Estalia Preview #6: New Spells

I have to tell you that the book is stalled again. Layout is a fiendish and complicated beastie now we’re down to the last few chapters, because it’s in those chapters that we have tables and lists and stat blocks (if anyone wants to help out, let us know! Many hands make faster work!)

What’s that you ask? Do we have new rules in all those tables and statblocks? Why, what would a sourcebook be without cool new powers to use upon your enemies? Poorly reviewed and undersold, that’s what. So no, we don’t just bring you setting information. There are a set of new monsters, new chargen tables, fencing powers and of course, new spells for the servants of the Maiden. 33 to be exact. Here’s six to give you a taste:

Apprentice to Master

 Casting Number: 12

Casting Time: Special

Duration: Special

Range: You

Ingredient: A tool used to build a great temple (+2)

Description: As part of the casting of this spell, you must watch another individual creating something using a Perform or Trade skill.  Until the next sunrise, you gain the skill you observed. You may use this skill as many times as your Magic characteristic, then the knowledge fades from your hands.

 

Arena of Reckoning

 Casting Number: 14

Casting Time: Half Action

Duration: Instant

Range: Touch

Ingredients: A circlet of gold (+2)

Description: When you cast this spell, you and one target are locked in combat to the death. An immovable magical aura rises surrounding only the two of you (just enough to cover your two squares with about a foot of give around) – any others that might be caught are flung out. Aside from a Dispel spell, the aura remains totally impenetrable to anything and anyone until either you or the target are dead.

 

Arms of the Sister

 Casting Number: 10

Casting Time: Half Action

Duration: 1 minute (6 rounds)

Range: You

Ingredients: A broken arrow (+1)

Description: When you strike, you strike with the arms of Shallya, Myrmidia’s merciful sister. When striking to Stun, you automatically succeed on the Strength test. If you strike to wound while the spell is in effect, it immediately ends.

 

Beacon in the Tempest

Casting Number: 9

Casting Time: Half Action

Duration: 1 minute (6 rounds)

Range: 24 yards (12 squares)

Ingredients: An owl’s beak (+1)

Description: While Myrmidia’s faithful command soldiers, they must also look to those who cannot fight. All allies within range can hear your voice as clearly as if they were standing next to you, and can understand you whatever language they speak. Your voice sounds calming and wise, and those who hear it gain a +10% bonus to Willpower tests to resist Initimdate tests, and Fear or Terror effects for the next hour.

 

Beautify Object

Casting Number: 9

Casting Time: Half action

Duration: 1 hour/Magic

Range: Touch

Ingredients: A paintbrush (+1)

Description: You apply a beautifier’s eye and hand to one object you nominate. The object’s Craftsmanship goes up one level (Poor to Common, Common to Good, Good to Best).  You may Beautify as many objects as your Magic characteristic. Weapons enhanced in this manner gain the standard bonuses. However, Myrmidia frowns upon deception for profit and any attempt to sell items enhanced by this spell cause the glamour to immediately vanish and the deception to be revealed.

 

Blade for Blade

Casting Number: 10

Casting Time: Half Action

Duration: 1 minute

Range: You

Ingredients: A silvered blade (+2)

Description: When you cast this spell you can see the attacks of your enemies coming towards you as if in slow motion. You may parry as many times per round as your Magic characteristic. You may still only parry once per attack.

 

Boon of Surrender

Casting Number: 15

Casting Time: Half Action

Duration: Instant

Range: 24 yards

Ingredients: A ring of silver (+2)

Description: When you cast this spell, you demand that your enemies surrender (making Charm or Command tests as the GM directs). All enemies you can see within range of the spell who cease fighting immediately heal 1d10 Wounds. They also cease to be Frightened, Terrified or subject to frenzy if they were previously.  Those who do not surrender suffer -10% on their next WS or BS roll. For the next hour, if the subjects of the spell attack or direct harm towards you or a number of your allies equal to your Magic characteristic, the subject loses 1d0 Wounds.

The Estalia Project: One Last Damn Time

I’m Steve and I’m a WFRP fan. Back in the days of 2nd ed, I co-wrote several Warhammer books including the Ennie-Award winning Children of the Horned Rat, Night’s Dark Masters and Realm of the Ice Queen.

Somewhere around 2009 or 2010, when 2e was dead and 3e didn’t exist yet a plan emerged to try and fill the sourcebook gaps left by the departure of Green Ronin/Black Industries, perhaps to publish some ebooks on Liber Fanatica (which now looks dead). At that time some people gathered to help write a Tilea sourcebook and I took lead on the Estalia sourcebook. We had some people flake out but a cadre of amazing folks including Craig Oxbrow and Steven Lewis gave me huge swathes of material. Things were chugging along, and we kept getting more ambitious; talking about new careers and bestiaries and adventures and science rules and dueling schools.

Then I had a nervous breakdown.

Not only did this impede heavily on my ability to finish the book, it also – as is the way with the human brain – ensured the project itself was linked in my mind to the breakdown. This made it impossible for me to do anything with the material, and nobody else but me had the files. Several times on several internet forums (on RPGnet, on Strike-To-Stun and on my own blog) I told this story and offered the files to anyone willing to try to finish them, because I figured both fans of the game and the contributors did not deserve to wait.

