Friday, September 23, 2016

Expo First Day

I'm in Edmonton now, without a computer. I'm crap at texting so this is going to be short.

I love these cons. It's a great chance to meet people and touch base with the community, be recognized by readers and help my bottom line. I leave these events encouraged and enriched.

I can always use some of that.

If you're in Edmonton, and you have a little money, come and see me at the Expo at Northlands. Wallace Shawn is here (Inconceivable!), so is John Delancey, Christian Slater - and for those who care - Carrie Fisher.

And me, obviously.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Eyes! The Eyes!

And now, an evil cat picture.

In the last couple of days I've inexplicably lost my photo I.D.  I need an image on the net connected to my real name to support my other cards and things with my Edmonton Expo registration later today; I've decided not to use facebook.

Strangely, this has worked as proof of identity in the past.  It is a strange world.

Acts of Faith

When I was a young would-be writer and artist, like most others around me with the same aspirations I thought success and achievement came from having talent and perspective.  Wanting to be novelists and poets, painters and musicians, dancers and film-makers, we worshiped talent in others and doubted it in ourselves; we saw the affectation of attitude and pretension in others and embraced the same in ourselves like a faith.  Like a shibboleth, we believed that if we could find the talent and act the part, becoming the artist would naturally follow.

But while talent and attitude have their place, neither of those things make an artist.  As I was describing it yesterday to my partner, pressing on the gas pedal and turning the wheel are very important where it comes to driving the car . . . but if there is no gas in the gas tank, it does not matter how hard you press down or how desperately you yank the wheel. You're going nowhere.

Art - and every other achievement - is an act of faith.  It argues that if the time is taken today to work on this small thing, that thing will bear fruit in the future.  If I start the book, if I start working on my game world, if I buy the tools and start building the wall across my back yard, one day, one day, the book and the world and the wall will be finished.

Without that faith, without that conviction that the work done today is not wasted, nothing today gets done and there is nothing in the future.

That is why so many of the would-be musicians and painters, dancers and film-makers, that I surrounded myself with in my youth are none of those things today.  That is why they work in the trades or sell insurance; that is why they have gotten rid of the studios in their basements and stopped practicing.  After years of working and trying and failing, they lost their faith.  Nothing they did bore fruit and they stopped believing that it ever would.

It is the enormity of the task that destroys.  Bad work can be corrected and made better; having the wrong perspective can be righted; but working day after day without the apparent value of that work being made evident . . . that strikes deep in the breast and withers the vine.  The tools that once brought joy and aspiration now sit in the corner of the room, unemployed and sincerely hated.  They lay there and they lay there until they must be gotten rid of, else they cast a pall upon every moment of opportunity and life left in the body.

This is what is happening as we sense our worlds slipping away from us; as the gaming projects that endeared us in our childhoods now seem harder and harder to work upon in a world with jobs, mortgages, children and the fear of failure.  A week's labor for a week's pay gives proof of time spent like no world-building exercise can ever offer; a faith in that is so easy to possess that it washes every other uncertain aspiration away like a flood scouring a valley clean.  Paying for a world, paying for modules, reduces the act of faith to a mere transaction, the moment lasting no longer than the time it takes to pick the item off the shelf and exchange coin for possession.  The cost is minimal and the reward immediate.

Why, then, practice the artist's habit of working quietly and ineffectually in ground that may very well be sterile, that even seems certain to be sterile, after a decade of planting seeds that never sprout?

Faith can be a habit.  If it is there in the early years and is sustained with imagination and ardor, it's presence becomes a balm in itself.  When things are finished, one thing after another, the sustenance of that too impresses itself, until the effect of the work ceases to matter and the work itself becomes the principle upon which one continues to move forward.

People ask, what can I do?  What will get me there?  Where is the door and what is the key and how do I use one to open the other?  I tell them as best I can; I explain the work and the method, I give details for the strategies they might try, I propose fixed steps upon which they might embark within a few hours or a few days . . . and for the most part, it all comes to naught.  The advice is never taken, never set in motion, never embraced.

