Friday, December 29, 2017

2017: Remember That It’s All in Your Head

Where to start?

Here's a TV moment that kind of sums up 2017: Tom and I were watching Crisis on Earth X. Sara walks up to Alex at the rehearsal dinner and starts tossing back drinks. When asked what she's looking to make go away, her response is, "Nothing. I just like the taste of scotch." Back in the (sort of) real world, Tom said, "She drinks like you."

So here's to making that fucked-up outside world go away, and to loving the taste of scotch. Or whatever.

Writing... well, it's been going much slower than it should, but it's getting better. I'm now calling the book The Nameless Way. I started the year off strong, then things began to taper off in the summer and really fell apart during Gen Con month. I tried backing away from gaming for a while, I tried silly resolutions, I tried, you know, stuff. I think what finally got me back on track was when I took a week's vacation around Thanksgiving, escaping not just conventions and all that structured gaming stuff, but the constant brain-killing drum of my day job.

There were so many games, though. We started the year off with a clump of 'em at Weird Realms for Tom's birthday. My D&D campaign there drifted off early. I never had more than two players and, after a couple of cancellations for illness and something else I think, I never much felt like trying to schedule another one. The Scrap Pile had been on hiatus since late last year for other reasons.

In March, though, my World of Greyhawk campaign started up. I did this partly because my friend Curtis's D&D campaign had gone on hiatus to wait for a missing player. This one has been lots of fun. We were running along every couple of weeks, tromping through old modules and stuff. It had a bunch of long-distance friends in it so that was cool too. After a couple of months, Curtis decided he needed to start his campaign back up without waiting for the other guy, so hey, double the D&D! We even had a brief Icons reunion for Giant Size Scrap Pile #3.

In the fall, we were finally able to stir the Scrap Pile back into action. Aaaand Curtis started an Icons campaign of his own. That put the count up to four. I was running an Icons game and a D&D one, plus playing in, well, same. Sometimes we were playing twice in one weekend.

Also, the Greyhawk campaign was huge. I was wrangling five to seven players every time. That's about as many as I can handle at a real table. On Hangouts I'm more comfortable with three or four.

October came around and, on top of all that, I needed to get ready for the games I was running at Carnage. I told everyone I needed time off from gaming stuff so I could do more gaming stuff. Carnage came and went. It was awesome as usual, but didn't do much to clear my head. Curtis has run one out-of-continuity romp-type game since then and I had a blast running the Scrap Pile Christmas Special, but I still haven't started my campaigns back up. I guess I will eventually, on a less crazy schedule... assuming anybody still wants to.

I love both of my campaigns, and I love my friends, but I can't function with humans flitting around in all my spare time. If this year has taught me anything, it's that talking to or even thinking about other people too much is like sleep deprivation. I can handle some overload, but the toxins build up quickly and take a long time to clear out.

Like I said before, the vacation helped a lot. Before that, I was too fried, even with the restored spare time, to even catch my breath. Now I'm starting to pull it together. The shorter break for my Christmas trip helped, too, even the part where I got stuck along the way for some surprise auto maintenance. I'm a little concerned about where it goes from here. Multiple week-long getaways are a privilege for the wealthy. Maybe spacing out the game sessions will do it, or at least get me close enough that some carefully planned shorter breaks will work. My day job didn't use to require measures like this but, since we got sold to Jabba, it's been generating too much psychic garbage for me to shovel out.

I've also been backing away from social media a little, especially Facebook. I still use the blather sites quite a bit, but I had gotten into some bad habits, like using them to look for distraction when I was in a bad mood, or using them to vent. It's embarrassing how long it took me to realize that both of those are more likely to make things worse. On a somewhat related note, the site that did the syndication or whatever you call it for this blog appears to have imploded. While it was nice to get the extra hits, having to come up with something to blog about every month was annoying, so... good riddance, I guess.

I put out the last major piece of the Qalidar RPG, the Qritter Qatalog, this summer. There could, theoretically, be other books later, because I've still got some material I could run through the grinder and release. I suppose I could also do a compiled edition, but I probably won't. With the monster book out, I've done pretty much everything I felt obligated to do. If anybody wanted to actually play the game, they could do it and not feel like pieces are missing. Well, they might feel that way, but they'd be wrong.

Other stuff: Hey, in February, we moved! Not far -- just across the expressway. It was a grueling slog of a move, but I'm really happy with the new place. It's a house instead of an apartment, it's quieter, the way it's arranged is more conducive to the way Tom & I like to do stuff, and when things break, they get fixed. Plus, balcony!

