Category Archives: Gaming


When I run games, they become filters for me to experiment and play with themes and ideas that I enjoy most – namely horror tropes and elements of Gothic storytelling and tragedy, all seeped in misty atmosphere. I might even go so far as to say, my games allow me to be decadent in my indulgence of these thematic elements, and I might occasionally go overboard.

So last year, when my gaming group’s resident GM moved across the country to pursue a job at Paizo game company, I volunteered and took up the dice to run a game. The group enjoys playing through the long, connecting stories that Paizo publishes in six volumes called Adventure Paths, and I quite like the books they’ve put out so I’m happy to oblige. We decided on a vote to see which of the dozens of Adventures Paths we’d play next – the epic fantasy of reclaiming the world wound? The war against an underground army ? A classic adventure of Fantasy kingdom building?

Somehow, to everyone’s surprise, the Adventure Path that emerged was the Gothic Horror – a path that sneaked into the list for reasons I don’t even recall. I certainly never suggested it, and I didn’t vote for it either. And yet, it came out on top somehow!

To say the Adventure Path was in my wheelhouse would be an understatement. The whole adventure is set in a Gothic Horror setting, with mist and moors and mountains, an ever-hanging threat from a restless but slumbering undead wizard demi-god, vampires and serial killers in urban centers, werewolves in the woods and haunted old buildings everywhere.

Well, who’m I to say no to the people’s will? I dove in with gusto, running the adventure path more or less as written, but for the occasional flourish of Gothic flair. Everyone has been enjoying the game, and I haven’t had to do much more than play out the story as written. I’ve been quite restrained with my wishes to meddle with the story and to push it even further into horror tropes and themes.

That is, until the players decided to nibble at one stray side-quest that I tossed out to gauge interest. Like travelers in some Hammer Films production from the sixties, the characters arrived at an old inn in the countryside, and descended into a valley to recover some lost children of a failed branch of a once-noble family.

What followed was an utterly self-indulgent tale that ran characters through a barely-disguised Fall of the House of Usher remake. Roderick and Madeline were there, one wounded and failing, the other drained of all vitality, their children under the dark guidance of wraiths.

A valley full of mists where a servant’s corpse swings above a deep, cold pool, crypts beneath the house where generations lie restlessly, a haunted harpsichord, Roderick’s unexplained disappearance, Madeline’s utterly self-destructive depression, a girl unable to stop playing the same music over and over, past the point of exhaustion, a boy who follows new friends down a dark chamber to fall to his death, the youngest daughter, lost in the woods and hiding within a tree-hollow, like some feral animal, afraid of the sun.

By the time all was said and done, the players walked away from the house, a fire consuming its rotten timbers, before a crack split the house at last, like a rotten beam sighing with relief to be put out of its misery.

I do feel a little bit guilty for indulging myself so much, but man, did I have fun.

Warrior Princesses in the Realm of Everafter

A few months ago, I mentioned writing for a project that a friend of mine was working on. The project has finally completed, and is raising funds so that it can go to press and see the light of day. While I’m terrible at marketing my own projects, I feel much more motivated to promote a group project where I’m just a part of the whole.

The project is called Warrior Princesses in the Realm of Everafter. It is a setting for role playing games that’s fairly easy to adapt to any game system, but the one we’ve used is Dungeons and Dragons. Here’s a video outlining the setting and giving a few details about the project.

The video uses a (very nicely) edited down version of the opening fiction as narration, and it works to great effect. The art work is gorgeous and has a touch of Victorian whimsy to it. I think it looks almost painterly, which is a refreshing break from the de-rigueur of contemporary fantasy art, with its skulls and blood and dim, monochrome palettes.

Let me talk a bit about the project – we took the female characters from popular western fairy tales – Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel – along with other non-western sources – Pocahontas, Fa Mulan – and wrote the game around them. They are protagonists, with the agency to be the vanguard of change or the champion of their people. You play as one of them in a story of your own telling.

