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The Iron Y

Yeah, that’s my lame attempt at self-deprecation.

Note to self: the next time you write a blog post stating that a writer writes every day, don’t follow it up with a year of not writing.

 

I had a couple of projects offered last summer which I passed on simply because I was at a mental point where writer’s burnout seemed a valid option, so I’ve done (very) little writing this past year and concentrated more on hanging out with my wife and kids, shuttling the latter to and from various activities, helping out more at the elementary school my daughter attends (for which I wound up being awarded Patron of the Year honors which had been completely unexpected), playing video games with the kids, and watching too much TV (still). Basically, what I’ve been doing the last few years without the headache of forcing myself to sit at the keyboard every day either writing or attempting voice-over.

What I’ve discovered is that I still want to write, but the need to do so is less aggravating. Either I write or I don’t write. I spend a lot of time writing in my head, but when I sit at the keyboard, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor, decide to hop on the ‘net for inspiration, and two hours later I’ve surfed a dozen sites, given myself a headache doing so, managed not to write anything, and it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And wasn’t the whole point to do this without the throbbing skull? What I’d really like is a means to just think about writing and have the words magically appear on screen. That way I could write in my sleep.

Which would likely get me in trouble, so scratch that idea.

Now, when I say I haven’t been writing, I’m not being completely truthful. I still carry around my notebook and keep track of ideas as they float between my ears. I have notes for a couple of novels and half a dozen short stories, ideas for possible blog posts, and scribbles here and there on a setting or two that came to mind during the past year.

The kids and I were watching The Musketeers on BBCAmerica¹ and I found myself admiring the overuse of leather in the costumes, the dusty settings, the brawling sword fights, and the crack of musket fire. A few weeks after the season ended I saw Quigley Down Under (which I still think is one of the best Westerns ever produced), and I thought Musketeers + Old West + Pirates (since everything is better with pirates), so I began jotting ideas for what I’m currently calling the Crossbones & Cattle Barons, or Swashbuckling Old West, setting.

I know I want a continent ripe for plunder, discovered sometime shortly after a protracted war between various political factions across the remainder of the world. The continent has arable land, wide open spaces, mountains filled with jewels and precious metals, and it includes creatures not encountered in other countries along with a native population that fiercely guards its homeland. Tentatively, I’d be running this with the Honor & Intrigue system² because a few members in my gaming group (including me) are interested in seeing that system being used. Not that a system should have any real bearing on the setting itself and it probably wouldn’t anyway, but I do have a tendency to make system mechanic notes as I’m brainstorming.

I’d wavered awhile on including non-humans in the setting but decided since one of the major resources found in this New World would be Dragon Stones, the fossilized remnants of long-dead dragons, that having non-humans was a small step (and allows use of those elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin swashbuckler figures from Reaper). So, yeah, the standard fantasy races are there but with minor tweaks. Many of the standard fantasy monsters will be included as well but I’m working on reasons for them to exist and not drop them in just “because they’re in the monster manual.”

I know one of the towns at the edge of settled lands in this New World is Farkeep, a mining colony, at which is stationed a regiment of King’s Musketeers to guard against monsters and those natives I’d mentioned earlier . . . halflings (or gnomes). I haven’t come up with a better name for them yet, but I wanted a race that is small and would refer to the long-dead dragons as creators or deities. Yeah, I could go the 3rd edition D&D route and have them be kobolds, but I still recall images of the dog-headed creatures from the 1st edition Monster Manual. That may all change.

One of the areas near Farkeep is a ranch called The Iron Y, run by a retired alchemist named Yeager. He has a problem with those halflings (or gnomes or kobolds) and might wind up hiring a group of adventurers to exterminate the varmints. And, of course, the alchemist will wear a shooting iron slung low on his hip and chew up the scenery, claiming he had been born on the wrong continent . . . or maybe not.

I’ll keep plugging away at the setting, jotting notes as they come to mind, and I’ll try to post ideas here once every few weeks. We’ll see how things go.

