Monday, December 17, 2018

Keep the Lights On

As I wait for the Turn Kickstarter payout to hit my inbox, I reflect on the contracts I'm having my contributors agree to. We ask a lot of freelancers, a very lot – I know, because I am one. I try to be fair to the people I hire, and I know I have not always paid as much as I want to, but I hope someday I will be able to.

One thing I hope to always do, though, is keep the lights on.
A light painting of a blue heart
I have something that I ask for as a freelancer that can sometimes make people balk. It's what I call my "keep the lights on" (KTLO) arrangement. The "keep the lights on" arrangement is that upon contract sign, I get 25%-50% of my payment up front, invoiced and paid.

Not everyone can afford this, so I don't always get it, but that's okay. Those who can pay it most of the time, and it does what it says on the tin – it helps me keep the lights on. This arrangement has improved my work massively.

When a client is willing to sign onto this, it tells me:
  • They have funds to pay
  • They care for my wellbeing
  • They trust that I will do the work
  • They understand economic stress
Blurry orbs of light of a variety of colors but mostly white, cascading
If someone is doing a Kickstarter, they rarely have good reason not to do this. Once they get the KS payout, they should be able to pay you at the very least your KTLO pay. They have all the funds! You shouldn't be required to work without a contract, and they don't know they can pay you for the work until they get that payout. Once they give you a contract and you invoice them, funds should hit your account.

This does mean we need to focus a little less on rush deadlines for projects, but that's just better for the whole damn thing.
Blurry orbs of light through green trees
Once I've accepted just a small like 15% up front payment to KTLO. It ended up paying for the additional cell data costs I had while working to meet the tighter deadline. It was a big help!

I used this model with the freelancers I hired for Behind the Masc and some expressed to me how helpful it was. It was a tiny payout, but even tiny amounts help when you're struggling, like most freelancers tend to be. It can be a doctor's copay. A meal. A grocery run. A haircut for a job interview. We should be thinking one step ahead of the encroaching poverty that threatens anyone without a reliable salary!

People do, in my experience, work better when they're fed. When they are less afraid of their electricity being turned off, or their water or heat. My hands certainly shake less when the temperature is above 50F in my house. I've been without various utilities, even briefly, and worrying about that is the worst.
An orange utility light, looking up from the bottom into it's casing
I've implemented this with Turn, as well. Every freelancer for the project is receiving the KTLO agreement, unless they require otherwise (though so far it's all of them). For me, I feel better knowing they'll have some funds in their account over the holidays. For them, I know some may be in need, as is the way for freelancing!

With the Kickstarter funds, it was an easier choice to make. If you're working on a project that doesn't have a lot of up front capital, consider doing a small payment like I talked about earlier – the Behind the Masc 50% payout was $30 and still helped people make it through.  Remember that this is as much about a show of faith in the freelancer as it is about their true financial situation, but that even the cost of a meal can be enough to keep someone going and keep them feeling enthused for the project – as well as committed to the work.

Cascading orbs of golden light

In my contracts, I don't typically have clauses that require someone to refund me the funds if they can't complete work. I do have a note that if they can't complete it, the remaining funds are forfeit, and any completed work that is usable gets turned over to me, maintaining their credit for the work. You might choose to do things differently, but this has worked for me. I've had people drop out before signing a contract, but not so far after.

It might sound like a weird way to make someone work, especially post-Daniel Pink's talk about how purpose, autonomy, and mastery are the real motivators for people doing brain work and often creative work. But, our economies are supporting that less, and creative work is constantly undervalued as hard work. So, give it a try, maybe.

Help someone keep their lights on. Goodness knows, we could use a little more light in this world.

A light painting of a white heart

Photos by and Copyright Brie Beau Sheldon.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Five or So Questions on Beneath a Cursed Moon

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Michael "Karrius" Mazur about Beneath a Cursed Moon, a roleplaying game currently available on itch.io and DriveThruRPG. It sounds pretty cool, a game with investigation and monsters! I hope you enjoy what Michael's got to say below!

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The book cover for "Beneath a Cursed Moon" with a red serif font and a window, looking out to lightning striking, casting light over a vampire hunter kit with garlic and a gun, a necklace with a strange circular symbol, and a bloodied stake.
Tell me a little about about Beneath a Cursed Moon. What excites you about it? 