One of my favorite things about this project is that it’s female-focused, multi-cultural content in a genre that tends to speak only to white men. We’re seeing the tide shift toward plurality, and I’m glad to be a part of that movement. All that said, we’ve done our best to be as inclusive as possible, and if we’ve fallen short, we hope to be able to do better next time.

In addition to the writing and art, there is of course the game-setting itself. It includes fully constructed character sheets for the protagonists and antagonists, there are details on the settings with areas of interests and maps, and plot hooks to use in game. The game is ready to go more or less out of the box.

We’re hopeful that our first launch goes well, and we’re able to do a second deck in the setting, with more characters and realms. If this sounds like your sort of thing, we would appreciate your support, and any help you can providing in spreading word of it to other interested parties. Thank you!

Too Many Pots

Or maybe too many stoves.

With our brand new son in daycare, the days have become pretty hectic, and after a dormant period of easy maintenance, my work really took off last month with a number of high-profile projects, alongside some training… it’s been a mouthful. Did I just go from cutlery, to stoves, to food? Ah, well.

Regardless, I was able to squeeze in the time and finish the second half of my writing for that contract work I mentioned last time. It was similar in that there was a hard word limit and structure that I had to conform to, but it kept it focused again, I couldn’t meander on and had to remain on point. I really think contract writing is good for me, it’s teaching me to look at what I’m writing and examine it.

I recently organized my documents to better manage the short fiction side of things, and know what I should be working on and where. I think that’s a broader conversation I need to have, about how structure – not just in writing, but in organizing the things around the writing process itself – has been helping me… but probably later. Anyway, I came across a story I’d finished some time ago, but always felt strange about it, it felt a bit exploitative and I thought I could do better.

So, I took it out and began to read it and it surprised me how much I overwrote. I don’t know if it’s just a reaction from this really strict writing I just did, but I think in the last year or two I’ve really changed focus to examining what I’m writing and why it belongs in a story. That I like it isn’t enough, if I want to sell it. There’s pleasure in indulgent writing, I enjoy writing in a way that lets me sprawl, that lets me really stretch and let the words pour out faster than I can type… but it isn’t conducive to fiction, and it really isn’t good for trying to write anything that you want to sell.

For the last week, I’ve been picking this story apart, thread by thread, and I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to rewrite it entirely. But there are good bones in there, scenes that make me flinch in the sudden light or scenes that vibrate like bass strings in the dark.

Telling myself that I don’t have time, or that I’m too tired, or whatever else isn’t really an option anymore. I’ve been outlining new story ideas and setting them aside after a few hundred words and all of them are clamoring for attention. Some of them might even be good! And I can never keep the call of a novel at bay for long. Sadly, it’ll have to go unheeded till I’m at a place where I can be confident that isn’t going to just sit in my hard drive for all of eternity like my last book. I want to be good enough to write a book.

For now, these six to eight thousand word stories are where my focus is, and I’m building a structure around it, so that no matter how much food I’m eating while cooking on multiple pots in various kitchens, I can still sit down and write a couple of thousand words a day. It’s been a good year so far, I want it to continue.

An Unexpected Kickstart

A friend of mine is working on a game project that looks quite fun, but was suspended in need of some writing. I, meanwhile, was suspended in my own dead space, colliding with blocks and depression left and right, till there was nothing left to say or do except to stare the cursor blinking on and off in a white screen. Regardless, hearing him talk about his needs made me – impulsively – offer my services.

We talked about what he wanted, I threw out some ideas I had based on his description of the kind of game and world he wanted to create, and offered suggestions on altering the antagonist’s motivation, create more of a meta-plot to bind together the various groups he was describing, and an overarching narrative rather than distinct stories. He agreed to give me a shot, and I began to pound out words.

The writing had to be very structured due to the nature of the project – there were eleven settings that had to be outlined, within about 450 words each. Each outline was broken down into four segment – a brief overview of an area and then three spots of interest within them. I created more structure by organizing the three spots into a friendly area, the area of the enemy’s strength, and an adventuring node.

