First Squees for 2015

Fire She-Ra Avatar

Sitting here with Enya blasting through Pandora nursing a “Oh ye stars… Why does my diet go to hell on deadline again?” stomach. As it is now 2015, a new set of squees is now needed. Woo!

1.) I organized my beads and chainmaille links. This is VERY IMPORTANT, as I have designs I bought beads for but couldn’t remember where all the pieces went.

2.) Medieval pet names. How cool.

3.) The holidays are over and my house is back to normal. Yay!

4.) Trying to set up recurring evenings of beadness and have a few months scheduled already. Forced social human interaction you say? Yikes! Er… Good!

5.) Have planned my convention appearances for 2015. I’ll be doing more of them.

6.) 13 Essential Summer Reads in 1852 gives a historical look during the time period. I believe that reading history is important, even if it makes me uncomfortable.

7.) Fire Mountain Gems, a bead supplier, posted an article about the eras of jewelry. From a designer’s perspective, this is really awesome.

8.) Pen PR0N!!! The seven-year pen from Seltzer. Yes, it writes very smooth.

9.) Four words: homemade chocolate chip cookies.

10.) Learning that yes, using a spatula to stir cookie dough is way better than a wooden spoon. Rock. Star.

11.) Re-obfuscating my hair. This makes me happy.

12.) Prepping for a writer’s retreat. Very excited!

13.) LEGO Doctor Who. Need I say more?

14.) I never get sick of watching The Avengers. So impressed with the connected plots that weave in and out of the movies and the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show.

15.) Put in an order from JetPens.com for this calligraphy pen. Here’s the awesome part about this pen: the colors BLEND.

16.) Managed to clean our place before we left for California, so came back to a fresh pad. After one load of laundry, I’m totally caught up on maintenance-type crap. Woo!

17.) Starting to get some reviews for my latest project. Geist: Ready Made Characters. Glad fans are digging them!

18.) Two unannounced projects are moving forward, I’m getting caught up on other projects, and I’m making progress on my own stuff, too.

19.) Combat boots have been acquired. I’ve been looking for over a year, ever since my old ones got irreparably damaged on a trip. Opted to go with a convertible pair of Doc Marten’s and I’m really anxious to break them in.

20.) I mentioned earlier that I was starting to Couch to 5K program. Due to the pressure on my joints, I wasn’t ready for the speeds I was aiming for. I’ve since modified the program, but I’m keeping up with it despite my achilles tendon acting up. Really anxious to build some endurance and continue on the health train. It feels great to get my heart pumping again!

21.) A squee for Phil Reed and Sam Mitschke from Steve Jackson Games. They’ve been promoted!!! YAY!!! Well-deserved.

22.) Another squee for discovering Joseph Bruchac, a Native American author. Really powerful stuff.

23.) Happy that Constantine is getting some rave reviews. It’s a GREAT show and I’m thrilled for the cast and the team that put this together.

24.) Threw a holiday party to see some friends I haven’t seen for a while. Pretty excited about that! And, we’re keeping the good times going. Huzzah!

25.) Made my New Year’s Resolutions and am diving into the pile. So grateful for my co-writers and editors to be able to do what I do. Thanks for seeing 2014 through and cheers for a BIG 2015!

26.) We funded the Dark Eras Kickstarter in one day! I have a chapter in this supplement called “Doubting Souls” for Hunter: the Vigil.

27.) Fans are great. Fan feedback is what keeps me going! There’s been loads of it lately, and that’s keep me going.

28.) I don’t know if you’ve seen that Creative Process illustration that’s been floating around, but I managed to track down the artist who’s selling a print of it. Neat!

29.) I love it when art and history come together. This prize-winning animation lets you fly through 17th London. SO COOL!

30.) I’m ALMOST through Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Yay!

31.) Yes, I do have a room for GenCon. In fact, I’m coming back to the Writer’s Symposium! Huzzah!

112/365

    Mood: Go, Go Gadget
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: It’s winter. I lost track.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Butt in chair. LOTS of writing.
    In My Ears: Coffee pot.
    Game Last Played: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: All the work-related things.
    Movie Last Viewed: Pacific Rim
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.


Angel’s Fred and Post-Traumatic Stress

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

I’m in the middle of a re-watch for Whedon’s Angel, and I’m now on the last season where our plucky crew has taken the bait and are manning Wolfram and Hart. There’s a lot of great nuggets to draw inspiration from both as a writer and a fan of Whedon’s work, in particular the fact that this series, despite being on the air from 1999 to 2004, is still relevant and innovative for 2015. (And the show’s been off the air for more than a decade, so in my mind it’s safe to discuss it without fear of spoilers.)

While Fred (Winifred Burkle’s) character arc ends terribly and tragically, there is something remarkable about her introduction. Her evolution as a character deals with overcoming her traumatic and terrible situation after being sucked into a hell dimension. Py’lea introduced a tough topic, human slavery, which was something that the writers could address because their owners were demons. Breaking down Fred’s story is interesting, because she’s an escaped slave who finds coping mechanisms to deal with what she’s experienced, to survive.

