Rants and Ruminations
I’ve been contending with a certain amount of restlessness recently. I’m sleeping better, and my stress levels are pretty low. My general health is good although I’m suffering from allergy-induced eczema which is driving me a little crazy right now. I’ve been at a bit of a loss to explain why I’m so restless, but think I’ve figured it out now.
I’m finding it extremely difficult to muster enthusiasm for RPGs at the moment. It’s not burnout. I’m running a Tyranny of Dragons and Achtung! Cthulhu every Saturday, and I’ve also offered to run some one-off games at Black Lion and hopefully the Games Hub.
However, I just can’t seem to get “fired up” and “get going” on my games. It’s an odd feeling, but I reckon it’s probably down to the time of year. I usually take August off for GM duties, and to recharge my creative “batteries”. There are also conventions coming up that I should be getting enthused about, but…. nothing. I feel like I’m in the doldrums right now regarding creativity and RPGs in particular. It’s not helped by the fact that I’ve had to shelve plans for the Open University degree (at least for this year). It would cost me too much, especially after the bathroom renovations I’ve just had done.
As well as the games I’ve been running, I’ve been finding it hard to act as ORC’s organiser recently. I can’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for the monthly pub meet, or the gentle “prodding” of people towards other games. I feel like I’m going around in circles a lot of the time.
It’s the same regarding both board games and tabletop games: I can’t seem to find the time. I’ve had to give some serious thought to my time and the demands upon it.
I think I need to find something that challenges me creatively in some way – it may not be RPG-related. I’m not talking about the usual stuff like the novel, Arunstoun, etc. I need something to really get my teeth into for some reason, an actual goal, or deadline to achieve. The question is, what?
Someone recently called me one of Edinburgh’s gaming celebrities. I’m kind of amused by that: I certainly don’t consider myself that way! Yes, I run a blog and may be fairly well-known around town, and I do try and keep the various gaming communities in the loop. I see myself as fulfilling more of a function than any aspiration to fame. I do have some aptitude for self-promotion though, it appears.
It’s no easy task being something of a local RPG pundit and organiser, and occupies quite a bit of time and effort on my part. Sometimes it feels like putting leashes on Tiamat and taking her for walkies. You can get caught up in things and it becomes very easy for others to expect you to maintain a certain “level of service”. There’s also a certain amount of information overload too, and trying to keep track of everything can be exhausting…
So. This something of a “place holder” post for me for the months ahead. August is a time when it’s fairly quiet at ORC, so I’ve a free weekend. With the Festival on I usually use the time to “recharge my batteries”. I’ve started to get the feeling I’m taking on too much and need to try and focus on achievable goals. So what I’m going to do below is list my current goals and priorities. They’re not all gaming-related, but it all helps. This might also be what I need to get galvanised into action (not in order of importance)…
- Actually write the damn novel I’ve been planning for years. More of a long-term goal really, but could do with outlining the plot in Scrivener.
- Finish the three Cthulhu stories I’ve outlined. They’re laid out in Scrivener.
- Begin my Open University degree – the BSc in Criminology & Psychology I planned on doing starts very soon.
- Get the bathroom of the flat redone – that’s going to hurt the cash flow a bit.
- To attempt to catch up old friends more often.
- Get the oathofshadows.net website live.
- Get the FB and Twitter feeds for Oath of Shadows online.
- Create content for oathofshadows.net.
- Get some of the more useful articles of the blog anthologised in a PDF with bookmarks.
- Get in more regular exercise. I occasionally walk for 30 minutes (about 1.5 miles) every lunchtime, do 30 minutes of weights and cycle 5km in 15 minutes. I should be doing that every day, really.
- Participating in more boardgames at [ELG] on Wednesday nights, although this may be scaled back a bit if I’m too busy.
- Participate in a game of Descent every fortnight. We start our first game tonight.
- Plan my next Achtung! Cthulhu game. Most likely Assault on the Mountains of Madness.
- Finish the Tyranny of Dragons D&D campaign. I’m uncertain if I’ll go to the second volume. I’m distinctly underwhelmed so far.
