Some Assembly Required

The crib was one of those kit builds. Just twelve pieces total and all the hardware was included. Even so, John struggled with it. He was not terribly handy, at least not in the traditional sense. As he worked, sweat ran down his body, stinging the cuts and scrapes on his arms. Fatherhood was trying but rewarding. His son was his whole world now and it was all worth it.

When strangers met his boy, they always said he looked like his father. They even suggested he took after his personality, his mannerisms. John wanted it to be true, but he knew it wasn’t. The truth was the boy took after his mother. John winced as he nailed in a support. His side still hurt, but it was crucial that the crib was strong. Even with his lack of craftsmanship, he knew it needed to be made stronger.

John was not accustomed to caring for an infant, and he had never expected to do it alone. Still, he was proud of his work. He was proud of his boy. John completed the final modifications to the crib. He hoped the metal mesh would hold. It was supposed to be for chickens, but it was stronger than it looked. The full moon was coming, and he didn’t want to resort to barbed wire again.

A Spooky Ghost Song

The Haunting Of Hill House

Happy Halloween everyone!

I was watching The Haunting of Bly yesterday and reminiscing about how much I loved The Haunting of Hill House when I remembered something. I wrote a silly rap song about the series last year. This seems about as a good an opportunity as I’ll ever get to share it. I hope you enjoy!

Also, I wanted to thank my old co-workers for inspiring such a silly endeavor. Miss you guys!

The Haunting Of Hill House

Hat Boi Floatsin

When I drop the mic

you know it falls 9 feet!

Creepin in your room

to find you under your sheets.

Slinking down your hall

sending spiders crawlin,

Look under your bed

leaving all the children bawlin.

I see what you tryin to do

puttin my hat on your head.

When I finally bend down

you gonna wish you were dead!

Tap tap tap

hear the rap of my cane?

I’m right behind you now

filling your needle with pain!

So shoot up all you like,

to your family’s distain.

Even if you turn away,

I’ll be there inside your veins!

Writing Partner: A Small Friend With a Big Hook!

Zarbag half painted

For the first post for this topic, see Part 1: On The Hook.

After a day of writing, I have edited and, in some ways, reworked the first two chapters of my book. I wasn’t expecting this, but it ended up being a really rewarding process. Not only did it result in 2 more pages to my total length (I’m nearly at the average mystery novel length), I also had a lot of fun! Maybe I’ve turned a corner and editing will be fun now? Doubtful, but one can always hope.

As I promised, I worked on the goblin warband “Zarbag’s Gitz” as a partner project. He isn’t finished yet, but this is where I’m at now.

Missing a few steps but he’s coming along well. Just need to finish the details, add a wash to some areas and do the metal work.

I usually put a mini down when I move on to a new project but I’m going to keep working on this one and the rest of his warband. Why, you might ask? It is because I have a few more chapters to work on before the next big tentpole chapter. When I get to that chapter I’ll put these guys down and grab a new writing partner.

Before I pick a new partner, I’ll post a group shot of all the gobbos together. The other warband members are missing some details and the metal work but they aren’t far behind where Zarbag is.

As I mentioned, I had a surprisingly good time editing today. Maybe this whole writing partner thing is work? We’ll have to wait and see. If this pace keeps up, I might even achieve my goal of finishing this draft before the new year!

Writing Partner: Working on the Hook

Zarbag

I’m finally digging back into my book! I really need a title… But that isn’t what I’m working on this week. This week, I’m working on the hook.

What is “the hook”, you might ask. It is the piece of the story, ideally as close to the beginning as possible, that is meant to pull (hook) in the reader. Think about how I used a nice picture to pull you into what is ostensibly a diary entry.

Speaking of nice pictures, I need to pick a writing partner. I will be painting the Zarbag from the Zarbag’s Gits Warhammer Underworlds warband. If this part of my editing takes longer than expected, I will expand to the rest of Zarbag’s warband.

Zarbag's Gits

The unruly mob of gobos shown above is lead by the eponymous Zarbag. He is a lovely lil’ wizard and I think you would agree he would make an excellent little friend.

Zarbag
He also has a literal hook on his staff… so there is also that.

The first chapter of my book deals with a goblin who becomes an important character in the plot of my book. He may even be the most important character, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The character I will be basing this off is an old goblin. With this in mind, I plan on using a lot of yellow to highlight his green skin. For the cloak, I plan on using a dark, almost black purple. This play with the yellows and purples will be subtle but should draw the eye to his face.

The other gobos will follow the same basic color scheme. As for the squigs (those mean dog-things), I’ll be paining them with blues and pinks. I want the whole warband to pop in an almost unnatural way.

Both Zarbag and the hook should be a small project. Bite sized as it were. The first chapter of my book has received more attention than any other and Zarbag is, well, small. Even if I include batch painting his warband this is probably doable in a single day of work.

