Friday, 4 May 2018

In Like a Lion

Once again, it's been a busy month here in the writing hovel. As you can see, I didn't quite manage to get two blog posts out in April, largely due to spending the last weekend of it in Prague with my lovely husband, Richard, on a belated 20th wedding anniversary holiday.

Prague was wonderful, and so inspiring. Steeped in myth and legend, the city gave rise to the golem and was home to loads of hidden alchemy laboratories during the reign of Rudolf II. We even got to visit one that was rediscovered during massive flooding in the city in around 2000 - great fun, and pretty spooky!

Along with its history, Prague has some amazing buildings. Not only are many of them painted with fabulous designs or trompe l'oeil, a lot have Art Noveau decorations, or just out-and-out odd things (plaques and statues) mounted on them - like the one we found of a duck-billed snake! The city is also home to two buildings containing beautiful libraries: the Klementinum and the Strahov Monastery. Although they won't let you into the libraries for a good rummage, you can gaze upon their magnificence, and the Klementinum tour also involves climbing several spiral staircases and rickety wooden stairs (almost ladders in some sections) to get to the top of the astronomical tower, where there are fantastic views over the city.

Another absolute gem was hidden in the grounds of the Petrin, Prague's hilltop park, complete with mini Eiffel Tower from the city's 1891 Exposition. Of course, I'm talking about the Magical Cavern, home of artist Reon Argondian's gloriously over-the-top artwork. If you want some seriously psychedelic and mind-bending images to inspire your scenarios (especially Dreamlands-based ones), take a peep at his gallery... As the first tourist attraction we went to in Prague, this place really got our trip off to a flying start!

Apparently, one of the things I said most over the weekend was "Oo, this would make an awesome setting for a scenario!" Perhaps one day...

In work terms, though, April continued to see progress on Masks of Nyarlathotep. It's going to be a whopper, and no mistake. As I mentioned in the last blog post, going through such a luscious book with a fine-tooth comb is a long, slow process and even then, there will be things we miss. As a friend of mine says, books aren't so much released as escape into the wild when you turn your back for a moment. Still, hopefully we've caught most of the big things!

Besides that, I'm back on editing duty for Green Ronin. At the moment, I'm working on the Aldis City Sourcebook, and it's always a pleasure to dive back into the world of Aldea. The book details the city of the Blue Rose and its eclectic inhabitants, as well as providing some interesting new mechanics to support game play in the world (as discussed in Joe's article) and a very sweet scenario by the wonderful Steve Kenson. My official title as editor on the Blue Rose gaming line is "Benevolent Dictator in Chief," a role I take very seriously indeed! The book is shaping up very nicely, and I'll be continuing to work on it through May.

Sadly, the Kickstarter I mentioned in the last blog post didn't fund. It's always disappointing when interesting projects don't come to fruition, but people only have so much time and money to devote to supporting creators, so it's understandable that not everything is going to get made - at least not yet. Which is what makes it even more frustrating when projects do fund, you submit your work, and never hear another thing from the developer, only vague rumours years later that you have to follow up on the campaign's public announcements page (and even then, you still have no idea what's really going on).

This brings me back to something I've mentioned before, and certainly touched on in the #AprilTTRPGMaker thread over on Twitter: communication is key. Yes, things go wrong, and real life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of projects that are often run parallel to people's day jobs, but not talking to people about those problems, pretending they're not happening, or just disappearing altogether, helps no one. On the whole, people are very understanding and forgiving if you keep them informed about what's going on. But not knowing? That just leads to mistrust in the long run, and makes people very wary of supporting you again in the future.

But, on a happier note: the sun is shining and it's time for a cup of tea. May promises to be another busy month as we gear up for the start of the summer convention season and trying to get various projects finished off and back to the publishers. Now all I need to do is get my new convention scenario written...

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Best Laid Plans

I know I said I was going to be really good and do a blog post every month this year, but March pretty much thundered by in a bit of a haze, with my head well and truly down over my keyboard.

Still, a promise is a promise, so here goes: What did I get up to in March, precisely?

