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500 Words on Conventions & Community

500 Words on Conventions & Community

Conventions and exhibitions almost feel like another world. Within the walls of the buildings and skyways, tens of thousands of like minds gather. It is wonderful and terrifying and energizing and exhausting, all at the same time.

A lot of communities come together, especially if individuals within said communities often feel that they’re alone. Seeing so many people gathered in the same place for the same reason refutes that feeling through sheer fact of numbers. Even so, it can be overwhelming, and as much as an individual can see plainly that they are not alone, other feelings can lead to unintended isolation.

I have felt this myself, and the fact is that the more involved you become in interactions with others, the less isolated you feel. I would remind you, if you feel this way, that it’s okay to be nervous. You’re allowed to have time and space to yourself, but it may not necessarily be for the best if you stay there. Remember that everybody is there for the same reason: a celebration of common ground, shared interest, and collective excitement.

The gaming community in particular has come under fire before. There are certainly incendiary elements. There’s a reason some of the best advice a YouTuber can follow is “Don’t read the comments.” Fans of things in general, and gamers in particular, feel entitled to their opinions and are convinced of the rightness of their causes. While it’s wonderful we live in a world where we can speak and think as we like, that can occasionally lead to uncomfortable situations.

Thankfully, you have just as much right to ignore what someone says as they have to say it. Or, even better, say something that refutes what you disagree with.

As long as we’re communicating honestly and without overarching judgment, we have very little reason to remain silent. Broadly, the way we conduct ourselves be it in the comments or in person falls under Wheaton’s First Law:

Don’t be a dick.

I’m sure this will seem like common sense to a lot of folks. This is a good thing. Still, it’s much like what I’ve said about consent – the more people that know these things, the better the community will be overall. Like I said, there is little reason to remain silent. As long as you’re being positive about what you’re saying, and saying it with the intent of increasing awareness and decreasing worldsuck, by all means, speak up! You will be glad you did.

I’m not sure what else I can add. PAX East is in full swing and I am busier than ever. I’ll be outside Bumblebee Theatre in the Boston Convention & Expo Center. Becoming an Enforcer has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and has lead to some incredibly invaluable and completely unforgettable changes, both now and in the future.

But that is a story, and a post, for another time…

Let’s Get Together

A sample setup of Archipelago. Sort of.

I’m finding more and more that the games that I truly enjoy playing with other people aren’t necessarily straight-up competitions. Oh, I still enjoy a good game of Magic, don’t get me wrong. And Blizzard’s collectible game Hearthstone scratches that particular itch while having a purchase system that makes you want to buy packs to both explore and collect, not just to “buy power” as you can in other free-to-play games. But with JayCon approaching, I figured I’d gather up the games I plan on taking which might get played, and I noticed that all of them have at least some level of cooperation.

Both Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Elder Sign are fully cooperative, with players rolling dice together to overcome the obstacles presented by the game. Elder Sign is perhaps best described (if somewhat derogatorily) as “Arkham-themed Yahtzee”. Players are investigators in an old museum whose exhibits are making it easier for some sort of horrific elder god to awaken. The investigators must gather the mystical signs and defeat monsters to prevent the end of the world. There is a ticking clock, and investigators have limited amounts of stamina and sanity. Escape, on the other hand, is a game played in real time. Instead of taking it in turns to explore the temple, battle its curses, and unearth its treasures while looking for the exit, players move and act as fast as they can roll their dice. The game comes with a soundtrack, which both provides atmosphere and audio cues as to when players must race for the safe room before losing one of their dice permanently. It’s a great, intense little burst of fun and adventure that only takes ten minutes to play, and it’s even fun to take on solo.

I’m sure some people are tired of me going on about The Resistance: Avalon and Battlestar Galactica, cooperative games with hidden threats. Player cooperation is not so much encouraged as demanded, and the fact that one or more players are intentionally deceiving the others adds an entirely new wrinkle to the gameplay. It’s entirely possible that two completely different levels of cooperation are going on simultaneously, all without direct communication, and that makes for a great time with friends who you may end up resenting because they were so good at fooling you. But perhaps the game I’m most eager to play (or play more of, I tried it out Tuesday night) is Archipelago.

