What is True About Me

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I am a storyteller.

My creative voice and vision are key to my identity, and they are the engine that drives my life.

For sixteen years, I’ve published my own creative work, mostly fantasy and science fiction, mostly novels but also short stories and novellas.

I’ve worked in others’ sandboxes and my own: five of my novels take place within an existing IP (the Forgotten Realms, owned by Wizards of the Coast), five are totally creator-owned (Eye for an Eye, Scourge of the Realm, and my World of Ruin series), and one was written originally in a shared IP but is now creator-owned (Blind Justice). I am adept with both sorts of writing.

I’m a known commodity in the tabletop gaming industry, and have an array of credits to my name on such games as Dungeons & Dragons, Iron Kingdoms, Red Aegis, and others.

I’m also a lifelong gamer, on the console or computer or tabletop. I’ve run games since 5th grade, and my first creative writing exercises drew directly from those experiences. Unsurprisingly, my favorite games tend to be RPGs and action-adventure games.

I’m not a coder or a programmer.

I’m a writer and an editor.

I’m an ideas person. I have built dozens of worlds myself for my own use, and I’ve worked closely with others to build worlds, flesh them out, describe them, and bring their stories to life.

Dialogue, description, characterization, plot—all of these things are the fundamental building blocks with which we convey dreams from one mind to another.

I’m a Human Being.

I care deeply about my fellow human beings and the environment we live in. I advocate strongly for social justice and a progressive direction to our culture and politics. I will stand up and defend those who are under assault as best I can.

I believe in good and justice and kindness.

My work is built on a foundation of respect, representation, and truth. I know the power of my voice, and I will not shirk the responsibility that comes with it.

Join me.

Let’s explore this world together.

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Random Identity Table, draft 1

So here’s my *in-progress,* *first draft* of my FR Randomized Identity tables. This takes into account how I view the Realms and also the novels and stories and games I’ve consumed.
 
This is for when I’m building an NPC on the spot, usually an NPC adventurer (hence the inclusion of the class and background columns)–or if you want the full experience of being born with no control over how you’ll turn out, you can roll on the table, potentially offering an interesting experience analogous to how people in our world deal with their identity.
 
But the most significant part of this table (other than how common fighters are compared to bladesingers, for instance, about 20x as common) is the bit about sex, gender, and orientation.
 
Looking at sex-assigned-at-birth shows that most members (90%) of humanoid species are assigned either male or female at birth (with a slight imbalance favoring female people), but fully 8% of people in the Realms are intersex, and 2% of people are naturally shifting (as in their physiology literally changes).
 
When we get to gender identity, though, my Realms’ rate of cis people is only 70%, with genderfluid being 10%, trans being another 10%, nonbinary 6%, and agender 4%.
 
In my realms, it has always been the case that bisexual/pansexual is the *most common* sexual orientation, considering the panoply of creatures of various gender orientations in the Realms. On my table, you’ll observe it’s about 40% likely. Comparatively, about 15% of the population is heterosexual (that is, mostly or only interested in a different gender than their own) while about 15% of the population is homosexual (that is, mostly or only interested in a gender that matches their own). People view those orientations as interesting and unusual, without any stigma about it–in the realms, you like what you like.
 
That leaves 30% of the population who are omnisexual (defined here as “attracted to a wide variety of not necessarily compatible beings), demisexual (“attracted to certain beings under certain circumstances”), and asexual (“not sexually attracted to any beings) in just about equal numbers.
 
That is to say, 10% of beings in the Realms are omnisexual, 10% are demisexual, and 10% are asexual. Dramatically higher rates than what’s reported in our own world, but hey, that’s the Realms for you.
 
Finally, when you get to races, classes, and backgrounds, you are most likely to be a human (27%) fighter (20%) or wizard (18%) or possibly a cleric (10%) or rogue (10%). Your chances of being a drow (2%) are nearly as low as being a deep gnome (1%) or a Yuan-ti Pureblood (1%), and slightly lower than being a tiefling of some extraction (3%). Half-elf is a full 10% (half the chance of being a human). The rarest classes are Bladesinger, Diviner, and Thaumaturge, but Wizard itself has an 18% (it’s just split among the various schools).
 
