Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Twelve Months of Blogmas

So, for once, it looks as if I'll actually successfully complete a New Year's Resolution. Yes, I have indeed managed to produce a blog post for every month of the impossibly long year of 2018.

Bearing that it mind, it seemed sensible to do a round up of what I've worked on over the last twelve months. I can't tell you about all of it, but I can drop subtle hints for some of the stuff that I'm not at liberty to mention properly. I used to do an annual summary a few years ago when I worked for Modiphius just to remind myself of the break-neck pace of production on Achtung! Cthulhu, but I haven't done it in a while, so it will be interesting to see if this year was indeed as busy as it felt.

So, Call of Cthulhu and other Chaosium stuff first (in no particular order):

Scritch Scratch (Free RPG Day; published)
Masks of Nyarlathotep (published)
Call of Cthulhu Starter Set (published)
Terror Australis (published)

Children of Fear (in the production queue)
Secrets of Berlin (in the production queue)
Shadows Over Stillwater (in the production queue)
A Cold Fire Within (in the production queue)
Flotsam and Jetsum (the next organised play campaign; in the production queue)

Cthulhu By Gaslight for 7th Ed (we're still beavering away on this one)
Sekkrit Projekt 1 (no, I'm not telling you anything more than that; in development)
Sekkrit Projekt 2 (and I'm not telling you anything else about this one, either; in development)
Sekkrit Projekt 3 (short scenarios taking only 1-2 hours; in development and testing)

Women in Tabletop Gaming Month interviews (on the Chaosium blog)
After Dark convention scenario (which does now have a player-awarded subtitle, but I'm not saying it here as it sort of gives the game away)


Aldis: City of the Blue Rose (Green Ronin; published)
Shadowtide: A Blue Rose novel (game stat editing; Green Ronin; available electronically)
Other Blue Rose editing (nope, nothing to see here... yet!)
Holding On: the Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (playtesting, rules proofing; Hub Games; published)


UK Games Expo
Free RPG Day
Necronomicon Discord Charity Fundraiser
Steampunks in Space

(Funny - I could have sworn we were at more than that...)

Things definitely began picking up pace towards the end of the year after I finally managed to finish Children of Fear, although most of this year has been editing, proofing and development work. I am getting to write some new material for Cthulhu by Gaslight, so it's nice to have that change of pace again from persnickety error spotting (which I am pretty good at, by all accounts - probably something to do with reading DNA sequences manually from X-ray films and automated sequencer printouts in a previous life).

There were also a few podcast appearances (The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, Geeks of Cascadia and the Miskatonic University Podcast), as well as a short series of videos Mike and I did for Masks of Nyarlathotep over on Chaosium's YouTube channel. There were a couple of other podcasts who asked if I was available (usually!), but then I never heard anything more. Ah, well.

I also had to turn down involvement in several projects this year. It's not something I like doing - as a freelancer, there's always the fear of famine rather than feast when it comes to work, meaning it's a real struggle to resist over-commitment - but there really are only so many hours in the day, especially as I also delivered four historical embroidery talks and one all-day embroidery workshop, all of which take an inordinate amount of preparation for either an hour's talk or six hours of stitching (writing up requirements lists, producing worked examples and preparing take-home instructions).

So, yes, turns out it *was* something of a busy year after all. And next year is shaping up to be more of the same, starting with a launch party for the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set next weekend, followed closely by our first full convention of the new year in a couple of week's time (OrcaCon), where I'll be running two games and appearing on five panels!

It's also been a very rewarding year in terms of feedback from players and Keepers and the ongoing development of strong working relationships. I've met some wonderful people, run some very entertaining games, played in some very entertaining games, and visited some wonderful places in order to do so. I see no reason why 2019 won't bring more of the same, and I sincerely hope it does.

And with that, dear reader, I wish you a safe and prosperous New Year. Be good or, as my late Great Aunt used to say, if you can't be good, be careful. (To which I add: or just don't get caught!)

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Almost All Done Bar the Shouting

Well, here we are in December, so that means it's time to write November's blog post. But first, I need to remind myself what I wrote in October's ramblings...