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1. The first season of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second season was less enjoyable for the kids because it was a bit darker (and methinks the third season will be even more so) and they found Rochefort less amusing as a villain than Cardinal Richelieu. And I thought Peter Capaldi was excellent in that role.
2. Which you might recall my mentioning previously as being a variant of the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

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Too Much TV

A couple of weeks ago as I sat down to catch up on various TV shows I missed during the last few months, I realized I watch entirely too much TV, boob tube, idiot box, whatever you wish to call it.

I’d written awhile back about Too Many Books* but it wasn’t until I noticed I was behind four or five weeks’ worth of Revolution that I started thinking maybe I should drop something from my watch list. Not that the list is all that long—just three or four hours on Monday, two or three on Tuesday, two more on Wednesday, about four on Thursday, and the same number on Friday. Well, there are a couple of hours’ worth typically on Sunday as well, but who’s counting, right?

Wait. At minimum, I’m looking at nearly twenty hours of TV every week.

And I get on to my kids if they watch more than an hour or so each day.**

Hey, kids, do what your parents say, not what they do.

At one time I could count on programming sticking with the fall through late spring routine with summer repeats, and I would spend time outside for four or five months. Then along came USA Network with their summer line (and Monk). I was hooked and started video taping episodes.*** I think that station single-handedly beat out of me my typical avoidance of the TV during the summer. Oh, that and the summer heat keeping me indoors over the last few years. I used to love being outside in 90-degree weather, garbed in heavy period clothing, stomping around on stage, spouting Shakespeare, and drinking iced tea.

Now, anytime the temperature rises above 80, I’m heading indoors, and still drinking iced tea.

Lately though I’ve been spending more time watching TV (and still reading) than much else. Writing? Nope, well, aside from the occasional post here. Voice-over? Uh-uh, not while the kids are out of school. They do OK to be quiet while I make one recording. Anything longer than thirty minutes and they can’t hold the noise in. Painting those miniatures I received awhile back? Nope, at least not until I get the area around the painting table cleared so I can reach my paints. Drawing? What’s that? Oh, yeah, I used to do that years ago before I went to college. I still have the stuff around here somewhere to do that . . . .

Now, Bob Meyer in Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author indicates he watches TV against all conventional writerly advice, but my guess is that he sits with pen and paper in hand and analyzes what he’s watching, making notes on scenes that work, scenes that don’t work, interesting character ideas, and so forth. I used to do that. OK, I still sit with a pad of paper and pen at my side. Unfortunately, I too often get caught up in the spycraft of Burn Notice or laughing at some quip made by Hank Lawson that I forget to actually write anything. Oh, well.

Recently I received a newsletter from Johnn Four of Gamer-Lifestyle, a game writer course/support group that I’ve been following off-and-on for awhile. I’d noticed there’d been little activity there this last year, and in his newsletter, Johnn Four mentioned he’d been hit with a case of burnout—no gaming, no writing, little else besides watching TV and reading “weird books.” Hmmm, I dropped from gaming with my group about a month ago. I’d decided I just wasn’t having fun playing games at this time. I still read game rules, still ponder tweaks for game systems, but just haven’t gotten back into gaming.**** Maybe the GM Slump is a full-blown case of burnout?

The TV schedule hasn’t let up this summer either. USA Network’s summer line-up is in full swing again (with the new addition of Graceland, which my wife dislikes but I find amusing) and SyFy (I much prefer when it was SciFi—the new logo is goofy) has added Sinbad, a one-season only British import***** which reminds a lot of the old Hercules: Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, shows I think my kids would likely enjoy.

Aside from a few bouts of homeowner angst and painting the outside of the house or doing a bit of yard work, about all I’ve done the last couple of months (aside from shuttle the kids to-and-from various summer activities) is read.

And watch too much TV.

