Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Double Chuckers

I was so going to write November's blog post at the end of November, but things sort of got away from me again. (Ah, the social whirlwind that is the life of a games designer!)

This year really hasn't let up, which means I'm feeling a wee bit worn out. And, while I swore back when I started keeping (a bit more) up to date with this here blogging malarkey that I wouldn't combine posts, I'm going to combine November and December's ramblings or I suspect they'll never get done.

Anyway, it's New Year's Eve and a time for reflection. So, here goes:

Egyptian grammar continues to be pretty much a complete mystery to me. I'll swear the academics have made half the tenses up just for the hell of it, because I certainly don't remember them from French, German and Latin classes at school. (Granted, those are a very, very long time ago now, but even so...) As a result, my translations remain in baby talk for the moment, but I'm hoping that the penny will drop at some point. My tutor, bless him, has just accepted that I will rename hieroglyphs that have been badly carved (rave Godzilla being my favourite of the entire year). In spite of his continued bemusement as to why I ask him to do these things, he not only gave me the translation for "Do not read from the book!" but also helped us to have accurate Ancient Egyptian charms in a supplement (The Shadow Over Providence). Classes continue next year, and I look forward to the ongoing challenge.

There's been a fair few books released this year that had my dabs on them. After a while, you sort of forget what came out when, so I think, in the end, it was 10 books in either physical or pdf (or both), plus consultation on at least 3 more from licensees. And that's just the ones that made it onto people's real and virtual shelves - there's over half a dozen more that are still in the production pipeline that I also worked on either as a writer, editor, developer, or some combination of all three.

And then there were the award nominations: Origins and ENnies, for both my work at Green Ronin and Chaosium. And some awards as well (Call of Cthulhu for the actual win!). It is nice to receive recognition - a lot of people put a lot of work into making these books and that pat on the back means a lot, if for no other reason than it makes you stop for a moment and think "Yes, we have done something pretty cool, haven't we?" And then it's back to the grindstone to get the next thing out.

Conventions: phew, yes. There were more than a few of those this year. OrcaCon (US), CarcosaCon (Poland), DNI Fantastyki (Poland), UK Games Expo (UK), mini-Kraken (Germany), Ropecon (Finland), Necronomicon (US), Kraken (Germany), AetherCon (virtual), and Dragonmeet (UK). Sadly no Steampunks in Space this year due to illness, which was a real disappointment as it's always a fun one.

There were quite a lot of interviews as well this year: Bayt al Azif, AetherCon, The Rolistes, live on Finnish day-time TV (a distinctly surreal experience), several Scandinavian podcasts, and one for the Finnish equivalent of the BBC! I'm pretty certain there were others as well, so apologies if I've forgotten any. As I mentioned at the top, this year has been something of a monumental blur...

Running things: I continue to be allowed out to run games and workshops both in the local area and further afield. Things kicked off with the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set launch in January (in association with the lovely folks at Travelling Man Newcastle, Meeple Perk and the Boutique Beats Bakery) and it never really stopped. Somewhere along the way was Free RPG Day and running things at both stores, along with a workshop at Meeple Games in Durham and numerous games at Meeple Perk. And then there's the embroidery talks and workshops, as well. It's always great fun to escape the writing hovel and talk to actual people, and share my love of games and embroidery with others. 

Looking to the Future: as some of you may have noticed, Chaosium now has the licence to produce a Rivers of London RPG. I spoke to Ben (Aaronovitch) at a book signing in Newcastle a little over a year ago about the possibility and, after a lot of work behind the scenes by my colleagues James Lowder and MOB, and Ben's agent, John, the announcement was made at Dragonmeet. It's met with a lot of positive feedback, so now the job of developing the system begins in earnest. I'm line editor for the project, as well as remaining as associate editor on Call of Cthulhu, so next year is likely to prove even busier than this one. As a fan of the books, I'm very excited about the whole thing as it's something I've been wanting to do for a while. Daunting? Yes - but I'm putting together an excellent team, and I know they'll do a good job. And Ben knows his stuff when it comes to gaming, so collaborating with him is going to be very interesting.

On the Cthulhu front, there's a lot on its way. All I can say is watch this space (as well as official channels) as to exactly what, but there is much goodness in the pipeline: some old and refreshed, some brand spanking new.

As for conventions, I'm off to Bellevue again in just over a week for OrcaCon. I'm not expecting to do quite as many conventions as this year, but then I wasn't expecting to do quite so many this year either!

So, as the old year fades and the new one begins: be safe, be kind, and enjoy your games, and may the New Year bring you peace, happiness and contentment.

See you on the flipside!

Monday, 11 November 2019

Another One Bites the Dust

I was determined to get October’s blog post out as close to the end of the month, but the best laid plans, etc.

As you might have guessed, October was once again pretty busy. There was a lot of work for Chaosium: the usual litany of paperwork, proofing, approving, and editing. And I finally (by the end of the month, at least) got on to updating and editing a book I’ve been trying to update and edit since I went full time for the company in June!

Some projects are just like that: the overlooked child, if you will. They’re good projects, but they never seem to be quite as high a priority as other things, so they frequently get shunted to the end of the queue, meaning that they don’t get picked up again until other things quieten down - relatively speaking, at least. Still, I’m on it now, so hopefully nothing else crops up in the next month or so to distract me from it again...

October saw the first We Are All Us Day, in memory of the late and much missed Greg Stafford, founder of Chaosium and overall gaming mastermind. Chaosium released a free short scenario for each of its lines, and the Call of Cthulhu contribution was The Lightless Beacon by Leigh Carr, which I edited down from its previous incarnation as a convention scenario. If you haven’t already picked it up and are in need of a short filler scenario as a change of pace from your normal campaign, then I recommend you go and take a look - it’s a fun one.

I also ran a game at my friendly local board games cafe, Meeple Perk, for Greg Day (as it was unofficially called). Not Lightless Beacon as I’d already playtested the cut down version there - plus, my feeling has always been that if you’re getting a free game, do you really want me to run it for you in a shop or cafe somewhere? Why not take it home to share and enjoy with your own group instead? Spread the love/joy, etc. But maybe that’s just me...

