It’s my birthday next week. I’ve been trying to think of what I want to do. I have an offer to go see a live performance in Raleigh and it would be fun but it isn’t something I thought of myself. I tend to think of birthdays as days best spent in purely egocentric pursuits. They are, after all, all about one’s self.

I was telling deadblob that I want to go to an arcade.

I want to go to an arcade of our youth, though. I want to go back in time to Space Port at Blue Ridge Mall: shitty little Blue Ridge Mall, that now has nothing in it but a Kmart and a JC Penney and an incongruously opulent Belk next to the corpse of a Sears, and a police substation where Space Port used to be. I want to go plunk tokens into games in the dark, in a place my parents have told me is a waste of time, with games I do not even begin to comprehend and people I do not know.

I tried to go take pictures of Blue Ridge Mall last year when I was in Hendersonville for my 20 year high school reunion but they came out blurry and depressing and I never posted them anywhere. The notion of an indoor shopping mall in Hendersonville of all places was so novel when I was a child. I recall the Kmart opened first, before the rest of the mall was finished, and people went to the Kmart just so they could stare down the darkened concourse at that unfinished space and fill it up with whatever they hoped it would be. The Kmart is still there but the rest of the mall has been turned into something like a beige snowscape: an arctic horizon in a blizzard, all depth perception gone, all sense of direction lost, all hope gone with it. The Kmart has somehow managed to serve as both midwife and psychopomp to a generation – two – of economic turnover. It delivered what seemed a death blow to Hendersonville’s downtown but now Main Street is more alive than ever.

It isn’t only people who have their Saturn’s Return.

Anyway, yeah, I kind of want to go to an arcade. Maybe I want to go bowling? I dunno. Maybe I’ll just go for a hike.

Heavens. I can’t believe I let this sit for 10 months. A quick run-down of the things that have happened since my last update:

  • I won the 2012 Laine Cunningham Novel Award from The Blotter with my novel Perishables. It’s three connected stories about various experiences of a zombie apocalypse. In one of them, a vampire is at a meeting of his homeowners’ association when the dead rise. It’s a little silly and a little funny and a little serious and it has terrible recipes in it.
  • I published Perishables via Smashwords and Kindle and then decided to edit and publish the sequel, called Tooth & Nail. It’s built on a heavily edited NaNoWriMo I did some years ago about the same vampire.
  • I worked the partisan primary runoff election and my staff never mentioned the O’Keefe video. I’m sure they had seen it, but no one brought it up. I was intensely grateful.
  • I worked the general election in November. Jesus H. Christ on a platinum surfboard, what a day. I’ve never been so busy. It was busier than the partisan primary but the county gave me lots of staff and we all survived. There were partisan observers from both major parties in my precinct but they were very kind to me and to one another. Again, I’m sure lots of those people had seen the video but no one said anything. I was at least ten times as grateful because I had plenty more to think about that day. I also passed the election without any major run-ins with campaigners though I did have a couple of really amusing conversations with them.
  • I spent much of last autumn thinking about Tooth & Nail while I did a few promotional activities for Perishables: interviews on blogs and podcasts, for instance, and a few Google Hangouts with a group devoted to zombie fiction fandom. It was nice, after all the stupid bullshit of a year ago, to have a fictional world in which I could curl up and forget reality.
  • I ran my first 5K fun-run last October and my friend who is 6’7″ and ex-Army Airborne had trouble keeping up with me.
  • I spent November, December and January editing Tooth & Nail and dealing with my next-to-last class in the graduate certificate program I’ve been pursuing. I was kind of a stress ball.
  • I’ve spent the spring semester dealing with my last class and I still am kind of a stress ball.
  • I tried to play in two games of Call of Cthulhu at Dragon*Con last year, both of which were disastrous busts. I ended up running a one-shot for the Scourge of Nibelheim (aka “the Vampire group”) a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it but it ran too long and I didn’t get to include like half the stuff I came up with for it because I am just terrible at managing a game and remembering, you know, the poignant bits.
  • I had Shadowrun pretty much ruined for me, and for all my friends, by one really terrible game of it at Dragon*Con. Way to stay classy, totally-separate-and-self-isolating-and-aggressively-dickishly-insular Shadowrun Dragon*Con gaming track.
  • I ran my first timed 5K a few weeks ago and on a cloudy, rainy morning of running uphill at ~40F I clocked in at 25:13.6, 7th out of 46. I am extremely happy with that!
  • I’ve learned to love Twitter. Seriously, I used to say it was the diametric opposite of what I wanted the Internet to grow up to be but it is pretty great.
  • I gave a five-minute lightning talk at the #cc10 get-together celebrating 10 years of Creative Commons:

  • I’m approximately two years behind on reading comics. I plan to catch up as soon as I finish this graduate certificate program next month.
  • I’ve been asked to contribute a short story to an anthology built around the theme of “invasion” and am currently mulling some ideas. I am super-excited!
  • I attended my twenty year high school reunion and survived it and even reconnected majorly with some really wonderful people I knew back in the day. Facebook and life in general have gotten a lot more entertaining as a result.
  • I’ve joined a queer softball league.
  • I’m going to be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte the weekend of 5/31 through 6/2!
  • I want the word “marriage” and I want to win the Supreme Court cases, absolutely, but I am also a little bit afraid that the queer communities will be divided into “normals” and “freaks” if we win and that the Right will use our victory as an opportunity to draw a line between those of us who are already primed for idle conformity: relatively moneyed, adhering more closely to rigid gender roles and identities, white, middle-class, “safe”. It will be vital, if we win this, to remember that it still must be okay to be different. Difference is what has given us the culture we create and celebrate together and difference has given us the advantages we are afforded by outsider status in the larger culture around us. We must continue to value people who have different families, different identities, different relationships (or none at all), different goals, different priorities and different beliefs. We do not all have to settle down into quiet, monogamous, dom/sub, top/bottom dichotomies defined by doggy day care and dinner parties. We have to stay freaks somehow.
  • My house is ruled by my cats and sometimes I find that really frustrating but mostly I am thrilled beyond measure at their benevolent dictatorship.
  • I’ve been watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 while at the gym and it is really fucking good.
  • Last year I skipped NaNoWriMo – what would have been my tenth – to focus on editing Tooth & Nail. This summer I’m doing My Own Private NaNo to work on the first draft of a science fiction novel, the setting for which was developed in a two-session game of Microscope played by Scourge of Nibelheim.
  • We tried Fiasco this year and it is so. Freaking. Fun.
  • I bought a new camera – an Olympus – and I loooooove it.

Is that everything? I think that’s everything. A year of blogging in a single post. Heavens, indeed.

On Sunday I wrapped up the last chapter of a short, four session chronicle of Vampire: the Masquerade using the new 20th Anniversary “V20” edition. It feels so good to run a game and have it finish. That sounds silly, probably, but to see a narrative reach its conclusion and everyone close the book on it together is so incredibly satisfying. It’s a sense of accomplishment in which I’ve been basking non-stop ever since – and yet, here I am, still high on the sense of success from my V20 game (no one died and the players didn’t revolt so I’m putting a mark in the “win” column) and already I have only one thought: what’s next?

Record Scratch…

Wait, has it really been twenty years since Vampire hit the scene? I haven’t been playing Vampire for the full twenty years but I have been playing it for fifteen. Fifteen years ago I sat down with a few members of my fraternity and made my first VtM character after complaining that D&D was fun but I constantly found myself wishing my character could just pull a gun and start shooting.

One fae-obsessed Malkavian neonate later, I had what I wanted and I never looked back.

For the intervening decade and a half I’ve been in two gaming groups with overlapping memberships, known colloquially as “the vampire group” and “the D&D group”. The former has actually played a wide variety of systems and settings and games, not just Vampire: Trinity, Exalted, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, Pathfinder, Palladium Fantasy, Aberrant, Mage, Changeling, Kindred of the East, non-Werewolf-but-still-WoD shapeshifters (Judge Fang! ♥), Vampire: the Dark Ages, Vampire: the Requiem, Vampire: the Dark Ages fast-forwarded to modern day and any other combination of World of Darkness systems and settings we could possibly put together. We’ve also swapped around player and GM roles, traded people and characters in and out with wild abandon (including roping in members of the D&D group from time to time) and scheduled games of Vampire to start at 11:00 AM on Sundays because the bells of the church across the street made for a deliciously ironic way to call the game to order.

The D&D group has always played D&D and always will and that is completely OK. Our D&D group is happy playing D&D and so am I. I’m not happy just playing D&D, though, and neither is anyone in the vampire group. That’s why we keep branching out into something different and swapping roles and trailing off mid-chronicle to try something new: we’re curious, restless, fickle people and the only cure for boredom is the new.

