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    Saturday, April 19th, 2014
    Reconstruction and redemption - LJ Idol Week 6
             The room was dark, but James didn’t really notice.  He was lost in the twisted visions of his own head, sitting bolt upright in a comfortable chair. He didn’t notice the chair either.

             Sandy had called James just an hour ago. She had listed for him all of the reasons that they should no longer be together. He simply sat and listened as everything he thought he had with her crumbled to dust and she asked him to never call her again. He made some weak overtures about trying to remain friends, but she wasn’t willing to do that. She had already retrieved her things from his place and dropped off a box of his stuff, mostly underwear and his toothbrush.

             Since the phone call he hadn’t moved. Something had broken inside him, and he was trying to figure out what to do about it. His life was not going well.

             James had been a programmer, writing billing code for a video game company. It wasn’t the glamorous work of programming the games, but it was necessary, at least for a while. The company had fallen on hard times, and they figured their need of him was done. They downsized him a week ago.

             Sandy’s call had been the final brick through the windows of his mind. He had been falling apart slowly since well before the layoff. Trouble at work had led him to drink a bit more than was good for a person, and he had gotten behind on both his rent and his car payment.  The finance company had come for his car three days ago. His landlord was going to want the rent next week, and James still had no idea where he was going to come up with it.

             James’ grip on reality had very much slipped.

             In his mind, James was chasing demons. Every time he thought he had taken them all down there were more emerging from the cracks in his psyche. He stepped on them as fast as he could, grinding them back down, patching the cracks with the corpses of his fears and neuroses.

             When he had finally gone through his entire litany of sins and the list of his failings, he reached an accord within himself and a plan began to emerge. The road ahead was rough, but he had a new course to follow…

    Reconstructing the world and plotting a new course.
    Photo shows the inside of James' head, reconstructing the world and plotting a new course.

    Posted for The Real LJ Idol Week 6
    My tweets
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    Friday, April 18th, 2014
    2014 Reading #32 and 33
    Starhawk (The Academy, #7)Starhawk by Jack McDevitt

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    This has been billed as Pricilla "Hutch" Hutchinson's "unforgettable first adventure." It is a first adventure, but unforgettable? Not so much.

    I like McDevitt's focus on the "ordinary life" of space piloting, but the book doesn't really hang together as a novel. It's really a series of semi-connected incidents, and the characters are not strong enough to make me feel like I've read a single, complete story.

    It's not a bad book -- I like Hutch, and the events that happen around her are interesting. But this feels a little like the collections of connected short stories and novellas that used to be common in science fiction, and I think I would have liked it better in that format.

    The New Teen Titans Archives, Vol. 1The New Teen Titans Archives, Vol. 1 by Marv Wolfman

    Marv Wolfman and George Perez relaunched the Teen Titans with a bang in 1980, and while the stories are a bit dated now, they still have a lot going for them. The art and the characters are lively, and the tone hits the balance between serious and light-hearted that I like best in comics.

    What impresses me is how well Wolfman balances the team. Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg are such mainstays of the lineup now that it's hard to remember that they were new when these issues came out. Wolfman has to introduce these three characters while giving the four veterans their due, getting everyone's personalities on the page while leaving plenty of room for fights and gloating villains. Somehow he keeps all the balls in the air, and he makes it look easy.
    Fiction Blog Updated
    The Chronicles is updated; "Tom and the Wizard" has a new episode up.
    grubb_street 10:45a
    P is for Paragon City

    I thought about Pern and Pelucidar before settling on one of my favorites MMO setting outside of Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 - Paragon City, home to City of Heroes.

    I admit - I was a latecomer to the Massively Multiplayer Online experience. In my defense, I would say I was a little busy, what with working on novels and comics and tabletop fantasy worlds, many of which had tropes and even mechanics that reach their sinuous tentacles into the modern MMO. So I missed Ultima Online and Everquest, but by gum, I got into City of Heroes.

    I think part of my love affair with the game was the character generation, or rather, the costume design. NCSoft's Cryptic (later Paragon) Studios went all out on creating a system to recreate the four-color world of comics. Sometimes a little too much, with the abundance of Incredible Sulks and Wolv3rin3s in the group early on.

    You know what Paragon City really needed?
    A map like the London Tube, showing all the ways of
    getting from one place to another. Just saying.
    But what brought a smile to my face was the mechanism by which they justified the limited world of the MMO play space. Most fantasy MMOs throw up mountains and other impenetrable barriers around the borders of each region, forcing the player through smaller, more easily handled gates to get from place to place. The conceit in City of Heroes was that the city was the ground zero of an alien invasion (The Rikti), and large reaches of the city were still walled off by huge energy walls that surrounded the various districts. You quickly accepted this,in that you couldn't travel between zones except through underpasses that went beneath the energy walls, or by monorail (and yes, a group of costumed super-heroes waiting for the monorail was amusing, but also a chance to check out other peoples' costumes).

    And the "Alien Invasion" trope was apparently deeply embedded into the superhero DNA, such that later games like Champions and DC Heroes went with it. But CoH did it first and best.

    I really enjoyed the feel of the game, and there was a joy of movement in Doctor Samaritan leaping from building to building or the Crimson Moonbat sailed over the heads of a grateful citizenry. And I picked up a lot of things I liked and did not like in MMOs, which then influenced my thoughts on GW2.

    Problems? Yeah. All the warehouses looked the same on the inside and I was never sure that I got crafting system right. And large battles with myriad effects going off caused me to declare that I was "Fighting the Rainbow" in any multiplayer battle. But in general, I really appreciated the feel it gave me as a nonfantasy world, with enough of the real world mixed in to give it a firm grounding.It was a great world, and I am saddened that it is no more, though a group is putting together its City of Titans, as a kickstarted, crowdsourced, groundswell movement. But it is a tough act to follow, as every other superhero MMO has discovered.

    More later,
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    Thursday, April 17th, 2014
    Stuck with Amber
    Many years before the first appearance of the Swarm, after the Final War, there was a militia soldier who served a warlord who lived on the outskirts of the Pittsburgh ruins.

