Priorities

I just learned that I have breast cancer. On the anniversary of my grandfather death from cancer, that’s a fun coincidence. I’m skeptical about the concept of “beating” cancer; we all die anyway. In the end, I have likely passed the mid-point of my life, no matter what happens next. I’m an atheist so I feel no worry about an afterlife, whether toasty or cloudy, and I’ve always known that I couldn’t possibly live long enough to get tired of the things I love (like friends, family, cats…)

But I’m already dealing with depression, so the thought of the chore that is being sick, being miserably poor, experiencing pain and side effects, is daunting. So I’m not going to live forever, I’m not going to be rewarded or punished in an afterlife, and the world will keep on moving along just fine whether I keep a positive attitude, rage against the dying of the light, or ignore the whole matter.

But I’ve thought about the whole thing and decided that there is one thing that matters to me: whether I die this year or survive another few decades, I’d like to have been a decent human being. So my plan right now is to do all the reasonable things I can to buy myself as many good years as I can, but to spend as much time as I can on the things I care about — from friends and family to social justice to geeky pursuits — and to place people first.

Well, cats and people.

Cancer constellation

Christmas Eve Exchange

As a tradition inherited from Edmund’s family, we open our Christmas presents after Christmas dinner, to make the holiday last as long as possible. However, as an offering to impatience and my traditions, we usually exchange and open one present each on Christmas Eve. So Edmund gave me The Badass Feminist Coloring Book, and I gave him a long-overdue portrait I drew of Kuri, the character from my book War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus. It was all very art-y.

Kuri was just an aspect on sample character Iva the Stubborn’s character sheet until I needed one more character for a playtest event and Edmund decided to play Kuri, who ended the episode with a pirate’s hat as a trophy. Kuri is a Jaarl fawn who also appears in the micro-fiction penned by Edmund in the book. He had asked me a long time ago for a drawing of the character; I had several false starts but I finally completed it.  Hee!

kuri

Thanksgiving, Agaptus-style

WoA_minis-KuldYes, it’s time for my annual effort to embrace the American tradition of Thanksgiving, not with food, although that will come later, but with taking stock of things in my life worth being grateful for.  As usual, first come family (foremost, Edmund and my mom), friends (in person and online, nearby and far away), and felines (Valentine, Ubaid and Phantom).  Work was not a happy affair this year with the company in constant reorganization, but at least I have work.  And I got more fun work, hobby-work but rewarding, writing for game publishers and managing some project from Evil Hat Productions.

But the single most exciting thing in my life this year has been the publication of the role-playing game War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus.  Evil Hat pulled out all the stops on making this a beautiful, well-edited, well-organized book and I like to think I held my own with the writing.  I am so very thankful that they were willing to take a chance on a whole book with my writing, and that they assembled such a great team to work with and to rely on.

And I’m thankful for the army of War of Ashes miniatures Edmund painted for me.  Nothing says “Thanksgiving feast” like a Kuld horde.

The Thing Pretty pictures Besieged

Our first encounter with Iron Legacy

“We regret to inform you that Iron Legacy will not be speaking at tonight’s League of Evil dinner. Legacy, Tempest, Chrono-Ranger and Nightmist will bring him flowers.”

We got two of the expansions for Sentinels of the Multiverse during the holidays, “Shattered Timelines” and “Wrath of the Cosmos.” We’ve faced, and eventually beaten, every villain until the only one left was Iron Legacy, so that’s who we faced for our dinnertime game.

He hits hard, but Nightmist got rid of all four of his ongoing cards at the end of the first round. After that, it was just a question of hitting as hard and as fast as we could; with (heroic) Legacy boosting our damage by two, Chrono-Ranger shot Iron Legacy to tiny ribbons.

We’re horribly pleased with ourselves, and we’ve decided that we can’t play again for a while. We’ll switch back to Mice & Mystics at dinnertime!

