14 November 2009

It's Like Being Bipolar

Ever since I was laid off (which, admittedly, was less than a week ago), I go back and forth between extremes of emotion. On one hand, I get elated that I might be able to work on something new and different. The prospect of change is exciting. Then I find myself worrying and stressing because nothing has come through yet.

Like I said, it's only been a week. People tell me not to worry, to try and take it easy. It's all very simple to say, "I'm going to take it easy," but actually relaxing -- and not dwelling on the fact that I'm two months from complete poverty -- is nigh impossible.

10 November 2009

Being Laid Off

In June of 2007, I was working as a materials buyer for an orthodontic manufacturer in Southern California. I was also writing freelance for tabletop RPGs, and I'd had some success in that arena. I'd always talked about moving over to computer games, MMOs, but I didn't really think it would ever happen.

Then, one day, I saw a job posting for the upcoming Warhammer MMO. Given that I'd contributed to a couple of Warhammer Fantasy RPG books, I thought that maybe there was a chance they'd be interested in me. I knew a couple of people who worked at Mythic (or who soon would be), so I sent my resume along to them and asked them to put in a kind word for me.

To my surprise, I had a phone interview, followed up by an on-site interview. After the interview, they made me an offer.

I saw this as my ticket out of my relatively low-paying white collar job and into the exciting world of computer game design. I snapped it up, put in my two weeks' notice, and then went about the process of moving my wife, my 2 year-old son, and 4 month-old daughter across the country.

In my time with Mythic, I saw Warhammer Online evolve into a game I was proud to be a part of. I witnessed the game's launch, and then sat in suspense as the numbers were tallied. I did my work, wrote some good material, and kept on keeping on. I worked alongside gifted and creative people, made friends with many of them, and I looked at the future with a mixture of hope and anticipation.

On November 9th, I, along with a number of my co-workers, was let go. I saw the signs of my impending unemployment long before it was actually confirmed to me. I was worried, frightened. Here I am, with my family, thousands of miles from home, and about to become one of the nation's many unemployed workers.

When the hammer finally struck, I'd gotten my sorrow out of the way. I knew what I had to do; failing that, I'd try to get back to California. I joke, "I'll get back if I have to sell a kidney to do it." I'm not sure that the market for kidneys is particularly good here in the States, but even if it is, I'd prefer to keep my internal organs all to myself.

It's day two since my official termination. I've sent out resumes, had friends send my resume to folks at other companies, and browsed job sites looking for positions that I might fit. Is it too early to expect anything back? Probably. The silence is deafening, though. I've just got to be patient, positive, and proactive. The three P's. I've got a little bit of time to find something new -- 2 months, on the outside -- and while that seems like a long time now, I know it's going to fly by.

As far as my experience at Mythic, I'm not bitter. Sad, maybe. I don't necessarily regret the opportunity I had to get a leg up in an industry that I love, but I do regret that things didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped they would. I don't imagine that the game was perfect, but it's a tough market. It's either sink or swim.

Two years, four months, almost to the day. I was proud to be where I was, to work for Mythic and Electronic Arts, along with so many bright and shining folks. I never gave up on Mythic, either; I always looked towards a better day, when things would turn around. If it ever comes to pass now, I won't be there to see it from the inside. No, I'll be somewhere else, focusing my skill, dedication, and optimism on something else.

09 September 2009

Gaming Lately

So, two of my work friends moved to Austin, Texas, last month to take up jobs with BioWare (working on The Old Republic; how I hate them). They also happened to be two of my players here at work. Getting new players isn't so much of a problem, but I feel I have a right to complain, anyway.

No, the trouble stems from the fact that it's hard to get the momentum going again after such an upset. Don't get me wrong, I'm not weeping bloody tears over Brian and Bull, but I did enjoy playing with them. They're good guys, and they're missed.

There are also other things that go into the gaming funk, one being the fact that I don't want to plan anything out too far ahead right now. Change, that mysterious pet to Fate, may be a-coming. I'd just as soon avoid any other disappointments until I'm more certain of the future.

