I teach a class on memes. I make shirts. I watch as people spend real money on white t-shirts manufactured by a millionaire who has no reason to want to bilk people out of money beyond sheer ego. And I exist in a cultural space that wants to recognise the disposable pulp media as being as worthy of academic consideration as classics, and that’s why I sometimes put serious effort into things that I can only describe as silly.
I also have musical taste that we can at best described as ‘arrested 1999,’
Anyway, here are Decembers’ shirts, and January’s as well:
This is a design I’m taking to call a peer shirt, where someone needs to actively look at it to work out what it is. It’s great for logo designs like the loss shirts or other subtle joke signalling, the kind where someone has to ‘get’ it.
This started out asan attempt to make some text look superheroic, as a test of the method. Then I realised my test text, which was a joke, worked really well and I liked it.
And this one is a complicated, elaborate and colourful spiral that hopefully takes a good few moments to work out, but is rewarding once you do.
You can check these designs out on Redbubble or TeePublic, and remember when you buy shirts I made, you are helping me get pizza, and I’m hoping I help you get a big laugh.
There’s a particular generation of Anime consumers for whom the sub vs dub argument was not a point of preference, it was a vision of quality. It is not just that dubs lost nuance or made mistakes, but that the voice acting of dub voice actors was sufficiently bad to make the entire prospect moot. Perfectly translation and nuanced writing aside, the argument goes, dub voices are just much, much worse.
It’s almost like a play or something:
SUB: You see, dub voice acting is simply much worse than sub voice acting.
DUB: Do you speak Japanese?
DUB: Then how do you know if the voice acting is better or worse? The sub voices could be dogshit
SUB: Ah, you see – the important thing is that I can’t tell.
I’m sympathetic to how facile this argument sounds but it’s also not completely impossible to grasp. See, even if you can’t appreciate the way language is structured, there’s an emotionality in the human voice that a good can convey just as easily through a language barrier. There are cultural wrinkles between them but broadly speaking, if someone shouts in Japanese you can tell that they’re shouting.
Now, I can’t speak globally for this, because ultimately my sample size for normal anime fans is to check in with Fox, who is an inhuman stack of extremely persnickety cartoon trolls in a bag with a face on it, but this impulse to see ‘Japanese voice acting’ as a superior version to the English version, language agnostic, seemed to be not entirely an isolated phenomenon. I spoke to a few people, then spoke to a few people more, and eventually, I saw someone I never asked volunteering this idea on the spot.
Now, I want to make it clear, I haven’t watched much recent dubbed anime. As an exercise, I watched all of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood dubbed, but that’s ten years old and change. I have not been listening to dubbed anime in the past few years at all, and therefore all this sentiment, all this idea comes from a historical position that may have no more bearing on it.
I’ve talked in the past, about how Haibane Renmei got to exist thanks to a culture of common shared creative media that shows respect and audience for fan work. And, look, this runs the risk of running into goofy orientalism of oh, the Japanese voice is a superior voice, even beyond language and no, that’s stupid. But consider this.
Japan generates about 60% of the animated media in the world.
In Japan, there are over 130 colleges that teach voice acting.
In Japan, voice actors are draws to the work they do.
In America, I could not find a single college with a dedicated voice acting course. And there was a lot of hits for voice training, but that’s all theatrical performances. Voice acting is seen as a subskill of existing media – and when we do high level professional voice acting in the west, it tends to be seen as something you teach existing actors to do. Oh there’s a cadre of excellent voice actors that we know (hi Frank Welker, Charlie Adler, Jennifer Hale) but knowing those names is inside baseball. Notice that Welker is in part in such demand because he can do so many different voices, where he can replace animal sound effects. That paints the fact that voice acting, in the west, is a work where you expect to maximise value out of a small number of workers!
Now, it was even worse back in the 1990s, where voice acting and dubbing was in some cases being done by literally whoever was on hand at the time, and that kind of thing (probably?) doesn’t happen any more. Last year, there was a big fuss about David Hayter doing a meme voice, reading a tweet aloud in the voice of Solid Snake, because people seemed to be blown away by the idea that someone might pay a voice actor to voice act. Like he’d have something better to do? Like it wasn’t his job?
It costs about $70 for you to get Solid Snake to send you a birthday wish!
And he’s one of the best known names in the business!
Time to time I’ll use the term media landscape. The notion is that you aren’t just looking at a single piece of media in isolation, but the place you live, the life you’ve lived, and the kinds of media that surround you form a context for the work you’re looking at. You can change your media landscape, but more than that, you can look at the media landscape of any particular work to put that in a context.
Are Japanese subs better than dubs? No. But the support and infrastructure for helping Japanese voice actors be the best they can be is so much better than the support and infrastructure helping western voice actors. But then, I’ve written about that before.
I listen to a lot of Podcasts (I think, I haven’t checked what a normal amount of podcasts is, and I know that some Extremely Online people like me sometimes listen to a neverending wave of them and so maybe I don’t listen to that many but anyway) and that means that I bob along a flow of information like a discarded champagne cork cast into the ocean after a particularly enthusiastic ship launch. It’s possible that some things become a funny item on a particular podcast for one moment and then they’re gone and nobody ever mentions them again, which means that some amazing and ridiculous things can be lost to time.
One of those things is the knowledge that in 2013, in Philadelphia, the 76ers (who I assume are a team of number enthusiasts) unveiled their Taco T-Shirt Cannon at the Fun Fun Fun music festival and not, as I initially assumed, some kind of worship festival in the name of a dread god of excessive gun related preposterousness. That festival featured Run DMC, who I have heard of, which means the news story gets to be relevant to me, I guess.
At the core of it, a Taco t-shirt cannon operates on almost all principles of low-impact projectile toys; it has a launcher system that relies on building up CO2 gas in a tube rapidly, which results in propelling an object that’s about the same size as that tube out at a high speed. T-shirt cannons aren’t new, and gatling t-shirt cannons aren’t new either; the central principles were all worked outback in the 1850s. What’s more, hot dog cannons aren’t new either; the hot dog being a phallic food bullet already means that it seems pretty easy to wrap one in some paper, make it snug, then use the force of overengineered nonsense to huck it into a crowd at high speeds (but not too high speeds).
But it was in 2013, as far as I know, that some enterprising soul first got it in their head to ask how they could take this t-shirt cannon principle and take it to the next, extremely silly level, with the invention of a device that wants to be a t-shirt cannon that is also a taco cannon. I learned about this from British podcast The Bugle in its pre-2016 incarnation, which is noteworthy for being where John Oliver first really got work reading the news at you in ways that make you laugh at being depressed.
Okay okay, enough fannying about, you obviously want to see it.
