Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Ironically Studying Blades

Nothing yet with regards to new fiction to share with you fine folks. However, that doesn't mean the gears haven't been whirling this past week!

Last Tuesday Hubby and I hosted our first Blades in the Dark session. As I mentioned in my previous post, Quarthix came by to create his character as well. He's a Leech - a tinkerer, alchemist, and saboteur - named Kristov. One of Hubby's friends and coworkers still wants in, but will be busy until mid-August, so it will be at least two weeks - today and next week - before he can be free for our sessions. He may also bring his girlfriend along, which will bring our over-all crew up to six people; five playing at a time since either Hubby or I will sit out our characters as we GM.

But otherwise, our crew is built. There's Ashlyn "Nev" Kindaith - the nickname "Nev" is short for "Nevermore" - who is a Lurk. Basically the Thief among all of us thieves. Lurks are the "stealthy infiltrators." Next up is Mara "Jackal" Basran, a Hound; sharpshooter and tracker. The third crew member is Syra "Silver Song" Vale, a Whisper. She is our arcane adept; our spellcaster in this game, if you will. Rounding us off is Kristov "Hammer" Keel.

We... um... we forgot to get anyone that could be good at hand-to-hand. Whoops! That's fine, with the mechanic the game has in play, anyone can still do anything with enough real-world dice-rolling luck. I'll touch upon that again in a moment.

Also, fun factoid: most of us chose either "Iruvian" or "Dagger Isles" as our heritage, which means Hubby's character Ashlyn, who is "Skovian", is the only traditionally "white" character in our crew with a more Scandinavian look. Mara appears more Northern African/Middle Eastern/Indian (haven't decided on which quite yet), and both Syra and Kristov appear more Polynesian.

Anyway, together, Ashlyn, Mara, Syra, and Kristov make up the Void Serpents, a daring up-and-coming Shadow crew specializing in burglary, robbery, espionage, and sabotage.

So, naturally, we assassinate someone in our first session.

Okay, here's the breakdown. First of all, we had to build up our Crew as if it were its own character. It actually kinda-sorta is, in truth. This way we can retire our current characters, bring in new ones, have the game go on for years - generations within the game, if we wanted - and that Crew will still be there; evolving with each game.

Anyway, as we were building our Crew, we had to pick a place to be our "hunting grounds;" a place where we did most of our shady business. We wanted to focus on espionage, so we picked the district of Charterhall, "the city's civic offices and the hub for shops, artisans, and commerce." In doing so, we had to pick a random faction whose turf we were invading and suffer some negative reputation among that crew. After flipping through the options, Hubby randomly selected a group called The Lampblacks. Not entirely sure why he picked them since they're described in the book as "akin to folk-heroes among the working class, who see them as 'lovable rogues' standing up to the powers-that-be." I personally would have thought they would be good allies, but I wasn't really paying attention when the faction was picked, so I didn't voice my objections then. Also, the Lampblacks are currently at war with the rival crew the Red Sashes, which is made up of Iruvian sword masters. Seeing as how my character is 3/4 Iruvian, I guess Hubby figured I'd want us allied with them????

No matter. The decision was made, and we took a few blocks from the Lampblacks' hunting grounds, causing an uneasy rivalry between us, and helping us ally with the Red Sashes more. There were other bits of our Crew build that caused other Crews to either befriend us or start up their own rivalry with us as well, but those aren't important right now.

Fast forward to our first session. The game suggests using the starting situation printed in the rulebook if you haven't played before. That way your GM won't have to struggle to figure out a good starting hook. Hubby, without reading the situation, decides that's probably best, and we all agree to just dive in using that scenario.

Then Hubby reads this:
You're in the cramped office of the Lampblack's leader, Bazso Baz, overlooking the coal warehouse floor below. Several of his thugs hang about, armed for war, sizing you up. Bazso wants your answer. Are you with them, or against them? What do you say? Will you side with the Lampblacks? Will you just pretend to? (Good luck, Bazso is very sharp.) Will you tell him to [censored] off?
See, the opening world scenario for the game is that the former leader of the gang The Crows died mysteriously, and his second in command Lyssa took control. Problem is, the original Crows leader had brokered a treaty between the warring factions of the Lampblacks and the Red Sashes. Without his influence, the two have again crashed into a turf war.

How did we end up in Baz's office of all places when we were already at odds with the Lampblacks and mildly allied with the Red Sashes? Don't know. The situation doesn't specify. We know we're screwed from the word "go" because we had just stolen some blocks from this guy's hunting grounds. Plus, were we ready to flip on our ally right out of the gate? It wouldn't have been disastrous, really, it's not like we were firm allies with the Red Sashes yet.

The trick here, though, is two-fold. First: Hubby neglected to read off some key info about the factions we were allied with and the ones we were at odds with. He just read off their names and the key description of them.

So, for instance, for the Lampblacks, we were told, "Lampblacks: the former lamp-lighter guild, turned to crime when their services were replaced by electric lights." We were then told, "The Red Sashes: originally a school of ancient Iruvian sword arts, since expanded into criminal endeavors." We were also told the two factions are rivals/enemies. Based on those descriptions? Of course we'd want to side with the far cooler-sounding Red Sashes. Again, especially since Mara's mostly of Iruvian heritage.

None of us heard the bit about the Lampblacks being sort of the "scoundrels of the people." I don't know if Hubby even read that far into the faction description before we dove in. Whoops.

The second issue with the starting scenario is that it concluded with this lovely suggestion: "Are you actually here to kill [Bazso Baz] for the Red Sashes? (If so, do a flashback and pick a plan for the assassination.)"

Oh, Quarthix grabbed INSTANTLY onto that one. Sure, we're a crew that specializes in standard spying and thievery, but that doesn't mean we can't take on other styles of job, and Quarthix leaned HARD into that mindset.

Baz is the leader of a faction we don't like, and he's warring with a faction we do like. We could get more Brownie Points from the Red Sashes, potentially, if we off their greatest opposition at the time. Plus, the guy has us cornered, what else would we do? Flip on our ally and align with HIM?

I did offer that we agree to side with the Lampblacks and then just stay neutral in the turf war; ignoring the bit in the situation description that says, "Good luck, Bazso is very sharp." Quarthix held firm though that he wanted to assassinate this guy. No one managing to talk him out of it, we stumbled for a bit to try to come up with a plan. Getting into the new mechanics of Blades was really rough after playing D&D for years, but eventually Hubby and I just kind of threw the other two into the game - by me having Mara straight up intimidate Bazso to leave us out of his turf war with the Red Sashes; we will remain neutral and not side with either of them - and went from there.

I actually did surprisingly well for my roll - I was getting the highest roll possible nearly all night; I was shook! - and Baz let us leave. Kristov had planned on assassinating this guy, however, and dang it, he was going to follow through. So, he used the opportunity of Baz being shaken by my intimidation to attack him.

Chaos thus ensued.

Remember at the top when I mentioned none of us were built for melee combat? Yeah.... Luckily, as I also mentioned, if you roll well enough, your character can accomplish virtually anything. I more-or-less took the lead to just bash and shoot our way back out of the building; clearing paths for my crewmates to slip through.

Syra and Kristov took some damage each, but nothing terribly too major. Mara just TANKED most of the damage and barely made it out alive, but made it we all did. On the other hand, Mara killed two Lampblacks, Kristov pulled an audible and decided to kidnap Baz instead of kill him after Syra incapacitated the Lampblack leader, and, while trying to deliver Baz to the Red Sashes, we were stopped by a Bluecoat; a city cop, basically.

