Thursday, September 29, 2016

No Deals

At the Edmonton Con, we had a fellow, Otis, approach our table who was bemoaning the way his players took advantage of him.  I will give an example.  Instead of drinking a healing potion to heal, Otis explained that the player was always trying something completely out of left field, something unexpected.  "What if I just use a little of the healing potion on my wound, rubbing it in with my hand.  Will that do anything?"

Whereupon Otis looked heavenward in dissatisfaction, sighed (I'm really not making this up) and told us, "I don't know what to do when he says stuff like this.  I wish he'd just use the potion.  I have to say something like, 'Okay, if you roll a 1 on a d20, it like heals three points of damage.'  And then the player rolls a 1!  I hate this stuff!"

Um.  Yeah.  I tried to explain to him that he was only enabling the player by offering a chance of success.  the actual answer is, "No, it does nothing."  Park Place costs $350.  It doesn't cost $325 if you roll a seven when you land there, it doesn't cost $310 if you're wearing a green shirt, it doesn't cost $290 if the player on your left thinks that's "fair."  The cost is, was, always will be, $350.

Otis, poor fellow, proved inconsolable.  We never were able to make him see that his players were taking advantage of him by trying to end-run the rules or that he was encouraging their behavior by constantly finding ways to fan-service them.

Fan-service sucks.  I just had a long conversation with my future son-in-law regarding "gold rounds" in the online game, World of Tanks.  These are special shells that players can buy that are effectively breaking the game . . . but when haven't we watched profit-mongering by game designers destroy a game by feeding those who have the money to pay in?  We've seen this pattern for decades now: a great game appears, it seems to reward effort and adaptation with opportunity and benefits . . . and then someone else can step in with money and side-step working at the game by purchasing a super-mega-killer-death-action sword and within a year, poof!  No game.

It's presumed that this is a video-game problem but no, it's actually a game problem.  If you're unsure about this, ask someone's opinion about the designated hitter's presence in the American vs. National baseball leagues.  This is a rule adopted 43 years ago, in 1973; debate continues.  If that isn't enough for you, have someone who understands the in-field fly rule explain it for you . . . and then have them explain satisfactorily why the rule exists at all (please, if you have an answer for this, write it on another blog).

New rules break games - and this includes a rule made up on the fly, designed to spontaneously satisfy a player's momentary ill-thought innovation.  I'm a great fan of innovation:  when Ned Cuthbert stole a base in 1863 or 1865, that was the right kind of innovation - he wasn't breaking a rule and he didn't need one to be made for him.  When the Oakland A's chose not to steal bases because they were statistically viable, that was the right kind of innovation too.  I applaud players who try to innovate inside the rules.  I crush players who try to do it outside.

I'm sure Otis, however, is not alone.  I'm sure there are many caught in the same trap, who don't see that they are themselves the architects of their own misfortune.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


In my last post I mentioned that we had some insulting and abusive customers at the Expo I attended last weekend.  I'm glad to say they weren't especially those things towards us - it was, rather, that these were fellows (every one was a boy-bear) took such exceptional pride in being assholes towards their players that they felt compelled to entertain us with boasting about their sadism.

I will not go into details.  Mostly it involved detailed sketches of perverse devices and dungeon traps meant to gleefully execute players or mere gloating accounts of players they had twisting in the wind in their recent campaigns.  Each of these demons invariably seem to think their games are insouciantly hilarious, that everyone else they speak to will feel exactly the same and that we are all simply dying to hear them go on and on . . . and on about it.

The most difficult patrons are the war story tellers.  In most cases, easily 19 out of 20, I feel legitimately heartsore for their positions.  They have no one they can talk to.  Being a role-player and a figure behind a table, I'm more than ready to lend my empathic, considerate attention: as I have written a few times this year, the worst part of being a DM is that we are alone.  There's little to no support in the community and anyone who dares to speak about their worlds is bound to receive nothing but a contemptuous eye-roll.  I have expressed as much myself, years ago . . . but I have recently come to understand that we have to listen, and praise anything we hear that we feel is positive.  DMs need it!

That twentieth fool, however.  Sigh.  They have no idea they're cackling about things equivalent to stealing ice cream from children and pushing people in wheelchairs down stairs.  Worse, I can say quite clearly, "I don't feel the game should be played that way," without the words making the least impact.  I don't mean the words offend, I don't mean they disagree with the words; I mean that these odious cretins don't hear the words at all.  They're incapable of hearing condemnation or opposition.