What I was very interested in, is what happened to her when she returned to L.A. She didn’t magically “get better” and rush into her parent’s arms, the writers enhanced her character by allowing her to show a range of emotions, some of which were caused by post-traumatic stress. To me, this is brilliant writing because her character arc doesn’t keep progressing linearly until she’s totally moved on and one hundred percent better. She has bouts where she tries something new to get past the hurt, but then regresses before dealing with that specific issues. Each problem is different from the last, and she doesn’t necessarily move forward for each action. For example, she tries to go to Caritas, and the place is attacked. But, instead of cowering in a corner, she eventually stands up and grabs a crossbow. She has a sense of survival and that echoes through the way she deals with her trauma.

Her need to survive is something that is part of her nature, and that’s what pulls her through all of her bad experiences. Not because she’s physically stronger, but because she’s strong-willed and this is who she is. Her desire for self-preservation is what distinguishes her and sets her apart from the way other victims are often portrayed in television and other forms of media. When bad things happen to real people? We don’t give up and stand aside for someone else to save us, and Fred’s character reflects that truth.

Despite being enslaved, Fred escapes and finds a way to survive though she’s stuck in a demon world. Despite finding out the truth that she’d been betrayed by a mentor, she doesn’t freeze up with fear and let her professor victimize her again. She wants to do something about it, and that desire to channel her anger by turning the tables on him, a natural reaction, is the source of an argument between her and then-boyfriend Gunn, who wound up removing her free will to protect her from the consequences of her terrible choice. There are other, subtle clues written into her character as well in the way that Fred’s represented by Amy Acker, too, that brings deeper aspects forth. Like how jumpy she is, the way she walks and hunches her shoulders, her outbursts and clenched fists. It’s brilliant all around, and there’s even a slight shift in her character after Angel’s spell to remove all memories of Connor, too.

I’m hoping that by sharing these types of examples with you, you’ll be inspired to take a closer look at some of your favorite characters for inspiration either to appreciate them or learn from them. Lastly, if you’re not familiar with it, here’s how the NIMH defines post-traumatic disorder.

    Mood: I’d like winter to be over now. Thanks!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m so over-caffeinated I need to cut it out today completely.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A walk. Remarkably. In the cold.
    In My Ears: Coffee is percolating, but I’m resisting it!
    Game Last Played: Ni-No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The History of Magic by Eliphas Levi
    Movie Last Viewed: Sabotage
    Latest Artistic Project: Ch-ch-ch-ch-chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.


Talking about Personas

Mad Hatter Avatar

I was going to talk about Mary Stewart and The Crystal Cave today, but instead I’m going to talk about personas. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while as a follow-up to some posts I’ve offered in the past like this one and this one, but esteemed writer Wesley Chu reminded me of what I’ve been meaning to say. I say all of this with love and my repeated mantra: do what works for you.

I don’t care about personas any more. You know, I used to. Being in marketing and business as long as I have, I thought they were important and expected, a much-needed tool to fabricate an image to be memorable. Me? I’d rather be true to myself and worry less about how that’s perceived and received “officially” via a persona. I am a seeker of change and growth, personally and professionally, and I hope that’s reflected in not only what I do, but how, when, and what tools I use to pursue my goals–regardless of the fact that all too often the internet, in particular, never seems to forget a faux pas!

I asked myself, when thinking about personas a few years back, what I care about when I interact with fans, peers, and professionals. Being someone I’m not online takes work, because I have to remember who that persona is in real life interactions, meetings, and correspondence. That’s a helluva lot of work to play that role, and that is so anti-everything “Monica” it’s not even funny. Plus, and I ran into this quite a bit, my audiences overlap so much I couldn’t separate out Monica the Persona for TheDayAndNightJobTM versus Monica the Human Being who has friends and loved ones.

Instead, what I worry about is being a good person. Yes, sometimes, I worry about this too much. I feel terrible about it, but I had challenges remaining positive going to conventions not knowing anybody because I was intimidated and didn’t understand the differences between PERSONATM I met online and HUMAN BEINGTM in real life. That’s nothing anybody else did; that’s my issue. Anyway, to me being a good person means that I need to be someone other people want to be around, and too often personas, when not done well, can be a disillusionment, a turnoff, an extreme aspect of a personality, a permanently attached soapbox that controls the person inside, etc. I also see through them fairly easily, because of my background. Big name celebrities? Need personas. Not only is it part of their job, it’s a coping mechanism to deal with that many people. However, right now I am not a “big name” celebrity. When and if I ever get to that point, then maybe I’ll reconsider. But for now, I’m a WYSIWIG person. What you see, is what you get. Energy levels, as always, are dependent upon caffeine.

Over and out.

    Mood: In a state of zen. Wait… Are the cats up to something?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: More than I care to admit and less than I’d like to believe.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Well? If my achilles tendon ever heals…
    In My Ears: Lady Crescent Moondragon’s tank, yet another pot of coffee…
    Game Last Played: Ni-No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The Greywalker series
    Movie Last Viewed: Sabotage
    Latest Artistic Project: Ch-ch-ch-ch-chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.