I don’t have enough experience with the game to write up a full review, but the game is fantastic. It takes a series of various game mechanics – player bidding, worker placement, card drafting, and so on – and chains them together into a rotating arrangement of ever-evolving depth and complexity. From a relatively simple starting point, just a couple of turns in, the game explodes with choices and challenges. Each turn sees a problem on the islands that must be overcome through a combined effort of everyone involved… but not everyone has to participate. In addition to all of its other systems, Archipelago gives each player a personal, private objective. This could be as simple as having the most money or building the most churches, but it could also be supporting the natives in a war for independence. The fact that the players do not know what each other’s objectives are, and can interpret the actions of an obstinate player in multiple ways, lends even more depth and nuance to a game that is already keeping several plates spinning at once. I’m very curious to see how the game players with more than two players, especially if one is aggressive and ambitious, or if one is manipulative and keen to whatever fears may be sweeping the islands at any given moment.

Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to this weekend. Be it rolling dice, dealing cards, or buying local beef to export pineapples to Europe, it’s going to be a great time at the tables.

Writer Report: Looming Quarter

Courtesy Funimation

Much like some malevolent giant peering over the wall of a nearly defenseless settlement, the dreaded Q4 is upon me at the dayjob. Expectations are high. Work is sure to come fast and furious (and without the benefits of Michelle Rodriguez or Jordana Brewster). I’m going to have to take extra steps to stay on top of things. Bills need to be paid, which means I need this employment, which means I can’t lose it.

This means I need to rearrange my schedule.

The last couple weeks I’ve been catching my breath. Picking at Cold Streets instead of tearing into it. Thinking about Godslayer more than I write about it. Blogging when I feel like it instead of on a schedule. I’ve taken a leisurely pace to things, in an attempt to get my head and heart together. It’s time to put that aside and focus on getting through the next few months intact.

I’ve been losing weight, and I plan to keep doing that. A focus on my physical imperfections and progress will help me focus, in turn, on the imperfections and progress in front of me. That’s the idea, at least. I’ll have to make sacrifices, be it less time for games, or relaxation, or friends. I’ll still make time for those things, and watching things like Agents of SHIELD or Attack on Titan, but these are rewards, not goals in and of themselves. I hope I don’t offend anybody if I disappear for hours at a time from people’s radar. While I do still need the support of friends and family – there’s no way I could have made it this far without them – there’s a large portion of what’s in front of me that I have to face alone.

Surviving to see 2014 in a prosperous and meaningful way means living up to my potential, owning my mistakes (which I am bound to make), writing the stories only I can write, doing everything I can for those around me, and never ever giving up, even if the odds seem stacked in favor of the house.

I know there’s help, and I’m grateful for it. I know there’s ground that’s been tread before, and I’m willing to learn from it. But in the end, when the reports and the edits and the demands come in, it’s all on me.

No pressure, or anything.

Flash Fiction: Gods and Robbers


Chuck’s weekly demand this time is to include four random items. Can you spot them all?

They dragged him into the office by his arms. His legs felt weak; there was no way they could support his weight with them yanking him along. He was tossed onto the carpet like a sack of garbage. He found himself looking at the skull of what some might have considered a large lizard, but he recognized as a small dragon. It had been re-purposed to serve as the base of an umbrella stand.

“We found him, Father,” said one of the twins.

“He thought to hide from you among the mortal officers of the law.” The other twin tossed the badge onto the expansive desk that blocked most of his view. He struggled to look up, fighting down waves of pain. He got a kick in the kidneys for his trouble.

“Castor, Pollux, I’m surprised at you.” The voice from behind the desk was deep, grandfatherly, almost kind; yet in it was the rumble, the muted flash, the sense one gets when a storm is blowing in. “This is my guest, not some common churl. Get him in a chair, for Gaea’s sake. And clean up his face. I won’t have him ruining my carpet.”

The twins obeyed, hauling him into one of the chairs facing the desk. A wet rag all but smashed into his face, and as the blood was wiped away, he tried to will his bleeding to stop. Whatever charm they’d used to stunt his powers, it seemed to have faded, as his head cleared immediately. He blinked, and looked up to face the man he’d been dragged to see.

Behind the chess board on the desk sat what appeared to be an elderly man with broad shoulders and the solid build of someone who’d spent a lifetime perfecting his physical form. His suit was tailored, hand-made, and clearly costly. His white hair was long, and his beard was somewhat fluffy. Had the suit been red, one might mistake him for Santa Claus.

“Now, Prometheus. What would possess you to put on the airs of a policeman? In the game of ‘Cops and Robbers’, would I not be the cop?”