One of our oddest encounters came when we had two professed players who described their DM as one of these fiendish bastards.  They loved it.  They gushed and tittered about their DM's propensity for systematically murdering off their characters with steady diligence.  Once they departed, my daughter and I spoke about it for several minutes, in part disturbed and in part in awe of their obliviousness.  It is remarkable that such people exist in the world.

Without question, there are toxic elements associated with role-playing.  It's a natural progression from so much proscribed content over the decades concentrating upon silliness and excess rather than striving for collaborative, refreshing, novel and satisfying game play.  To the toxic element, that sounds "boring."

We should realize that every human past-time contains this element.  It is why restaurants have bouncers, why concerts have security, why it costs so much money to join a country club and why dress codes exist.  It is why ball players get ejected by umpires, why penalty boxes exist in hockey and why some very talented people - who just can't control themselves - are sometimes suspended for the season or for the rest of their careers.  Every organized community is ultimately forced to police themselves, to enable a better experience for the majority.  Usually, it doesn't take long after the community's creation before something has to be done.

If I had one of these fellows - either DM or players - appear in my life (much less my table), it wouldn't take long before I showed them the door forever.  But I know, having just met them, that there are hundreds, thousands, of players and DMs who just put up with them, because . . . well, I don't know why because.  Or I know it, but I'll be polite and not say it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

So, You Want to Be a Vendor

As I've heard a lot of stories now from game/Con events, I feel I can offer some advice to anyone thinking of taking their artwork, skill-set or crafting ability to a Fan or Comic Expo.  I offer this with the best of intentions - not to disparage, but to help.  Many of the vendors we have met in the past have been extremely sensitive to the slightest suggestion; we've also seen some very green eyes as we've been selling like crazy as they sit, ignored.  It doesn't have to be that way.

I'll organize these in point form.  It's presumed already that the reader knows what they would present at a table at these Cons.  I'll point out that it is actually very easy to obtain a table, to meet the requirements and so on; success, quite honestly, is a matter of approach.  Consider each, as the reader will; we have done our best to incorporate every one.

1.  Learn How to Sell.  Being completely honest, this knowledge does not come from me.  I have a number of skills but for most of my life, selling hasn't been one of them.  My daughter, however, sells like a demon.  Out of high school, like most young, slight girls, she dove into the retail business.  Long before that, she had gotten involved with trading things on line, seeking out rare items, buying them up and waiting for the right sale.  Her early experiences in retail shops expanded upon this for a while, until I thought she would make it her career; then she changed her mind and embraced merchandising as an alternative.  For those who don't know, this means window dressing and organizing a shop in order to make customers comfortable and interested enough to buy.  It is really just a means of organizing the space so that things are less confusing - and at the same time, encouraging.

I've had a crash course these two years in these things.  I let my daughter set up the table, I take her advice on how to talk to interested parties, I smile and concentrate on what people say to me so that I can honestly and appropriately answer their questions, rather than trying to force a spiel on each individual.  I open the book, I show it, I put it into your hands - and when the conversation lags a bit, I name the price of the book.

This last is amazing.  For most people, this is all they need to hear to "close" the sale.  They are already considering the book - but they don't ask the price because it doesn't occur to them. They aren't thinking about price; they are thinking about what it is that interests them.  The price, when they hear it, "snaps" them back into the real world and reminds them that they only have to part with money in order to have it.  Nine times out of ten, people immediately reach for their pockets when they hear the price.

I've seen dozens of vendors now who won't say the price of what they have.  They are ashamed of the price they've chosen.  They feel naming the price is pushing too hard.  They will sit and mumble about the book for five, ten minutes, until the sale walks away.

If you want to be a vendor, either do it with someone who can sell - and then take their advice like it's gospel - or else go work in retail for six months and get good at it.  If you can't get good at it, forget ever being a vendor.  In this modern world, that means forgetting that you're an artist or a crafter that people will ever notice. If you can't sell your stuff, NO ONE will ever, ever, ever know who you are.