Lots of proofing, for a start. Masks of Nyarlathotep is coming along nicely, but with such a luscious and high profile product, it has to be carefully checked to make sure everything's A-Okay. (And, believe me, that takes time.) Myself, Mike, Scott, Paul, and various other eagle-eyed folk check each chapter as it comes in from our very talented and lovely layout guru, Nick Nacario, then fire off our corrections and suggestions for him to implement. It's all horribly pretty, believe me.

What else? Recruiting women to take part in Chaosium's contribution to Women in Tabletop Gaming Month, coming this June. Chaosium has a long history of employing women to work on its products in every capacity: writing, editing, developing, art, design, layout, and production, and we've already had some very interesting interviews returned to us from some very talented and inspiring women creators, old and new.

And? Still plugging away at Children of Fear, of course! Lots more playtesting and tweaking went on during March, so hopefully there's now even more ways for your investigators to get themselves into no end of trouble while exploring Central Asia and Northern India...

I was also approached to take part in another Kickstarter project (There and Back Again: An Anthology of Travel and Gaming) by Jason Brick, one of my authors back in my line editor days over on Achtung! Cthulhu. As I'm British, of course my contribution will be about how the weather affects travel. I mean, what else was I going to write about, eh?

Other than that, March involved a lot of working out which conventions we'd be going to in the next 12 months. So far, that includes mini-Kraken in late May, UK Games Expo in June, Continuum in July, Kraken in October, and OrcaCon next January. Other distinct possibilities, but not confirmed yet, include Steampunks in Space at the National Space Centre again (always a great deal of fun) along with Dragonmeet. I also have the nagging suspicion I've missed something, but I can always tell you about that in April's official installment (so you get two this month, as long as I remember!)

Sadly, there won't be a return to Gen Con this year, or in the foreseeable future. As a freelancer who has to pay their own way, it's now just far too expensive to attend under my own steam. Many conventions are costly to get to and take part in, particularly as most of the big ones aren't in the UK and transatlantic flights and accommodation ain't cheap. I also find Gen Con (and Essen Spiel) grueling and not always pleasant experiences because of their sheer size (although it's always lovely to see old friends and make new ones).

So, from here on in, I'm concentrating on conventions I really enjoy. I'm saving up for NecronomiCon and OrcaCon next year as my two "biggies," because not only do they take place in cities I'm immensely fond of, but I always have a wonderful time at OrcaCon and my first NecronomiCon was a lovely, welcoming experience and I'd like some more of that, please! (Plus, Richard didn't get to go last time, and I think he'd love it, too.)

Right, best get back to the day job! Ta-ta for now...

Friday, 23 February 2018

All a Bit Hush Hush

Well, I did say I was going to try and be good this year about writing blog posts, so let's get this month's installment committed to electronic paper.

Which might be a little bit difficult, seeing as most of what I've been working on hasn't actually been announced to the public yet.

Ah, well!

So, what can I actually tell you?

First: Playtesting and tweaking is ongoing for the Children of Fear campaign that I've been beavering away on in one form or other now for the last couple of years. For fairly obvious reasons (i.e. Masks of Nyarlathotep), Children of Fear had to take a backseat for almost a year while we updated and refined such an important piece of Call of Cthulhu gaming history.

And while being asked to work on Masks was thrilling, it was also rather daunting, precisely because it is so beloved. Not that you say no to such opportunities - they only come along once in your career, if you're lucky. And hopefully everyone who is waiting for Children of Fear will let me off once they've seen what myself, Mike Mason, Scott Dorward and Paul Fricker helped usher into the world (along with the lovely Nick Nacario and all the insanely talented artists and cartographers who have contributed to the book).

Playtesting can be a difficult, if ultimately rewarding, experience. If you're lucky, it all goes smoothly but, more often than not, it highlights something you knew, deep down, wasn't quite working the way you'd hoped or - worse - just isn't working at all. But, with a good, honest bunch of playtesters, you can fix those problems and make things so much better than they were. That doesn't necessarily mean it isn't a somewhat terrifying procedure to put yourself through, especially when you know people are eagerly awaiting the finished product (and that's certainly the impression I got from all the enthusiastic people who came by the Chaosium booth at Necronomicon last year to ask me why I hadn't finished it yet!). All writers need to be able to kill their darlings, but that doesn't always mean it's an easy thing to do.