Many of the same issues plague non-work gaming, but they are always eclipsed by familial responsibilities and exaustion (in that order). However, I did run Stephen through a quick (15 minute) scenario where he rescued a baby from a group of hungry goblins. There wasn't much in the way of role-playing, but he rolled the old d20 and taught the goblins a lesson or two about the price of kidnapping.

I've cut back hard on the freelancing (though I'm not sure I had much of a choice in the matter). If interesting opportunities arise in the future, we'll see if I feel I have time to squeeze them in. Not having a looming deadline as of late has been interesting, though I am the masochistic sort of person who trades in one stress for another. Gods help me. This last GenCon marked the first time I'd attended the show where I wasn't trying to drum up freelance work. It was somewhat liberating.

Back to gaming, I did manage to get a game in at GenCon. GM Chris from d20 Radio did a test run of the SW Saga edition adventure Murder on the Executor, and I got to play (along with Sterling Hershey and a bunch of other swell guys).

All for now. Back to the grind.

15 August 2009

ENnie Results for 2009

I didn't attend the ENnies last night. Most of the times I've gone to GenCon, I've attended them. I guess the pomp and circumstance has worn thin for me, but I still recognize the awards for what they are and appreciate what they do for the gaming industry.

Order 66 won Silver for Best Podcast. It's a well-deserved award for them. I'm biased, being as I've appeared on the show twice and they've always treated me well. I've also been fortunate to hang out (and play SW) with Chris and his d20 Radio friends, smoke some good tobacco, and chat about ... lots of things, not all of which are appropriate to discuss in polite company.

On a personal note, two of the books I worked on won Silver ENnies last night. The Clone Wars Campaign Guide took the silver for Best Supplement, and Scum & Villainy took Silver for Best Cartography. Dark Heresy took the Silver for Best Game, and even though I've got a writing credit on that title, I don't deserve much credit for that. Still, I guess it looks good on a resume.

I'm tickled about Scum & Villainy's ENnie, despite the fact that the cartographers, Jonathan Hill and Chris West, deserve all the credit. Many of the maps in S&V were based on the fevered pencil-and-graph paper maps I scanned and sent in with my final turnover. So even if they weren't particularly attractive, they were transformed into ENnie Award-winning maps by two very talented mapsmiths. Kudos and props to both Jonathan and Chris. You guys are awesome.

The surprise for me is the Clone Wars Campaign Guide. I didn't really expect it to win, especially given the competition that it was up against. I've got a lot of material in that book, so I'm pleasantly surprised that it won.

So that's the long and short of my ENnie commentary for the year. I'm going to get ready for the day. If you're in Indianapolis for GenCon, drop by and say hello to me at Mythic Entertainment's booth today or tomorrow.

27 July 2009

What Dreams May Come (True)

As a pessimist, I sometimes find it difficult to think positively. This is especially true when it's me thinking positively about the things I really, really want. All things considered, I've been very fortunate in the way my life has turned out. I've got an awesome family, a great job, and I'm not living in a cardboard box on the side of Route 50.

"Always in motion, the future," as my little green friend once said to a far more powerful Jedi than I. The future is not set ... except when it is, of course.

So I wait, and I watch, and I try to keep a positive mind on the proceedings, while suppressing the nervous feeling my guts. Oh, gods, why was I born a neurotic?

18 July 2009

Missionary Work

I've always been keen on introducing new people to tabletop gaming. I'm not entirely sure how many people are interested in gaming, but aren't able (or willing, maybe) to find someone else to play with.

One of my first experiences with being a tabletop missionary was back when I was working at Game Towne in Carlsbad, CA. A couple of younger kids, probably in their early teens, came into the store. They were curious about role-playing, AD&D, etc, and they asked me to help them out. The first thing I did was introduce them to gaming using my own favorite system (at the time): Cyberpunk 2020. I prepared a short adventure and ran them through it after hours.

The next day, they came back and said they were hooked. They were more interested in a fantasy setting, though, so I pointed them towards Elric! by Chaosium. They bought it, thanked me, and I didn't see them again for another couple weeks. When they came back, they wanted more supplements. Seems they'd been playing almost daily since buying the Elric! rules.

It's been about 15 years since then, and sometimes I wonder if they're still gaming.