Now, at last, I am healthy enough to go back to the Estalia project. Too much time has past for me to build on it in a significant way. I don’t have the system mastery to add the rules we’re missing. I don’t have the time or inclination to make it as massive as we dreamed. But I still very much believe the contributors deserve their work to be shown. So my goal is to take everything I have, edit it, polish it, link it all together and put it into a Word file, and then into a PDF. Liber Fanatica no longer seems to be updated, so I’ll then just host it on my webpage with my other WFRP stuff.

As the project progresses, there may be space and capability for people to help out, as Andrea Maurizio just asked me about. I don’t know about that yet, because I’m still sifting through the ashes. I definitely have no layout or Indesign skills; I definitely will need art/stock pictures to make it look less dull. Got something that can definitely go in with no work like a monster or some fiction or a career? Send it on over. But I don’t have time to workshop anything, so I can’t guarantee everything you send me will go in the book. But I’m throwing this out there to just let you know that it has begun again, and maybe you can help.

Please forward this around so everyone who loves Warhammer can read it! I’m going to post all this on my blog as well.

Emotional Environmentalism, or The Care And Feeding of Your Creative Urge

Pollution is something we talk about a lot these days, but sometimes we forget what it means. If an oil tanker crashes on the road, and the oil leaks out, that’s not pollution, because it can be contained. But if the oil catches fire and the smoke goes everywhere, that is pollution. The difference is containability. What makes it pollution, in other words, is that it is all-pervasive. Inescapable. It is part of our environment, where we live, eat, drink, breathe, and so becomes part of us. And we know, now, that these things can make us very sick indeed, even kill us, even if they are invisible, because we live with them. Eat enough fish and you can die of mercury poisoning even though the doses themselves will be tiny.

So we’re learning – slowly – to control our environment. To ensure that our air and our water are clean, because we take them in so often we can’t afford anything less.

But what we also need to think about is emotional environments, and the pollution that gets into that.

Emotional health and physical health have much in common. Particularly in that they have levels of resistance, and that that resistance can be overcome both with single strong attacks and by long-term small ones. And when that resistance runs down, we cease being able to function properly, and need to hole up somewhere safe until either the threats die down or the resistance builds up again.

We’re familiar with the big, strong attacks to our resilience. Some of them are massive, crippling attacks, like the loss of a loved one, or a sudden change in our lifestyle. They’re the getting hit by a bus attacks. Then there’s the thumbtack in the foot attacks like negative feedback or breaking your favourite thing. There’s the slow cancer of not liking what you see in the mirror. We know these ones.

But there’s others. Some we can’t avoid. There’s missing the bus even when you ran for it. There’s the elevator being broken and there’s vomit all over the stairs. There’s not having a shirt without a hole in it to wear. There’s the screaming kids in the restaurant, the rude person at the traffic lights. The cold look from a stranger who decides to disapprove of you. Coming home to a messy kitchen, where the doorknob’s still broken and the stove smells funny all the time. All the little things that fill us with weltschmertz as the Germans call it: the sense that things are not necessarily bad, but not what they could be. Bad enough to notice.

This is emotional pollution, and like the mercury in fish, it can build up and up, and it can – it absolutely can – kill.

One thing I’ve learnt in the last few years with my excellent psychologist is there are two ways to attack mental health. One is building up your inner resistance – making your self image, self resilience and self esteem strong so it can repel attacks. The other is reducing the attacks coming in. Avoiding or lessening the attacks. And where possible, purifying the toxins from your environment.

Some toxins will always get in. No matter how much you plan, there’s always going to be a bus you miss; eventually there will be a soup splash on your favourite shirt. But some of these things can be fixed, but we often don’t think to, or we think they’re too small to bother with, or that they’re just part of life. And then they build up, and then they kill you.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that dealing with a lot of these things takes emotional strength in the first place, so sometimes we’re so worn down we can’t solve these problems, or can only tap away slowly at the tiniest levels. It’s also really important to note that most of these things require money to solve, and if you’ve ever been poor you’ll know what I mean. All the little things that money could solve, like catching a taxi when you miss that train. Buying a new shirt when the old one tears. Having insurance so you don’t have to worry so much about running for the bus on a slippery road. Being able to afford the gym so you don’t have to go running in the cold, freezing rain. If you’ve been poor, you know. How they break you down and kill you by inches, and how just trying to stop them wearing you through to bone uses up every resource you might have used to fix them.

Being depressed is a lot like that, too. It is a poverty of emotional strength, an impotence to change anything at all about your environment. Depression’s friend, anxiety, is more like having massive immunodeficiencies: everything is an attack, or a potential one. Together they make your environment so poisonous you can barely breathe, and give you no strength to do anything about it. Little wonder we depressives retreat to the comfort of bed – like the boy in the bubble, it is the only way to survive.

But for those of us who are doing better, all of this is still useful, still important. If you’re struggling with something, if you’re going beyond yourself, if you’re pursuing something creative or ambitious, you are running your emotional reserves ragged. Whether it’s a marathon or a sprint, you need your reserves strong. And while we often do a few things to pep us up (like taking some vitamins for the soul) we often forget to control our environment.