This prodigious pile of pipes is not just the byproduct of what you get if the A-team were locked in a modern hardware store and the only way to defeat the smugglers this week was to construct a sky dick that would let them collectively fuck the moon, it is a fully operational t-shirt taco cannon.
What you get is a fresh, hot, soft-tortilla taco, wrapped tightly in paper, which is then wrapped in a t-shirt, which forms the sabot for the taco. You set it in the tube, which is then ratcheted into place, then discharged with the gas build up, into the crowd. It’s important that you angle the shot so that the taco-t-shirt mix is coming down rather than going up, so it’s effectively in the ‘slower’ half of its launch. These are important tips for the proper use of your taco-and-t-shirt cannon, a thing you’re going to definitely acquire.
All I’m really doing with this exchange is writing down something from my own history of podcasts, a long-lost shard of history that I find so funny that I don’t want it to go missing. I don’t think you’re going to listen to a seven year old podcast about ‘the news’ (literally now not true) to try and hear a funnier comedian than me share the same quotes from the original news story that I’m going to, so this is searchable and convenient and now you get to enjoy the quote that’s why I sometimes go: Oh yeah.
The taco and t-shirt cannon.
The quote, from Matt Mandrella, marketer and event manager for Fun Fun Fun, is about the first thing I worried about:
“We’ve actually had a couple of people hit in the head, and we know there’s been no pain involved. [The victims] were more like, ‘oh man, I got hit in the head by a taco. It was great!’”
I’m a superhero fan, which is to say I’m someone with a lot of very firm opinions the way the superhero media industry is just ruining everything, and completely messing up. This is a natural part of the progression as you get older, but I at least am at the point where I can bring myself to acknowledge it’s much more I don’t like this rather than this is good or bad storytelling.
Comics love weirdo aliens that are human-mindset compatible (like M’gann M’orzz). Comics love alternate dimension characters that come from a different universe that’s somehow meaningfully mostly like ours (like Power Girl). And despite loving M’gann and Peej, I really dislike these two ideas. In a shared roleplaying space like City of Heroes, you don’t get the leeway to just tell people hey stop making characters I don’t like, though, and I’ve come to terms with that.
When presented with a problem like this, though, a good impulse is to work out why things are different, work out what you’d do to make the thing you don’t like work in a way you do. Which is why I wondered how I could make a Suspiciously Human Alien or Extradimensional Person in a way that didn’t make my brain flip sumersaults at the math involved.
What I got out of it is Rift Girl.
First up, here’s her in-game bio:
“But what are we doing here, at home, to fight the dreadful menace of The German Imperialism? Why, there’s some, like the top-secret RIFT project, storing away examples of the finest cities of the 20th century, in alternate dimensions where the people can grow and thrive, and become brilliant bosch-bashers! And as long as there’s funding, there’s no way to lose track of them, or see them fall to the work of the Hun! Stay tuned, for partial excitement!”
– Project RIFT explained, unreleased educational film, 1939
Madison Max came from a place that’s a bit retro, a bit far away, and plenty, plenty weird. But that doesn’t matter – what matters more, to her, is that she’s here, in Paragon, to be a hero, and contribute to the fight against fascism!
Alternate dimensions and alien cultures are great if you want to give a character a kind of contained metaphysics. You don’t have to explain how they relate to the things in our world or why they may have missed something or other, you can just say that those things don’t exist where they’re from. These are societies you have complete control over, and it means if you want a character to come from a place where things work differently and people just have to accept it, you can. Consider a lot of our societal ideas we have that can be just different in a different society. Ideas like marriage, gender, violence, heroics, education or capitalism can be wildly different if you control a different space.
Alternate dimensions bug me though when they’re just one of a million options because it opens up too many questions for me. After all, why this and not that. Why are these changes able to have such wild transformations? Alternate dimension are written in between the space where they’re not realistically similar (in this world, one flower evolved to be peach instead of purple, and everything else is the same) or realistically different (if the mass of earth’s trajectory was off by a meter a billion years ago, literally none of anything would be ‘there’ when you went to reach into the other dimension). How do I get an alternate dimension that’s meaningfully like what we have here?
My idea was to make the alternate dimension a dimension built out of this one, and that gave me the idea I wanted: Nonsense Wartime Propoganda Super Science!
Rift Girl’s world is a pocket dimension made in the 1940s as part of the War Effort against the Super Science Nazis of the superhero universe. We blame so much stuff on this era of science (just look up the weird stuff people believe about the Philadelphia Experiment), and that gave me an aesthetic to start from. Bonus, it let me talk about the natural followup to a good thing (fighting Nazis) and the way our cultures managed that project (not preventing more Nazis later).
Rift Girl is from a city that was built as a self-sustaining environment in the desert in the United States, then super-science blinked into its own little parallel dimension where they could set the rules enough to make sure that entropy wasn’t going to be a big problem. The idea was that these cities would work as both safeguards against Nazi invasions of countries, and places to recruit and train the best possible Nazi-fighters ever. Then, because of funding cuts, these entire cities were lost to paperwork and time, and the Rift Cities fell out of contact with the Primal Earth. Some were decommissioned properly after only a few years, and one, Maddie’s home, was forgotten, lost in the shuffle, or deemed ‘too hard’ to recover.
Fast forward Some Years, and Rift City contacts Primal Earth, opening a portal they developed on their own with their limited materials, and send through messages and an Emissary – Madison Max. Thanks to a delay on broadcasts arriving in Rift City, she thinks it’s Prime Material Year 1999, and party for the millenium, even made herself some of those party glasses, and oh yes, to beat the shit out of Nazis.
Madison was chosen for her task because she was basically a super over-achiever student, someone who was both obsessed with the Primal Earth broadcasts they were able to decipher and well-trained and disciplined. Smart, educated, extremely strong in a super-sciencey way, and given special, strange, rift-warping powers by having broken the ‘seal’ on the Rift City tunnel to Prime Earth, she’s ready to be a full blown superhero, punching Nazis and Saving the Day, just like all the TV shows she’s been bootlegging from Primal Earth have shown her.
Also, thanks to the way light worked in Rift City, she – and the rest of the Rift City people – have no idea that the time spent in the Rift has made them all green, or rather, that anyone is any colour other than green. She thought everyone she was on TV was green, just like her, and now she’s having to adjust to that. Also the twenty year time gap. Also discovering that contrary to how she was raised, Americans think Communists are bad, even though they fought Nazis so well. That’s weird.
Mechanically, Maddie is a Radiation Armour/Street Justice Tanker. In a way, she’s a pastiche together of Superboy and Miss Martian from Young Justice, a super-strong but visibly strange person from another world. The City of Heroes universe has four clear examples of actual honest-to-god fascists to fight and you know, that’s on my mind lately.