Opportunity Knocks

It just happens that a gaming blog to which I am completely addicted, Gnome Stew, is running a New Year, New Game contest. That’s all the excuse I need. As soon as I read the post about it I realized that I had the excuse I needed to run a game of Third Eye Games‘ excellent-looking Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. It’s all zany action and crazy apocalypse stuff and the creator of the game is very explicit when discussing it that he draws on White Wolf’s World of Darkness games as one of his influences. Whereas WoD sometimes tries really hard to make the player feel bad about their character, however, API seems to have “fun first” as its conceptual foundation. It’s meant to be a little funny. It’s meant to be a lot of fun. It’s meant to be over-the-top and silly and at the same time it’s meant to be scary and horrifying, too. It’s all the things I love about a lot of different games and shows and ideas: Buffy mashed up with X-Files and John Woo and China MiĆ©ville’s Kraken and some Good Omens and a dash of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. It reminds me of the crazy good times that group has had in our most memorable, most reminisced-about games: Pants Wilder’s “Seattle by Lava Lamp” and C’s Trinity game are two that leap to mind. Those were games in which we, as players, were rewarded for being creative. I want again to nourish and produce that sense of wondrous delight at toys of our own making and I think one of the keys will be to engage what hunger everyone in that group already knows we all feel: the need for new.

Running a game of API is going to require a lot of preparation, though. I envision this as third-rate globe-hopping adventure: being sent to Cleveland instead of Malibu to cap a demon with distinctly bargain-basement desires; at least, that’s how it starts. If I’m going to run a short game of API – I’m a big fan of limited series and short campaigns – then I’m going to need two or three really evocative locations in one or two cities that are not exactly vacation destinations and at least one setting for a big-finish set piece. The exotic, in the world of API, is as often found in a grimy, shadowed alley as it is anywhere else. I want to preserve that sense of the gritty and faded, of encroaching entropy, that the World of Darkness so effectively presents. I want the mood to be one of fighting to save a world that could, when all is said and done, use a good washing up.

The Big Problems

There are a lot of challenges to this idea, though, and I’m pretty sure they’re challenges faced by many gaming groups if not most:

  • We had a lot more time on our hands ten years ago than any of us does now. We’ve got careers, mortgages, trash to take out, cats to feed, work to do. A couple of us even have schoolwork, still, on top of all the petty water-carrying required to maintain a pretense of adulthood. Players may not have the time or desire to read and absorb an entirely new game system, especially not for a short game.
  • That Vampire game I just ran? It was about people madly obsessed with an apocalypse and all the stupid/crazy things they do to make it happen or try to avoid it and both the final combat boss and the off-screen figure manipulating the party to arrange events in a certain way were obsessed with that apocalypse. So, yeah, I know, why don’t I run a game about people trying to stop apocalypses? Er…
  • API might feel too much like White Wolf’s World of Darkness. There’s an argument to be made that there’s no reason not to run a WoD game instead, especially since they already have characters created and one of the players said just yesterday that he hopes we come back to them. It’s possible that the most practical option would be to come back to what we’ve got in a few months rather than yet again reinvent the wheel. The main advantages of API are (a) its unbelievably diverse array of possible characters and (b) the fun of trying a new system. WoD isn’t exactly lacking in options, however, and I have always had a strict “play whatever you want” policy when running games; as to new systems, see problem #1 above.
  • Someone else might want to run a game! I’ve heard murmurs from other players about other games they’re interested in trying, especially Mouse Guard and the E6 variant of D&D. The very little I’ve read or heard about them has me very intrigued as a player!
  • I’m in my second semester of grad school. Yikes! Am I crazy?

Medium-Sized Solutions

There are ways I can imagine to try to address those concerns. Some of them probably need a lot of work and no plan is ever perfect, but I’m going to give it a whirl:

  • One of the best solutions to the time issue is just that: short-term, limited-run games. Our most memorable campaigns have felt open-ended but had defined victory conditions that, when met, meant the story had come to a natural conclusion. The V20 game was an experiment in shortening that to just a few sessions instead of a year or two and it seemed to work reasonably well. The last session ran long and I did a terrible job of explaining why certain things had happened behind the scenes but it was fun and it worked and I never felt like anyone at the table hated me for wasting their time. Those are the real victory conditions for any game: a fun, worthwhile way to invest a few hours. Viewing that time as just that – an investment – is key. I worked to set hard start and end times for each session as a way to respect that all of us have stuff to do. Only with the final session did I fail to stay within my boundaries but that’s at least in part because I also failed in the first place to set them for that session.
  • One big difference between “the apocalypse” in API, in contrast to most games, is that there are many apocalypses. This is where some of it reminds me of MiĆ©ville’s Kraken, actually. The eponymous investigative organization in this game isn’t trying to stop an apocalypse, it’s constantly trying to uncover and defuse new ones. In many of our games there’s an overarching narrative of stopping the end of the world or otherwise overthrowing a specific power structure to establish our own. In the Vampire game, much of the plot was driven by trying to stamp out a specific aberration of the normal order – an obsessed Salubri antitribu who believed a specific spontaneous revenant was the key to preventing Gehenna – and an assumption that dealing with those factors would resolve the situation more or less permanently. Getting there required learning what it was the various NPCs wanted and finding out their relationships. In API, characters and players know from the get-go what the story is about. Also, having the day-to-day of the company be the prevention of the apocalypse opens up the idea that the exceptional series of events – and every good game tells a story that is somehow outside the bounds of the expected or the known – is about something else.
  • One big advantage of going with API is that the tremendous diversity of player options for characters is built in and I have access to the books such that I can lend them to players. No one will need to spend money on new books and no one will need to do more than the degree of reading up on the various character species than they would if they decided to try on a new flavor of White Wolf character for a White Wolf game. On the other hand, figuring that stuff out and getting to flip through new books is sometimes half the fun of a new character.
  • I’m going to stay mum about my new game idea (except for this post and a few conversations and – OK, no I’m not, but neither will I hammer away at it) and give others the chance to suggest something. If no one else does, I’ll bring up Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. If anyone else suggests something first then I will respect our group’s give-and-take dynamic and shelve this idea until the autumn.
  • Grad school is a huge time sink, it turns out. Not only that, but I’m also playing SWTOR a little here and there. YOWZA! It’s like I want to fail! That said, I successfully juggled the huge group project phase of my Autumn 2011 class with D&D and National Novel Writing Month, so surely I can manage doing nothing more than prep work and planning during the spring semester, right? If I do run this game this year then I will schedule it for the summer and that will relieve me of a lot of the pressure.

All those sound good, but there will undoubtedly be things that crop up that I can’t anticipate. It may be that no one else shows any interest whatsoever, in which case I’ll tuck this away and come back to it at a later time. Even if the group doesn’t bite, the “New Year, New Game” challenge is a great way to reinvigorate my interest in running games and to get groups like mine to come up with strategies for continuing to enjoy a favorite way for us to spend time together.

This post was written for the first annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2012 New Year, New Game challenge and, for it, I have blatantly ripped off elements of what I think of as the Gnome Stew style.

This post is about some of what made 2011 so goddamned terrible and the things that have happened just today, out of nowhere, to heal over some of that.

In a lot of ways, 2011 was a big bag of suck.

Several years ago I wrote two short stories about zombies. One is about a vampire who’s at a meeting of his HOA when zombies attack and the other is about a woman who feels out of place in a tiny religious school when the dead rise. There were problems with each story and I had only done the first draft of either of them but I liked the concepts and I would occasionally get email from someone who had read them and wanted to know if there would be a third. Instead, last year I sold them to someone who wanted to include them in an anthology with a really clever connecting thematic thread only to have the publication of that anthology fall apart.

There was also the small matter of getting mugged, an event which still resonates in my daily life. Stupid, I know. There are people who get mugged all the time. There are people who live in places where muggings are just a fact of life. There are people who get mugged and instead of simply having a few things taken from them they are hurt or killed. I know, I need to stop throwing a pity party or firing up the inner mosh pit every time I think or talk about it, but it’s still there, still weird and freaky to think about, still making me jump out of my skin every time I’m surprised or caught off-guard or walk into Target and see someone of the same approximate morphology as any of my muggers. As noted in that post, a particular regret was that they had taken my last Russian money – a 500 ruble bill from my trip to Russia with KJ nearly twenty years ago. KJ sent me a card later in the year, around our birthdays, that contained a coin for fifty rubles. It is my new Russian money and I cherish it.

There were plenty of things to bitch about regarding last year. I could whinge about 2011 for hours but instead I will simply say that it was the worst year I’ve had since my cousin Chris died, which was the worst year I’d had since my sister Mona died, which was the worst year I’ve ever had. 2011 was #3 out of all 37 if ranked in descending order from worst to best, hands down, and I’m someone who dropped out of college three times, survived the tech bubble and spent a few years as a problem drinker.

There were two major good things that happened: I lost 100 pounds and I got an A in my first class in grad school. There were other good things that happened – excellent gaming experiences at Dragon*Con and my trip to Columbia, SC, to visit high school friends spring to mind – but the highs were few and far between. I just have to be honest about that. One of the things that wore me down more and more as the year went on was how much work it seemed to take to get anything good out of life. Losing weight was a tremendous amount of effort and I’m having to maintain that regimen of exercise and diet to maintain the weight loss even now, months after hitting my target weight and figuring out how to stay there. My grad school class took many hours of study and work, including one night when I essentially missed one of my closest friends’ housewarming party because MS Word used curly single-quotes and Firefox preserved them when pasting commands into a MySQL interface and I couldn’t figure out why my queries wouldn’t run and they were due the next day. I won a major victory at work but it took months of campaigning and cajoling and lining up all the pieces in exactly the right pattern to convince someone powerful of the thing I needed them to acknowledge. Every victory was exhausting last year and I had become convinced that the only joy in life is that which we make for ourselves; that tragedy is prone to walk in the door any fucking time it feels like it but that happiness was prey we must chase or abandon.