Beneath a Cursed Moon is a Gothic fantasy game, inspired by media that's distinctly not horror media, but draws upon those tropes. It's a game about competent, fearless heroes who investigate monsters and slay them, protecting others as they do. Think Castlevania, Bloodborne, Darkest Dungeon, Pirates of the Caribbean, the 1999 The Mummy movie - these are all things with some pretty common horror tropes, all sorts of scary monsters, some scenes that can really give you nightmares, but in the end, the heroes are competent adventurers and the monsters are the ones who should be afraid.

I think the single thing I'm most proud of is the investigation system. Solving mysteries has always been very hit-or-miss in roleplaying games, both difficult to run and difficult to design. My goal was to make sure that every playbook could contribute to that part of the game in a different way, and nobody ever felt scared or punished if they tried to help out. There's no greater penalty for failure when it comes to doing investigation. Instead, events are on a clock, with bad stuff happening as time passes. So it's not a case of "Oh, the dice rolled poorly, time for the penalty", but rather, the players have to decide when they get enough clues to act on, or how fast they can figure things out. They're racing against the clock, and if they take too long and monsters prey on more people - well, they're the ones at fault then! Take the time to brood, and go and get revenge.

I'm also really excited about the game's mechanics have a focus on protecting others more than most combat-heavy games. It's a point I really wanted to emphasize - you're not going out and killing things to steal their treasure, you're going out and hunting down creatures who are putting others at risk. Heroes in these stories are often dark outcasts who don't quite fit into society, but sacrifice for the good of others all the same. It's an important focus to the game, and it's an idea that made a lot of the concepts in the game work - like I mentioned with the investigation.
A woman in a beautiful, elaborate dress and long black hair, some of which is tentacles
Please tell me more about the investigation system! I love investigation in games! How does it work, and what makes it special to you? 

There's a couple really important pieces to the investigation rules that all come together to work together. To start with, there are three different investigation skills - Poke Around, for classic magnifying glass style clue-gathering, Lore, for just knowing a lot about history, monsters, and magic, and Interview, for finding witnesses, getting useful information out of them, and also discerning what parts of their accounts are useful. Each skill lets you ask questions from a list, and you and the MC (the game master title) explore the fiction to figure out how your character comes across this information - this at least is pretty standard in many Apocalypse World style games.

It was important to me that everyone can participate in the investigation, so everyone is at least decent at one of those three skills - there's no characters who "don't have any Smarts" and are left out. This isn't even counting the individual playbook abilities characters can get, letting them help with investigations in unique ways. It was also important to me that no player ever felt like they shouldn't try to participate in the investigation because their skill was too low, or whatever. In some games, you're encouraged by the mechanics to just have your highest bonus character roll, in case a low roll brings bad results.There's no penalty for a low roll - instead, the trade off is a time and opportunity cost. When do you stop investigating, and when do you act? If you think you might know who the vampire secretly is, do you go after your current hunch, and risk angering the wrong people, or do you gain just a few more clues... and risk having the vampire attack an innocent again? This time cost is paid by the entire group, not just an individual character - so if your group decides to keep investigating, well, you get to pick something to help out, and the worst that can happen for you personally acting is not being useful for one action. There's no need to hold back on any particular action just because someone better at it is trying it too.

The time pressure is achieved by the MC coming up with a timeline of events that will happen if the players don't stop it, ranging from monster sightings to murders or whatever is most appropriate for the villains at hand. This is an important thing to me, because it shifts the focus away from just "You're just looking for fights" - the monsters or bad guys are being actively harmful, and if you don't step in, it's going to get worse. The players only have a certain number of turns to investigate until that "get worse" happens, and they don't know how many! This also ends up serving as a Fail Forward (where failing at a task pushing the story forward, rather than staying stagnant) mechanic and provides a drip of new information if players are stuck. If the players ask the wrong questions, or just can't put things together, there will be another monster attack, kidnapping, or the like - which is a new twist to the plot, and a new source of clues. Of course, this likely isn't going to go on forever - and the final result of a timeline should be something like the monster getting away, an elder evil awakening, or the like, shifting the story to a new focus and a player failure.

Finally, there's other stuff you can spend time on when investigating - healing your wounds, gathering together the local militia, finding the right supplies (like silver bullets or holy water), or setting up a magical ritual - so there's plenty of choices on how you want to spend time when investigating, planning, and preparing.
A woman with a cool whip-mace weapon and a battleaxe, wearing armor
I'd love to hear about why you made the choice to focus on protection. What led to this decision, and how do you reflect it in the mechanics? 