Having playtesters you trust helps enormously, and I am blessed to have a lovely group in America (run by the wonderful Heidi) and my own bunch of Wednesday night reprobates here. (Hi, folks!) Sometimes they may say things I might not want to hear, but their experience and knowledge makes their input invaluable and much appreciated, because it is very easy to get too close to your work and end up lost in it, particularly big projects you've been working on for a long time.

Second: Um, this is where it needs to get  bit vague. Earlier in the month, with my Assistant Editor's hat on, I finished up something for Call of Cthulhu that I think you'll all be excited by, but I can't actually tell you what it is just yet.

Third: Another vague one. I spruced up a pitch for a scenario for a games company (not Chaosium) and am waiting back to hear on whether or not they want to pick up the final version. It's been a bit of a long haul this one, just on a much smaller scale to Children of Fear (they were both originally mooted at the same Gen Con back in 2015). It had been a year since I'd last done any work on this pitch, and it always takes a bit of time to get back into the swing of things, especially when a different rules set is involved. So, watch this space on that one.

Fourth: More vagueness. Back with my Assistant Editor's hat on again, I've just finished a read through on a book under development, to give my opinion on what we can do to get it finished and out there for all of you to get your teeth stuck into. Again, watch this space!

Fifth: You'll find out about this one pretty soon. It's for Call of Cthulhu, and I'm quite excited about this one. (Not that I'm not excited about pretty much everything I work on, but you'll understand when you see what it is...)

Sixth: Mentoring. I've spent a bit of time this month mentoring a young lady who's entering the gaming profession on the production side, having been a gamer for years. We're into multiple generations of gamers now, and those of us who are working in the industry need to keep an eye out for the people who will, ultimately, replace us, and help them find their feet, be they writers, artists, or graphic designers. Hopefully I'm not telling her a load of old tosh!

Seventh: Embroidery! Yes, as well as writing and editing, I also teach traditional hand embroidery techniques and give talks on them to various groups, such as the Embroiderers Guild. This month is particularly busy, largely because I'm daft enough to take my car out into the wilds of Northumberland in the middle of winter, regardless of the weather. (Not all tutors are quite so adventurous, it seems.) I've already been to Hexham so far this month to give a talk on a traditional Norwegian technique known as Hardanger work (which I'll be repeating on Monday at Ponteland), and tomorrow I'm off to Hartlepool to teach an all-day workshop on a traditional Indian form of quilting, known as kantha.

As for next month: we'll see. I'm expecting in two editing projects from different companies, and there's this small matter of getting Children of Fear finished (although that's going to take a few more months just yet - sorry). There's also Airecon, which we may pop down to for the day. There's undoubtedly something else - there always is! - but, for the moment, I think that will do nicely.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Best of Intentions

Gosh, it's been a while, hasn't it?

People keep asking me for my blog details, at which point I have to look embarrassed and make noises about not updating it regularly (and I think we can safely say that over two years since the last post definitely counts as "not regularly").

Now, I don't normally do New Year's resolutions, but I'm going to try and update the blog once a month this year so when people ask for my blog details, there's actually something there for them to read. Hopefully.

So, let's get this thing on the road again, eh? It's been a busy month so far. Once again, I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest to OrcaCon, the inclusive games convention that has taken place in the general vicinity of Seattle for the last three years. This year, due to venue issues at the previous location in Everett, the convention moved to the Hilton at Bellevue, which turned out to be a really good choice. No matter where you went in the hotel, there were happy people playing games, and such a wonderful atmosphere.

Now the interesting thing is, I can't honestly remember how I met Donna Prior, the brains behind OrcaCon. She's always been a strong supporter of Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks, so I'm assuming we bumped into each other on one of the games forums when I was first putting the premise together. We first met face to face at Gen Con, I think in 2013, and the rest is history.

Donna's aim with OrcaCon, which first ran in 2015, was to create a safe, welcoming games convention for people of all ages, genders, and orientations. It's one of my favourite conventions, partly because of the small size (now up to 1200 in its third year), but also because it is full of smashing, enthusiastic people who love their games and want to share that love with others.