Instead, I decided to design a short scenario actually based on something Greg had written - and he never actually wrote anything for Call of Cthulhu, so I had to get a little creative. I asked David Larkins, line editor for the King Arthur Pendragon game, if there was anything that might adapt nicely to CoC, and he came back to me with a few suggestions from the Great Pendragon Campaign. One of them was perfect, so I adapted it. And it ran very well. There’s a really strong contingent of role players at Meeple Perk, and it’s always a pleasure to run something new for them.

And then there was the annual pilgrimage to Neuhausen and the Kraken games convention. I was there as a guest again this year, and it’s always a fun one. There’s a very particular atmosphere you get at conventions where there really isn’t anywhere else for you to go, and the Kraken is always exceptionally well catered. It’s pretty fair to say that it’s a few days of eating and drinking with some serious outbreaks of gaming between meals.

I ran Church on the Hill (the Greg Day scenario) again at the Kraken, but with a few tweaks to see if it would work in another setting. Happily, it did, so it’ll be getting a proper write up at some point next year to act as an introductory scenario for yet another book we’re updating to 7th edition. No, not telling you which one, but there are six people you might be able to bribe to tell you! And I’m not telling you who they are, either...

Church on the Hill was another one of those serendipitous scenarios where the seed and the research collided beautifully. I’d thought of a location to use as a model, but had intended to twist it so it wasn’t set in a real place. But, having gone away and researched the real place (the rather wonderful Church of St Mary and St Hardulph at Breedon on the Hill, a village whose name literally translates as “Hill Hill on the Hill”), I decided that it couldn’t really be set anywhere else. Now all I need to do is actually visit the church. We’ve driven past it loads of times on the way to UK Games Expo, but never been to it. Those of you who know it are aware of how striking it is, clearly visible on its little hilltop, but its history is even more striking and well worth hunting out if you’re interested in the Anglo-Saxon period.

The last game I ran in October was back at Meeple Perk on Hallowe’en, when the cafe allowed a full-on Hardy takeover. My lovely husband ran a follow up to his very successful Alien game, while I got to finally run Untold: Adventures Await with the Scooby Doo set of Rory’s Story Cubes, something I’ve wanted to do on Hallowe’en ever since the game came out. As you can imagine, much hilarity ensued and my four players (taking on the roles of Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy, with Scooby as Shaggy’s animal companion) created two very daft stories that were perfectly in keeping with the property as a whole.

And then it was November, but more on that next time. Although you’ll have to wait a little bit, as the monthly switch over takes place on Dragonmeet weekend and there are museums and stuff to visit...

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Sliding into Autumn

Surprisingly, I wasn't at a games convention in September, which made a nice change. We were also at home for a couple of weekends, which was quite unusual for this year.

Not that I wasn't busy, mind you. There was a lot of art, map and handout direction and commissioning going on for a couple of scenario books that are working their way up through Call of Cthulhu's production pipeline. There was also a lot of checking art and maps for existing commissions.

I also got to do a little bit of writing - not much, just a few story seeds for one of the collections I was editing and art/map directing. It was fun, as the majority of my job now is polishing other people's work for publication so writing my own stuff takes a back seat and is usually restricted to writing con scenarios.

And then there was a lot of PDF proofing for projects that were ready for electronic release and getting sent off to the printers for physical distribution. By the time everything I've worked on this year so far makes its way into shops, I'll have my shelf back in Travelling Man Newcastle! (Last time I had a shelf full of "my" books was when everything in the Achtung! Cthulhu line was in print.)

Outside of Chaosium, but still linked to it, I got to complete a written interview for AetherCon, the online games convention. I'll also be taking part in a panel for that, come November. My interview with the Call of Cthulhu magazine, Bayt al Azif, was also published.

Then I was interviewed by a student from Taylor University, Indiana as part of a course assignment, as well as advising a class there who are producing a scenario for Miskatonic Repository. It's always great fun to talk to the students at Taylor, and this class was brimming with sensible questions and interesting ideas. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

And, after a summer of always meaning to keep up with my hieroglyphics but never quite getting round to it, I began translating the Text of Sinuhe ready for my hieroglyphics class restarting in October. Blimey, I'm rusty, and the myriad of odd tenses and sentence constructions mean I'm pretty much getting here on the transliteration side of things, but not so much on the translation side. Still, I do love a good puzzle.

But perhaps the biggest success in September was me getting my accounts up to date and submitting my tax return. I count that as a win!

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Halcyon Days of Summer

As we begin the inexorable slide into autumn and the nights are drawing in, I can safely say that August has been another busy month, full of sunshine and rushing about here, there, and almost everywhere.

Things have been all go on the Chaosium front, as I’m sure you’re unsurprised to hear. Lots of art directing for The Children of Fear, for example - artists sending me their works in progress, me commenting on them and asking for corrections, or me sounding out my colleagues to see what they think. (I’m cheating a little by putting this link to the Children of Fear progress report in here because that was released in September, but I hope you’ll forgive a little bit of calendrical shenanigans on my part.)

As well as The Children of Fear, there have been other projects, most of which I can’t talk about - yet. I’m sure there’ll be an announcement at some point fairly soon, but rest assured that the Great Old Ones are keeping me out of mischief.

I also had to turn down a fascinating project because my diary is full to bursting at the moment. It was something outside my current experience for a company I haven’t officially worked with before, and it would have been an amazing challenge, but I knew I wasn’t going to have the time to devote to it that it needed, even though its projected release date is well over 18 months away.

Turning down work is hard, especially when it is something that would allow you to expand your skill base and design experience. But if I’d agreed to it, there was a severe danger that my current work would have suffered, the new project wouldn’t have received the care, love and attention it’s going to need to get it right, and everyone would have ended up pretty unhappy with the situation. The last thing I want to do is let anyone down, or hold anyone up, especially when it’s people I admire and respect (and would like to work with at some point in the future).

So, as sad as I was to have to do it, I decided to pass on this one. I really hope they find someone who can do the project justice, and they already know I’ll be more than happy to playtest it, should it become an actual thing.  Being realistic about time, energy and availability is a hard thing to learn, but not recognising that there are only so many hours in the day and only so much work you can shoulder is only going to make you miserable in the long run. And, seriously, life is too damn short for that sort of nonsense.

But - to cheerier things! August this year was, of course, NecronomiCon Providence time of year, and I was very happy to be heading back there, this time with my lovely husband in tow. He didn’t attend two years ago for a variety of reasons, and then had to listen to me waxing lyrical about what an awesome time I’d had and what wonderful people I’d met. So he was determined he wasn’t going to miss out on it this time around.