Monica’s Mysterious Magnificent Meaty Stew

Dancing Chick Avatar

It’s Monica because I made it up. It’s Mysterious because you can’t tell what kind of vegetables are in it. (And, I had no idea that it would even turn out.) It’s Magnificent because it takes good. And it’s Meaty Stew…because it’s MEATY STEW!

Here’s the recipe:

Monica’s Mysterious Magnificent Meaty Stew

Ingredients

2 Celery Sticks
2 Parnsips
2 Carrots
1 White Radish
1 Yellow Onion
5 Red Potatoes
2 Starchy Potatoes
2 pounds lean stew meat
2 brown gravy packets
Buillon cubes, beef stock, or soup base
2 to 3 Tbs. Penzey’s Tsar Dust

To Prepare:

Brown onion and meat with olive oil. Do not drain. Add enough water until it covers the top of your meat and add recommended amount of cubes or soup base. It’s okay if it’s a little strong right now, you’ll add more water in the next pass. Simmer for one hour (stove) or put on low in crock pot (2 hours), then add Tsar Dust seasoning and stir. Add vegetables. Add enough water until top of vegetables is almost covered. (Don’t add anymore because the veggies will cook down.) Simmer for another hour (stove) two hours (crockpot) or until vegetables are tender. Before serving, whisk the brown gravy mix with 1/4 c. of water per packet. Add to mix and turn heat to high. The base will thicken when the mix boils. Serve hot.

Voila!

    Mood: I am culinary goddess.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Yeah, right. Don’t even think about asking me that.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH!
    In My Ears: Lady Crescent Moondragon’s tank.
    Game Last Played: Ni-No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The Greywalker series
    Movie Last Viewed: Sabotage
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.


Running Firefly. A Post for GMs.

Firefly RPG Front Cover

GMs have always been an important part of our design philosophy on the Firefly RPG line, and Margaret in particular wanted to make sure that we had enough support for them. There is a difference between a narrative-based system and a more traditional one with a damage track and XP points. One of the nuances that can be hard for players to wrap their minds around, is that Cortex Plus is player-driven, where the players are in charge and drive the story.

How can a GM do this and direct an Episode? When I was designing the Episode structure, I mapped it to the beats of the story presented in the Firefly TV show. (This was a skill I had picked up from the writing, reading, and playing I did for White Wolf. In the Storyteller Adventure System (SAS), there are scenes the GM can run and a number of different paths those scenes can take.) In Firefly, I wanted to give GMs a jumping off point, where we present a possibility of how the story might break down based on what players might do. In general, we felt that players would probably be familiar with the feel of a Firefly TV show; the breakdown of the structure is something GMs can use to reinforce Whedon’s powerful characterizations.

There is, however, a problem that can occur in a game that’s reliant on player agency. Sometimes, GMs might encounter a certain amount of decision paralysis or “sit and wait for the GM to throw something else my way.” That can be tough, especially for GMs who want to run a narrative-based game where pacing is crucial. I resolve this particular issue, decision paralysis, in a number of different ways. There are some things I do at the table that goes beyond framing my scenes hard and saying: “Cut to Commercial!”

Here’s a few of my techniques:

    1) I shoot at them. A bullet whizzes past your ear. Oh no! What are you going to do now? My reasoning behind this is that firefights can and do happen often in Firefly. When a player is shot at, that often prompts the rest of the Crew to help out.

    2) I prompt them. You’re talking to Badger and he’s given you an ultimatum: pay up or hand over one of your Crewmembers. Right now. Don’t know what to do? Have you asked your Captain for advice? Okay, that didn’t pan out. You might want to… And then I give three or four options the Crewmember can cue off of. I’ve never had a player take my exact advice, but uses that as a way to think about what to do next.

    3) I use Timed Actions. One of our favorite techniques to influence pacing is to utilized Timed Actions to reflect the pressure in any given situation. The other benefit of Timed Actions, however, is that it prompts teamwork! Each player has a role to take in the Action Order, and they often discuss how to get through that scenario as a team. Works like a charm!

    4) I create an Asset/Complication for that Crewmember. Sometimes, Crewmembers need a little help and the best way, I’ve found, is to use the system to do that. A free Asset is something I offer in times of dire need, and it can take the edge off of bad luck. Complications that prompt a character to act, rather than hinder that character, are crucial here. Badly-worded Complications can impact the mood of a game very easily, and it’s a place I’d recommend all GMs either improve upon or collaborate with players.

    5) I walk away from the table. I feel that without good synergy at the table, players can get stuck because they’re focused on what they want/need to be doing because they’re worried about the group. When I do this, I plan for a crucial moment. Explain what that moment is, then tell the group: “When I come back, decide on a course of action.” That takes the pressure off that player, and encourages them to work together.

    6) I hand out Plot Points. At the beginning of Act I (and so on), I ask players for a recap of the previous scene and hand out Plot Points to the player who summarizes it. I sometimes ask players to recap their favorite moment of the previous act provided they can recommend what someone else did. That, sometimes, adds interesting flavor to the table because a player might not think they’re doing a good job–until someone else says they are.

Hope that jumpstarts your brainpan for this particular issue! Happy gaming!

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