For starters, I feel it really suits the genre - a world full of vampires and werewolves would be a slasher horror one if heroes like your characters didn't exist. Plus, figuring out who the vampire is obsessed with, and rescuing them from the beast's clutches is a lot more interesting from a story standpoint than just breaking into a vampire's house and killing it, and it makes the combat more engaging, because there's more to do and worry about than just how much damage you're dealing. Plus, I like RPGs with big action and combat, and it's good to have characters who are fighting for something beyond just themselves. Encouraging the MC to have action scenes with civilians that you need to protect just makes the game more heroic, more fun, and helps to establish NPCs that everyone can care about and enjoy.

Mechanically, you'll see this reflected in the investigation timeline, but combat is handled in a similar way that breaks from Apocalypse World roll-and-response norms. How it works is, the MC describes what the monsters are intending to do, and then the players get to decide how they're reacting. It's the same idea as the timeline - something bad is going to happen, and you've got to stop it! It plays off of the idea of "established dangers" by establishing one that is immediate - the vampire is about to bite into the man's neck, the werewolf is about to dive onto your friend, the cult leader is about plunge her dagger into the sacrifice - how do you stop it? The basic Battle move isn't focused entirely on killing things - certainly, you'll use it to kill things a lot - but it's also what you use to drag a monster's attention onto you, disarm someone, push a victim aside, or the like. And again, trying to protect someone is never going to make it worse for the person you're protecting (although it certainly can for you). The "fail forward" is accounted for in the game mechanics - the failure is the same if you roll poorly or if you choose to do nothing at all, so you may as well try! - so the player of the physically frail Scholar doesn't have to worry if jumping in the way of a charging werewolf to protect a child is going to make things worse for the child. The scholar just has to worry if things are going to get worse for them - which is likely in that case, success or failure.
A bearded man holding a torch and a fancy book, with tons of pouches on his belt beneath his robe.
What kind of guidance do you give the MC for the timelines they have to create and similar activities? 

This is a tough one, because it really varies from group to group in a way that similar guidelines, like combat challenge ratings just can't cover. Instead of giving hard and fast rules, the book discusses the factors that go into it - how you want a steady drip of clues, the in-character logic between investigating a big or small location, your player count (as bigger parties get more actions), adapting to players who take a lot of investigation abilities or see through your plots quickly, etc. So it's discussed, but it's absolutely something each MC is going to have to feel out on their own. Luckily, it's easier to be too lenient with such things than too harsh.


How do you handle content in a game of this nature? It feels like a lot of risk, which can be exciting, but how did you design the sweet spot of content and creativity with safety in mind? 

That's a tough one, and yes, there is a lot of risk. There's a discussion of the importance of having to sit down and talk about what people want out of a game and expectations, as well as if/what safety tools you want to use. That sweet spot is going to vary from group to group, so my goal was to make things general enough that they could be used with room to tone back or ramp up the horror if needed. There's nothing very aggressively gory, sexual, or the like in the presentation, but there's plenty of room for there to be, if that's what the group wants. If you've seen the Castlevania television show, it's using the same monsters as the video games - but showing them partake in levels of excessive violence that the games barely hint at. My approach was similar - present the tools, but leave it up to the players on how they're used.

More directly, I tried to talk about the often bad history behind a lot of these monsters, and how they can be used better. Let's face it, Dracula is cool, but he's a problem - he's an invading foreigner come to prey on women. I address these outright - there's plenty of other things vampires can be a metaphor for, and if Dracula's staying at home and not venturing far to get his blood, he's now a rich noble who's become soulless from his abuse of power, and preying on those below him, draining them of their life to enrich himself. There's a similar part about Lovecraft inspired monsters (although I draw more from those inspired by Lovecraft than Lovecraft directly), the use of a real-world or fantasy setting, and the role a church or church-like structure can play in the game. The default assumption of the game is that you'll be making your own fantasy setting, as reflected in the cover, with sun-symbols instead of crosses, which gives players room to set up a setting and backstory they're comfortable with.

a person in a very fancy dress with high collar, wearing a horned mask, holding a bloodied dagger that is dripping on the floor.



Cover art by Flavia de Vita
http://fdevitart.tumblr.com
https://www.facebook.com/fdevitart
https://www.instagram.com/fdevitart


Playbook art by Dreamweaver Druid
https://dreamweaverdruid.tumblr.com--

Thanks so much to Michael for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out Beneath a Cursed Moon on itch.io or DriveThruRPG!



