Life in the Time of COVID

Have a picture of a Hedgicorn, for good luck!

I had been meaning to write about a great many things. And then life, as it so often does, took a turn. As I am typing this I am in my second week of isolation at home. I’m lucky, in that my employer issued a work from home order early in the isolation process, so I have been able to keep working. I’m not sure if I mentioned it here before, but I work for my City government as an administrator. Specifically, my section deals with granting and Family and Community Support Services, helping organizations that support the vulnerable sectors of our community. As you can imagine the COVID-19 situation has us particularly busy, as we help coordinate not just the municipal response but the Provincial one as well. To say I have been busy is an understatement, but it is important, necessary work and I am lucky (and privileged) to work for a City that has made helping our vulnerable sectors a priority.

But all of that has meant that my free time is not as free as it once was, even factoring in a lack of commute times. Projects like updating this blog and even the Salt Bay Pirate Radio podcast have had to go on the backest of backburners while I take care of work, and then sleep and eat so I can take care of work tomorrow. They’re still coming, never fear. But the timetable for them has been stretched out a bit.

With the podcast in particular, I may have to re-record sections of my Episode Zero, and record a new Episode One. My delay has meant that the season finale for Season 2 of Pirates of Salt Bay has already aired, and Season 3 will begin in a few weeks. That actually makes better sense as a launching point for the podcast, so the delay has that silver lining at least. But it will mean a bit of extra work getting ready.

I did take the time to write something over at The Rat Hole, so please check that out.

In short, I am tired, but I have hope. I know we can get through this. Wash your hands, practice physical distancing measures, use whatever supports are offered where ever you are. Choose people, choose kindness. And feel free to reach out to me if you need someone to chat with. We’ll get through this.

Interview and Updates

I will add my voice to the throngs lamenting the arrival of March already. It’s been a busy first quarter of the year, which has sadly kept me from posting here as often as I would like.

But I haven’t been idle! You can find a plethora of 2020 posts from me over at The Rat Hole. And Ben over at the Bone Box Chant posted an interview he did with me as part of his Editors series. If you’d like a peek behind the curtain of my editing process it’s a good read.

And things push ahead with Salt Bay Pirate Radio! I recorded an Episode Zero and am editing that now, and plan to record Episode One this Sunday. Plus the logo I commissioned is almost done, so I should have that in place when the first episode goes live, which will be keen.

I do miss posting here, however, so do expect me to get back to that. As I mentioned this past Monday I am revisiting my thirty year old AD&D Spelljammer setting house rules. My plan is to post a bunch of my process of updating it to 5e on here, so you can get an idea of what I love about that setting. And it will be a taste of the resource I will eventually publish.

Extra Life All Year!

I have been pretty vocal about my support of Extra Life over the years. I have taken part in the 24 hour game day every year for the past seven years, and I have been successful at hitting my fundraising goals. Last year I stepped things up a bit and created The Hedgicorn as a continual fundraiser for Extra Life. I also offered editing services for donations, which was surprisingly successful and something I plan to do again later this year.

But this year I plan to do even more. I would like to extend my fundraising efforts throughout the year, because I believe that children’s hospitals in general (and my local children’s hospital, The Stollery, in particular) deserve attention and support year round. I’ve set an Extra Life goal of $1000 this year, and it would be amazing to come up to game day already well within site of that goal; it would be a situation unlooked for to have actually surpassed it by then.

As part of this, I am going to go a bit outside my learning curve and comfort zone, and live-stream some fundraising events through the year. This will mean figuring out the technical side of streaming, as well as recording those streams. Luckily there are plenty of resources to help me navigate the process so it will be difficult but not impossible.

And thanks to my friend Amber, I already have a great idea for a stream. I waffled on Twitter about whether to keep my beard, and Amber suggested I not only keep it, but dye it blue and run a charity stream of Bluebeard’s Bride. Brilliant! Once I clear that cosmetic change with my employer, I think this will be one of my first streams, though I may do something a bit simpler first in order to test the waters.