Today, though! Today has helped.

For one thing, I started work on the third of the zombie stories. It, combined with the other two, could make for a nifty little novella. The would-be editor of that anthology knows that I have withdrawn my stories to use for another project and I’m going to use them by combining the three into a work that I can release on Kindle. Why not, right? The only way to guarantee that I never sell a book to anyone else in my whole life is never to try.

Another great goodness is that I found a long-forgotten cache of ruble bills. Now I get to have the 50 ruble coin from KJ on my altar at home – the space where I put the things I really value – and carry a bill with me as well. Finding those bills was like winning the lottery. I teared up a little as soon as I realized what they were.

Last, when organizing some papers on my desk at home I randomly discovered the schedule from my gaming sessions at Dragon*Con. My major regret from Dragon*Con was that I hadn’t gotten the email addresses of any of the other players or of any of my DMs and I had wanted to thank the DMs for running great games. I went into Dragon*Con just terrified of gaming with strangers and had nothing but incredibly positive experiences. The schedule made it easy for me to track down the DMs on Facebook and lo, the best of them – the guy whose one-shot was so good that the next day I realized what I was planning to do during the next session even though I knew that session would never occur – has an old friend of mine from high school as one of our mutual friends. All of a sudden I had the chance to say thank you.

So, I did.

And now I’m grateful that it’s 2012; that there can be moments of unexpected good in life; that the construct of a calendrical year gives us the chance to compartmentalize the past and move on when we need it; that there is more Russian money in my house; that I can still make myself smile when a story idea occurs to me; and that I got to tell a DM he did a great job.

Ugh! I just realized I forgot to post a Hyaku last week. I was “ops” at work last week, and am again this week, which means that in addition to all the regular stuff I also have to answer the phones, deal with incoming tickets, handle copyright, blah blah blah, and I simply forgot. I’m much likelier to write it this week, out of embarrassment. Interesting side note: when you regularly use a Japanese word on your blog, you get a ton of spam out of nowhere.

In the meantime, I’m contemplating starting a new blog to summarize our ongoing D&D campaign from the perspective of my Thri-Kreen Ranger. It’s a lot of fun playing him – extremely low Charisma score so I play him as being extremely shy, socially awkward and halting in his speech. The Charisma penalty is largely the result of being an ant-man with a voice that sounds like a shrieky cricket on helium, but I have zero desire to force my friends to endure that. Instead, I play it as being the consequence of living among races that don’t use scent and antennae to augment verbal communications and the body language of which is all wrong. He’s got a Wisdom bonus, though, and he tends to be fairly thoughtful if a bit quick on the trigger when it comes time to fight, so I would enjoy writing down his perspective. Thri-Kreen don’t sleep, which leaves him lots of time to occupy his own self while everyone else stretches out and plays dead for eight hours. He finds sleep the creepiest and freakiest of all the things that make friends different from him.

If I do start it, that will mean that I have kind of a lot of writing projects going:

  • editing/rewriting my Machine of Death 2 submission
  • waiting to hear back from my two submissions for the anthology of zombie stories + post-apocalyptic recipes (I was rather proud of my recipes if I do say so myself)
  • contemplating a second Machine of Death 2 submission
  • writing a 100-word hyaku every week for this site
  • writing for Pink Kryptonite
  • debating what to write for NaNoWriMo in November (gay-teen-sleuth-adventure vs. sleazy-gay-real-estate-agent-noir)
  • collecting story ideas for a possible short-run (four or five sessions) game of Vampire: the Masquerade late this year or early next
  • collecting story ideas for a possible Call of Cthulhu one-shot this fall

That’s kind of a lot of writing to have floating around in my head even if I don’t exactly have to put pen to paper every day. It’s good, though, to have that much going on. I have an attention span best measured in microns, so having lots of possibilities makes it more likely I’ll act on one of them. I was considering trying to do Camp NaNoWriMo this summer, which would mean doing, effectively, two NaNos this year, but good grief. I have to walk and sleep and play videogames sometime.

Speaking of videogames, I have officially retitled Fallout: New Vegas, as I experience it, to Fallout: A Game About Hunting And Killing Legionnaires. I keep shooting fake Romans in the head with a modified Laser Rifle and it keeps not getting old. I’ve been doing this for months and there’s no end in sight.