RIP Iron Legacy

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Progression

Sentinel of the MultiverseMy husband and I encountered Sentinels of the Multiverse (published by Greater Than Games) for the first time in 2014—i.e., after everyone else—and we immediately loved it. It is a superhero-themed cooperative game, easy to learn and with fantastic replay value.

Also in 2014, we started replacing movie- or television-watching during dinner time with board games instead: some that got a lot of mileage included Mice & Mystics (Plaid Hat Games), Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert (GameWright), Zeppelin Attack! (Evil Hat Productions), Galactic Strike Force (Greater Than Games), Smash Up (Alderac Entertainment Group), and a smattering of others.

But our most-played was hands-down Sentinels of the Multiverse, which prompted us to get the Infernal Relics/Rook City expansion and the decks for heroes Unity and The Scholar, villains Miss Information and Ambuscade, and the Silver Gulch 1883 and Final Wasteland environments. (I’m sure we’ll get other expansions in 2015…)

We usually played with two heroes each, one of us also handling the villain deck and the other the environment deck. We worked our way through all the villains we had available a few times, then encountered them again in Advanced mode until we had managed to beat them all. (I think Citizen Dawn was the toughest in Advanced mode.)

We tried playing with three heroes a few times, but it broke the convenient back-and-forth of alternating turns between Edmund and I, so for our next challenge we decided to start tackling villains using only two heroes. We started during the holidays; so far, Expatriette and Nightmist have beaten Baron Blade in the Realm of Discordia; then Ra and Tempest beat Omnitron in Wagner Mars Base, and Ambuscade in Insula Primalis.

Now we’re done with the wimpy villains—things are about to get tough! Our own ratings for the villains’ increasing difficulty, different from the official ones:

  1. Baron Blade, Omnitron, Ambuscade
  2. The Ennead, Plague Rat, Spite, Apostate, Gloomweaver,
  3. Akash’bhuta, Grand Warlord Voss, Miss Information
  4. Citizen Dawn, The Matriarch, The Chairman

Expatriette Ra_0 Tempest

Update: On 1/11 Ra and Tempest beat Gloomweaver to a pulp in Silver Gulch 1883, and on 1/12, they squeaked to a victory over Apostate in the Ruins of Atlantis, with Ra incapacitated two turns from the end and Tempest ending with 1 HP!

Update #2: Last night Ra and Tempest beat Spite on Wagner Mars Base. Ra was not ideal, Haka would have been a better choice here, but we still managed it on the second try.

Update #3: Epic victory against Plague Rat tonight for Haka and Tempest, in the Realm of Disco(rd). At one point both heroes were at 2-3 HP left, afflicted with “Infection” and Plague Rat was back at full health with half a dozen Ongoings. Then the moment we’d been waiting for arrived: the Distortion “Imbued Vitality” came into play, so all ongoings suddenly had 6 HP and were the lowest villain targets. Haka used “Punish the Weak” and destroyed them all. Shortly before that, Tempest had just managed to put two copies of “Cleansing Downpour” in play. From then on we slowly crept up on Plague Rat, but then we started worrying that we would have to shuffle the villain trash—and bring back all the Infection cards. We finished him on his last card!

New Year 2015

Our friend Steve was raised heavily influenced by Japanese culture, so he has a tradition of hosting New Year in that style. This is what the table looked like; we had a lovely day with Steve, Dorene, Mark, Crystal, Chantal, Edmund and I. Dishes shown: burdock root salad, mochi, sashimi (tako, hamachi, maguro), rice crackers. Not shown: o-zōni soup, soy prawns, takuan, a number of other pickles and condiments.

NewYear2015-01

NewYear2015-02

NewYear2015-03

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What I gave my true love

Eric LofgrenThis year I focused on art for Edmund’s presents. I got two show pieces. One was Eric Lofgren‘s ink drawing of a British Columbia-inspired Eowyn of Rohan facing the Witch-king on his steed (from an ArtOrder Challenge a few years ago.) I just love Eric’s pen and ink work, and you can see from my choice among his prints a direct connection to Edmund’s choice of presents for me. Great minds, etc….