So stay tuned, folks! Over the next year you’ll see me popping up on Twitch a bit more, and I’ll post links here when I am ready for players and the like. If you’d like to support my efforts in charity streaming you can do so in three ways. First, you can drop by my Extra Life page and make a donation, which will qualify you for some incentives listed on my donation page right now. Those are good all year round, and you can get an incentive for as low as a $5 donation.

Second, though I rarely mention it I do have a Ko-fi page, and right now I am saving up to get a better camera and proper lights for streaming, so watching these charity streams will be as entertaining as possible. If you have a few spare bucks and would like to support these efforts, consider buying me a coffee.

Thirdly, if you don’t have the cash to spare for donations or a coffee (and I get it, it’s rough out there) then please share and RT when you start seeing links to the event go up. Heck, even spreading the word about this post will help get the word out, which will help us be successful later on. And don’t let a low follower count stop you! Twitter’s algorithm  doesn’t care how many folks you RT’d to, it just cares that you did it. Trust me, it will help.

Have a great day, folx, and watch this space for more to come!

From My Table: Heir’s Guardian

I was re-watching the latest episode of Saving Throw Show’s Pirates of Salt Bay today, and was struck to create this wondrous item based on an item Eoj finds, and re-finds, during the episode. I am in no way saying that the doll found on the show is any sort of magical guardian. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to see if you’re on the safe list…

Permission is given to use this item at your table. If you do, let me know how it works for you. Enjoy!

* * *

Heir’s Guardian

Wondrous Item, very rare (requires attunement)

This children’s doll comes most often in the shape of a little girl or some type of stuffed animal, with a pull string in its back. Whatever its shape, once attuned the bearer can record up to five short phrases which the doll will speak whenever the string is pulled. The bearer of the doll can select one child to become the doll’s focus, placing that child under the doll’s protection. The person attuned to the doll can also set a number of people who are considered safe.

If anyone not considered safe comes within fifteen feet of the focus (if the focus is alone), or at a command word from the bearer or the focus, the defensive powers of the guardian activate. The focus is protected as if it was the target of a sanctuary spell (DC 18 Wisdom save). In addition, the doll transforms into a Shield Guardian, treating the focus as if it wore the shield guardian’s control amulet. The doll remains in this form until there is no one unsafe within fifteen feet, or until dispelled by the bearer or the focus. This power can activate once per long or short rest.

The DM and the player are encouraged to discuss the design of the doll and therefore what form the shield guardian takes. If the doll is a standard stuffed bear, for instance, perhaps the shield guardian takes the form of a metallic grizzly bear, and its attacks do slashing instead of bludgeoning damage. You might also consider giving the guardian some form of grapple attack. Feel free to be as creative in the guardian’s design as you like, while keeping it at the same relative power level.

Over at The Rat Hole: #iHunt: The RPG

Heya, gang! I wrote a review of Olivia Hill’s and Filamena Young’s #iHunt: The RPG over at The Rat Hole, up today! Please check it out, and then immediately get a copy of the game your own self. Pro Tip: buy it on Itch, Olivia and Filamena get a bigger piece of each sale over there.

Then feel free to let me know what you thought of the game, in the comments here or at The Rat Hole, or hit me up on Twitter.

My Devilish Good Looks

I’m working on some posts, but wanted to share this wonderful piece from my buddy Jeff Martin (@HEATComic). As part of backing his Hell, Inc Kickstarter I got a Hell, Inc Staff Portrait. Welcome, Devil Brent! Devil Brent (DB for short) runs the office TTRPG, and loves to switch editions on his players, sometimes mid-session.

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020

Yes, I realize that time is fluid, and that we arbitrarily section it up into manageable chunks in order to make sense of a chaotic universe. I’m actually okay with that, so I want to talk a bit about this past year, and look forward a bit into the next.

I have to admit, the last year was a thoroughly mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it was probably the hardest year for me physically, as I got hit with pneumonia, a bad patch of migraines, and a number of injuries which kept me sidelined. Add in a number of family issues, and all of the things I had planned to do on my personal projects fell by the wayside. Prairie Dragon Press didn’t put much of anything out (though I am proud of The Hedgicorn), and while the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games added to its collection, I wasn’t able to get that active in the way I had planned. My total time spent gaming was also down, and that’s just bad news at any time.