“It let me get close to one of Chronos’ servants. I was trying to help…”

Pollux backhanded Prometheus. “No lies before the mighty Zeus!”

“Pollux, please! Castor, look after your brother.” Zeus reached down and plucked the bishop from his side of the board, examining it. “Prometheus, you and I have had our differences. I’m still not certain how you escaped your prison in the first place. But we both know that my word is law. And that law cannot be countermanded, not by the cleverness of any being, mortal or Titan.”

“I could be back on that mountain now, if you willed it.”


“Then why am I here?”

Zeus smiled, and replaced the chess piece. “I’m curious more than I am angry. How did you escape, and why?”

“The how doesn’t matter. The why does. I told you: I can help you fight Chronos and the other Titans. Time is against us. You should hear what I have to say.”
Zeus raised an eyebrow. Thunder rolled in the distance. “Have a care, Titan. I am not so curious that I am willing to permit you to command me. Begin at the beginning. How did you escape?”

“I made a deal with the eagle.”

Zeus laughed. “A deal? What could you possibly offer it that was not the liver of an immortal?”

“I told it about America. I told it that it was a sacred animal there. It, too, could be truly immortal, and not simply tasked with devouring me. I said, ‘If you free me, I will take you there, and you will be adored and loved.’ It took a few days… and a few livers… but it believed me.”

Promet heus tried not to blanch at the memories. Centuries, millenia had gone by, and every day, atop that lonely mountain that killed any mortal that attempted its summit, the eagle tore him open and made him feel every snapping sinew and every bite at his innards until death came like a merciful, dreamless, abyssal sleep. He’d long stopped cursing his fate each time he awoke, and it was only through the tiny fraction of power he’d had left that he was able to learn of the far-off land the eagle wished to see.

“Where is it now?”

“A zoo, in Chicago.”

“Hah! Duplicity worthy of any of my children. Even as a fugitive you do not disappoint.”

Prometheus nodded. “I am happy to have amused you, my Lord.”

Zeus waved his hand. “Pshaw. I have Wingus and Dingus here to kowtow to me. You, however, never bowed. You defied me, and not from jealousy or fear or anger. You defied me to do what you felt was right. Defiance had to be punished, but I always respected what you did.”

Prometheus blinked. The admission felt earnest, but oddly timed. It slowly dawned on Prometheus that he was right, and Zeus knew it. Chronos and the other Titans were growing stronger, and time was getting shorter. Slowly, so as not to antagonize the twins, Prometheus reached into his pocket, produced the sealed envelope, and handed it to Zeus.

“This is why I escaped.”

Zeus looked at it. On it was written a single word. Hera.

After a moment, the King of the Gods opened the envelope. He read the letter within. Twice. When he looked up at the twins, his eyes were alight with the fire of the sky, the lightning that was his herald and his wrath.

“Leave us. Prometheus and I must speak alone.”

The twins bowed and retreated. Zeus set down the letter, glared at Prometheus for a long moment, and reached across the chess board to reset it. He moved his white king’s pawn forward two squares, gesturing at Prometheus.

“Tell me how this treachery began.”

Prometheus, in spite of the pain, smiled. He moved his queen’s pawn forward.

Flash Fiction: The Wandering Sage

Dunes of the Namib Desert, taken by Simon Collins

The random fantasy character concept generator at the crux of this week’s Terribleminds Flash Fiction challenge gave me, among others, “a foul-mouthed sage is searching for a legendary weapon.”

“If this infernal heat doesn’t kill me,” Balthazar growled, “I’m sure the desert would love to fill my lungs with sand.”

“Why would the Equalizer be out here?”

“Think about it.” Balthazar tried not to snap at his apprentice. Gaspar was a good kid, and smart for his age, but he had an annoying tendency of not thinking things through. “If you wanted to hide something from the world, how smart is it to build a great structure out where everybody can see it?”

“But way out here? Wouldn’t you lose track of where you left it?”

“Not if you’re a Gods-damned Sage. Now enough with the belly-aching and give me the Astrolabe of Epsilon before I choke on the damn dune that’s come to play with us.”

Gaspar fumbled in his packs and produced the device. Balthazar squinted against the swirling sand, and tugged the dials into their appropriate positions. It was much like the other astrolabes in the world, but the one created by Epsilon, a sage so ancient even his name was lost, charted not the paths of the Sun and stars, but the lines of power that lay beneath the surface of the earth, invisible to the naked eye. He kept his eyes on it as he walked, stopping suddenly, turning, then moving on.