    The soldier had many children. The eldest, Stem, had a friend named Amber who persuaded Stem to come with her on an exploration mission around the edges of the ruins. To entice her, Amber said she would feed and supply Stem during the trip, if she let the credit for any adventures they had fall to Amber. Stem agreed. Stem's mother warned her to always keep her promise to Amber.

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    grubb_street 1:55p
    O is for Oerth

    O is definitely for Oerth, the home world for the continent of Oerik, the region of the Flaeness,  the Free City of Greyhawk and the Greyhawk campaign. It is a favorite place of mine, though apparently I am on record for hating it (more about that later).

    First off, let's put this to rest - the "Oe" is pronounced like the Oy in "Oy Vey". So it is "Oith", not "rhyming with Fourth". The first time Gary used the term in front of me I thought he was just winding me up (and I was too timid a soul to question him on it), but he has used it often enough in other statement to determine that this is its full and true name.

    All the Greyhawk I had at the time.
    The big thing about Oerth, the World of Greyhawk, is its evolution. When I first arrived at TSR as an employee, I was interested in seeing the world itself. I had gotten a copy of the World of Greyhawk Folio (with its wondrous Darlene maps) a couple years earlier and I wanted to see the original maps. And I never could find them. I imagined a great vault beneath the Dungeon Hobby Shop that contained its secrets in some master file, protected by traps and probably a green dragon. There was a great vault (it was a bowling alley at one time), but no master file of secrets. Over time, I discovered that much of what I thought of as Greyhawk was created for that product.

    Here's the story - there was a question early on in D&D whether players needed a published world at all. After all, the game encouraged people to make their own worlds. And while games like Empire of the Petal Throne had its own maps and locations, the idea of a more traditional world needed added stuff was an open question. Further, Gary was reportedly reluctant to open his personal campaign to the greater universe (it being a going concern with his own players), and was still experimenting to some degree (example - using the boards from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival game for overland maps). So when the decision was made to move forward on the what would be called the Greyhawk Folio, they started afresh - the immediate area around the City of Greyhawk looked similar to that of the Great Kingdom miniatures campaign, and Blackmoor was placed to the north (as presented in Playing at the World), but much was new, right down to naming regions after friends and fellow gamers.

    In addition, there was concern about lettinh others put adventures in "official" Greyhawk, so that a lot of new modules (like the I-series) sort of floated out there on their own, worldless. Such concerns are understandable, but this in part laid the groundwork for both Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms, the latter being a hoover vacuum of a campaign, later sucking up previously orphaned bits of the canon.

    Insert of Darlene's map.
    Still love the hexes.
    The idea of the Greyhawk Folio being different from its antecedent campaign, by the way is not all that unusual. For Dragonlance, Tracy laid out a map of Anasalon and then dropped a mountain on Istar to see how the final world would be broken up. The "grey-box" Realms has a number of additions that makes it different from Ed's own campaign, ranging from adopting such locations as the Desert of Desolation series to completely redrawing the Moonshae Isles (for Doug's books) to draining part of the Great Glacier (for the H-series of modules, creating the Bloodstone lands). But for Greyhawk, that Folio remains the best, first, document we had describing the world.

    Which gets to why I hate Greyhawk (well, I don't, so this is the story of why it SEEMS I hate Greyhawk). I think Zeb was the one who put me under the gun, describing how, when he started work on "Greyhawk Wars", he asked me for what I would do with the world. I replied, "You mean, besides burning it to the ground?" Hence, Jeff Grubb, who was one of the crafty mechanics who helped launch the competing successful Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, had it "in" for Greyhawk. And this argument still shows up from time to time on Internet Forums.

    Now, I don't remember this conversation, but it sure sounds like something I would say. Mind you, by that point I was fairly disappointed by some of the support material for the line (Castle Greyhawk is a project that would spawn several stories, and would require many, many beers to fully describe in its painfulness (and you're buying)).

    And I have used the phrase "Greyhawk Death Spiral" to refer to the sort of frustrations engaged with working with the line. The Death Spiral functioned as followed - a) There was a fandom for Greyhawk so the line should be supported, but b) there were not enough resources to go around to do everything, so c) resources went to other projects, and d) the stuff for Greyhawk was notably suboptimal, with the result that e) the very fans who we were hoping to make happy in turn are upset with the line and the company that obviously hates it. Rinse, lather, repeat.

    All the Greyhawk you may ever need.
    Now, there have been numerous attempts to bring Greyhawk the attention it has deserved. Up From the Ashes was a radical attempt to recharge the line. The City of Greyhawk boxed set was an excellent and accessible city set. Sean Reynolds' work in the line, in particular The Scarlet Brotherhood, was pitch-perfect. And the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, despite the fact the typeface almost obscures the fact that it is a Greyhawk project (which sort of buries the lede).

    Yet Greyhawk is home to some of the best-remembered adventures in D&D History, including the Tomb of Horrors and the foundational GDQ series (which, yes, I did a collected work and only added some connective tissue). It found an excellent home with the RPGA that resulted in Living Greyhawk, yet still, after all these years, toiled in the shadow of later lines. And while I am pleased to see that the Realms is (again) the center of the new edition, Greyhawk can be shown a little love as well.

    What would I do with Greyhawk? Well, I wouldn't be caught dead saying that I would burn it to the ground or anything that daft. I would extoll its virtues as a low-magic world that still had strong roots to its miniature campaigns. Armies move in the background between rival nations whose claims on the map are greater than the reality on the ground ("points of light, anyone?"). Ancient ruins lay unexplored in shunned forests and jungles. It is a place where independent adventurers could plunder underground citadels with little influence from the powers that be. It would be an epic world without a single, overriding epic.

    And I would stand on that early volume of the Greyhawk Folio as my source material, adding all the great stuff done by others in the years that followed, ignoring some of the worse excesses, and re-represent a world that the Castle & Crusade Society of Lake Geneva, circa 1975, would be pleased with.

    More later,
    My tweets
    Archive post for the most stupid-ass Eostre fakelore from across the Web - feel free to contribute
    'After the ice age, when people first colonised Ireland, they brought with them belief in gods, one of whom was the moon goddess Eostre, who was worshiped in the spring.

