On Figuring It Out Yourself

The slogan "Keep Calm and Do It Yourself" on a red background.Last week on The 40 Year Old Boy, “Let Me Get on Up,” the titular boy, Mike, had an epiphany of sorts. He’s been podcasting for eight years now, delivering a weekly monologue of absurdity with commendable regularity. This week, though, might be the first time he produced it himself. If it was a joke, it’s embedded throughout the episode, as Mike bemoans having to learn Audacity after putting it off for eight years, and Lili the producer laughs gleefully throughout as he comes to grips with having to figure it all out after leaving the work on her for so long.

The validity of Mike’s gripes aside, the chord he struck with me this week was figuring stuff out. When you’re on your own and you don’t have knowledgeable primary sources in your circle of friends, if you want to get anything done, you have to figure stuff out, whether it’s how to play a new board game or how to produce and publish a podcast. Problem-solving is a muscle to develop. Experience breeds eventual success, and success breeds confidence.

Happily, we live in the era of the internet, where there are innumerable how to guides and tutorials on any subject imaginable. The knowledge is available. You have to be willing to start somewhere, though, and you have to be willing to try and see what happens. I taught myself to play Arkham Horror thanks to the rules reference created by Universal Head — now the Esoteric Order of Gamers — and my disinterested yet patient cousin Margot. When I wanted to make a podcast, I figured it out twice. Once in the typical manner, with the PowerPress plugin to publish Carnagecast, and then a no-money route for Held Action Theatre, both times creating a podcast that, from the outside, looked and sounded like any other you would find in the iTunes store. That second time it was entirely about experimenting and testing the workflow. I’m still pretty proud of pulling together so many disparate parts to make a well-produced, syndicated podcast.

The same attitude went into creating Decked! I wanted to learn about publishing video on the web and building a YouTube channel in addition to putting out content for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. It also gave me the opportunity to experiment with live streaming a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and learn about the software and hardware needs for that style of show.

To circle back to what first got me thinking about building the problem-solving muscle, it’s easy to put up barriers for ourselves. Mike puts up barriers of “I don’t know how to do that,” when he has access to resources to figure it out. I put up barriers of “I don’t have anything worthy to say.” While I enjoy overcoming technological and process-related problems, that’s a barrier with which I still struggle. So I give myself defined spaces in which to work on that. Most recently, it’s becoming fluent in Call of Cthulhu and better able to riff and ride a conversation to make commentary meaningful and entertaining.

And I am, of course, looking for the next opportunity to either exercise skills I have — I still harbor hopes of being able to focus on producing a podcast, rather than being producer-host-everything else — and learn how to do something new. I don’t want to talk about it publicly yet, but I have been learning about and implementing a live streaming installation that’s proven educational and unexpectedly challenging. (The educational part being “don’t needlessly complicate your solutions, Chet.”)

Mage 20th Anniversary’s PDF Materializes

Given the lack of substantive news on the development of Mage‘s 20th anniversary edition — “It’s in yet another round in editing!” was the refrain that I picked out from most of the backer updates — and that I don’t follow news from Onyx Path, I will cop to being downright astonished yesterday afternoon when the email came through with a link to the PDF version of the core book. The Mage anniversary project was something I backed almost out of thoughtless reflex. I don’t know that I ever expected it to truly be done, and certainly not within the time frame they estimated.

And while the project certainly isn’t done, the PDF release is a significant, publicly visible milestone to reach. As in, “Oh yeah, this thing is going to be real! Some day, there will be a new, big, fat purple book on my shelf.”

I only skimmed a few pages last night, but wow. Talk about diving right back into the thick of 1990s White Wolf role-playing material. All that defiant, first-person writing in italicized capital letters, occasionally with lots of exclamation points, really stirs up memories. (And gets the eyes rolling, but Mage as written is what it is, until I make it suit my preferences.)

All Games Considered Returns

I was happy to see that All Games Considered returned from hiatus this week. Mark and Carol checked in, discussed the Gen Con hotel fiasco and reaffirmed their commitment to the show, in spite of the many demands of real life. They also brought up that the show’s ten year anniversary is coming up, which blows my mind.

All Games Considered is one of the very first podcasts I listened to, back when I complained about not having enough new stuff to listen to while driving and a coworker said, “Have you looked at podcasts?” In all its incarnations, All Games Considered has been in my podcatcher of the moment since then. Here’s to ten years!

LARP Talk on The Dork Forest

Dozens of "dorky" characters in green tones crowd together in The Dork Forest logo.Last week on The Dork Forest, Jackie Kashian learned about LARPing from Christian Brown and Roselle Hurley, with Jackie’s husband Andy sitting in and offering his own thoughts as a game designer and general GM-type person. Christian and Roselle run an ongoing LARP called Starship Valkyrie.