Because NecronomiCon is only every two years, it comes with an odd language issue - everyone always refers to “last year,” even though it wasn’t. Regardless, it was good to get back out to Providence and meet up with so many friends and colleagues, and to make new friends and colleagues, too. For a relatively small convention, there is so much going on: a packed gaming stream, a full stream of talks and panels, a movie stream, an art exhibition, and an academic stream, as well as a whole host of dramatic stuff (including our good friends at the HP Lovecraft Historical Society and their Dark Radio Theatre performances).

Perhaps the funniest of these was the night we finally got to see Robert Lloyd Parry and his superb presentation of MR James’ A Warning to the Curious. By funny, I don’t mean “funny, ha ha” but funny in that he regularly performs at a venue local to us, but we’re always away or otherwise engaged when he’s there. So we only had to go several thousand miles to see him! It was well worth it, mind you, and we’re planning on making sure we are about for his next visit to the Lit & Phil.

I also had a very nice chat with Mr Lloyd Parry the next day in the dealers hall, and it turns out he and his brother used to play Call of Cthulhu thirty-odd years ago. His brother was the Keeper, and it was the Games Workshop edition that they owned. A scenario in an old edition of White Dwarf had piqued their interest, as it was set in Suffolk, the site of many of James’ stories (The Watchers of Walberswick by Jon Sutherland).

It was a busy convention for me - three games (one for Extra Life, which raised a lot of money for a superb cause), two panels (both of which seem to have been well received based on the feedback I, and others, were given), and a day on the booth encouraging people to give us their money in return for beautiful things. I like being busy at conventions, although it does mean I don't always get to see much of the rest of the programming. And I largely resisted giving all my money to the other stallholders!

During the convention, I managed to have stuffies again, and finally located Dave's Coffee so I could try coffee milk, another Rhode Island specialty. (It's very good.) And, of course, there was the wonderful Ellie's for breakfast most days, even though they did scare us by moving since last time. The last event we went to was the Dunwich Horror Picture Show. It's still an awful film, and the print they have is in severe danger of either self-immolating or disintegrating into a million pieces, but the live band is great and it's nice to have a definitive end to a convention - so many just sort of fade out, leaving everyone bimbling around and looking a bit lost as people drift away over the course of the day.

It's often sad to leave a convention, and it's especially sad to leave NecronomiCon. The organisers and their minions do a wonderful job of making it a fun, safe gathering and Providence is a comfortable city to wander around. And then there's the people we have to say goodbye to. The podcasting and gaming community at NecronomiCon is a very special one, and I miss those reprobates a great deal now I'm home.

So, see you all again in two years?

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Let Loose in Europe

As you might have guessed, July was also a somewhat hectic month, for a lot of reasons. Chaosium continued to keep me good and busy on the work front, but that isn't going to be the focus of this month's blog post (partly because I'm writing this away from home and the Oracle, my faithful desktop paper diary where I record what I get up to work-wise each day, so I can't check exactly what projects - secret or otherwise - I was working on. And there were a *lot*).

July saw two conventions: DNA Fantastyki in Wroclaw, Poland, and Ropecon in Helsinki, Finland.

The first one I attended was DNI Fantasyki, as a guest of Chaosium's Polish language licensees, Black Monk Games. I'd met the team when I was a guest at CarcosaCon in March, and I was looking forward to spending time with them again and getting to know them a little better. The convention took place in another castle, this one converted into the local arts and cultural centre. The Zamek was also surrounded by extensive parkland, and was a very fairytale style castle - much less vampire-inspired than Czocha!

I was collected from the airport by Joanna, my convention liaison, and taken to the hotel, a few miles from the convention site, but very comfortable. Joanna then took me into central Wroclaw to show me around which, of course, included a little bit of dwarf hunting. Later on, after I'd got back to the hotel and had a nap, I went for a walk to the next door Stadion, to discover that there was a hot rod motor show on there. Many of the attendees were staying in the same hotel as Fantastyki's guests, which was quite an unlikely pairing (although not quite as odd as the time we were at a Doctor Who convention and a bus load of Peter Kay fans arrived to stay for the night after a gig).

I took part in three presentations at DNI Fantastyki: one about upcoming Cthulhu products (that one was mostly in Polish, which was fascinating to listen to), one about what's best in Cthulhu, and one writing workshop. I also ran a session of this year's con scenario (Breath of Angels) and got to play in a storytelling game. A lot of the time, though, was spent sitting in the sun and talking through projects with our licensees. And playing on trams, if there wasn't a convention-organised taxi to get me where I needed to be.

One of the lovely things about the convention is that, because the castle is a community cultural centre, the con organisers want the locals to enjoy the convention, too, so you only need to buy a ticket if you want to go to the talks inside the castle. Everything in the park - the traders, the boffer sword people, the archery people, the food trucks, the beer tents and the music stage - were all free for whoever wanted to come along. As a result, there was a huge variety of people in attendance: cosplayers, gamers, locals, slightly confused visitors...

After the convention, I had a day to myself in Wroclaw, where I went dwarf hunting with a vengeance. I got a little over 70 of the little blighters, although some I must have walked past, going off the tourist map that allegedly showed where most of them were. Joanna once again collected me on the Tuesday to get me to my flight, and I headed home after a great weekend at a small(ish) but highly relaxed and fun convention.

Next up was a much larger convention: Ropecon (just a little under 5,000 this year). When we were in Germany for mini-Kraken in June, Richard received a text message from one of his Finnish LARPing friends, asking if I would be available as a last minute replacement Guest of Honour for Ropecon as, unfortunately, one of their original guests had had to drop out.

Now, I was sure I'd heard of Ropecon - all extremely good things, I hasten to add - but I just wanted to make sure I had the right convention. A quick check with friends on FB confirmed that I really would be an idiot if I said no, so I didn't - I happily accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, I was due to fly to Helsinki the day after the Great Debacle at Schiphol Airport, which meant my flight was cancelled the night before and there was no getting through to anyone at the airline to sort the problem out due to, as you might expect, tens of thousands of people being stranded and/or without flights. Yes, it was exceptional circumstances, but the airline didn't exactly cover themselves in glory in the days that followed by the way they (mis)handled it. But that's another story...