You know for all that D&D is seen as a story of heroic fantasy it’s awfully bitsy. I don’t just mean the way that D&D is a game that encourages a truly remarkable amount of special acquisition of items for play – how many people do you know who have a miniature for their characters? – I mean that the story that plays out in the game winds up being about stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.
I’ve been writing about ‘stuff’ in games lately, reading about how we treat material objects, and while there’s definitely a different kind of materiality when you talk about a playing card, a dice and a meeple versus the text on a page that reads +3 longsword, there’s still something to be said about the way that D&D, 3.5 and 4e especially (because those are the editions I know) focus characters over an inevitable wardrobe full of stuff.
Now, there’s a reason for this, and it gets at one of the basic assumptions of the game that D&D wants to be. D&D ostensibly is a game about heroic fantasy, but connected to the idea of this heroic fantasy is a need for adventurers to be mostly, heroically empowered but still fundamentally scaled heroes that can be compared to normal people. It’s not the X-Men, it’s a place where your hero who swings a sword can’t be expected to cut through the bars of a prison, but if that sword was magical, then they could.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing per se, but it does tell you something of the basic assumptions of a world like Dungeons & Dragons and it’s a basic assumption that I’m used to seeing in a lot of, of all things, first person shooters. Yes, I’m probably going to talk about DOOM again, maybe.
When you start to talk about what stuff is used for in D&D, it’s pretty easy to see that stuff can do a lot more than people can do. People are limited, they’re made of meat, and they’re not capable of long-lasting, permanent effects. Even the wizard has to spend spell slots to fly, but a pair of winged boots will take you into the air as long as you like. The boots are expensive, and that’s another element (the relentless roll of capitalism).
One other thing is that items can be systematised, because objects, we believe, behave consistently and repeatedly. Despite the fact that the D&D world is typically represented as pre-industrial (except the good ones), these items are made and represented as if they are in their own ways kind of mass-produced; a jagged fullblade from one continent will work the same as a jagged fullblade from another.
This is another funny detail about this worldview: The items you’re building and examining are being treated as if they’re just making a thing that can exist; it’s not a matter of someone choosing to create something to overcome a task or have an effect (and indeed, if you approach a DM with a specific request for an item function that isn’t from the existing ruleset, that can be seen as asking for something ‘too specific’). It’s not that you made a weapon that does more damage when it hits an opponent in a vulnerable moment – it’s that you made a jagged or vorpal weapon, and those existing elements have math to them.
Stuff gets to be consistent! Stuff gets to work, and keep on working! We live in a world full of machines that work consistently until broken, and it seems that that plays into how we want magical devices to work in D&D. We don’t find that unrealistic, that a character can wander around in a small town’s economy’s worth of super-specialised consumer goods that literally nobody non-Adventurey could afford to meaningfully buy, we don’t find it unrealistic that these objects can be somehow mass produced and we don’t find it odd that these things can do much more than a person can do, because we accept that it’s okay for objects to do these things…
… and that it’s not acceptable for people.
This plays into the way that the worlds of D&D are made, by the way. Not only are places like the Realms and Eberron full of underground caches full of fantastically expensive and yet still practically useful antique hardware, they’re also places that mysteriously have investors and traders who can be bothered making these goods and trying to sell them on despite their fantastically obvious market problems.
This relationship to stuff is one of the things that breaks easily when you start trying to use D&D for other stuff. Infamously, the game D20 Modern tries to dispense with the relationship to stuff, making mose equipment mundane and focusing the game instead around the ‘wealth check’ that gave you a general idea of what you were capable of buying. The result was that your stuff suddenly didn’t feel like it mattered, but your character never mattered as much as their stuff – so you mostly spent your time piloting around a pair of guns and a skill list.
At this point, according to my very vague stats on the matter, I have been releasing a daily blog post for some time; in 2015, I blogged every day all year, it dropped off at some point in 2016, and I think from 2017 onwards, I just blogged daily and didn’t stop. I have remarked in the past about how I do things on this blog; I have backlogs and themes that help me keep producing. I’m one of those people who likes working on lists, so if I have a bunch of things that need to fit a theme, working on that theme can be very satisfying, and when I don’t find that engaging, I can work on another space afterwards. Part of just maintaining this blog well involves maintaining my engagement with the process.
But if I decide, tomorrow, that I don’t want to write, that’s okay and that needs to be okay.
A turn of phrase I’ve been using with friends who have achieved something then immediately found themselves lacking in satisfaction is – well, okay one thing I say is try gratitude journalling, which none of them have, but after that is flowers can’t bloom all year. Now, one of my friends, a botanist, helpfully pointed out that there are in fact some flowers that bloom all year, mostly in equatorial spaces, but then they went on to point out that one of them technically isn’t a flower, because flower has a fairly specific range of qualities.
We talk about creativity in a lot of numinous, wonderful ways. We describe it in terms of it being enriching and engaging and helping us grow and handle and process and develop and practice. What we sometimes avoid talking about with creativity is the urge, the need to stop.
You don’t need to be constantly creating. I seem to feel, right now, in my life, like I always want to be – I have dozens of creative projects ongoing and I find the task of organising them is lots of fun, and that means I keep wanting to keep cycling from one thing to another thing. But for some of my friends, they try out a creative effort, they make something…
And that’s it.
One day I’ll be done.
One day, I’ll not want to do anything more, and maybe I’ll take a break or maybe I’ll stop.
I don’t like bringing this up often because I think that our general condition is one where people are encouraged to never start, to never try, and to hate themselves for never completing. I hate hate hate it when I make some actionable, tangible advice about overcoming the mental roadblocks of making and realising your projects, some asshole comes along and says ‘or maybe I could repeat the advice everyone is already parrotting.’
Instaed what I want to make clear is it’s okay to stop. It’s okay to stop for a time and it’s okay to just stop.
This is going to be mechanical, by the way, not narrative – I have lots of views about how to build a character in a shared roleplaying space. This is about how I prioritise stats when I’m building characters in this game.
For those not familiar, City of Heroes characters get a number of abilities that let you do things, and then they get ways to improve those things. This is typically divided into ‘powers’ and ‘slots.’ Slots can hold things that improve things the power do – accuracy, damage, the time it takes to recharge, the duration of effects like stuns or holds – and so powers you want to do lots of things, you’ll give them lots of slots. You can’t just fill them with the same effect because there’s diminishing returns after the first two, which means powers tend to get a little bit of one thing, a little bit of another.