    Some thought they could see the image of a hare carrying an egg on the moon's surface so the hare was believed to be the earthly form of Eostre, who gazed up at the moon that was her home.'

    'The Saxon equivalent of Ashteroth/Ishtar/Astarte was the goddess Eostre, from which we get the word "oestrus," which refers to an animal in heat. According to the myth, Eostre opened the gates of Valhalla to Baldur, the sun god, who had been killed -- thus the sun god was resurrected.'

    'In ancient days, at this time of year, the Greeks marked the arrival of Aphrodite the goddess of love, the Egyptians celebrated Hathor the goddess of motherhood, and the Vikings went bonkers for Ostara the goddess of fertility.

    Ostara, when the Vikings came to England, was known as Eostre in the local lingo. She was linked in folk custom with rabbits and hares, who traditionally at this time of year were at it like... well... rabbits. The Easter Bunny is about as suitable a symbol for children as priapic soap romeo Ken Barlow.'
    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
    Additional Rib
    Many years before the first appearance of the Swarm, after the Final War, there was a woman named Rib who lived on the outskirts of the ruins of Pittsburgh. She scraped by scavenging in the ruins, but she was very worried about what the radiation was doing to her. Every so often, she smelled wet dog where there was only albino roaches and mold, and she was worried she was developing a brain tumor.

    The warlord that claimed the area in which Rib lived was named Pole. Pole prided himself on his attention to detail. In particular, this talent plus his inherent paranoia had allowed him to escape many ambushes and counter-attack those who would depose him, until no one dared to try to take his territory from him by surprise. None of the other warlords had the men or munitions for a direct attack, so Pole had absolute control over his territory.

    However, Pole was getting older, and he knew his days were numbered. He decided to have a contest to determine who would become his right-hand man and successor. Anyone who was interested only had to travel through the ruins of a former community college and survive. Naturally, surviving was made difficult by the fact that Pole had an ambush set up along the route that the prospective successors had to take.

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    grubb_street 10:47a
    N is for Nehwon

    Funny thing: I've been talking with friends about this A to Z challenge, and am surprised that I keep forgetting what I did for "A". I can remember Blackmoor, Calidar, Dominaria. Eberron, but the "A" just kept slipping my mind. It was Amber, which I forget because it is not so much as a gaming world as a fantasy world which had some gaming attached. But it a world with games, so it qualifies.

    And similarly, Nehwon, home to Fritz Lieber's city of Lankhmar and its two most famous denizens,  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.I think of this world from its text, not its games, but it has had a lot a gaming in it.
    [Important Update: And in the original of this draft, I typoed the name. Yeah, that shows my level of attention, here. Thanks to Allen Varney for pointing this out and making this Important Update necessary,]

    I encountered Leiber in those post-Lord of the Rings years, when I came off the original trilogy, read the Hobbit, and then say, what, that's it? Where is the fantasy? (yes, I'm going to tell you kids how easy you have it, these days).  We had Tolkien, we had Lewis (I preferred Silent Planet to Narnia), we had Moorcock boldly shouldering his way onto the scene with Elric and Hawkmoon, and we had ... who from the American side? Howard, though I never embraced Conan's textural incarnation as much as his comics version. Maybe Randall Garrett or Gardner Fox or Jack Vance or Clark Ashton Smith, but they were woefully under-represented on the spinner rack and at the book department at Kaufmann's. Frank Baum's Oz. And then there was Leiber with F and the GM.

    Leiber comes out of that American Fantasy Tradition, which is darker and more horror-based than its European cousin. Lovecraft is its patron saint, and unifying point for the others, and HP's correspondence the American equivalent of The Eagle and The Child where Tolkien met. He communicated with Howard and Clark Ashton Smith and to Robert Bloch, and, yes, Leiber. And Leiber has done his Cthulhoid stories and studies as well, and was deeply influenced by the Providential master.

    And Leiber brought Nehwon forward, with a pair of heroes motivated not so much from high gallantry as by more earthly matters of alcohol, women, and petty cash. Originally a set of short stories that were collected and reorganized into the paperbacks I discovered, it was another world, different from the epic nature of Tolkien or the moralities of Lewis and the Byronic antiheroes of Moorcock.

    In addition, Nehwon was not a traditional world as we think of it. It had a "Death Pole" in the Shadowlands, home of death and a "Life Pole" where the other gods clustered. It seemed to be a hollow world, in that the stars themselves were on a far ocean, spinning within great waterspouts. It was fantasy adventures in a nonstandard world, capable of turning itself inside out for the purposes of a story.

    And it had games. Early connections brought Nehwon into TSR's orbit, and it did not only a Lankhmar game, but added its pantheon without conflict to the D&D system. And it added adventures and source material over the years, the best probably being Lankhmar, City of Adventure, by Messrs. Nesmith, Niles, and Rolston, with a cover by Keith Parkinson, was a superior setting for urban adventures. And more recently, there was a Mongoose version using RuneQuest rules.

    But the world is interesting for two completely opposite reasons - its urban setting in Lankhmar itself, City of Seventy Score Thousand Smokes (yeah, that would have been rough to put on the cover), but also its outlands, which were as wild and woolly and nonstandard as possible. And that made for both an excellent place for stories and a gaming setting.

    More later,

    My tweets
    Red Ice Radio - Stephen A. McNallen - Hour 1 - Asatro, Runes, Vikings & Norse Mythology
    Red Ice's Description: "Stephen A. McNallen is a prominent religious leader of the native European path called Asatro. McNallen established the first legally recognized Asatro organization in the US in 1972 and quickly became a prolific writer and speaker on the subject on Germanic Paganism, which broadly includes the ancient tribes of Northern Europe. He believes that spiritual fulfillment is best achieved by following the ways of one's ancestors. This ancestral approach to Asatro has put him at odds with many who insist on a universalist worldview. He's also a proponent of "upward evolution" for the individual and the group, encouraging others to incorporate daily spiritual practice in their lives. The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), is the most active and successful national group in the U.S., holding major gatherings on both coasts each year plus dozens of regional events around the country.