2.  Ensure the Product Has Value.  This is not as important as the first point; but if you want to sustain yourself for longer than a single show, the work has to be something people can view again and again, both from day to day during the event and the next time around.  I had a lot of people in Edmonton come around just to talk about the books they bought from me last year, giving me an opportunity to press for them to support me on Patreon or to buy into my online classes - which, admittedly, were a hard sell.  They require faith, since there's nothing concrete to support the notion that the classes will deliver what they promise - except my presence and what measure of credibility I offer.

We always see vendors who have a product that is, without a doubt, simply sad . . . particularly in Artist Alley.  We all remember people who could reasonably draw in school: often this level of drawing is presented as "art" for $10 next to people who are displaying spectacular content at comparable prices.

Because it is all on display, the measure of the work is in the eye - and nothing is less forgiving than the quality of the art.  I contend that many of the people who buy a table in Artist's Alley do it so they can roam around the Con for three days with a chair they can come back to when they're tired.  They don't really care if they sell.  If, however, anyone wants to "make it as an artist," the bar is more than evident.  If the vendor isn't making work at this level, forget it.

3. Have a Story.  It isn't enough for the work to be comparable or even amazing.  My daughter, who has been to more Cons than she can describe (she's a cosplayer), makes this point: "What is it that makes this amazingly fine jewelry better or different from that amazingly fine jewelry over there?"  There are artists all over the place and every person only has a set amount of money to spend.  Most of them are carefully counting out every purchase because it means if they spend $15 here, they won't be able to spend that money somewhere else.  This competition is always there - no matter what anyone is vending.  Every book I sell is money out of someone else's pocket - because the buyers are going to spend their $300 or $1,500 or $7,500 on something before the con is over.  That is an unquestioned fact.

Many of the buyers, however, know that the vendors have worked and struggled and banged their heads against their crafts long before getting to this point.  People want to hear about this struggle.  They want to know the reason behind the book, the inspiration behind this magnificent sword for $1,200, the concept underlying this set of figurines, the philosophy that impels this production company.  Tell them.  Anyone who has gotten to the point where they are selling their work at a Con already has a story.

Mine is simple.  No one has ever written a proper academic book for a Dungeon Master who has been playing the game for ten years or more.  No one has ever explained what we're doing right when we have a great night running.  I didn't know myself before starting to write the book.  I had a tremendous moment of inspiration - I realized that the situational awareness of an emergency first responder was applicable to the situational awareness of a DM during a game.  It is all a flood of information in and the necessity of making decisions and managing people in a very short period of time.  The fact that RPGs are not life threatening is irrelevant.  The thinking process is the same.  And as I explain this to varying degrees (depending on the listener), I get a tremendous response.  I can make it very simple for people who only just grasp the concept of D&D - or I can dive into it as deep as I need for anyone who wants a detailed analysis of my thinking process.  I love these people - particularly as their eyes grow wider and wider as I discuss the principles underlying details like capitalization of ability, managing negative responses to medical physio-therapy, pattern recognition, functional design or any of the other disciplines underlying the writing of my book.  My story isn't "made up" - it is a straight account of how I got to where I am.

4.  Don't Go Alone.  This is fairly straight-forward.  People try to be vendors without help, because they don't know anyone or they can't afford to pay anyone.  It's awful.  We need company, we need someone to talk to after an insulting or abusive customer (and we had them), we need grounding, we need mental rest and we need someone to encourage us to remain in a positive state of mind.  Seeing people on their own, come mid-second day, it's clear how glum they are, how tired they are, how frustrated they feel if they're not selling or if they've underestimated the resistance to their product.  It isn't good.

We don't need someone to help; we just need someone who we can talk to, even if we are doing all the work.  If they're doing work too, all the better - but they better have more motivation than, "I'm doing this for that guy."  They need a story too, they need to know how to sell too.

5.  Go With the Right People.  So, a friend of ours, Jim, found himself helping out an artist friend of his, David.  David had been lax in his judgment and his booth had six "helpers" - girlfriends of friends and volunteers he accepted because "the more the merrier."  After Friday's show, the first day, all of them - including David - got hammered drunk in the hotel room, with two exceptions.  Jim and another helper, Brenda, went to manage the table - they were getting paid by getting a cut of the amount sold, so if they wanted any pay at all they had to do something.  Saturday started at 10 officially, 9 for the early-passes.  Jim and Brenda worked - no one else did.  Throughout Saturday, the others filtered to the table, hung over, unhappy, tired and draped all over the chairs around the booth.  David, the actual vendor, didn't get there until 3 o'clock.

