Post 110 – Audio blog!

I audioblog now! You can hear Episode 1 at Soundcloud:

http://soundcloud.com/john-adamus/episode-1-why-im-not-blogging

Yes, it’s not perfect, but I wasn’t trying for perfect. I just wanted to see if I could do it, and I did. Go me!

There will be other audio posts…because frankly, the hardest part there was downloading the Audacity software to record it. I already had the mic and headset and all the encoders. Like so many other things, this was something I had been putting off for a variety of reasons (read: excuses and fear), but I’m so glad I did it. (hashtag – pride)

If you want me to do more, leave a comment (either here or there). If you want me to go back to just text, say so.

You’re awesome, and I hope you had a great weekend.

Happy writing.

Weekend Post: Stray Thoughts

I’m writing this just after enjoying some psuedo-eggplant parm (which is grilled eggplant with tomatoes, roasted garlic and large disks of mozzarella cheese). I’m not sure whether I’ve slipped into a food coma (that meal WAS SO GOOD YOU GUYS) or whether I’m coming down with a cold or something but my thoughts seem to be both a little foggy and a little scattered.

So what better time to blog?

1. A Thought That Has Very Little To Do With Writing Or Games – If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you’re no stranger to the details of my battles with depression and anxiety. (Don’t worry, things on that front are great, the meds work, the treatment helps, all is well) But I’ve recently encountered a new feeling and haven’t yet figured out where/how to sort it out.

I spent years, likely the bulk of my teen and adult life in sort of a fog of illness and depression, and only recently have I really been “awake”. I’m starting to notice and feel a lot of things, most of them good, but I’m also starting to notice that one of the things I still need to work on is being nicer to myself about how I am physically.

The diet’s working, I’m losing weight, I’ve got endurance and calf muscles and energy now, but I feel such pressure to look a certain way, to look fit or muscular as though that’s my only chance to have someone talk to me in a social way, which I know is utter tripe, but that doesn’t make the pressure any less real.

With my BP down, my cholesterol down, my weight down, and my triglycerides down, this shape, this sort of round in the middle shape is the best shape of my life. And sometimes it’s really hard to love that shape. Not in that Lifetime movie sort of way, more like “I’m okay with how I look as I improve myself” way. Tonight I’m especially bothered by it because it’s humid and I’m sweating through shirts left and right.

2. Big Step Taken! If you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you know I’ve been talking for awhile about getting a new computer. We don’t need to talk about how old my current one is (here’s a hint: I upgraded to Windows XP four months after I got it), and I’m not feeling terribly attached to it. It overheats, it shuts off, it crashes. I’m more attached to the ergonomic keyboard – I tend to burn through keyboards quickly – so there’s not much of a heavy heart to see this one go.

I check the shipping information daily (hello obsession) and everything should be here this week. I look forward to have twelve times the RAM, and something like twenty times the hard drive capacity in something smaller and leaner than the subwoofer at my feet.

Why is this a big step? Because this, good readers, is me following through on something. This is the second “something” to get followed through (first was treatment), and while there’s no certificate for owning a top of the line PC, I have to say that this project has been tremendously rewarding and I haven’t even gotten the machine up and running yet. This tells me that if I can follow through now on TWO things of varying life-important sizes, I can get through anything. Like this humidity. Like yet another 750ml of water.

3. Writing! This morning I sat down to write. Words came sluggishly, but they did come, and I admit a few distractions along the way, but for the most part, writing in the absence of anxiety is something I can do. I was worried there for a while that without anxiety I wouldn’t be able to conjure my imagination to be productive, but once I relaxed and let myself be creative (which will likely be a post unto itself), I have to say I enjoyed it.

Okay, enough stray thoughts for now.

Enjoy your weekend.

Adding Aspects to Gumshoe

If you haven’t already read Brian’s blog post about how this started, you should do that, and then come back.

Initially I thought Aspects would be an impossible companion to Gumshoe, like suggesting that onions go well with caramel. But after some thoughts (which I’ll outline), Aspects fit very easily into Gumshoe, if you’re willing to hack Gumshoe a little and make it less about dice or points and more about what-all you need to do to tell the most complete, compelling and investigative story possible.

Aspects are “narrative mechanics” (my term), meaning they allow the story to be told by the player and act as codified rules – the world of the story is influenced by and operates under their consequences (that’s a Fate pun!). Aspects imply and inform on skills – you have an aspect that reinforces or qualifies a skill to help shape the character. This is Fate’s strength.