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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Five or So Questions on Spaceships and Starwyrms

Hey all, today I have an interview with Benjamin Quiggins (he/him) and Audrey Stolze (she/her), the creators of Spaceships and Starwyrms (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook). Spaceships and Starwyrms is a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition supplement "that brings science fiction to the gaming table in a system that is familiar to many seasoned players and very accessible to new players. The supplement is nearly 400 pages long, with new species, classes, backgrounds, equipment, and combat rules, including rules for spaceship combat and travel." It seemed different and cool, so I asked a few questions - here's what Benjamin and Audrey had to say!

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The cover of Spaceships and Starwyrms with the title in white mod font and a spaceship flying next to a craggy, monstrous figure that looks to be a dragon.
Tell me a little about Spaceships and Starwyrms. What excites you about it?

Spaceships and Starwyrms is a sci-fi tabletop system built off the core tenets and philosophy of 5th edition. It’s an accessible d20 based system for people who enjoy the style of 5e but want to explore beyond fantasy into the realm of science fiction. The Core Sourcebook, which releases on December 11 on drivethrurpg, has the new combat rules, species, classes, equipment and everything else you need to jump right into a space adventure.

We’re excited to share the system and its setting with the gaming community. Neither of us have ever published something of this magnitude before, and it’s been a great learning experience. In particular, we’re really proud of all the work we put into creating unique spaceships and combat rules for spaceships. Plus, the setting (the Nacora Galaxy) really took on a life of its own during the creation process. It’s awesome to be able to put something out there that we’ve really poured our hearts and souls into. S&S is going to bring a lot of new opportunities and subtle changes to the d20 system everyone knows and loves, and we hope it has a broad appeal.


What made you decide to do a d20 system, and what have you added to it, including the combat rules?

We were aware that there are a lot of sci fi systems out there, and lots of them use special dice or unique systems. We wanted Spaceships and Starwyrms to be as accessible as possible, which is what informed our decision to create it as a 5e supplement. Our gaming table has been using 5e for a long time and Ben has been making homebrew for that system for a while. It only seemed logical to keep building on that system. Anyone who knows how to play 5e can play S&S without having to learn too many new rules.

The main rules changes involve cover and a new action, the Hack action. In addition, there is a whole chapter on spaceship combat that should be a new experience for every table.

A bug person in a pretty blue and gold robe, using a digital tablet, and somewhat resembling a grasshopper.

How did you come up with Nacora Galaxy setting, and what makes it exciting or unusual (or both!)?

When we first started working on this supplement, we were trying to keep the setting pretty generic. But as we made the species and started filling out the flavor of their homeworlds and cultures, we discovered we had a pretty strong foundation for an intriguing setting. We leaned into it 100%, creating planets, governments, religions, travel systems, and tons of other unique content for the setting.

One of the things we’re most excited about is the adaptability of the Nacora setting. We blended fantasy and sci-fi together to leave room for a slew of different genres of play. This came into play a lot in our spaceship-building section. We have options to create your traditional, tech-based spaceship, spaceships that run on magic, or a mix of both!

Plus, with a galaxy this big, there’s a lot of creative freedom for GMs and players to adapt to their preferences. In particular, we tried to turn some sci-fi tropes on their head to give the galaxy a vivid, fresh atmosphere. One of the best examples of this are the Ix, a playable species of humanoid insects. We wanted to counter the stereotypical monstrous attributes and attitudes given to bug species. The Ix of Nacora are a people who believe in community, friendship, and peace. They are inventors of the universal translator used across the Nacora and founders of the Galactic Coalition for galactic peace.

What is spaceship combat like, and how does it integrate with the 5e framework?

Spaceship combat uses the same timing and initiative system as normal combat, (i.e. each round is six seconds) which allows for simultaneous space and land combats mixed together. We find this really adds to the narrative for simultaneous fights while still keeping the pace moving. Combat feels different depending on situation and the size of the crew on the ship, as there’s different actions that can be taken on a spaceship. Using ability checks and attack rolls, your party can fire weapon systems at the enemy, pilot across the field with trick maneuvers, hack another ship, repair damage to their ship, and even boost the engine power. And those are just some of the highlights. There are also special rules for spaceship (and vehicle) chases.
a person with tusks and long hair wearing a red jacket and brown shirt and pants, with a metal forearm that ends in a glowing, bloodied sword
What kind of research and exploration are you doing to build up to cultures, homeworlds, and species in the Nacora setting?

With each of our species, we tried to consider the environment and evolution of the species first and foremost. That process involved a lot of research of biology. For example, we consulted with a botanist for one of our plant species, and we read articles about the effects of living without sunlight for another. Ultimately, we didn’t let the research hold us back too much - this is still a realm of fiction, after all.