    The AFA is international in scope with members in the UK, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Spain, South America, and Australia. In the first hour, we'll discuss Christianity's invasion of Europe and Viking rage caused by missionaries. We talk about the misconceptions and vicious stereotyping of the Vikings, who were sophisticated people. Stephen discusses the belief system of Asatro, an expression of the native, pre-Christian spirituality of Europe. He speaks about Europe's loss of soul, caused by the disconnection with Indo-European ancestors, and the importance to reawaken that ancestral wisdom. In the second hour, we speak about the Vatican's hold of Europe and what might occur if Europeans do not integrate their ancient native religion into this century. We'll also hear about runestones and more spiritual concepts found in Norse mythology. Later, we talk about the slaughter of Norse people, suppressed European mythology and the re-emergence of the ways of old that existed for thousands of years in Europe before the invasion of Christianity."

    White Wolf Game Studio is Dead. Death To Storygaming Is Nigh.
    CCP--the folks who bought White Wolf--killed the World of Darkness MMO. The last remnants of that damned company have been swept away. Let those now jobless find new work better fitting the value of their skills, and let the gaming world now finish purging its influence from the scene.

    Tabletop gaming, live-action gaming, and both single-player and online multi-player videogames are utterly shit at doing what the World of Darkness claimed to be about; it's a thing that works only in passive spectator media because that's where one tells stories, and not in active participatory media where one experiences virtual lives in real time. There's no room for frustrated novelists in the gaming world, as the corpse of those that try--the massive pile of corpses of failed storygame products--reveal to all but the delusional.
    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
    grubb_street 12:24p
    M is for Minaria

    Middle Earth? Nope. Maztica? Nope? Mystara? Nope (though there are tales of woe and intrigue on that one). Minaria.



    I've already talked about Glorantha, and how my entry into that world was through one of the best fantasy board games I had encountered - White Bear & Red Moon. Now, let me move onto ANOTHER of the better fantasy board games - Divine Right.

    I don't know how Divine Right fell into the constellation of TSR products - it was there before I arrived. But it was a collection of boxed games that TSR hit-and-missed with for years. Little Big Horn, William the Conqueror, War of the Wizards (another favorite, Tekumel themed), 4th Dimension, Lankhmar, all these shared the same compact inch-deep box. But Divine Right was one of the better ones. It had that White Bear & Red Moon vibe with a group of fantasy kingdoms forming alliances and marching out to beat each other up. Until WBRM, Divine Right was multiplayer, and you could control an alliance of disparate countries until randomly determined rulers.
    Minaria! The Map of Divine Right.

    But that's not why it was cool (though we should note it was a great game design from Glenn Rahman, the cover was by his brother Kenneth, and the map itself was by the late Dave Trampier). No, a series of articles that Rahman penned for DRAGON magazine for about 20 issues, going into incredible detail of these kingdoms. Called Minarian Legends, they were for a two-year period about the best part of Dragon, and, with Trampier's Wormy, part of the magazine's golden age for me.

    Rahman went into (admittedly, nigh-opaque at times) detail on a particular kingdom or region, leaving no stone unturned, in a fashion that absolutely convinced me there was a strong, vibrant world. This was 1979 or so. In comparison, the World of Greyhawk folio, the first in-depth look at Oerth, was published in the late summer of 1980, so that meant for a short while, Minaria was a more detailed, fully-realized published world than Greyhawk itself.

    So why didn't it make the leap from board game to RPG? It almost did, at least once. This is part of a larger tale, but TSR briefly considered Divine Right as a basis for a new campaign world. Oddly enough, this was shortly after it had returned all rights to Mr. Rahman, which sort of put the kibosh on that idea. Without that world, it instead went with another campaign to bring out a campaign of kings - that would be Birthright.

    More later,
    grubb_street 10:13a
    My Norwescon Schedule

    We interrupt this alphabetical tour to engage in blatant pluggery. I will attending Norwescon as a guest, and have the following scheduled events:

    Fantasy in Comics
    Fri 1:00pm-2:00pm Cascade 5
    Comics have great potential for fantasy as a visual medium. Fantasy comics range from traditional fantasy like Prince Valiant to the more unique Bone, and reinterpretations like Fables and Conan. Here's a look at some of the great work that has been done and what's being published currently, from comics to graphic novels, and how fantasy comics have evolved over time. 
    Jeff Grubb (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Spencer Ellsworth, Duane Wilkins

    The Gods in Our Fantasy Fiction
    Fri 8:00pm-9:00pm Cascade 5    
    From Kwll or Arioch in Michael Moorcock’s work to Anoia, Blind Io, and Offler in Terry Pratchett’s (not to mention everything in between), gods roam the worlds of our fantasy fiction. When building a religion for your world, how do you make it balanced and plausible without riffing off of existing religions? How will myth and religion impact your plot and motivate your characters? Why should there be several types of belief systems on a world?  How present should the gods really be?
    Christopher Bodan (M), Bradley P. Beaulieu, Jeff Grubb, Brent Kellmer, Kim Ritchie

    Autograph Session 1
    Sat 2:00pm-3:00pm Grand 2
    Our Attending Professionals are available to sign autographs. PLEASE NOTE: So that as many fans as possible can participate, we will be enforcing a three-items-at-a-time (or single-sketch) autograph limit.
    Jason Andrew, Steven Barnes, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Carol Berg, 9k1, Kurt Cagle, Echo Chernik, Cassandra Clarke, Erik Scott de Bie, Cymbric Early-Smith, Elton Elliott, Erin Evans, Steve Gillett, James C. Glass, Jude-Marie Green, Jeff Grubb, Rhiannon Held, Frog Jones, Karen Kincy, Nancy Kress, Pat MacEwen, Edward Martin III, Lish McBride, Angel Leigh McCoy, Darragh Metzger, G. David Nordley, Margaret Organ-Kean, John (J.A.) Pitts, Kevin Radthorne, Jon Rogers, Mike Selinker, Sara Stamey, G. Willow Wilson, Gregory A. Wilson