Anyway, my goals & plans for 2018 are pretty much the same as last time, because I'm still not there and I still haven't quit. I'll try to find some practical ways to stay on track.

I'm thinking of backing away from conventions a bit. I'm already committed to go to Gen Con next year, and I'm not sure I could give it up anyway. It's a painfully expensive rampaging stress-monster, but it's also a freakin' amazing five-day party. I could, however, GM less and play more. Carnage, of course, is exempt. I could go to BASHCon and not run any games, or just run one off the books for my friends. It's a low-pressure shindig that doesn't even require time off from work. And maybe that's it. Tom's going to GaryCon with Monk, but I was already thinking of staying home to save up my vacation days... and bank some extra alone time.

I guess that's the end. Happy New Year!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Carnage Redux or Redact or Something

November 3-5 was the 20th anniversary of my favorite convention. I wasn't there for the very first one, and I can't even claim a perfect record since I started in 2009, but I go whenever I can. Carnage is the best.

This blog, on the other hand, is a mess. You should stop reading now. You have been warned.

Usually they have a theme, but this year it was "whatever." Kind of a look back at previous themes, they said. I suppose my Doctor Who game, as a mash-up, sort of fit, but that was just a coincidence. Turned out there was a full moon this year too.

It's been a mercurial, emotional autumn. I'm not entirely sure why. I probably wouldn't tell you if I knew. The relevant part is that this filter has been casting everything in weird shades, Carnage included. The games I was running were mostly outlined, but I started getting really stressed out over the last-minute preparation, stuff I've done plenty of times before, for plenty of conventions. I got grumpy over silly details when we stopped for the night in Syracuse the day before. It was a pleasant trip for the most part but, like I said, weird shades.

Tom drove on the way over, so I used the time to get stuff worked out for my private Thursday game. I had wanted to do more with the mythos established in Conspiracy X this time, instead of just doing my own paranormal thing like last year or trying to explain the whole universe like the year before that. I was fairly pleased with what I put together. We got in with plenty of time to stretch out. Steve was in the lobby and helped us unpack. The view from our room was a conversation piece. Ray would later dub it the Party Patio.
A last-minute convention schedule thing killed the game, so we just did the usual hanging out stuff, messaging friends in as they showed up, swarming from room to room at whatever point felt right. Eventually Tom & I walked with Matt back to his room (one of the condos) and then some time after three, Tom decided he wanted to stay there and drink some more. Matt is nocturnal, and he seemed to be okay with it, so he walked me back to the hotel and I slept while he returned to his waiting Tom. None o' my business what makes those crazy kids happy. I don't think it's, y'know, constitutional, but whatever.

Friday was the official opening day. Somehow I got out there before the registration desk got crowded, or maybe it was just running smoothly the whole time. After that I fussed around, did random stuff, stressed over what I was wearing with the coat to my Doctor Who game (I had packed several alternatives), and moved things around in the room for, you know, reasons. I also reserved a room for next year and tried to find out what happened to my missing credit card. Anyway, there was a game later.

I didn't actually play the Doctor, but it was my coat so I got to wear it for the picture. I was way nervous about wearing the silly thing across the hotel. I don't normally do stuff like that. Tyler's gleeful giggle-squee when he saw me was just what I needed, though. That's Rags and Steve on the left side of the picture. I don't know the two on the right in real life, but they were Janet and H.G. Wells in the game. It was a great group, but they almost always are. I was totally flying.

Tom was in a game. Cthulhu, I think. Seems like we started out in Steve's room and talked about how gaming was the best way to get to know people because, personas and stuff, wandered off to Scott's party, and so on. I brought the overcoat with me everywhere. I was a little bit zoned out at first and couldn't get into the socializing, but finally decided, hey, I'm here to have fun, so why can't I? So I gulped down... I don't know... it had some melted ice in it, so there probably wasn't all that much whiskey. Managed to impress Matt, at least. Or worry him. It also kicked in the human stuff so the party was fun. Then we were outside talking about dreams and things. Bound to happen eventually, right? Tom's game ran late, so I don't think I saw much of him.

So anyway, Saturday happened. I found the credit card I thought I'd lost right when I was about to give up and report it. Then I was stressed again about the Farscape game. In the course of writing scene outlines mostly on that little pad of hotel paper and filling out character sheets, I realized why I always get stressed over these games, even though I know I'm going to enjoy them. I love playing role-playing games. I especially love coming up with scenarios and running them. I just really, really hate starting them. Once that's over, I'm good.

But it was a great Farscape session. The nebari mad scientist played up to my standards, which I didn't expect. Because one guy showed up who didn't know the show very well, I even bent the plot a little to put him into a Crichton-like position. The guy playing the sheyang had written down a bunch of Farscape slang and worked it in throughout the session.