At 9%, soldier is the most common background, while you have only a 5% chance of being a knight, while it is only 2% likely that you will be a noble (either of the Noble background or the Waterdahvian Noble background). I thought that was a fairly reasonable spread.
realms priests

Pretty sure these are all priests, but you get the idea. Copyright (c) TSR

 
As I said, this is a WORK IN PROGRESS, and I would be most pleased to receive some feedback on this, particularly regarding terms and concepts. Feedback very welcome.

Gaming Logic: Perception and Investigation

“How do you adjudicate passive vs. active Perception checks?”
 
Passive Perception is for noticing things out of place, hidden creatures, secret doors, traps, and other clues. It assumes the character is just moving along, being aware of the world at average capacity, which might be very high for high Wisdom or trained characters.
It also assumes the character isn’t rushed or distracted; if the character only has a few seconds to peer into a room or see a useful handhold before the cliff collapses, I’ll call for an active Perception check.
 
My threshold is about a minute: if a character has a full minute to notice something, I’ll allow Passive Perception to kick in; otherwise it’s active checks. Likewise, if the character is in combat and ends up in a new room, I’ll let them look around with an active Perception check; passive Perception doesn’t apply in that case, unless they’ve been fighting in the room for about a minute.
Perception and Investigation

Original artist unknown (Wizards of the Coast?); Meme from Hack & Slash: http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-5e-perception-and-investigation.html

 
“What about other passive skill checks, like passive Investigation or Insight?”
 
Passive Investigation isn’t a thing at my table. Though having a high Passive Perception can clue you in that an Investigation check might be useful.
 
Similarly, Passive Insight isn’t a thing at my table. If a player expresses some doubt that an NPC is telling the truth or is hiding something,
 
The only skill that can be used passively at my table is Perception. Even on the frequent occasions when my characters are being passive-aggressive, that’s still an active check. 🙂
“What does it mean to *fail* at a Perception check?”
 
Remember too that skill checks are rolled to determine if something happens in the game, when the DM and/or players aren’t sure how something will resolve. They are not exactly a measure of your character’s aptitude, though obviously that plays a part. Having a high modifier makes something more likely to happen when you attempt it, which is always through a combination of skill, circumstance, and luck.
When we’re talking about Perception, failure doesn’t mean you’re clueless or that you never pay attention. If you fail a Perception check, that can mean one of several things: 1) the thing you didn’t notice is hidden well enough to escape your keen eye, 2) you looked away at exactly the wrong moment, when you would have otherwise seen it, 3) you were distracted by something else, so you didn’t notice the thing, 4) you saw the thing but didn’t understand what it was or that it would be useful (i.e. you briefly glimpsed the candlestick but didn’t put together that if pulled, it would open a secret door).
In that last case, an Investigation check might give you that information. If you had succeeded on a high Perception check, you might notice that something about the candlestick seems odd, but you’re not sure what it is. Maybe it’s shinier than the others or there are small scratches near the base. This would be a situation where you’d follow up the Perception check with an Investigation check (possibly with advantage, depending on the clues you noticed) to figure out the connection between the candlestick and the secret door.
“What is Investigation?”
Investigation is a new skill in 5e, and it causes a bit of confusion, particularly for us old players. I’m not sure I understand it either, and I spent a lot of time ignoring it, since it overlaps with Perception a lot in my head. But I’ve been making an effort to call for it more in my games, with some success.
Perception picks up data. With Perception, you might notice a clue, but you don’t necessarily understand what it means. For instance, a room is unusually clean, even though you’re in the heart of a dungeon. Or a faint acrid smell, like something astringent. Or faint squelching sounds like something viscous burbling against rock. Any of these might be useful clues, but you aren’t necessarily going to be able to put them together.
Investigation takes the next step, putting together the data and formulating a conclusion. It also fulfills in 5e what the Search skill did in previous editions of the game: you spend some time searching a room or place and, if your check succeeds, you find what you’re looking for or at least something interesting. Investigation takes time–generally at least one minute at my table, sometimes upwards of ten minutes or an hour.
Perception, by contrast, determine if you happen to notice something on a brief glance; see above. Passive Perception might see a hidden item that you would have found with Investigation, but the DCs to find hidden things are usually high enough that few characters have high enough passive Perception to find them.
Insight does the same sort of thing, but usually it’s specific to interactions and RP. Figuring out if someone is lying to you or conveying information that isn’t on the surface. Perception might set up advantage on one of these checks as well, such as if you noticed signs that a person might be desperate or their heart is racing.
(You know, the way Daredevil does it.)
daredevil-radar-sense-640x353