Another instance of this so-called missionary work was to introduce a few folks at my last purchasing job to D&D. I managed to get a group of three players together, and we played a number of games. Two of the three enjoyed it enough to continue with me; the third decided after her second game that gaming was pretty boring. We eventually pulled in a couple more people (one of my other co-workers, and the spouse of one of the others who'd already been playing).

As with all groups, there were personal issues that eventually arose that made things a little more complex. They weren't related to the game, but involved marital issues between one of the original players and her husband. It was also around that time that I got my offer to work for Mythic, so it was inevitable that the game was going to break up, anyway. Overall, I consider that experience to be a success, even though, to my knowledge, none of the folks involved (aside from me) continues to play D&D. If I'd remained at that job in California, I think we would've continued playing.

Now I have another opportunity to introduce someone to tabletop gaming. I'm looking forward to the chance. I don't know if the attempt will stick or not, but it's always interesting to see how things turn out while having a little bit of fun in the process. Let's just hope I'm not too out of practice to pull it off!

25 June 2009

Not Quite Numb

I'm not entirely sure what I'm feeling now. As the dog days of June pass me by, and the hot stickiness of July in Virginia approaches (accompanied by the alien buzz of the cicadas) I find myself feeling not quite numb. I don't know what the future holds, either for myself or for my family. It's like I'm waiting for something, but I'm not entirely sure what it is yet.

I'd been working on WAR's Land of the Dead Live Expansion non-stop from late last year until just about a month ago. As the only writer on the project, I had a lot of work to do (which was also iterated on in a near-continuous process of revision). These days, I'm the writer on another project which I am as of yet unable to talk about in any kind of detail. I enjoy the work immensely, and there's a lot of it that needs to be done.

I've considered throwing the towel in on freelancing, which is more or less the case at the moment (pending another project offer, of course, which I may consider; it really depends on the circumstances). This is mostly due to time constraints, but I also realize it's due to my limited supplies of energy (creative or otherwise). I throw my heart into my work in the office, and by the time I get home there's very little left for me to tap in to. It's hard enough deciding what to cook for dinner some nights.

Vacation approaches, though. We're shutting down for a week (next week, in fact), and though I have few specific plans I'm sure I'll be busy.

Maybe this is what it's like when everything is more or less okay. Maybe my problem is that I'm waiting for a proverbial hammer to fall. It's the pessimist in me, I suppose. Semi-sleep deprivation is probably to blame, as well. Nothing a nap won't cure, I'll wager.

Land of the Dead has been released, and WAR players can travel to Zandri now. It's an awesome expansion, doubly so because it's free to our subscribers. I'm very proud of the work I did for LotD; there's not a part that wasn't touched by me in some way, from the initial concepts of the zone to the quests to the related entries in the Tome of Knowledge. It's humbling to think that I was allowed to have such an influence on even the smallest of things.

I didn't work in a vacuum, though. Everyone on the Encounters team, from artists to developers and designers, worked their butts off to make LotD the best it can be. Hopefully the players who actually read the quests and dialogues will appreciate them, but when it comes down to it they'll be wowed by the art, the landscape, and the mechanics more than anything else.

I really need a nap, but I will survive. Somehow.

28 May 2009

Lost in Thought

It's hard to say that success is not always the key to happiness. It certainly helps, I'll grant you that.

For years, back in the 1990's, even before I'd realized my hopes and dreams, I knew that I wanted to write. I wasn't much of a student in school. Hell, I was a terrible one, in fact. Chronic underachiever is probably a good description. Some folks said I was "too smart," that the work bored me. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't, but I seem to remember most of my trouble had to do with homework. I hated homework. I'd generally ace my tests, but if homework was half my grade then it didn't matter what I knew and what I didn't.

I got jobs, supported myself. Moved out of the homestead and moved in with my sweetheart. Got married. Through that period, I tried to get my foot in that publishing door. Sent in articles to Dragon, mostly, when Alternity was still supported. Moved on to Star Wars Gamer when it seemed to be a good shot. I never did make it, then SW Gamer got canned, too.

It's not like I got reams of rejection letters. It's not like I submitted reams of material, either. I think I probably sent in one article for review, and dickered with editors about ideas and proposals for half a dozen more.