That is because what we can do in a few hours or a few days will never produce the kind of fruit we want right now, the fruit that can be gotten with a transaction or working a job.  Worse, all the work that can be done towards artistry will always be the sort that we can manage in a few hours or a few days, because artworks are not made from pouring barrels of paint onto a canvas or backing up a dump truck full of words.  The fingers and the breath are not empowered by the instrument; the physical body must be remade and adapted to the tool.  This takes immeasurable amounts of time - time that differs from human to human.  There's no straight path, no unqualified promise of a pay cheque, no warm and friendly face to give change from the till.  From the start it all looks hopeless and, for most of the time, it stays that way.  At the beginning, for years and years.

If we do and we believe, we will find that one day we will have done.  This is the formula.  There is no escaping it.  But it is a beautiful thing, too; for it will change us and help us to see the world differently; and once we have seen the world differently, we will enable others to do the same, without having to pay the cost we paid.

Monday, September 19, 2016


There.  I have an actual, real life version of my "world" map.

And don't I look happy?  No, not really - just beat.

So, this is for my booth at the Edmonton Comic Expo this weekend.  The map is at least large enough that its not possible to look at the whole thing at one time - but realisticaly, the place names are not readable.  That would require a much larger image, one that's out of my price range.  Next time I have this printed, it will be at least six feet wide.  At the moment, it's 122 cm by 66 cm.

I need it until 5 o'clock on Sunday - and after that, I really don't need it at all.  I figure by the time I would want a poster like this again, I'll have England added to it, perhaps more of Africa, perhaps I'll work on Sinkaing and Tibet to fill in the space between Siberia and India - actually fairly easy, since although its a big space there isn't much research to do.  It is the research that slows down the making of this map.

So I was thinking, entirely from curiosity, if it wouldn't be practical to simply auction it off to the highest bidder, with the deadline being 5 pm, Mountain Time, September 25.  Too self-serving?  It's a partial map (and technically, no matter what map I eventually print to replace it, will always be a partial map), so I can't imagine the interest value being that high; I do expect it will impress people at the Expo, encouraging a few strangers to understand just how seriously I take the careful design of my world.

Incidentally, I finished the actual organization of Britain.  Total number of settlements on the two islands: 374.  Population of the English Commonwealth under Cromwell: 8,286,074.  Population of occupied Ireland: 217,446.  Population of lawless Ireland (Eire): 286,002.  All of which has to be jammed into this tiny pair of islands:

Ah well, no hurry.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We're Alone

Since writing this post in May, I have progressively considered that the principle difficulty in Dungeon Mastering is to be found in isolation.  Virtually every game I can remember playing in my past, including my own game, along with games that I hear of others playing, exist in a vacuum.  The sole exception to this seems to be those games played in clubs, where the atmosphere can only be described as autocratic and unyielding - not the sort of place to transcend our old selves where it comes to running better games, as any contrivance against the standards of play is categorically decried and cast out.

I turn back my memories to when I played in club rooms, where there were five to ten campaigns of various sorts being played within a few feet of one another.  There was no WOTC in those days to sponsor programs that declared what modules would be run, how they would play out or when they would end.  We simply all played our own games, our own rules systems, without even the requirement that those participating be role-playing.  All gamers were welcome.

If it seems, however, that I am praising such halcyon days, I'm not.  Those get-togethers were anything but supportive; there was no rankle, no actual disdain, but there was certainly loads of indifference.  Each campaign would act as if they, and they alone, were entitled to play in that space of many tables, as if to say, "I wish all these other people hadn't shown up today."

With this, there were always the lone entities, people without a game, who didn't have time to actually play (as it was in University or before that, High School) or any interest in playing . . . but they wanted to watch, to fold their arms and make their presence known, to kibbitz the players or ask undesired questions.  Some of these interlopers were genuinely interested, some even made the experience a little better, like having an audience to perform for - but on the whole, not the sort of thing that improved the game's quality.

Barring the WOTC's apparent wish to turn role-playing into a low-grade sport, such as has been done with cooking, table-top is sorely lacking in reliable, practical wisdom and advice.  I see this when I talk to gamers at conventions: they distrust my book's proposed content, knowing how they've been disappointed again and again, or they reach out for it like inhabitants of a desert island seeing a ship.  There's no one - NO ONE - to tell them if their game has any merit, nothing to measure their skills against, nothing to give them reassurance that they are on the right path towards a better game or creating better adventures.

In the bigger sense, for most DMs, there's nothing to do about it.  Without a discernible path, without discernible goals, there's no way to make a strategy.  A strategy to do what?  What, in this game, defines a DM's "accomplishment"?