Overheard as characters attempt to escape an ill-considered attack:

Red: “I could mount you, Yuri.”
Yuri: “Well, I’m Medium and you’re Small…”
Red: “See? I could totally mount you.”
Yuri: “You’d need an exotic saddle, though, because I’m a non-standard mount.”
Red: “Oh, I’d ride you bareback.”
The Boyf: “Jeez! Buy him dinner first!”

Of the high-larious, WoW-related sort.

“Is he asking for drugs?”

Last night we had katastrophes, Mr. Pink Eyes and Pants Wilder over to play Hordes and SPANC. Katastrophes and I traded some files back and forth, laptop-wise, over glasses of wine while she, The Boyf and I watched an episode of Dollhouse, about which I don’t have much of an opinion other than that I would watch more but don’t feel compelled to do so. In theory they were playing at our place so I could decide whether to get involved in Hordes, too, but I didn’t get it together to go watch them as their armies marched across the kitchen table in half-inch increments. It looks really interesting but then I remember that the most interesting thing to me about any RPG has always been the narrative possibilities and never the mechanics and a tabletop miniatures game is nothing but mechanics, isn’t it? So, we’ll see.

After they were done, The Boyf, Mr. Pink Eyes and Pants Wilder and I tried out SPANC: Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls, an extremely enjoyable and silly card-and-dice game from Steve Jackson Games, makers of such other awesome titles as Munchkin and Ninja Burger. The main “story” of SPANC is that every player controls a crew of four catgirl pirates who have different stats and the players take turns trying to overcome four sequential, random challenges – a simple dice-roll compared to a stat on a card – to complete a given caper. Points are gathered over the course of each caper with a goal of playing enough capers to collect a certain winning number of points. So, once cards are dealt and sorted and laid out as one wishes, it really is basically a very fast game of making a couple of die rolls and handing them off to the next person, rotating around the table in that way and giggling at the scenarios described by each Challenge card.

Initially, trying to read the instructions, it seemed like it was going to be really complicated. However, we leapt right in and found that it was actually very simple and very fast-paced. I accidentally rules-refereed the whole thing which always makes me feel a little weird but in order to understand the rules for something I have to be very explicit and communicative about everything to feel sure of anything regarding how a game works.

Everyone else seemed to enjoy it and I really dug it. It’s very easy to play and it only took a few capers for me to understand the way it worked which is a pretty major hallmark of simplicity. (As a counter-example, I never really knew what I was doing in AD&D2E after years of playing it.) I enjoyed it enough that I spent part of this morning trying to figure out if there had ever been an expansion for it which, sadly, there has not.

All of this makes me want even more for one of us to host a gaming night. I would love to play this again and I know Steve & Sarah are into card games and there is always the haunting, distant cry of Arkham Horror, which katastrophes spotted the last time we were both at Sci-Fi Genre.

I’m getting prepped to run my first game of White Wolf’s Vampire in… eight years? Ten? Something like that, anyway, as the last game I ran was the Dark Ages game and was played at Dixie Lane. I ran a short intro to a long-running, rotating D&D game after that and a one shot here and there but this is the first time in basically a decade since I’ve sat down with the real world and the World of Darkness and picked a place where I wanted them to overlap.

The new game is to be set in Nashville. After making a few off-hand remarks to my players, things such as “oh, let’s say Elysium is in the basement of a church around the corner from the Ryman Auditorium,” and, later, “I’ll go ahead and say the church has a pretty serious homeless outreach mission so there’s a steady supply of mortals around,” things like that, I hit the Googles to do some research and I pinged KJ for some suggestions.

Here is what I have learned: planning a World of Darkness game in the era of Google Maps is a completely different experience from what it was ten years ago.

KJ suggested a specific bar, The Red Door, as a good game location. A little searching and mapping later, I’d found out that if I typed ‘bar’ into the ‘search nearby’ box I got little arcs following the general curve of the city in those areas so, tah-dah, I had defined The Rack for Nashville’s undead inhabitants. Some zooming and street view and ‘search nearby’ turned up a church that is around the corner from the Ryman with an extensive outreach mission for homeless and borderline people in Nashville. I turned up a cemetery with public Masonic rituals for The Boyf to research towards his Masonic character. Katastrophes identified a specific historic plantation as the place where her character worked as a reenactor. I was able to send Mr. Pink Eyes a link to a fansite for Opryland USA that had a map, pictures and video of the rides in action when the park was still open. Katastrophes made a Google Calendar for us to schedule games and Mr. Pink Eyes made a Google Map we can all edit with all the places we’ve identified thus far as major landmarks or important to the game and the characters. Bascha is writing her character background in Google Docs so I can read it right away when she’s done. I put up an in-game blog with links to everything and Steven has commented on it in-character using his character’s shiny new Gmail address.