Passive Perception 30? Jeez! (Daredevil Copyright Marvel Comics)

“Skill Synergy: How do Investigation, Perception, and Insight interact?”
There is some overlap among these skills, and that suggests we should use them to complement and support each other. Perception can feed clues to support Insight or Investigation checks, while Insight and Investigation can feed each other in either order, For instance, if you use Investigation to turn up incriminating evidence against an NPC, that might aid your Insight check when you confront them, or if you observe something off about their clothes with Perception or get a weird vibe from their mannerisms with Insight, that might aid your later Investigation.
Now, do I insist that you use Perception or Insight to find clues, then Investigation to come to a conclusion? No. You can use Investigation by itself to search an area by itself without ever making Perception checks, and you can use Investigation based on a previous conversation to glean some information you didn’t have before.
But, and this is important: if you’ve made successful Perception or Insight checks that are relevant to your Investigation, you might gain advantage on your Investigation check (or vice versa).
Of all of these skills, Perception is the least supported by previous work. Doing Investigation or making an Insight isn’t necessarily going to help you notice something, unless that previous legwork has told you what to look for, such as a signet ring or red mud on the NPC’s boots. In that case, you might have advantage on your Perception check.
This serves two purposes: 1) to reward characters you make good rolls or are very thorough, 2) to encourage multiple characters to participate in a meaningful way, since Int/Wis builds aren’t especially common, and you’re likely to have one person who is very perceptive, one person who is very insightful, and one person who is very deductive (with a high investigation modifier).
cumberbatch-holmesjpg

Sherlock Holmes undoubtedly has both high INT and WIS stats. (As well as a decent STR stat; I see you, fellow book geeks!)

Happy gaming!

 

Adventuring on the Spectrum

Come with me for a second.

So, I’m putting together a new D&D campaign. It’s got everything D&D usually has: orcs, elves, dwarves, dragons, etc., etc. Violence, destiny, romance, epic quests, magic swords, fireballs, and all that good stuff.

In this campaign, though, you can only play one of two classes: Fighter or Wizard

I know that seems arbitrary, but hey, those are the classics, right? If you look back at 1e D&D, there were three classes, Fighting Man, Priest, and Magic-User. Combine those second two into a single class, and you basically get the Fighter and the Wizard.

Oh, and ability scores are rolled straight down the line. None of this “assign as desired” business. We’re old-school. 3d6, straight down the line.

img_2963

The only acceptable fighter is a hulking brute in heavy armor with arrows sticking out of him.

What? Didn’t get a high strength or a high intelligence? Not my problem. You can play a less effective character. Just pick the path with the lesser bad score. The one you resemble *better,* so maybe your character could at least *pass* as a competent fighter or ok wizard. Like a high Dex or high Con Fighter could be useful, and a Wizard with high Wisdom and high Charisma? Fine.

What, you rolled a 16 Dex and an 18 Cha? Um, well, I don’t know what to tell you. No rogues in my game.

15 Con and 17 Wis? No, no clerics either.

No, no, no, let me be clear: No other classes. They’re just distractions. Bastardizations of the core concepts.

I mean, maybe that’s ok. Maybe you like Wizards or you like Fighters. I mean, in a world of only Wizards and Fighters, if you’re a Wizard or Fighter (preferably a decent one), that’s probably cool.