Tune in next time when we will talk about the process of sharpening hooks and painting little friends!

Closing Up 2020

D&D Red Dragon Mini

Before I start discussing my plans for the rest of 2020 I want to close two remaining loops.

What happened to that other story and writing partner?

A few posts ago I mentioned writing two short stories and finishing two painting projects by the end of September. That didn’t happen sadly. Work is still extremely busy and I only managed to complete one short story. The other got an outline and its writing partner is still as sad as he began. I think part of the problem, at least on the painting side, is that I have already completed a better version of it. I was trying to fix a brass dragon with red accents but I have already completed a red dragon with gold accents.

Here is my sad brass dragon:

D&D Copper Dragon mini
Woof…

And here is the Red Dragon I completed months ago:

D&D Red Dragon Mini 2
D&D Red Dragon Mini
This mini has a bit more detail to work with.

So, suffice it to say that even if I did fix the brass dragon it could only pale in comparison to the red dragon I already have. Have you ever had projects that just haven’t come together? Ones that you know you probably could fix but even if you did they will never be great? That’s my brass dragon.

Back in the drawer with it!

He Plays She Plays

He Play She Plays Podcast

I wanted to post something about the podcast because a couple listeners have asked me about its status. Even though we are a couple weeks late for our next episode my wife and I are hard at work on the series. Most of the credit goes to my wife as she does the audio editing, but we have made some major ground in refining the podcast.

We are a bit late because we have had some technical difficulties after upgrading our equipment. Basically, we’re experiencing our first growing pains. We should be back on schedule soon, just bear with us a bit longer. We’re working on a website for the podcast so in the near future we’ll be able to post status up dates there to make sure our listeners know what’s going on.

Plans for the rest of 2020

When I started this blog I mentioned I was here to do the ground work I had been neglecting as an author. I hadn’t really built up a base of publications and I hadn’t attempted to build any kind of online presence. While I’m still working on the publications (it has been a slow year for responses) I have built up a fair back catalogue of short stories and poems this year. In a lot of ways I think it has brought back my voice in a way I haven’t know for years. Now it’s time to bring that voice back to my main project, my novel.

I have mentioned my novel a few times since my blog was established. My novel is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world. It would be classified as urban fantasy but I’d like to think it’s a fairly unique addition to the subgenre. It has been my main creative outlet for a few years now. However, I put it down a while ago so it could cool. Now that I’m focused again I want to return to it and finish my third draft.

I expect there will be five drafts before it is truly finished but this one will focus on the punch up of the key tentpole chapters. I want to strengthen the dialogue as well as the central mystery but my focus is on making sure each chapter pops on its own.

For the next few months my blog posts will focus on this work. I plan to post about my goals and challenges regularly while continuing to pick writing partners to add a visual component to these updates. I would hate to neglect anyone following me for my rather pedestrian painting skills, haha. It also, honestly, helps me focus and I’m going to keep trying to pair new minis with the chapters I’m working on. Much like the short story pairings, this will also help me discuss the plot of my story without giving away any details.

Well, that’s my plan. If you have ever worked on a long piece of writing before please share your experiences in the comments. This is only my second book so I’m still learning how to focus and stay committed to such a long process. If you have any strategies, no matter how novel (loves me some puns), I would very much appreciate the advice.

Talk to you soon!

Writing Partner: A Killing Machine

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

It took a couple of weeks but I have finally finished my new short story. This one is a case horror story about an every day item posed with intent and malice. As I promised I worked to refurbish my poor abused Iron golem as my writing partner for this project.

As a reminder, this is where we started:

Iron Golem mini

After a couple sessions of layering and tarnishing it, here is the completed golem:

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

Over all, I think it turned out pretty good. As good as an old, rusty, souless guardian can be at least. There are a few things I would have liked to fix but I think they would have required striping the mini and that wasn’t in the spirit of this project.

My short story focuses a lot on sound and I like to imagine what it sounds like for this golem to walk. I moves slowly, joints grinding together, almost screaming, as particles of rust flake off. It would be painful if it was alive. But it is not alive, you are. As it slowly and inexorably moves toward you know that the only thing it wants, needs, is to balance out that equation.

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature Sword

Imagine the sound of it sharpening its blade. Grinding the cutting edge against the plate armor of its forearm. Even with this effort, it is still far too dull to make clean cuts anymore.

The antagonistic machine of my story has no blade. It has no way of doing harm directly. Instead, it poisons minds and souls. Lulling its victims in to heinous acts through its cunning and its voice. It might not have a sword, but its intent is deadly sharp.