As my mental conception of LARPing is jammed somewhere between that one truncated Vampire session I played in high school and what I’ve picked up about combatty LARPs in the woods with foam weapons and beanbags as magic missiles, I appreciated Christian and Roselle providing a great example how a LARP doesn’t necessarily have to be high drama scheming or swinging foam or rattan swords.

And I still very much wish Jackie would record a session or two of her group’s role-playing campaign, just to hear how she plays a character. Tactical? High character? Munchkinly? I want to know!

LibraryBox Followup

LibraryBox logo.During A Fistful of Carnage, I set up a LibraryBox loaded with free-to-distribute RPG materials. It’s a wireless router loaded with customized firmware that acts a document repository accessible independently of your typical free wifi. Internet access got murky last year at Carnage, so I thought it would be interesting to see if anyone took advantage of another source of information, or found a collection of free RPG stuff interesting. LibraryBox counts the number of times any given file is accessed, so I have a rudimentary idea of what visitors found of interest.

The top hit was a Fiasco playset, Bookhounds, though I think that was because it turned out to be corrupt and people tried repeatedly to access it. After that was the public domain film His Girl Friday, which I think mostly came from neighbors at home when I was testing the set up. Third was the Book of Forbidden Lore, a fan work bringing monsters into Pathfinder, followed by the Open d6 system book, then Sapphire, by Vermont’s own Hunter Green.

Those are the high points, but the numbers indicate that there weren’t many total users. A large number of files were accessed once, which I presume is one user making a clean sweep of everything vaguely interesting. After that, out of 59 possible files, about a third were downloaded two or more times — and of that third, seven were accessed more than twice.

For a real sense of whether this was utilized, I’d have to set the LibraryBox up again next year. That’s no trouble at all, since the only thing that will have changed is adding more free material to the collection. The most labor-intensive part of the set up was putting up flyers around the convention space to alert convention-goers there was a LibraryBox available, and just what that is. I have a year to think about it.

Winter Weirdness Game Day This Saturday in Barre

Winter Weirdness flyer. January 10th, 2015 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Barre, Vermont.Winter Weirdness is coming up this Saturday in Barre. My dance card already has Eldritch Horror with the new Mountains of Madness expansion, so that will be a fun way to kick off the day. Hopefully after that, I can get in some face-to-face Sentinels of the Multiverse and perhaps even Call of Cthulhu.

Green Mountain Gamers announced new donations from Black Moon Games this week, so there’s still more good stuff to win in the raffle benefiting the Vermont Center for Independent Living.

Come play some games, meet neat people and benefit a good cause!

Carnagecast 58: A Recap Full of Carnage

carnagecast-rss-image-300After a nice post-convention rest, we are back with a new episode of Carnagecast, talking about how A Fistful of Carnage went. Ray and I spent most of our weekends in the Snowshed, so we have the inside skinny on role-playing games and card games. The new Dungeons & Dragons edition turned out to be the most demanded game in the role-playing hall, which says a lot for the name’s ability to outlast nerd rage.

It’s a nice little conversation, and I’m glad to be back in the swing of recording episodes. Listen in!

Tim Powers: Interview With a Secret Historian

Mitch Wagner posted an interview with Tim Powers, everyone’s favorite fantasy/horror/science fiction writer — and still secret historian of the world, Tim’s distinctions aside.

I was particularly chuffed to see that Tim and I share an outlining style. Mine’s not nearly so exhaustive as his, because GMs have to be far more responsive to players than authors do to their readers, but I do like an outline, and when a bit of dialogue hits me as being possibly helpful, I’ll note it under the event in question, to have it ready.

The interview spans Powers’ career, from the beginning of his implementation of the Arthurian mythos in Drawing of the Dark and its role in the genesis of The Anubis Gates — surprising, right? — right up to writing Hide Me Among the Graves and figuring out what a person would see up on the dome of St. Paul’s in London.

[Hat tip to Kenneth Hite for the link.]

Fate of the Norns: Fafnir’s Treasure

Join me in welcoming Dan as a contributor to Held Action. You may remember him from Carrion Crown, Mummy’s Mask and Carnagecast. This time, Dan’s written an actual play report of running Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok, which has proven quite popular at Carnage and around Vermont. Take it away, Dan!

This past Saturday, down at Brap’s Magic, I ran a one-shot session of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok, using the quick-start rules, pregenerated characters, and adventure provided in the Fafnir’s Treasure sourcebook. I was joined by Toby, Hunter, Jake, Cory, and Tom.