Tom joined up this time. He had been in a game earlier, but it was a train wreck. There were also  some other guys Steve knew, and Rags. Matt had appeared briefly during my game, then looked confused and disappeared again. The rest of us went back to Steve's room, where they all talked about beer forever. Like, all the stuff about types of hops and how much malt and I just kept seeing myself screaming and throwing furniture around until they choked me into unconsciousness. I guess I could have tried to change the subject, but I just kept hoping it would get better. Eventually it did, and then we wandered off to the big party.

Matt still hadn't shown up, so I texted him and, before it even got to his phone, he appeared at the door. I think he might be Satan. Or one of Satan's interrogators. I'll have to be more careful about squawking his name in the future. Anyway, circulated around the party a bit, talked to Scott and Andre, talked to Petra, who strongly recommended being carried on a litter, talked to this weird flying centipede thing that came through the yellow gateway. The rent-a-cops came a couple of times to shush everybody, and eventually it was time to go.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and I returned Steve's coffee cup, talked to him for a bit, then wandered around looking for someone else to pester, but there didn't seem to be any more open doors. There was a gnarled tree that I could have taken a picture of but didn't. I always start these things out planning to share insightful comments on the weekend's games or art or something and I always end up rambling on about who I hung out with and where. Oh well. Insight is overrated. Anyway, Tom and I packed up and left the next day, and drove to our usual stop in Syracuse.

The next day we did a little exploring. Saw some woods that still had pretty leaves, and a lake, and found a really good Mexican restaurant.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


I stumbled across this place while I was walking to pick up the car yesterday. There's a fairly major intersection, with one distinctly smaller and homier road that goes off to the west. Right past another ordinary crossroads, the neighborhood street dead-ends at the entrance to this cemetery. I had been close enough to it before to know it was there, but I figured, despite the enticing entrance, it was still just gonna be a cemetery.

Yesterday was a nice day, though, and I had plenty of time to get where I was going. I walked through the gate and was immediately flanked by pine trees. They were all pretty old, and one of them was really striking, towering over all the other trees. Ordinary pine trees might not be as seductive for other people as they are for me. I grew up around them, playing in forests carpeted with brown needles and pine cones instead of crumpled up leaves. In my twenties, I moved off to other places with mostly hardwoods so, to me, pine trees are youth and wide-eyed exploration. Pine trees are magic.

Beyond that, there was an odd assortment of other trees and, of course, graves. I didn't spend a lot of time looking at headstones. The names wouldn't mean much to me, and, while I wasn't in a hurry, I did eventually have someplace to be. It wasn't really the history that drew me in, anyway.

It was a little bit cloudy, and, while the cemetery itself doesn't have a thick canopy, the occasional shaded nook offered patches of luxurious twilight. The busy street was not even a quarter mile away and there were houses even closer, but somehow I felt the kind of wide-open emotional freedom I usually only feel alone, at two or three in the morning.
Am I being morbid here, going on about a cemetery? I don't think so. My mind certainly wasn't on death, or even much on dead people, beyond occasionally wondering about the story behind an interesting stone. At the back, my path turned into a small loop around a big one with several smaller stones around it. It looks like just a monument or something to identify the area but, as far as I can tell, these are actual graves.
Past that, the property ended at a metal fence and a sharp dropoff into a narrow valley. This isn't a great picture, but shooting between links in the fence didn't give me a lot of options, and I didn't like any of the shots that included the fence. I really wanted to climb over and take off into that valley. It felt like somebody glued a piece of home onto the back of this otherwise flat neighborhood. It was the exclamation point at the end of all the little things that made this enclave feel so disjointed.
Of course, for all I knew, somebody nearby owned that valley and would blow my head off with a shotgun for trespassing. Plus, I did have an errand to complete, so I went back the way I came. I half expected the gate to transport me to a foreign country, or a century in the future or something, but nope, it was the same old afternoon in the same old town.

I wonder if I should go back.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Gamed Out

I've got so many regular games going (and I'm running two of them) that it was dominating my weekends, so I'm taking a break for the rest of October. Partly this is so I can get my events for Carnage ready, but that won't take all that much time. I think the other part is that I just need to clear my head a little bit so I can write more.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gen Con 2017: FIFTY!

So yeah, that whole, "not going to Gen Con anymore" thing didn't stick, and I'm glad it didn't. Nothing else is Gen Con. I had been a little anxious about the fact that they sold so many badges that they actually ran out, but the crowds didn't seem any worse than usual, so I guess they managed it well.