It can be simple, tiny things. If you are trying to write something, and you can see the dirty washing pile, your mind may turn to something else you “should” be doing. It can be big, life-planning things, like having a day job or savings so not every word is life and death. I’ve done that kind of writing – where if it cannot be sold that week you will literally starve – and it kills creativity and enthusiasm pretty fast. The environment is too toxic, there’s too much terror of survival, eating away at your emotional reserves. But it doesn’t have to be that critical; it could also be that you’re not going to write your best with your current computer because the keyboard sticks a lot or the screen flickers; it could be your novel isn’t going to come until you’re in just a generally nicer house or better neighbourhood or can afford some new shirts, because right now, your goal to live in a nice place or better clothes is eating those reserves and you can’t eat into them further.

It can be adding the positive, by hanging up motivational posters or making plans for the future or visualising goals. It could be giving yourself restoratives, like buying yourself lunch on the day you do your big writes, so you don’t have to lose that tiny bit (or not so tiny bit) of your reserves making your lunch. It could reducing the chances of attacks, like taking a taxi on writing days so there’s no chance you can miss a bus. It could be as simple as walking home a different way so you don’t see the cold strangers or hear the screaming kids. They are tiny things so they might seem frivolous, if you even think of them at all. But again, it’s about pollution: if you eat the tiny thing every day, it might not kill you but it will make you weaker.

A lot of writing is learning to be a resilient writer: to write every day no matter what, no matter how sick you are, or tired, or whether you have no ideas or no motivation. That’s the resilience part. But you can’t learn resilience when you’re being attacked all the time. Yes, I’m sure the fire makes the steel, but the human body doesn’t work like that. If the wound isn’t cleared, the blood can’t clot and the scabs can’t form. You have to wrap it up in gauze and keep it clean and dry. Writing – designing, creating, changing, striving – is much the same.

A better metaphor might be keeping a plant. You need one with strong roots, but you also need a good pot, good soil, potting mix, water, sunlight, and to protect it from all the things that could hurt it. You know how to spray the aphids, yes, but sometimes we leave them in too hot a sun, or above the exhaust fan. These are the little deaths, the slow, invisible killers. Yours are out there too. Some of them you might have to be a millionaire to fix, or at least well off. Others you might need to think really hard or wait a long time for them to get better. But if you’re aware of them, you might be able to do the tiniest thing.

There are spiders in my backyard. Every day I go out that way, they take away a bit of my strength. It’s a tiny thing. But it matters. And all I have to do is remember to go out the front door instead, and I stop that bit being chipped away. And I grow stronger, bit by bit. Day by day.

Throw Away the Carrot, Burn the Stick: Rethinking Procrastination, Part Three

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it” Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

I’m not an expert in beating procrastination, just an expert in suffering from it. So here’s the part where my insight becomes even less applicable to all of you. And remember that what we’re dealing with here, as discussed in parts one and two, is breaking down an entire culturally-coded mindset towards work and creativity. So it’s not going to be easy. It takes a lifetime to rewire your brain. But what I’m doing is starting to make a difference, for me.

The answer, unfortunately, is time management and scheduling. Unfortunately, there’s no way around that. But the trick is doing it well. One of the reasons we hate schedules is because almost always, the things we schedule are the boring things. If your schedule has nothing on it but TIME FOR ICECREAM, you might learn to like scheduling. That reminds me: in 18 minutes, I have to eat ice-cream.

There’s an old stunt they like to do in time-management classes. They take a jar, and fill it with golfballs until they can’t get any more in. And the jar is full! But then they add ballbearings and they go into all the space between the golfballs, until you can’t get any more ball bearings in. Jar is full! Then you add sand, and once again, you can add a lot to the jar, even though it was already full. And for the final demonstration, they show that if you put the sand in first, there’s barely room for any ballbearings, and no golfballs after that. The metaphor is banally obvious: look after the pounds and the pennies will look after themselves, as it were. It is not unuseful advice: you can, in fact, take your eyes off the little things if you keep the big things in line. The gigantic problem with this visualisation is they forget the important part, which is figuring out which things in your life are golf balls, and which are sand.

And most people get it backwards. Because we’re taught to.

Think about it: if you put “play Civ 5” down as a golfball, you sound shallow. Silly. Childish. No, those golfballs have to be big and important. Jobs. Security. A future. Or “fulfilling”: love, family, spiritual meaning, connections, saving the rainforest. And for some people, that might work. You might put those things in as your golf balls and somehow, you just naturally fill in everything else without thinking. But a lot of us aren’t like that at all.

Like I said last time: as human beings, we need and deserve leisure time and rest. We depend on it. Without it, we wither and die and can’t do anything else. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to make it the biggest golf-ball of all.

So you schedule it. You put it in first. Also important: a good night’s sleep. That goes in there. And also, you can even schedule procrastinating activities, those non-engaged activities that are just fun to do while your brain is asleep. Stuffing around on the internet. Checking email. Watching TV. Lying in bed thinking about Spiderman. Eating ice-cream. Licking ice-cream off interesting body parts. These are the things that go on your daily schedule. And probably nothing else, at least to start with. Because everything else is the sand. It’ll get done. It’ll happen. But only if you have the strength to tackle it.