But then, my freelance editing work really took off in 2019. I worked for a number talented of writers on DM’s Guild and DriveThruRPG, I wound up working on the Uncaged Anthology (I’ve talked about how amazing that is before, so I won’t go into it again), and there are roughly eight to ten TTRPG publications out there with my name tucked into the credits. More than that, I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I have been fortunate to work with some excellent writers and a stellar Managing Editor/Publisher, Ashley Warren.

I was also busy for half of last year consuming content for the ENnies and working with the judges to come up with a pretty amazing list of nominees. While I do think the awards themselves need some work and changes going into the future, I’m proud of that work as well. There were literally hundreds of strong contenders last year, and out of that we nominated some truly innovative and excellent games. I stepped down because I think there needed someone other than an older white guy in the judges seat, and I am excited to see that coming true with the latest team of judges.

Yeah, a mixed bag. Not great, not awful, it was a bit of a slog but I made it through. Taking time to reflect on the past year and look ahead a bit, I realize that many of the issues which plagued me last year are not there anymore. My doctor and I seemed to have fixed the migraine issues, and apart from a bit of the flu earlier this winter I have generally felt good. Given the changes I have already put in place ( better eating, more activity) I expect to move forward into 2020 feeling better than I have in a while; stronger, higher energy, more physically competent. And if that’s true, I can hope that a lot more things will fall into place for me, because my health has always dictated everything else I choose to do. After all, if I feel like crap, I am less likely to want to sit in front of my computer and write, let alone go to cons or play games with folx.

So assuming my health stays on an upward curve, a few things I plan for 2020:

  • at least four publications from Prairie Dragon Press next year. I have the text of an adventure complete, and I have outlined two other products. At worst I want to hit one project a quarter, but if I can get that to bi-monthly so much the better. This is as much about learning some publishing skills as it is getting some ideas I have had out into the world, so these will be mostly solo projects, not including art commissions and editing.
  • continue working as a freelance editor. I have some work lined up in January, with some “maybe” work in February. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing what I get to work on next.
  • attend more conventions. This shouldn’t be hard, as I attended *checks figures* one gaming con last year. It was fun, and I will be back again this year (to both, IntrigueCon runs a spring and fall con event), but I would like to travel to a convention as well. Big Bad Con is high on my list, and if I can get the funds together in time I’d also like to hit Breakout Con in Toronto in March.
  • start putting up content for the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games. I really want to start talking about some of the history of gaming, as well as look at a lot of the new stuff coming out on itch and IPR. I’m not certain if this will be blog posts, videos of some kind, or a mix of both. But I want to get those conversations going with folx.
  • play more streamed actual plays. While I squeaked in under the wire and kept my annual average at one streamed game (thanks to Scratticus Academy), I would like to get that up to the dizzying heights of two or even three games over the coming year. Maybe even GM a game on stream for the first time, though I don’t want to push my luck.

That’s a bit of looking forward to the next year. I think it’s all achievable, and I have started working on the specific details to get to each goal. After all, intent is not a plan. So expect a post in the next little while getting into more details about one or more of these goals.

For now, I want to say thank-you. Thank-you for reading my content here or over at The Rat Hole, and for chatting with me on Twitter. Thank-you for the comments and feedback, it has helped me at every turn. Thanks to those of you who picked up a copy of The Hedgicorn, validating my desire to publish and donating some funds to Extra Life.  Thank-you to everyone who hired me to edit their work this year, it was a privilege.

Most of all, thank -you to everyone who works every day to make out hobby and industry more inclusive, and a less-friendly environment for gatekeepers and predators. More than anything, I would love to see 2020 be the year we finally fix the broken stairs instead of walking around them. Thank-you to everyone working to make that happen.

As we pass from one arbitrary year number to the next, I wish you all the best. May your dice always roll interesting.

Playing with William

Yesterday I had the opportunity to play in a streamed game with the Scratticus Academy, and it was a lot of fun! I’m always impressed by Scratticus and the opportunities they provide to folks who might want to dip their toe into playing or running actual plays, but might not know how. It’s a welcoming, safe, inclusive bunch over there, and I highly recommend you check them out.