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*And I still have a never-ending stack of books that I am working my way through. Some that were on the list then have been finished and others have taken their place. Some still sit near the bottom of the stack(s) scattered throughout the house.

**They usually don’t watch TV during the week and reserve most of that time during the weekend, often switching on the TV and watching one show, then half-watching the next while playing a game, or drawing, or doing something else.

***Yes. And I still have a functioning VCR along with a small stack of movies on tape. I’m slowly tracking down DVD replacements.

****Well, that’s not true. My kids and I played a game of Novus Mundi over Father’s Day weekend then later that week, my son and I played Okko: Legend of the Asagiri, both of which were enjoyable.

*****The production company canceled it after one season for some reason. Too bad. The family and I enjoy this show because it is family friendly.

Cetaceans Camping*

Bad, Darin. Bad, Bad, Darin.

The WordPress Blog Police are pounding on the door of the office, telling me I’m being charged with attempted blogicide. I’ve gone nearly two months without seeing to the care and nourishment of this blog, and its followers have likely wandered away in search of better forage elsewhere while Write-Voice-Games withers and dies.

Ah, well.

The term blogicide is rather amusing. I ran across it a year or so ago on Hella Sydney when Nezza commented that she’d committed that act on her blog by not updating it after a two month or so stint.** Oddly, even though the -cide suffix means “someone or something that kills a particular thing”*** according to urbandictionary.com, blogicide is “One who blogs without thinking. Or says something in a blog that is obviously stupid to everyone but the person posting.”

Huh? Oh, I get it. Suicide by blog. Ha ha.

Urban Dictionary. What a joke.

Nearly six months into the new year and I still have no clue where I’m going with this blog.

It began last year as a point to co-author a story, but during the holidays, I grew slack on my end, and Nathan over at Speaking Out has since split his blog in two**** and has moved on from Menagerie (though he does seem to have links still working), which is fine. My brain just hasn’t gotten back involved with those characters since I dropped that intergalactic ball. Who knows, maybe we’ll team up again on something with a predetermined beginning, middle, and end and not go the serial route.

During the past year, I added a number of “Thought for the Day” posts (OK, so they should be called “Thought for the Week” or “for the Month” as infrequently as they come) and a handful of gaming-related posts along with a few related to various voice-over projects, but no real focus on where I’m going with this or even an idea of where I want to go, which I would have chastised my composition students for a few years ago.

Oops.

Not doing what I teach? As in, “Do what I say, not what I do?” Perish the thought.

Or perish the blog?

No, the blog will remain up and running, but will likely limp along with posts only once a month or so until I’ve figured out exactly what I want to do with this thing.

What posts have you enjoyed? What posts have you disliked? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

**************

*An odd example of my rather circuitous line of thought which started with the joke: What do you call a dolphin with someplace to go? Answer: A porpoise with a purpose, which of course, led me to the phrase “for all intents and purposes.” Yeah, I know, “Darin, you’re weird.”

**She got it back up and running then allowed it to lapse again back in September 2012. Hopefully, she picks up that blog again (or another) because her sense of humor is one that often gives me a stomach ache from laughing so hard. Something I miss.

***Longman Dictionary.

****Well, three, actually: Speaking Out on Life, Speaking Out on Nate, and he recently started the Speaking Out on Blogging sitefor a blog instruction course he’ll be teaching in the fall.

Revving the GM Slump

Phil Vecchione over at Gnome Stew posted awhile back that he had found himself in the dreaded S-word recently, the GM Slump.

Now, this doesn’t refer to a new hybrid vehicle designed by General Motors.* No, this is a state of mind where you, as the Game Master of your chosen group, want to run a game yet find nothing that just grabs you and compels you to run it, or as indicated in his article,

I want to run a game…I really want to run a game, but the combination of what I am running, how I am running it, and my group is producing something like soda that is about to go flat. There is some fleeting taste of something good, but I know that it’s off. If I know it’s off, my players have to know it as well.