This was my third year as a guest, so I was on panel duty as well as running a couple of games. My first panel as moderator was about GMing, and attempting to help people who were thinking about making that first step actually take the plunge. Apparently, this was quite topical, as January is New Game Master Month (although I wasn't aware of this until after the panel!). My second panel was about just what we freelancers get up to during the day, as well as discussing whether No Pants Wednesday is actually a thing. I was supported on both panels by a wonderful array of industry professionals, including Joseph Carriker, Crystal Frasier, Kate Baker, Ari Marmell, Liz Courts, Jenn Sandercock and Erin M. Evans.

As for games, this year I only ran two: Cogs, Cakes & Cthulhu (a Mythos-inspired take on you know what) and Untold: Adventures Await, by the wonderful people at the Creativity Hub. Both sessions were great fun, as always. Apparently, there was quite a queue for the Cogs game, with all sorts of shenanigans threatened by those on the waiting list in their attempts to get into the game! (It's always lovely to be wanted!)

Another reason OrcaCon is a fun one for me is that I actually get to play games. First up was Blue Rose, run by the lovely Joseph Carriker for a group of players that have a Blue Rose game every year at the convention. I was there to help make up the numbers, and it was amusing to play in a scenario I actually edited! I was very good, though, and only reacted to information I was given in character. I had a lovely evening inhabiting the world of Aldis again. I was also lucky enough to play in Steve Kenson's Icons introductory game, where Shadow Dancer and her associates found themselves fighting strange creatures in an intergalactic arena, and stuff my face with Jenn Sandercock's edible games, eventually becoming a member of the Order of the Oven Mitt for my labours!

And I got to have another lovely chat with the gents from the Geeks of Cascadia podcast - at least once Hobbs remembered to plug the microphone in! It's always a pleasure to spend time with Paul, Hobbs, and Co.

But now, sadly, the convention is over and I'm back home again. What's left of this month involves getting the next installment of Children of Fear, my whopping great Chaosium Call of Cthulhu campaign, into shape and submitted, as well as the next assignment in my role as Assistant Editor on Call of Cthulhu. Hopefully more on that next month!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Best Four Days in Sleep Deprivation

Or: In Which We Nearly Made It All The Way Through A Trip To Gen Con Without Losing Our Luggage.

Gen Con has finished for another year and I realise that the last time I updated this blog was two years ago (shocking behaviour - I do apologise). So, without further ado, I shall present this year's Gen Con report minus pictures as, once again, I took my camera and utterly failed to used it...

My first Gen Con was in 1994 when it was still in Milwaukee. That was an exciting and odd experience and for years I wanted to get back and bring my husband, Richard, along with me. We finally managed that in 2013 and have been back every year since, with each year being its own peculiar (and exhausting) beast.

This year, I was lucky enough to have been selected as an Industry Insider Guest of Honour and I got to be on three very enjoyable panels. The first was Women in Gaming, which I will admit I was mildly dreading as part of me wondered if we still needed such a panel in this day and age. But, sadly, after the events of the last eighteen months or so, it appears that yes, we most definitely do.

Thanks to the lovely Rachel Ventura of Legendary Games, we'd decided to focus on the positive aspects of being a woman in games, something that was very much appreciated by our audience. Having been to the ConTessa opening ceremony the day before, I'd been reminded of how women have been in gaming from the very beginning and how important their contribution to the worlds we all know and love have been. Sadly, in some quarters, that seems to have been all but forgotten.

It was fascinating to share experiences with Elisa Teague (author of Girls on Games), Nicole Lindroos (Green Ronin), Rachel, and Shoshana Kessock (Phoenix Outlaw Productions) and we really could have done with another hour (at least!) to do the topic justice. Still, there's always next year...

My final two panels weren't until Sunday. The first, hosted by the ever-so-organised Keith Baker, was about designing worlds. We were joined by Elsa S. Henry (Blind Mouse Games), Brannon Boren, and the redoubtable Ken Hite. Although slightly intimidated at first by the illustrious company in which I found myself, this was an excellent panel all round (particularly the startling revelation that, as far as we can tell, Elsa is actually Daredevil, though you didn't hear that from me).

It's always interesting to see how other people approach world building and to discuss how important tone and the type of stories you want to tell are to giving your world its unique feel, and I hope we gave the audience some useful tips and ideas to go away and play with.