But today’s post is not about the game, but my character. More specifically, my character’s name, William Lindsay. In answer to a question from one of the many TTRPG related quizzes going around on Twitter, I remember mentioning that I tended to name characters in any modern game I play William Lindsay, after my maternal grandfather, William Edward Lindsay. I said it was my way of honouring the man, but I never really touched on why it was important to me.

First a bit of biography. My grandfather was born in Scotland but came to Canada when the family emigrated to a farm outside Tofield, Alberta. He grew up and went to school, and was something of a polyglot (an understatement; he could read/write/speak English, Scots Gaelic, Latin, Greek, French, Ukrainian, and German, and I heard him speak Russian and Mandarin besides) and bookworm, keeping up on his studies while keeping up on the chores expected of him on the farm.  When the Second World War broke out, he volunteered and because of his farmboy background was assigned as an airman with the RCAF and sent to England to drive supply trucks between airfields. And he would have done that until the end of the war, except someone discovered he could speak fluent German, and they needed German speakers to serve on bombers. He was rushed through flight and wireless training, promoted to Warrant Officer, and spent the rest of the war crouched over the wireless set in bombers. I can’t be certain how many missions he flew, but he once mentioned going up more than eighty times, and I have no reason to doubt him. Most importantly, he came back from his last mission, was mustered out of the RCAF, and returned to Tofield to be a farmer again.

I didn’t learn any of this until later, not that it would have mattered. Grandpa Lindsay was the person almost single handedly responsible for feeding my deep love of books, particularly science fiction and fantasy, and nothing would have made me love him more than that gift.

So that’s part of why I name my modern characters after him, but it isn’t the whole story. I have written before about how I came to TTRPGs, that I started playing D&D in January 1980. Obviously I fell instantly in love with the game! A way for me to play as the characters from my favourite books? Hell yes! And I knew that I wanted to share the game with my grandfather, that he was going to love it as much as I did. As excited as I was to play D&D, I was counting down the days to school’s end, when we would visit the farm for the summer and I could play D&D with my grandfather.

In April of 1980 William Edward Lindsay suffered a debilitating stroke, paralyzing half his body, depriving him of so much of his memories, and leaving him without the ability to speak. While therapy would eventually get a fraction of that back for him, a number of minor strokes throughout the rest of his life would mean he never fully recovered from the first one.

I still tried. But I was eleven. I didn’t understand what had happened to the man who had taught me to ride a horse, who had taught me to love Frodo and Samwise and Merry and Pippin, who I still picture as Gandalf whenever I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t know him anymore, and he couldn’t tell me what was going on.

We never did play D&D together, and I carry the sorrow of that with me to this day.

And that’s why. I never got a chance to play any of these games I love, that I know he would have loved, with Grandfather Lindsay. But every chance I get I name my character after him, so I can carry a little piece of him along with me in the hobby. And if there is an afterlife, maybe he knows that somewhere, and smiles.

So if we ever game together, know there is a good chance my grandfather is gaming with us as well. He’s a great guy, I think you’ll like him.

Some Thoughts on $300 Dice

In celebration of D&D’s 45th anniversary, Wizards of the Coast released a beautiful set of metal dice, featuring a sapphire set in one of the d20. There are some other things that come along with the set; a nice display box, some stats for a Sapphire Dragon, and so on. And there is Clever Marketing™ all over this. They are only releasing 1,974 sets, for instance, in honour of D&D first being published in 1974. The sapphire is not only the 45th anniversary stone, but the 5th anniversary stone, so it also celebrates the anniversary of 5E. I’m not going to link to it, but if you search you can scroll through a whole page of hype before getting to the price at the bottom. Yes, this celebratory set of dice sells for a cool $299.95USD.