Luck wasn't on my side then, and apparently Mara and this Bluecoat knew each other from when she was still on the force. And he did NOT like her one bit. I tried to have Mara schmooze the Bluecoat, but the dice rolls were no longer in my favor. Finally, Quarthix got a good enough roll to convince the Bluecoat - whom I had named James on a whim since Hubby never named or described the Bluecoat - to let us go with a warning. How'd he manage that? He reminded James that the sooner he let us leave the sooner he could get rid of Mara and not have to deal with her crap.

Meh. It worked.
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After delivering Bazso Baz to the Red Sashes, we were quickly reprimanded by the faction's leader Mylera who had asked for Baz's head, not him as a hostage to ransom back to the Lampblacks. We were told that we would only get our pay if we completed the original job, and now we had to make sure it was loud and public so the heat wouldn't be on the Red Sashes.

So we did. In one of the busiest bits of the city - the center of the Crow's Foot district - Kristov executed Baz with one of Mara's pistols. Ashlyn, who was our getaway driver so his character was still involved even if Hubby wasn't playing him at the time, refused to stop for the execution, and so it was very much a public drop-and-go. Boom. Shot in the head, and dumped onto the streets without us even slowing down.

Needless to say, our crew got our first Wanted rating after that fiasco. Although, to be fair, we would have been "fine" except we got extra heat - which tipped us over into a Wanted level - as consequence for me failing miserably to convince Bluecoat James to look the other way as we smuggled the abducted Baz.

At the end of every score - the "missions" the characters go on; the detailed action roleplay - the group gets their payoff and reputation, discovers the amount of heat the crew has on them, determine if they have increased a Wanted level, discover entanglements and other complications that the Crew suffers due to the actions of the score, and then the individual characters can have some downtime to work on independent character-building things and/or heal.

Well, the entanglement we got was that the Bluecoats brought one of our allies in for questioning. Basically, we deduced that James saw how banged up I was, figured I'd go to my doctor friend to get patched up, and so he sent the Bluecoats - or maybe went himself - to collect my ally. I dropped some coin to bribe the Bluecoats, and we all moved on. My ally is safe, the Bluecoats don't know anything else about our organization, and I'm back to being broke....

Mara did manage to de-stress, but she didn't heal at all, and basically one more hit would have killed her. So it's probably best that I'm GMing tonight. Gives Mara more downtime to get properly patched up. Her injuries are even a great excuse as to why she's not going on this next score. Although, everyone getting so banged up DID convince Quarthix that maybe we should aim for a non-combat score this time.... so... yay!

To further drive home the chaos of this first score - probably mostly due to the fact that we are all green and don't quite know the game mechanics yet - one of the pages offered in the player's kits is a way to track the scores the crew has been on and any key elements that might be important story beats for future gameplay. This is what a blank sheet looks like.
Fairly simple. The categories to fill in include: Score Type, Target, Location, Payoff: Coin/Rep, Heat, Entanglements and/or Faction status changes, and finally Notes, Events, and Clocks Advanced.

Well, er... it was ME who decided to fill this out for that first session and.... You guys know me. I'm not very concise. For me, a lot of details could prove important down the road, so if they feel even remotely significant I want to include them.

So it actually kept me three attempts before I managed to keep that first score confined to just the allotted third of a page....
First attempt on the bottom (upper left), then the 2nd attempt in the middle, and the final attempt on top (right side)
To sate my desire to capture as much of the game as possible, I instead turned to the single-subject notebook Hubby initially purchased for his game of Sigils in the Dark before buying his leather-bound one instead. This way we have a record of our games, which is something I've wanted to do with EVERY RPG I've played, but never managed to follow through except for Jolene's game, and that was largely because the gameplay was all text-based anyway. I like being able to look though records of the games and remember the fun we had playing. Plus, for situations like what we've been through with D&D being on hiatus due to COVID-19, it's a way for us to remember what happened last time, especially after long game droughts between sessions. We can also use it as reference points to make sure we keep continuity with regards to the overall campaign. For instance, if we come across a Bluecoat in Crow's Foot again, maybe it's James once more, but this time we DON'T get a warning because we've just irritated him enough.

Trying to get as much narrative detail as I could remember down on paper kept me HOURS on Friday, and five full notebook pages. My hand hurt so much when I was done....

I wasn't quite done yet, though, because we're now up to what I mostly did with my week. Namely, study this dang game!

I knew bits and pieces from Hubby reading passages off to me as he read through the book, plus he had to explain the base rules to the other players, so we all had enough to go off of to play, but was it enough for me to RUN a session?

I brought the roughly 300pg rulebook to work with me this past week, and whenever I had downtime I read. I read this book like it was a school textbook that I needed to study. I copied pages I wanted to make notes on or highlight passages. I jotted things down in a notebook to keep in mind. Most importantly, I tabbed the HECK out of this book so it would be easier for us to quickly flip to whatever rules we needed to figure out in the heat of the game so we didn't bog down the gameplay too much.
While reading though and studying the rulebook I reflected back on the session Hubby ran. He was new to the game as well, and one of the first pages of the rulebook stated that you shouldn't be expected to understand the rules your first go. There's certainly a learning curve with this game, but it's worth it. That said, I did use my knowledge of how the game DID play out versus how it probably SHOULD have played out, based on the rules, so there's some housecleaning we need to do before we officially start playing tonight.

But that's good. We're learning, and I can now help Hubby when he's unsure about a rule, and vice versa. I definitely have a much better understanding of the game and the rules I need to know specifically as a GM. I'm still a bit nervous about running the game tonight since I SUUUUCK at improv, but I feel a lot more confident with Blades than I ever was with D&D. Mostly because a means for me to answer player questions is right at my fingertips within the book, plus the players certainly have more storytelling and storycrafting control with Blades than in D&D, so it's less load on me.

I actually came up with a handful of scores the players can choose from tonight, that way they even feel like they have more control on the situational hook they follow, instead of being strong-armed like we did with the first session.

I have the score Hubby teased the group with at the end of the last game; utilizing our Crew's contact Fitz. I also have a Staking a Claim score, which is another key element of the game as a means to upgrading the Crew. Quarthix and Dragnime both figured last time that we should probably wait before staking a claim on anything, but I have the option available for tonight in case they change their minds. Another option I will literally have on the table is a potential way for the Crew to get rid of our Wanted level; something that doesn't happen until SOMEONE goes to jail for the crimes associated with our crew. Finally, I narrowed the 18-option list of potential Shadow score opportunities down to a list of 6. If they choose "random opportunity" they can then decide to either pick one of the six, or have me roll for one.

On top of all of THAT, I also started thinking about the world-build of the game itself. Another key thing of this game is that the city of Doskvol and the world of the Shattered Islands is supposed to be ALIVE in the background. The world doesn't revolve around our crew, and the environment surrounding each game session should reflect that. I won't get into the mechanics of how the game suggests doing this, but the long and short is that each faction has its own goals, rivals, and allies. As the player characters do things on their scores, during downtime, and while free-playing, they are going to somehow affect the delicate but unsteady balance within Doskvol.

For instance: murdering Bazso Baz.