Now, that’s probably all that you’re going to get out of this unless you’ve played the game, because this is a big, complex system. If you really have no idea about it, the rest of what’s coming is going to be gibberish, so I’ve put the useful conclusion to all that here up front:
What we can see then is that – perhaps accidentally – this great big confusing mess of a game, that when you have a lot of systems at work, even if you have a fairly simple, linear method of progression (defeating baddies), there’s still a lot you can do to make the individual choices of a player expressive. Players can build towards their priorities.
Now, you might not be making an MMO, but you might be making a tabletop RPG. If you’re building in the modded space of games like Pathfinder or 13th Age, you’re in a similar space, and that’s when the time comes to look at your own creative efforts rather than necessary in terms of perfect balance, as instead about competing balance. See if you’re presenting players with enough choices that character building is full of interesting choices.
Also, if there’s something players should just have, then just… give it to them.
I’ve talked about how everything you make is a step towards making the next thing, which is a nice sounding aphorism but recently I’ve found a lot of people with big, ambitious projects. Big ambitious projects are fine if you’re the kind of person who likes doing it, but I find they tend to work against what I think of as good creative practices.
I’m going to use an example here and I know you’re reading this and I don’t want you to be called out, but let’s say your project is a three book series. It’s going to be big and epic and you have visions of these multiple titles and again I am not calling out you, person who is reading this. I am just using this as an example.
The point is, if your project is three books, then it gets really hard to practice. The three books need to be done before you can look at them as a ‘complete’ project, and the sheer time investment in that kind of thing is immense. This is true if your project is a Fire Emblem game or a plane simulator or a video series on the history of the circus. These are not bad things to want to make, but they are all big, and as a direct necessity it’s hard to practice them.
It’s especially hard to practice them if you only want to try doing them.
This is something we sometimes call ‘scope.’ It’s a term used somewhat generically to refer to how big a project is, a sort of idea for how far back you have to be from the project, metaphorically speaking, to get a look at all of it. A short story has a different scope to a short story compilation and a short story compilation a different scope to a novella and so on and so forth.
I recommend the first thing you try to do is make something small. And sometimes, when I recommend this on twitter, someone will try and step up and speak in defense of big projects, which is well-intentioned ‘both sidesing’ but I think it’s actively harmful, bad advice. If you want to work on a giant project and only a giant project, you’re setting yourself a task that’s very hard, possibly impossible, and that means any progress at all feels like no progress. That’s something that depression loves to encourage, a sort of deliberate pursuit of nihilistic failure. It’s numbing.
Sometimes you pursue the giant project because you believe in yourself that much. That’s cool, but it can also be hiding a fear of failure. After all, if you write a short story instead of a book, what if that short story isn’t good? What do you do if you write a short story and you don’t like what you wrote? Or worse, someone else doesn’t like what you wrote? To that I say, hey, were you in a gifted program in school?
Another reason for the giant project is because sometimes you don’t appreciate what’s involved. I can give some numbers out there but people with scope problems often don’t appreciate how to examine or understand scope. If your dream is to write an animated series, you should start by getting involved in animation.
“But I can’t draw!”
So what? Get involved in learning how animation works. Study the topic, look at how animation goes together, learn about things like frame rate and cells and the kind of work scope required for a large project like an animated series. Learn about what a script looks like. Look at storyboarding. Every big complicated project owes some of its origin to a smaller, less complicated version of itself; animation comes from storyboards that come from scripts that come from treatments.
Make the smallest things you can, because the smaller it is, the easier it is to do it again. To practice. To practice again. To keep practicing, because the process of making something big is to make many small parts and to make something good is to practice until you know what good is.
My method, the method I recommend, the method I teach, is to make the smallest possible thing you can consider ‘a thing.’ Then when you’ve made it, you’ll have insight into what you don’t want to do, or why you don’t want to do it that way. And then you make the next thing.
With that in mind, make the first thing something you can make easily enough to get to the next thing.
I write a lot, and you may notice that if you frequent this blog and notice that for the past thousand days or more it’s pretty much always been updated with something new, that hovers around the 200-500 word mark, depending on how well I keep focused on my point aardvark. Well, part of how I keep a schedule of my blog going is having a chart for if I’ve got a post set up for the next day.
I also have ‘events’ each week; two posts that fit a schedule, Game Pile and Story Pile, and they happen on specific week days. I made something for that, which I used to do on my bullet journal, which was great, except for two things I learned the hard way:
Tracking one full year in a paper book can get pretty tatty.
Any time I misplace my bullet journal, I kind of get paralysed about what to work on next.
With that in mind, for my blog tracking, I decided it was time to set something up that I could access as conveniently as my blog itself, and so, I made a google sheets spreadsheet for this. And since it’s a handy tool, and you can just copy them if you use google sheets: Here!
It’s pretty simple. By giving each month a theme or notes, I can make sure that any articles that don’t necessarily fit a current month may go in a later one that fits it better. By having these trackers on hand I can make sure I don’t do four or five articles on a theme in a month and risk boring audiences that don’t like them. This lets me look at my work overall, for a whole year, and plan ahead.
I launched my Patreon early in 2018, after arguing myself around on it over and over again. There were some ideas I had for it, which did not pan out well, and this year I committed to a much simpler schedule: Micropodcasts for people who paid for them, my blog schedule as normal, one video every month, a major game each year, and as many minor games as I could make.
Largely, it’s seen as polite to keep Patreon stuff ‘in Patreon’ and behind the scenes, and I think I fall into that because it involves money. Also, I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who monitors who is and isn’t my patrons, and just accept at the most base level that anyone who is my patron on patreon is doing it because they like what I’m doing and they’re not doing it as part of a benefits package, and maybe because they want to be part of conversations about my commercial production and being included in the games I’m making as I make them.
That’s it, though, and I think this is important to mention: My patreon patrons are extremely, extremely hands off. I have never had anyone contact me to tell me they’re upset with the money they paid, I have never had anyone tell me ‘as a patreon supporter, I-‘ and I’ve never had the conversation space of my patreon turn into a serious fight over anything, ever.
Largely, the people who are supporting me on patreon, it seems, are doing it because they want to, and their doing so has allowed me to do some things this year I would not have been able to bring myself to do.
What kind of things?
Well, being able to purchase a large number of my own shirts for a gimmick at work where I wore a different Loss Shirt every day, which I’ve already covered. It’s not that I couldn’t afford that, but that I could not bring myself to spend ‘important’ money for what was basically a goofy joke only the internet could appreciate.
I spent over two hundred USD on other people’s creative efforts this year, and some of that did not result in anything getting made. I basically sent some people some stuff, and because my patreon patrons were supporting me, that was able to promote the creativity of others with a safety pad. Some vulnerable people who are shy and did not have a lot money were able to try out creative endeavours without the ability to fail, because my supporters were willing to trust me to distribute some money for that purpose.
