Tag Archives: gaming

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!

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.

The Re-spawning

At the height of our mutual dislike, in the midst of chasing each other, eager for a fight, over some perceived and forgotten slight, my brother and I found ourselves in a neighborhood far from home. Suddenly we were surrounded by kids we did not know who saw two boys separated from their pack of friends and were hungry for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

I had been running after my brother who was on his bike. As the other boys surrounded me, I saw my brother take off, pedaling with furious speed, a feral grin on his face. It made sense, I didn’t begrudge him. I had been chasing him to administer a thrashing, and the fact that I in turn should be surrounded served as poetic justice. I put on a brave front, preparing to take my lumps, while my heart raced and my hands shook in fear of the Cricket equipment they carried, hoping to make it out without broken bones.

Their leader was a big boy, cruel, and he indulged himself, shoving me around, mocking my name, my bone-thin frame, my brother who had just abandoned me while his friends laughed. I retaliated with weak retorts and a quickly fading voice from a drying throat. Five minutes passed, and I had barely suffered a few bruises when I saw a bike come around the corner of the street.

It was my brother, that same feral grin on his face, as he sped up to me. Following after him were a half dozen of my friends.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well. After a perfectly normal 20 week anatomy scan on Monday, my dear wife announced her pregnancy on Facebook.

This unexpected occupation by an unannounced tenant in her body is a source of both relief and worry. We hadn’t planned for this, nor allowed for its eventuality in our long term plans, but the surprise is not unpleasant. Our first child is a human male, and since that worked out quite well for us, our genes decided to play things safe and produced a sequel.

As evidenced above, I grew up with a younger brother myself, and while we were relatively close until I hit puberty, we reversed polar for the next ten years. Much of it had to do with things that are far too complicated to get into here, but sometime in my mid-twenties, we began to reconcile and the last ten years have been significantly improved, the sometimes-cold, sometimes-hot war had been replaced with a peace treaty and bricks from the wall of separation between us have been used to build bridges instead. Problems, of course, remain, but they seem less intractable.

When I tried to think about my son without me and my wife in the picture, it often left me feeling sad and anxious. The idea of being completely alone in the world is the greatest source of agitation and stress for me. As someone with a small but intensely loyal group of friends that is something of a chosen family, I don’t devalue their contribution to my life. Certainly, they have been the reason I was able to get through the difficult steps necessary to become who I am now.

But I like to imagine that there is some value to be had in family as well. Coming from a culture of intense familial closeness in my psychic infancy, I value relations of blood quite highly. The fact that I remain more or less segregated from the vast breadth of my own blood family for whatever reason (lack of faith, or difference in age, or geographical distance, or cultural incompatibility) is a constant source of consternation and regret. I’m grateful now that my partner and I will parent two children, my son will share blood companionship beyond just his elders. And that he will be part of a family beyond his own, in his later life.

Rather coincidentally, I recently played a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – which is probably the finest example of art, emotion and storytelling I’ve ever experienced in a video game. I’ll write about it on its own once I have some perspective, but it left me feeling incredibly grateful for this happy turn of events.

Briefly, the game follows two brothers in search of a cure for their ailing father, and must work together to overcome obstacles. The older brother is stronger, the younger more agile and able to squeeze through openings too small for his elder sibling. This elegant set-up allows for incredible depth of storytelling and emotion, and it very accurately depicts the relationship between two brothers as I experienced it.

It made my heart yearn for the sort of adventures I had with my brother when I was young. And it made me heartsick and grateful to imagine that my sons might have such adventures as well, together. Stories I’ll never hear, but with fallout I’ll see, whether in bruised limbs and torn clothes, angry words or desperate misdirections from truths that might anger or worry. I know there will be arguments, fights, and I’ll see their lives through a veil, obscuring much, whether by design or accident.

But I hope – hope for them to be friends, like my brother and I turned out to be, after our time in the desert, after years when our hatred for each other was so intense that it seemed like we might be pleased to see each other murdered.

I hold on to the fact that in the worst depths of our loathing for each other, my brother raced to fetch me help, when he saw I was surrounded, despite himself and our differences. He came to my rescue.

My son seems quite excited by the possibility of becoming a big brother, and announces it with glee to everyone he meets. I’m grateful for the changes we’ve made to our house recently – and that we made the move to a house from an apartment at all! – making it more permanent, and further adjustments will be essential, but for now, this pregnancy has put to rest an anxiety that I never even bothered to acknowledged, because it had seemed uncontrollable before.

It’s funny how far this is from how I imagined life ten years ago, and how glad I am to experience this bounty of new and unexpected experiences. I’m excited to see my new son in a few months time, and introduce him to his brother.

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.

Continue reading