Here are a few more things about the setting:

Culturally-speaking, the only acceptable Wizard school is Evocation, and anyone who picks a different school is considered a lesser Wizard. If you aren’t great with evocation spells or, worse, can’t cast them at all, people WILL shame you. A lot.

Same with Fighters and Battlemaster. NPCs will constantly rag on you about what tricks and feats you can pull off in battle.

Certain races are assumed to be one but not the other. For instance, in this particular setting, most people assume halflings are wizards because they don’t think they have the strength to be fighters. A halfling fighter is generally considered pretty weird. Most people laugh at elven fighters, telling them to stop dressing like strength characters, and most people assume half-orcs aren’t intelligent enough to be wizards.

Also, you can play an Eldritch Knight, but every NPC in the game will get confused and attack you on sight. (You get pretty much the same result from taking any class features or subclasses not in the PHB.)

sorceress

Only evokers, please.

Sounds fun, right?

I agree. That’s super fun. In fact, all of the D&D I run is going to use this, from now on. (I wonder if I can petition WotC to make this the case with all their game books?)

Wait a second, hold up, where are you going? You don’t want to play in my game?

What if I were to tell you that you didn’t have a choice? Because this is D&D 6e, when the only choices in the game will be fighters and wizards–no other classes. No other options. Just those things.

Why are you frustrated?

(Hold onto that frustration, by the way. It’s gonna be important.)

This is just the way it’s always been: fighting men and magic-users.

Because when you boil it down, isn’t it really just those two? It’s Conan vs. the bad guy cultist of the week. It’s the 12 members of the Fellowship of the Ring plus Gandalf. It’s a guy who solves problems physically, and a gal who solves problems with magic. A girl with a sword vs. a boy with a wand. The male fist and the female somatic component.

Guys and gals? Boys and girls? Male and female?

(Hold up, when did we start talking about that?)

But you know, now that you bring it up, this does seem a little like the gender binary. I mean, if you live in a world of fighters and wizards, and you’re a fighter or a wizard, I suppose that’s cool. In much the same way, if you live in a world of men and women only, and you’re a man (as I am) or a woman, that’s fine, right?

Remember that frustration you were holding onto a minute ago?

IMAGINE IF THAT WAS YOUR WHOLE LIFE.

Imagine if you aren’t a man or a woman, or if you have the stats/equipment for one but you identify as the other, trying to navigate this world, where you have to be one or the other… and most of the time, your choice is made FOR YOU, based not on what you say or how you act but HOW YOU LOOK.

About 1% of human beings are intersex, that is, possessing characteristics commonly associated with male and female genders; intersex people are much more difficult to characterize as male or female, and it’d be silly to even try. 1% is same percentage of people who have green eyes, but we don’t run up to green-eyed people, shake them, and scream “there are only brown and blue eyes!”

No, I’m not trolling you. I’m not trying to upset you. I’m trying to open up your perspective by attaching it to something that’s deeply relevant to all of us–D&D. Gaming. This is a sacred thing we’ve been doing, some of us for decades. You have an emotional connection to it, just like I do. You love it, you value it, and of course you feel uncomfortable when it’s perverted. You argue, you rant, or you walk away.

But in the real world, trans people, enby people–they don’t have those options. If they argue, they get hated on. If they rant, they get attacked. And they can’t walk away.

And they shouldn’t have to. They have every right to live in this world that you or I do–just as all of us have every right to play the games we love.

So maybe next time someone talks about trans rights or fighting transphobia, or about we should be more respectful with gendered language, think about the frustration and irritation you felt reading through this.

Because limitations are shitty, and life is too short to be limited like this.

Captain Marvel is Here, and She’s Got Nothing to Prove to You

(No spoilers. I’m going to do my best to avoid spoiling anything, which is tricky, since the movie thrives on secrecy and reveals.)

Captain_Marvel_poster

There’s a moment in Captain Marvel powerfully reminiscent of a moment in another recent geekdom movie owned by the House of Mouse.

It’s cold, it’s dark, all hope seems lost. The hero seems defeated, the bad guy is on the verge of getting what they want, and a lot of people we’ve come to love are in danger.