Baz was the leader of a well-loved criminal faction; champions of the People, as they were. The citizens will NOT be happy about Baz's death. Also, Hubby had headcanoned that Baz's second in command Pickett was out with the majority of the Lampblacks, fighting their war against the Red Sashes, but could there be rumors that Pickett staged a coup? Did the 2nd strategically set up the meeting between the Void Serpents and Baz at the same time the warehouse and Baz would be mostly unguarded, wanting the faction leader to be killed? Would this cause unrest in the gang and a potential power vacuum? Or would Pickett step in as leader seamlessly? Would members start in-fighting as some begin to distrust Pickett? Would they be torn as to who to go after for Baz's death? Because there are other candidates as well. Such as the Red Sashes. They clearly would have the most to win from Baz's death, and there were rumors that he was taken to their HQ before his execution. Does this mean the Lampblacks push harder against the Red Sashes, winning advantage in the turf war? Or is it the Red Sashes that now have advantage since the Lampblacks are trying to recover from the assassination of their leader? What about the new leader of The Crows, Lyssa? The turf war started because she took over for Roric, and a lot believe she actually killed Roric so she COULD lead. She's known to be both connected and brash along with the suspicion of being a killer. Would she purposefully start up a turf war to try to weaken both the Lampblacks and Red Sashes - factions who are fighting over Crow's Foot which the Crows also obviously have turf within - in an effort to eliminate them? The Void Serpents are this daring upstart crew that is barely worth paying any mind, and yet they were somehow both smart enough to execute a faction boss and dumb enough to cause such a ruckus doing so? There's also that rumor about the Void Serpents taking Baz to the Red Sashes, only to execute him themselves. Was this all a ploy to try to convince the citizens to riot against the Red Sashes and weaken them as well? How deep does this rabbit hole go?

And that's just one district of this city! There are 12 districts in total, and 48 factions! Let alone other starting crews like ours - Hubby and I could come up with a rival starting crew of NPCs if we wanted - or anything going on outside of Doskvol. There's six countries that create the Shattered Isles which makes up the game world. There's also 20 other named cities in the world. At any point, Hubby and I could have something happen in any of those locations, or the ink-black Void Sea, or the vastly uninhabited Deathlands. I also didn't touch upon the Bluecoats and how things may have shifted for them as well due to the turf war and knowing Mara's potential involvement. Or the Spirit Wardens who had to clean up three scattered corpses from just one scuffle, before the spirits could emerge from the bodies and add to the already overwhelming ghost/haunting infestation within Doskvol.

There is a LOT to manage in the backgrounds, is what I'm saying. And that was largely what I was doing this week: studying this game, trying to understand the world already fleshed out in the game, and trying to figure out how our characters already affected the world, all while also trying to figure out score options for the players tonight.

It was a HUGE undertaking for me - Hubby says I put in TOO much thought when most of the world-build answers are at my fingertips via the rulebook, and he's probably right, but... meh? - but it was fun, and it did get the creative storytelling portion of my brain moving again. Shake off that dust! The true irony mentioned in this blog post's title is that Blades is a game designed to AVOID extensive planning. The point of the game is to just dive in with only the vaguest of plans - you're actually not allowed to plan via the rules - and then plan backwards. Use the world and NPCs

Let's see how well the game goes tonight. Hubby will GM next week, so I'll be able to take a bit of a breather and can go back to focusing on reading fanfics and maybe start thinking of my own fanfics.

Plus, I now have an original short story to beta read! A college friend we lovingly nicknamed Chewy - as in Chewbacca, but we spelled it with a -y instead of the -ie - asked me this weekend to look through a story he's been working on for pretty much all of 2020. Or, maybe it was a side-project he was working on whenever he needed a break from the main 2020 story that has already filled 2 journals? Either way, I'm excited to see what he came up with. Reading his story is on my To Do list for tomorrow.
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What about all of you fine folks? Aside from bots, I haven't had any comments in a while. I'm curious as to what you've been up to. Any writing on your end? Any good stories you've been reading? Any fun games you've played? Let me know below!
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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Trying Out New RPGs

I did it! I wrote fiction!

Sorta.

Kinda.

As I mentioned last week, one of my birthday gifts was a hand-bound journal and a copy of the rulebook for Sigils in the Dark by Kurt Potts. We waited until my birthday before playing. Well, we actually waited until Sunday, because Hubby's journal didn't arrive until Saturday, but we had Omnibladestrike over (who will be known as dragnime from now on because that's his handle everywhere else...), so the three of us worked on a different game instead, that I'll talk about in a bit.

Anyway. Sunday night Hubby and I FINALLY got around to playing Sigils.... and quickly realized we SUCK at solo RPGs....
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See, as counter-intuitive as it may be for an author, I just... I work a LOT better if I build off of others. My existing characters that feel real and fleshed out? Lia? Willow? Trish? Jolene? Kriv? These were characters I got to play for extended periods of time. They were kind of Generic Archetype characters until I played off of people. Saw how they interpreted the character, and then either leaned heavily into it, or purposefully fought back against it, or found some happy medium ground. Their voices formed as I talked more with the other players. The more social - or anti-social - I was able to make the character, the more alive they felt.

Solo RPG? Eeeeeeeeh....


I get it. A LOT of people probably love that freedom. They have complete control, as if it were a story, and can do whatever they like with the character without having to build off of whatever the other characters are doing. As people who do not yet have a good grip on who these characters are? Without any real concrete structure for the game? Well.... Hubby and I struggled.

On the first page of the journal, right out of the gate, it is suggested that we include information important for future owners of the grimoire to know. Typically, this would be the name of the mage creating the tome - so the character you're playing as - and a location, and why the mage is searching for this dark power to begin with. Their Need, which translates to the game's end-goal. Will the mage reach it, die trying, or give up once the costs become too much?

Hubby and I were stuck here for a looooong time. We both wanted to be careful with the names we picked and the locations we'd give. Hubby wanted this tome to be something he could potentially use for a campaign later, so he wanted everything to sound like it would fit in a standard D&D campaign.

Me? I wanted vagueness. I wanted to be able to use the tome, like my husband, in a potential future D&D campaign. Or in a random other RPG or LARP I might join/create. Or use it as inspiration for a future story. But the trick is that I also wanted it as a potential inspirational prop for an urban or modern fantasy story as well. So I wanted something that sounded Real World/Modern, but also something that would fit in a standard High Fantasy setting.

In the end I went for "Don't include a location quite yet, but know it's 'vague city'" and I decided to tap into my fanfiction author side of my brain.

Hey, Miraculous Ladybug happens to have a thick spellbook. Hey, there happens to be a villain who uses magic to try to get a particular Need fulfilled, and is getting quickly corrupted by that drive. Hey, what if the character whose head I hop into were Hawkmoth's?

I then paused for a moment. A LOT of people probably equate "dark mage" and "creator of a grimoire" with male characters. I'm female, why should I crossplay? Why can't I have a woman delve into dark magics to create an evil spellbook?

What if it was Gabriel who is dead or magically comatose or whatever it is that happened to Adrien's mom? What if Emilie had become Hawkmoth? Or... whatever her Peacock-themed name would have been.

As I said before, I wanted this journal to be a prop for future campaigns or even original stories, so I clearly couldn't just straight up go with "Emilie Agreste" as my character name, but she would be my inspiration. And, truthfully, the name I ended up with wasn't too far off...

Meet Emelia Agraise. Through mysterious means not yet explained in the tome for future owners, Emelia's husband is "no longer with her." Did he die? Did he fall into a coma (just as Emilie did... or... whatever it was that happened)? Did he just walk out on her; fallen out of love with her?