And what you find is two-fold: one, you really work harder at the sand when you know you have to stop and think about Spiderman in ten minutes. The motivation is built in, and the excitement drives you on. You forget about achievement and output because you don’t have time to think about them. You have ice-cream coming up. You have to move or you’ll miss it. Second, if you schedule your ice-cream, boy, do you enjoy it more. Because it’s guilt free. Right there, on your timetable: half an hour to eat ice-cream. You don’t have to worry about what you should be doing, because you’re DOING what you should be doing. In fact, you may engage so much with the activity, you may even want to do it less.

Think about it: most of the time you stop playing a game because you’re no longer engaged, or because it’s time to do something else. What if you couldn’t stop, because you’d scheduled 2 hours to play and you had to fill those hours? You might actually get bored. You might distract yourself. Do a bit of sand-stuff, so you can fill out those two hours. You might even be less keen to rush back to the game for the next two hours because you remember the drudgery at the end. You might stall a bit in your writing, go over time, just so you don’t have to do quite so much Civilization. Like sand, the writing slips between the cracks, filling in those precious little seconds. And it gets done. Because you’re not fighting against what you do and don’t deserve any more.

I have two minutes left, so I’ll finish there. Like I said, it might not work for you. But it’s really not as crazy as it sounds. Figure out what is important to you to DO, not to have accomplished, without judging or shame, and give leisure its deserved role. Then schedule that and only that. Then let the sand be sand. And see what happens.

Good luck.

Throw Away the Carrot, Burn the Stick: Rethinking Procrastination, Part Two

For the most part, we as a society are learning that to abjure the stick. If you know anything about dog training, you know that punishment training – negative reinforcement – is not used any more. Not because it’s cruel, although it is, but because it rarely works, and if it does, it works far less efficiently. And it’s true of all animals: we respond better to rewards than we do to punishment, of an order magnitude more.

But we still use the carrot, and getting rid of it is a lot harder. Partly because it does have it uses. It’s very important for young children, for example, and for animals, because simple minds have trouble with cause and effect. This is why babies love peek-a-boo: they have no idea, when you go away, that you’re going to come back. Learning that kind of cause and effect is part of growing up. That to get the drink to your mouth you have to concentrate on holding the cup. That to be able to find your coat you need to put it on the right coat-hook. That thinking and working in advance leads to good things in the future.  We’re a primitive species and we like experiencing pleasure. When we eat the spoils of the hunt we get a lot of dopamine released so our body knows this is good for us. When we have to go out and hunt, our bodies are under attack and working hard, and so we don’t get the dopamine release, otherwise we’d get addicted to hunting and either work ourselves to death or get eaten by the lions. So we learn: hunt first, eat later.

The problem comes when we apply the carrot idea to everything we do. Beyond the simple and beyond the child. As we grow older, and our work and our play and our minds become more complex, the model ceases to apply, and breaks down. Think about it: when did you really first notice you were procrastinating? For most of us, it was high school. Not because of high school (although that plays a part) but because we were going through puberty and becoming fully rounded people, and the old ways stopped working. And for a lot of us, what happened next depended a lot on how we handled that problem, or avoided it.

There is a lot of emphasis on the carrot, so you may not believe me it’s so bad. Here then are some reasons why it’s so bad at what it does, and destructive to good habits.

1. It turns the “work” into a bad thing.

Go back to the metaphor itself: the carrot is there to make the donkey walk forward, pulling the wagon or the cog-wheel. The donkey does not want to do that. It is a terrible chore. Importantly, it is not what the donkey would naturally be doing. That’s important because of some of what the donkey would naturally be doing would still not be “dopamine stuff”. The donkey would naturally work, it would go around finding the best grass it could and use its muscles to tear it out, and so on. What the donkey is doing is WORSE than working. Every time you use this metaphor, even if you don’t voice it, subconciously you’ve decided that the work that needs to be done is pulling a terrible heavy load, in a way that is unnatural, that is outside what you consider good for you. Even if it was already an unpleasant task, it becomes worse, and happy tasks become drudges. We’ll come back to this mischaracterisation of the process later.

2. It makes the work suffer by comparison.

To get the carrot, we must do the work. Therefore, the carrot has to be better than the work. Now we’ve put two things in front of us, two ideas. If you’ve ever seen a cop show, you know about good cop bad cop. This is fundamental human psychology: if you present a person with a bad thing X and a less bad thing Y, they feel drawn to Y, even if Y is not necessarily in their interest. We are built on comparison. So if you put up two ideas – write my RPG or play Civ 2, say – you can’t help compare them. And since you were clever enough to think of an excellent fun reward, because you really want to motivate yourself, your carrot will be a wonderful thing. Once again, the result is you make the work task look worse than it actually is. You’ve mischaracterised it as a burden, a chore, and as something you don’t want. You ache now for your carrot more than you ever would if you could choose it freely. And that sense of constrained desired is yet another emotion that drains your strength, and makes you weaker, and less able to do anything at all.

