Secret Fire RPG
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!
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.
It was my 40th birthday earlier in the week. The last twenty years seem to have passed so quickly, but its quite a long time when I think about it. In that time I’ve changed careers form Audiovisual to Computing – I probably wouldn’t have been the best AV guy anyway given that I was diagnosed with a sensorineural hearing problem. I’d probably had it for years, perhaps when I had the mumps or a fever as a child. Basically, it means that I can’t hear mid-range frequencies like human speech as easily a normal person, but the rest of my hearing is pretty good. I’m definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago. Hard times make for hard lessons, but I’ve managed to stay upbeat over the years. I’ve stayed relatively healthy, although I think my sanity has undergone a stress test occasionally. All things considered, despite a few bumps in the road recently, I’m pretty good. Plus I still have all my hair – and also 100% free of preservatives, colourings, or additives.
I’ve travelled around a bit. I’ve never felt the temptation to go backpacking, but I do like arriving in a new city, and more often than not getting lost in it. I’ve been to both sides of the Pacific, but never crossed it. I’ve been to Las Vegas, Vancouver, Tokyo, Antigua, Prague, and Rome so far; and I’d love to visit more, in the EU and elsewhere. As usual, as is so often the case, its expensive!
Speaking of new experiences, I’ve done a lot more gaming in recent years, as this blog illustrates. I’ve not been much of a console gamer, but do own an X-box 360, although that’s largely consigned to running DVDs these days. I prefer the cooperative kind of game, where you can work together – or short arena games with friends, like Left4Dead or Halo. Loved Batman: Arkham Asylum too. I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t want to play Batman…
Ironically my two RPG campaigns that I’m running these days are from the 1990s. The Enemy Within campaign for WFRP, and also AD&D 2nd Edition. You’ll find some of my suggestions for running these elsewhere in my blog, too. Its ironic that these games still work well for modern players, despite today’s insistence on catering for munchkins and power gamer style games. In the last ten years I’ve run a lot of other RPGs too: D&D (both 3.5 and 4e), Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhutech, Marvel Superheroes, Pathfinder, the Wh40k RPGs, and Star Wars (both D6 and Star Wars). Some I’ve enjoyed more than others, some my players enjoyed more than I did!
The biggest problem I find these days is time: I’d love to run games like Shadows of Esteren, The Void, Eclipse Phase, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Werewolf, and 13th Age. I’d love to play these too, but as well as the time, its often the case that I can’t find someone to run. It takes a time commitment to be a GM, and to be honest, not many folk can do that. I’ve seen it happen a lot at ORC unfortunately. Someone starts a game, then can’t find the time, or they find themselves over-committed. For this reason I try and tell folk to keep to 1 or 2 games a week, be they a player and/or a GM.
I’d hoped to start writing a novel this month, but although I have a notebook of ideas, and hoped to start using the Scrivener software to get it organised. I’ve failed to begin NaNoWriMo again! Having said that, some of my stuff has been published, in THE SECRET FIRE RPG, and the first supplement, THE WAY OF TREE, SHADOW, AND FLAME. That was also the first time I did some proper freelancing. I also did some voluntary proof-reading for ACHTUNG, CTHULHU! from Modiphius Entertainment. Proof-reading maybe the way forward for the time being, as the time needed to develop my own games just ain’t happening. If I can get the custom, it might also be a good earner.
I’ve no idea what the next few years will be like. There’s nearly always something for me to do. There’s likely going to be a few DEADZONE, BATTLETECH, and possibly even BURNING SUNS games in the pipeline. I’m not much of a boardgamer, but reckon I should be able to get into those games without too much hassle. WH40k is too expensive! I suspect I’m going to be busy over the next few years, so things are going to be interesting! I’ve been a gamer for over 25 years now. Gonna keep rolling those dice for at least another 25 with any luck 🙂
The Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame for the Secret Fire RPG has now launched on Kickstarter!
It’s not everyday that I get the chance to self-promote an RPG I’m involved with on my blog (sorry if its a bit self-promoting!). Last year I blogged about writing my first piece of freelance work for George Strayton’s Secret Fire RPG. The first supplement: The Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame has now launched on Kickstarter, together with some rather nice stretch goals. It had a bit of a shaky start though and had to be redone after Amazon screwed things up, but that’s one of those things you can’t plan for with Kickstarter.
Check out the Secret Fire Games Facebook page here. While not all of my material may have made it into The Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame – and there may be a good reason for that (and it’s a good one!) – I’m happy with how it has all worked out. I may have more to say on that at a later date but can’t for now 🙂
Here’s a “taster” pic of one of my creations, the Void Herald. These powerful demonic critters may or may not be in The Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame…
By the way, a lot of those Lovecraftian descriptions from the spell lists in the original Secret Fire RPG book were created by me. If you’ve ever played in a game I’m running you know what to expect in the Way of Tree, Shadow and Flame!
Where to get the original Secret Fire RPG
I’m going to try and write a bit more about the last year gaming-wise in a separate post (more on this to appear later). I’ve started doing this every year, as a sort of retrospective of things happening in the Edinburgh Games community, ORC and elsewhere. For now, here’s a very short post detailing some of my plans for 2013 RPGs-wise.
- I’m trying to get the first part of the Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG written, most likely using the FATE rules set.
- There’s a blog article on “Magic as technology” that I want to try and finish.
- I’m waiting on publication of my first RPG work for The Secret Fire RPG.
- DMing an introductory D&D 4e campaign at ORC called A Watch upon the Border.
- Possibly restarting Ashes of Freedom with DNDnext rules.
- Running the AD&D adventures Dragon Mountain and Return to the Tomb of Horrors when the AD&D rules are republished in 2013.
- Running Werewolf: the Apocalypse again – I got rid of my 1st edition stuff years ago, but got in on the 20th anniversary Kickstarter edition. When will you rage?
- Running a game of the fantastic-looking Shadows of Esteren.
- And finally… I’m forty in 2013, so I’m planning a wh40kforty event along with a friend (who also turns 40). We’re coming up with a linked campaign using various RPGs and battles in the wh40k universe, set in the Midwinter Expanse, a nebula of our own creation located close to Ultramar.