleplaying games of course) can help you become a better writer.  Which is true.  Character development, plot, worldbuilding, playing roleplaying games can really help you with those things.  Among others. 

But I’m starting to realize that it can be a double-edged sword.   

I’ve done a lot of writing in my life.  In college and the years afterwards I often wrote several hours a day.  I don’t write nearly as much anymore but I still do some writing most days.  It’s a toss-up if I’ve done more roleplaying or writing.  There was a year where we played D&D every damn day for hours and hours and hours.  Probably half my life I’ve had a regular weekly game.  There were years when I had 2-3 regular weekly games.  Then add in conventions and one shots and other stuff – that’s a lot of time roleplaying.   

Tangent, when I first started online dating sometimes I would tell women one of my hobbies was roleplaying – boy were they disappointed when they found out I meant D&D and not sexy sexy sex times.  I hate homonyms.   

Before my writing was whatever I wanted.  I have dozens of half finished “novels”, tons of partially written screenplays, hundreds of short stories, and thousands of blog posts where I talked about whatever was on my mind.  I wrote until it wasn’t fun and then I stopped.   

Starting the Ela blog, and later the Grace blog (hugely popular and read by millions) “forced” me to write about the same thing and it’s exposed some flaws.  Chief among them, tossing out story hooks without any idea where to take them. 

I think this comes from D&D.  When you put together a D&D adventure sometimes you have everything planned out.  But sometimes you just have a neat idea and you throw it out and see what the players do and react to that, “writing” on the fly. 

Such as, one time my players found a cane that had a secret compartment in it.  I had forgotten that they had found a similar item in the last adventure and they spun out a whole conspiracy theory around them.  I had no such intention of that being a thing but as they were talking I was thinking “wow that’s a pretty cool idea, that’s definitely what happened now”. 

Players give DMs way too much credit in terms of foreshadowing and callbacks and call-forwards and things like that – it’s that old chestnut about the human mind looking for patterns, and making them up even if they’re not there. Your players come up with all kinds of ideas as to what the DM may be up to, even when they’re not up to anything.

The collaborative nature of rpgs results in some pretty cool ideas.  D&D is kind of like writing with several writing partners.   

But since my “real” writing it just me, myself, and not Irene I really need to break myself of the habit of throwing out half-formed ideas that I think are neat because there’s no players to react to them and shape the narrative.   Telling a story all by myself requires discipline.

The idea for the Grace blog came from How To Survive Camping, from reddit/no sleep.  The idea of HTSC is that it is an interactive thing where the commenters act like it’s real and suggest ways to solve problems and the like.  It’s a style that allows for collaborating in a way D&D type where you’re writing it but lots of people are adding in ideas.  It’s a pretty cool concept.  I wanted to do something like that. But since I’m old and scared of reddit because I don’t understand it I just did a “normal” blog.   

The end.  Good writers always say “the end”.  Otherwise how would you know it was the end? 

Retro Ela throwback post/rip-off

I swear I won’t ever do this again, I know how SUPER invested you all are in 70s Ela story.  Ela Classic was written ad hoc based on random charts and whatnot, rules turned into a narrative, but I did wake up late one night and write this bit about her being forced into a battle in THE NORTH.  I think I had it for more than a year waiting to fit it into the “story”. 

I figured I’d post it because I’m lazy and clearly I have to stick to the pretend schedule I came up with of posting Monday, Wednesday, Friday. 

Why was Ela forced into this battle?

Who is Keorl Thunderhand? 

Is it still called polygamy if you have wives and husbands?

We’ll never know. 

I’ve never seen a battle down south and I hope I never do, but from what I understand it’s quite an affair.  Huge blocks of men lumbering around in ragged squares getting into lines.  Banners and pennants and tents and guys with big hats and all kind of shit like that.  I’ve heard that the reason army people get up at dawn is it takes them until lunch just to get everyone to the battlefield and ready to kill one another.  There’s barely enough hours to even get on with the slaughter before it gets dark.  And you can’t fight in the dark.  It’s too scary.

Clearly things are a little more loose up here.  People seemed to be milling about and wandering down to the front lines like it’s a county fair.  Some people were already killing each other when I got up.  Others were still asleep.  Seems like it would have been the perfect situation to avoid the battle and just say you were there after the fact but I don’t think I can fool magic like that.  Always the damn magic.  So Instead of doing the smart thing and staying under cover until all the killing and dying was over, I went in search of Keorl Thunderhand, finding him in a heap with his wives and husbands.

I tossed a bucket of . . . something on him “Come on, the battle’s starting and it’s a race between which is going to freeze off first, my nips or my nose.”