3. It is dangerous to our self-esteem.

We are creatures of hope. The way we deal with pain and suffering it to rely on a great and fundamental truth: pain and suffering do not last forever. We are suffering now, we will be happy later. But somewhere along the way, our pattern-loving minds turned this into a cause and effect. We think I will be happy later BECAUSE I am suffering now. Or worse, in order to be happy later, I MUST SUFFER FIRST. I’m using poetic language, but the carrot teaches us this same thing: in order for me to have happiness, leisure, entertainment, relaxation, dopamine releases, time to myself, etc, I must first do this thing which is drudgery, unimportant, unvalued, unshiny, this thing I have cast as a terrible chore, that makes my time belong to something else, some higher code that I have somehow set outside what I actually want, or require lots of reminders as to why it is important (constantly waving that carrot in my face). We start using words like DESERVE and EARN and SHOULD and ALLOWED. I am not ALLOWED to play Civilization until I have EARNED it.

We are human beings. We are born with the right and the need to be happy, to relax and have leisure time. We deserve these things unconditionally. We need them to survive and be our true selves. We need them to be strong. We need them to make the world better. And anything that tells us differently is bad for us, for our mental health, and our sense of self and for the goals and outcomes we want to reach.

There are standards in life, both external and internal, and they are useful and worthy. But the moment we use them to punish ourselves or diminish ourselves, they become dangerous, twisted and hurtful, and they can make us achieve less, not more.  We’ll come back to this, too.

4. It fetishizes the outcome over the process.

We’re outcome-oriented, as a culture. Part of that is capitalism: a process is hard to sell, a product is easy to sell. A finished product is easier to move around, to conceptualise, to admire. Artists in particular are at the mercy of the outcome. It is laudable for a nurse, say, to spend her life doing nursing, but if you spent your life playing music but never recorded a song, people will label you a failure who could never finish anything. Completed projects go on the resume, time served does not.

To some extent, this is fair: what makes art art is that it can be shared, and a process is hard to share. And what can cripple art is not sharing it and getting so involved in a process that we never allow our ideas to be given to others. Finishing IS important, is more important for artists. But if we forget the process, or worse, demonize it (via the mischaracterisations mentioned in 1 and 2), we kill our art, and we kill ourselves.

Studies have shown that there are five basic returns people get from jobs, five values. They are: financial return, being important (either social status or having a large effect), being the boss and making decisions, working in an enjoyable environment for you socially, and doing something where the work itself is engaging and fun. The important thing is not everyone cares about these things equally. And the carrot theory is basically all about the first two: that the work you do will lead to a return later. But if we’re creative types, we don’t usually care much about money or status, but we really care about being engaged and having fun. So our motivation theory is ass-backwards.

Think about it: we’re encouraged to write novels, publish games, to make art. Even if you remove commercial success, critical acclaim or the audience applause – which we almost never do – we are told that the point of being an artist is to create an outcome. And everything becomes about that. That’s the carrot. To finish the novel. To publish the game. And everything before it is the cog-wheel. We do the cogwheel to get the carrot.

But what does that do? That demonizes the process and champions the outcome. It tells us that finishing something – ie not writing – is fundamentally better than working on something – ie writing. So every single day when you get up and think “well, I still don’t have a novel done, so I better do some writing”, you’ve sent yourself that message, loud and clear. That writing is bad, and not writing is good. That writing is suffering, and only if you suffer enough, you get your reward – because you certainly don’t deserve one now. You’re not worthy of that.

Is it any wonder, then, that you don’t want to write?

To paraphrase an old saying, a lot of people want to have written a novel, rather than want to write a novel. Because then they get to say, hey, that’s my novel, that’s proof of my success. Part of that is human nature (and healthy). Part of that is the nature of art. And a lot of it is because we fetishize the outcome, and demonize the process. And every time we do that, we make it harder and harder to do the process. We make the process into a chore and we turn ourselves into failures. And the only way to escape those horrible feelings is to feed the procrastination monster instead.

And he’s a nasty thing, but it’s our own behavior – our constant focus on the carrot – that made him strong to begin with.

In Part 3, we’ll actually talk about how to solve some of these problems. There are other options.

Throw Away the Carrot, Burn the Stick: Rethinking Procrastination, Part One

Procrastination is a big thing. We often joke about it, but it can do a lot of damage to our life if we let it, or we worry about it too much. And it can certainly eat away at our reserves – our time AND our energy – to do things like writing and designing, things we often put last on our list, but also feel most pressured to do, as we are constantly told THEY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT. There is a lot of advice out there on dealing with procrastination, and a lot of it is bullshit. Or rather, a lot of it is just what worked for one guy or a few people. But procrastination and the issues that make it up are a big, big thing, and it is wired into fundamental aspects of how we approach ourselves and everything we do in life. Which means there are multiple ways to attack it, and everyone has to do what works for them and their mind. What’s more, we’re all on our own journey to untangle ourselves, and you don’t only need to have the right idea for your brain, but the right idea AT THE RIGHT TIME. So my advice might be useless to you. I’m sharing it anyway, because only by getting lots of ideas can we all find the best way for us to untangle things.

I’m certainly not an expert on breaking procrastination, but I am an expert on procrastinating. It’s something that’s played an enormous part of my life, in many different arenas. Indeed, it is fairly true to say that my particular mental disorder, depression/anxiety, is an extremely heightened form of procrastination. You become so afraid of certain thoughts, emotions, feelings and situations you lock your body into a perpetual state of numbness (or panic, in the case of anxiety) to avoid those things. I’ve been on a long journey to work some of these things out, so in that context, my advice has some experience.

