Idle Thoughts on Role-Playing

I’m embarking on a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a number of people who go to the same Kung Fu school as I do. I’m the Dungeon Master, which means I’m the one who sets the stage for the players and who referees the game if necessary. Since four of the five players are beginners, I’ll also be helping them understand the rules, and orienting them a bit in terms of their odds of succeeding or failing.

(Spoiler alert: even though it’s called Dungeons & Dragons, beginning level characters should not try to slay a dragon. They will fail. However, I have a policy with brand new players: I promise that their characters won’t die in the first three sessions. If they really do try to slay a dragon, the dragon may just beat them up, take all their stuff, and leave them naked outside the nearest town. Or more likely, the dragon will singe them a bit, then say, “Okay, if you don’t want to die, you have to agree to run an errand for me…”)

As I said last week, I love planning campaigns. I love dreaming up new worlds full of wild and wonderful things. Also, since this campaign will only be the six of us sitting around a kitchen table, I love stealing stuff from my favorite books, comics, movies, TV, etc.

In my real writing, I can’t steal egregiously…but at the kitchen table, I can. So in the past, I’ve stolen from Doctor Who, Michael Moorcock, Star Trek, H.P. Lovecraft, and many many many more sources. For me, creating a campaign is a form of fanfic: as over-the-top as I can make it.

But one of the best things about role-playing is that the game isn’t just what I steal and what I invent on my own. It’s a joint creation of everyone at the table, all of them smart and devious. Players always invent their own goals and backstories—stuff that goes beyond what I could dream up on my own. We work together, developing the story from all that material. This means that a role-playing campaign emerges unpredictably from interactions between everyone present. Like good improv theatre, nobody knows what’s going to happen until it happens.

Role-playing is also an excuse to get together with friends. Perhaps that’s the most important feature. Of course, we could just get together and talk…but we probably wouldn’t, and certainly not week after week. Playing the game is fun, but it’s also a pretext to socialize and surprise ourselves in the process.

The next session for this group is Friday night. I may or may not report what happens; I’ll have to talk to the others about it. But if you’ve ever thought you might be interested in role-playing, I strongly encourage it. And perhaps I’ll talk more about role-playing games in the near future.

[Disclaimer: For a lot of you reading this, role-playing games are probably old hat…but given that some readers haven’t played RPGs before, I’ll write these posts assuming no prior knowledge.]

[Dragon picture by Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]

Sharing, May 7, 2019

Links? I got ’em.

Convention: When Words Collide, Aug 9-11, 2019, in Calgary
For a long time, I’ve loved the concept of When Words Collidge. It’s a convention specifically aimed at genre diversity: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, and more. It’s a great way of expanding your horizons beyond your favourite niches…and this year, I’m going to be one of the guests of honour! Yay! So come out, say hi, and enjoy the convention.
Role-Playing: A New Dungeons & Dragons Campaign
I’ve been talked into running a new D&D campaign for a group from my kung fu school. I didn’t take much persuading…and now I’ve been cackling to myself for more than a week as I design the arc of the campaign, with a whole bunch of surprises built in. I can’t give details, of course—at least one of the players reads this blog. But starting any new tale gets my juices flowing, whether it’s a novel, a short story, or a campaign. [*Insert sinister laugh here.*]
Season: Spring
Today, most of the trees on my street suddenly acquired leaf buds. Within a week, the trees may actually look like trees. About damned time! And it means that I can get out and start running (okay, jogging) again.

 

 

Sharing, February 26, 2019

Stuff I’m doing:

Fixing a cataract: I’ve had a slow-growing cataract in my left eye for at least three years and it’s finally reached the point where (perhaps) it’s time to get rid of it.

My cataract is almost certainly just a symptom of age. The way I understand it is that the lens in your eye is made of transparent fibers which should lie tightly side by side. As you get older, the fibers loosen up enough to allow small gaps between them. Not only does the lens have more difficulty focusing, but light can get in through the gaps which has various effects. In my case, if I look at a single point of light, I see three points (or sometimes six, depending on the size of the original point).

Luckily, my right eye is still good, and with my glasses, it’s 20/20. This means I can still see fine for driving. However, I’d love to have two working eyes again. As it happens, eye surgeons prefer not to deal with cataracts until they’re bad enough—cataracts can develop very slowly, in which case there’s no reason to jump the gun. At long last, though, my optometrist says that it’s time; so I now have an appointment with an eye surgeon to see if he agrees.

What I’m reading: The Mister Miracle graphic novel by Tom King. Mister Miracle is a lesser known DC “superhero” created by Jack Kirby. I put “superhero” in quotes because MM doesn’t fight crime, and he seldom gets involved in standard superhero shenanigans.  Instead, he’s the greatest escape artist of all time.

The graphic novel is essentially about MM having an extended bout of depression. It’s not played for laughs (although there are plenty of humorous moments). It’s very human and highly recommended.

What I’m playing on the computer: Dragon Age: Inquisition. I don’t know why…but on the weekend, when I looked at the list of games I have on my computer, DA:I is the one I clicked on. (I’ve played DA:I from start to finish at least four times. I guess I might be making it five.)

What I’m writing: In the mornings, I’m working on the novel I’ve designated PROJECT TECH-BRO. In the afternoon, I’m working on a short story I’m tentatively calling “The Red Wolf Canto” (although that might change). It’s a combination of Little Red Riding Hood and Dante’s Inferno. Because they belong together.

(Seriously, on the very second page of Dante’s Inferno, Dante meets a wolf in a dark forest. So hey, it’s a gimme.)