The other piece was commissioned especially for Edmund. You may have read my summary of the Tianxia: Blood, Silk and Jade (Vigilance Press) game I ran at Big Bad Con in October? In it was a funny scene where Edmund’s character, the wild forest girl Wolf-Eyed Yue, was made up and disguised as the Moon Festival Princess.

I thought it would be wonderful if Denise Jones, the artist who beautifully illustrated the Tianxia rule book, was willing and able to capture the scene. She was enthusiastic, and publisher James Dawsey graciously gave permission to use the likeness of the official Tianxia characters Wolf-Eyed Yue and Han “Dragon Dog” Ping. (The third character in the scene is the lao dan the heroes hired to help with the transformation.) It was a treat to see the various steps in creating the image, and I’d like to share them (I have permission from the artist to do so.)

First, Denise drew a sketch of the scene as she envisioned it based on my description.

moon princess power - sketch

Right away, you can see why Denise was the right person to illustrate a wuxia-based game book: she has turned what could have been a very static scene into a dynamic pose. She latched onto what made the scene funny for us in the game: the contrast in moods between Yue and her cheerful attendants, and the physical comedy of putting a wild forester in a fancy dress. To give the sense of tension and action, Denise has the two attendants pulling in opposite, slightly off-balance directions with Yue torn in the middle. Yue’s characteristic wild hair is being tamed, symbolic of the whole predicament. The only change I asked for was to give Yue a grumpier expression, more in keeping with the way our game unfolded.

Next, Denise sent the polished sketch in clean lines.

moon princess power - lines

Now Yue looks suitably annoyed at the spa treatment she’s receiving! You can see the line weights have been carefully selected to reinforce the opposed movements forming a slightly left-tilting triangle.

Next came the image with flat colour layout.

moon princess power - flats

The light and dark colour masses have been distributed to play with the theme of Yue being pulled in different directions. The violet of the dan‘s over-robe gives her mass and solidity, while the bamboo motif on the screen behind the characters counters this by reinforcing Ping’s movement. Light touches of red cloth to the left and right of the screen, matching the hue of Yue’s dress, now suggest an opposite triangle pointing upward. Yue’s scarf ties her to the dan and suggests being twisted out of shape.

Finally, the finished illustration!

moon princess power - paints

Shadows and textures make the image come alive and mute the lines to make the effects more subtle. The finished print is 11″ x 14″ (about 28 cm x 36 cm). It’s gorgeous.

Christmas Cheers and Holiday Haul

After our homey Christmas Eve, we slept in on Christmas Day. In the (late) morning, Edmund baked his contribution to the get-together later that day: another recipe from Where People Feast, Pacific macaroni and cheese… a deceptive title for a scrumptious baked pasta dish filled with fresh crab meat. It smelled so good, I started hoping San Francisco would be snowed in within the next half-hour so we could justify staying home and eating the whole dish!

Then we exchanged some stocking stuffers, and we headed out with the steaming dish to have Christmas lunch-dinner-feast at our friends’ Steve W. and Dorene with a bunch of other friends and family. As usual, everyone had brought wonderful dishes to share and Steve W. had cooked up a storm. It was a day of comfortable conversation, friendship, good food, and bad puns.

After exchanging gifts with our friends, we came home not too late because (1) we wanted to exchange the rest of our presents to each other, (2) I wanted to avoid seasonal drunk drivers as much as possible, and (3) our hosts had to fly out to a wedding on the 26.

We were quite pleased with the presents we gave, they seemed to hit the mark. And as usual, I received way more than I should, from people who know my tastes well. First, the “us” presents:

World of Dew coverEdmund got us a role-playing game right up my alley which I had somehow missed, Ben Woerner’s World of Dew (Woerner’s Wunder Werks). Happily for us, even though we had missed the Kickstarter campaign this spring, the good folks at EndGame had not, and they had ordered several retailer copies so that Edmund found this and brought it home. It is in turn based on John Wick’s game Blood and Honor (John Wick Presents), which I had also missed—in this case because it was released during our moratorium on all non-essential purchases. Both are beautiful books illustrated with vintage Japanese prints.