After a bit of explanation of how the Runic Game System works, and a rundown of the pregens, we had this lineup:

  • Toby: Sigyn the Maiden of Ratatosk (a taunting agility-based fighter)
  • Hunter: Fjori the Skald (a spellsinger)
  • Jake: Jokull the Galdr (a runecaster)
  • Cory: Vanadis the Seithkona (a witch)
  • Tom: Turbog the Ulfhednar (a wolf’s-head, a strong warrior who can assume the shape of a wolf)

Once the characters were chosen and folks read over their various abilities and such, we got right into it. After here, be warned: spoilers for Fafnir’s Treasure abound!

The scene opened on the docks outside the Icelandic town of Evingard — the party’s ship had been attacked by ice krakens, but made it to town, sailing though the sunless days and moonless nights of the Fimbulwinter, their way lit only by the stars.

A Viking longshop lands on a landscape of plastic green hexes. The hero figures approach the walls of Evingard.Abandoned by the ship captain, they wandered to the gates of the town, only to find scorch marks on the walls, arrows all over, and a bunch of dead, dying, and wounded townsfolk — the guards quickly explained that the town was seemingly cursed: the mine was shut down, there were undead polar bears attacking every few hours, and to make matters worse, the town was playing host to Volstagg the Einherjar, an emissary of the Aesir, and Aud the Son of Muspel, an emissary of the Jotuns. Either of these immortal beings could destroy the whole town, if the mood struck them, but the guards were afraid that if they fell to fighting, they’d level the town and everyone in it.

While the guards were explaining what was going on, Fjori took out his harp and played a song about the Apples of Idun, a powerful healing melody, and helped many of the wounded to live on.

Counter clockwise, from lower left: Toby, Cory, Hunter, Jake and Tom sit around the game table.

Counter clockwise, from lower left: Toby, Cory, Hunter, Jake and Tom.

They headed into the town, seeing the poor and destitute eking out a miserable existence, beset by frostbite, while the wealthy strut around in silks and jewels. Truly, all bonds of human kindness have broken down during Ragnarok!

The gate guards had mentioned that there was a tavern called the Burning Boar in town. Expressing a desire to see a flaming pig, Sigyn exhorted everyone to head there for some drinking and maybe to meet this Einherjar, Volstagg. Well, the tavern didn’t have an actual pig on fire, but it *did* have an abundance of delicious raspberry fishcakes! A true Nordic delicacy, but the tavernkeep, Sven, refused to say where he got raspberries in the time of the Fimbulwinter, when the sun and moon had been eaten by wolves.

Well, after a bit of knife-throwing with the guards, some drinking and more of those fantastic raspberry fishcakes, our heroes went up to speak to the Einherjar, Volstagg. Volstagg explained that he seeks Andvarinaut, the Ring of the Niebelungs. He would use the gold it makes to finance the Aesir armies when the last battle comes. While he told the story of Fafnir and the treasure, though, Vanadis slipped into the shadows and out into the town. She crept to Astrid’s House of Pleasure, where she had heard that Aud, the Son of Muspel was staying. While the others discussed things with Volstagg, Vanadis asked Aud what he wanted — well, of course he wanted Andvarinaut as well! Many armies can be paid from the gold brought forth from the ring.

Eventually, everyone regrouped at the Burning Boar. They drank, they sang, they talked about the problems in town. Vanadis wanted to investigate the mines, so they did talk to Magnus, the mine-owner — but he did not want to discuss the matter. So, they decided to go after the great treasure. They wanted supplies, though, and alas! did not have enough skatt to buy skis or snowshoes or any other supplies. Reasoning that the town would reward them if they dealt with these supposedly unkillable bears, they decided to investigate. The townsfolk told them that they had tried everything to kill the bears — swords, arrows, fire, everything, but the bears just keep rising and coming back. Turbog tracked the bears, and determined they were coming from the forests to the northwest, so they headed out.

A near skeletal bear charges across a field of green Heroscape tiles at the heroes.It didn’t take long before they encountered a ragged bear, a miserable white specimen that looked as though it had been killed over and over again. It roared and charged at them!

The bears claws were deadly, and its icy breath chilling — but when Sigyn enraged it with her snide taunts, Turbog slew it with his maul. They burned the body as best they could, but they couldn’t know if it would stay dead. They chose to press on.

After camping in the night-black woods, the dark chill kept away only by their campfire, they headed further into the snows. It wasn’t long before they found more bears.