I can commiserate with him for I, too, have felt the wheels of the GM Slump grind right over my downcast body and have been locked in this particular funk for over a year now. Some might say I am in the grip of burnout toward gaming (as many of my gaming friends from high school and college found themselves shortly after graduation and facing “the real world”), but I have gone through phases where I didn’t want to game. Didn’t want to run a game. Didn’t want to participate in roleplaying games.

That’s not the case here.

I have wanted to run games this past year and have run sessions using the SUPERS! rules, 4e D&D Gamma World, Gunslingers & Gamblers, ICONS, yet none of those have captured my attention enough to make a campaign of it or even an episodic series of encounters.** I started a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign a few weeks ago, using the second edition rules. We’ve had one session which went well, but I’d picked up a copy of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, and my mental wheels have been churning on a Hyborian campaign (but unsure what rules system to use), to which my players have shouted, “Read more Warhammer stuff!” because they like the setting and I’ve had success with both the setting and the rules system previously.***

The last campaign I ran was set in the Planescape of D&D cosmology using a heavily modified version of the 3.5 D&D rules. It was planned as a 30+ level campaign wherein the characters started their careers as slaves to a mid-level demon lord, broke free, found their way to the city of Sigil, and over the course of the first 10 to 15 levels discovered they weren’t just a bunch of escaped slaves but had once been deities. The latter half of the campaign was their recovering their lost powers, finding who had entrapped them, and (ultimately) tipping the scales in the eons long war between Law/Chaos and Good/Evil and destroying and rebuilding the cosmos.

The party had just made it to 20th level and regained the lowest levels of their godhood when one of the players in the group dropped dead. Literally. He was fine one weekend though complaining of a head cold. Three days later he passed out at the pharmacy while standing in line for a prescription. He never woke up.

Needless to say, that particular campaign slammed to a halt.

No one in the group felt like doing much of anything gaming-wise. I stopped running things for awhile. After a spell of playing only board games when we met each weekend, two of the other members of the group took over GMing duties and ran things for awhile (on alternating weekends). Now one of those players has found himself in a GM Slump as well. He has numerous ideas that he wants to run, but his personal life has hit a series of potholes and shaken him rather badly. Since he stopped running things, another player has stepped in to run another game.

Hopefully, I’ll pull myself out of this mode of thinking and get back into running a game regularly again.

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*Though I do wonder what a GM Slump might look like. Some variant of the Cube or something akin to the Tango T600 maybe?

**Though we did find that SUPERS! fits the bill for a quick-to-play, rule light superhero game system, and I did begin tinkering with rules for converting Gunslingers & Gamblers for use with the Star Wars setting (which I am still working on, albeit slowly).

***A ten-plus year campaign set in first edition world of Warhammer using GURPS (which my group dubbed SPRUGHammer because it was an ass-backward merging of the two) was the longest running; however, I’d met most of my current group when I ran SPRUGHammer II, which ran for at least five years, and a later campaign, using the second edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rules ran for about two years with rotating GMs. Since I was primary GM on that short-lived campaign, it stopped when I began the 7 Vials campaign noted above.

Bleh!

Ever had one of those days (weeks? months? years?) where everything you write seems like nothing but last week’s garbage? Where everything you do just seems to fall flat? Where everything you touch just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to? (Yeah, I’m looking at you, computer, and you, too, printer.*)

That’s kind of how my whole month has felt.

Way Back in the Saddle, I’d just returned from vacation and, despite dealing with the hassle of airports and driving around a gridlocked east-coast city, felt reasonably relaxed and ready to get back into writing regularly again.

Ha! Silly me, thinking things would work out that way.

I allowed the remainder of the summer to pass, spending time with my kids before they had to go back to school and figured that once they did, my days would be devoted to nothing but writing and voiceover projects. I’d get back to my semi-regular schedule of posting the odd comment on Tuesdays and Menagerie on Thursdays with occasional posts throughout the week.