If I'm going the Emelia is Female Gabe route, then it's safe to say that her husband is either teetering on the edge of Life and Death, or he's already dead, but we'll see how it goes.

I do wish I wasn't itching quite so badly to start the game, however, because my excitement poured out as my standard handwriting, and I really regret not taking better care to slow down and write more elegantly and neatly for the first page.... Oh well. I guess what's done is done.
 I, personally, wasn't a fan of just listing the character's name, location, and end-goal in the front of the journal like it was my elementary school books or something: "if found, please return to..." It didn't feel organic. It felt a bit meta; the character KNOWING this journal was going to eventually find its way into other hands, and/or that the character KNEW it was going to be a future prop.

Instead, I went with something that felt more organic, a super-mini diary entry and napkin-style contract.

In case you can't read the page, here's what I wrote as my character introduction:
The whispers are stronger now that I have this book. Their promises more believable; achievable with this tome. I do not know what I must do to have my beloved returned to me, but I am prepared to pay any cost.

I, Emelia Agraise, hereby vow to the whispering darkness to follow its direction in order to gain the power I desire. In exchange, I will be taught in the ways of the occult so my sweet husband can return to my side.
I realized the redundancy of that final sentence after I wrote it, but, as I mentioned above with regards to my handwriting, what's done is done. So screw it. I'm running with it.

Hubby ended up making, basically, Hans from Frozen: the youngest in a long line of princes, who is fed up with not having any say on how his country is run, and who is never truly taken seriously with anything he says. His desire is to prove that he is just as valid a leader as his older brothers, and perhaps even MORE worthy to lead than any of them. He wants to be taken seriously finally.

Okay, so our characters are now made up. Kept us an hour or so to come up with them, but worth it. That should be the hardest part, right?

Weeeelllllllllllll....

Next was creating our first spell. It was enjoyable enough. There's a chart of 20 line segments, each with a unique design. These are the "connectors" our characters are taught by The Darkness. We use them to connect either 3, 5, or 7 points placed on a circle. We roll on said chart in order to figure out which connectors we will be using in our circle. Then we roll on a separate chart to figure out which out of 20 effects the connecting line creates.

This is the example given in the rulebook:
For this example, the player rolled a 1 on the Segment chart, and so they drew in that squiggly line with dots as their first connector within their circle. They then rolled on the Effect chart, and got the effect Bind. So now that squiggly line segment will always have the effect of Bind. Every future time that segment is used as a connector within a spell circle, one of the spell elements will include a binding of some sort.

While it was a bit tricky to try to replicate those line segments in such a manner that we could then recreate them again for future spells, it was still fun to build up our spell circles. Also fun to link each segment to an effect.

Once that part was done, we had to roll onto ANOTHER 20-point chart for different symbols that would be used as the subject of our spells. We were instructed to draw the symbol we rolled inside the connecting line segments; signifying that the subject of the spell is trapped by those segments. Easy enough. Much like the line segments, trying to recreate the symbols was a touch tricky, but we both feel like we did a passable job. Next was to assign an object to the symbol so we would then know what the subject of the spell would be.

Here's the rulebook's example of a completed spell circle.

Easy enough. Fun to do. Requires a bit of artistic talent, but simple enough that it's not crucial that you are artistically inclined. And it was exciting to see what each segment and symbol would end up representing.

Then the hard part kicked in.
Now that you know what your spell can do and what it can target it's time to name the spell and describe it in your spellbook.... Once you have your Magic Circle completed roll a d6 on the cost table.... Once you have your cost add it to the spell page with a few notes on how to acquire the cost and any problems acquiring that cost may have caused your wizard.
Doesn't sound too rough, right? Especially when you look at the sample page posted to the game's website.
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Oh. Okay. Easy enough. The Bring Forth connector and the Spirit object are easy enough to deduce: it summons spirits. Bind clearly controls the spirit. Influence is that line of "They will do what you tell them." Super simple to figure out how those components come together for a spell, and what the spell does. Then it's just a matter of coming up with a spell name. Spectral Conjuring. Sounds good. Sounds like a legit spell you'd hear in a show or movie, or read in a book or comic, or find in an RPG rulebook. It also feels powerful enough to entice the character to keep going, but not SO powerful that they don't need any more power.

That was a good starter spell, and seemed easy enough to create. The trickiest part would be to figure out the cost of "A lie; believed" and how that would affect the player character. Oh, it means to use a tear-soaked letter as a sort of conduit of that cost. Okay. I see what they did there. I can do the same. Right?

Weeeeellllllll....

Let's take a look at mine. Hubby and I both did our starter spells in pencil so we can tweak the line segments and symbols if need be, because we both knew we were NOT good enough to copy them down on a first go. So, sorry if my spell page is a touch hard to see.

So, first and foremost, apparently I can't evenly spread out three points on a circle. Look at all that empty space on the bottom. That horizontal line segment might as well be the equator on a globe.
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Crappy artwork aside, look at the effects I rolled into! Influence, Transmute, and Grow? What am I supposed to do with those as one cohesive spell? Worse yet, originally I had the effect "Find" instead of "Influence" and I REALLY couldn't figure out what to do with those seemingly unrelated elements. After about an hour or so of trying to figure how what on earth I could do with those elements, and both Hubby and I searching for online forums of other players talking about their spells and maybe suggesting what different effect combinations could be, spell wise, we called a mulligan. I rerolled the "Find" effect and switched it to the new "Influence" effect.

And the fact that my subject is just vaguely "Matter" didn't help one lick. Especially when more specific "matter" is also listed on the object chart: Element, Flesh, Animal, Plant, Machine, Small Item, or Gem/Metal. So now I have to try to figure out what a spell subject of "matter" could be that ISN'T one of those categories????

Hubby's effects were a LOT more straight forward: Move, Redirect, and Send Away. Gee, I wonder what HIS spell does...

The real snag for him, however, is the equally vague object: Plane.

Other options on the object chart includes: Location, Energy, Time, and again Element. If it were a simple teleportation spell, then Location should have been the object, right? Time travel would use Time as the object. Moving the ground itself, "earthbending" essentially, would have used Element as the object. Like, what else would you interpret Plane as?

So I joked that while I'm unofficially using Hawkmoth and the Miraculous as my base, Hubby unintentionally created a Magic: The Gathering Planeswalker, and their Spark ignited as their first spell. Fitting.

However, Hubby's "cost" is also "a pail of fresh-fallen snow." Okay. Something relatively easy to get like that seems fitting for the first spell. Far better than "a family heirloom; taken" because either my character is going to run out of heirlooms, the spell inevitably becomes more difficult to perform as she has to start stealing other people's family heirlooms, or she just can't cast the spell anymore. The real problem is that Hubby decided the effects of his spell all sound like banishing words: move, redirect, SEND AWAY. He couldn't really figure out how to move a plane, redirect a plan, or send away a plane (all of which we just interpreted as "plane of existence") so instead he decided the spell effect is that it's a banishing spell. Sending TO the plane. Having the plane be the subject of the spell by manipulating the plane in order to banish TO it. Fold the plane around the desired object, if you will. To which, Hubby sadly proclaimed, "well, looks like my grimoire is done. If I can just send my older brothers to another plane with something as simple as snow, then I can just get rid of my competition until they have no choice but to put me in charge..."