Right: sorted. The thing with writing my blog post just after the previous month has finished means I have to remember what I did and didn't say, and what accidentally may have slipped in as a preview. I was pretty well behaved about that last time around, so that's all good.

November, as pretty much every other month this year has been, was another busy one: editing, proofing and art direction for more Call of Cthulhu goodies (including the upcoming Pulp campaign A Cold Fire Within by Christopher Smith Adair), helping out with style guidelines, writing reviews, attending conventions, and - of course - learning more hieroglyphics.

The main convention for November (Dragonmeet just snuck into December again this year) is Steampunks in Space: a marvelous gathering at the National Space Centre in Leicester. Full of all sorts of steampunk shenanigans, it's one of the few non-games cons I get to go to now. (Although saying it's a non-gaming con isn't strictly true, as I do run Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks there during the weekend.)

As always, we had many highly entertaining demo games, from regulars coming back for another installment in their ongoing adventures, to complete novices just wanting to learn what it's all about. Even more wonderful this year was the three generation family who came along to chat to us about how much fun they'd had with the game when they tried it a couple of years ago, and the gentleman who'd played in a demo game at Ludorati in Nottingham over a year ago who'd tracked us down to get hold of a copy of the book!

Speaking of games cafes, Newcastle now has it's very own one: Meeple Perk. Not that I've had chance to actually play any games there yet, but it's in a very convenient location, meaning that I get to pop in on my way home from hieroglyphics on a Wednesday night for a fortifying cup of coffee. The proprietors - Drew and Rhi - are long-time gamers and lovely people, and the cafe is very cosy and welcoming. Watch this space for more about them next month. (Probably...)

And that's probably all I can really say about work for November - there are some very interesting things bubbling along just below the surface, but apart from turning my hand to some exploratory research for the updated edition of Cthulhu by Gaslight, there really isn't anything else I can tell you for... reasons. (Some because they haven't been announced yet, others because they're really only vaguely formed ideas and hopes at this stage.)

Until next time...

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Season of Mists and Mellow Games Conventions

Now that Hallowe'en has come and gone, we're really hurtling towards winter (as can be attested by the knocking sounds currently coming from the radiator next to me as the heating turns itself on again).

As usual, it's been a busy month here, with me largely wrapping up work on Children of Fear (well, attempting to: I've still got some art and map direction left to do on that one, but it's soooo close now, honest).

Besides that, there was a goodly bit of PDF proofing going on for the upcoming Call of Cthulhu supplement: Terror Australis. For those of you who fancy a trip Down Under in the 1920s, I can safely say that there's plenty in the book to suck your investigators' faces off, as well as a few Mythos threats for if the local wildlife isn't quite deadly enough... (Seriously, everything on that continent is going to try to kill you, one way or another.)

What else? Let me consult the Oracle (the desk diary I keep everything written in so I know what I've been up to and what appointments I have coming up. I also have a mini-Oracle in my handbag for when I'm on the go).

Oh, yes: hieroglyphics.

Every year for my birthday present, my lovely Hublet gets me membership for the Lit and Phil in Newcastle (the largest private library in England outside London). I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but it's one of my happy places, and they do an amazing range of talks and courses on literally pretty much everything. As I was glancing through the Autumn newsletter a few months ago, I spotted a most intriguing entry: a notice that a 10-week beginner's course in Middle Egyptian hieroglyphics would be starting in October.

To be honest, I thought I was seeing things (or had fallen into one of my own Cthulhu scenarios...), but no, it was genuine, so a couple of weeks ago I arrived at the Lit and Phil, notebook in hand and far too excited, ready for the first class. It was wonderful. Okay, there are way too many birdy-things to draw (that really don't look much like the actual hieroglyphs by the time I've done with them), but it's like a giant puzzle solving game wrapped up in a dead language, which means my brain is really enjoying itself working out what's going on. And I have been most restrained - no Mummy jokes at all (I'm sure they've heard them all by now).