Anyway, by just sorting myself out and buying the last seat that could get me to Finland in time for the convention, I made my way from Newcastle to Paris, then on to Helsinki, arriving much later than planned but there, nevertheless. I was collected at the airport by Massi and Veemelli, along with fellow guest, Jon Hodgson, who we've known for donkey's years. After a good chat in the car on the way to the hotel, we made some arrangements for sightseeing the next day, and went to get some sleep. (By that time, I'd only had about four hours in the previous 48, so I was a bit worn out.)

Let me just say: never have I been so well looked after at a convention. Not that I've ever not been looked after at  convention where I've been a guest, but Ropecon really took it to the next level. We were given a water bottle to make sure we stayed hydrated, awesome convention T-shirts, and a phone so we could get in touch with the organisers whenever we needed to. We had a translator (Veemelli) for the opening ceremony, gala, and closing ceremony so we knew what was going on, as well. We were thoroughly spoiled, which was lovely but a bit odd. At one point during the weekend, Jon lent over and whispered, "How's your impostor syndrome doing?" To which I replied, "Not great. Isn't it just important people who get handlers?"

(I was later informed at the Guest of Honour dinner that we were important people, which always sounds a bit odd, even if it is very nice to hear.)

I was very much kept out of mischief throughout the con: four panels (one about me, one about editing for gaming, one about gender in gaming, and one about the Mythos and gaming), the three big ceremonies, the rock-paper-scissors competition at the bouncy castle, two television interviews (one of them live on Finnish TV!), a newspaper interview, an interview for the convention's livestream (all the panels were livestreamed as well and should be on Youtube, if you're interested), a podcast interview (although his memory card ran out two-thirds of the way through - oops!), a game of Cogs, Cakes &Swordsticks, and recording some promotional material for the con!

I was also introduced to salmiakki (salty Finnish liquorice - lovely stuff), Long Drink (lonkero; gin and grapefruit soda - also lovely stuff; it was invented for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics by the grandfather of the woman who was our panel moderator for the gender in gaming discussion, and apparently one direct translation of its name is - wait for it - tentacle!), Finnish strawberries (soooo good) and the convention tradition of everyone buying vast quantities of sparkling wine because it's far cheaper than beer. Oh, that was a good night - chatting away to Finnish LARPers (most of whom know my husband from his international LARPing exploits) over long drink and sparkling wine until 2.30 in the morning...

And then there was the dancing. Finns really do love their dancing. I was fortunate enough to see them trying to kill each other doing some sort of polka (which basically looked like all the insane bits of Strip the Willow), and then take part in the wolf dance, which really is a sight to behold. Not only were there dance classes all through the convention, but the traditional dancing started at about 8 pm on the Saturday night and, as far as I could tell, was going to go on until everyone collapsed with exhaustion some time in the early hours of Sunday morning. And there was a disco LARP at midnight!

Did I mention the blacksmiths? Because, despite the heat (over 30C most of the time), there were blacksmiths forging away until the early hours of the morning as well. Totally hard core. (I'm pretty certain one of them was actually Wayland.) I may have bought a forged metal D6  - you know, in case any fairies start getting uppity at my gaming table...

Ropecon passed in a whirlwind of friendliness and hospitality. There was a dinner with Finnish game designers (very entertaining, and the best crayfish risotto I've ever had), and a Guest of Honour dinner so we could spend time with all the amazingly hard working convention volunteers (plus: braised reindeer shank, which was really tasty). And then I had to go home, back to my writing hovel (with thankfully little drama).

So, as you can see - another jam-packed month. Two great conventions, so many lovely fans, some great gaming, and some wonderful shared experiences that will stay with me for a long time.

Monday, 22 July 2019

I'm Late, I'm Late... What Month is it, Again?

So, yes, it's almost August and I still haven't posted June's blogpost, which is seriously remiss of me, but the last couple of months have been utter bedlam, with lots of travelling thrown in for good measure. So much so that, every time I've sat down to try to write this blog, something else has cropped up that needed dealing with work-wise, or I realised I couldn't actually remember most of what happened in June without consulting the Oracle* because so much stuff has happened since.

*Not the late, not that lamented ITV teletext service (for those of you from the right country and old enough to remember it), or some ancient lady from Delphi, just one of my two analogue diaries that I keep notes and stuff in about what I've been working on and where I've been.

So, having consulted the Oracle, what exactly did happen in June?

Well, 1st June saw me scurrying around the exhibitors hall at UK Games Expo saying goodbye to everyone there after our flying visit. And, quite serendipitously, I bumped into way more folk than I was expecting to, as rather a lot of the lovely people I wanted to see where busily seeing each other as I bimbled past.

Three and a bit days later, we were in Berlin and on our way to the mini-Kraken. No thanks to the extremely hot weather and the German train service falling over just as we arrived, but we managed to find a work-around to our intended route and got there in the end after a (scheduled) overnight stay with a friend. We're also pretty certain that our bus driver recognised us from a previous visit, as she dropped us off at the bottom of the schloss' drive without us even telling her that's where we were going!

The mini-Kraken was great fun again. This was only the second one, and not only did I get to test out this year's con scenario (Breath of Angels), but I also got to play games! This is something of a rarity for me, and I had a crack at a Call of Cthulhu scenario set in Japan, Pendragon, Lonestar, and Pharos. In fact, if we include the board and card games, I actually played more than I ran this time, which doesn't happen all that often.

After we got back from Germany, it was back to work stuff. Now I'm full time at Chaosium, I have to learn the ropes re: all the paperwork I've so far managed to avoid having to worry about. Let's just say that there were a lot of briefs and contracts written up for Children of Fear's art and maps in June. I did get faster as I went along, but it still took quite a while. It was worth it, though. We have some fabulous people involved, so I'm really excited about what we'll be getting back from them over the next couple of months.

And then there was Free RPG Day weekend. Not only did I run Breath of Angels at Travelling Man Newcastle on the day itself (after going to say hello to Dippy the Dinosaur at the Hancock Museum), but our FLBGC, Meeple Perk had a follow up day the day after, where I ran a short session of Cogs, Cakes, and Swordsticks, as well as The Necropolis CoC scenario. I also ran a GM workshop at Meeple Perk this month, as well as a writing workshop at another FLGS, Meeple Games in Durham.