Lightning struck with Dungeon Magazine, which is really the last place I expected to see my name pop up in print. Erik Mona was to blame, and when I asked him why he picked my proposal for Ord Vaxal, he replied, "I liked your Star Wars mojo." Is that mojo still here, somewhere, buried under all the adult responsibilities that I've taken on, or inherited, or been given?

How long ago was that? It was the December issue in 2003, though I'm pretty sure the article was done and submitted at least five months prior. That said, we're looking at five years plus change, going on six. Since then, every writing credit but one ("Hazards of Dark Sun") I've had has been for a book. They're game books, of course. I've constantly steered my ship towards the gaming star. I'm a gamer, after all, and I was a gamer even before I first dipped my proverbial quill in its companion inkwell.

Now I sit at a desk and I write content and material for a computer game. I get paid, and I keep my kids fed (as much as they'll eat, anyway). I'm not wealthy, but I get by. The freelance work, well, I've always enjoyed it. Some projects were more fun than others, sure, but they were all well worth the time I spent on them. It's tough to make the time anymore. I write so much at work, spending so much creative energy there, that it makes it hard to keep up any momentum at home. Pair that with my kids, as demanding as they are at their ages, and it sometimes seems like a fool's errand.

I was thinking about all the books I've worked on, and I was thinking about all those titles and where they'll be in five, ten, or twenty years. Given the way that new editions are released in the tabletop industry, will my name still pop up on Amazon.com searches after all that time has passed? I don't know. I tend to doubt it, unless I can keep the ball rolling. I've already got credit on books that represent outdated or dead systems.

Writing for roleplaying games isn't like penning fiction or, dare I say, literature. For one, the audience is much smaller. For two, even crappy novels still end up on used books store shelves. So I wonder, what's the life expectancy of the work I do? How long does it stay fresh and new? And does anyone really know my name?

I'm not sure what's next, to be honest. I'll continue with the day job, enjoying the work (because I really do enjoy it, more than I've enjoyed any other job I've ever had) and thanking whatever gods orchestrate this massive cosmic freak show for the chance to do so. I think I'm going to have to take it easy on the contract work for a while. This doesn't preclude more contract work, mind you (you hear that, people? You know who you are!), but I need a pause to take a breath.

It seems so cliched, but I guess I might like to try my hand at fiction. Short stories, essays, a book, maybe. Not sure where to start. I've been writing "to order" for so long, it's hard to imagine relying on myself for the whole enchilada. I don't know how to get started; I don't know where to turn. And one question that aches to be answered is, does the work I've done up until now count for anything in that vast pool of writing talent? Or will the attempt be akin to "breaking in" all over again?

It's not a question for the now. It's a question for the future. Right now I'm too busy and too tired to even consider writing an original short story, much less a book. I think the pause will do me good, so long as it refreshes. I'll wrestle with the details another time, and I'll keep you all informed (if you'd like to remain so).


22 March 2009

Three Men and a Little Legacy

I was invited to participate in tonight's Order 66 podcast. If you really want to hear what Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, and I have to say about The Legacy Era Campaign Guide and the small part I had in putting it together, take a listen.

Access the podcast here.

The hosts, GM Chris and GM Dave, were very gracious. They made me feel special, which is totally contrary to my "I'm a normal guy, dammit!" attitude. Enough of this treatment and I'm going to develop an ego.

09 March 2009

WAR Tradeskills Feature: Part 1

There's a new feature on the WAR Herald about trade skills, written by myself and Phil Chan, one of the guys on the Character Systems team at Mythic.

You can read all about it by following this link.


24 February 2009

Saga Edition Polis Massans

I saw this about a week ago on the Wizards web site. It's statistics for the Polis Massan species for Saga edition. You may be wondering why I'd bother post about it here. The reason is, it's something I'd originally written for the Clone Wars sourcebook. I'm assuming it was cut for space reasons, but I'm happy to see that it's up and available for use.

I sure do love those cute Polis Massan guys!

14 February 2009

Onward, February

Well, my CP2020 game at work lost two players after the first game, by no fault of my own. Not sure where we'll go now, but there's been some discussion of going a new route entirely. We'll know more next week, I gather.