The first point to deal with is this: how we think about procrastination is typically very wrong.

Let’s imagine for this discussion that there are three activities. There’s W, the work we don’t want to do. Like say writing your RPG. There’s P, the procrastinating activity. Maybe it’s surfing the internet. Then there’s F, the fun activity, like maybe playing Civilization 5. To pick entirely random examples that certainly don’t reflect my life at all. Now, a lot of the time, people don’t have P and F as separate activities. Sometimes they are the same activity done in different ways or experienced in different ways – for example, when you can’t really enjoy yourself when you go out for a drink because in the back of your mind you feel you should be studying. Or you don’t get really into playing X-box because you’re just looking for a low-level distraction to keep your mind busy. This still might not be you, but go with me here.

Generally, our thinking about procrastination is this: I keep doing distracting thing P because I don’t want to do hard, painful, difficult thing W.

This is false.

Most of the time, what is stopping us from doing W has little to do with W at all. Don’t get me wrong, the anxiety curve is a big deal, especially with big, hard to grasp projects (go read up about the curve, it is also part of this subject). But what keeps us doing P is less about fear of W and more about our shame and guilt at doing P. And the more P we do, the worse we feel, and the worse we feel, the less we are able to act.

This is pretty obvious when you think about it.  When our body is injured, it stops doing things. It wants to fall over and lie still because then it can concentrate on getting better. Likewise, when we feel upset, we don’t want to go out and do things, we want to crawl into a foetal ball, hide in our room and eat candy. Our mind is just like our body: when it feels hurt, it devotes all its resources to healing itself, and devotes no resources to going out and doing things.

So the more you do the P activity, the more your brain feels attacked by feelings of guilt and shame, and thus the weaker you become. Your body now has no strength to do W, or to do F, or to do P even. You become less and less engaged with F and P, so the bad feelings work stronger and do more damage, so you become weaker and weaker. We wait for motivation to strike, but it now has an enormous uphill battle, because unhappy people are difficult to motivate. Sometimes impossible.

I’m going to say that again because it’s very important: the worse you feel, the harder it is to motivate yourself, or be motivated by others.

It’s important because so much of our mindset and culture are wrapped up in a very different idea of motivating. We believe in the carrot and the stick. And the carrot and the stick are all about suffering and being unhappy, or at best, fearing more unhappiness. We must do the hard task W, lest we feel pain from the stick, or so we can deserve the carrot. This point of view is burned into us at a primal level, and we accept it instinctively.

But everything we know about the human mind and human motivation tells us it is not only a poor model, it is a model inherently destructive to our health and our happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, the carrot and the stick are not entirely without merit, in very specific situations, at very specific times. It teaches us about cause and effect when we are children. But now we see through a glass darkly, and if we keep trying to walk as a child, we make everything worse.

That’s a big idea and I’m already at 1000 words, so there’s more in part 2.

Warhammer: The Guide To Estalia – An Open Call

 

Alrighty, here’s how it is. About five years ago, when WFRP 2nd ed had ended and there was no sign of 3rd ed, a lot of clever, creative people pooled their efforts to create more sourcebooks for the game, as close as possible to the style of the existing ones, such as Realm of the Ice Queen and Knights of the Grail. The Tilea book, Spears of the Maiden, was finished in a timely fashion and can be found on the Liber Fanatica website. Hooray! Meanwhile, I took on the task of the Estalia book (tentatively titled Swords of The Lady), and it went less well. Most of the book was assembled, but – perhaps because I was determined to make it as vast and awesome as possible – it got stuck. Most of the writing was done, then some stuff happened in my life and my mental health, and since then it has always been somehow too large to go back and finish it.

What I should have done, long, long ago, was this: put out an open call for editors to come and finish the project.

The content is about 90% done. It needs a few last minute tweaks, but we have history, culture, law, religion all done, rules for new religious spells, extra fun chargen stuff (including the random beard table) and so on. We wanted to do some rules for fencing and ship-to-ship combat but they never appeared. (Alas, we had a lot of people promise to work on things and then just vanish without a word.) To be a proper book it needs maybe a few careers and a few monster stats, and it needs someone to hammer the rules chapters into a cohesive whole. Then it needs art (we have some already), city maps (unlikely?) and layout (we have contacts) whereupon the enormous PDF can be forwarded to the Liber Fanatica people for hosting.

This seems to me the best and fastest way to get all the wonderful material out there, doing justice to all the wonderful contributors, and providing fans with juicy stuff to read.

As I said it is mostly done but it needs a strong, experienced hand to guide it to completion. I don’t want to hand this over to someone who won’t do it justice. There is no money in it, either. Only glory.

But if you think you’ve got what it takes to make the Lady proud, you know where to find me.

 

 

How It All Began

June 6th, 2006 I was asked to write my first RPG book, the critically acclaimed and fan-favourite, Children of the Horned Rat.  I just found in my folders the very first notes I made on the book, before we even got jobs or the outline, just trying to get a sense of Why Skaven Are Awesome (always a great place to begin). Here then, you can see great art taking form!

skavennotes

I shall translate the scribbles:

(picture of a skaven)

Evil Science (& Terrorism)

– electricity

-nuclear waste/power

-plagues

-bio-engineering

-privacy

(This is me nutting out the theme of the skaven, what makes them scary – a key fear vector is they are the fear of perverted science.)