Most, flailing around for an answer, have learned to say, "A good game" or "A fun game."  But I talk to DMs who have been playing for twenty and thirty years who are worried that if they drop the ball repeatedly for even a single session that their players (who have been coming for three years) will get bored and quit.  One fun session isn't enough to discourage the feeling that the next session won't be and that, with enough bad sessions, the players will find something else to do.

That's horrible.  Playing for years, acting the part of DM for years, and still we feel that we're only one bad month away from the game going tits up.  Who participates in a activity with that kind of uncertainty - much less one with this level of work, sacrifice or outlay of coin?

I think there is an atmosphere of silence describing these issues, supported by the realization by many DMs that they can't speak about their issues with their players - that any sign of weakness would only bring about their worst fears.  It's fear; it's sensing that no one cares about us and our worlds because there's no one's opinion that can be gotten that can possible matter.  We're alone and there seems no alternative.

There is an alternative.  Start talking about it.  To anyone.  Doesn't matter if they play or not, doesn't matter if they understand.  If excellence is something that we want and we don't know how to go about getting it, then we need to learn what other people do in other fields.  Because excellence - and its definition - is possible.  Our uncertainty has been formed by the community being fragmented by so many things for so long.  We have spent so much time battering each other about what to play and how to play that we've spent very little time on why we play.  And why we'd like our play to be better.

Newest Tutorial Brochures

As students for my online tutorial classes have approached me and gone through the courses - happily, I'd like to add, writing very positively that the courses are worth the money - I have become increasingly clear about how the content of those classes ought to be described.  As well, I'd like to have a post where all four of the classes are in one place.  It is my plan to promote the classes at the Edmonton Expo next weekend, to encourage people to consider the possibility of jumping in.  Here are updated examples of the brochures.  Read them, I think these are undoubtedly better descriptions of what's going on with these classes.

Friday, September 16, 2016


I am getting ready for the Edmonton Comic Expo next weekend - and it is nice to have a little spending money (not much, but things are getting better).  As such, I just came back from visiting a print shop where I've arranged to have the big map printed as a poster.  I couldn't afford it's actual size: that would be 10 feet by 5 and a half feet, according to the printer, which would work out to about $500.  I had to settle for 48 inches by 26.

Talking to the print guys was a lot of fun.  These are people who deal with businesses all day and 99% of what they see is ordinary - nothing as intricate as the file I gave them.  I got wide eyes and impressed questions, plus some great praise as I explained that it was created on Publisher one piece at a time.  Since I am never ashamed about admitting that I play D&D or explaining what it is to total strangers, I was sure to tell them what the map was for.  And as I have learned in the past, it doesn't matter that I'm talking about a game or something that many people seem to think is silly.  The work is the work - it has the strength to startle anyone's preconception, if the merit is obvious.

Startling people is I wanted the map printed: to show people at the Comic Expo how much work I'm putting into my world, so that they'll make the connection to how much work I put into my books.  A physical representation is more effective than a computer screen - not because it's real but because it is BIGGER.  Even a really big computer screen just looks like the image has been blown up to size.  A physical representation on paper can't be.  I so wish I could have printed that 10 x 5 foot map; that would have stopped people at the Expo in their tracks, from fifty feet away.

Oh well.  Someday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Such a Little Thing

A few numbers, some names, nothing spectacular.  Gawd, it's office work.  And while I know that the general reader will sniff the air after looking at this, for me it is the base measure of the world.  It tells me the names of the dragon "catches," places where the dragons roost, where they have hollowed out hills or - in the case of Airgead - where they have brought into being a magical floating cloud, resting on the surface of the Loch and providing a protective obscurity against enemies.

Negative numbers indicate that Date before the Christian Era.
The number serves for calculating the population.

It tells me, too, that two thirds of the dragons dwell in solitary groups throughout Dric-dachaigh, most likely nesting in isolated places where ten or twenty generations of dragons have roosted.

Oh, and there is the rather boggling idea of 1,813 dragons.

I want to thank everyone for the names.  On the whole, the gaelic-angle sound sold me right off, so I tried to pick names that fit best with that pattern.  The elevations aren't mountains - but then, this is Scotland, where the mountains don't get all that high anyway.