As far as the cultures go, we tried to avoid direct parallels between our aliens and past and current cultures on Earth. We’re only human, however, which means that each species inevitably has some bits of our human experiences and knowledge in their cultures, no matter how much we tried to avoid that. The big exceptions to that rule are the Kygorans, who live in an extremely capitalist society, and the two cultures of Humanity in the setting, which both take aspects of real world humanity.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of science fiction for us is asking the big questions about how a species advances to the point of being a galactic power. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves about their belief systems and motives, their governments and economy, and what day-to-day life on their planets might be like. The Nacora Galaxy is a melting pot filled with pockets of deep cultural roots as well as areas where those cultures overlap and blend. Finding a way to have a variety of cultural experiences was very important to us.

The Core Sourcebook contains all the base information you need for planets, species, and cultures, but it does have a pretty broad focus on the history and cultural identities of the galaxy. We are already discussing plans for splat books that will dig into the individual cultures on a deeper basis.
A person with two separate flippers for legs and the look of coral growing out of their head, with spiny fins on their arms. They are wearing a powersuit that has gun gauntlets.

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Thanks so much to Audrey and Benjamin! I hope you enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Spaceships and Starwyrms, releasing today! Find more at their Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, or email directly with any questions at spaceshipsandstarwyrms@gmail.com!



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Monday, December 10, 2018

Turn Design Stream

Hi all!

I did my first Turn Design Stream and I'd love to hear your thoughts!




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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Five or So Questions on Erotia

I interviewed Ray Cox about Erotia, a game about sex, gods, and communication. It's currently available on itch.io, and is a super lightweight game materials-wise. Check it out!

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Tell me a little about Erotia. What excites you about it? 

Erotia is a small Freeform LARP that I designed with the help of my friend Fin. It's about sex, gods, and communication. And it is small enough that the whole game fits on one side of a business card!

I've wanted to include more sex in my games for a really long time. I'm a professional GM, but the people I play with have never been super into it. Which is fine. Recently though I started Designing my own RPGs and LARPs. And I realised I wanted to make a game about sex, where you can have sex as part of that game. And after a lot of failed ideas, we have Erotia.


Let's talk about safety and consent. How do you handle these in Erotia? What tools and structure do you use to ensure that Erotia is safe and consensual?

Well so Erotia being a game about sex and flirting, it was really important for me to include some safety tools. It was difficult however to fit everything into the small format. What we went with though was framing the safety tools as the most important part of the game. You always begin with a discussion of comfort, limits, and what you're hoping to get out of the game. As well as electing a Safeword, which is a concept introduced to us through BDSM.
A person in a black tank top and a chain choker with a pink mohawk.
Ray Cox, the designer.
What is the narrative of Erotia like? What do you play out and do as characters in the game?

Once you have an idea of what everyone wants to explore, the game moves on to play. The play beginning with everyone introducing their gods, and then interacting. Your Erotia might be a dinner party, a picnic, or some divine friends cuddling up on a cold winter night. Part of your introduction of your divine role is telling others how you wish to be interacted with or interact with others. And those are mostly there as prompts for folks that might not be too sure of themselves. If my god likes having their neck kissed than someone could start by saying: "Hi, I'm Apollo; may I kiss your neck?"

The game lasts as long as there are people still in the play space. The game also ends for all players if the safeword is used. This is so that we can focus on giving proper aftercare to the person that needed play to stop.


Why did you include the gods as part of the game, and what do you think it brings to the table?

I really like narratives about gods; in particular gods as people with more confidence, and a clearer sense of purpose.

I wanted to make a game where you knew you were sexy. Where you had no choice but to feel confident. For me, pretending I'm a god brings that. And when ever I play RPGs where you get to be a god that is how I play it. So yeah, what I think it brings is a sense of power, and also the knowledge that everyone around you is bringing that too.


What are some positive experiences you've had while playing the game that related more to the emotional or social aspect of Erotia?

Well I've never played Erotia, and I have not met anyone that has. I do currently have a date scheduled with a Long Distances lover of mine to play the game when next we meet though. I've done the character creation part of Erotia a fair bit. I often use it as a creative exercise to help refine my gendermood, or to pump myself up before going out. You can also use it to flirt. Aforementioned lover and I have been sending each other fliracious letters with text like "I am Rei, the season. My domain of power is change. I am worshipped with loving praise, & offer submission in return that we might make out till sunrise."

But if you're reading this interview, and you've played Erotia, I'd love to hear what you thought?
--

Thanks so much Ray for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it, and that you'll check out Erotia on itch.io today!



