Ryan and I got married in September, which made the month a whirlwind I still only mostly remember.  Our honeymoon to the coast of California was marvelous and full of spooky historic buildings, the Pacific Ocean, and the creepiest “Scarecrow Festival” I have ever seen. We ended our honeymoon with dinner among friends in Oakland, and moved hotels to go run games at Big Bad Con the following day.
Big Bad Con this year had some big steps for me as a GM. I’d never run games at a convention before, and I am still blown away by the first group of players I had. It was one of those sessions where people are building on each other’s narratives, making the pitch-perfect decisions involving failure and growth, and giving an incredible amount of energy and sincerity to the story. I was also using Monsterhearts, which I’ve only played a handful of times, and I feel it’s both a poignant and potent game, emotionally. It was challenging and rewarding, and it taught me a lot. 
While we were there, me and Ryan were able to play a session of Jason Morningstar’s Night Witches, which has translated the historic arc of the Soviet women’s night bomber regiment to tabletop play.  From start to finish, the game is doing amazing things, and it’s base DNA from Apocalypse World has been heavily modified to make the best use of the AW engine with what Jason’s doing. I’ve never seen a roleplaying game do what felt like a good job with unit/squad mechanics, and Night Witches does. The moves in every playbook have change over between day and night moves, reflecting the different circumstances of these women’s lives. The Night Witches flew at night, so the night moves reflect the actions and risks undertaken every mission. Day moves focus on the inter/intra personal details of the pilots’ lives during the war. I can’t wait for it to come out, and if the concept has you hankering for your own copy, you can check out the Night Witches Kickstarter.
Halloween was busy, which is why a certain link didn’t get posted on Friday. The Beast Within 4: Gears and Growls is a steampunk anthology brimming with monsters, clockwork fiends, and some dark tales. My story Red in Winter appears, which is my bloody take on the Little Red Riding Hood fable. It has Pinkerton detectives, serial murder, and a small town somewhere near the West Coast being dogged by a determined and cunning wolf.
In addition to Red in Winter coming out recently, my article “Storium’s Analog Heritage” made its appearance in the Analog Game Studies journal this morning. They’re a new journal, but their archives are already a treasure trove of interesting design food for thought. 
1. Never doubt people when they say you won’t remember much of your wedding, or the month around it. I should probably be grateful I miraculously mostly remember the ceremony.
2. Hopefully, I’ll carve out some time soon to discuss that experience in depth in a different blog post.
3. Jason has visited WWII via games before. If you haven’t read/played Grey Ranks before, you should look it up. The game is about the young Polish partisans, and their lives before, during and after the Uprising in 1944. Like Night Witches, it’s a potent game that doesn’t shy away from the emotional trauma of war, within its narrative or mechanically.
4. I played Dread with friends last night (Ryan was running) and I have So Many Thoughts about Dread’s design right now. May dump them into a blog post.
Though I’m rarely one for zombie related media, Spoiler captured my heart a few years ago when it graced the internet with its presence. The short film is a night in the life of a county coroner after humanity has ‘won’ the fight in the zombie apocalypse. It’s a bittersweet, intriguing take on life after the zombie virus has entered our lives.
This short film was a Finalist at Tropfest 2013 in Australia; a man does his best to ensure the safety of his daughter in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Get your Kleenex. Sharing this gem because, like Spoiler, it is poignant, human, and easy to imagine as something people would do if they were ever placed in this situation.
There is plenty of music out there that will help you sleep. Once you see this short film set to Johnny Hollow’s “Alchemy,” this song will not be one of those soothing masterpieces. “The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow” was a collaboration between Vincent Marcone (band member/artist) and Rodrigo Gudino (film director). It’s exquisite and strange, and some of the best Nightmare Fuel around.
It’s been four years since a stroke sent me to an emergency room, for a night I only remember fragments of. This year has reminded me a lot of that pain. The blinding migraines started up again in the spring, and I wrote them off as stress, or a sinus infection, completely unaware that an infection deep in the tissue of my mouth desperately needed surgery. I was lucky enough that the combined expertise of my doctors caught it just in time to prevent widespread damage to my face and bones. The pain from where they drilled and rebuilt that part of my mouth didn’t fully ebb till a few weeks ago. And I tried to be relieved, because it could have been worse, and the migraines must have been from the infection.
But they kept going. My doctors explained I was experiencing nerve pain in half of my body because my sleep issues had become too severe, that the new influx of migraines was a sign, just like they’d been four years ago, a sign that I desperately needed to rest. One doctor urged me to take a month off work before my wedding, another pleaded for me to at least take a week off. Yet another told me my sleep-starved brain was taking me down with it. All of them, over and over, made a case that I was courting a medical disaster, creating the perfect condition for physical and psychological crisis. It was going to get worse, they said. Unless I could get some more sleep. Unless I could decompress.