Whoops. Kiiiinda wish they had playtested this a touch more in order to figure out how to prevent such seemingly over-powered spells from being created your first go, let alone created with such a small cost. Hubby thinks the objects, and maybe even the effects were ranked like the costs were, and you had to build up to the stronger magic the same way you added to the cost of the spell. Either that, or not use such vague objects as "matter" and "plane." Especially when they are basically "catch-all" terms for a lot of objects already on the chart.

Hubby and I might need to workshop a bit. Maybe house-rule different objects instead of the two we rolled and try again.

Alternatively, we'd have to put a LOT more "off-screen" roleplaying into effect. For instance, I told Hubby that, say he has 9 brothers, perhaps the issue he comes across is that people start to become wise to his banishing scheme after the 3rd or 4th brother goes missing. He still has a long line to work through, but now he's wanted for treason and still needs to learn spells in order to finish off the rest of his family and protect himself from the royal army.

Or, he's a prince of a desert kingdom, and it's trickier to get fresh-fallen snow than face value suggests. Maybe he can't use the spell against his brothers because he can never get a full pail back to his kingdom, or he has to come up with another spell in order to keep the snow from melting first.

Or, the spell isn't as powerful as he thinks. It's just a small portal; not nearly large enough to fit a full person. I was thinking of the Fetches from the Trollhunters show on Netflix.
Sorry for the minor spoilers here.
So, like I said, we're still workshopping.

And I still need to figure out more to my first spell's effect than "can manipulate matter" as well as figure out how I paid the cost of "a family heirloom; taken." Does my character sacrifice the heirloom, using it as the matter being manipulated? If so, does that mean she can only create with as much matter as the heirloom provides? For instance, she can't use a necklace to create a gun turret. For that she'd have to use something like a grandfather clock or a statue or whatever.

Or, much like in the game example, does she need to use some sort of physical conduit for the pain a stolen heirloom would create?

The vagueness of the game is great for getting your creative juices flowing and giving you free rein, but both Hubby and I need a bit more... structured storytelling guidance at the moment. So we might have to put Sigils in the Dark on the backburner for a bit. Either that, or, as I mentioned, retool it slightly with some house rules to help us a bit more.

So, instead, let's head on over to the OTHER RPG that Hubby just picked up. The one we worked on with Dragnime on Saturday instead of starting our journey into Sigils, or watching anime together as we normally do on Saturdays.

That RPG was the strongly suggested Blades in the Dark by John Harper and published by Evil Hat Productions (we seem to be playing a lot of "in the dark" games right now...).

Hubby finally got his copy of the rulebook - which, by the way, is a lot more detailed than I was expecting considering it's roughly the same size and thickness as a standard novel - and he was itching to jump into the game.

Dragnime, Hubby, and I all created characters Saturday night, and started the basics of creating our criminal crew.

This time, I'd like to introduce you to Mara Basran. She is a native to the main city setting of Doskvol, but she doesn't have the fair skin typically associated with the island's native Akorosi. She's 2nd generation, descended from immigrants; much like how my mother is IRL. Three out of Mara's four grandparents were refugees from the island of Iruvia. To be frank, I picked it because of the island's description: a land of black deserts, obsidian mountains, and raging volcanoes. Can you say "sounds like Lia's paradise"?

The natives are "generally amber-skinned and dark-haired." In other words, they're supposed to have a North-African/Middle-Eastern look to them, which is where I'm going with Mara's look... whose name I TOTALLY didn't pick from the game's suggested names table because it was dangerously close to "Amara"....
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Anyway, for flavor, I decided Mara's father was going to be only half-Iruvian. The other parent would be an immigrant from The Dagger Isles. It's "a tropical archipelago covered in dense jungle growth; now turned dark and twisted from the strange magic of the cataclysm" that happens to be just off the coast of Iruvia. Native Islanders "are generally copper-skinned and dark-haired" so Mara's overall look wouldn't have to shift too much to include this quarter of her heritage.

The more I thought about what I wanted to do with Mara, and realized how I was seated while picturing her - a very powerful, forward leaning, devil-may-care pose - the more I pictured her as the surprisingly (but not really) controversial character design for Abby from The Last of Us Part II.

For reference for those who might not know, this is Abby.
Photo courtesy of the fandom wiki
So, picture Mara with that more muscular body tone, but with darker skin and black hair. I also gave her shoulder-length hair with an undercut so it's easier to maintain, but can still be left down for a more elegant look in case she needs to infiltrate a high-class party or something.

Mara was originally a member of the Bluecoats - the local law enforcement - but, after about 6 years on the force, she got a bit too cozy with an informant. I'm not sure yet if that's just a tight friendship, sexual rendezvous, or if they dated. Either way, it was frowned upon by her precinct, and she realized being a criminal was more fun anyway. So she was dishonorably discharged from the force, and she hit the streets doing petty crimes for about 2 years before meeting up with Hubby's character Ashlyn and Drag's character Syra. Quarthix is coming over today to come up with his character, but for now, Mara's cohorts are those two, and the trio decided to form an official crew. They're all Shadows; basically thieves and spies. They can take on other types of jobs, such as smuggling, selling fenced goods, or assassinations, but basic burglary, robbery, espionage, and sabotage is our crew's wheelhouse.

Another part of character creation for this game is to come up with "Deadly Friends." Each character archetype - of which I'm the Hound, a deadly sharpshooter and tracker - has a list of five NPCs. For the Hound, these characters include Steiner, an assassin, Celene, a sentinel, Melvir, a physicker (doctor), Veleris, a spy, and Casta, a bounty hunter. Out of your character's list of five NPCs, you are to choose one to be a close ally and another to be your greatest rival. For me, I went with Melvir the physicker as my ally, because it's always good to have someone who could patch me or my crew up. As for my rival? I went with Casta the bounty hunter. Figured Casta, whom I'm picturing as a male for whatever reason (probably because I'm picturing Michael Kosta from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah), had always been a bit of a thorn in Mara's side. First, he would bring in bounties and tease that he could bring in "the bad guys" better than I could. Now that I'm on the criminal side of the law, I'm picturing Casta and I going after the same bounties, and possibly evolve to him trying to bring ME in, if the bounty gets high enough.

So there you have it. Not much by way of actual stories to share with you fine folks, but two characters created and some of their opening life stories. As well as an unofficial review of the game Sigils in the Dark.

I did manage to get some fanfiction reading in this week - including rereading a bunch of my own stories to get back into the mindset of a writer - but this post is LOOOOOONG as is, so I'll have to wait until next week, I think.

Until then!
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(Or... at least have as good of one as 2020 will allow...)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hitting the Birthday Reset Button

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Happy early birthday to me!

I'll just say it, being 35 SUCKED. It was an age I was always looking towards as a goal post for a LOT of things. I was both scared and excited to reach that age. And then this past year?

Of course, there have been highlights within the past year, but for the most part? Meh.

I'm still in an apartment instead of having my own home, which also means still no pets. Boooo. Hubby and I are still childless, and with the stress of handling this pandemic, that's probably not going to change any time soon. I am NOT happy with where I am with my weight. My knee has been loudly clicking, and I've had a touch of a limp while going up/down stairs, so I've been avoiding Zumba for nearly 2 months now to try to not agitate my knee further. While I have still managed to build up a nest egg of savings, it's not nearly enough for any sort of home down payment, and it's barely enough to handle any sort of MAJOR medical issue or the need to buy a new car if something massive happens to the still-relatively-new car I currently own. Still, for normal day-to-day - buying groceries or picking out birthday presents or paying back family loans or making sure all the bills are paid on time or the occasional splurge on a Kickstarter project - and for MINOR health issues or car repairs, we're good. So.... there's that.