Grinning, he disentangled himself from the pile and came out of his tent shrugging on a chain shirt and slapping on a helmet “That’s the problem with you southern women, too skinny.  You need some blubber on your bones to stay warm.”

I rubbed my hands together and blew on them “I don’t see how you people get so big up here with the warmed up dogshit you call food.”

He laughed and led me over to the “cavalry wing” which was a bunch of dudes and horses just as disorganized and chaotic as the rest.  He motioned for me to mount up on a grey and black beast that was eyeing me as dubiously as I was it.  These northern horses are so small and shaggy they’re more like sheep than equines if you ask me.

“Shouldn’t I put on some armor or something first?”

He shrugged “Sure, grab that cmail and slip it on.”

I grabbed the pile of metal he gestured to and could barely lift it “Okay, never mind, point taken.”

“Yes, and a fine point it was too.  Put on that helmet.”

I picked it up gingerly “Seems too big for me.”

He shrugged “Better than too small.” He surveyed the half-battle going on below as we mounted “Do you have any battle training?”

“Minimal.”

“How good a rider are you?”

“Excellent.”

“Good, that’s more important anyway.  If you want to survive, and you’ve certainly made it seem like you do, there’s two things you need to do.  First, stay mounted.  That may seem obvious, but I need to emphasize this because footmen do most of the dying.  You do not want to be anywhere near the earth in that mess.  Mounted, you have two things someone on foot doesn’t – vision and mobility, and that’s what you use to stay alive.  Don’t get near the middle, stay on the edges of the action where you can see what’s happening and react.  React meaning ride away of course.

If you get knocked off your horse get back on immediately, don’t worry about anything else – get back in the saddle.  If your horse gets killed, find another.  I’ll deny ever saying this but if you have to take one from someone on your own side, do that.  People tend not to expect their battle-brothers, or sisters in this case,  to kill them and take their horse so you can catch them off guard.  Your horse is your best armor and your best weapon.  Keep it between you and the people trying to kill you.  If you can, use it to crush them, if you can’t, let it take the hits for you.  How do you feel about horses?”

“I love them.”

“Will that prevent you from using one to keep yourself alive?”

“No.  I’ve done it before unfortunately.”

“That’s good. Horses are fine animals but they’re not worth risking your life over.  I’ve seen men in the middle of battle trying to save a horse.  You can imagine how well that goes.  If someone wants to take time to murder your horse, that’s time they’re not using to murder you – let them use it while you find another mount.  What you have to avoid is getting down in the melee with the foot soldiers.  You may have heard some old veteran waxing nihilistic about the chaos and blood and horror of being in the press of combat and you may have dismissed it as bold talk – it isn’t.  It is the absolute worst thing you can ever be involved with.  Call it nightmarish, call it Hellish, call it whatever you want, just avoid it. 

When you’re up on your horse, unless a man has a spear or a pike they’re going to have a hard time striking at you effectively.  Once you’re on foot they won’t even need to bother, at your size you’ll get knocked down and trampled to death.  It’s a risk for even a strong man – you got a dozen men behind you pushing you into another man who’s got a dozen men shoving him into you.  You’re pinned together so that you can’t even fight unless you have a knife.  Men trapped like that bite at each other like dogs.  It’s no lie that in the crush of battle, you don’t even know who you’re attacking. 

That’s first.  The second thing is don’t take your helmet off.  Not ever.  It’s heavy and it makes it hard to hear and it cuts off your vision and it’s going to get so hot in there you’re going to feel like you can’t breathe.  But don’t take it off, not even for a second.  If your helmet gets knocked off, find it, or another, and get it back on as fast as possible.  Don’t worry about anything else.  If it gets knocked askew and you can’t see, don’t try to take it off and put it back on, just turn it around.  If you can’t get it back right way around you’re almost better off being blind than taking it off, it’s a hard call.

There’s filthy weakling healers around that can heal you as long as you don’t get stabbed directly in the heart or in one of the main bloodlines in your thigh.  You have a chance to survive most wounds long enough to get healed.  What you can’t survive is getting your brains bashed in or an arrow through the skull.  If you get hit in the helmet it’s going to make you dizzy, you’re going to want to pull it off – do not do this.  If you lose your helmet and you can’t find another, you may be tempted to pick up a shield to protect your head.  Don’t.  If you can even lift it, you’re not going to be able to hold it high for long and then you’re just going to be tired.  You’re better off shielding your head with your weapon or even your arm – even if you’re not wearing armor.  You can live just fine with one arm, you don’t have a spare head.  Not to mention you’re rich you can regrow a new arm magically.

Stay mounted, protect your head.  Horse, helmet, that’s how you stay alive.”

“Got it.  What about attacking the enemy?”

He laughed “I wouldn’t worry about that, you don’t look like you could break an egg.”