In a circle: BE ASH. Not sure what that means. I think it means playing a Skaven is fun because you get to call everyone Primitive Screwheads, and build freaky robot hands and cars with medieval tech.

Biology

– smell and musk

– breeding = insane

– adaptable

– completely omnivorous

– resistance to disease

– CARRIERS (ala komodos, plus pestilence) – this was the old idea that komodos had no venom (now known to be false) but they ate such rotten food their breath was an infectious death sentence.

– sharp claws and teeth, strong jaw

– fur – waterproof, cold and warm

– senses – incredible

– speed and reflexes – phenomenal – good metabolism – always hungry

– can get anywhere – flexible

– strength low, courage low

Why I’m Really Excited About The Cortex Hacker’s Guide (And You Should Be Too)

In case you missed it, the Kickstarter for the new Cortex Hacker’s Guide went live 48 hours ago. At time of writing this, they’d already got $10K pledged which is a fanatastic start for what might seem to be a fairly niche product. It’s a great kickstarter with heaps of levels to pledge at, and some great stretch goals. I’m really excited to be a part of it, not least because it’s my first official kickstarter. My own projects have so far used IndieGoGo and haven’t had a cool video to go with them. MWP’s video is great and I got a little shiver of excitement when Dave Chalker listed my contribution – mutant animals – as one of the sections.

It’s also fantastic to see this product come out, after nearly two years of waiting. Marvel Heroic Roleplay sort of got in the way, because hey, Marvel is a 200-pound gorilla of a licence (and one hell of a game). It’s always good when something you’re proud of finally gets to come out (assuming we get the next five grand). It’s also great how MWP have designed this particular KS. Us writers have all been paid our base rate, but anything the company makes beyond costs goes into paying us more. MWP already pays above average for a gaming company, because they are classy, professional people who are joy to work with, but passing on the return to writers takes that to a whole new level. One of the biggest problems with the RPG industry is the market won’t bear price rates that pay authors a fair rate for their work. Until, of course, crowdsourcing came along, allowing consumers to send money directly to those authors. Hopefully, more companies will follow MWP’s lead. We want that because good writers deserve good money, and they go elsewhere if they don’t get it. Letting them make more money on products keeps good designers writing good material for the games you love.

If that alone doesn’t convince you to back this project, let’s talk about the content.

You might not know what a Cortex is. Cortex was originally designed by Lester Smith and others for the first product from MWP, the long-forgotten Sovereign Stone fantasy RPG, then hammered into a full generic system by Jamie Chambers, after which it was used in such games as Serenity, Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica (all great games, btw). I’ve been a fan since the beginning of Cortex’s goals: it’s got a central rigidity like its design-cousin Savage Worlds, but, like Unisystem, is simpler and cleaner because it wasn’t designed to also support miniatures. As someone who finds most generic systems (eg GURPS, ORE, FATE) generally far too heavy, Cortex is right in the sweet spot for me.

Then something really awesome happened. Cam Banks, Josh Roby and Rob Donoghue (and others) came onto work for MWP and produced Smallville and Leverage. Both games started with the very “core” or Cortex, which is roll one die, rated from d4 to d12, for one “axis” (originally your attribute) and one die for a second axis (originally your skill) and add them, plus roll extra dice if you have them, but still just add the two highest. Both games then transformed that central idea by adding some very modern and indie approaches. In Smallville, they replaced the two axes entirely, replacing stat+skill with Emotion + Relationship, to build a completely different mindset. In Leverage, they got rid of hitpoint ideas and replaced it entirely with FATE-like Aspects and some other great ideas. These new interpretations were, as a whole, nicknamed Cortex Plus (or C+).

This wasn’t just great design, it was great modular design.  There are at least two key aspects to game design – having numbers that work and make sense, and dressing the numbers up so they communicate the right information while making sense. So far, few games have really looked at breaking those two things down separately. I can only think of FUDGE/FATE as the exception. I’m good at dressing up the numbers but not always good at building the basics, so I was intrigued (not to mention incredibly impressed with both Smallville and Leverage as RPGs as a whole). The first thing I did after reviewing these two excellent games was email Cam Banks and demand to know when Cortex Plus was going OGL. He didn’t have an answer – yet. Instead, he got back in touch about the Hacker’s Guide.

The designers were well aware that with Cortex Plus, the genie was out of the bottle and there were suddenly a lot more you could do with the system, and that the two incarnations were not just great games but great ideas that inspired more tinkering. That rather than split them up into Cortex Plus Drama and Cortex Plus Action, the two could be cross-linked and combined and broken down and rebuilt, and that was in fact more interesting than taking a core system and hammering out a few appropriate Merits and Flaws for your favourite TV show. However good Serenity and Supernatural were, they could be made better by bending things around more, and applying these new ideas. I was already chafing at the bit to do this; I was not surprised to find I was not alone. One such interaction of the two came out soon after, as Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and very nice it is too.