IMG_1763Jokull called on the power of the World-Tree to create an alka to erode the bears’ life-force, Vanadis invoked her seith to snap their bones, and Fjori unleashed his song of the Long Knives, spurring his friends to ever-greater heights of combat prowess. The bears did not stand a chance before the onslaught of these mighty heroes.

No matter how many they killed, though, the bears kept coming.


Sigyn taunted the bears, slashing at them with her sword. Turbog took the form of a deadly blood-wolf to savage them. Fjori sang of the long knives, and he stabbed them in the back when they were attacking others. Vanadis snapped their bones, and called on the dead sun and moon to heal her compatriots. Jokull’s runic powers called forth the alka of Yggdrasil to harm them, and used his crossbow to send them flying. Eventually, after slaying bear after bear, taking grievous wounds themselves, they reached a deep crevasse at the base of the mountains, the ground falling away into darkness.

Jokull and Vanadis studied the crevasse, consulting the runes and reading the omens. They determined that the crevasse was full of the stuff of Niflheim, and was corrupting the bears, making them even more deadly. They didn’t know what to do, at first, but then Vanadis opened herself to the spirit of the mountains, using her seith magic to become a living conduit for the will and desire of the landvaettir.

The spirit spoke through her, and told that it knew of the corruption leaking from Niflheim in the crevasse. It said that it would fall into the crevasse and bury the foulness, but only if they did something for it, first. It knew of a place of comfort and springtime nearby, and it wished to feel that spring weather upon its mountaintop again.

They had no idea how to accomplish this, so they went back to Evingard to talk to Sven again. As the local tavernkeep, he seemed to have a pretty good handle on what was up in town. Eventually, with much mead and skilful cajoling from Sigyn, they did get him to reveal where he was getting those amazing raspberries — from Ivar the druid. They surmised that a druid might dwell in the stone circle they’d seen outside town, so they headed there to beard the druid in his den.

It took some yelling, some pounding on the walls, and a bit of smashing things up to get Ivar to acknowledge them, but eventually he grudgingly opened his manse to them and brought them into his lands — his druid’s power kept his land green and growing, even in the midst of the eternal night of Ragnarok. With some doing, the party gained Ivar’s trust — at least, enough for him to tell them what he would desire if he were to make the three or four day hike to the mountain, and then the week of work to make it feel the spring again. It turned out that Ivar is Ingvar’s son — Ingvar being the chieftain of the Wolf Clan and ruler of Evingard. He was exiled for marrying his sister, Ingvar’s daughter. He wanted the exile lifted — not to live in Evingard again, but freedom to travel there as needed. Tutting a bit at this indecorous behavior, everyone decided to talk to Ingvar anyway — what does it matter of Ivar marries his sister Bera? the world would be over soon anyway, let men and women seek what solace they can, ere Garm’s third howl.

Ingvar, at least, was easy to find — his hall was the greatest in Evingard. Explaining that they could solve the bear problem, Ingvar’s guards led them to the old war-hound. Stroking his beard, Ingvar heard their plea. The old man weighed the plague of bears against his son’s misdeeds, and decided that it should be left to Jadvyg, the Angel of Death.

Entering the frozen cemetery, the party were struck by how silent it was, even inside the town walls. They found the Angel of Death in the House of Hel in the burying ground’s center. Speaking to her in the silent darkness of that place, they had to speak carefully — Jadvyg suffers neither fool or idle chatter. She asked them about the Einherjar and the Son of Muspel — she had heard they spoke with the immortals, and she wished to know whom they would serve. At first, the party tried to hedge their bets, and avoid a decision — but the crone would not have it. She gave them one chance to decide and decide now, and how they chose would tell her everything she needed to know about them and whether or no she should support their plea to help Ivar.

Well, they could not decide. They talked about it, but were unsure whom they should support — until Jokull the galdr realized the best course of action — to let the runes decide. He raised up his bag of runes and wyrded one solitary rune — and the runes indicated they should serve the Aesir.

Jadvyg nodded, satisfied. She send a message to Ingvar that she would support lifting Ivar’s exile. Ivar traveled to the mountain top and in due time the rumbles of a great avalanche were heard. The foul current of Niflheim were drowned in a thousand tons of snow and rock, and the bears returned to being regular bears. Ingvar rewarded the heroes with a feast and a thousand skatt, and they prepared later to head out in search of the treasure for Volstagg — but that is a story for another time.

And that is where we ended it — they got a little ways into the hunt for Fafnir’s treasure, but not very far before time was up. Everyone had a great time, and found the runic system to be pretty easy to use once you got used to it.

I’m looking forward to running it again!