I’ve now seen ground-level, from-the-sidewalk pictures of basically every place I know is immediately important at the start of the game.

This beats the shit out of a big pile of notes on paper I would have to keep track of for the next year.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 1 is hell of fun if you like adventure games and RPGs. I’ve only played it for about an hour but that seems to be the two genres it most heavily samples in producing its unique mix. The art is eye-poppingly bright, the cel-shaded look gives everything the enthusiasm and fun of a cartoon and the writing thus far is very good. It’s a joyous thing to play. It’s not crazy complicated; it’s fun, which is what I’m told games are meant to be.

36,530 words. I had 37,000 as today’s goal but I ended after a chapter I really enjoyed writing and decided it was better to stop there than squeeze out 500 words I might not enjoy or that might keep me writing past the start of tonight’s Karazhan raid.

Oh, World of Warcraft, my dark tempter.

The lesson I have to re-learn every year: Cup a Joe’s on Hillsborough Street is a never-ending freak show where no one has any respect for personal space. Also, I aged seventy five years in a moment when my first thought upon seeing the hottie barrista with his jeans sagging down was, He should pull his pants up.

This post is going to stand a chance only with those people who have gamed with me and even then most likely only the half-dozen or so folks from one specific game. Take that, general public.

This weekend I wrote the background for my next D&D character, Jonathan Vaz. For folks who knew him, this is the adopted human brother of my old character, Leeritan Vaz. I’ve retooled and fleshed out some of his back story and come up with a way for Jonathan to turn out to be a Tiefling. I know, I know, but here is the thing: I am addicted to playing enormous freaks.

If for some reason you don’t know anything about Faerun or Thay or Tieflings and you’re still reading, a brief primer: Thay is a nation ruled by aggressive and malicious wizards who worship Kossuth, the god of fire. They are continually trying to invade everyone around them. Lee and the rest of the gang (Dyson, Trover, Pele, El, Abdul, etc.) were in Thay to rescue El and Pele and in the process rescued two “human” street urchins. As an act of contrition for using fire magic (Lee is a druid of Meilikki), Lee took them to be adopted by his parents and give them a better life in Amn. Lee’s parents live in Athkatla, the capital of Amn, a city in which arcane magic is borderline taboo due to a long history of evil wizards trying to blow up the place. If you’ve played Baldur’s Gate II then you’ve spent a lot of time in Athkatla, actually.

In considering Jonathan as a character, I couldn’t decide whether Jonathan was going to be a Warlock or a Hexblade. Eventually I decided he’s to be a Hexblade (with a few Rogue levels as they make everything tastier) because I have spent years wanting to play a Hexblade and his sister will be the Warlock. That makes his incredibly kind, good-natured elven parents, who really are just ordinary merchants living in a human city, the proud parents of a sarcastic and destructive Druid/Rogue (Leeritan), a tiefling Hexblade/Rogue (Jonathan) and a tiefling Warlock/Rogue.

This is a family that has one very interesting Midwinter feast when they all get together.

At 5:30am on a Sunday, all activities are specialized activities. No one is just up and about for the sake of being up and about. I played blackjack at Katastrophes’ and Mr. Pink Eyes’ place last night, rustled Pants Wilder and The Boyf into the car around 3:30am and drove them home; The Boyf started a pot of coffee for me when we arrived at 4am and then trundled off to bed. At 5:10 I took a shower and changed clothes and at 5:30 I was driving down 55 wondering if the other cars were people up early or up late and further wondering which would apply to me.

I hit the Bojangles drive-through and noticed something interesting: every other vehicle in their parking lot was a truck pulling a fishing boat.

Every single one.

A chicken biscuit and a large Diet Coke later, I was noticing that there was no one else on 54 West as I headed towards Target. I pulled up in their parking lot by 5:50 and thus was there just in time for the morning shift folks to start pulling up and the night stockers to start heading out. I sat in the car and played Gameboy and smoked a cigarette and watched the sky start to get purple around the eastern edge.

At 6:00am a guy who looked completely cracked out strolled up to the doors of Target, pulled out an aqua-green Gameboy and sat down on the ground. I got out of my car and walked over near him and did the same. “Oh, I guess you’re #1 in line,” he said. “I saw you parked over there when I came in and wondered if you were here for a Wii.”

“Yep,” I nodded. I’d had coffee and now soda but I was feeling the pull of the long night. “I can’t believe I’m here this early. I went to a party last night and I’ve not slept.”