    An Exaltation of Drones: The Humor of P.G. Wodehouse
    Sat 4:00pm-5:00pm Evergreen 3&4
    P.G. Wodehouse may be considered the finest humorist of the 20th century. Author of 96 books, Wodehouse is best known for creating the characters Jeeves and Wooster (played by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the BBC series). Many of Wodehouse's stories and novels involve the English upper class. He poked gentle fun at them. The young men of the upper class in England were often waiting upon an inheritance with not much to do otherwise. In the Wodehousian world they belonged to the Drones Club (so like bees, males with no tasks), where they whiled away the hours chatting, drinking, playing toss the card in the hat and gambling. Modern fans of Wodehouse have formed their own Drones Club. This panel of Drones will discuss the works of Pelham Graham Wodehouse.
    Pierce Watters (M), Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Michael Moorcock, Brooks Peck, Mike Selinker

    Come by and see me (particularly the Autograph Session - its been over a year since the last book, and I suspect things may be kinda quiet).

    More later, as we move onto "M".

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    Monday, April 14th, 2014
    Writing Process Blog Tour
    So several of my friends (most proximately mrissa) have been blogging about their current projects and writing process as a part of a Writing Process Blog Tour. The questions in the prompt were interesting enough that I figured it wouldn't be bad to join in. (You can find Marissa's post here.)

    1) What am I working on?

    My current project has the working title of Coup de Grace. It's a military science fiction novel set in a North America wracked by demographic transitions, climate change, and the after-effects of a coup that turned New York City and Washington DC into radioactive craters, triggered a continent-spanning civil war, and has led to the decades-long military occupation of much of the American South.

    Carl Olson and his classmates are cadets at a military academy in Minneapolis which trains the security forces of the Pan-Columbian Republic (a state formed by the union of the US, Mexico, and Canada). They're sworn to defend the Constitution of the PCR-- which has been suspended as long as they've been alive-- against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But when the Commandant of the Academy has them rescue a dead Senator's heir from Separatist guerillas, it becomes clear to Carl and his friends that the line between patriotism and treason is a blurry one, and that hard-liners in the the Army and Senate regard them and their instructors as enemies of the state.

    2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

    The impetus that prompted me to write Coup de Grace was what I perceived as the cookie-cutter template of many dystopias. Take an oppressive central government, add in one or more young people who, through inclination or circumstance, are primed to rebel, and give them an external group of freedom fighters to join. Don't get me wrong: there are books which use that template that I've enjoyed. But it made me wonder what a differently-biased dystopia, which actually tried to address the complexities of politics and political violence, would look like.

    As such, the Pan-Columbian Republic is more like present-day China or Russia than the Districts of the Hunger Games. The rebels fighting to overthrow it aren't noble freedom fighters-- they're largely neo-Confederates, Dominionists, and other reactionaries who feel they would be justified in killing large swaths of the (majority-Hispanic) population. Meanwhile, our protagonists are a part of the system, and have reasons to love their country as well as an acute awareness of its flaws and internal divisions.

    While Coup isn't near-future SF, the PCR's long war and censorship regime have both slowed and maintained technology to the point where the tech permeating everyday life is recognizable, rather than being in decay, or so advanced it might as well be magic. Carl and his friends play for the Academy e-sports team, and wear headsets which function as cell phones and computers (as well as heads-up-displays in combat). People still drive cars, though they're all hybrid or electric, but everyone except cops, truckers, and the military takes buses and light rail to get places. The future is unevenly distributed, and it's left much of the PCR behind.

    I'm also doing my best to take the military dimensions of the novel seriously, without letting the jargon and command structure overwhelm everything. Because Carl and his friends are both soldiers and cadets, they have to do PT, take classes, and have to practice and qualify with their weapons. They swear a lot, in both Spanish and English. They have a chain of command, rules of engagement, and have to follow orders. They practice muzzle and trigger discipline.

    They also kill a lot of people, and have to live with the consequences.

    3) Why do I write what I do?

    I tend to joke about how upbeat and cheery my work is, but I don't set out to be dark. It's just that I'm hyper-aware of the conventions of (modern, popular, English language) narrative and how they tend to produce a very constrained range of content, characters, and points of sympathy. One of several ways I respond to these constraints is to twist things around; to interrogate the conventions that annoy me and follow through on the implications of what I find. (For example: the Braveheart trope, or all freedom fighters are good! Or raw jingoism, where anything Our Boys do is good! Yeah. About that...)

    Another factor that motivates a lot of my narrative choices is compassion. I ask myself questions like, "What would drive someone to join the Nazgul?" and try not to stop at the first (read: glib) answer. People mostly aren't cardboard villains or cartoon heroes, and it doesn't add to our stories when we portray them that way. Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite creators for this reason. See his depictions of Princess Kushana in Nausicaa, Lady Eboshi and Jigo in Princess Mononoke, and Yubaba in Spirited Away. These are nuanced and comprehensible characters, even when they're being selfish, proud, or opposing the protagonists.

    That doesn't mean they're always right, mind you. But how boring stories would be-- and how alien the characters in them would seem-- if they were always right!

    4) How does your writing process work?

    My writing process, such as it, is often kick-started by coming up with particularly vivid set-pieces. Once I've got one or two set-pieces to drive toward-- a magister who can turn his staff into an powerful electromagnet facing down a hallway full of crossbowmen, for example-- I start poking at the implications and consequences of a world where such things make sense. Often the initial phrase or image that inspired a book or story doesn't survive the development process. That's fine; ideas are cheap.

    Once I feel like I have a clear idea of what happens first, I start writing. My process from there involves a lot of sitting around figuring out what needs to happen next. Some people can think on the page, throwing stuff at the wall during their early drafts and seeing what sticks, but that doesn't usually work very well for me. Doing my thinking before I start writing frees me up to improvise within constraints, rather than first being paralyzed by possibilities, and then paralyzed by the conviction that I've taken a wrong turn and won't be able to continue until I figure out how many of the pages I've just written need to be thrown away.