My last panel was an absolute hoot. Of all the panelists, Bryan Steele (Ursa's Den) was the only one I didn't know (but, as it turns out, he's thoroughly lovely - hardly a surprise, really, as most people in the gaming industry are). Along with Andy Peregrine, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Bill Bodden, we had a highly entertaining chat about the dos and don'ts of becoming a freelancer. As Andy said at the time, let's hope we haven't done too good a job, or we've just put ourselves out of work!

In between panels I got to meet up with old friends, some for the first time in the flesh (including the wonderful John Kahane). I also got to make new friends, indulged in sushi therapy with Monica Valentinelli (man, the sea puff specialty roll at Mikado is amazing, and I speak as a sushi virgin), and had some incredibly instructive business meetings, some of which I hope to be able to talk about in the near future.

I also worked the Modiphius booth on Saturday, shilling my wares (Achtung! Cthulhu and Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks) under the watchful eye of booth manager and long time proofreader and friend, T.R. Knight. It's always lovely to interact with our customers and to hear how they're playing and, more importantly, enjoying our games. I even got a little sketch of Cutey (our nickname for the squid symbol you'll find throughout the A!C books) by John Kovalic although, in my usual oblivious state, I had no idea it was him until after he'd gone and I'd checked the business card she was drawn on! (Unless, of course, someone else has taken to drawing cartoons on the back of Mr. Kovalic's business cards...)

And, of course, there was the ENnie Awards Ceremony. Having nearly missed the first hour because I was convinced it started at 9pm not 8, I was, thankfully, in place to see Achtung! Cthulhu: Terrors of the Secret War win silver for Best Cover. Ian Schofield did a lovely job on that one for us and I was so pleased to see his work recognised by both the judges and the voters.

By far the biggest surprise of the night, though, was Terrors walking away with the silver for Best Monster/Adversary. I honestly thought they'd put up the wrong screen to start with, especially considering the other amazing and beautiful books in that category. But no, it really was us and I was thrilled to bits for Josh O'Connor, Jesse Hawkins, Reuben Saunders, Dave Blewer, Dim Martin, Ian Schofield, Michal Cross and Chris Birch (oh yes, and me, of course, as chief cook and bottlewasher on the book) that people liked what we'd done. The choice we'd made to go cinematic was risky, but the nomination and the medal (one of which is hanging over my computer as I type) show that it was the right decision.

I love Gen Con and it's wonderful to have seen it grow and evolve over the last twenty-one years. This has to have been my favourite one so far and, fingers crossed, we'll get to do it all again next year!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Transatlantic Tea Party

We're back from Indianaoplis now (mostly awake, but not entirely), and I'm pleased to report that we had a fabulous time. Not only did the game sell well, but we also met some fantastic people.

I got to run an impromptu demo for two very lovely non-gamer steampunk ladies, who were so taken with it that they bought the game! As Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks was partly written with these kind of ladies in mind, I was absolutely thrilled to bits.

I also got to discuss the potential for Space Mounties with two smashing Canadians, chat to the fantastic Liz Spain (whose Incredible Expeditions is currently on Kickstarter - please do go and take a peek!), and finally got to meet one of our first and most enthusiastic supporters, the wonderful Donna Prior.

Not only that, but we set ourselves a little cosplaying goal over the course of the convention. As the tagline for the game is "Tea! Cake!! Adventure!!!", we decided that we'd have to find ourselves two very special cosplayers...

Tea! Cake!! Adventure Time!!! With Jake the Dog...

And Finn the Human!

Yes, we know it's daft, but we're very proud of ourselves, and both lads were quite happy to indulge our silliness.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Indianapolis Ahoy!

(Photo courtesy of Shadow Caver,

It's time for the tea and cake to make it's way Stateside for the next week, as Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks makes its debut at Gen Con, one of the biggest gaming coventions in the world.

We're very excited, as it's nearly two decades since I was last there with Nightfall Games and Wizards of the Coast. It may have moved cities, but I expect it to be just as hectic and entertaining as ever it was!

And don;t tell anyone, but there are rumours that the infamous tea-pot fez will also be making an appearance...