“Me neither,” he said. “I went to a party and just stayed up.” We chatted briefly, then a friend or roommate or something of his showed up and joined us.

“I don’t want a Wii,” the friend said. “I’m just here for moral support.”

A few minutes after, a middle-aged dumpy guy rolled up in a pick-up. He was there to buy one for his son’s college graduation present. A man and his twelve-year-old daughter showed up shortly after. Then a woman in her 50’s who expressed stunned surprise that she was doing this to get a video game system for her 20-year-old son. Then a guy and a girl in their pajamas. Then a woman who said her boyfriend couldn’t believe she was doing this for a videogame. Then a well-dressed young woman whose boyfriend had clearly only shown up with her because he was going to catch hell if he didn’t. Then more people. Then more.

By 8am, when the manager had handed out numbers and we’d formed a more-or-less orderly line, there were sixteen people there to get a Wii and the store had eighteen Wii’s to sell. “Those last two,” the manager said with a shake of his head, “They’ll be gone in thirty minutes.”

Today, by chance, is the release day for some new model of the Xbox 360, somehow fancier than the normal one. “Anyone here for the Xbox?” the manager asked. One guy put up his hand, then looked around and asked of the rest of us, “Am I the only idiot who thought there’d be a line for the Xbox? Shit.” That got a laugh.

“A friend of mine who works at Best Buy said he thought people might be showing up early for it there,” one of my linemates replied.

On my way out of Target I drove past the Best Buy and there were two people in front of it. They were employees.

I got a Wii. I just finished running all the system updates on it. Now I’m going to try some games. When I got home this morning at 8:30, The Boyf called out as I climbed the stairs to our bedroom. “How’d it go?” he asked.

“Success,” I said, “But now I’d like to do that thing where I lay down and close my eyes.”

OK, so the title is a joke only gotten by those who knew the phone number of Compound X. Sue me.

I have a hot tip on a place that’s getting a shipment of Wii’s tomorrow morning. I am going to be there at the crack of dawn to try to get one. I’m trying to get Pants Wilder to go with me. Tonight, however, I’ll be playing cards with Busty O’Lipp to send her off right on her big move to Parts West. I will probably have a couple of cocktails in the process of this. All of this is potentially going to make for an unpleasant experience trying to get a Wii – or will it? I’m not sure that being in line at the crack of dawn to buy a Wii can be made worse by the after-effects of a couple of drinks. I think it might help. Heck, I might take a couple of drinks with me.

Also, The Boyf is off at the store getting the last of what he needs to make salsa and I need to try a red velvet cake recipe. Fingers crossed!

So, this week I’ve been on call for work. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to be on call. Lesson learned: I’m a whiny little man-child. I can’t discuss it – and don’t want to discuss it – in tremendous detail but suffice to say I have had moments of sincere displeasure with my customer base. Having gotten the self-critical lesson out of the way, here are some other lessons to learn:

  • Four in the effing ay of the em is not a good time to tune your IDS signatures. I don’t care that you’re already up for your day and want to do it while it’s fresh on your mind. I have to go to fucking work in five hours and I’ve already been asleep for three. Guess who’s going to have to have the exact signatures you want tuned repeated several times because he’s mostly asleep? Me, that’s who. Also, fuck you for calling.
  • Ten in the evening? Not a great time to call so you can have someone to bitch at about your internal processes. They ain’t mine, jack. They’re yours. I understand the jargon, yes, but I don’t actually care and I can’t change anything. I am an engineer. I am not a therapist. Your need: a therapist.
  • Some of my colleagues are just awesome. There is no better time than five in the morning to hear your 3rd shift co-worker say, “OK, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to make sure you do not have to talk to this person. Don’t worry about it.” Then, they do that. It’s really, really amazing. At LastJob there was a lot of fire-and-forget with other people’s problems.

Also, Guitar Hero II: great game or greatest game? On the downside, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a Cheap Trick song stuck in my head and I’m not really ready to revisit those years. Happily, I discovered that my usual antidote – the chorus to Rufus Wainwright’s 11:11 – works even against Surrender. I should write him a letter to thank him.

What in the hell is Surrender about, anyway? Old KISS records? Is the point of this song really that Mommy & Daddy are “alright?” Is this Cheap Trick singing a song about how one’s parents are hip in their own way and one should get over it? Oh, wait, it’s Cheap Trick. They are our parents. Because these are the interwebs I even checked Wikipedia for them and, sure enough, there they are. Upcoming dates: a casino in Lincoln, RI. Honest to the gods, if they came here I’d go see them. I don’t care whether that’s shameful or ironic or whatever.

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