Worry the Bottle, Mamma; It's Grapefruit Wine
We arrived around noon on Wednesday, after stopping not far out of town to chill the night before. I love Crowne Plaza. It's full of statues and rivety construction stuff and trains. We checked in, unpacked, and headed to the bar, where I had a cocktail with whiskey and various kinds of bitters and stuff. We chatted with somebody else who was hanging out there for a while before I wandered off to buy some Gen Con swag. They had set up a tent outside and it was right across the street, sort of. I grabbed a t-shirt, a shot glass, and a bigger glass, which I think they said is meant for a particular kind of beer, but I'm going to use it for bourbon. I also picked up a shirt for Tom.

I was developing the beginnings of what I was afraid would turn into a nasty headache, so I went back to the room to take some painkillers and lie down. When Tom texted me that people were starting to arrive for our Wednesday night thing, I was relieved to find that the headache was gone.

Kick Off Your High-Heel Sneakers; It's Party Time
There was already a good crowd, including several people I knew and several people I didn't know. They had already given Caed her birthday cake. I was still a little groggy, but their energy infected me before long. Jerry showed up with the GM badges and handed those out. Several ideas were discussed for next year's events.

There was a decision to head out to another bar. I don't recall if there was a reason beyond why-not. Maybe drink specials were involved. Somehow we ended up in at least two different bars: Kilroy's and Cadillac Ranch. I was in the second one, mostly talking to Bill and Andrew. And, I don't know, there was something about generational stereotypes and smoking and Katie having to go do stuff and maybe that the bar was technically closed and they weren't supposed to have let us in in the first place.

Some Funked-Up Music
Thursday morning was bustling and chatty, and then abruptly very quiet. Once everyone else was gone, though, I left the quiet behind and dove into the crowd.

I picked up my coupon book and this year's Gen Con d6. I thought I might eventually look at the rest of the coupons to see if there was anything useful, but I never did it.

Then it was on to my D&D game, Fane of the Froghemoth. I had never gotten around to doing much preparation for any of this year's games. At the last minute, I cranked out some pre-gens, borrowed some maps of real places from the internet (I think the frog cult had actually taken over Saint Patrick's Cathedral, somehow located in the middle of a park), and flipped through the monster selection until I had a decent idea what was in there. Yeah, after the title, the stuff I did with the monsters at the last minute was all the inspiration I ever had on this.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous. On the way there, though, I heard a band playing "Yub Nub" in the hall. And sure, I resent the Ewoks as much as any other good Star Wars nerd, but I can't help but smile when I hear that song. If my cash hadn't been buried in my bag, I'd have left them a few bucks. I certainly owe them.

Anyway, the D&D game: once they got into the temple, they found that the frog priests had all been wiped out by cranium rats and a sort of mind flayer/beholder hybrid that was living in the high priest's skull like an intellect devourer, but not bothering with the cap. Below that, they found some treasure and a shaft down to a dead brain pool, where the ghost of the elder brain attacked them. After they found out what had happened and wrapped up, they decided, that, since it was just a one-shot anyway, they might as well go back and fight the froghemoth.

And they killed it. It was partly because I gave them some pretty good stuff in the treasure pile, which was only there to help them fight the ghost brain. They also did a good job setting it up and fighting it, though.

They also were really interested in the Dungeonesque books I was using to save backpack space. I would've told them Studio 2 had 'em in the exhibit hall, but I didn't know it at the time.

Blues and Elvis
I needed to head back to the room to swap out my game books, so I took another quick run through the exhibit hall on the way. I can't remember exactly what I bought when, but I think I picked up something. Doesn't matter, I guess. Then I went to meet Tom, Jordan, and Scott for dinner in High Velocity, the sports bar under the RPG rooms. Tom had waited through a couple of no-shows for his games and I guess had mostly been spending his time coordinating get-togethers like this one.

Scott jumped in on The Nightmare Tree, which made it a full table. I was even less prepared for this than the other one. I came up with the idea that the tree was a portal earlier in the week, and most of the other key concepts in High Velocity a few minutes before. We ended up with some night swamp-trekking, a random bigfoot encounter, a trailer house lost between dimensions, transcosmic spiders, psychic powers, and gadgeteering. And it actually worked.

Somebody Else's Favorite Song
Tom was off to an early morning (well, early by my convention standards) start. I think he brought me breakfast Friday. There was one day that he did. I was never up early enough to go, myself. So anyway, I stumbled into Archer: Something Something Danger Zone a little bit late.

So there's this thing I had done at Carnage that worked really well. I had appropriated some cards from an Archer board game with quotes from the show. As each player worked the quote in, I gave them a determination point and another card. Since I was switching from Icons to Vortex this time, they were story points instead, but it actually worked better here because multiple story point spending is more of a thing.