Usagi Yojimbo Saga trade paperback cover, vol.1To go with this, Edmund also got us volume 1 of the 30-tear anniversary Usagi Yojimbo compilation (Dark Horse Comics). We’re both fans of the long-eared ronin, it will be nice to re-read these adventures in one fell swoop. (I wonder how many volumes this new compilation will end up necessitating? I probably shouldn’t ask myself these questions, and should just enjoy my 600 pages of furry chanbara instead…)

Finally, Edmund also got us a paperback copy of the latest novel in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants.

Downwood Tales coverThen we received the latest expansion for the Mice & Mystics board game from our friends Steve W. and Dorene, Downwood Tales (Plaidhat Games). We’ve greatly enjoyed Mice & Mystics and we were looking forward to being eaten by snakes or having our mousey fur incinerated by firebelly newts, and playing new characters like Jakobe the gecko and Ditty the shrew. This is a massive expansion that seems to provide as much material as the original set—or perhaps even more, since some elements appear to increase replay value. This afternoon we made it through the first chapter and enjoyed it.

Hobbit Tales coverSteve P. and Maureen gave us another game, very story-oriented, Hobbit Tales from the Green Dragon Inn (Cubicle 7 Entertainment). It’s very similar to Atlas Games’ Once Upon A Time card game, though a bit more structured and also more competitive. I agree with reviewers who have suggested that for family play, you’ll get a better experience from not keeping score. In addition, Maureen gave me one of those handy vacuum sealing corks that allow you to keep wine good for a few days more after opening the bottle. Heidi and Eric gave us lovely glass-blown Christmas ornaments.

Race to Adventure! coverKaren Twelves and Sean Nittner gace us a copy of Evil Hat Productions’ Race to Adventure!, a compact board game based on the pulp universe of Spirit of the Century. This belongs in the category of games that, although competitive, are not too painful to lose at because you can play them in half an hour or less, like Race For the Galaxy (unrelated, despite similar title.)  I suppose this can also be said of the Hobbit Tales game above, but I feel the competitive aspect tends to detract from story, so I prefer to play it more cooperatively. Sean and Karen also gave us a print copy of the beautiful Atomic Robo RPG.

Finally, June and Edmund both got tons of sweets for us, especially chocolate.

Lovebirds broochLovebirds earringsPresents that were for me only: Edmund gave me beautiful silver jewellery designed by Haida artist Odin Lonning: a brooch and matching earrings on the Eagle and Raven lovebirds motif. Pacific Northwest people like the Haida and Tlingit (among others) have two main social groups, called moieties (literally, halves), the Eagles and the Ravens, each in turn containing 22 or 23 lineages. Traditionally, one cannot marry within a clan or lineage of the same moiety, so marriages typically signify the joining of an eagle to a raven. Eagle and Raven, when linked together, are consequently known as the Lovebirds. The Lovebirds are a popular design for items such as bracelets and rings, given as gifts between couples of these clans.

Strong Female Protagonist_01In addition, and perhaps to give the brooch something to hold in place, Edmund took me at my word when I said I would adopt The Feminist Killjoy Gift Guide as my Christmas wish list, so he gave me the Infinity Scarf (#29 in the list.) Amusingly, when I wore it yesterday I received several compliments on the look, but only Dorene noticed what the theme was. Hee hee. Rounding this up, Edmund also gave me the first collected volume of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag‘s Strong Female Protagonist, a comic book you can also enjoy online.