PLR Day

Today I got my cheque from Canada’s Public Lending Right program, so I thought I’d say a little about how great the program is.

Public Lending Right (PLR) is a way to compensate authors for the use of their books in public libraries. Libraries are absolutely wonderful, but for writers they have one drawback: if someone buys a book, the author gets a royalty; but if someone borrows a book from a library, the author doesn’t get paid.

Now of course, libraries do buy their books in the first place, so the author gets a royalty on that purchase. But once a library buys a book, the book may be read by dozens of people, and the author gets no more money.

PLR attempts to balance the accounts, at least a little. The details differ in different countries, but the basics are simple: the government allocates a pool of money, then divides that pool between authors in proportion to how much their books are “used” in the country’s public libraries.

In Canada, this is done by checking computer records in a representative set of libraries across the country. They don’t count actual check-outs; they just count how many copies of an author’s books each library has on the shelves. In Canada, only Canadian authors are compensated. In other countries, other policies may apply.

The money isn’t huge, and there’s a maximum payment cap for each author. According to the Canadian government’s web site, payments run from $50 to $4000. Still it’s a nice gesture, and the cheque always brightens up my February.

(By the way, if you’re an author, it’s worth checking to see if your country has PLR. The U.S. doesn’t, but many other countries do. Once you register, you’ll get a bit of money every year, with almost no work on your part.)

Sharing: February 18, 2019

A rundown of what I’ve been up to recently.

What I’m Reading: The Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. They’re fun middle-grade books about the demigod children of deities in the Greek pantheon. Percy Jackson is sometimes painfully slow on the uptake—I’m on Book 3 (The Titan’s Curse) and he still hasn’t got it through his head that EVERYTHING HE ENCOUNTERS IS SUPERNATURAL…but because these are middle-grade books, I’ll cut him some slack.

What I’m Listening To: Audio versions of the Goddess Wars books by Kendare Blake. You might consider these a dark YA counterpart to Percy Jackson. These books too feature characters from Greek mythology, including gods and heroes, but in a much grittier context. Gods are slowly dying in horrific ways, and those who still survive are at war each other. Interesting but nasty.

What I’m Playing on the Tabletop: One reason I’m reading the above books is because I’m running a campaign of Scion (Second Edition) from Onyx Path. Players portray the half-human/half-divine children of gods; our group includes children of Thor, Loki, Kali, Lugh, Winonah, and Cheeby-aub-oozoo. This is part of a continuing campaign that’s been going for more than ten years, having spun through multiple game systems including D&D, Ashen Stars, Mage: The Awakening, and more.

I’m also part of a group play-testing a tabletop RPG that I can’t talk about. Maybe eventually…

What I’m Playing on the Computer: Sunless Skies, a game where you fly a Victorian locomotive through otherworldly landscapes. I’ve reached the point where I don’t die too often, and therefore can follow the story-threads of my crew. It’s an odd but compelling little game. I got it on Steam.

What I’m Writing: The novel I’m calling PROJECT TECH-BRO, and a short story for an anthology that will be published in 2020. I will definitely say more about these in the fullness of time…but not yet.

“Friends” in SPAAAACCCCE!

The Bundoran Buddies Bundle offer ends soon, so if you haven’t already grabbed it, snap it up fast! In the meantime, let me talk about one more story in Organisms, my contribution to the bundle.

John Joseph Adams is a great editor who currently heads up Lightspeed magazine and Nightmare. He has also edited a number of story anthologies, including Federations. He invited me to submit a story to Federations and the result was “The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousness”.

Adams wanted stories dealing with large interstellar societies like the Federation in Star Trek, or the many many empires that are found in a gazillion works of science fiction. When I heard what he was looking for, my mind immediately leapt to the idea of telling a story about such a society itself, not about people living in such a society. The story would be told from the society’s communal viewpoint, ignoring what might happen to any of its citizens. People may come and go, but groups have a life of their own.

So what kind of story could I tell about an interstellar society itself? As the title of my story might suggest, I wrote a sitcom. (Side note: the episodes of the sitcom Friends were never given names on screen, but the scripts were always given titles like “The One Where Ross Got High”, “The One with the Boobies”, and so on.) So my story, “The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousness”, is basically a silly sitcom episode, except that the characters are vast societies rather than individuals.

It’s a love story. It ends with a wedding. And the Borg.

Sharing: Booklife

For the past week, I’ve been reading Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer. I’ve been aware of this book for quite some time—it was published in 2009—but I didn’t get around to reading it until now.

I deeply wish I’d read it earlier. It’s full of so much valuable advice on managing a writing career, it would have helped me immensely with things like PR, career planning, time management, maintaining one’s sanity, and much more. It’s already spurred me to tweak my writing process in several useful ways, and it will certainly inform my future publicity activities.

Even though it’s now a decade old, the book is hardly dated at all. Partly that’s because the writing life hasn’t changed as much as you might think in the past ten years. Some of the balance has changed—MySpace has sunk while Twitter has risen—but the issues are still the same.

What’s a good use of your time and resources? What isn’t? How should you think about interacting with the public, no matter how you end up doing it? Those are the types of questions that Vandermeer looks at. They’re important and relevant to whatever media ecosystems exist now or in the future. Specific details will change, of course, but if you think things through systematically, you can cope with whatever comes along.

So I strongly recommend Booklife to anyone who’s thinking of a writing career. It’s not a how-to-write book, although it includes some useful tips and references. It’s a how-to-handle-a-writing-career book…and as I said, I wish I’d read it a whole lot sooner.