We can easily imagine the dragons dwelling upon the hills above the towns of Argyll; all those included here on are water, something that I find very enticing - and then I remember it rains in this part of Scotland all the time.  I noted that none of the tour pictures feature rain.  The photographers must wait for weeks to get a shot of dry streets.

Well, back to other things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Kingdom Naming

This is the island of Eorsa, in old Argyll county, Scotland:

According to my research, none of the towns that my encyclopedia includes were in existence in Argyll come the time of my world, 1650: Inveraray, Oban, Campbeltown and Dunoon were all founded later on.  Here is a shot of Fraoch Eilean:

When I started mapping the real world, I made a rule regarding the denizens of any region on the globe.  If the number of probable humans in 1650 was equal to less than 1 person per square mile, that region would be under the control of a NON-human race.  This is why most of Russia in my world is inhabited by orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and bugbears.  It is why northern Sweden is inhabited by gnomes.  And it is why the county of Argyll, in Scotland, needs to be occupied by non-humans as well.

I ask you, what sort of non-human culture do we put in a place that looks like the island of Luing:

We had a discussion among some of my players and agreed that this would be an excellent habitat for a dragon culture.  It is, after all, Briton, where dragons have always played a role.  I would posit that we could have a benevolent dragon population made up of relatively isolationist dragons, mostly adult or younger, living off the sea, vociferously demanding respect for their borders, yet occasionally acting as mediators and the voice of reason in a difficult political landscape.  After some discussion, we have imagined these being silver dragons.

Something like Glencoe might make a suitable home for them:

However, so far, I haven't heard a name for the kingdom/entity that I like.  Anyone have any ideas?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Podcast?

My reasons for updating the whole world map as I did yesterday were part of a process of moving the podcast content my daughter and I created this spring from Soundcloud to Youtube:

We were having problems because while Soundcloud is free at the start, at a certain number of minutes it isn't.  We didn't foresee that and did not want to spend any money on it, so the problem became how to reformat the content and add an image.  We haven't had the means to do it, though in the end it was fairly simple.  I needed to be in a better financial situation first, which has happened.  I'm still in a lot of trouble, but I have at least a little spendable income.  For about five months, even with the donations from readers, I have had zero disposable income.  Every dime I've received has gone into rent, utilities, the basest of foods or management of debt.

My daughter and I stopped recording podcasts because of Soundcloud's format.  Having solved that problem, I expect we will be getting back to creating new content.  It's just a matter of making time to do that.  I think we'd do best to call it a second season and perhaps adjust the format a little.  We'll just have to see.

At any rate, all the podcasts can now be viewed on youtube.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Strategy & The Long Game

The DM Tutorial classes have been such a success.  As of late I have been thinking and blocking out a book I could be writing in six months to a year - and the basis of that book has already given me enough insight to add another class to the three I have already launched.

Those who have already taken the class may be interested in taking one more lesson from me; others may feel that a sequence of four gives them more bang for their campaigns than three might have.  We'll just have to see.

The above class is on strategy: digging in and having a go at making your world more than a some-time thing, something that will sustain itself and help individuals become better persons as well as better dungeon masters.  Being able to devise a strategy, having that ability in one's toolbox, goes a lot farther than just making a long-lasting RPG.  It can be the tool that sets you, the individual, up for life.

The class runs 60-90 minutes, as all the classes have.  I'm confident that I can immerse the student in what one needs to know about strategy making.  It ought to be a great course - and quite possibly the one that someone might want to take in order to test the water with me as a tutor.

The World Thus Far . . . Again

Let me begin by apologizing.  Up front, this isn't anything I haven't posted before.  Twice before, in fact.  But it does bring the completed part of my world up to date, adding in the western Sahara and Senegal:

This isn't a very clear map.  The world is getting bigger and bigger and it is stripping the hell out of my computer's capacity to save it as a remotely detailed png - at least, one that can be viewed well on Blogger . . . or even my wiki, for that matter.

Thankfully, however, I have found a way of managing a single image at 20% of its actual size in reality.  This makes an image file that is 50 megabytes.  That's too big for blogger, too big for just about anything: but with a little coaching, I have loaded it onto Google Image.  Here is the url:

It will take a moment for the fuzziness to clear on your computer as you look at it.  It is very big, after all.  Were I to print this in real size, it would be something like 25 feet by 16.  Too big for a computer screen.

I trust this will look interesting.  If it does to you, please support my Patreon, so I can go on adding to its size.