One of the more exciting things that happened the same week we got back from Germany was a surprise invitation to be a Guest of Honour at Ropecon in Helsinki. One of their original guests had to drop out, and they approached me as a last minute replacement. Thankfully, with not being at Gen Con this year, I was actually available, and everyone I spoke to about the convention had very good things to say, so I'll be off to Finland at the end of July!

In terms of editing, I was working on a couple of books besides Children of Fear, one of which has now been announced: The Shadow Over Providence, which will be available for sale at Necronomicon in August. The other one is still ongoing, so more on that another month.

In non-gaming terms, the highlight was another ladies lunch at the wonderful Dobson and Parnell's, this time a non-alcoholic one with one of the best of our local chocolate manufacturers: North Chocolates. Bev is lovely, and her chocolate is really tasty. She even showed us how to make something interesting from left over Easter eggs and fresh ingredients from a summer garden. And the food at D&P is always excellent, so that was a very pleasant day off!

Well, that was June. Let's hope I can get July's post out a little closer to time...

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Ne'er Cast a Clout...

...'Til May be out, etc., etc., etc.

I know there's some debate as to whether that's May (the month) or may (the blossom), but all I can say about the month is that it was yet another busy one. June is shaping up exactly the same, which is why this blog is a teensy bit late in coming.

First: back on the hieroglyphics. Slightly rusty after a bit of a break, and one of our tutors is still insisting on giving us tests every fortnight, but it's still great fun translating dead people's wishes from ancient monuments. (We're currently only having classes every fortnight rather than every week). We even got the joys of rave Godzilla as one of the hieroglyphs - allegedly it was supposed to be a baboon, but the carving was appalling and looked far more like everyone's favourite kaiju bopping on down.

As I knew I was going to be at UK Games Expo, I even plucked up the courage to ask our more serious tutor what the ancient Egyptian for "Don't read from the book!" would be, just in case anyone asked me to sign a copy of Masks of Nyarlathotep. He was very obliging, even though he didn't entirely understand why I was asking and why one of my classmates got a fit of the giggles when I made the request.

In the end, no one asked me to do any signing that required hieroglyphics, but I can now yell the correct phrase in ancient Egyptian at a mummy, should the need arise. It sounds really cool, too...

A goodly bit of May was spent finishing off my last large scale piece of editing for Blue Rose for the foreseeable future. As my job role at Chaosium changed from 1st June, while I can still do bits of freelancing for other companies (and Chaosium are very happy for me to do so), I no longer have the time available for big projects.

Or, rather, I probably could squeeze them in, but they wouldn't get the time, care and attention I like to give to my work, meaning I'm not prepared to do it. Books are needy creatures and require a lot of editorial input - even the really well written ones - and I'm not going to sell the book, the authors, or myself short when it comes to a large project. We all deserve better than that.

I've thoroughly enjoyed working with Green Ronin, particularly Blue Rose's line managers, as their Benevolent Dictator in Chief: first with Steve Kenson and then Joseph Carriker, both wonderful, generous, creative men who encouraged my nitpicking and endless questions. I hope to be able to work on Blue Rose again sometime soon, albeit in a reduced capacity. It's a game I'm very proud to have my name on.

I was also busy editing a Call of Cthulhu scenario that will be available at an upcoming convention (to be announced shortly), and organising various convention visits. I'll be popping over to Poland (Wroclaw) in Mike Mason's stead for DNI Fantastyki as a guest of the lovely people at Black Monk Games, Chaosium's Polish licencees. I've not been to Wroclaw, but my hubby has, so I know all about the gnomes and plan on spending a day hunting out as many as possible!

I was also interviewed for an upcoming Call of Cthulhu magazine (more details when I know the release date), and spent some time implementing playtesting and proofing comments on Children of Fear before we headed off for our day at UK Games Expo.

I always enjoy booth work, especially at larger conventions, where the sheer number of attendees can be a bit overwhelming. Having been doing it for a while now, I also know a lot of people, if only to say hello to and ask them how their current campaign is going. This year, I saw a very old familiar face: Jared Earle of Nightfall Games.

Those of you who know me know that my gaming history is closely tied to Nightfall and SLA, and they were the first people to give me a paying job in the gaming industry. I even still have a photocopy of the first cheque they sent me! So, it was lovely to see Jared and get to spend time catching up with him in the bar on the Friday evening. It had been over two decades since we'd last spoken, but you would never have guessed. Quite significantly (largely because Jared nagged me to stay up late even though I'd been up since stupid o'clock), as midnight came around and I became a full time employee of the Chaosium, I was sitting between Jared and Mike, neatly book-ending my gaming career to date. 

I know I've said it before, and I will say it again: gaming has been very generous to me and has given me the opportunity to work with some wonderful people and to forge some good, and long-lasting, friendships. While I've lost touch with everyone I was at school with, and virtually everyone I was at university with (unless they're fellow gamers), my gaming frienships - the oldest ones at least - have been going for well over two decades now, which isn't too shabby in the grand scheme of things.

And here's to many more years and many more friends to come!

Friday, 10 May 2019

Where Did April Go?

I knew there was something I had to do this month. Well, last month, but you know how these things go. But, having been ill for a week in April, I spent a lot of that month furiously attempting to play catch-up, and not entirely successfully.

The month started with me editing the updated edition of Katanas & Trenchcoats. Originally written as a gag and to raise money for a children's hospital, K&T riffs on Highlander and a lot of '80s and '90s over-the-top TV, cinema, music, and games to gloriously silly effect. And the new version may even be playable!

I edited a couple of the supplements for the first version, and they were always highly entertaining, although I did have to be careful with some of them because, never having watched Supernatural, I didn't necessarily get all of the jokes, so always had to check to make sure I wasn't ruining a gag with my cuts and changes. I can also squarely lay the blame for my love of the later Fast & Furious films at the game's door, because I had to watch them for research purposes to edit the car wizards supplement...

Plenty more stuff for Chaosium came sliding across my editorial desk, some of it ongoing sekkrit projects already hinted at on these pages, but also some new bits and bobs that will be out fairly soon as they're small but perfectly formed and can be slipped easily into the production schedule in a way that larger, more complex books can't be. Some of those larger, more complex projects are well on the way, though, so watch this space...