I have missed two classes due to being away at a convention and the accompanying con lurgy from hugging too many strange Europeans and Americans, but the tutor is lovely and sent me the lectures so I could get back up to speed. This meant downloading several Egyptian grammars onto both the desk top and iPad so I could figure out some of the more esoteric points (caused, in part, by Powerpoint slips due to version variance), which also made me inordinately happy (both the grammars and the puzzle-solving). And last night (yep, I was learning hieroglyphics on All Hallows Eve - squeeee!), Masks of Nyarlathotep came in handy as we were reading the cartouches of several pharaohs, including Sneferu and Menkaura...

I know I'm incredibly lucky to live close to such a wonderful resource as the Lit and Phil, and to have a job where doing something like this officially counts as research! Just don't ask me to write any curses or spells in hieroglyphics for you. Certainly not Cthulhoid ones anyway - Middle Egyptian has no letter L (that was only introduced by the Greeks at a much later stage because they needed one), so there'll be no invoking of Nyarlathotep, on paper at least. (Hmm, maybe that's precisely why there's no letter L...) 

As to that convention: October is Kraken time, so off we trundled to Schloss Neuhausen to be thoroughly pampered and over-fed by Peter, Yardena and their staff while we played games, drank far too much beer and gin (including one that tastes like strawberry laces), and gossiped with like-minded individuals. We headed to the Schloss a few days early for the pre-convention convention, which largely consisted of the folks who'd attended mini-Kraken in May this year. It was good to be back in the middle of East Germany (as was), among friends and in a very welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.

Kraken is a pretty tiny convention, with only room for around 80 people. Unlike many conventions I attend, even though I was a guest, I didn't feel like I was "on" in the way that I usually do - you know, performing for the attendees, always with a mind to professionally representing whichever company and product I happen to be working with/on at the time. Like OrcaCon, Kraken is definitely somewhere I get to be me, and hang out and game with people I like. Yes, it is work - I hosted a panel on what was coming up for Cthulhu and ran four games, three of them in a 13.5 hour period on the Sunday (confirming that I'm getting too old for that sort of nonsense, although all the games were great fun) - but it doesn't feel like work, if that makes sense?

The funniest thing about the Kraken is that I only attended my first one this time last year, yet it feels like I've always been going there (and several people were very surprised when they found out about my inexperience with this con). I have every intention of going to both mini- and big-Kraken next year, provided we're allowed off this island after you know what horrific debacle comes into force in 2019. If it does. Who the heck knows - the people "in charge" certainly don't seem to, that's for sure. People keep inviting/encouraging me to move to Germany, and it's tempting, let me tell you!

Ah well, such is life. Better get back to this here art and map direction - it isn't going to do itself!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

A Game For All Seasons

September has now sauntered off the calendar and into history, so it's time for a blog post celebrating what I got up to during its blustery, somewhat sodden days.

It was mostly a month of working on projects I can say very little about, three of which are for Chaosium, Inc., and one for Green Ronin (a late entry that sneaked in just under the wire on the final weekend.) There's been very little writing going on, because all of the jobs were on the editorial side of things: actual editing, proofing, art direction, and development.

There was also a fair bit of research reading happening for a project slated for sometime next year. Although it's unlikely I'll be doing much writing for it, I'm probably going to be its lead, so I need to know enough about it to choose the right authors and create an outline that will be interesting and useful in game terms. But again, not much I can really tell you about that one as of this moment. (Although some of you may well be able to guess what it is, seeing as I publicly volunteered myself for it several years ago.)

A goodly bit of the month was gearing up for a LARP. Set during World War II, Wing and a Prayer followed a day in the lives of WAAF plotters at a World War I aerodrome pressed into service after the destruction of that area's main base. (And yes, it did take place on an actual World War I aerodrome: Stow Maries in Essex.) Most of the characters would be women (at least two-thirds), while the male characters would be pilots in the RAF responding to what the plotters were getting up to. Indeed, the tagline for the event was "A Woman's Place is in the War."