    That said, while I often need to pause and think about what comes next (and sometimes research specific topics, like riverboats of the Yangtze, or political philosophy), I usually have a fairly clear notion of where I'm going. Especially with longer works, like books or novelettes-- I've never written a novella, and given how few places are looking to buy them, I don't mean to start-- I tend to have both a bunch of snippets from the end of the story written before I write the middle, and elaborate playlists and mixes made up of songs that will get my head in the right space and remind me of the emotional and dramatic beats I intend to hit. The typical result of this is that writing the middle of any story is the hard part-- by the time I get to the end, I tend to have a lot more clarity, as well as bits of prose that I can incorporate or discard in my wild rush to the finish.

    Anyway, that's what I'm working on, and how I think about and do these sorts of things.

    The standard way of doing this "tour" seem to have three people lined up to follow you next week, but I don't really like pushing chain letters or posts on my friends. So here is Marissa Lingen's process post (also linked to at the start of this post), and Michael Merriam's. If you feel like continuing things with a post of your own, indicate that in comments.
    2014 Reading #30 and 31
    The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to SuccessThe Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle

    Megan McArdle has chosen a well-worn theme for her first book: failure is good for you, if you have the sense and resources to learn from it. As a result, there isn't a lot of new material here. In fact, McArdle seems to get a lot of her material from the same sources that Nate Silver got his book from.

    That said, she's a sprightly writer and has a great story to tell when she digs into her own personal life. If you need a reminder not to double down on a lost cause, this is a book well worth reading -- and if you have never heard of the Spaghetti Problem, it's worth reading for that story alone.

    The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the WestThe Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West by Charles Kenny

    When I heard that two writers (who know each other) had picked the same title for two different books published within a few months of each other -- well, who could resist that? Unfortunately for Charles Kenny, his book is the lesser book.

    The sad thing is that I agree with his premise and most of his prescriptions. The rest of the world is rapidly catching up with Western productivity and standards of living, and the sensible course of action is to welcome them to the 21st century party. However, he's got the kind of fatuous "everything's coming up bull market!" presentation that made me grind my teeth when I was editing dumb pundits for a stock tip blog a few years back. He sees the opportunities, and that's great -- but he also papers over the complications.

    I hope the next thirty years go as well as he seems to think they will, but there are serious challenges ahead for the environment and the distribution of wealth. This book gives only lip service to those issues, and reads a lot like the "we have tamed the business cycle FOREVER" pablum handed out in theories like "The Great Moderation." We all know how THAT brilliant idea turned out...
    One last howl

    Originally published at Mouseferatu: Rodent of the Dark. You can comment here or there.

    Today, CCP–White Wolf’s parent company–pulled the plug.

    Didn’t know White Wolf was still around? That’s understandable. They stopped publishing pen-and-paper RPGs some years ago. A great many of the staff went and founded Onyx Path, the company that is currently publishing the World of Darkness games, as well as Exalted, Scion, and other stuff. They’ve been a worthy successor.

    But White Wolf still existed, in the form of people at CCP working on the Vampire MMO. Today, a huge number of them have lost their jobs, to say nothing of years of hard, thankless work that will now never see the light of day. The last formal vestige of White Wolf is gone.

    This is a big deal for me (though certainly not nearly as big a deal as it is for the people who were laid off). Vampire: the Masquerade was the first non-D&D game that I got into long-term. (I’d played others, but only briefly or sporadically). It was the first RPG I played with the woman I’d later marry. It completely changed the way I thought about running games.

    But more than that… White Wolf gave me my career. After years of failing to break into fiction, it was White Wolf–and Justin Achilli, specifically–who gave me my first professional writing shot. It was the freelance work for WW that led me to D20 work; the d20 work that led me to official D&D work; and it was through WW and Wizards of the Coast that i was finally able to get my foot in the fiction door.

    Would it have happened without them? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have been the same, and anyway, it did happen with/because of them.

    As I said, Onyx Path is a worthy heir. Heck, it’s many of the same people. I hope to work with them again in the future, and I wish them all the success in the world. But I’m still sorry to see the end of the company that started it all for me, and the effect it’s having on some very good, very talented people.

    Farewell, old wolf.

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    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
    2014 Accountability List: What Peter Plans on Writing

    Back in January I sat down and wrote a plan. That plan, more or less, said this is the year when you write all of the things. Then I made myself a list, which broken down what all the things were in roughly the order I wanted to write them.

    It was an ambitious-as-hell list of stuff. Full of hope and shiny, happy unicorn spit, pristine in its gleaming awesomeness.Full of novellas, weirdly enough, ‘cause that’s the way my year was rolling. I had a bunch of novellas that were due, for various reasons, so I figured I’d go with the flow.

    Now we’re into April and the list of all the things has been beaten around a little, the schedule thrown off track by computer problems and work problems and that whole moving-into-a-new-house thing.

    That’s okay. I expected things to fall apart. In fact, I even built in time where I’d use the beginning of April to regroup and re-plan my year, figuring out what was still goddamn viable. Apparently my dream of being a self-employed hermit who never emerges from my bunker is not viable within the coming 9 months.

    On the other hand, I’m still moderately convinced that a sizable chunk of my writing wish-list is achievable. Partially this is because a certain percentage of it needs to be achievable, because of deadlines, and partially because I just feel the need to get a keyboard beneath my fingers and start pounding out stories until it feels natural again.

    With that in mind, I give you my 2014 accountability list – the ten projects I’m more-or-less committing to getting done by the end of the year.

    1) Exile

    It’s written. It’s submitted. I’ve drunk the celebratory beer. But the editorial letter came through on the weekend, outlining a bunch of problems with the MS, which means I’m diving back into rewrites this week in order to get things done. I’ve got about four weeks to process the changes and rewrite the bits that need writing. I’m spending two of those four weeks packing and moving to my shiny new digs. If you see me out in the wild, it’s possible I’m looking a little manic at the moment. What’s the novella about? Your basic urban fantasy featuring burnt-out hit men, gambling demons, hippie sorcerers, and trying to stop the apocalypse

    2) Long Night at the Black Wolf

    A short, serialised sword and sorcery novelette about a bunch of characters trapped in a remote Inn by evil fey. This one fucking terrifies me as a writer, since it’s a) written in third person, b) my first real attempt at a project that ties in to an existing world, and c) lets me check off one of the goals on my writing bucket-list that I seriously figured I’d ever get a chance to tick off. I have a fairly detailed pitch document, a shit-ton of notes, and a self-imposed deadline of April 30th.