- Run Horror on the Orient Express – likely after ToD finishes. Will incorporate some Achtung! Cthulhu into it, but will be a bit of work.
- Write some new adventures for demo at Dragonmeet. I already have one for Conan…
- Research the Infinity universe. It does look interesting.
- Spend my store credit at 6s2Hit, the local wargames shop and actually play a few games there.
- Look at doing more demos of the Mutant Chronicles, Achtung! Cthulhu, Mutant: Year 0, and DUST Adventures at cons. I’m really looking forward to getting the books for MC and DUST.
- Create a Mutant: Year 0 Edinburgh setting and Ark. I’ll likely post it up here when I do.
- Be more active in playtests of the Infinity RPG, Conan, and John Carter for Modiphius Entertainment.
- Have a chat with the Conpulsion organisers after my recent review sparked their interest.
- Try and get to Dragonmeet, UK Games Expo and Q-CON over the next year, as well as Conpulsion, but to participate in more than just running games.
- Try and develop some more interests outside gaming. e.g. photography etc.
- Maintain the ORC Edinburgh site, get more folk to the pub meets.
- If needed (and given a product), playtest and write some more game reviews!
- Keep blogging – I must try and get more specific posts organised.
- Get in a demo of Firestorm Armada.
- Try to strengthen links with other Edinburgh gaming communities. This may be harder than it looks due to time.
- Get some more RPG freelance work (I’ve a few things possibly coming up.).
- Get “Special Projects” organised! I’m keeping quiet about these until they become a little more certain. One of them is a pretty big deal.
I think it might be worth checking back on this post in six months. I doubt if I’ll hit all of these goals, but I’m interested to see how I get on.
I’m going to be pretty candid with myself here. I think I’m largely failing right now as a writer, or even game designer. This doesn’t really upset me, as I can pretty much pinpoint the cause of my failure to get on with any writing – now that I know what the reason is! Ultimately: it’s all timey-wimey – my failure to manage my time successfully and/or profitably. There’s also the fact that maybe I’ve taken on too much over the last few years. So let’s put things in perspective – these blog posts are perhaps the most consistent writing I’ve done this year.
I work a 9-5 job (with an hour’s travel both ways), and have extra responsibilities there now. I run the ORC Edinburgh website and this blog. I run two RPG campaigns on alternating Saturdays. I’m a Modiphius Silvershield and have travelled to a number of conventions across the UK, which can sometimes tie up a weekend. I live alone and have to eat, not to mention keeping the place maintained. And unless I fancy spending the rest of my life alone, I need to at least socialize with people (and even date!). One of my biggest problems is that I often get stuck in a pattern of behaviour – this can be useful at times, but can be an issue in certain circumstances.
Health-wise, I also need to exercise occasionally. I do a half-hour walk at work every day, 5km in 15 minutes on an exercise bike, and finally weights for 15 minutes. Not onerous by any means, and I’m in relatively good condition as a result. I’ve also not been sleeping well – I sleep very restlessly according to the Sleep Clinic at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – and this has had some effect on me as you can imagine. While not quite full-blown insomnia (I may get anything from 2-5 hours of sleep), my sleep patterns have given me some very strange dreams. Despite what people think, it doesn’t mean I’ve more time to get things done. If anything, it slows me down!
These factors have all pretty much come to a head in the last week, and I realised that although I’ve failed to do much as a writer this year. I’m actually failing forward as result: turning mistakes into milestones.
A brief history of my “failing forward”
A few years back I did some freelance work for The Secret Fire RPG, including a large section on demonic lore for The Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame supplement (I also did some of the fiction and places in the RPG). As a freelancer, I was paid very well for it, and finished way ahead of the deadline. At the time I was lucky enough to be able to take some leave from work to do it. I know from this that I have both the ability and skill to actually write clearly, coherently, and well. Given the right reasons, I can actually sit down and do it!