Aside from the house and family concerns, the biggest hit this past year has been to my writing.

It seemed to have petered off throughout the second half of last year, and I've barely touched any writing at all this year; not really putting any fictional words to paper since mid-March. Part of that has coincided with one of the roughest Writing Funks I've had since college. In truth, part of the reason I ran away from being on Tumblr for more than a few minutes each day since the pandemic hit the United States is because I just can't handle seeing the productivity that seems to have sprung out of everyone else, and also because it hurts to see the love other writers are getting, while knowing I'm still kinda lost in obscurity.

Now, let's throw in my normal disclaimer here: By NO means am I saying the other authors don't deserve the love. In fact, I may very well be one of those readers pouring out the admiration for those stories and writers. My self-doubts and disappointment in my "lack of love" by no way reflects what these other writers do or do not deserve. Their success does not create nor cause my own shortcomings. These are completely separate, and I hope those authors continue getting the love they have rightfully earned.

I'll also throw in my "I know I'm a good writer. I have only received positive reviews of my stories, and I've had a handful of readers who've become true cheerleaders, and even grew to become friends, so I know my writing IS loved. It just doesn't get FOUND all that frequently, and doesn't become viral successes like these other stories."

I know this.

But I think that's part of the problem? I KNOW I'm a good writer. Sure, I still have places where I need to grow. All authors do. I am far from perfect in my writing. Still. I KNOW my stories are good and that people enjoy them.

So why AREN'T they the stories that go viral, or are included in recommendation lists on popular fandom Tumblr blogs? Why doesn't my work get fanart or inspire people to draw out my scenes as comics with the artist shouting "You guys all have to go read this story!"? Why don't I get Tumblr Asks where people just gush about how amazing my work is?

Whenever I see all of that on the blogs of my friends or mutuals or people I follow, I'm SO proud of them. I'm incredibly happy for them, because I can imagine how much of a high that is.

But why not me?

I know. I know that part of it is because I post so infrequently. I'm not one of the prolific writers that seems to post something new - be it a short story, a drabble, a new chapter, etc - every day. I'm not drawing people in with a constant updating schedule. That was part of the reason each year's goal is to post something new at least once a month.

I also know that part of the problem is that I'm not much of a content creator on Tumblr, Instagram, or Twitter. Those other authors that blow up? They're also artists who build up a huge following with their art, and their fans just naturally shift to read their writing, and their personal fandom grows from there. Some of those artists have drawn comics; proving they can write at least a short story with a visual media, so people trust they can transition further into fully literary storytelling. Or they aren't artists per se, but they still post amusing thoughts about the fandom at least once a day, if not more frequently. They come up with goofy scenarios or write little drabbles online of silly AUs or What Ifs or Inaccurate Quotes. People can see and know how creative they are. They are constantly coming up with content and building up a fanbase around that.

I KNOW all of this. That's not me though. I'm not a skilled artist. Most of the artwork I do takes me HOURS just to manipulate a picture in GIMP or something. I'm also not that quickly creative. By no means am I an improvisationalist. I tend to take the show/story - be it Miraculous Ladybug or Fruits Basket or Hey! Arnold or Percy Jackson - so much at face value that I don't even bother to think "Yeah, but what if..." There are such small portions of my favorite stories that leave me thinking of theories that I could jump off of. Instead, I try to fill in gaps, like I did with my story Prescription for Love for the ML episode "Backwarder." There wasn't really a "what if" scenario or anything. It was more "We know the start point and the end point, so what happened in the middle?"

This is probably why one of the top comments my stories get is something to the effect of "Wow. It was like reading an episode."

I just.... I stick SUPER close to canon, and maybe that's one of my popularity issues?

Either way, disappearing for 4 months probably doesn't help.
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Point is, age 35 kinda sucked. So... maybe 36 will be better?

Well, I'm not 36 yet, but I am on vacation this week leading into my birthday, and I have kind of got a nice running start at the year.

First of all, it's a bit delayed, but apologies for missing last week again, but in order for everyone to still get their 2 days off last week before I started my vacation, I ended up working last Tuesday. I once again neglected to write my blog post early on Monday, and I didn't really have much to talk about anyway, so I just kind of let the week go.

But back to this week. With my downtime, I managed to read the latest chapter of Dressed to Confess by zenmisery. Still need to go back and read a few other chapters/stories that have been sitting in my queue for about a month now, but at least I got one out of the way, right?

Anyway, well, this next part is going to have some spoilers to Zen's story, so I'll throw up my spoiler warning.
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Okay, so to recap the story thus far: Chat Noir was feeling lonely, so he started visiting Marinette. They are now, like, seniors in high school or something, and so, at a Christmas party, Marinette is giving one last-ditch effort to tell Adrien how she feels. If he rejects her then that's it. She's moving on. To try to prep for the confession, and to make sure she looks as beautiful as she possibly can, she's spending most of December creating a custom and detailed dress to confess in. Chat Noir has been keeping her company each night as she creates the dress and stresses about her confession, but he has no clue he's doing all of this for his civilian self. He thinks she's going to confess to Luka, and finds it insane that the two haven't already started dating. At the same time, he realizes he should probably make a similar decision about Ladybug: it's been years, and so he should decide if it's time to finally let her go and try to move on.

He's actually started to move on already, and realizes he's fallen for Marinette, but he's not sure what to do with that information. He's declared for years that he's in love with Ladybug, and doesn't want to give that up. He also doesn't want to confess his feelings to Marinette and complicate things when she's working so hard to confess to her crush, whom he thinks is anyone BUT Adrien.

Meanwhile, Marinette is realizing that she's starting to fall for Chat Noir. She's in the middle of this grand confession plan for Adrien, only to realize she has feelings for someone else? Just as she's debating putting a full-stop to the whole thing and just accept Chat Noir's feelings as Ladybug, Adrien starts unintentionally flirting and comforting her in such a way that resparks her feelings for him, confusing her more.

The last chapter ended with the two - Marinette and Chat Noir - meeting up, still very confused about their feelings and what to do with them, and having a make-out session as they tried to figure out where their hearts were.

The most-recent chapter starts with Chat Noir waking up in Marinette's bed the next morning. Nothing sexual happened between them, mostly because he couldn't take off the costume without revealing who he was; it being magically worn and all. Adrien mentally admitted it was probably for the best because Marinette going along with the make-out session and not saying "no" didn't also mean she was saying "yes" to something as intimate as sex. He wasn't sure even he was ready for that, let alone if Marinette was. So he was grateful his inability to strip out of his costume forced them to slow down and not blindly follow their hormones into something they might later regret.

It was brilliantly written, however, it did get me thinking about that trope in the fandom. Namely, that a lot of adult writers will age up Marinette and Adrien so that MariChat can have more intimate relations without it being creepy. Alongside that is the trope that they CAN'T do anything intimate because Chat Noir is stuck in his costume. Granted, the same could play out with Ladybug being stuck in hers, but for some reason the sexual advancement of the Love Square relationship almost always seems to stick with MariChat or Adrienette. I guess Marinette isn't sexually hormonal when she's in superhero form, but Adrien is?????

Anyway, my point being, I thought about that trope, and of course my mind thought of how to get around it. How could Marinette let Chat Noir know she's ready for that level of intimacy, and how could Chat Noir let her know that he was as well? Well, I mean, outside of the obvious "they talk about it with each other," but that's not sexy, so we'll ignore that one.... Also, once they've decided they were both ready, how would they be able to actually have sex while still hiding Chat Noir's identity?