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Monday, December 3, 2018

In The End (I'm okay)

Today, on the Twitters, Adam Savidan posted something that just really hit me.
I had a good weekend, but I seem to be fighting with this big empty hole feeling in my chest after I release any content, like I’m instantly irrelevant after it’s been finished.
- Adam Savidan @WakeUpSuper
 One, I want to state that Adam is awesome and absolutely still relevant. His current show Spectator Mode is an amazing celebration of eSports and is infused with Adam's enthusiasm. I love that! I don't even watch eSports, but I watch Spectator Mode. Two, I totally get this, and I get how even after making something a-maaaaaayzing, Adam might feel a little like... bad.

Here I'll talk about the bad feeling - what I'll call the suck, some of what I do to try to fix it, and some of where I think it comes from.

The Suck

I just finished a Kickstarter, the most funds I've raised in a month through any means in my whole life, for a project that I deeply and passionately care about. But the truth is, for me, Turn has been done for a while - the minute I sent it to the editor, I felt like the main project died. The Kickstarter just performed some necromancy, and the next eight months are just riding on that wave of lich-love.

And right, I'll get some bursts working on The Confidante (which is actually pretty much done) and a Moose, and doing dev work alongside the stretch goal writers. But like, I will be real with you, the editing process is basically hell for me, I will hate every minute of it ten times more than you hate gum on your shoe. But I'll do it, cuz it's what's necessary to make a product, and yeah.

a clip from Wayne's World showing Wayne eating Pizza Hut in a performative fashion
But when the stuff that keeps me going is done, like my design bits, that suck comes in like

"You're not a real creator"
"You're not making anything useful"
"No one cares about the work you're doing"
"Everyone's already forgotten about you"
"Nothing you make will last or be memorable"

And just. I can't tell you how! much! I! HATE! IT! And I feel like I can't do anything about it, and maybe, most of the time I can't. I can try, you know? Like poke at it and make an effort. The alternative is to wallow negatively and agree with it and be like yeah, yeah, I super suck and I'm not good at anything. And ugh, gross. Gross.

@that_MAZ also tweeted this video of Wentworth Miller, a gay actor who is super inspiring to me for many reasons, talking about how we talk to ourselves:

It's real good, and I'm grateful for the words. It's also challenging, because man, I can't imagine talking good about myself on a regular basis - I even did a semester-long mindfulness meditation dedicated to reducing negative self-talk. It helped, but it didn't fix it - probably only constant vigilance would make a difference, and that's...a lot.

I pretty aggressively beat up on myself for not doing well enough, not succeeding enough, not constantly working. It doesn't matter how hard I work, there is not enough work done, and the minute the project stops, it's the suck. This kinda one-two punch of things talking about how we feel about ourselves (that we are irrelevant if we are not creating) and how we talk about ourselves (hurtfully) really hit hard. So, I wanted to talk a little about how I fight the suck, both the better ways and the worser ones, and ways I am gonna try in the future.

Fighting The Suck, Part 1, AKA the Bandage Over the Void

One way I try to circumvent the suck is by lining up new projects of varying sizes and by working on projects alongside the main project. I worked on Ears Are Burning during the Kickstarter, worked on projects for Turn like The Confidante and The Opossum during the Kickstarter, and I announced my new project, The Unhurried Pursuit of Sloth (more soon) at the tail end of the Kickstarter. And I have work to do immediately after, too, like my project for Orun, a sensitivity read, Leading with Class, blog posts to prep, starting a Scion streamed game (as player), supporting the stretch goal writers & doing that dev work, edits for Turn, and a project I just signed on for with Glittercats Fine Amusements (signing the contract probably tomorrow).

Of these, only a couple of them seem like I'll feel that creative filling for them, and a lot of the others are either different brain space or just not as satisfying as one of my own projects. And even so, even if I get that burst for them, each will end in turn. There's a lot of fear here.

Where The Suck Comes From

Part of me fears that if I end one project without another lined up, I'll feel worse, and another project won't come. This is scary for me financially, too, because I do rely on a lot of this work for income to keep my lights on and ensure we eat. John works, so so much, but maintaining me as a functioning human is expensive. Like, without my income from Thoughty, we get very close to a scarier spot than we're already in.