I also went through the various geographies and assigned each some kind of setting flavor – whether Arthurian, Arabian, French Military, Medieval, Germanic Fairy Tales – you get the idea. In the end, this didn’t help me very much, as the themes were more muted, but it was a good starting point and it put the right visuals in my mind. To organize this in space, I sketched out a very rough, circular map that helped me arrange things a bit better.

The first draft was laborious, and then my son was born. I took some time off from the project, while I handed it in for notes. When I got back to it a week later, I had some feedback to work off of. The second draft was much cleaner, I revised considerably, and rewrote a few sections entirely.

I tend to overwrite and my word-bloat grows quickly. Here, I was arrested by the structure. Further, the project wasn’t mine – there was no ego involved here, I was writing to please someone else. These factors played a considerable part in allowing me to write quickly and efficiently, and while the writing went a week or two past the deadline, what I turned in was pretty good. It even got me a second project from him, which I’m working on now – taking the various characters and settings and combining them together to form story devices for the players to hook into for their own games.

Even better, the writing finally got me through the years long block I’ve been struggling with, and for the first time in ages, I’m thinking of new ideas. Last week, I finished the first draft of a story, with some nine thousand words that needs to be pared down by a thousand or two words, and right after I finished that first draft, I began another, entirely new story with the opening paragraphs of a third also thrown out during lunch this week.

And I have this contract writing to thank for this renewed energy. Finishing things is such a motivation and inspiration, that it doesn’t matter what it is that you finish – it could be anything, even contract writing. I don’t mean to diminish the writing I did for this game – it’s good, and I enjoyed it, but it’s still not my personal writing, so there’s always a separation there.

I can’t wait to see where this current burst of inspiration takes me.

Writing the Wrong Thing

What you want to write isn’t always under your control.

At least, that’s how it works for me. When the urge to write comes, it brings with it a certain mood and texture, a certain light and sound and smell that can produce only the unique product of its parts. To write anything else feels difficult and it becomes a struggle to wrestle the urge to write into a usable form. The words slip away, the feeling falls down, and the sky opens up into a void.

The cursor keeps blinking on a blank screen.

What to do, then, when the urge to write is for things that seem of little consequence? Right now, I want to write extensively about the game I’m playing, about the internal dialog of my character and the story of his own struggle with things. I wrote about him before, here, but he’s becoming more and more prominent in my head, talking to me, demanding attention.

He’s poking me with his scimitar and asking why I’m ignoring him when he’s right there, waiting to go on adventures across green ocean and Caribbean blue sky. And I have to keep pushing him off, say no, go away, I have other writing to do, serious writing, things I can send out to magazines but he doesn’t understand. It’s hard to put aside one’s own existence for the sake of the maker’s interest.

And that right there, is a telling and terrifying thought – perhaps a story to be found in exploring that sentiment. Hmm.

Writing and Roleplaying Games

In my non-existent free time, I like to play role-playing games of various sorts.

The memory of Dungeons and Dragons dulls many interests when the subject comes up. That was over 40 years ago. Today there are many new, innovative games that push the boundaries of gaming, going so far as to attempt social change around the world. Many are creator owned, and the cottage industry is a wellspring of diversity, inclusiveness and vibrant creativity.

That said, sometimes, a body just wants the comfort of familiar things, and so I play in my old Dungeons and Dragons group, and there is something like community in the familiar ritual of dice with many faces, character sheets and pencils. I have been gaming for nearly 20 years, and I don’t intent to stop till they put me in a grave.

One of my favorite things about gaming, is the amount of creativity that comes out of it. Often, gaming requires one to come up with backgrounds, for characters, for scenarios, new situations. Some of the more innovative new games go so far as to include all the players into the narrative role, granting them god-like powers to expand the story and fill out the world – a privilege usually reserved only to one person in older games, the one guiding the game.

In our current, recently rebooted game, I’ve recently started playing a new character and wrote up a brief background for him. Often, I find that this kind of writing is very effective in getting me to empathize and connect deeply with a character. Ultimately, my favorite thing about gaming is the deep sense of immersion in character (and story, and world) that lifts one from this reality into another, for a few brief hours. Not because something is lacking in this one, but rather, to search out a new horizon.

Here, then, is what I came up with.

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