Resting is something I tried to do after the stroke. I quit volunteering, I desperately pared back on everything, trying to keep things from getting worse. My primary care physician suspected that the stroke was one of a pair in the same weekend, the first occurring the night before. For years, I’ve made my living working with words. Migraines threaten that by making it too painful to do anything but lie in the dark, praying for the pain to end. A stroke is…it’s a cataclysm. It is life changing. But not habit changing, in my case.
Pain this year has been a roller coaster, infections and migraines and surgery, sleep deprivation and new extremes of stress. In sobbing pain for days on one side of my body, my dominant hand weaker than my off hand, I went for testing. A whole pile of tests, to try and find a root disease, to alleviate my fears, and those of some of my doctors. Perhaps I’d had another stroke, or an entire sequence of them. Maybe it was MS. Or lesions, cancer. I cried when the doctor told me the imaging was clean, that my brain was intact.
Yet the concerns couldn’t cease, because I was still headed for collapse. Surgery had set me behind by months, and the agonizing pain that started in January and became unceasing by April lost me endless hours. I largely kept how bad it was offline, because I was scared I’d impact my employability. That same fear kept offline the nearly constant smear of suicidal depression and migraines I experienced in 2011 and 2012. 2013 was a slow trip back from that dark, painful, risky stretch of years, and 2014 dumped me right back into physical misery that courted the utmost limits of my ability to cope. I’ve turned down projects, and had to leave others. I still have a few projects that have become “project debt,” overdue things I cannot leave undone.
Sidebar: It’s not that I don’t love the shit out of you all, but every time you saw me at a con this year, I was in agonizing pain and my body was falling apart. If I seemed inattentive or avoiding socializing, exhausted or just plain weird, it was costing me everything physically and mentally just to keep making my panels. That’s before we go into the social anxiety disorder they’re still trying to figure out how to treat.
Years of pain don’t make me unique. Being at risk and taking medication daily to improve my chances of not having another stroke or attempting suicide again don’t make me unique. Neither does doing my damndest to cover it up. We are surrounded by people who are struggling, to the point that they are drowning, and we don’t even know. And I’ve been one of them.
You can still do a lot even when you don’t know people near you are hurting. Learn a few crisis line numbers. Keep NAMI or NEDA saved in your bookmarks. Regularly remind your friends that it is okay to talk to people about their feelings, or problems, even when they’re not sure any of it makes sense outside their head. Ask people about how they’re doing, and be open when you can about how you’re doing, on good days and on bad days. People who are struggling and actively looking for someone, anyone to talk to, will see those things. All of them are positive indications that they won’t be shunned for admitting vulnerability, fear, or pain. It’s not worth the risks of opening up unless the people around us seem safe to do so with.
There’s this music video that I can only classify as Nightmare Fuel, which is why I am filled with the uncontrollable need to share it with you. Dark Corners is a delightfully moody song from The Flight. Laid over the dark urban fantasy TV intro vocal styling of Keaton Henson is the dangerous, creepy atmosphere bolstering creative vision of Kevin Weir. If you’ve seen creepy animated black and white photos on the internet, the chances are good that you’re already familiar with Weir’s work.
My panel and seminar times have had a few changes since I originally posted my schedule, so here’s an updated schedule on where to find my panels at Gen Con!
Gaming as Mythic Exploration
How does the act of creating, exploring, and defining a game world resemble the creation and exploration of myth, both as ritual and as scripture or literature?
Thursday, 12:00-1:00 p.m. ICC 211
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Kenneth Hite, Greg Stafford
Freelancing and Mental Health
No matter your diagnosis or where you are in dealing with your mental health, knowing you’re not alone can make a difference. Come hear peers discuss how they get through the hard times.
Friday, 12:00-1:00 p.m. ICC 210.
Editing: When, Why, and How
Editing benefits a game from start to finish. We’ll talk about when to get an editor, why, and how to become one.
Friday, 3:00-4:00 p.m. ICC 211
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Andrew Hackard
The Devil Walks in Salem – From Fiasco Game to Film
Join the story gaming revolution! Learn about the unique adaptation of an actual Fiasco gaming session into a narrative film. Join Jason Morningstar (from Bully Pulpit Games), Lillian Cohen-Moore (co-creator of Fiasco’s Salem playset), Peter Adkison and documentary filmmaker Elke Hautala for a short panel discussion on how this story was brought to life on film. Then, enjoy two screenings! First the short documentary on the process itself followed by the actual film, The Devil Walks in Salem. Witness the power of storytelling firsthand!
Minimum Age: Teen (13+)
Friday, 11:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. Westin: Capitol I
Women in the Game Industry
A panel designed toward women who want to get involved in the game industry and what obstacles there are to face, how the industry is changing, and other business tips.
Saturday, 12:00-1:00 p.m. ICC 210.