April also saw me in London for a semi-sekkrit meeting about a thing I've wanted to develop for a while. Can't say anything more than that at the moment, obviously, but keep your fingers crossed all the same. All I can say is that it's always very pleasant when someone who's work you enjoy turns out to be a thoroughly lovely person who you could easily spend hours gossiping away with.

The excursion also gave me an excuse to pop up to one of my favourite places in London: the Wellcome Collection - specifically, their Smoke and Mirrors exhibition about the psychology of magic. It being the Easter holidays, it was somewhat packed. There are also a lot of films you need to watch if you're going to get the most out of it, but even bimbling through in a short space of time is well worth it, especially if you run or play mystery RPGs.

Although my hieroglyphics class is currently on hiatus and doesn't return until mid-May, I did get to visit the Barker Research Library at Durham University on Easter Saturday to look at some wonderful 18th and 19th century books on Egypt brought out of storage for the North East Ancient Egypt Society by the wonderful librarians there. As well as some truly beautiful engravings of temples and artefacts, there was a fascinating report by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, former circus strongman turned Egyptologist (the sort of larger-than-life (quite literally, he was 6'7") character made for Call of Cthulhu and pretty much any other historical RPG you can think of), wherein he described crawling through a tomb full of mummies and accidentally crushing them when he had to stop for a rest, then had to stay there for another ten minutes or so to avoid breathing in too much of the mummy dust he'd just created...

I also ran another Call of Cthulhu game at my friendly local games cafe, Meeple Perk. This one was a repurposed scenario originally written for Vampire: the Masquerade some 20 years ago. It only got half-played at the time due to one of the players bringing their friend along to the game; a friend I didn't know who was a total rules-lawyer jerk who wouldn't stop complaining about all the mistakes I was making and how he would've done it much better seeing as he knew everything about V:tM (yes, that guy). I ditched Vampire entirely at that point because I was still too young and inexperienced to tell him where to get off and couldn't face trying to run the rest of my very Gothic, Durham-based (and heavily story-telling-based, as opposed to a "I iz powerful vampire wot can kill everythingz - worship me!" slaughter-fest) campaign with him in the room.

I'm pretty certain this particular scenario may have a slight curse attached to it, though, as things didn't exactly go smoothly to start with on the CoC run either, but by the end it all came together. Several decades of experience and teaching later, I think I can pretty much cope with most things gamers can throw at me, even if it takes a second or two to get my bearings. And there was a lot of laughter, so Breath of Angels is now part of my convention game roster for the next 12 months (at least). I'm not retiring After Dark just yet, but Scritch, Scratch is definitely out to pasture now.

I like to write a new scenario for conventions every year. As I move more into editing, I feel the need to keep my writing skills honed and to create my own thing, rather than purely developing and polishing other people's work. Having that impetus to create a thing for a specific purpose really helps, as well - there's no: "Oh, well, I don't really have time because X, so I won't bother." Because, as happened with this game, it's often more a case of: "Oh, floof, the game's next week? I thought I still had a fortnight to get something prepped! Write, woman! Write like the wind!"

(Which is where having extensive research notes on everything I've ever done also comes in really handy.)

And finally, I started editing a big campaign book for Blue Rose - the last of the big freelance projects still outstanding before I go pretty-much full-time at Chaosium in June. I like working on Blue Rose - the inclusivity and richness of the world is really appealing and the Green Ronin folks are always fun to work with.

So, there we go: another month done and dusted, even if the write-up was a little bit late in coming. Tune in next month (quite probably, knowing me) for what I got up to in May...

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Marching On

You'll probably be unsurprised to hear that March was a busy month here in the writing hovel. As well as moving up to the advanced class in hieroglyphics, the last few weeks have seen a few changes, the biggest of which is that my contract with Chaosium is now on a full-time, permanent basis.

I think I can safely say that, when I sent those early Talislanta scenarios off to Wizards of the Coast, I never envisaged that, 25+ years later, I'd be working for one of the most iconic gaming companies in the field. As I think I said 18 months or so ago when I was first taken on as Assistant Line Editor for Call of Cthulhu, it's a great honour to be able to bring old classics to a new audience and develop new material for such a well-loved, and respected, game. Plus, I get to work with some wonderful people. I still have a lot to learn, but I know Mike (Mason) will steer me in the right direction!

I actually managed to get to one of the North East Ancient Egypt Society meetings this month. (Usually I'm away or already booked for something else.) This one was about the recent findings at Deir el Medina, the craftsmen's village for the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. The most fascinating part of the talk was about the partial mummies they discovered, particularly the torso of a woman with numerous symmetrical tattoos, and the disarticulated woman's thighs with a tattooed lotus flower garter belt. So, as you can imagine, that set the old brain a-whirring...

I've been working on numerous game-related things this month, most of which I can't tell you much about, but it included more development work, sending things out for proofing and compiling things into new collections, along with some more art and map direction. And things are only likely to get even busier as I move into my updated role.

The other highlight of the month was, of course, my trip to Berlin for the company summit, followed by CarcosaCon. It's always fun to be back in Berlin, and this time, we got to release the Berlin: the Wicked City sourcebook PDF while we were there. (Where we were staying for the summit was in the same area the first scenario in the book is set, so we all wandered down to the Elephant Gate at the Zoologischer Garten to take some celebratory photos!)

Held in the wonderful Zamek Czocha, CarcosaCon was the first Call of Cthulhu convention run by the lovely people at Black Monk Games, Chaosium's Polish-language licensees. Funnily enough, my husband, Richard, had already been there three times for various College of Wizardry LARPs over the last two years, so I was aware of what a spectacular venue it was, but it was even better to see it up close and personal, rather than just through photographs.

If you're going to hold a horror game convention in a castle, then it really needs to have secret passageways. Czocha has loads of them, often hidden behind movable bookshelves. It was always lovely to see gamers pop out from a bookcase, dirty great grins plastered across their faces.

You also need dungeons and wine cellars, spiral staircases, a mirror room, lots of portraits of people who are probably definitely not vampires (honest), a tower with a narrow, winding staircase and amazing views, a well in which to drown unfaithful wives, an actual oubliette and a small horde of cats and bats. And a gazebo, which, because of the wonderful sunny weather, you can sit out in and play games. (And yes, there were a couple of Knights of the Dinner Table gazebo jokes - this was a games convention, after all)

As is always the case at these conventions, I was lucky enough to spend time with some old friends and have the opportunity to make new ones in between panels, interviews, running a game and the copious quantities of good, hearty food served up by the castle's catering staff. The Polish Cthulhu players were a wonderful bunch, as were all the other gamers, some of whom had travelled quite a way to be there.