My mom sent me four little books she got at the annual book expo, le Salon du livre de Montréal: Le Journal d’Edward, hamster nihiliste, 1990-1990; Tous les coqs du matin chantaient; Mitsou: les aventures extraordinaires d’un chat végétalien; and La Fabrique des mots. She also sent two DVDs: Louis Cyr, the Strongest Man in the World; and The Scapegoat.

Christmas Eve at Home

I opened a Crabbie’s ginger beer and finished wrapping presents this afternoon. For dinner, Edmund made a couple of recipes out of Dolly and Annie Watts’ Where People Feast: An Indigenous People’s Cookbook, baked Alaskan halibut with lemon-dill butter with a side of beet and blackberry relish, plus his famous sautéed parsnips. Now we’re having dark chocolate cupcakes for dessert.

With dinner, we played Sentinels of the Multiverse—Legacy, Expatriette, Haka and Nightmist beat The Chairman in advanced mode, ha-ha. (But we were pretty far down by the end…)

We sure know how to rock the casbah. ^_^

Happy holidays, one and all. Here is a picture of one of the best things this year, Phantom coming to live with us since July (the black cat in this picture). With him is Valentine, our little beach foundling.

Val and Phantom in Edmund's lap

Thanks All Around

Autumn LeavesIt’s American Thanksgiving, a holiday that can only be properly celebrated by taking stock of the good things in your life, thanking family and friends, and being nice to people. Some of the recent years have been hard on my sense of gratitude, but this year I have plenty to be thankful for.

As usual, I’m most grateful for, and to, my husband, my family, and my friends. They make my life rich and interesting. They help me, cheer me, look out for me, make me laugh, make me think. Particular thanks to my husband Edmund, who’s been thinking up all sorts of little ways to make life easier and more fun for me; and my mom, who is a reliable source of friendship, affirmation, and morality.

More thanks for Paul and Hiro, who make it possible for us to live here, and to Dorene, Steve W., Maureen, and Steve P. for a variety of kindnesses. Thanks also to my online friends, who matter more than they know.

I’m grateful for my cats, entitled little brats that they are. I’m grateful that Valentine and Ubaid get along so well. I’m grateful to friend Brian Vo for attracting my attention to poor Phantom who was in need of rescue, about to be euthanized at a shelter, in time for us to rescue our newest cat. And I’m grateful that all three cats love cuddling, even when it’s untimely! Here’s a picture of Edmund with the beasts:

Cats on the Bed

I’m grateful for my new job, my new boss, my new colleagues, and having health insurance again. I’m grateful that my bosses believed in my abilities to tackle new challenges.

I’m grateful that I’ve been working with wonderful people for excellent companies in the gaming world, writing for Evil Hat Productions, Zombiesmith, and Atlas Games. I’m particularly grateful for project manager/creative director Sean Nittner and editor Karen Twelves on the War of Ashes RPG project.

I’m grateful that I once again had such a great time at Big Bad Con in October — it’s my Christmas, with amazing people all around.

I’m grateful for the people who became aware and active supporters of feminism this year in reaction to shameful displays of misogyny. I’m grateful to people who are waking up to the blatant scourge of racism, to the realities of privilege, to inequality, and are becoming Social Justice Warriors. Or wizards, ninja, clerics, paladins, rangers, rogues, or space marines. I’m grateful that marriage equality is advancing, that more people are starting to grasp that this shit in Ferguson can’t go on, and that turning a blind eye to bigotry isn’t acceptable.

I’m grateful to the scientists, engineers, technicians, and support staff that have brought us some amazing, exciting moments in space exploration: Rosetta and Philae reaching comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the testing of Orion, great science on the International Space Station, the deployment of a plethora of CubeSats, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission a.k.a. Mangalyaan and NASA’s MAVEN both visiting Mars (the latter currently just beginning its science mission around the Red Planet), Curiosity roving around on Mars and Cassini sending amazing images of the Saturn neighbourhood little Jade Rabbit from China still sending signals from the Moon, SpaceX Dragon bringing supplies to the ISS including a 3D printer that makes spare parts, and so much more.