Also, earlier in the year I submitted a draft story to Black Library (who publish loads of WH40k stories) but nothing came out of it. No problem. I wasn’t disheartened, or annoyed because I’d heard nothing. Many authors are rejected initially by publishers; or maybe I was just unlucky in that competition. Either way, it was good to have both a deadline and clear goal, rather than “just write”.
I’ve not exactly been totally idle though. I’ve actually sat down and laid out the framework for three Cthulhu Mythos-inspired stories and a notebook full of concepts and ideas for my fantasy/crime novel. The Scrivener application is very useful for this, although it has a bit of a steep learning curve. I tried writing the first chapter, but took a second look and realised it was utter drivel. I’ve not been back to it since. Negative criticism (self-induced or otherwise) can still be constructive.
I’ve also been using published campaigns for my RPGs, which cut down on my prep time. So far these outcomes have all been very positive, although it may not appear like that. So, with that in mind, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
Conclusions and resolutions
While I’d like to do more writing, I’m fairly certain that it may have to take a back seat for now. I tend to procrastinate a lot, and often still doubt my own abilities: I think I’m far more self-confident these days though. I’m in a pretty good place emotionally and am currently seeing someone too. It’s a little outside my comfort zone and ideal for getting my out of the pattern I’m in.
I’ve a number of projects ahead:
- To get to Edinburgh League of Gamers (ELG) – I’ve Battletech and Deadzone. I’d also like to try DUST and Firestorm Armada, and get to more of the Wednesday night boardgames nights.
- Two secret projects that are still in the planning/discussion stage, both gaming.
- My Criminology & Psychology degree begins soon.
- I’ve taught myself proper proof-reading to a certain extent, although I’m not professionally qualified. Not sure what I’ll do with this yet.
- I’ve the short stories and novel to develop.
If I do start writing again, it’ll be to a deadline (even if it is self-imposed) – perhaps NaNoWriMo later this year. With that in mind, I’m “micro-managing” my evenings when I return from work. It’s a system that works well for me, even if it is becoming an established pattern (which I suppose works in its favour).
- Monday: chores, laundry, recycling, etc.
- Tuesday: shopping, food preparation – large meals for freezing etc.
- Wednesday: Writing. whether it’s fiction or RPGs.
- Thursday: RPG preparation.
Essentially this leaves me Friday and the weekend free, although I can easily mix some nights around. Obviously my course may cause me to swap things around a bit, too. There’s a a few downsides to this. While the stuff I did with Leitheatre was interesting, it cut seriously into my evenings – two rehearsals on week nights meant I’d not be home until 9pm. And during the one-act play – I worked on it four nights solid (rehearsal, stage rehearsal/setup/take-down, rehearsal, performance) as floor manager and stage hand. Plus I didn’t realise how much I’d forgotten about lighting and sound since college! While it was fun, I’m stepping back from that for now. I’m also planning to cut back on the social media a bit – I spend far too much time on there I think.
I’m not sure I’ll do the convention circuit next year in the same way after Dragonmeet 2015 later this year. I think I’ll spend a little bit more time networking – I may not be much of writer or games designer, but I’ve found I do get on well with people in gaming circles. Plus it’d be nice to enjoy the conventions themselves! I’ve also taken a bit of a step back from ORC Edinburgh over the last few months as well. It’s now pretty much running itself as community, and the site doesn’t need as much patching and downtime as it used to. Plus the occasional pub meets are well-received, if not always well-attended! I’m fading into the background a bit on that score as a result – but I’m becoming better known in Edinburgh’s gaming community (and beyond!) too.
With that in mind I think I should be able to achieve something writing-wise. I may never be a great game designer or writer, but at least I’m trying!
When I began writing this post become something far different than I’d envisaged. Then I realised: it’s May the 6th – May the Sith be with you. Welcome to the Dark Side.
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me
– Star Wars, The Sith Code
Of course, the Jedi have a different perspective.