    3) Frost 

    Urban Fantasy Novella. The sequel to Exile. Occult hit-man Keith Murphy gets to deal with the fall-out of killing the man whose death could start Ragnarok. I’m due to turn this over to the Apocalypse Ink team on July 1st, which means it’s first cab off the rank once I’ve moved and set up a new writing space. Again with the occult hit men, demons and sorcerers, but this time they’ll have added bikies and Valkyries to keep me entertained.

    4) Crusade

    Yep, another Urban Fantasy Novella, following on from Exile and Frost. The deadline for turning this one over isn’t until November, but I’m aiming a little earlier than that. Not entirely planned out yet, but I’ll fix that while writing Frost in May. I’m still putting together a plan for this one, but as one of the few things on this list that have a hard deadline, it’s occupying plenty of mental space. 

    5) Altered Pitch Document 

    A few years back my friend Kevin got into voice acting in a big way. He’s done some cool stuff since then, including serving as the voice of Judge Dread for Tin Man Games. Sometime last year he pitched the idea of working together on the pitch for an animated series, which has slowly evolved into the Altered project. Super-powers. Creepy shit. Rogue government agencies doing massive amounts of property damage.

    6) Claw

    Also known as Miriam Aster, book three. No, really. Really. Shut up. I can hear you laughing back there. I am for real, here.

    7) Hot for Teacher

    It’s come to my attention, in recent years, that I quite like romance novels. I’ve got a particular weakness for the Regency period, since Georgette Heyer was my gateway drug, but I’ve found authors I really like all over the romance spectrum. A while back I was talking the great Van Halen era of hair metal with romance writers/editors online, and the kernel of a novella idea kinda plunked into the back of my head. Weirdly excited to give this a go (especially since getting it done means I can finally go read Kylie Scott’s Stage Dive series, which I’ve promised myself I won’t read until this is done).

    8) Untitled Planetary Romance Project I

    Ambitious lady detective. On Mars. With her Mad Profesor father and a rotund ex-Colonel for back-up. Another one of those projects I’ve been meaning to write forever, but the writer-mind just wasn’t in-gear. Then I took the idea to Kim Wilkin’s Novelist Bootcamp workshop at the writers center earlier this year, banged out a fairly solid plan for the first half of the book, and figured it’d make a nice chance-of-pace project between the urban fantasy novellas that are making up the bulk of my year. 

    9) Bad Wolf

    A few weeks back, I picked up a copy of Death is No Obstacle, a collection of interviews with Michael Moorcock where he discusses the creation of several of his projects. He spends the first half of the book talking about structure a lot, and how his understanding of structure allowed him to do things like produce books in 3 to 10 days of furious writing with sufficient pre-planning. Later this year, when my schedule allowed it, I figured I’d take a week off work and give his approach a go with a genre where I know the structure really well (hard boiled detective stories) and werewolf tropes.

    10) Space Bros! Project

    This started as a joke with my flatmate, based on Mass Effect, where we envisioned a trio of Shepherd, Kaiden, and Garrus pissing about the universe, being kinda douche, and generally being awesome SPACE BROS! Then it occurred to me that I’d actually read the fuck out that story if it existed, and I’m actually in a position to make it exist. The sole thing on this list that doesn’t have any planning associated with it at all, but that should have changed by the time I get to work on it in December.

    Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

    Monday, April 14th, 2014
    Allergies are really kicking my ass.

    A note to anyone who thinks Austin is a cool place to live: Be ready to live with half a year of being stuffed up...
    grubb_street 10:05a
    L is for the Land of Fate

    Shannon Appelcline, who writes a great deal on the history of RPG Projects, got in touch with me a few weeks back asking about Al-Qadim - any behind the scene stories and the like. Well, I had a few, and warned him that it would eventually show up in the blog. So therefore L is for the Land of Fate, and here is what I sent him.

    1) Al-Qadim Arabian Adventures (1992) was conceived as being a companion piece to Oriental Adventures. While OA was put together and then glued onto the Realms (there was some shrinking of the map scale in the process - Zeb put in not one but two full-sized Chinas onto Kara-Tur's map), Arabian Adventures was planned from the get-go to be part of the Realms, and situated to the south of the existing Realms map. The name of the area, Zakhara, evoked the word "sahara", and went to the Z because Abeir-Toril started with an A. [Hey, A to Z reference!]

    2) The name itself was a challenge, in that there were different needs from marketing (which wanted a name that said everything and didn't need to be explained) versus legal (which wanted new words which didn't have any other meaning). At one point the name was "Burning Sands", which everyone on the creative side just hated (though I was amused when it showed up years later as part of Five Rings CCG). I was armed with an arabic dictionaries, and came up with the Al-Qadim, which meant, according to my dictionary "The ancient".  I put it in some cool fonts and we sold that name in.

    3) However, management was concerned that the name may have other connotations that we didn't know about. Maztica, for example, sounds like the Mexican word for "chew" (Doug had checked the name with other Spanish-speakers, but they were from the Caribbean, and as such did not make the connection). Since my Arabic dictionary was printed in New Dehli,  I went to the Internet User Groups for help, and got that the name meant ancient, old, venerable, and wise. One contributor noted that it meant old in the sense of stale - "This cheese is old". Not horrible, but we kept the name, and thanked David Hirsch and Daniel Wolk in the credits for their help.

    4) Speaking of credits, the great hero of this project was Andria Hayday, who served as the editor but is credited with "Additional Writing and Development". She is responsible, with graphic designer Stephanie Tabat, for the look of the project. She fought for the style of the Karl Waller line drawings, the gold foil borders (a 5th color), and the end papers. More importantly, she wrote the bulk of what became the first chapter. Originally we were planning on talking about the society at the end of the book, much like we did for OA. But her work was so good we moved it to the front, and I argued to give her full co-credit. She passed on getting her name mentioned on the cover (she didn't want to get gaming questions), but I got her name on the back.