I also got to know Andrew and Sean from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, who are responsible for the jaw-dropping Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Props Set and the wonderful Call of Cthulhu and Whisper in Darkness movies, both of which they showed in the library at the castle over the course of the convention. I also got to hear the opening act of their beautifully produced Masks of Nyarlathotep radio play - it's always a bit odd to hear dramatizations and live-plays of things you've worked on, but I'm thoroughly enjoying listening to the rest of this one now I'm home.

So, April is going to largely be a month of finishing off outstanding projects for other companies, but that's a tale for another day...

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

I very nearly managed to write this blog post on the last day of February, but then I got sidetracked - something which happens all too often when I'm dotting about between projects. And February was definitely a month of dotting about, with a bit of snow thrown in for good measure.

On the work front, I was back on tinkering with Children of Fear. It's gone out for a (hopefully) final round of independent playtesting and two very kind Vajrayana Buddhists I know through Twitter offered to proof read it for me to make sure I hadn't got my wires crossed or written anything heinous and/or insensitive. Their feedback was both fascinating to read and very helpful in tweaking some points and clarifying others. Sadly, due to space considerations, not everything they mentioned made it into the updated version, but I've worked in what I can.

I was also finishing up a writing assignment for Call of Cthulhu and the Cthulhu by Gaslight update, as well as continuing development work with the author and playtesters of Sekkrit Project 3. (Sekkrit Projects 1 and 2 are so secret and the last few months have been such a whirl that even I can't remember what they are, so we're all safe - for the moment...)

Having said I can't remember what the Sekkrit Projects are, I may well have been working on one of them for part of February, which basically involved getting everything into the house template document and prepping it for updating and editing. Then there was a bit of a sideways swerve on the last day of the month onto what shall henceforth be known as Sekkrit Project 4 (providing I can remember what that is next time I come to write about it), which is sort of more of the same while also sharing some similarities with SP3...

Needless to say, we have a lot of stuff in the pipeline for Call of Cthulhu, and we're all beavering away to make sure that you're all kept fully stocked with lovely, tentacley goodness. (And Secrets of Berlin is looking amazing, by the way.)

I also got to run some Call of Cthulhu in February as well! Our friendly local board games cafe, Meeple Perk, now runs an RPG night on Tuesdays. While D&D is very popular, they also aim to offer a bit of variation for those who don't want to play it, and I was asked to do a spot of guest GMing last week as part of the alternative game roster. I went with After Dark, my current go-to convention scenario, which is always a lot of fun and highly appropriate given that it's set in February.

I had a great evening, and one of the players was the wife of someone who came along to the launch party in January Her husband had insisted she should come play in my game as he'd had such fun at the previous event, which is always lovely to hear. What's even more wonderful about the launch party is that several of the people who attended (including the gentleman just mentioned) have now got together and run a fortnightly Call of Cthulhu game at Meeple Perk! As I pop in after hieroglyphics class on a Wednesday, I get to go and say hello to them and see how they're doing (usually lots of death and madness, you'll be unsuprised to hear), which makes me very happy indeed!

Speaking of hieroglyphics, I treated myself to a trip to London to visit the Petrie Museum again. I managed something of a flying visit there in December before Dragonmeet, but this time I went properly prepared with my hieroglyphics books and spent a very happy afternoon sitting on the floor translating funerary offerings.

Needless to say, that generated quite a bit of interest from other museum visitors (and staff), so I also got to explain what some of the objects said, especially the one with the spell for conjuring items to take into the afterlife with you. One little boy very solemnly informed me that he would want all the Transformers toys and all the games consoles waiting for him in the afterlife, except for the PS2 (because he already had one of those). His dad looked slightly mortified, but it seemed a pretty reasonable request to me!

As I still had a bit of time on my hands before my train home, I wandered along to the Senate House Library and their Staging Magic exhibition. This tiny but excellent exhibition is nestled between various reading rooms and sections of the fourth-floor library and, even more interesting for someone in my line of work, is composed of books from Harry Price's personal collection on the history of stage magic. There's even a short piece of film of Price performing the goat transforming ritual at Brocken!

February also gave me the opportunity to give two talks: one with my gaming hat on, the other wearing my embroiderer's hat. The first took me to Hexham, where I delivered a talk on the history of Assisi Work to the ladies of the Hexham Embroiderers Guild. They're always a lovely bunch to visit, and, thankfully, the snow had decided to fall the week previous to my visit and had cleared itself away by the time I got there. (One year, we had to abandon the December meeting I was running a workshop at due to the sudden onset of blizzard conditions.) Apparently, one of the reasons I get asked to go up in the winter is because I'm not afraid to venture out that far when there's a danger of dodgy weather! (A lot of the other local speakers won't.)

The other talk was with the students on the Writing and Editing for Gaming course at Taylor University, Indiana, run by my old friend and former colleague at Modiphius, T.R. Knight. This is my second appearance, and I trundle along to chat about writing and editing and being a woman in the gaming industry. As before, it was lovely to talk to the students and answer their questions. I personally believe that part of my role in the industry is to mentor and encourage fresh blood so that there is a new generation ready and able to pick up where us old fogies leave off, so having the opportunity to do something like this is important to me, as well as being a great honour and privilege.

The last thing (pretty much) that I did in February was go to see the touring production of The Mousetrap. I've been meaning to try to get to see this in London for years, just never quite got round to it. So when I found out it was coming to a local theatre, I bought tickets. Those of you who know me know I love my cosy and historical murder mysteries, and Dame Agatha is one of the finest proponents in the field - although it's important to remember that her stories were written as contemporary pieces, something we tend to forget now.

Yes, I figured out who the baddy was almost immediately (no, I'm not saying who it was - and they ask you not to tell as they take their curtain call at the end) because I've watched and read far too much Christie not to spot them, but I enjoyed it immensely nevertheless. There was a good deal more humour in it than I was expecting, including Christie poking fun at her own tropes and tricks, and it evoked the 1950s very well. (The play originally opened in 1952 and is the longest running stage production in the world, if I recall correctly.)