Only, somehow, I left my cards in the room, this time. I handed out the character sheets for discussion while I frantically texted and called Tom, who had just left. The payoff on that was going to take a while, so I went on and started the game.

The guy who played Archer had seen every episode and was a little drunk already. The woman who played Cheryl had never seen it before, but somehow channeled the character with disturbing accuracy. Everybody was great. In their attempt to get from New York to Geneva, they crashed two planes, repeatedly interfered with each other, and somehow eventually accomplished their mission. At some point in the middle of this, Tom did show up with the cards, and there was much rejoicing and praise of his Tomly valor. A couple of times, they had those things flying so fast that I could barely keep up.

The Girls Don't Seem to Care What's On
After that I joined Tom, Caed, and Scott downstairs at High Velocity, then went back to the room and actually fell asleep for a little while. When I came back, I found that, although the Aqua Teen Hunger Force event had sold out in seconds, none of those people were there. I waited around until fifteen after, labeled my empty envelope, and turned it in.

I really wasn't disappointed. Not even another energy drink had been able to completely wake me up this time. I might have found a spark if there had been enthusiastic people ready to play, but then again I might not have. I think I just burned myself out having so much fun in the Archer game.

So anyway, I shuffled back to the room, watched TV for a while, and went to sleep. I think I posted a picture of Arnim Zola on Facebook, too. Arnim Zola is cool.

As Long as the Mood Is Right
That was it for my scheduled events. Saturday was all about the shopping and the freedom.

So yeah, I wandered all around the exhibit hall, went back out, wandered past the line for the costume contest or parade or whatever it is, and even went outside.

I think at some point I went up to the JW to check on Tom and Jerry but they were busy or not there so I went down to High Velocity and had a couple of rum & cokes. Then I wandered around some more. Finally Tom or Jordan got ahold of me and we grabbed a bite to eat. I think.

Jordan had wine and bread and blackberries in his car, so we went to get those and then I went with him to tour the exhibit hall. I don't remember what Tom was doing while we did that. Jordan bought a card game (the same one you'll see in my second loot photo, later on). We hooked back up with Tom and decided to find a place to play the game and drink the wine. Scott was there. I can't remember if he had joined us earlier or was just showing up now.

We found a side room in Union Station and got set up. I had been planning to get together with another friend -- let's call him Brian, because that's his name -- so I let him know what we were doing and invited him.

The game was a little bit like Cards Against Humanity, but instead of just tossing out one card, the judge for the turn draws one random card, places another card either before or after it to create a sequence of events, and then chooses the best submission from the other players to conclude it. I enjoyed it enough to pick up my own copy.

Play Till Dawn
Brian went off to do his own thing and the rest of us went back to the Crowne Plaza bar. The Flying Buffalo gang was also there so we said hi. I took this picture because I thought the different layers were interesting, but now I think that might be Kenneth Hite over there on the left. Not sure.

Tom suddenly realized he didn't have his backpack anymore, so that was sort of a mini-crisis. There wasn't anything too valuable in it, but obviously it had some useful game notes and stuff. It turned out later that it had been picked up, and was being held for a Mr. Campbell, which was why they didn't tell Tom about it the first time he asked. We never found out who the enigmatic Mr. Campbell was, or what happened to his red backpack.

No Static at All
Tom had a Sunday morning game, so once again I slept late and wandered off to see what I could find. I did find some things, as loot photo number two will attest.

Then I wandered around a bit. I had been curious about the construction at the Marriott, so I went to see what was up with that. This led me to a fairly quiet nook with comfy chairs where I could read some of my new stuff for a while.

Then I thought maybe Tom was done with his game so I went over to the JW. He was not only done, but long gone. The next logical place to look for Tom would be the bar downstairs, but there was no reason to rush, so I sat in one of the chairs over there for a while too, just taking in the gamer traffic.

I did, in fact, find him down in High Velocity. He was talking to a guy he had jumped into a space marine game with. I joined them and had a bite to eat while a couple we knew from BASHCon joined us.

After another quiet time, we went over to Acapulco Joe's just because we wanted to, then came back to the room again, where Brett contacted us about meeting up in the Crowne Plaza Bar. We found him dressed as Captain America, with a couple of other Canadians, and joined them for drinks. Jerry showed up too. Turned out to be a really nice after-party. Some ridiculous bean-bag tossing sport came on ESPN and we had a great time making fun of it.
Later, Tom & I ordered room service and the next day there was an eclipse.

Tom's blog is here. Don't believe his lies.