Let me be clear right from the start, I have no quibble with WotC partnering with Level Up Dice to create an expensive set of dice for their anniversary. Sometimes game companies are going to create expensive collectibles for our hobby, and that isn’t inherently bad. There are folks who will buy a set of these and enjoy their purchase for years to come. And to forestall any, “You’re just butt hurt because you can’t afford them!” comments, I can afford them. I work a well-paying, full-time job. While dropping $300 on a set of dice wouldn’t be insignificant, I could afford to do it. I’m just not going to.

My issue is that this seems to be the only thing WotC is doing to celebrate either of these milestones. In fact, if I type “celebrate 45 years of D&D” into my search engine, the first two pages of results all relate to the sale of this dice set. I have to get to page three before I see anything else, mostly op-eds regarding, you guessed it, the sale of these dice. But what I don’t see is any word from WotC about celebrating these anniversaries with anyone except the 1,974 people who purchase this set.

As of March of this year, there are an estimated 13.7 million folx playing D&D worldwide. Because large numbers are large, if I subtract 1,974 from 13.7 million, I’m pretty much left with 13.7 million. So WotC Marketing decided the best way to celebrate the anniversaries of both D&D and 5E was to sell an expensive item to a statistically insignificant portion of the millions of players who have made their game popular. To put this into further perspective, dividing 13.7 million by 1,974 means that one in 6,940 of us get to celebrate with WotC. The other 6,939 get to look at the pretty dice (assuming we can close enough to a set) and think warm thoughts, I guess?

What bugs me about this is twofold. First, at a time when the hobby as a whole is working to be ever more inclusive, WotC Marketing decides on a “celebration” driven by FOMO and elitism. Everything about the way they have marketed these dice, from their limited numbers to the “own a piece of history” rhetoric to the price point, makes it seems like WotC only wants to celebrate with the elite, and only after they have forked over their $300 for the party. If you aren’t one of those 1,974 people who can afford a ticket? Well gosh, hope you keep playing! Now here’s a warm slap on the ass, get back in there, champ!

The second thing that bugs me is that I know WotC is actually capable of celebrating an anniversary better than this. I was running in-store games during the 30th anniversary celebration (or 35th? Okay, the old memory is tricky). For that anniversary we received a box of stuff to help us run a special game day. It contained dice, figures, and special anniversary mechanical pencils to hand out to players and DMs, with enough for us to support up to six tables of D&D. The dice weren’t super special, and the mechanical pencil was white plastic with the D&D logo and “30th Anniversary” stamped on the side. I still have it, actually; when it ran out of lead I put it on my shelf so it wouldn’t get beat up in my dice bag anymore.  But the point is, about forty of us got together in a game store one Saturday and celebrated the anniversary of D&D in the best way possible: by playing the game. And it didn’t cost anyone there a dime.

Now, it is possible that WotC Marketing has some sort of community celebration planned, something that will reach out to the majority of the 13.7 million players supporting their game. But if so, all their marketing around this dice set has blocked word of it getting out. It’s also possible that WotC Marketing may pull something together last minute, as a reaction to the somewhat mixed response the dice have received. But that’s all it will be, a reaction, an offering designed to appease rather than celebrate.

As I said before, I won’t be buying a set of these. I hold nothing against anyone who does, because frankly, it’s a beautiful product and Level Up Dice should be proud of the design. For me, though, this dice set isn’t a celebration, however desperately WotC Marketing might frame it as such. Clever marketing around an anniversary? Sure. A celebration? To me, that suggests wanting everyone involved in your success to take part, and this is not that. It’s not even a signpost showing the way to the road that takes you to that.

Instead, I am going to take the $300 I could have spent on these dice and go shopping on Itch.io and DriveThruRPG, picking up some excellent games and supplements from marginalized creators in our hobby. I won’t do that all at once, but I’ll finish up by the end of January. I’ll post here with my purchases so you can see some of the amazing stuff to be found. To me, that seems a better way to use $300 to celebrate my hobby.

Feel free to leave a comment below or track me down on Twitter (@DorklordCanada), I’m happy to hear your thoughts. And if you would like to get yourself or someone you know an adorable Hedgicorn for their 5E game, you can do that on DM’s Guild. All proceeds go to support Extra Life, so not only do you get something fun for your table, but you help out sick kids around the Holidays.