The horror show didn't get better.  As money collected, several of the helpers tried to rob from the cash box, even though it was supposed to be split.  This got out of control and tempers flared.  Half the booth wasn't speaking to the other half and the Con still had a whole other day.  Guess what happened Saturday night?  Yep.  More drinking, a worse situation, three people not coming in at all the next day and Jim swearing at our table about how he was never, ever, going to do this shit again.

Being a vendor is serious.  But stories like the above are going on all the time.  Artists, having gotten there, don't care.  Helpers come up to "help" and end up taking advantage of the one person who actually cares about their art.  Helpers wander off and don't come back for three or four hours.  Things go missing.  It's really important to ask, "Would I pay my friend an income for what he or she is doing?"

I'm lucky.  I have a sensible daughter.  It is in the family.  I heartily recommend having a child, raising the child to be a human being and then shutting the fuck up as a parent and letting the child run the table.  I do this and it works great.

Conclusion.  There's a lot more.  Displays get built so that it isn't even possible to see the vendor.  Vendors spend the whole Con sitting on their ass.  There's nothing for the customer to touch.  People ignore customers.  Not displaying all of their product.  Coming in late.  Leaving early.  Not trying in the last half-hour of the day.  Having nothing that identifies the booth.  And so on.

The people who make money are those who watch others and avoid.  It isn't as important as one might think that the booth be stuffed with AMAZING things.  Ours wasn't.  But we were memorable because WE were; which is the point.  I'm not selling a backdrop, I'm selling me and my book.  Many vendors forget that this is the point.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My Education

Three days since I've posted: anyone still out there?

We've finished our third Expo, my daughter and I.  We had a great time.  Once again, we met wonderful people, imaginative people, people passionate about their games, their players and their Dungeon Masters. Role-playing is growing and expanding - I adore seeing this every time I do one of these events.

This time around, however, I did get a different education, with regards to vendors and organizers - something surprising and, thankfully, harmless.  I'll try to explain.

We did have some worries going into this event.  There's a recession in Alberta, caused by the drop in world oil prices.  Alberta is a big producer of the world's oil, about 1/40th, and a huge exporter to the United States; the drop in prices has hit the economy hard here and we absolutely expected this to affect the number of visitors and the coin they'd have to spend.  It did and we saw that through the eyes of dozens of vendors that we've gotten to know in these last two conventions.

In convention speak, the vendors talk about "table cost."  This is the price paid for the booth where people set up - and it is a different cost for different sized booths.  Most of the would-be artists at expos like these set up in what's know as "Artist Alley."  Typically, this is a booth about six feet by six, just enough for a table and two chairs, without much room for moving around.  Product will take up most of a table and can make it very hard to sell, given the tight amount of space - but the booth cost in the cons I've been to have been from $150-$250 . . . a number that can be shared by two artists fairly easily, lowering the amount of product they need to sell.

We did a booth like that in Toronto in 2014; but when we more than quadrupled our table cost in sales, we decided to spread out into a larger space, giving us more flexibility.  We never made money in Toronto; after air fares and hotels and other costs, we lost money, definitely.  It was also our first try and we had a lot of things we had to buy from scratch; it is cheaper to do a second or a third event than a first event, definitely.

In Edmonton last year, we got ourselves into a 10 by 10 booth; more expensive, about $500.  We did better than twice that in sales and on the whole, we broke even.  Without hesitation, this year, we set up for 10 by 10 again.  We figured, if we lost money because of the economy, it was still better to have the extra space - both for our product and for our comfort.

I took a shot of the booth this year (I always forget):

I chuckle some as I look at this, as anyone who's been to a con knows this is pretty stark for a 10x10 booth. We know it ourselves, particularly through the eyes of other vendors who will pop by to snark or give us some heartfelt pity.

Thankfully, there was one other display in this picture the camera doesn't show.  I was standing in it and so was my daughter.  And like every time we've done a con, we know our people; they don't care about flash, they care about content.  They wanted to talk about their game and that's what we did, continually, enthusiastically and with terrific success.