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
They’re both valid perspectives in my view. I’ve been considering lately the direction this site has taken, as well as my own direction in life for the last few months. Many years back themandragora.com was merely an off-shoot of the Nova Games PBM site that I’d created for my Mandragora games. Since then I’ve been through several versions of CMS and themes. It’s a long way now from the same pages in 2002. Of course back then, I wasn’t running the ORC Edinburgh website, nor was I involved much in the Edinburgh RPG scene. And my personal circumstances were very different. This post is a bit of a ramble but I hope it makes sense: there’s a certain kind of logic behind it.
The site was largely a dumping ground for my ideas back then, a vanity project for stuff wot I’d done. It’s become more polished(?) over the years as I’ve attempted to try and get more of a gaming community in Edinburgh together. The Edinburgh Gaming page is consistently popular. I’ve cut out a lot of the inconsequential posts that provided a little too much insight into my time. These web pages have a modest set of daily visits, and are pretty specific. I sure as hell don’t consider myself a gaming celebrity. At all. I’m just a bloke with a blog.
A lot has changed since 2002. The world has become smaller, sometimes frighteningly so, through social media. Words, and even numbers, now have sinister overtones (gitmo, 9/11, 7/7 for instance). Celebrities – sometimes who only famous because they are on reality TV – are all over social media tweeting their lives. Self-promoting themselves first chance they get – freeloaders of fame. Or worse, someone like Katie Hopkins.
Twitter is often largely to blame for this I reckon. I’ve recently heard of Joss Whedon quitting it as a result of hate tweets and Rio Ferdinand subjected to some horrible tweets regarding his recently departed wife. That’s pretty sickening behaviour and sadly it seems to have become part of our culture – I’ve heard some pretty horrible things about Gamergate too. Twitter (and sites like it) have no “buffer” zone or DMZ of geography or security. People are able to interact directly with their target or idol, often saying things that they’d never say in person to the object of their hate/affections. Complete strangers will make personal remarks. It’s not just Twitter either – go on an online gaming site and you’ll be subjected to some serious verbal abuse. Anonymity encourages the worst in people it seems. It’s almost a culture of savagery.
This New Year was something of an epiphany for me. It wasn’t much of Hogmanay. All I could think of, alone in the flat, were negative thoughts – and trust me, this wasn’t depression. I was angry. Furious. Angry at myself for not getting more done. Resentful of those who’d been more successful over the previous year. Then I realised that the only person who cared about it was me. At that point “the scales fell from eyes” as it were. What was the point of it? It wasn’t achieving anything. At all. So I’ve pretty much ditched it. Or so I’ve thought.
A result of this online “culture” we’ve got this strange sense of entitlement. We want it all right now. Netflix and torrents mean we don’t have to wait for a show to be picked up by UK TV stations. And we don’t care how we get it either. For example, “We backed it so we should get it first/early” – especially Kickstarters. I’ve been fighting an urge to rant about Chaosium and their “Horror on the Orient Express” Kickstarter earlier. The European Kickstarter backers are still waiting on their copies, despite it being sold in the local games stores – and we’re not happy about it. As geeks we’re very passionate about our hobby. Who can forget the Edition Wars of D&D? Remakes vs. original cuts of Star Wars?
Anyone can start a podcast and become a “celebrity” coasting on the backs of others – however some podcasters (Nearly Enough Dice, Hazard Gaming, for example) do stay objective! My sensorineural deafness means I can never really listen to podcasts except if I’m there in presence. So instead I’ve been writing review of conventions and RPGs. Writing reviews has become something new to this site. I never try to be unkind, I only point out what could be improved, and don’t set out to try tocrush the dreams of game writers. Last thing I want is a visit from the gaming equivalent of Jay and Silent Bob (cf. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.). Then again….
Use it… – Blade, Blade Trinity
I’ve been very unimpressed with the work I’ve done on my short stories and novel so far. So I’ve decided to try and invoke a darker aspect to them. It’s an element I’m more than familiar with. The Oath of Shadows characters are going to be less than clear cut, no Chaotic Evil vs. Lawful Good. There’s going to be a sense of loss, an anger at the world as it exists. It’s a bit of a departure from my original concept, but much more of a challenge.
