Come at me, 2017

2017As you might have guessed, the last several weeks have been harder on my morale than my body. The last stretch of the American presidential election was hugely stress-inducing, and the results were soul-crushing. I know my friends know what I’m talking about, I heard it in their words and read it in their posts. Except for the most upbeat of topics — my gaming group, Thanksgiving, and the good progress in my treatment — I have been unable to write anything in over eight weeks. I keep thinking of words in my head, it’s all there, but I’ve been unable to put them down in writing.

Two months ago, I was cautiously optimistic. I thought we would probably get a weak Clinton victory, then some incremental building on the cautious progress made under the Obama administration; against this backdrop, I was expecting to focus a lot of energy on my geek communities, and particularly the gaming community, as I returned to health.

Then the world changed. I’m still not ready to unpack this event, but the result is that people previously known as “Gamergators,” “MRAs,” “pissing booth warriors” and “some racist trolls in the bottom drawer of the Internet” now feel emboldened to take their assholiness for a stroll in real space. Suddenly, it’s not just in a few compartments of our lives that we can meet with acts of hatred from people we don’t even know. After what most of us considered a shitty year, 2017 looks like it will be even worse. I met January 1st more downcast and apprehensive than I ever have in my life.

My backlog of writing is not helped by the fact that I feel I will be discussing many unpleasant topics this year. Indeed, in late October and early November before I sank into depression, I was planning to start writing a series tackling some of the successes, failures, and possible paths forward for diversity in tabletop gaming and related geeky pursuits. I feel this is more needed now than ever, but I don’t know how much justice I will be able to do to the topics.

Nevertheless, I can’t just roll over and play dead. It’s not the first time I have dealt with depression, and I will deal with it this time again. In fact, I was hit by a wave at about the same time the year before, when my kind and benevolent employer unilaterally cut my hours and stripped me of my benefits. You know what got me out of the ditch? Cancer. That’s right, sometimes it’s not an improvement in circumstances that serves as the ladder to climb out of a hole, but a disaster you have to respond to. And 2017 looks to be quite the disaster, so I might as well hold on to that to climb.

Happy New Year, folks. Me, I take pride in the fact that I managed to write this post without too much profanity.

Dungeon World: Our Heroes!

Our Heroes - Ram, Rahi, Merit, and Kanta. Art by Claudia Cangini.
Our Heroes. Front: Ram the Holy Killer; behind him, from left to right: Rahi the Relic Bearer, Merit the Trickster, and Kanta the Mage. Art by Claudia Cangini, 2016.

We’ve been playing Dungeon World for over a year now, in Edmund’s own setting inspired by Southern Asia, “The Land of Ten Thousand Gods.” We’re nearing the epic conclusion of a big story arc so as a holiday present to the whole group, I commissioned a portrait of our four characters from the amazing Claudia Cangini. Tonight I unveiled it for the group and people sounded very happy — I know I am!

For those who, like me, enjoy seeing how a piece of art comes together, I will post the various steps of Claudia’s work. All images are in the slideshow at the bottom.

Continue reading “Dungeon World: Our Heroes!”

Thanks all around

johnny-automatic-maid-with-cornucopia-800pxYes, it’s that time once again in the U.S.A., Thanksgiving and sharing your gratitude. It was not difficult to find things to be thankful for, but it was difficult to write about them; 2016 was a very sucky year from the global level to the personal level. Nonetheless, I have things I’m very grateful for.

Thanks, Obama — actually, that’s Thanks, Mr. President, and I’m thankful for that. You have been a smart, compassionate, dignified, eloquent, funny president for eight years and I will miss you so much.

And thanks, Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker. You encouraged us to be our better selves during this depressing, mind-boggling year of election campaigning.

Thanks, people of good will and honest mind who have fought, and plan to keep fighting, the return of fascism around the world.

Thanks to my husband Edmund who had a year of waiting on me hand and foot. I know this was rough and I assure you that I never forgot, in the midst of my own problems, what you were going through.

Thanks to my family — my mother, siblings, extended family who also had their own sorrows this year. I know you were worried about me, and hated that I was so far from you in a country known for its terrifying health care system. I hope I kept you informed enough to reassure you.

Thanks, my friends close and far, including many wonderful people I have never met face-to-face! Thank you for the encouragements, the help navigating bureaucracies, the cute animal pictures, the interesting discussions, the sage advice, the thoughtful gifts, and the simple fact that you cared.

Thanks, Valentine, Ubaid and Phantom, my three felinotherapists. You take good care of me.

Thanks

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

Spotify Playlist: American Gods

american gods

A few years ago, Bridget McGovern at the TOR Books blog put together an exhaustive soundtrack to go along Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods: “The Complete American Gods Mix Tape”.  I added all the tunes I could find, which is the vast majority, to a Spotify playlist.  I was thinking of this playlist because Christmas features at the centre portion of the book, so it’s seasonal.  Unfortunately, Spotify does not allow custom images for playlists (it’s only been a top user request for 3.5 years!) but I’m nothing if not stubborn.  Hence, sharing through my own blog so I could have a representative image when I post the link!  Enjoy.

Spotify playlist: American Gods Mix Tape.  If you want more about the novel, here are some thoughts and links from my previous posts.

[Edit: Now includes the long-missing Beatles songs, just released on Spotify.]

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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

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!

Kicking Off 2015: The Taking of Tiger Mountain

The Taking of Tiger Mountain U.S. posterHappy New Year, peeps! On the 1st of the year we had a wonderful Japanese-style dinner with our friends, on the 2nd I worked, on the 3rd we played board games with another friend visiting from Seattle. But today—today we kicked off the movie year! We went to see Tsui Hark’s new movie, The Taking of Tiger Mountain.

TL;DR: It’s awesome.

This sounded like a somewhat improbable endeavour: it’s based on a piece of Cultural Revolution-era propaganda. First a book by novelist Qu Bo (a.k.a. Chu Po), Tracks in the Snowy Forest (1957), itself based on a real 1946 incident, which became the basis for a sanctioned Peking opera, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, that became one of the Cultural Revolution’s eight model plays.

I don’t know about you, but Maoist propaganda does not usually rise to the top of my list of things I want to watch, so I was a little wary, but hey—Tsui Hark deserves being given a chance, right? So we went to a matinee show in; we’re lucky that the Daly City Century 20 theatre shows international blockbusters, not just American ones.

The plot: in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War, a small reconnaissance force of the People’s Liberation Army (communist) fights a local gang of bandits in the northern mountains and protects the local villagers; one scout poses as a bandit to infiltrate Lord Hawk’s gang and set up the final fight.

Tsui Hark does a wonderful job of meshing the Chinese tropes of action films, traditional storytelling, and communist propaganda. There are homages and send-offs, adaptations and transpositions, and excitement throughout. The acting, photography, fight choreography, sets, and special effects are impeccable. The music combines swelling suspense movie music with corny-as-all-hell but rousing patriotic anthems.

There is not only ample bullet time but knife time, grenade time, mortar shell time, etc… So yeah, this is a violent movie and you don’t want to bring kids there. But it’s stylish violence, if you see what I mean. And the heroes are good, merciful, dutiful, and brave; there are lots of interesting support characters to follow. The villains are classic wuxia villains, over-the-top and all very distinctive.

Some reviewers have expressed surprise that Hark was doing propaganda, but I see it differently; it’s classic Hark, where duty is more important than authority, and the heroes actually fight for one another and for the people.

In case you can’t tell because I’m being too demure: I loved this movie.

Links

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.

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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.