We had five hours on Friday, nine hours on Saturday and seven hours on Sunday, a total of $48 an hour.  On average, we sold one of our three books every fifteen minutes.  We talked to three or four people for every book we sold, so we were talking to people - sometimes to a crowd - steadily.  Like last year, we broke even.  The only real profit we made was sending the book out there and getting a great trip to Edmonton.  And we got noticed.

Twice, sadly, I was approached by smiling, happy vendors selling games and role-playing supplies to "help us" sell our books.  The deal?  I hand them books, right then and there, in return for 50% of the cover price.  How considerate.

I carefully explained to both that is costs me 40% of the cost of How to Run to have it printed; it costs me 20% of the cost of the book to get them shipped out to me, because I can't afford the benefits that come from printing and shipping hundreds of books - and I don't get tax breaks.  The big book pays for everything - hotel room, travel, food, table cost and so on.  With the smaller books, the printing cost is 50% and the shipping cost is 30% of the book price.  I make less than $2 from a sale of How to Play a Character.  I get about $3.10 from a sale of the Dungeon's Front Door.  For both, I do better with an online sale because I don't pay shipping - but the reader does.  This is a big selling point for us at these events.  I take the hit so the buyer doesn't.

When some other vendor offers to take 50% of my sales, it isn't just taking a profit in exchange for doing almost nothing; it's actually making me lose money.  Were these vendors willing to pay for my costs?  For the print cost of the book?  Of course not.  Because at this time, in this world of publishing on the internet, consignment is a scam.  I had only just learned that I'd sold no books whatsoever at Indigo following my West Hills adventure.  This latest has convinced me; I am never, ever, going to consign with anyone, ever again.  They can pay me up front if they want my book or they can make a deal with me where they print and ship the book.

My other bad experience was with the officially organized role-playing community.  Like with every expo, there was an organized tournament; there were role-playing panels.  In the past, these things have gone on without mattering much to me.  Last year, after the fact, I spoke to the organizer of the panels. This year, that meeting happened before the panels.  And it was . . . disappointing.

Not during the meeting.  Wow. During the meeting, where the organizer and his associate came up to my table and talked to me for about fifteen minutes, it was all smiles and promises, to contact me, to see about getting me onto the panel, to address things like I was bringing up about legitimacy and the lack of support between DMs in the community, the encouragement of fracturing people with game play and deliberately pushing them to make their public contact with one another into a conflict sport with prizes and shaming for playing the wrong games or the wrong editions - all things that I heard from others I met throughout the weekend.

But of course, nothing came of it.  I felt pretty pumped after the meeting, felt like something was going to happen there - but that was just wishful thinking.  The official community can't afford to be challenged like I want to challenge it.

I did get some tremendous support from a writer in the gaming community who reviews releases and games; his name, like all the names attached to this post, will go unsaid.  He admitted to me quite openly that the gaming companies have the community by the throat; that they don't care about what happens to players after they buy the games; that frankly, once the game or the module is in the participant's hands, the company could really not give a shit.  He and I together compared the situation to a car-maker that sells the car, doesn't provide service, doesn't care if the car doesn't work, doesn't even provide the keys for the car - because, frankly, the company just doesn't care if we can make heads or tails of the rules after we've bought the game. There's no content out there that really says how to play or how to avoid pitfalls with players or how to pull all these rules together into a campaign that will actually sustain itself - this is all left to the participant, who muddles through by leaning heavily on a few people who are willing to give considerate advice as opposed to dead useless advice (and yes, I heard immense amounts of that over the weekend, mostly from DMs who explained how it was given to them, making them feel stupid and useless as designers).

On the whole, I feel that I am getting somewhere.  I can't remember with whom (and I can't find it), but just before the weekend I made reference to a quote from Hadrian: "Brick by brick, my citizens.  Brick by brick."  Steadily, slowly, one book at a time, I'm receiving the right kind of attention.  People found us after their friends told them to buy the book, having bought it themselves this weekend.  People found us to tell us to keep going.  People found us to thank us for changing their games and their worlds.  People found us by happenstance, then declared that it took them a long time to find us again so they could purchase the book.  We did fine.  Just fine.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Expo First Day

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

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

I can always use some of that.

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

And me, obviously.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Eyes! The Eyes!

And now, an evil cat picture.

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

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

Acts of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah well, no hurry.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We're Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newest Tutorial Brochures

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

Friday, September 16, 2016


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

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

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

Oh well.  Someday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Such a Little Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, back to other things.