But even there, I couldn't get away from the day job, as one of the actresses (Harriett Hare) is also a voiceover artist for Games Workshop's YouTube channel!

Gaming - it gets everywhere...

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Welcome to the New Year

It seems somewhat appropriate that I'm writing January's blog post about the beginning of the new year on what is the Chinese, and Tibetan, New Year.

January did it's usual of disappearing in a bit of a whirlwind. Besides getting a Cthulhu By Gaslight chapter off to Chaosium and submitting some Blue Rose editing to the lovely Joe Carriker, the first weekend of it was the launch party for the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. Hosted at the lovely Meeple Perk, and with Newcastle FLGS stalwarts, Travelling Man, getting in copies for eager gamers to get their mitts on, the party saw myself and superb local Keeper, Sean, running six short demos for 23 people over the space of the afternoon. I had great fun and, from the feedback, so did everyone else, too. (The only complaint was from Travelling Man, who wished they'd ordered in more copies of the game to sell, so popular was it!)

And then there was the cake, made specially for us by Beat Boutique Bakery. This glorious tentacular monstrosity (the Call of Cakethulhu, or the Cake of Cthulhu?) was actually a really lovely chocolate cake, and it went down very well with all who dared eat it. (We did keep the Elder Sign intact until the very end, though, just in case).

And, three days after the launch party, we jetted off once more to the Pacific Northwest and the sublime delights of OrcaCon!

I was particularly busy this year, but thankfully not suffering from the hideous cold that meant I have very few memories of OrcaCon 2018, apart from a medicinal hot toddy in the hotel bar, a guest appearance as a philosophical night person in a Blue Rose game, and pancakes at the nearby Chace's Pancake Corral.

Things got off to a flying start on Friday afternoon with my first panel appearance (of five). This one, Being a Non-Mainstream Game Professional, was chaired by the marvellous Steve Kenson, who I had the privilege of working with on Blue Rose. I must admit, I did feel a bit odd, seeing as I am pretty mainstream these days, but I am still a freelancer and it's always a pleasure to wiffle on about such things and hopefully point newcomers in the right direction. (People often don't realise that, even though many of us work for "big" games companies, we're not full-time salaried members of staff in the traditional sense. They also don't tend to realise that most "big" games companies are often only half a dozen permanent members of staff, if that.)

After a bit of mooching about, saying "Hi!" to people and making sure I sated my infinity scarf needs with another visit to the wonderful Sew Cherie, I was back on panel duty for the one I was chairing: RPGs: Art, Education, or Entertainment. What followed was a very enlightening discussion with Gabriel de los Angeles and Kiva Maginn about the nature of games and how we like to compartmentalise things. Not knowing either of my panelists beforehand, I was a little nervous, but they were fantastic and I learned a lot from listening to them.

As a result of the panel, I only managed a brief cameo at this year's Blue Rose game, but it was lovely to pop in and see everyone, even if it was just a flying visit. I also messed up a lot of my timings in regards to meals and stuff on the Friday (I blame jet lag and over-excitement), which meant I was put on the watchlist by the convention folks to make sure I was looking after myself properly for the rest of the weekend. (This is one of the reasons I love OrcaCon - they know we're busy and likely to get distracted, and they're careful to make sure we're not running ourselves ragged as guests.)

Saturday was another busy one: two panels and a game, and I even squeezed in an interview with my old friends, the Geeks of Cascadia. The first panel was Better Realism for Better Worlds: We Did the Research For You. As those of you who know me know, I do love getting down into the research and looking beyond white Western history for inspiration. This was a very interesting panel, and Wes (our host), Katherine, and Tanya all had some wonderful historical tidbits to share with the audience, proving that you really don't have to default to Medieval France every single time.

I got to run After Dark in the afternoon, my current Call of Cthulhu convention scenario. I'd not run it outside Europe before, and you never know which cultural touchstones might not translate across the Big Puddle, but it all went very well, and the players managed to do some truly off the wall things that their European counterparts hadn't thought of!

Evening meant another panel, this time Something at Work in the Soul: Horror in Tabletop RPGs, chaired by the lovely Amanda Hamon. If I remember correctly, I first met Amanda on a panel at OrcaCon a few years ago, so it was great to be back on another one with her. As you might expect, this one ranged over favourite horror settings, how to create atmosphere and pretty much came to the conclusion that if you could, you really should run every horror game in the wine cellar of a castle in the middle of winter...

Sunday was the final day of the con, which is always sad as it's always so much fun. For me, there was still another game and panel to go. Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks went down well with the players and Big Red (the d6 I always use for convention games) picked another victim for whom she would only roll 1s, so it was nice to be able to tell her other OrcaCon "friend" that he was not the only one to suffer her ire.

Big Red got her name at the first OrcaCon and is somewhat legendary there for her capriciousness. The gentleman in question was playing a ship's barber surgeon and never managed to roll anything other than a 1 the entire game, to the point he was crying with laughter every time he picked up the die and failed, and his crew mates were using him as a threat against their adversaries. In honour of their escapades, they got to name her, and she's been known as that ever since (and that poor, lovely, gentleman has been used numerous times as a cautionary teaching example).

The final panel I was on was Charlatanry and Chincanery: Gamemastering on the Fly, again with Amanda as out host. This one was practical tips and tricks for people who either were GMs or were thinking of becoming one. So, again, hopefully we provided some useful, helpful advice to the people in the audience.

And, as all good thing must, the convention came to an end on late Sunday afternoon. It's always such a welcoming, friendly, and engaging convention, with a host of games, activities, and interesting panels to keep you out of mischief for the course of the weekend. Hopefully, the organisers know how much we love and appreciate it, and the hard work they put in to make it so special. I've met so many wonderful people through it, and had so many great experiences there and it remains one of my most favourite events.

After a few days in Seattle to unwind, recharge, and catch up with friends, I was back home and working on the remaining bits of the Cthulhu by Gaslight update assigned to me. It's always fiddly revamping stuff, having to check everything to make sure it's correct, appropriate and useful. Things have changed so much in game design over the last 30 years, but you have to treat things sympathetically if you're going to retain that spark that made it a beloved product in the first place. Fingers crossed, eh?

And then, of course, there was getting back up to speed with the hieroglyphics. It's amazing how much you forget after a month's break!

And so, until next time. Happy New Year!