The simple answer came from the episode "Frighteningale": A Chat Noir Mask. Doi. Marinette could provide Chat Noir with a replica of his mask and a condom. That would be her way of signalling she's ready, and the ball would then be in his court to decide he was also ready by de-powering in private so she can't see who he is, and donning the gifts she left him.

Another scenario I thought of was towards the middle of the Dressed to Confess chapter. YEAH! I actually thought of TWO narrative scenarios! Go figure, right?

Anyway, Marinette and Chat Noir decide they will go back to just being friends until after Marinette has confessed. Then, if things go poorly and "he" doesn't accept Marinette's feelings, she and Chat Noir would try out their own relationship. Part of that, however, would mean Marinette would have to learn who Chat Noir was. He's nervous about accepting Marinette's suggestion because he knows Ladybug doesn't want anyone to know who the superheroes are. Marinette is also struggling because, as Ladybug, she knows it will be fine, but doesn't know how to let Chat Noir know this without also revealing who she is. She also wonders if she SHOULD let him know if she's going to know who he is.

In the end, Marinette offers to design an outfit for Chat Noir that matches the dress she's been working on. That way when she sees a guy wearing her suit she knows it's Chat Noir. He also agrees to stay hidden from her so she doesn't know who he is until after she's potentially rejected by her crush. In truth, I cannot WAIT for this part of the story: Marinette trying desperately to find Adrien in order to confess to him, meanwhile he's doing everything he can to avoid Marinette so she doesn't prematurely find out he's Chat Noir.

Anyway, the second scenario I thought of was a similar reveal, but instead of Marinette making a full outfit, Chat Noir instead brings Marinette a piece of clothing - a suit jacket, or a tie, or something like that - for her to embroider a special symbol on. It could be hidden on the back of the tie or the inside lining of the jacket, that way the symbol is only seen when revealed. Chat Noir knows he'll interact with Marinette as Adrien, and this way he can walk right by her while wearing the generic article of clothing without rising suspicion, but then show Marinette the bit of embroidery she added to reveal himself. Not quite as fun as what Zen came up with, but I still like the idea.
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OKAY! SPOILERS OVER NOW! YOU CAN START READING AGAIN IF YOU SKIPPED THE LAST PART!

If you did skip any of that stuff, know the long-and-short is that the chapter actually got me kinda-sorta running two different narrative scenarios in my head! One with regards to a kinda smutty MariChat scenario - even though there wasn't any sex in Zen's story - and another with an identity reveal via fashion accessory. I'll most likely never actually write them out, but it DID get me thinking in narratives, so... YAY!

It was the first bit of narrative creativity - excluding my headcanoning about my Animal Crossing villagers - I've done in, like, 4 months. So, thank you, Zen!

To also aid in my attempt to jumpstart my writing, as well as help me create a prop I could potentially use in stories down the line, Hubby got me my secondary birthday gift early.

His main one was the Switch and copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons back in March, but he still wanted to gift me something this week. So he got me a copy of the PDF rule book for Sigils in the Dark by Kurt Potts and this super gorgeous hand-bound journal.
The game Sigils in the Dark is a solo RPG. The premise is that you are someone with "a need, a deep burning need that drives you." You get to decide what that need is, and then you hear whispers in the darkness telling you "I can help you..."

The game itself has you playing as this future dark mage, chasing after those faint whispers just barely out of sensory reach; learning sigils and testing them to try to achieve your ultimate goal, slowly going insane in the process as you become more and more willing to pay higher and higher sacrifices to learn the spell you need to succeed.

The game ends when you will it. Does it stop because the price of the spell is too much for the mage to be willing to pay? Does it end because the mage died in the process of trying to complete the spell? Did the mage succeed and no longer needs to add to the grimoire? Is the journal itself just, plain, full? Conceivably, the game can continue even beyond most of those points as long as there are still blank pages: a new mage has found the grimoire and falls down the same rabbit hole of looking for power; adding their own spells to the back of the journal.

Either way, once the game is deemed "complete" the end result is a physical grimoire prop to use for future RPGs or fantasy stories. I've had the journal for a few days now, but I'm waiting until my actual birthday to get started. That way it feels more like a birthday gift, as opposed to just a "this seems fun; here ya go" kind of gift Hubby and I tend to give to each other.

Maybe the epic tale of the darkness and insanity my mage finds herself in will grace this blog in the upcoming weeks/months.

Yay, potential writing!

Hubby is even debating getting his own journal so he can create a grimoire alongside me.

Also, after following a train of YouTube videos, I stumbled upon one by Dicebreaker that talks about 5 solo RPGs. In truth, I watched to see if Sigils in the Dark made the list. It didn't, but instead I learned about solo RPG Ex Novo by Martin Nerurkar and Konstantinos Dimopoulos. The premise of that game is to roll on tables provided in the game book as a means to slowly create and develop a city. The rolls provide you with guidance as to the resources available to the budding town, and the population density. Then, as you continue rolling, your town evolves. Buildings are built up; torn down; destroyed by natural disasters or raiding/war; expanded, etc. Population increases, decreases, shifts districts, etc. Natural resources are used up; new ones are discovered, and so on and so forth. By the time you're done playing, you have a city map, a culture, and an extensive history for the city and its people.

This is EXACTLY what I need to help me get back on track with the overall world build for both "Glitches" and Gyateara. So, yeah, I bought that up this morning, actually.

I hope with these new solo games - although, Hubby wants in on Ex Novo as well, so either he'll help me build some of my cities or we'll build up cities separately but at the same time - and life starting to resemble the Before Times again with regards to my daily schedule, and this week-long Reset Button of a stay-cation, I can get back into writing properly. Slowly dip my toes back into the water as it were.

Now, one of the reasons Hubby and I even heard of Dicebreaker and started watching some of their videos in the first place was because of the co-star and creator Johnny Chiodini, originally known to us as the DM of the Oxventure D&D sessions. In that regards, about a week or so ago Luke from Outside Xtra was on Dicebreaker in a one-on-one session with Johnny as he taught Luke how to become a DM. In truth, Johnny's advice and instruction had helpful generic rules on how to be a good Game Master in general, regardless of the RPG chosen. The advice was welcomed for even someone like me, who is mildly terrified about the prospect of DMing, mostly because I do generally suck at improv and thinking quickly on my feet as a means of pushing the story forward. Let alone having the skill to kind of corral the players so they stay to the main plotline. So, if nothing else, the video was entertaining because I like Johnny and Luke as people and it feels like watching friends of mine chat, which is nice. A bit delusional, but still nice. However, I did also enjoy the video because it helped me believe I could DM again if I were ever inspired to come up with a campaign plotline.

All of that aside, and the reason I'm even really discussing this video on my "writing" blog, one of the best things that came out of the video, for me, was Johnny's advice to write a quest backwards: figure out the Big Bad Boss Battle, then work your way back to come up with the key plot points the session has to hit in order to direct everyone to the boss, as well as prepare them to (hopefully) survive the battle. Finish up by spending the most time on the story hook at the beginning of the session. Get those players involved and wanting to follow the story you outlined.

This works equally well for stories in general, the more I thought about it. Stephen King has notably stated that he writes his stories backwards; know where he wants the story to end, and backtrack to figure out how the characters got there.