Also I got to speak to a lot more artists with the confidence that I could drop some money right there on them, so the conversation didn’t feel like I was wasting their time. That was all really valuable.
My patrons have given me freedom and comfort, even if this project isn’t paying all my bills and I appreciate the way they aren’t making the things I do into this sort of tense, ‘monetise everything I do’ kind of heckscape.
I participate on the Custom Magic Subreddit, a place where amateur designers come together to make cards for Magic: The Gathering, and it is a place where, overall, people get the colour pie wrong. But that’s okay, because we’re all amateurs and we’re all having fun.
Now, if you look through my history you’ll see that largely, I am pretty negative, but I have seen cards that I liked and wanted people to see, and so, that’s what this post is about. I thought I’d get all the cards I liked in a year and put them in one master post, but uhhh, so that was a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, Reddit doesn’t archive your personal upvoting history that far (it only shows the most recent 1,000, it seems), and second, I have liked way more than ten or twenty cards this year, and third, some of the people who made those cards have deleted their accounts, which makes it really hard to properly credit them.
Hey, Wizards employees! Stop reading! This is going to start showing custom magic cards, as unsolicited designs! Thank you! I don’t want you or me getting in trouble!
As the year concludes, I thought hey, I should check out my friends’ stuff and show it off because it’s a perfect time for people to look for small weird specific things that they might not realise they wanted until hey, now, time to see it. Anyway, this has meant going to all my friends that I made this year or people I reconnected with (as say might happen thanks to City of Heroes coming back?) and being surprised by the cool things I wouldn’t have known or expected because hey, everyone keeps their business to themselves more or less.
Sometimes this means finding out that a friend is working on a tactical RPG they don’t want to talk too much about in public, and some are making microfiction and some of them are successful prop makers and cosplayers with over ten thousand instagram followers.
That was a surprise.
It’s weird but in my little creative space I’m kind of used to being a microscopic fish surrounded by even smaller fish. Now, I still approached my friend with an attitude of ‘hey, I want to promote your work because I like you and is that okay’ and then found out that the reach I was extending to my friend is pretty much meaningless to her by the kind of numbers she can do just waking up of a morning.
Anyway, I met Amber this year, and we got to hang out and play superhero games and talk about our pets and her work schedule lines up well with mine and so, in a very natural, comfortable way, we just wound up hanging out a lot, and turns out, I think she’s super neat and she sure tolerates me. And if you want you can go check out her cosplay instagram and prop store, which I normally would then go on to tell you is great or cool because something or other, but uh, nope, turns out that I am way out of my depth here and she’s doing this as her main source of income.
So that’s cool! I made a cool friend! She’s helped me find my feet in some social spaces I’d normally withdraw from, we’ve punched Nazis together, and helped each other consider various logistical challenges of our workloads. Go check her stuff out!
Okay, so what’s Microfiction? Microfiction is fiction, but smol, and oh hey we’re done. But seriously, Microfiction is fiction made using some inherently limited medium, stories that want to be able to fit in a tiny space, or in a medium that forces a smallness.
It’s something that you may not realise if you don’t spend your time examining mediums instead of media, but the size of a page changes the way stories on that page feel, and readers and twine games and webpages have got us re-examinign this whole space all over again. The format I’m focused on for here is twitter microfiction, where your natural unit of story is a single tweet. You can thread them together, like pages, but the breaks between tweets is part of the form that you use. There’s this whole thing here where if I was a better read narratologist I’d be able to say something like the narrative morpheme but hell with that.
Two of my friends are big into making Microfiction, with my friend Cae even compiling a book of Microfiction this year, while still releasing a bunch on twitter. My other friend Jade, and by other friend I mean she’s the other friend I brought up at first, not that I only have two friends, but if I did only have two friends, these two would be pretty good choices, point is, Jade also makes microfiction.
Microfiction is basically this whole way of telling a story that we normally reserve for something the size of a joke. It’s interesting and it’s challenging and it’s a really good way to get into the habit of telling small evocative stories that cut away every part of what they’re trying to do in as few words as possible.
Okay, so around this time each year I and my friends sit around and discuss a weekend game of D&D that we’ll play when they come around. It’s a highlight of my year, even if it lands – typically – smack dab during GDQ, meaning I miss a bunch of the celebration at the end of that event. But that’s not what’s important.
A few years ago, I proposed for this event, to my friends, a game with the short pitch of Robin Hood vs Vampires. The idea got a bit of meat on it, and I served it to my friends, and we wound up playing something else.
But it got a name.
The name it got was Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants.
I threw this name out there on the internet at one point because I was happy with the logo I made for the game even though nobody was actually super interested in it. And then Leastwise saw it.
My friend Leastwise, aka Erik the Bearik (and he’ll come up again later this month), saw this pitch, and straight up asked if he could have it. Or more specifically, he had his own idea inspired by this idea, and he asked if he could use my logo. What resulted is a game that’s been streamed, played by multiple groups, run at cons and may even get to be a major project from the San Janero Co-Op. It is amazing work, and it has all these great, thoughtful pieces at the root of it, like addressing the philosophical vision of what trauma means in Blades in the Dark. The game seems to have coined the term Castlepunk, the idea of ‘hey, that kind of mish-mash of medieval-seeming things we all associate with general fantasy without getting into a long argument about what really counts as medieval.’ It’s great and it’s cool, and you get to adorn these twisted wooden masks with fae blessings on them as you go out on missions to drink the rich.
Time to time when talking about the game, he’ll mention me, as it relates to this idea because I mean it kind of works as an origin story, it’s as good a place to get started. But I need to stamp a stake in the ground right here: This is Erik’s idea. It’s 100% his idea and all of this beautiful, thoughtful, engaging, exciting and creative writing about this idea is his. All I did was make a logo and a name and he went ‘oh, I would do X with it.’ Part of what excites me about this is it’s a kind of fanart? I had an idea, I put it out there and someone else who was inspired by it was able to create with it and make their own thing, and I get to see my little logo become something amazing.
Look, sometimes the most important thing you can offer, with your clothes, is clear messaging about what you feel and what you think about people messaging you. I made this shirt inspired by Dr Laevantine’s seminal pinned tweet of philosophy:
Welcome to my book of philosophy, “Maybe Don’t;” it has one doctrine, where you fucking don’t (Laevantine, Twitter, 2017)
In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition.
The rules for these posts are going to be standard and yes I am writing something that’s going to be the boilerplate that becomes the core of how all these posts are going to get made going forwards, but here we go anyway:
This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic
When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something, to give you a place to start.
Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s less that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.