I'd signed up for the LARP precisely because it was about putting women front and centre of the experience, with the men attending very much as the supporting cast. Although many LARPs now are at gender parity in terms of attendance, focusing on the war time experiences of women doing such a challenging job was, as far as I knew, a unique opportunity.

Costuming proved to be a bit of a so-and-so, and caused much anxiety. Trying to get hold of surplus women's RAF costume (not quite authentic, but near enough for a weekend's LARPing) was difficult anyway, but getting it in anything other than small dress sizes proved to be impossible, leaving many of us feverishly sewing two skirts together or inserting extra panels to get things to fit. Given the unfortunate presence of the "costume police" at many LARP events, I was doubly stressed, as I've been on the end of various withering comments over the years about not having sufficiently accurate clothing and props. And then you have the whole brigade who don't think plus-sized women should LARP anyway because they're fat and look ugly in costume, spoiling it for all the beautiful people in their immaculate cosplay outfits.

I love to see cosplay, but to me it isn't LARPing - not on its own, at least. If you want to really go for it in the costume stakes at a LARP because that's what you enjoy - wonderful! Just accept that not everyone has the figure, time, skills or money to be able to do the same. It should be the roleplaying that's the most important element, but some people seem to forget that at times...

Anyway, thankfully, the costume police were noticeably absent from the event, and the hodge-podge nature of everyone's costumes lent it an even more authentic "make do and mend" air, completely appropriate for a World War II event. Everyone looked wonderful, and the black and white pictures produced by the event photographer quite often make you double-take as to whether they're genuine period ones or not.

 And as for the refs: they really knocked it out of the park. Not only had they gone to the trouble of building a working oscilloscope to act as a Chain Home radar screen, they'd wired the entire barn so people were in radio communication with other spotting stations (NPCs feeding us the necessary information) and with the pilots in the various RAF flights. The pilots, once scrambled, were in a separate room carrying out their sorties on what was basically a flight simulator, with the outcome of dogfights handled by a card mechanic, with the decks stacked depending on how well we plotters had done our jobs.

It was a tremendously immersive, exhausting and remarkable LARPing experience, very much rooted in the routine of being a plotter and having to handle the tremendous amount of information that was being thrown at you during a raid. We actually managed to break two bells, we were so enthusiastic when scrambling the pilots!

I'd always admired the plotters and the work they'd done (my Great Aunt's best friend was one), but having had just the tiniest fraction of their experience, under completely controlled conditions, made me realise just what an astounding job they did, under great pressure and with very little training. Watching the blokes come in during the final raid (100+ bombers heading for London during the Blitz) when it was all hands on deck, and seeing the realisation dawning on them of just what we'd been doing all weekend, and the admiration that followed, was quite something.

Bleed can be an issue after LARPing, particularly the emotionally-charged, Nordic style ones, but this event seems to have affected people in a very profound way; I suspect because of the intensity of the experience and the camaraderie it built amongst the various plotter shifts as we all pulled together to make the best of it. Hiding under a table during a blackout as German bombers thundered over head, unsure if we were their target, someone took hold of my hand in the darkness and asked if I was alright. It was a small moment, but very moving, and unlike anything I'd had before in all my years of LARPing. (The refs had rigged cameras in the Ops Room so they could keep an eye of everyone and make sure they were coping with their duties, and that moment of us all taking shelter caught them completely by surprise - they'd not expected it, but it just added to the whole atmosphere immensely.)

As a gamer, I have been lucky enough to play with some wonderful people and witness the creativity and passion of a talented bunch of folks exploring and evolving their hobby. Some of these experiments don't always work, but when they do, they are really exceptional. Not all gaming has to be profound and meaningful - there needs to be room for the lighthearted, frivolous and escapist as well - but the fact that we have access to a game for all seasons, depending on our moods and needs,  is one of the reasons our hobby is so very special.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Last Days of Summer

For the first time since 2013, August didn't find us jetting off to the States for a games convention.