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Nicole Lindroos, Jennifer Shahade, Elisa Teague
A few months ago, Javy Gwaltney tweeted that he was looking for some sci-fi writers. Answering that tweet was how I became involved with You Were Made for Loneliness. YWMFL is a Twine game that takes place after the remnants of humanity have left Earth, and colonized the stars. Twenty years after The Fall, an android is purchased in a pawn shop on Callisto. Inside her are joyous and heart breaking memories of love, slowly coming back to life.
I’m delighted that I was able to contribute to this game alongside Rollin Bishop, Cameron Cook, Bryant Francis, Sidney Fussell, Richard Goodness, Javy Gwaltney, Jon Hamlin, Kitty Horrorshow, Patrick Lindsey, Tony Perriello, Olivia Frank, Marc Price, Elizabeth Siminins, Zoya Street, Kaitlin Tremblay, Stephen Wilds, and Nina White (writing as Ashton Raze).
I was at a book reading last Friday, and was asked afterward about where I get the many odd/quirky/profane shirts I’m usually sporting at events. For that questioner, and the many who have asked before them, a sampling of those purveyors of fine t-shirts.
I ran into their website years ago, but have only been buying their shirts at conventions because I am weak about my wallet in a Dealer’s Hall. They’re nice, helpful, and really pleasant to buy from. I’ve bought one of their fictional drink shirts, and every Lovecraft related shirt I have is from them. Except for one.
A real place of business in Portland, Oregon, The Lovecraft is a H.P. Lovecraft themed bar. I own one of their older tank tops, and love it dearly.
Pretty sure they don’t carry the Sunnydale High School or Team Van Helsing shirts I’ve been seen sporting at 8 a.m. panels, but not a bad place to go looking for shirts.
Any Little Red Riding Hood shirt you’ve ever seen me in comes from here. Unless it was a BigBadCon shirt for BBC 2012, in which case, my LRRH was lost in my last move, never to be seen again, now a forlorn memory, like so much mist on the dimly remembered fashion winds.
To get your own FUCK YOUR PATRIARCHAL BULLSHIT shirt, click the above link.
I’m known to sometimes snag the odd shirt off CafePress or Etsy, and will now plug the design savvy of Daniel Solis in shirt form. Go there to check out his shirts. I’d also recommend taking a look at the shirts over in the CafePress store of my childhood hero, Warren Ellis.
I don’t think there’s a week that goes by without me seeing a peer post a reminder not to use their Facebook or Twitter for work-related messages. So it’s worth going over some of the reasons using social media for work isn’t a good idea.
Respect and Privacy
Maybe you’re fine with doing all of your business on social media, but the person you’re asking to work for (or with) isn’t. Doing business with another person isn’t just about your preferred style of doing so. Respect that other person and the way they conduct business. In addition to that, asking someone if they have time for work in a public way can hurt them professionally. If they say yes to you, but politely turned someone else down the same day by pleading schedule issues, that can be turned into ugly remarks about them. Alternatively, they just might not want to work with you, and if they tell you they’re unavailable, that hurts their ability to take other clients.
Tweets can get lost, Facebook messages can go unseen, the medium you’re communicating through demands instant response, or else the thread is lost. If you ask someone “Hey, are you available for some work this week?” via social media, the person you’re asking has to drop what they’re doing to deal with you. Forcing someone to deal with you on your time isn’t respectful, nor is it professional. Even if they’re receptive to this kind of communication, if they don’t see that message, DM or tweet, you’ve sabotaged yourself by using an imperfect medium to get someone’s attention.
Twitter has a very restrictive character limit. Unless you’re linking to a job posting, you’re going to have to leave a number of details about a job from your tweet. While Facebook doesn’t have the space issues of Twitter, it still has the problem of being ephemeral. If you use email you can go into as much detail as needed, and that conversation is put into the most searchable form someone has on hand: their email archives. A thread of saved emails helps you keep track of details and contracts, which is much harder to do via Facebook and Twitter. Discussing contract details via DM isn’t just unprofessional, it’s irresponsible to you and the person you’re doing business with.
Most of the freelancers I know have a mix of personal and work related content on their Twitter. But many, myself included, use Facebook (or G+) as a friends and family social media feed. If you approach someone about work on a personal social media feed, you may alienate or even anger that person. For me, I find friending me on FB makes me scowl if it’s a stranger approaching me about work. I have a contact page on my website for a reason, and my FB is for close peers, people I enjoyed working with, my cherished friends, and family. This is an emotional context that layers over the above issues of trying to use social media for work.
Before anyone gets up in arms, I love and appreciate when people use Twitter to find new artists, pinch hitter writers, or other kinds of all-calls because they usually direct people to an email or website. Most of my fellow journalists use social media to find sources when appropriate, but we take those exchanges off Twitter and into email as soon as possible, because social media is a terrible medium to continue those conversations with.