Then the music swells, the lightsaber veers away from Kylo Ren’s grasp and propels itself into Rey’s hand, and she stands before us revealed for the hero she is. Not because she is powerful (though she is) but because she is willing and ready to claim that power for herself.

Captain Marvel has a similar moment, which profoundly affected me in the theater. It not only captures who Carol Danvers is and what she stands for, but also the whole point of the movie and the entire narrative thrust and power of this character and her story.

This is a story about female power: about controlling it, restraining it, and fearing it. About what awakens it, unlocks it, and strengthens it.

And make no mistake, Carol Danvers is the mightiest hero we’ve seen in the Marvel Universe. I won’t qualify that with “female” hero–there’s nothing about her power that is distinctly female, other than that it is hers, and that makes ALL the difference.

In a way, it is nothing new: we have seen this narrative over and over again, the hero called to the quest, awakening to the power inside them, and finally learning to harness and unleash it. But in almost every case (95%+ of the time), it’s a male character undergoing this quest, and the female characters are secondary. They’re love interests, companions, or wise elders. They might even be heroes in their own right, but they don’t claim center-stage in the story, and even in the rare instances of those who do, usually their quest isn’t about them as women.

Captain Marvel is about a female hero, from start to finish. She faces patriarchal methods of control at every turn: warnings about allowing emotion to overwhelm her logic, for instance, or being chided to smile and insulted when she doesn’t. There’s a whole segment in the movie about struggling to use her power despite literal shackles. Her overall story is about realizing the bondage placed upon her and breaking free. Demanding and claiming her right to go higher, to go faster, and to go further.

A note also about the setting: This is a very 90s movie, full of 90s music that resonates so well with the action as well as lots of 90s jokes that really appealed to a 90s kid like me. From the trailers, I thought it might just be a gimmick, but upon seeing the movie I finally realized WHY Marvel set this movie in the 90s. The cultural context was pivotal to the story and its themes: the 90s wave of feminism and female empowerment, the pressure on military services to accept female pilots and soldiers, all of that is key to making this story make sense.

I do want to acknowledge that this is not a perfect movie. It isn’t entirely ground-breaking: Wonder Woman broke a lot of this ground a couple years ago, so Marvel missed its chance to be first to the punch. But Captain Marvel offers us a different view of female empowerment and heroism than WW did, and both movies are extremely good at what they do.

There’s your typical supply of what, at this point, we can call “Marvel Cheese.” Some of the jokes, some of the slapstick, etc, reminded me of watching a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the dynamics among the aliens were very much in that vein. So if you liked GoG (and statistically speaking, you probably did), you’ll probably love the tone of this movie.

There’s the humor you expect, though not always from the people you expect. Clearly, Samuel L. Jackson had a GREAT TIME with this movie. His Nick Fury is surprisingly fun and warm, something he hasn’t been allowed to be in the other MCU movies. Saying more might head into spoiler territory, but some unexpected humor is unexpected but ultimately effective, I think.

(Also, I totally saw Kelly Sue DeConnick in her second-long cameo! Rock.)

Now, because, ugh, let’s talk about this: There’s a whole movement out there by a LOT of dudes who hate women (and especially hate women in their superhero movies) who have a weird fixation on Brie Larson not smiling (I know, ironic, isn’t it?).

At first, her portrayal worried me that she’d come off as relentlessly grumpy or prickly, the way clearly feminist characters sometimes do, but give her a minute, and you start to see the meaning behind her Carol Danvers’s behavior.

She is a woman who has been relentlessly bullied and cowed into being emotionless (as if that’s a strength) and expected to be a perfect little servant who always does what she’s told. Her experiences throughout the movie show her growing, breaking free, and finally harnessing her feelings and the power that comes with them. Her development is emotional, wrought with the aid of friends both male and female, as well as metaphysical.

(Also, all the haters are wrong, and EVS and his Comicsgate minions played themselves yet again by bashing on this movie. What fools.)