It must be said, it was a bit of an odd sensation not to be shuffling through Heathrow airport at some ungodly hour, dealing with its ever-surly security staff. (Seriously, every single one of them has had a sense of humour transplant and has apparently never spent a sleepless night on a transatlantic flight based on their total and utter lack of empathy with/sympathy for the poor shambling wrecks trying to work out where it is they're supposed to be going now they've changed all the security procedures. Again.) Mind you, we do at least now know where the half decent seats are for the three to four hour lay-overs we invariably end up having to make.

No, this August we largely spent at home. So while most of the people I work with or know in the gaming industry were getting trampled to death or melting with heat exhaustion in Indianapolis, we enjoyed our beautiful former kingdom, helped by a couple of friends and their families coming up for their holidays.

Northumberland is beautiful, and has the best castles (Bamburgh, Dustanburgh, Warkworth, etc., many of which have featured in a variety of films and television series). It also has wonderful beaches, amazing moorlands, fantastic museums (many of which have been involved in the Great Exhibition of the North this summer, even if the definition of what constitutes "North" has been somewhat elastic. Cheshire? North? Really?) and a ton of other cool historical stuff for us to explore. Which makes it a very inspiring place to live; aspects of which often creep into my work, be it legends, locations, or people. (One of these days I'll get round to writing a Northumbria sourcebook for something - in fact, I was doing research for that when I was hired by Modiphius to head up Achtung! Cthulhu.)

And just because I wasn't at a games convention doesn't mean I wasn't slaving away at the day job (none of that while the cat's away nonsense, thank you very much!). More development and mentoring on an upcoming project for Call of Cthulhu; finishing off proofing the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set (it comes in a box and everything. Plus: dice!); more writing, playtesting, and correcting the Children of Fear campaign; and I also started editing another Call of Cthulhu supplement that's making me determined to plan a return trip to the location it's set in after the fabulous week I spent there last year. (And that's as much of a hint as you're getting for now, I'm afraid!)

There's been quite a bit of peripheral stuff, too: getting costume ready for a World War II WAAF LRP I'm going to in September, sending stuff off to conventions regarding panels and games I'm offering, and confirming attendance at other events. The end of the year is going to be its usual blur, convention-wise, that's for sure, and I'm already making arrangements for OrcaCon and Necronomicon next year, too.

One of the other events I was privileged to take part in over the Bank Holiday weekend was a 24-hour charity fundraiser for Leukaemia Care, organised and hosted by the folks over at the Necronomicon Discord community. I lost a friend to leukaemia when I was a teenager, and one of my jobs back when I was a biomedical research scientist was developing a screening panel to identify chromosomal breakpoints in leukaemias in order to make sure patients received the most effective treatment for their illness, so this one was close to my heart.

Once again, the generous nature and community spirit that I've found among Call of Cthulhu players and professionals came to the fore, and there were numerous panels and three live-streamed games over the course of the 24 hours. (I was on two: one introducing Lovecraft and discussing how a host of writers came to be involved with the game, the other on scenario design, both of which were great fun.) Those who couldn't directly take part donated prizes to help with the fundraising and, at last count, the team had raised £480.

Thank you to everyone who took part, and to everyone who donated. Gaming has its fair share of dark moments, but every now and again, it shows what I'd like to believe are its true colours with events like this. May there be many more.

And on that uplifting note, it's time to get back to the real world and those scenarios. After all, they're not going to write/edit themselves!

Friday, 3 August 2018

Busy Bees

So, Flaming June turned into Equally Flaming July here in England, before descending into Somewhat Sweaty With Occasional Thunderstorms July. As someone with very fair skin and a tendency to imitate a boiled lobster when exposed to sunlight, working indoors can be a boon. But, working from home means that, if I have research to do, I can at least escape into my little wilderness (laughing known as the back garden) and sit under a sun umbrella with my books so my vitamin D levels get a bit of a boost.

There was a bit of that in July as I managed to get on with more Children of Fear - technically, the final chapter, although readers of this blog will know that there is another one after it in the book, consisting of support material and random NPCs. Sometimes during the research phase, you stumble across an absolute gem: in the case of this chapter, it was the amazing All About Tea Vol. I, by William H. Ukers.