Griffin McElroy saying "and let's just have a full blown panic attack together!"
And the other part of me fears two things:
  • that I have nothing left to create - I am no longer a creator
  • that I am not valuable to anyone anymore - I am no longer valid
I have this deep and terrifying anxiety about not being useful? As a disabled person, as a person who has lost their usefulness time and again in varying ways, I am so afraid of the day I stop being useful to people entirely. To the day I am put in the corner to die. That is a full-on constant fear. And not creating anymore would make me much less useful, too much less, in part because of how hard not-game-design work is, and I die a little inside every time I realize how easily it could happen (see also: my brain is broken and some days I can't words).

And the valuable thing? It's just the other side of the coin. It's where I'm nicer to myself about the reality and allow myself that people might see good in me, might benefit from being connected to me. But what if it is just because of what I create? What if they don't see me creating stuff and being present and being a non-stop content creator every single day and they decide I'm not valuable anymore? There's nothing good left to see in me? I'm no longer a valid investment of their time and energy.

And I get worried they're gonna go away. That the people, they will leave me. It's not like building an audience is easy, like, it's fucking hard. I'm an entire person on this here internet and I've worked hard to make content that brings people to me so I am not alone in this universe, in appreciating the work I've done, and so on. And when a project ends it's like, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh, I gotta try to keep them here.
A blonde woman saying "Okay, that's okay." nervously.
Losing your audience is a hard hit. I've had hits like that, where I fucked up or I was just not what people wanted and I bled followers like so bad. It can mean death to future projects, and it definitely means tons of work rebuilding, networking, trying to be enough. Sometimes finding whole new audiences. It ain't easy. And that's part of the fear: even if I manage to recover, if I ever make anything again, I have to redo all of what I've done and more, and it may never be enough.

This is even more complicated when you are friends with a lot of your audience, like I am, and like many creators are - you know they're your friends, but what if someone makes a better, cooler thing while you're sitting here, unable to create something amazing right now? Wouldn't you rather they be happy?

Sometimes I wanna dump pudding on my brain for how easily it digs in to try to hurt me like this.

I think part of the resolution of this is identifying what our root fears are that cause this sucking feeling. Looking over them, mine are clear: safety based (wellbeing, financial security), purpose/identity based (usefulness, ability to be creative), social based (losing my social support net which directly impacts the others). And you know... those aren't illegitimate fears.

And I'm feelin' them while I look at my planned December break (more on that in a sec).

Fighting the Suck, Part 2, AKA Using Your Words

Sometimes, I turn to Mr. Rogers. See, Mr. Rogers wouldn't have ever given me shit for not constantly working. He'd probably ask me to work a little less! Or just as much as I felt like was right for me.
And like...one thing I need to learn is that a lot of my audience is there for me as I am, even right after I finish a project, even when I haven't worked on a project for a while. They care about me more than they care about what I produce. This is contrary to my brain, and fights against my fears.

So let's start with that. Slam down some affirmations, right? Use the words that work for you. Try to address each of your fears.
  • It's okay to be afraid of all the things that could go wrong.
  • It's okay to want to feel useful and creative.
  • It's okay to feel lonely when all the good words slow.
Next step is to chase away the lies. I try to avoid absolutes and stuff when I do this, but your language might work better for you, as usual.
  • Your creativity isn't unlimited, but breaks are okay, and reinvigorate you.
  • Usefulness is not based on constant productivity.
  • Your friends and audience aren't here purely because of what you create.
Then I think it's important to put some good in. Go wild, be generous.
  • You can think up new projects when your brain and body have rested!
  • You look productive when you have completed projects!
  • Your audience can enjoy your work at their own pace if you take some time!
And now we can do the more action-y part. Here's where I'd make a plan for how to fill the void.

What Fills Me?

This part is a pain because you have to think of like, the way you feel satisfied as a person. I'm going to talk mine out here.

Obviously there's trying to do new projects. That helps! Ish. But there's also like, getting positive comments from people that have nothing to do with my work, like, focusing on me as a person and their feelings about our relationship (or on my selfies & appearance, which is still kind of a bandage instead of stitches but ya know). Loving time with my partners or friends, and fun activities (actually playing games and stuff) help to offset the suck. Other creative activities than design like drawing, photography, and so on help me both distract myself AND keep me creatively satisfied.

Neil Patrick Harris saying "It's like, I don't even care what happens for the rest of the day!"

Fighting the Suck, Part 3 AKA Filling the Void

If you have a project ending, it's a good thing to set up a schedule for how you're going to deal with the suck. Using a bandage like in part 1, and using your works like in part 2, both are steps to deal with it. But the final step is filling that void!