I’m going to submit this story to one competition and one journal. Both are ok with multiple submission entries so I’m going to hedge my bets. I have been finding the response times this year have been painfully slow, another consequence of the new world we live in, but I’ll let you know if it gets picked up. If it doesn’t I’ll find another way to get it to you.

I’ll have a post discussing my October plans up in the next week. I plan on shifting gears for the remainder of the year, but don’t worry, there will still be plenty to discuss.

He Plays She Plays Podcast: We’re up to 8 episodes!

He Play She Plays Podcast

I have mentioned a few times that I have been recording a podcast with my wife titled He Plays She Plays. We’re now up to 8 episodes! I haven’t been creating posts for every episode, I know that would probably get annoying. I have, however, embedded a player on my home page and left links for various players in my “About” page. From here on I will only post about the podcast when we hit milestones, for example: if we ever finish the Chocobo Challenge.

On that note, I have embedded a player below where you can find our most recent episode. I go on a rather fun rant about halfway through. If you enjoy it please pass it on to a friend or loved one. We’re still growing and learning so word of mouth and feedback is extremely helpful.

HPSP S1 Ep 12 – Little Hope and the Journey of Supermassive Games He Plays She Plays

Jacob and Daeva try to explain their love-hate relationship with Supermassive Games. Jacob says "ludicrous" a ludicrous number of times. Happy birthday, bro!Spoilers for Until Dawn. Hidden Agenda, Man of Medan and Little Hope. 
  1. HPSP S1 Ep 12 – Little Hope and the Journey of Supermassive Games
  2. HPSP S1 EP 11 – Halloween Double Feature
  3. HPSP S1 Ep 10 – Sinking City: Descending into Jank
  4. HPSP S1 Ep 9 – Playstation 5 Feels: Better Late Than Never
  5. HPSP S1 Ep 8 – Final Fantasy 8 and the Sea of Missed Opportunities

Writing Partner: Two For One Rehabilitation Special

D&D Iron Golem and Copper Dragon mini

After a hard month at my day job, I’m finally back to a point where I can focus on my creative work again. I’m not kidding, it was a rough month – at one point I worked eleven, nine hour days in a row. But now I’m back and craving that sweet storytelling fix.

Because August was a fairly dry month creatively, I really want to hit the ground running. Beyond getting back to the 3rd draft of my book, I have two new short stories to work on. For those of you who have read a few of my blogs before, you know this means finding a couple of painting projects that fit my stories. In the spirit of refreshing new beginnings, I have decided to pick a couple old minis that could use a fresh coat of paint.

Project Number 1: A Deadly Construct!

Iron Golem mini

This poor golem has seen better days. I bought it on a whim (it is an Iron Golem from the WizKids line) and ended up using him to test paint markers. I do, however, think this will work as a base for what will be a weathered, ancient golem when I’m done.

The story it is paired with is for a contest inspired by Steven King’s flair for making every day things seem otherworldly and scary. The contest cites Christine and Cujo, but my mind went to The Mangler. Something about a normal machine with the desire to kill speaks to that bit of my brain that is far too willing to personify objects.

Project Number 2: A Pretentious Dragon!

D&D Copper Dragon mini

This poor brass dragon (also Wizkids) was the sad result of neglect. I was working on him during a group painting night and was much more focused on the social aspect of the event than my dragon. He was also my second mini of the night, so he got far less time and much more tired eyes. The result was far too much shader on a mini that, let’s face it, is already lacking in definition. I’m going to need to grab lighter versions of the red and copper I used and slowly build definition into the paint job.

This mini will be matched with a story about the character who originally inspired my color scheme. He’s one of the dragons from my own fantasy universe and, while he does not appear in my book, he’s an important part of the world he lives in. He’s also a huge hipster, and when I saw a contest pop up for hipster fantasy stories, it was a no-brainer.

Those are my two main projects for September. I’ll write up a post for the results of each. I’m pretty confident I can pull off the stories, but let’s see if I can fix those messy minis I ruined!

Hindsight

I see it if I close my eyes.

Some three years past and by,

A man I barely recognize

Left a small flame here to die.

I found it lit, but little more.

A candle waxing still.

But light enough to find the sore,

The hole it used to fill.

It isn’t mine and yet I know

Without it, I can’t see.

What would he say if he could speak?

Would he pass this fire to me?

This light was once a part of me, a lost and phantom limb.

This time I won’t just let it go. I can’t end up like him.

Upping Your Game: Fallout Through Abstraction

Welcome back to Upping Your Game, a glimpse into the minds of your GMs and storytellers trying their damnedest to improve the narrative experience without you noticing.

In the previous two articles on this topic, we discussed what is great about Fallout storytelling, narrative choice through non-combat interactions, and why tabletop gaming is such a great medium for it. We also explored the licensed tabletop game Fallout Wasteland Warfare. It’s interesting, but doesn’t quite fit what we are looking for.