Written over twelve years and published in 1935, Vols. I and II were the follow up to Ukers' 1922 book, All About Coffee. All About Tea has pretty much everything you'd want to know about tea history and production, and then some. And, unlike some period tomes, it's a really good read - engaging and informative without any stuffiness. Mind you, I seriously doubt how many people nowadays need (or want) to know exactly who worked for all the tea companies in the world in the 1930s, but if you do, now you know where to look!

The first draft of the chapter was completed as July drew to a close, and once again, there's a huge pile of research that never made it anywhere near the book. It may get used again for something else somewhere down the line, but otherwise, it joins that in the gigantic pile of notebooks stacked all over my writing hovel.

I've also been proofing the print pdfs of the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. Starter sets are a great way into gaming, and Mike Mason's done a smashing job of putting together something that will lead complete novices all the way through from their first tentative steps to running a game for up to five friends. And, once again, Nick Nacario and Chaosium's artists have done a smashing job of making the text look wonderful. As if that wasn't enough, it comes in a box! With dice! (But not ones you have to colour in with a crayon - this isn't the 1970s, you know.)

I also got to go and do a bit of gaming myself in July, thanks to Continuum, the biennial games convention in Leicester. Its predecessor, Convulsion, was the first games convention I ever went to, back in 1992. Our gaming group was encouraged to go along by our RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu GM, John. I took part in the giant Glorantha freeform, Home of the Bold, despite knowing only a little bit about Gloranthan lore, but it was such a fun convention, I went back again for years (with a gap in 1996 when I was working in Canada).

I'm not sure when it switched over to a new committee and name, but the convention in 2000 was the last one we went to for a long time. There wasn't a particular reason, really - it just somehow never seemed to be at the right time for us to make it. So we didn't go back until 2014. I'm glad we did - it was lovely walking in to see so many familiar faces and be welcomed back as if we'd never been away.

Anyway, the convention is a good excuse for me to indulge in a few games rather than just writing and running them. I tend to split my time between short freeforms and tabletop games, and that's what I did this time, too: a totally bonkers Live Aid freeform/skit on Friday night where I played Toyah, complete with bright red wig and 80s makeup, which was a huge amount of fun (in that reality, Toyah and David Bowie ended up contracted to make a record with the Muppets... and that was about the most sane thing that happened all evening); Noir World, set on the Orient Express with a Great Belgian Detective who wasn't M. Poirot, so ended up getting completely the wrong man, thanks to the machinations of the actual murderer; Liminal, where I played a fae who was slightly obsessed with chatting to ghosts while trying to work out why a bunch of villagers on Dartmoor were trying to kill all the tourists; and The Borden Legacy freeform, which was a very Mythos twist on the legend of Lizzie Borden, where I suspect I misread my character background but had a great deal of fun anyway (everyone seemed to think my sheriff should be incompetent, but I thought she was supposed to be like Marge from Fargo - not that I've seen Fargo, so maybe that's where I went wrong...).

I did do some work bits: a panel with Mike about what's coming up for Call of Cthulhu (it's always fun to be on a panel with Mike) and I ran Blue Rose for the first time. I thought I really should get round to it at some point seeing as I'm its editor! The game went very well, and it was lovely to see the players engage with their characters, sitting down and trying to find a diplomatic solution to something rather than just wading in with their fists. They did get the chance to thump something later on, but it was very much a last resort. And demonic creatures do need a good thumping, apparently.

It was interesting that some people were a little put off by the game's "romantic fantasy" tag, assuming that it therefore must be a game about in-character romance rather than chivalric, sweeping fantasy. Not that you can't have in-character romance if you want it, of course! Hopefully I managed to set a few people straight on that point, at least.

Mostly, though, I once again ended up wondering where the month went to. But at least I got to enjoy part of it catching up with old friends I haven't spent much time with in far too long, and with people I've worked with since the last Continuum but never actually met properly. Gaming has introduced me to so many lovely, talented, and generous people, and Continuum was no exception (thanks again for the copy of Monkey, Dan and Gwen - it's great fun, although I bet the people on Newcastle Quayside had no idea what I was doing sitting on the side of the beach with the book and a deck of cards giggling away to myself!).