For me, the most maddening things about modern day gaming are time, space, and money. But I suspect the results of the General Election tomorrow are gonna make me angry and force choke something. Thanks for reading this.
Something. Something. Dark Side…
The Sanity Check is a common test in The Call of Cthulhu RPG, and it’s as good a title as any. This is slightly off-topic for the usual blog but I think it’s relevant to a certain degree. Ultimately it’s why gaming has been good for me, and helped me grow as an adult. RPGs (and gaming) are a big part of my life now. I’ve seen the whole Geek subculture turned into a fashionable moniker, and have run dozens of games over the years. I’ve never really considered the effect they’ve had on me as a person, though: mentally, socially, and even physically. Yes, you read that right.
- Let’s begin with “Mentally“. I’ve had to learn the rules and plots for loads of games, as well as do research. This is a workout for the mind at the best of times. While I was researching the WW2 raid on St. Nazaire, I learned so much about that incident in history. That was for one adventure. I’ve also learned to compartmentalise my thoughts and structure them properly. In other words: get myself organised! Plus creating worlds and running games is cathartic and helps exercise the mind and imagination. I’ve also learned to communicate better – verbally and otherwise.
- Socially. I’m far more self-confident these days. I’m easily at home meeting new people. As GM, I may meet players for the first time. As de facto head of ORC Edinburgh (a title I’m just going to accept) I often have to deal with people and problems. Although I’m still very quiet (a legacy of sensorineural deafness), I’m no shrinking violet these days. I can deal with confrontation better, as well as dealing with difficult situations. As a gamer, I’ve even been able to talk to women; “the greatest mystery there is” to quote Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Gaming also gets me out of the flat and into the open air, albeit briefly. Sometimes my flat feels very small, especially in the dark winter months. It’s good to get out of it!
- Physically better is not something that readily comes to mind when you think about RPGs. I sleep better when I’ve GMed a truly epic session, often leaving me exhausted. If I feel knackered, it’s a job well done. Plus, any GM who’s carried a rulebook or 5 knows how heavy those books can be, en masse. Those who do LARP probably get a fair bit of exercise in their games – the armour and weapons may not be real, but the weight is.
Ultimately, like Batman‘s Joker and Spiderman‘s Green Goblin, I have a nemesis. The name of that nemesis is Self-doubt. I’ve never been one to shy away from a healthy bout of self-pity. I’ve been looking back over the years and the boy I was at 16 is nothing like the man I am at 40. My personality and perceptions have changed on a scale I’d never have believed – and for the better. However, Self-doubt often puts the boot in. Like a lot of people these days I find myself far too busy, and occasionally there are periods of reflection where self-doubt starts to creep in.
I want to be a writer. I want to see my name in print and feel that sense of achievement when I see my printed work. I want folk to be engaged with creations. To see Twitter take fire when a beloved character is killed off. When I wrote the spell descriptions and fiction for The Secret Fire RPG, I had no problems. Likewise, the sections on Demons for the Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame (20,000 words, the most I’ve ever written). I want to be able to write a novel. I have plenty of ideas, including a selection of short stories related to the Cthulhu Mythos too. At this point, I can’t seem to get started though. I’ve found myself making excuses for this: “I’m too busy” or “I’ve got the ideas down”. Also, I can’t help but feel I’m not as smart as some of the other authors out there, and I’m making a mistake – “Will the story be intelligent enough?”. At which point, Self-doubt starts whispering in my ear that I lack the discipline needed to write, or that it won’t be any good, or it’s been done before.
This self-doubt, these “crises of confidence” aren’t uncommon for me. It is almost like a form of depression, albeit on a minor scale. I’ve suffered them for years in a wide range of situations, and they are immensely frustrating. It’s not even a “Writers Block”. I’ve often had it happen with games I’m running, doubting my own abilities as a GM. I’ve found that the best way to deal with this self-doubt is to find something else to engage my time and refocus on the project once some time has passed. Following these “crises”, I’ll usually complete a number of smaller projects before coming back to the original.