Gumshoe is already a narrative system, though one that prizes investigation and skill application over the act of storytelling and collaborative narration. Whereas Fate loosens the reins on how the story goes forward, leaving it up to the player to bridge the gap between skills (which are loosely named) and application, Gumshoe very regularly applies targeted skills (Evidence Collection, Bullshit Detector, Reassurance, etc) that  may get either broad or specific use by players.

Where Gumshoe opens the door is through application of Drive and Nationality…those two backstory components that influence what brought the character to the point wherein we “meet” them on the character sheet. How a player determines these elements is similar to how a player determines Aspects…and it is there that we see the mounting point for Aspects on a larger scale.

Going forward, I’m going to make some assumptions here:
1. You’ve got some Gumshoe and Fate knowledge, either playing or running or both.
2. You’re granting me some leeway to let this discussion persist.
3. You’ve got an end goal of telling the best story/game possible, not the ultimate elevation of one system over another for the sake of business or pride or something.

If you replace Nationality/Drive with an Aspect pool, Aspects fit in quite nicely with Gumshoe. There are already point-pools present and point-spending is not a foreign concept to a Gumshoe player. Here we are simply granting additional pools upon which to draw from.

Whereas Brian gave the Fate flavors, I will give the non-Fate flavors here:

A. The Investigative — This pool augments Investigative or General Abilities because it describes a person’s nature in the realm of investigation. This is also called a “Curiousity”, if you’re looking to keep things on par with High Concept and Trouble. “How does my character view the unknown?” is the question here.

B. The Combative — This pool is more for General Abilities but the Interpersonal skills could work here as well, and applies to situations where between two parties the possible outcomes involve knuckle sandwiches and shootouts. If you’re looking for a single-word title, call this pool the “Fuse”, and it answers the question, “When does my character throw down? In what situations?”

C. The Intimate — Again this pool is Interpersonal, but also General or even a little Technical depending on context. This pool answers the question, “How does my character handle things between him/herself and other players?”

Examples of Aspects based on these questions:

A. “The unknown is an invitation to gain power.”
B. “Fighting is the method of idiots”
C. “People are made to be stepped on.”

And just like that, I wrote a cult leading villain.

As Brian suggested, offering refresh is the economy of choice here. As to how many points sit in pools A, B, C, I would suggest no more than 5 apiece to get started, but that is entirely a fluid number. I tested it with 5 apiece (meaning I augmented the standard build in Night’s Black Agents with 15 additional points), but I’m toying with the idea of having 10 points spread across 3 categories.

These Aspect pools don’t trigger refresh by themselves, the story must move narratively and forward to warrant refresh. This is not a case of spend from the Aspect, refresh the Skill, spend Skill, refresh from Aspect ad nauseum, these are designed as possible bridges to granted characters the flexibility of Aspects of their own design under the banner of a skill-oriented Gumshoe experience.

By no means is this idea complete or finalized, these are just the thoughts I’ve had today and written down here for the curious. I’ll revisit this idea more in-depth as time permits.

Recess tomorrow!

So, tomorrow is one of those big circle-it-in-red days for me. Tomorrow is Nerd NYC’s Recess, and I’m running a game: Night’s Black Assassins, which is an Assassin’s Creed-fueled hack of Pelgrane Press’ Night’s Black Agents.

To the best of my knowledge right now, there are no Assassin’s Creed tabletop role-playing games out there. And I’m intimately familiar with Night’s Black Agents, having followed its progress since the early alpha stages (disclosure: I’m also a ‘Spymaster’ for the game and my commentary can be found throughout the book), so this seemed like a pretty seamless hack.

I tested this before at GenCon (in Games on Demand and elsewhere) to HUGE POSITIVE REVIEWS, so tomorrow is yet another field test for what I think is a pretty viable creation.

The game runs tomorrow in the first session (12-4pm) for six seats.

Here’s the Plot:

In the early part of the 1600s, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II was a big fan of the occult, amassing a collection of untold eldritch secrets behind a large stone and metal vault. He sealed the vault with a combination. It’s thought that an Apple of Eden is among the treasures protected there.

To retrieve the Apple, a team of Assassins must travel back, discover the combination and then open the vault in the present day. Who knows what they’ll discover in The Mad King’s Vault.