Monday, 2 July 2018

Flaming June

In terms of temperature here in our little corner of England, June was definitely quite a warm one.

It was also quite a busy one again, what with Women in Tabletop in Tabletop Gaming Month getting into full swing. Chaosium's contribution was a series of 24 brief interviews with some of the women who have worked with the company over the years in a variety of roles, be that writing, editing, artwork, layout or publishing as a licensee. Links to each interview can be found here.

This was an important project for me as, although women have been in gaming since the beginning, we are constantly having to fight to be included at the table and, it seems, these days more than ever. Gaming needs diverse voices if it is to thrive, and my hope is to try and encourage women and other under represented groups not to self select against getting involved by seeing that you don't have to have qualification X and have been gaming since Y to contribute on a professional level. I also wanted to highlight that there's more to game production that writing and artwork, so if your forte lies elsewhere, there's still no reason you can't get in there.

Of course, such a project comes with the inevitable downside in these days of social media: trolls. I was dreading the potential backlash we were going to get for daring to raise our heads above the parapet, but, apart from one misogynist at the very beginning and one at the end, we seem to have avoided that sort of nonsense. Unless I didn't see them, which is always a possibility. I had to seriously consider whether we should even take part, primarily from the viewpoint of the safety of the other women involved because, as the curator of the project, I have a duty of care towards them. If that doesn't underline the need for Women in Tabletop Gaming Month and other programmes to raise the visibility of minority groups within gaming, I don't know what does. I sincerely hope the day comes when we don't need to go out of our way to say "Hey, look we're here and we deserve to be treated with equality and respect. You know, like we're actual 'normal' people." But, sadly, today is not, apparently, that day.

On a more positive note, though, I learned so much by reading the interviews that came in and was inspired by each of the stories the women involved were generous enough to share with me and you. We had industry stalwarts from back in the day through to young new voices just getting started, and the thing that shone through more than anything (to me) was their passion for their work. Passion can be inspirational, and sharing your love of your industry/hobby will hopefully encourage new blood into it, or old blood that may have drifted away to give it another shot.

Other than Women in Tabletop Gaming Month, it was also Free RPG Day, so I was down at my FLGS running Scritch Scratch, mine and Chaosium's contribution to the gaming swag this year. (If you missed it, it's now available here as a free pdf with links to POD). I'd already run it for them twice over the years, so it was nice to have a trio of folks who hadn't had the delights of playing it before come to keep me company. As it has been round the block with me a few times over the last two years, I keep threatening to stop running it but, like Sean Connery and James Bond, I've come to the conclusion that I should never say never again!

As Scritch Scratch is very much a character piece until the horror kicks in, it's always a fun one for me to run as I can sit back and watch the players bicker and scheme as that group of pregenerated investigators. It's also fascinating to see how people interpret the characters you've written, and what they pick out of the backgrounds to build their portrayal around. It seems to have gone down well on the whole, and it was a great honour to be asked to turn my go-to convention scenario into something more.

What else?

Back to the last two chapters of Children of Fear, that's what! In June, I managed to complete the first draft of Chapter Eight and began the final bits of research for Chapter Nine. So far, there are ten chapters, the last of which contains various appendices, so that one's already largely written. The first six scenarios have all been tested by various groups (the first chapter is the introduction, of course), and the first three scenarios have been fully tweaked and corrected. (I'll correct the rest once the final round of playtesting is complete.)

It's been a long time coming and it's almost three years since I first discussed the campaign with Chaosium at Gen Con. Obviously, little projects like the newly released Masks of Nyarlathotep got in the way a bit, but it's full steam ahead to get this one finished before the summer is through. (It's also almost two years since we started on the somewhat epic task of bringing Masks up to date with the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition rules system. Time does, indeed, fly.)