This year, as with last year, I got to teach a class at my Uni about making media, a class we define in part by being a class where part of your week to week homework is about making memes. It is a class about being Extremely Online, and I resolved, after last year’s completion, to make a plan out of managing my presence in this class this year.
This year, I wore a different shirt every day, and each shirt was a reference to the meme ‘Loss.’
Now, the class is only eleven tutorials, over thirteen weeks. I overdid it a little bit, so there are more than just eleven shirts, and let’s go over them.
Content Warning: If you haven’t worked it out yet, I am absolutely going to show you lots of variants on the meme Loss. Like you have to know that’s what this is.
Fanfiction is weird, and I don’t just mean fanfiction as the actual stories. Beating down on fanfiction is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because as a wide-open platform with lots of communal reference points means you’re going to get a lot of people creating fanfiction who aren’t familiar with what we consider to be the standard tools for storytelling. It’s fine, we’ve all been there, churning out two hundred word stories that don’t have a plot or a resolution but which are designed to let the character we like say or do a thing we think we’d like to see.
That’s not what about it is weird that I want to talk about for now.
What I want to talk about is the way that fanfiction is weird as cultural practice. Specifically, that fanfiction is a place where people are aware (or hopeful) that they are being read by other people. I have memories of extremely lengthy author’s notes, things that sought to put the story in a greater context, not by showing things in the story, but in the way the author wanted the story approached. It’s interesting, it’s the kind of thing that these days I’d see serious authors, authors writing books as saying, instead that the text should present for itself –
Hey, did you know in one of my first books my first idea for framing the monsters was to just use the Weird Al song your horoscope for today? Sure did.
– but there’s an enduring practice, often connected to tagging culture and content warning culture that suggests that fanfiction spaces are overwhelmingly full of people who don’t just want to create, but want you to know how they create, and want to make sure you approach their creation ‘the right way.’ That’s really interesting, and it also brings with it a sort of interesting exercise in brand building, of identity presentation. It’s not just that fanfiction authors want to present their work to an audience, it’s that they also want to present themselves to the audience, and that means even if their fanfiction presents a narrative abotu X, they still feel some reasonable respect for the culture they’re part of. Much of the time this is because these authors came up in the same space, were affected by the presentations of other authors, and it helped to shape them and they’re aware of it.
Okay okay okay, but what brought this on?
Well, people whining about fanfiction authors including sex ed information at the end or middle of their stories about characters fuckin’. It’s pretty popular if you’re, say, a person who has comparatively got their shit together, to dunk on this, and by all means, whatever you want to do, but something I always want to remember is that there’s a lot of things about just the way sex worked that I learned from dirty fanfiction. Like basic mechanisms. It got me thinking about how many ideas I got that were really silly at that time, and how incredibly lucky I am that I never had a reason to act on them until after I had used that grounding to build outwards and overcome my ignorance.
It’s interesting, because in a lot of ways, it’s people while creating fanfiction about anime boys doin’ a butt-fuck still trying to be responsible community members. Which is pretty interesting and I don’t really have it in me to make fun of them for trying.
The title quote by the way, was a line I read in a gay fanfic when I was much younger, which made me realise I was reading fanfiction about dudes doing it that had been written by someone who probably didn’t have a penis to check on periodically for reference.
My earlier treatment of Orcs in Cobrin’Seil was intended, at first, to be a comprehensive examination of the half races. Elves and orcs and humans, the big three that show up in most of the editions of D&D’s player handbooks and most of the settings for them. As I did this though I realised that for all they may work just fine as different versions of the same thing for your setting, I don’t like them feeling so similar and especially not when I laid out my idea that Orcs are made of meat.
You know drafting games? I like drafting games. Magic: The Gathering is a drafting game, and it’s really good at it. You draft a deck, then spend some time playing that deck, and that’s fun. We made LFG, a single box card game where you draft a group of heroes to go on an adventure, adventure pending.
Draft is very appealing to me as a designer because it has some virtues like simultaneous turns, and it inherently presents players with choices. Drafting is often used as a component in games, but the drafting itself can be really exciting. Drafting does have problems though, like you need a number of cards and players to make those choices interesting. If you’re drafting, say, four cards between two people, thoes choices need to be extremely difficult to make that interesting, and when you do that, you have a really small number of cards and therefore the game has only so many ways it can be replayed, and that’s risky. I have made games that don’t replay well on purpose, or games with incredibly hard choices that can feel dreadfully unfair (hi, You Can’t Win), but those are hard, thorny games for people who like challenges, and they’re also really small.
There’s also a mastery depth problem when it comes to draft. If you know the most cards, if you remember the cards that are going to be in the pool and potential application with other cards, you’re going to make the player with the largest amount of possible information and the best understanding of ways the game can fork be the player who has the most chance to win, and that’s not great for getting new players involved.
With that in mind for a small card game I’m working on at the moment (one of our $15 range), which is going to be about recruiting your own group of superheroes, I’ve come up with a new drafting technique I want to share.
Deal out all the cards to each player not as a hand, but as a deck. So the player gets their cards, and they don’t look at them and don’t know what they’re going to do.
Set these decks between each player – I’m right handed so when I do this test I intuitively put it to my left, so the player on my left can reach it.
The drafting begins. Each player draws two cards from their deck, chooses to keep one of them, and puts the other card on the top of the next player’s deck.
Repeat step 3 until the decks are only one card.
This means that players still have some specific choices; you know what you’re handing to the next player, but you don’t know all the choices they have. You have to choose between two cards each time, rather than have to manage seven then six then five and so on. Also, you don’t have the chance to determine, at the first draw, everything that you’re going to do, other people’s strategies based on what you’re passing. You’re presented with much more limited information. The draft unfolds a little more, without being all presented up front.
There’s a lot of motivational writing about making things. I know I’ve done a bunch of it, with an exhortation that you should try making things. There’s an idea that you’re a writer, because you write, so you should write. Sometimes, it’s framed as writing for yourself, or sometimes it’s framed as writing the things you want to see in the world.
If you can respond to that, that’s a powerful drive.
It’s not the reason I write, I don’t think. Not really.
I write in this blog daily (when I am writing daily) because it’s practice. Because I feel good when I have achieved the difficult task of doing it. But it’s not why I write any individual piece. I write because I think about the things my audience cares about. I think about what you, the people around me, have responded to, what you share, what you care about. That’s part of what encourages me to write. I ask you what I should write, it’s a common thing you’ve probably seen me do.
That urge is very common and it works for me.
I don’t really write fanfiction or fanart. These are ways you can take the work of others, and show how it matters to you, through the medium you favour. I don’t write that kind of fiction or compose music or draw, so the form my creative energies to express take is making games. Thinking of mechanics and related game objects, and thinking about ways I can invite people into that space, to be there in a way the fiction doesn’t necessarily allow. This means that for some people I know, I see their art or their stories and I think I want to make a game for that.