As for other events, my wife's birthday was yesterday. I made her a Cthulhu cake, based on one I saw here (figure I should give credit where credit is due). I don't know if mine looked just as good (I'm no artist), but it certainly took long enough to get it all put together.

Amy and the kids liked it, which is really all that matters.

Happy Birthday, hon! Cthulhu ftagn!

02 January 2009

A New Year

Happy New Year, folks.

With the new year, I'd like to try and play more tabletop games. The pickings have been fairly slim over the past year and a half, which is due more to being busy with work and children than to anything else. It's also a question of mood; I'm in no mood for fantasy-themed games, and haven't been for some time. Maybe it's due to my lukewarm feelings on 4E; I don't know.

Any gaming I do will have to take place away from home and without the involvement of my wife. She's more or less resigned to that fact, but she reckons that we will have a whole new era of gaming fun once our offspring are a little more self-sufficient. In other words, in 2-4 years. Ugh.

So this leads me to consider the types of games I plan to run (or maybe even play) in the coming weeks and months. The idea of actually working on a game is somewhat alien to me; it's been so long, after all. The last game I actually ran at work (over a year ago) consisted of a number of free adventures. Not totally original, no, but it was quick and easy until it petered out.

Speaking of petering out, I've got that GM ADD that I've mentioned before. I need to hit some manner of groove with a games I'm running before they really stick. This is all in my head, I realize that, and there are a number of silly psychological elements that either make or break me. Group composition is one; outside influences, such as worries about work and/or home, are another. Still, is it worth just tossing my GMing desires out the window?

I figure not. I want to run a game.

A game of what? I've already tossed fantasy out the window, which leads me to non-fantasy games and settings. What's really been driving me ape lately is Cyberpunk 2020, the game that got me passionate about gaming and game design. Sure, it's retro and the timeline is outdated and there are a number of flaws to the system, but I have this deep desire to revisit it. I'd have to apply my own rules mods, of course -- I can't consider playing CP2020 right out of the box. Though they do allow for a certain amount of min/maxing by players, I can (hopefully) keep it to a minimum.

Other titles I've been wanting to run include Star Wars Saga Edition and Top Secret/SI. SW would be fun, yeah, but I'm not sure I could get off on the right foot with it at the moment. I'm not inspired with a specific campaign idea at the moment, so I'd probably need to wait on running SW. Besides, certain folks (my wife in specific) will probably kill me if I run an SW game without them.

As to Top Secret/SI, it was one of the first games I ever picked up back in the days of my wayward youth. A good system, though somewhat clunky in areas. The clunkiness is forgivable on the whole, though. I have the same issue with the type of game I'd like to run, so I need to think on this one a bit more, too.

So I come back to Cyberpunk again. I do have an idea for a CP game, keyed to a law enforcement game. My favorite CP games were always "cops" games. They gave the players a bit more structure, rather than allowing them to be free-wheeling mercenary sociopathic rampaging cyberpsychotic killers (which gets old after a while). Though such games can (and have) devolved, they are ultimately more stable in the long run.

My preferences of campaign style haven't really changed much over the years. I'm still more keen to serious games with grim atmospheres and not a lot of wise-cracking banter. A little joking is one thing, but if every other word uttered by myself or the players is a sassy attempt at humor or an oft-cited movie quote, it gets in the way of the mood I'm trying to establish. Establishing mood is hard enough when folks are cooperating.

Which comes down to players. I don't have anyone in mind, really, since the game may not appeal to all comers. There are the usual suspects, obviously: those folks I've gamed with at work before, who I know well enough to decide if they'd be interested or not. Then there are the unknown quantities: folks who have expressed a desire to play, but who I've never played with.

So my thought is to send a general query out on the gaming community list at work, saying something along the lines of, "Hi! I want to run a grim and gritty retro-80's law enforcement-themed Cyberpunk 2020 game heavy on house rules. Please reply off-list if you're interested!" and see who bites. With luck, the response won't be so overwhelming that I have to actively dissuade folks from participating; of course, it might be that all I get for a response is the lonely chirping of crickets.

That will be Monday, which gives me a couple days to continue my brainstorming. Until then, sayonara.