I need to try that. Or, more accurately, what I told Hubby upon hearing Johnny's advise: "Plot backwards, write forwards." One of the other bits of advice Johnny had was to have the main plot points be "floating" and "pliable." That way you can shift them to where needed. For instance, in the example Johnny gave, the notes he had for the session included the Oxventurers being rescued from an attack, and the rescuing NPC would explain the McGuffin to them. That way the Oxventurers would know who the Big Bad is and how to stop the attacks from happening anymore. Instead, the Oxventurers sniffed out that there was something shady going on with a character and investigated him. Since he was no longer a surprise villain, Johnny had to rework the information. Luckily, it wasn't crucial that the NPC explained the McGuffin, and Johnny was able to rework the information so the characters instead stumbled upon the plot on their own. It made for much more compelling "show; don't tell" storytelling as well.

This is why I reword as "Plot backwards; write forwards" because you never really know where the characters are going to take the story, and instead of forcing them to fit the narrative of effects equals cause, it's better to know where you want to end and the main plot points you need to hit, and then shift them accordingly as the characters take the story and make it their own.

That's generally how I do write, but I think I need to give One and the Same another go with this method. I also need to reread Peeping Tomcat as well as what I have thus far for OatS. I've also mentally retooled the closing of OatS I have written thus far.

I can do this. I know I can. I won't let the crappiness of 35 or 2020 stop me! I'm gonna power through to make 36 amazing! I'll make it my big Come Back year.
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(I couldn't decide which one of these I wanted to go with, so, screw it, use all 3!)

On that high note, I want to wish a happy 5th birthday to my nephew. Can't wait to see you later today! (Don't worry, my area is cleared for small family gatherings now)
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Oh, one last thing since I mildly mentioned COVID-19 there anyway. After MONTHS of it being stuck "in transit" overseas, Hubby and I FINALLY got our "Wash Your Dang Hands" shirts!

Editing my Bitmoji head onto my photos is such a pain. This is my aforementioned "artistic skill" of spending HOURS on GIMP editing photos.... Regardless, I don't like showing my actual face with my LycoRogue handle. So here we are....

The shirt was a fundraiser back in, like, April for the NHS. It was created by OutsideXbox and Outside Xtra, using the signature closing line OutsideXbox host Jane Douglas would use for her Two Point Hospital streams. It was so much fun wearing it to go grocery shopping and on a Walmart run yesterday.

So.... yeah... remember to wash your dang hands and wear a mask and keep a six-foot/two-meter distance.

Take care everyone, and I hope this week brings as many highs for you as I hope it brings for me.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

I Get the Hamilton Hype

Happy Belated Treason Day. 
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This past Saturday was American Independence Day, and I totally forgot to mention it in my last blog. Whoops. Also forgot to send out a happy Canada Day for my neighbors up north. So, happy birth of your nation, as well.

My holiday was mostly uneventful. Hubby was too worn from work - and it was too hot out for him anyway - for us to bother having a barbecue with his dad, so we just kind of chilled at home. I spent most of my day trying out the new summer features in Animal Crossing: New Horizons as well as FINALLY getting my island's flower infestation somewhat under control.

The way flower growth works in this game is that new flowers won't spawn unless watered. However, if it rains, something like 40 or 50 new flowers - depending on your flower placement - will sprout. It's been raining on my island nearly daily for WEEKS, and, with only a couple of hours per night to play now, I don't have the time to uproot the surplus flowers, so the whole thing became a bit out-of-hand. Another little hint at how bad it got: each flower is 32 bells - the game's currency - when deposited into the store drop-box. I think I earned darn near 5000 bells after selling MOST - not all - of my surplus flowers. The rest I used to fill in surface space of different sections of my island - such as a mini-island I have in the center of my rivers, which I have dubbed Flower Isle, and the clifftop I've been using to breed hybrid flowers - so that there is literally nowhere for new flowers to spawn except for the few spaces I purposefully left open for potential hybrids.

Anyway, that was pretty much my Saturday. That, and Hubby and I singing various songs from Hamilton. Thanks to Disney+ Hubby and I were FINALLY able to see the musical. I must say, I get the hype. However, the songs I more-or-less knew going into the show, the ones that were always sung on late-night talk shows to promote the show, or that everyone quotes online - "Alexander Hamilton", "My Shot", "Right Hand Man", and "In the Room Where it Happens" - were the ones stuck in my head least after the musical was through.

Personally, my favorites are the three King George songs, and Eliza's song "Helpless." Quick aside, hearing Jonathan Groff sing as King George made me all the more mad that Kristoff didn't have more songs in the two Frozen movies. Anyway, I also really enjoyed "Washington on Your Side." Also, while watching the show, I first started crying during the song "That Would be Enough," and lost it again at "It's Quiet Uptown." I mean, I know there were other tear-jerker moments, but those were my two big ones.

So, yeah, that was our weekend: watching Hamilton Friday night, and then singing the songs ever since while trying to catch up on island maintenance in AC:NH. Real productive, right?
Happy 4th, from Ghetta Way
The work week has been a bit crazy between projects for the company, figuring out website issues, helping customers for hours on end, and prepping for the next sale which starts this upcoming weekend.

On top of all of that, the past three days I've had a terrible pain in my lower back/behind my right hip. It coincides with, and, for the most part, overtaking my normal menstrual cramping - sorry for any who feel skeeved out reading stuff like that, but let's normalize menstration already, shall we? - so I'm gonna see if it finally eases up in a day or two when I should be done menstruating. In the meantime, though, movement has been very limited, and I've been spending a lot more time laying on pillows in the bedroom.

Not really the best week to try to hit the reset button and attempt writing again. I'm glad I didn't bother signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo this year, because I don't need the added depression of failing another NaNo horribly. Especially since I'd STILL be working on One and the Same, which I wanted to publish September... DECEMBER, at the latest... of 2018.

Just call me George R.R. Martin.... Or, maybe, Hamilton...
From the song "Your Obedient Servant"
Nah... Hamilton wrote almost relentlessly. I might be long-winded like him, but I'm definitely more of a Martin in regards to my actual production speed....

I did find time to read more of Dressed to Confess and In the Dark by zenmisery. Both have fluff and angst in the latest chapters and she killed me with both stories.

I've also been working through the tedious task of trying to organize the hundreds of screen grabs I took the first few weeks of playing AC:NH before I found a MicroSD card to save the images to. Once I started doing that, it was easy to organize the pictures and videos. They all go in a specific date folder when created. The only snafu is that when I make screenshots from videos the pictures save to the date folder on the day they were created; not the day the video was recorded unless it's the same day. Small issue that I can work around.

The early pictures though? I have those by uploading to Facebook and then downloading again. At first, I spent HOURS uploading to Facebook in groups of 5 at a time - the max the Switch allowed - and then downloading them to my computer, and then looking at the date stamp on the Switch file to re-name and organize the image on my computer. It was tedious, and one day I totally blanked out on what I was doing and deleted the images as soon as they were on Facebook, instead of after I organized them on my laptop.

So now I have images I'm trying to figure out when I took them based on the outfit my character is wearing, cross-referencing some images with date stamps on them, and looking for progression of things like flowers blooming in the background to see which photos came first.
Tanuki Facebook sticker
by Yanare Ku
It's tedious work that I really don't NEED to be doing, but I also love seeing the progression of my game in photo form - my early-days pictures remind me how EMPTY the island used to be! - and so I do enjoy having each picture date-stamped for future reference.

But, yeah, that's what I've been up to. What about you fine folks?