Ultimately, Captain Marvel is a great, fun, powerful movie and one that Marvel sorely needed to add to their line-up. That this movie didn’t happen five years ago and the MCU hasn’t put out half a dozen women-led films since is kind of a shame, but at least it’s here now, and it sets a precedent for the universe going forward.

The future is here (well, the future by way of 25 years ago), and while that future may not be entirely female, it is female-led, and that is a hopeful, marvelous thing.

Gaming Mastery #1: Fun

In 2019, I’ve decided to try and post a bit of Gaming Mastery every day of the year. That’s 365 tips, all of them organized around a monthly theme.

January’s theme? The basics of running a game.

And we’ll start with the most basic of basics for Game Mastery:

Fun.
 
Fun is the first rule. You’re getting together to play a game to have fun. If the players aren’t having fun, you’re not doing your job. If you make a decision that doesn’t add to the fun of the game, either immediately or over the long term, you’ve made a mistake.
 
This doesn’t mean the players should always be happy. Indeed, setbacks and conflict and frustrations can be important elements in setting up fun gaming–we have can have great fun *overcoming* our obstacles.
 
How do you promote fun in your game? Well, that’s the tricky part, and that’s what the rest of this series will be about.
 
But whenever you’re running a game, ask yourself: is this promoting the fun?

Forgotten Realms Abridged!

Hail and well met!

In 2019, I will be upping my Patreon output, and I hope to share something every day or two.

For example, recently, I’ve started writing quick pieces called Forgotten Realms Abridged, where I do a very brief humorous summary of a Forgotten Realms novel, partly as a bid to get you to read said novel, and mostly to amuse and delight.

I’ll be posting a few of these publicly, but if you want to see them all, back me on my Patreon, where they’ll be collected for easy and convenient access.

Here’s the first one, about the first Realms novel, Darkwalker on Moonshae!

 

Forgotten Realms Abridged: Episode 1: Darkwalker on Moonshae

(With all love and respect to Douglas Niles–seriously, go read his book.)

***

Setting: Moonshae Isles

Kazgoroth, the Beast: I am in your land, eating your people!

The Earthmother: Oh no! I’ll send my fey-born children to stop you, but they will all fail, one by one. Won’t someone rise up to stop the Beast?

Tristan Kendrick, heir to the kingdom: I like horses!

The Beast and the Earthmother: …… um?

***

Setting: Caer Corwell

The Earthmother, in a dream or something: Robyn, my child, you must go forth and unite the peoples of the Moonshaes to oppose the Northmen, who’ve been suborned by the Beast!

Robyn: But I am a lowly ward to the king. What can I do?

The Earthmother: You have great potential as a druid! You will be my emissary in this matter.

Robyn: Yeah, but, how do I get anyone to listen to me?

Tristan: Hey, I never really thought about how pretty you were, Robyn!

Robyn: …. that works?

Tristan: I’m the prince!

Robyn: …. um…

***

Kazgoroth the Beast: Mwahahaha, I have disguised myself as King Thelgaar Ironhand, ruler of the Northmen! Now they will serve my will!

The Earthmother: Hey, no fair, disguising yourself. The reader will get confused.

Thelgaar/Kazgoroth: Hey, aren’t you Chauntea, goddess of the harvest?

The Earthmother/Chauntea: Hey, aren’t you Bhaal, god of murder?”

Thelgaar/Kazgoroth/Bhaal: Shut up!

***

Robyn, the would-be druid: Ok, we’ve assembled a motley crew from all walks of life to oppose the Beast, which is working to corrupt one of the Moonwells…

Pawldo the halfling: Aye!

Daryth, a very sexy Calishite: Yes.

Canthus the moorhound: Woof!

Tristan, the crown prince: I have a sword!

Robyn: Tristan. Not helping.

Tristan: Seriously, though, it’s a great sword.

Robyn: Could it be anyone else. Anyone?

***

Robyn: Well, we have now vanquished the Beast and saved the Moonshaes.

Tristan: Yes! I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen here ever again.

Robyn: I dunno, evil is rarely ever purged on the first try. We should really stay constantly vigilant…

Tristan: Let’s get married!

Robyn: Wait, what?

***