See the previous articles: Part 1, Part 2.

Before we move on to my game suggestions, I have an honorable mention: Gamma World.

This game has a ton of flavor!

I would love to recommend this game as it has the right balance of comedy and nihilism and has really interesting game design with the incorporation of cards (that come in the core set) which I have always felt was a good way to lower the cognitive load of tabletop RPGs. However, there are two issues that keep me from doing so. The first is that while I own the seventh edition of the game, I still haven’t been able to get anyone to play it…

The other issue is that the game is currently out of print. But, as a proud owner of the game and one expansion, I think you should check it out if you can.

Now on to my actual suggestions.

No surprise to anyone.

Yes, yes. The fishman named Marsh suggests the Call Of Cthulhu RPG. Who could have guessed? Bear with me though. Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG is my favorite table top RPG, not because of the Lovecraft bits, but because of its game design. I have never used a single monster or setting from the Cthulhu mythos when running this game. I play it because the character creation and skill system are simple and easy to teach. Also, the gameplay is balanced to discourage combat. It would take little to no effort re-skinning monsters and weapons to make a grim and engaging Fallout RPG with this system. Better still, because of the re-skinning, many monsters will seem alien to Call of Cthulhu fans as well. This means you could inject new life into the game if it is already a favorite.

As we discussed, some of the best set-pieces in Fallout 4 are horror-themed. I’ll come back to this point later, but with some research into the maps, encounters, and creatures of Fallout 4 I think you could easily recreate their effect using this system. Hell, I’ve even heard of people online using the poison system for Chaosium’s game for creating radiation effects. Could be a perfect fit.

For my second suggestion I’m going to go in a very different direction.

For those unfamiliar to the system, Fate is a setting neutral RPG system. The game system itself is meant to help create the rules, archetypes, and boundaries for what ever setting you want to play in. It is also primarily interested in collaborative story telling with mechanics that allow the GM and players some push and pull in the narrative by exchanging points to develop the story on more even terms.

Using this system, you can build your gameworld through Fate’s “Games Creation”, “Character Creation”, and “Aspects” systems. These process will boil the world’s setting, mechanics, and characters into quantifiable pieces and allow the GM and players to use them to build stories.

As we have been discussing, the key here is to replicate the feel of exploring a hostile world using creative problem solving and character interactions. Fate’s strongest points are in helping players craft narratives and impact the story being told. That is exactly what we have been looking for.

fallout helmet
But where do we go from here?

In my opinion, after selecting your preferred tabletop RPG the next step should always be the same: grab a game guide for one of the fallout games. Seriously, while Fate will benefit most from this, I think this will be an invaluable resource for any GM looking to build a Fallout world in any system.

I have the Fallout 4 game guide on hand but any of them will do. We will use the book to skin character traits using perks, build out encounters based on setpieces in the game, and develop characters and locations that feel more authentic to the series.

For example, when designing our Fate character, we can use Fallout 4’s perks as a way to develop their aspects. When creating a location full of characters and quest opportunities we can take the pages devoted to an area like Diamond city and transpose what we need into our game. Finally, for memorable quests, you could pull from areas like the the Dunwich Borers quarry for the maps, enemies, and payoff of your session.

Collaborative storytelling is a process that should involve the players as much as the GM. If the GM is trying to be unique for the sake of being unique, or writing more than you need to give the story a solid start, it is just wasted energy. Your mileage on that philosophy may vary but my point is, let the books in your arsenal do the heavily lifting for you and take as much or as little as you need to create a fun and memorable experience. Tropes exist for a reason and when used properly they help people connect with a story efficiently. That’s the reason we’re trying to play Fallout in the first place.

This whole process has inspired me to pull together my group for at least a one off session using these techniques. My prep-work will go like this: take the set pieces I like from the Fallout games I have played; figure out the core elements that make them work and assign them to distinct locations; transfer those locations onto a map of the city we live in and figure out how to use local history and legends to express story elements that I already know work; then use Fate to develop the connecting tissue with my players. Using our city we can create a unique vault and explore the urban legends and mysteries already present in our backyard. From that point on the players can explore what ever they want at their own pace, just like in a Fallout game, and by leaning on the game guide I won’t need to stay one step ahead of them.

The next Fallout 76 event sets up the Brotherhood of Steel - Polygon
Now I just need to convince people to sign up for this experiment…

It might take me a while to set of a game of this weird Fallout chimera but I’ll post my results when I do. In the mean time, I hope you have enjoyed this rambling trek through the wasteland with me. Let me know if you’ve tried to do something like this yourself or if you know another game system that would be a good fit. In the next series, I’m sure I’ll spend way too much time trying to make a round peg fit in a square hole.

Maybe I’ll find a use for all those chaff Magic The Gathering cards I have laying around…