    Zakhara, the Land of Fate. So what
    am I going to do for the letter "z"?
    5) Another unsung hero was Jon Pickens, who, when we first started talking about AQ (and it took a few years to put it on the schedule), started collecting books on the subject. When I started on it he delivered three boxes full of books to my office. My favorite was a Marxist analysis of Bedouin life, and it was from that volume I pulled the name "sha'ir" for our wizard kit. In addition to Jon's books, I had also been reading the Burton Arabian Nights and followed a lot of pop culture - Harryhausen movies and the like. We wanted the game to be a combination of history, mythology, and modern knowledge on the subject. 

    6) This was an era when we did a lot of "kits", and with AQ the kits blossomed pretty much fully into subclasses. Many of them paralleled western classes, but their own flavor.  I think we had the first female-only kit with the Hakima. When I first wrote up the Corsair, I used the female pronoun because the art piece we used showed a female character. Andria changed it, which was probably for the best.

    7) One thing that the Arabian legends did not have was the mixture of Tolkienesque races. As a result, Zakhara was created as a more cosmopolitan world, where species and race did not matter nearly as much. It made for a different flavor in the game.

    8) Another big difference was Faith. Religion was and is a touchy matter, and we wanted the faiths of Zakhara to be evocative of the Middle East, but no more descriptive of living faiths than the Gods of Faerun are to western religion. As a result, gods themselves were gathered into pantheons as opposed to having their own unique clerics, which again made the world feel more cosmopolitan. We did break the priest classes of these pantheons into three broad groups - The Faith Pragmatist, The Faith Ethoist, and the Faith Moralist. These were based more on outlook on Protestant denominations (Unitarians, Presbyterians, and Baptists, if I remember right) than any Middle-Eastern group.

    9) The concept of Fate worked well for a number of reasons - it gave us an overgod like Ao who would be evoked but not worshipped. It gave us neat little evocation ("We have no fate but the fate that we are given"). And it gave us a reason for what Ed had all of these Middle-Eastern style civilizations scattered around the Realms - Anauroch, Raurin, Thay, Calimishan, et al. In Ed'd campaign, he would always put these Arabian Night civilizations on the borders, and as his borders grew in his campaign, he just added more. We created a folk legend where the various peoples could not get along, so Fate banished them to the far corners of the world for a time out. 

    Sorry, guys. I couldn't find a copy of the
    Easley piece I described. Here's the cover
    (pulled from the Wikipedia). I think its
    a pretty good horse.
    9) The cover was a bit of challenge, in that we asked for a horse. Jeff Easley is a great artist, but does not like drawing horses and has gotten flack for it from the fans (I don't get this - I like his horses). As an option we suggested a young woman opening a bottle and genie coming out. He created a very cheesecake piece (which was used in the "Women of Fantasy" calender that year) which looked like the young lady was ... um ... smuggling bowling balls in her vest. So we went back to the horse. 

    10) The interior art was great, but Jim Ward was concerned about nipple rings on the ogres in one piece. We had that one fixed. However, we did get a letter after publication from someone who was angry about the "blatant foreplay" we showed in one picture. That would be the one of two genies (male and female) playing chess on page149. OK, we had a good laugh on that one.

    11) The map of the world was designed to be broken up into components for the boxed adventure sets. If we did them all (we didn't), we would end up with a huge mega-map.

    12) Andria and I conceived of the line as having a definite life span of two, maybe three years tops. We did not want to fall into the mode where we had to do an AQ adventure every year, regardless of sales (see OA or Greyhawk). We would do cool stuff, and once the sales trailed off, we would be done. I think we did two years, then they added a third, and then we were asked for a fourth (which would have included the Land of the Yak Men, which was going to be Tibetian in nature), but management changed their minds and so the line closed out

    13) The big rivalry in-house was with another desert-based adventure - Dark Sun. Dark Sun sold better per units than AQ, but AQ didn't have as high a unit cost (we didn't do the ring-bound adventure books and custom boxes), and as such is remembered more fondly. Further, we pitched AQ very much as being a sequel to Oriental Adventures. DS was going to "Replace the Realms" which was a statement that often would be the kiss of death for a line. 

    14) When we launched, we were supposed to run demos at GenCon Milwaukee. I got fezzes for our demo team, we had some play areas map up to look like desert terrain, and we ran short adventures (Andria and I actually came up with what the specific adventures were while driving to GenCon - I was going to make them up on the fly, while she wanted just a tad more structure). And I am the one responsible for the gong - I borrowed it from the Lake Geneva High School orchestra, and we were to ring it only at the end of the demo. The sales booth said later that every time the gong rang, they got more AQ books out of storage for sale. Other people running demos next to us did not like the gong so much, primarily because Jim Ward loved the gong, and would strike it whenever he was nearby. After the second day we started hiding the striker from him.

    15) The books sold well - Dark Sun sold better, as I noted, and we got good reviews. I was told (but never saw the figures) that it sold very well in Israel, which is cool. I am very proud of what we did, and happy to have worked on it.
    My tweets
    • Mon, 00:02: Judge Me By My Sighs, Would You?: Suburban Jungle
    • Mon, 09:25: Milk: It does a body good.
    • Mon, 09:38: @MLP_Birdcat I’ve had so much stress in the past five years that I’ve forgotten what it was like to not be stressed. :-`
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    • Mon, 11:49: RT @TheTweetOfGod: The next time I create mankind I'll conduct an environmental impact study first.
    • Mon, 11:50: Monday Fun Fact: I have 976 followers on Twitter.
    • Mon, 11:51: I only have half that many here in my living room.
    • Mon, 11:53: A few of my followers are legit celebs, yo. That kinda blows my mind. The rest are just generally awesome people.
    • Mon, 11:54: I’m internet-famous! *strikes a pose* //RT @BirdCatOOC: well, i think you’re a celeb. ;)
    • Mon, 11:55: Seriously tho, I’m grateful for all of my followers/readers/audience/people who don’t attack me on sight.
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