See you then.

The Writer & Anxiety, Revisited

Some time ago I wrote a post about anxiety and being a writer. I’d like to revisit the topic, now that I’m out of intensive treatment and things have changed.

Yes, things have changed.

I’m happy to report that a great deal of that anxiety, a lot of the fear, insecurity, doubt and panic that drove me to accomplish things and pushed me to act in panicked hurried ways is gone. I don’t think it’s left my body, I think there’s a weird chemical thing I’m only partially aware of, but it’s no longer fueling me day to day.

It’s there, I can feel it in the back of my mind if I probe it objectively, but I have no desire to let it be in charge anymore.

How did I do it? I gave up a month of my life and entered an incredibly deep and structured treatment program that I think would benefit everyone, but I know it’s not logistically possible. Okay I didn’t really give up my life, because I still worked and still communicated with friends, but my focus was only on doing all I had to get better. I realize how fortunate I am to be able to make that decision possible.

What did I learn? I learned that I coped with the world through broken, half-formed tools. I knew the basics, but like a fork missing tines, there was no way I was going to be as fully effective as other people. Sure, in some situations I excelled, but they came at the cost of other situations where I was painfully out of place and out of step.

I won’t bore you with the specific tools, readers, but when you think of the suite of tools you use to form opinions, reactions and decisions – it’s all those things.

Is this code for you ‘you got your head out of your ass’? No, this isn’t John-who-is-sorry, this is different. Previously when I was acting like a jerk for a long period of time and sabotaging whatever I put my hands on, I had no reason other than some sort of odd belief that “that’s just what I do”. That’s gone now, replaced with an answer. It’s an illness, I receive treatment for it, and my patterns of behavior have changed.

Do you expect me to believe that? Previously, this question would enrage me, upsetting me that I wasn’t believed, and would send me racing off to do things to prove-to-you-that-you-can-believe-me, which is just another grandiose way of showing off and acting out: it doesn’t help anything. So it’s not up to me whether or not you believe me, that’s your choice.

How behind are you on work? That’s the funny thing – I’m not. I’m up to date on all projects, and even ahead of the curve on 3 of them (Project 72, Night’s Black Assassins at Recess and panels at Metatopia).

How has work changed? Okay, sit down for this, if you’re not already. I focus on one thing at a time now. I’ll say that again.

I focus on one thing at a time now.

Yeah, I used the F word there. Focus. I has it.

Rather than scatter like buckshot across a dozen things and get each partially done, I’ve learned to focus on on thing at a time, for an appropriate amount of time and move on when completed. Gone are most of the lingering “did I do a good enough job” thoughts and absent are the “what if someone doesn’t like this” anxieties.

Name 3 takeaways. Okay, I can do that.
a. I cannot control how people respond to things. That’s their choice to react however they are. All I can do is do the best work I can.
b. It’s better (not necessarily easy, but totally better) to find what positive you can takeaway from the situation than to find the negatives. Negatives are simple, and if you’re down, they seem like giant neon signs. The positives are what you really want to harvest out of the situation, and they might be smaller (comparatively), but find them, and raise them up like baby lions in the Lion King.
c. Be easy on yourself. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s never been more important. As my visibility climbs, it’s tempting to knock myself down all the harder and farther, so that I stay “seated” in the place I was, with the habits I had. Now that I’ve identified a lot of those habits as not helping, and that I was perpetuating a lot of patterns of less-than-the-best-behaviors, it’s easier to get up from that seat and sit at a new table. (Admittedly, the table/seat metaphor got away from me)

I hope this is helpful for some people. For those struggling, it’s hard, and it sucks, and I give you my word that if you get help, things will improve. For realsies.

Big shout-out to my new readers. You’re awesome, and thank you sincerely for everything.

Happy writing.

Punctuation

Let’s talk a minute about three kinds of punctuation, and what they do.

, is a comma. It can act like a pause, an indicator that you’re about to clarify or qualify something or a connector of items in a list. It is not the same as a period or the semicolon.

. is a period. It ends sentences. It precedes capital letters at the beginning of new sentences. It is not the same as a comma or a semicolon.

; is a semicolon. It bridges two complete thoughts together into an extended sentence, as well as acts like a comma for when you’re making lists of longer phrases. It is not the same as a period or comma.

Got it?

Now go practice.

Happy writing.