The kids went back to school a little over two weeks ago and aside from a couple of hitches, the space opera has run steadily on both my site and Nathan’s over at Speaking Out. The Tuesday posts, though, haven’t made it past their offscreen beginnings. I have three or four posts (maybe five, I’d have to check the files but don’t want to right now) that I’d begun, written between 300 – 500 words, looked them over and thought, well, “Bleh.” And “Gotta get the Pepto.” Ditto the feelings toward every other piece of writing I’ve done, whether novel, short story, game rules during that same period.**

I know, I know. As a writer, one who strives for professionalism in everything I do, I should sit back down and keep writing anyway.

But Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning or Batman: Arkham City  or Dungeon Siege III*** calls to me. Or a book (one of many I have half-finished sitting around the house) wants to be read. Or I just have to track down a recipe that makes use of a handful of ingredients that I have in the fridge and/or freezer. Or some show on TV looks too interesting to pass up.**** Or some blog I stumble across has caught my attention and—where’d the time go?

Menagerie has been clicking fairly well, but even the last few weeks have been a strain to put together for some reason. I find myself staring at the screen on Thursday afternoon, forcing droplets of blood from my temples, trying to get Liishi and company into/out of their next predicament. Having a co-writer on the project helps. Nathan dumps something on them, I figure out how to get them out and vice-versa. If neither of us has an idea, introduce a new character (expect more of that anyway over the next few weeks—I feel the need for more players in the game).

But even my gaming has been rather bleh lately.

I’ve run a few one-shot games over the last handful of months, including a playtest of D&DNext, Icons (a superhero RPG), SUPERS! (another superhero RPG), and I’ve downloaded and/or purchased several other role-playing rules all with the idea of finding something to run semi-regularly. While I found SUPERS! to be a very good, easy-to-run superhero system, nothing has really grabbed my attention to run every week (or every other week, as the case may be). I’d actually planned to run a playtest of the second packet of rules for D&DNext this last weekend then decided against it and opted for board/card games. No one showed up anyway. Ah, well. My son and I wound up playing video games instead while my daughter sat by and pointed out where the bad guys were at the edge of the screen. We had fun for a few hours that evening before they headed off to bed.

Maybe bleh isn’t so bad.

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*The computer for awhile now (since about two updates back) on both Firefox and Opera browsers has had significant memory problems. Run the browser for more than two minutes, it’s likely to suck up so much memory that everything grinds to a halt while FreeRAM tries to release enough memory for the computer to run again. And lately, I’ve had the odd day where the computer freezes for no apparent reason and requires a forced shutdown by turning off the power. All my antivirus programs tell me things are OK. Checkdisk tells me the hard drive is fine. Ehh, the motherboard might be a culprit—the computer is almost twelve years old (see Dino-Computer Smash!)—thus I’ve been trying to pull everything important off the hard drive, well, looking at it and deciding if it’s important enough to save or just go ahead and delete it. But I keep adding to the stack to go through by surfing the ‘net, finding rules for print-and-play games that look really cool, and downloading them. Sheesh, give myself more work, why don’t I?

Then, over the weekend my printer started acting up. Won’t print black. I replace the ink. It prints fine for two jobs, then starts streaking, acting like it’s running low on ink. The blasted thing is only a year old and already acting at least thrice its age.

I hate technology.

**Well, the only exception (aside from Menagerie) is a quasi-Nordic-inspired piece of poetry I wrote for a game company a month ago.

***Kingdom of Amalur I’ve enjoyed for about six months now and logged some ninety hours on. I’ve had Dungeon Siege III for a year and love the game. It’s been awhile since I played it, but my son wanted to tackle it two-player the other night and it’s a heck of a lot more fun with a second person controlling the other character in the party. I just recently purchased Batman: Arkham City but think it’ll be another amusing game.

****Too many shows, really. The USA network is my enemy during summer. Most of their shows I’ve become addicted to.

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