What I chose to do right after the Turn Kickstarter was to schedule the Kickstarter to end right when we get a paycheck so our bank account doesn't feel so starkly empty, schedule & go on a photography trip with John for both love & creative time, make sure I post selfies and stuff to social media within a couple of days so I could get some positive comments from friends, and have a plan in place for the work I'll be starting. I also did some stuff like drawing (I bought some new colored brush pens) and setting up for the Scion game. And I took some time off the Kickstarter! Like I haven't sat and did emails or comments or anything, just like I promised. BUT I have been available on social media and interacting.

This can't be it, though. The recovery has to be proportionate to my productivity, honestly. I did grad school, then did a Kickstarter, then did a Kickstarter. So, I'm also officially taking off the second half of December - from everything. I'll be making sure I do photography, draw, and spend time with my partners. I'm allowed to work on game design if I really feel like it, so only when I have inspiration and enthusiasm, but no big project work. To facilitate this, I'm doing a two-week period where I'm resolving all my loose ends (edits for Turn, Orun work, pending paid work, etc.), and then I'm going to work on filling my void with something other than productivity.

It's like a sucking chest wound, right, the suck? You gotta wrap it up and keep an eye on it, be ready to unwrap it if things get yikes inside.

Gina from Brooklyn 99 saying Ew.
To break down what I am doing, I'm addressing:
  • safety fears - scheduling of the Kickstarter near payday, arranging to get paid work done, maintaining my health by taking time off, separating myself from the Kickstarter so it's no longer my whole life
  • purpose/identity fears - doing other creative things and spending time with partners, getting validation through selfies, allowing myself to be creative in games when I want
  • social fears - connecting with social media and getting engagement on selfies and my tweets from my audience, planning social things that prioritize my deep relationships, ensuring I'm still being "public"
It sounds like a lot but it's challenging to take care of yourself, to fight your fears, and to find a pathway to deal with the suck! It's also important to remember how much you can do during a project to ensure it doesn't become all-encompassing. Like I didn't do enough, but I tried to balance it by having a consultant do some of the work, not responding to Kickstarter comments when I was supposed to be in bed (this died eventually), and being thoughtful with my scheduling. The initial part 1 with bandaging by doing some design work alongside and ensuring I'd have design work post-Kickstarter was part of this.

One last of these kind of things I'll be doing is I'll be letting my audiences know that I'm dealing with this (in part through this post), so that if they've got some free energy, they can send good vibes my way.

There's one more thing.

Fighting the Suck, Part 4, Unsuck Yourself

This is, I think, the hardest part - and it goes back to the Wentworth Miller video. We need to be kinder to ourselves. We need to not slide into telling ourselves we suck, and we need to speak to ourselves lovingly. So when our brain starts those bad things I talked about earlier, and like he says in the video, we gotta refocus. Talk to ourselves out loud, and make them good to us.
"If you do talk to yourself out loud... make sure that the words are loving, supportive, and nourishing. Start the work of being your own best friend." 
- Wentworth Miller
You aren't the suck. You're just a person who is done with a thing. An AWESOME thing! And you'll have the chance to do more things, you just gotta remember that you need a break, too.

Garnet from Steven Universe saying "There's one more thing I forgot to tell you. I love you! Bye!"


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P.S. - Maybe this will not be useful to anybody, but it might be useful to somebody! I just tried to think of all the things that are helpful for me and that I've been working on to deal with this problem that is really hard for me.

P.P.S. - The title of this is in reference to Linkin Park's "In The End" which I've listened to constantly during periods of depression, which normally accompany the suck. Since Chester Bennington's death, I've been trying harder to fight my depression than I ever have, because it has been super hard for me to cope with losing him - and I was just a fan who identified with his music. It made me wonder who would care if I was gone, and not want to hurt them. It matters.

P.P.P.S. - I looked up sucking chest wounds for this. There was an autoplay video. I suffer for my art.



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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Ears Are Burning

Ears Are Burning is now on
https://briecs.itch.io/ears-are-burning

a dark blue box with the text "Ears Are Burning by Brie Beau Sheldon, a game of superstition & the public eye"

Ears Are Burning is a single-player game using timed observation and body control (low-impact meditation) to explore our connection to the constant flow of input from others, and our own output in desperation to match it, and the way it impacts us physically. It's a simple experience, but everyone knows that when it comes to discourse, it's always possible to lose the game.

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Ears Are Burning is super simple but it is expressing an experience I'm struggling with as I work through running a Kickstarter. It's not easy - in fact, it's super challenging - to let your ears cool down. I hope I can find more time to do it soon. Won't you join me?


Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.