But putting out a whole new game was an expensive idea. Instead, the idea was to bring all these ideas together in one place, in a shorter form. The Hacker’s Guide, on the surface, looks like a shotgun-blast sourcebook, adding new traits and merits to the Smallville and Leverage systems so you can play them in other settings. But it’s a lot more than that. We crossed the streams and relinked the wires, and in the process, teach you how to do that yourself. Some of that teaching is explicit and direct, some of it is implied by seeing our end results. Cortex is one of the most interesting systems around right now, and some incredible stuff has been done with it already, and we’re taking that even further. That’s exciting as hell and something I’m really proud to be a part of.

I knew the moment Cam asked what I wanted to do. My first RPG, the thing that made me love this hobby, was Erick Wujcik’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG. Nothing else I’ve ever seen has ever got right the part I loved so much about that game, which was being able to play almost any animal imaginable. Finding a way to do that – and keep the simplicity which is so important to Cortex – was a huge game design challenge, and I’m really proud of how it came out. It’s not TMNT, of course, (no use of copyright material should be implied!!) but inspired by that RPG and how it inspired me. TMNT holds a special place in my life, and Erick was a hero, and later, a mentor and a personal friend, so this is also my way of giving something back. That’s my personal connection; for you, the point is that if you liked TMNT, my response to it is here, and it a more passionate and dedicated response to that game and its goals you will not find anywhere else in the hobby.

So if you are interested in RPG design, both indie and trad, and where the two meet, if you’re interested in how to take a core idea and expand it and develop it across settings and genres, so as to learn how to do that yourself, whatever your core system of choice, then you should be excited about the Hacker’s Guide. And if you ever liked the TMNT rpg and really feel a need to play any reptile, bird or mammal you can name, then you should be very excited about my contribution. So go out and back it already. If only because I need the cash.

Replay of There Is No Spoon

Got to play There Is No Spoon at the con last week, which was a joy because I wrote it. I love hearing someone using my words and mechanics to lead play and have fun. It’s like writing a play, almost – the same words I wrote down now coming to life.

Anyway, we were a usual hovercraft crew, pre the finding of Neo. I was playing Husk, a guy who had learnt how to Cut and Paste his skin, taking textures off any surface and copying them onto his avatar. We were all pretty sneaky, in fact – Lochrinus could hack anything with a chip in it, MD was a grifter who could shape his image to subconsciously make anyone trust him, Slither could turn his avatar 2-D to slip through cracks, and Crowdsource could hack the environment to do crowd control and flash mobs, just sending out subconscious messages through code-hacking. And Crash was our wheelman.

With the sneakiness and Leverage-feel in mind, and with so many of us, our GM John cleverly used heist-style plotting, both to keep us all involved and to keep the action moving – ie instead of planning, we simply described an action as we did it, as you do in heist films. We did a Matrix run to pick up a package, but before reporting back to our captain (Tilda Swinton as Captain Pandora) we decided to take a peek at it, and discovered it was the plans for a nuclear bomb. Then we got a mysterious phonecall from somebody who shouldn’t have known where we were and then there were agents in helicopters. Crash got caught in a police spotlight but instead of being killed by an Agent, he was thrown a palm pilot.

Turns out that the pilot contains a list of names of kids in a downtown orphanage. One of the kids is Crash’s daughter, Elyse. Assuming he HAS a daughter, rather than just remembers he has (cue philosophical debate).

We run a second mish to pick up the nuclear pile from a big steamship. Another heist, but while we’re doing that, MD is breaking into City Hall to check out the orphanage. The heist goes bad and Lochrinus gets cornered by an Agent who again doesn’t kill him when he has the chance. He says instead that the Item is going to be used to destroy something they find Valuable, so the Agents and the Operatives can work together to stop a greater threat. By now MD has figured the same thing: the orphanage is probably bogus, it was put there to stop people looking at the power-hub underneath, and the info was a ploy to get us to stop the bomb.

Investigating Captain Pandora reveals she is very shady indeed, and keeps meeting with a guy called Captain Twist who is probably a renegade, gone off Zion’s reservation. He and Pandora have decided to nuke the city – destroy the illusion so people have nothing to hide in, forcing them to reject it and wake up in their egg sacks (apart from the millions who will die, or continue to live on in the hell-zoned city). We spend a long time talking about it. Eventually, we decide that we can’t kill people, even coppertops, as that makes us as bad as Agents. We turn on Pandora and go into the Matrix to stop her plan.

Her Matrix skills get her past our snipers and she runs into the orphanage while Twist and his men attack from across the street. Crash and Lochrinus take out the low-levels while Husk goes one-on-one with Twist in a katana battle to the death. Meanwhile Crowdsource summons a crowd of orphans to delay Pandora long enough for Slither to catch up to her. Slither’s deal was never to put his neck on the line, but his fate was that one day his time would come. And it did – he took down Pandora single-handedly, and turned off the bomb.

Alas, Twist escaped, but some of us decided that from now on, there were more dangers than Agents – rogue Zion operatives who had been driven mad by the cause were just as bad. Husk and Slither set up a special squad to catch Twist and other rogues. Like that madman prophet, Morpheus….

STING! ROLL CREDITS!

If you’d like to play your own Matrix film, you can download There Is No Spoon at this link, until my website proper goes up.