These game ideas get written up and they sit around, because it seems intrusive to me to present someone with that. For artists especially, it screams of I’m trying to monetise your work. For some the problem’s even worse: I have a card game designed to explore the world of a friend, and that friend hates card games.
I think about this because I think how many things people would be doing, if they could find an audience of just one. How little encouragement you need to keep trying, to keep going. Commentary from one or two people got me to finish three books. Feedback from two people kept a podcast going in its fledgeling days. Some of my games are made just waiting on a response from one person. This week, I was told that we don’t have a game for a particular niche, and now I’m thinking about a game I can make for a kid and a family, just because of that niche.
Some people can ‘just do it.’ But some of us need an audience. Some of us need to know that what we’re doing matters to anyone else in the world, and that there’s a value to putting it out there.
This is more work on Hunter’s Dream, a 4th Edition D&D-compatible mod made to enable a Bloodborne style of game, where players take on the role of hunters, who have to first research their prey before going out to the tactical combat stage of things where players get to have cool fights with werewolves and whatnot.
Something I really like from Blades in the Dark, something that I am shamelessly trying to bring to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition in Hunter’s Dream, is the degree to which players have a sense of agency over the game they’re engaging with.
There’s an existing mindset for D&D that games are basically one of two different kinds of play space. The first is often known as narrativist, where you treat every session, every encounter, as a sequence in a narrative, and so the whole game can be seen as a string of beads. This vision can be sometimes presented as a weakness, where the players are always confined by ‘the story’ that wraps around them like a tunnel. I’m not really here to criticise that, because hey, even the most railroaded game campaign can still be an interesting ghost train.
Then there’s a position, often called ‘simulationist’ which presents the idea that the players are just operating in a world, there’s stuff for them to do, and they can go do stuff at that world, and if it does all relate or connect to things, that’s just because the DM’s job is ‘running the world,’ and any narrative that ensues is emergent. I don’t think this is true either, but some people are fond of talking about it like that.
Neither of these perspectives suit well Blades in the Dark‘s style of player-driven fiction roleplay, and they don’t quite do the job of what I want for Hunter’s Dream. What I want for this is a hybrid model, with a Narrative running as a timer on a simulation, and a large part of that is formalising a system whereby players have direct agency over the tasks in front of them, and the order they handle them.
Now, 4ed is good for this because 4ed D&D is designed to handle a lot of small tactical encounters that are reasonably well-balanced with one another, where the alchemy between monster interactions are less likely to result in catastrophic failures. You’re not likely to find a lot of total dealbreaker combos if you throw enemies together semi-randomly, which means one of the things that it handles really well is generating sequences of small quantities of conflict without necessarily a lot of elaborate construction.
This asks for a robust system for constructing incidents quickly, giving DMs good sources of inspiration, and a clear vision of how they can execute on these encounters interestingly. Now I’m a sucker for this: In 4e, I’m a fan of using the same monster configurations from fight to fight and just changing the terrain around them and watching as players have to formulate different strategies to deal with them.
I understand there’s a body of people around me who have problems with attention deficit, and the connected problem of hyperfocus. This post is going to talk about how I experience procrastination, which is going to use terms that may sound like I’m trying to talk to you, or talk to your experience, and I want to be clear that I’m not and I don’t think I’m in a position to do so. Okay? If this is useful or whatever, great, but don’t presume I’m applying universal truths to people who already have reasons to interrogate their own focus behaviours.
Anyway, if you procrastinate, there’s probably a really good reason.
If you find yourself with your project, engaging with one part of it, then not wanting to do the rest of it, it’s possible to frame this in your mind as a kind of procrastination, to think of it in terms of an incompleted project because you hvaen’t ‘gotten around to’ finishing up a roster or completing a component of it. You might find yourself setting aside time to work on a project, but instead find yourself working on other things, doing housework, cleaning up your laundry, and at some point, you may find yourself, arms in the sink, doing washing up and asking yourself:
Why is washing up more fun than what I was meant to be doing?
This is something I talk to my students about. The type of work they do is a single big project, something they spend the whole semester exploring, then defining, then making, and it’s about building skills for the specific things they want to do, and show they can follow a project through. There’s a focus on responding to feedback, and part of that feedback that they seem to keep missing (until I tell them to look for it) is their own emotional responses to their work.
If you keep putting a project off, if you keep shifting focus away from it, is it possible it’s not something you actually want to do?
If you find yourself not wanting to do the project, why do you not just stop? What’s stopping you? Do you instead want to do less of it? Do you want to not have to do some part of it?
I am a big advocate for finishing things, especially creative things. It is a big deal to me that I encourage people to get around to finishing those things they want to work on, because it’s very rewarding, and also because if you’ve never done it before, you don’t know if you can find it addictive. But a part of finishing a project is starting a project that you can finish, and it’s entirely possible that you’ve started something you don’t want to work on right now, and that’s entirely okay.
There’s a host of psychological studies about the value of procrastination and the ability to manage your hind brain and that’s all interesting, but more than that, for now, what I want you to bear in mind when you find yourself procrasting is you don’t want to work on that thing right now, and that’s okay.
Well, a new Fire Emblem happened! I’m not into it, but all my friends are, and I like my friends. Also, I love looking at iconography in games, things that evoke things without actually being things.
I was originally conceiving of a set of silhouettes of characters with text evoking who they were or what mattered to them, which would be fun, but my attempt to gather suggestions for that resulted in pretty much nothing but jokes, because, well, aren’t you a sweet and helpful audience of friends?
Anyway, so I did some Byleth shirt designs. Here they are:
Starting January 2016, I made a game or more a month for the whole year. I continued this until 2018, creating a corpus of 39 card or board games, including Looking For Group, Senpai Notice Me, and Dog Bear. Starting in 2019, I wanted to write about this experience, and advice I gained from doing it for you. Articles about the MGP are about that experience, the Monthly Game Project.
I’ve talked about the Monthly Game Project, but there’s a point I really need to hammer in that I didn’t get to appreciate when I was doing it.
Things take time.
I am not going to lie, I get jealous when I see fandoms. I get jealous when I see fandoms for incomplete ongoing works. I get jealous when I watch as the games and things I make have sunk beneath the waves. The idea goes that if you make something and put it out there, with sincerity and positivity, you will get attention and people will connect to it and it’ll be great. You can look to the example of certain darling games, or darling devs, people with support and fanbases and people who are eager and enthusiastic to see the result of their work, even after months or years.