The thing is, big projects take a lot of time to complete, starting with the research, then on through the writing, editing, commissioning artwork, layout, proofing and printing stages. Other, smaller projects and real life have a habit of mugging you on the way past, meaning what was already going to be a long haul gets even longer. Sometimes, you wonder whether you'll ever get to the end of it. But you do, eventually, although it can be a really weird anti-climactic feeling when you finally hand it off to the next step in the chain. Until you see the finished product, of course - then it all becomes worthwhile!

Monday, 4 June 2018

The Merry Month of May

Blimey, here we are again and, like the rest of this year, May sort of went tearing by in a bit of a blur.

I'm happy to report that the first pass edit on the Aldis City Sourcebook went off to Joe Carriker (Blue Rose's lovely line developer) a little over a week ago and it's full of fun, interesting and useful stuff for your Blue Rose game.

Although I've played the game before (as I mentioned in January's post), I've not actually taken the plunge and narrated it yet. Now, after quite a few requests from gaming friends, I'm about to put that right at this year's Continuum games convention. It can be a bit intimidating sometimes to run something you've worked on, particularly in an editorial capacity, as people can expect you to be an expert on it. Because I hop around systems quite a bit with my job, that isn't always the case - I'm an expert for as long as I need to be for that given project and then I have to go and be an expert on something else. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what the Continuum crowd make of it, and as long as we tell an entertaining story together, I'll be happy.

It looks as if the second volume of the Miskatonic University short story anthology I submitted a piece to is going to go ahead now, so more information on that when I get it. I'm really pleased the story should see the light of day as I had fun writing it. And there are a lot of other interesting looking stories in there, too!

We were lucky enough to go to a new mini-gaming break at Schloss Neuhausen, Germany, in May as well. The schloss is home to October's Kraken convention, a small but perfectly formed retreat where you get fed and watered to a ludicrous extent in very mellow and beautiful surroundings while gaming, socialising and learning to throw axes (yes, really). There were no axes at the mini version, but there was copious cake and beer, and an opportunity for me to test out my new Call of Cthulhu convention scenario. (As Scritch Scratch is this year's Free RPG Day scenario, I thought I'd better write a new one!)

In glorious sunshine on two consecutive mornings, I ran the players through a strange tale inspired by an actual event I attended at a local museum earlier this year as part of their After Dark programme (not uncoincidentally also the name of the scenario). Both sessions went really well, which was a relief as the scenario itself had been quite stubborn in taking shape, meaning that I was still writing it a few days before the convention started. (I also had to pay a visit to one of our local beaches for props for it as well...)

Often at conventions, I don't get a chance to play anything or be anything other than "on" in a professional capacity. What was really lovely about the mini-Kraken was that I did get to play games and just be sociable. As a result, I got to try three games I've been wanting to have a crack at for ages (Tales from the Loop, Ten Candles, and Blades in the Dark) and got to make some lovely new friends. All of the games were great fun, although sitting huddled under multiple blankets in the schloss' freezing undercroft in the pitch dark while slightly tipsy on G&Ts listening to the mice scrabbling about in the darkness behind you definitely made Ten Candles a particularly memorable experience!

A large proportion of May was dedicated to getting everything ready for Chaosium's contribution to Women in Tabletop Gaming Month. With 18 interviews in total (a 90% response rate!), the series highlights the contributions women have made to Chaosium over its lifetime, from established names to those at the beginning of their gaming industry careers. As well as promoting the stellar work these women are doing, I hope it also encourages other women to get involved as content creators, be that as artists, writers, editors, graphic designers, or in layout and production - all of which are essential roles in getting games out there for people to enjoy. As I'm writing this is June, I know the first two interviews have gone live, and I'm going to cheat and say you can find them over on the Chaosium blog.

And I can finally say that Masks of Nyarlathotep is on its way to the printer gods and should be out in pdf form some time in July. I may have mentioned before how pretty it is and there's a whopping amount of play contained in its two volumes. It'll be good to see it in actual physical print come the autumn. I hope people like what we've done with it, but regardless, it was a tremendous project to work on in terms of experience.

I don't doubt I've forgotten something I was going to tell you, but perhaps I'll have remembered by the end of the month! So, until next time...

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!