“The storm is getting worse!” Gaspar had to shout to be heard above the wind. “If we don’t find it soon…!”

“Please keep stating the obvious,” Balthazar replied, “because that certainly isn’t getting old.”

The Astrolabe of Epsilon rattled in his hands. No one was entirely sure how it knew, but it did. Balthazar pointed at the featureless sand at his feet.

“Here! We dig!”

Gaspar pulled the shovels out, and handed one to his master. It was hard to get started with the wind, but working together they managed to carve out a small hole in the dune. Gaspar’s shovel struck something about a foot under the surface, and when he tried to lift his shovel, it caught hold and there was a mechanical sound.

“Idiot boy! Back away before…!”

With a whirring, clunking sound, the trapdoor under the pair gave way, and they fell through the sand into the chamber beneath. The trapdoor shut almost immediately, and while the drop was short, it left both men half-buried in a small pile of sand.

“Augh! I told you Esvartus set up his laboratory this way! You should have been more careful!”

“I’m sorry, Master, but…”

Balthazar got to his feet and dusted off his robes. “‘But’ nothing. You need to pay more attention, Gaspar, and keep your mind more ordered. I know you’re young, yet, and visions of moaning women yeilding to your manly charms dance behind your eyes, but focus on where you are and what you’re doing, or you’re going to get yourself killed. Or worse, me!”

“Of course, Master. It won’t happen again.”

“By all the Gods’ knickers, it won’t. Now, let’s have some light.”

He extended his hand and spoke the right words. Elemental flame came to life in the air between his palm and fingers. He opened his hand more to give it more room to breathe. It illuminated the antechamber, showing pictograms and carvings on every surface, even the bottom of the trapdoor that had just admitted them into its bowels.

“Now. To find the Equalizer. Epsilon’s Astrolabe won’t work underground, so we need to go by Esvartus’ notes. What did you piece together?”

Gaspar pulled several half-ruined bits of parchment out of his pocket. “Only that to approach the Equalizer is to court the most dangerous of minds.”

“Pshaw. Esvartus wasn’t so dangerous that he wouldn’t let a pretty girl turn his head, either. You’d have liked him, Gaspar.”

“Why is that?”

“He died fucking.”

Balthazar picked his way through the corridor leading away from the antechamber, stepping over the skeletons laying over the various traps they’d triggered. Only a couple got past the first few feet of blades and spikes. The rest of the traps were cleverly concealed, at least from lesser minds. Balthazar made it a point to not tell Gaspar where they were. If the child was going to make it as a sage of his own, he’d have to deal with things far deadlier than static, ancient traps.

Once he reached the only other chamber in Esvartus’ hideaway, he turned to see Gaspar stepping gingerly over the last acid pit. Balthazar tried not to smile.

“There may be hope for you yet, shitbrain.”

“My hope is that you’ll stop calling me that.” Gaspar nodded towards the center of the room. “Is that it?”

Balthazar approached the dias, his unlit hand reaching towards the pedistal. “Yes. I believe it is.”

“Master, wait.”

Balthazar stopped, whipping around towards Gaspar. “What is it now?”

“On the off chance that intruders were able to pass all of these traps, do you think he would leave everything else unprotected?”

Balthazar blinked. “Come on, Gaspar, he wasn’t that paranoid.”

“Wouldn’t you be?” Gaspar stepped up to stand beside his master, produced a long thin wand of yew, and touched the pedistal. A sigil appeared in the stone.

“A summoning glyph. Probably some form of bound devil.”

Balthazar watched agape as Gaspar twirled his wand in an anticlockwise motion, intoning the dispersal spell Balthazar had taught him the week before. The sigil disappeared with a soft sigh.

“Hmm. Perhaps a succubus. A good way to appear to offer an explorer a reward before destroying them.” Gaspar turned to Balthazar. “What?”

“Gaspar, I take back most of the bad things I’ve said about you.”

“… Most?”

Balthazar did smile, now, as he removed the top of the pedistal and reached inside. The Equalizer was just past the stone lip. He pulled it out, and showed it to his apprentice.

“This is what the princes all fear?”


“What could men of power possibly fear from a book?”

Balthazar’s smile broadened.

“That proves, shitbrain, that you still have much to learn.”

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