This is reasonable, I feel, as jealousy, and anyone who wants to tell me my feelings are illegitimate or unreasonable can eat a dick. But as with all of these feelings, I want to use that sensation and consider what I can do around it. What I’m doing to make it harder to have that fandom. I do think I have a fandom (and it’s very small, and I love you so much). And I think part of the problem is that I have people who genuinely have no idea that some of my games even came out.
I didn’t have a handle on releasing a game each month. I wasn’t having to rely on user bases, I wasn’t doing something like Button Shy do – I made a game a month on public print on demand, and that game production didn’t have a consistant approach for building hype, consistent outlets or rollouts, or planned times for release. I didn’t do hype – I just dropped a game out of nowhere.
Also, I tended to route around the things that make for good ‘pops’ – I sent some of my games to reviewers, and literally none of them ever came through. My response to that was to stop trying to get reviewers to look at my games; I simply gave up. That sucks for me, because I know for a fact that a bulk of the early sales of Dog Bear, and the reasons why it’s one of my most successful games, is because there was one Redditor who kept mentioning it for about a year. Not a proactive thing – it was just one game they mentioned in a discussion of RPGs.
There’s this idea we have in digital marketing, of the idea of the long tail. Notionally, it’s the idea of building up a big library of things that don’t have wide appeal – a few sales from a larger, browsed library will slowly, over time get attention and that’ll get people interested. It’s a model that works, go wide instead of focusing on a few hits. But my library of games is honestly so big that as one person, it’s kinda just… intimidating to look through, and even at a convention it’s hard to convince people to check them out. I do public threads, exploring and explaining games as I make them, and those can be cool, but I feel like they need to be timed to be events.
Fact is, not everyone is checking twitter actively.
I made Fabricators in a weekend. I don’t regret that – I love that game, it’s sweet and tight and it uses a good engine I observed other games using, and I was able to make a game that’s very much its own distinctive kind of thing, a hard euro game that builds itself around a cooperative tenor. And that’s great, but the entire window of time when you saw me working on that game, then talking about the game, then releasing the game was four days.
The hype cycle for games, even small games, is long. It is long and slow and players can only buy games so quickly. Even if the game is made, I feel like the best course of action, the plan I have going forwards, is to sit on the game, to share it with a few people, on patreon, and the like, and spend the remaining time and effort on polishing and refining the game. Build some hype, maybe. Find the people who respond to it well, and maybe get back to trying to get people to review it.
Time to make things is one thing, but time to make interest is another.
I mean, I make fun of the Confederate flag waving assholes, and it’s worth remembering that that’s good, because they’re losers, and they should always be forced to confront that they’re losers, and they lost because they were bad at winning, and this is just a long aside to dunk on the Confederacy. But not all losers are that kind of loser. Sometimes you lose not because you were wrong, or because you were on the wrong side, or because you’re bad, but you lose because the bad people had more stuff. They had more money and more people and they didn’t even realise they were the bad people, because they were removed from the bad things they did.
I think about the people that lose against empires.
I think about Carthage.
I think about Carthage, and the story of Hannibal, a general who tried audacious things and succeeded. I think about bloody battles in the desert by mercenary armies. I think about the strangeness of a country whose big sin was not really doing enough for military infrastructure and how it was the victim of an empire next door that was. I think about how you can win a dozen fights in a row, but if your enemy can handle losing, and you can’t, then it doesn’t matter.
Carthage is on my mind because while history tells us that Carthage lost, there were a lot of times and places in Hannibal’s campaign that he won. There’s a lot of people who were living their lives and having what they thought of as important conversations about the future of Rome and their campaigns for political office and governorship or whatever, and then Hannibal happened to their territory, and they’re just gone.
This is what I’m thinking about, when I’m thinking about this card game I’m making. The different things nobles can do, these little festivals and parties and politics and territorial disputes and fights over who has the best land or best marketplaces, all while quietly aware that you can’t change the future.
That Hannibal is going to happen.
The idea for this game, the idea that I’m working with, is that of a stacked deck. At the start of the game, players get their cards, then the deck gets loaded; you shuffle up and deal out stacks of cards. Into each stack, you shuffle one of a number of cards, then you put those stacks on top of each other. Now you have a deck of events that everyone draws from, to play their cards and live their lives, and then one point, near the end…
I believe you can make games about everything. That’s not to say you should, necessarily, because I think, for example, we have way too many games that treat ‘the Nazis’ as a side in a fight, and I think my game idea Worse Than Hitler is maybe interestingly good as an educational anticolonialist tool but maybe not something I should be putting on a shelf for general purpose.
Still, there are some game topics I’d like to see made into games, and maybe I even have the edge of an idea, but what I’d really want is for someone else to make them.
Roanoke Island colony is an interesting ‘unsolved mystery’ story, but it’s one of those ones where the fantastical explanations (zombie plagues, alien abduction, witchcraft) are way less interesting than the really mundane narratives where either a Native American force responded to colonisers properly, or the colonists integrated into a different culture and ‘went native.’
The thing is, there’s an interesting system idea here where there’s competing resources and the development cycle of the local indigenous tribes, but I’d want it to be framed from the perspective of the indigenous peoples.
I’d want this to be made by indigenous folk, then, and I don’t know who there would find it interesting to play a kind of cooperative game about just living your life, extending charity to some, rebuffing others, and depleting the Roanoke colony as a kind of tumor on your ecosystem, with the ‘victory’ being the colony closing and the people there coming to live in your community.
I have friends in theatre, and what interests me about theatre has almost nothing to do with the actual productions and instead the making of those productions. Lots of games have ‘theatre’ as a thing that happens and even uses theatre as a framing device for a story game, but I would be really interested to see a game about actually putting the show together, the way that sets need to get made in time, the way that things being made change the way other things get made, and how if you don’t have a tool you can’t practice with it, which will affect the way the show gets put on.
What’s more, shows are made and they’re performed and nothing in it is perfect each night to night, and that creates this interesting resource management element as well, where practice can get weighted against exhaustion and that all seems really interesting. I wouldn’t know how to do a good job of it, myself.
3. Solo Mystery Card Games
I have this engine in mind for a solo mystery game? And I like how it works and it fits together, and when you’re done reassembling all these clues you get a really cool little narrative as told through multiple lines of storytelling, and you can play with themes of like, shattered memory or time travel or that kind of stuff.
The problem is this requires a lot of writing and narrative and revealing partial information and I am not good at that. I’ve tried writing short stories, I’ve tried doing larger reveals, and while mystery is something I can build into games with a connecting tissue like violence, you know, a D&D game, but… without that? With potential mixes like murder mystery or unreliable narrators or time travel, things that I don’t handle well (and don’t like when I see other people handle them badly!), I’m left with an engine that drives nowhere.