Some General Updates

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. I never intended to be a regular blogger, and my schedule has been extremely busy since my last post. You can see the results of some of that busy-ness on my credits page. There are a number of books that recently came out or are coming out that I copyedited, and a few writing credits (the third issue of The Arkham Gazette and Doors to Darkness should both be out fairly soon).

I’ve taken my last post and made it a bit more permanent, creating an entire series of pages under The Herbivore’s Convention Guide. First up is Comic-Con next week, so, if you are going and are at a loss for where to eat some good plant-based food, check it out. I hope this minor resource is of use.

And while I just said I never intended to be a regular blogger, I have some plans to make use of this space more frequently, contributing short gaming-related pieces. I’ve had some ideas bouncing around in my head that I want to get moving into the outside world. Perhaps after the impending round of conventions, I’ll do just that.

Into the New Year: the Past Is Prologue, But the Narrator Is Unreliable

Mother and Father

My mother loved readers

Holidays are many things. A reminder to cherish those in our lives. A time for coming together. A moment to pause and look backward and forward, seeing what has come before and where it might lead.

We visited my family for Thanksgiving this year, fortunate to have a rare opportunity to reconnect. On the first evening of our visit, we sat and chatted. At some point, I walked over to my mother, put my arm around her shoulder, and said, “And I’m thankful to you for teaching me how to read.” My mother chuckled with a smirk and replied, “Yeah, right….”

I’ve loved books as long as I can remember (and I have memories that go back to when I was three years old). Long before I could read them, I would look through them constantly. I was fascinated by the mysterious symbols of letters and other characters, which I knew had meaning just out of my reach.

On my first day of kindergarten, the boy who came into class behind me introduced himself and already knew my name, thanks to his ability to interpret what my name tag said. I was astonished that someone my own age had the power to divine meaning from the chaos of letters. That kid had a head start on me, and I wouldn’t catch up to him for the rest of our time together.

One day while my mother took me grocery shopping, I told her about what we had learned in class: how to make rhymes. I excitedly demonstrated, frog, log, dog, fog. My mother was proud of me. On another day, weeks later, on another shopping trip, my mother asked me what I had learned recently. I excitedly demonstrated, frog, log, dog, fog. My mother smiled at me and quickly made plans to talk to my teacher.

In that meeting, my mother asked my teacher if I shouldn’t be learning to read by now. No, she was sorry, she replied, I wasn’t ready for that. My mother learned that there were children being taught to read but that I would not be one of them. I watched as other children in my class would pull Go, Dog. Go! off the shelf and slowly but surely puzzle out the words within. I wanted to do that too so badly. The kindergarten year ended without me knowing more than my alphabet, my numbers, how to play nicely with others, and how to recite the worst poetry in the world.

Go, Dog, Go!

Despite what the Cat in the Hat might promise, the best I could do was rhyme one of the words in the title.

During the summer before I entered first grade, my mother sat with me and books like that one about the speeding canine and did what my teacher hadn’t even tried to do. But I can’t blame that teacher too much. I really was a poor student until I went to college. I was bright but undisciplined, kicked out of advanced programs in both junior high and high school. If I had been born a few years later, I probably would have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed drugs to focus me. So, my teacher had me figured out and used her energy on the children whom she expected to get more out of her attention.

My teacher, however, didn’t realize how much being able to read meant to me. My mother may not have either; she just wanted her son to be prepared for school. So over that summer I learned how to read.

On the first day of first grade, we were tested on our reading and math levels. I was immediately put into the highest reading group. From then on, I was constantly reading (though rarely what I was assigned to be reading, I’ll admit). In fifth grade, Ms. Cameron wrote a Halloween story starring her GATE program students, providing a characterization based on what she’d learned about us so far. At one point in the story, I wander away from the mystery involving all of us to read a book.

I love words, all the more because I fought for them. And my mother fought for them with me. At least, that’s how this foundational story goes in my personal history. My mother, it turns out, saw this differently. She remembered trying to teach me to read and failing. She’d expressed this regret to others over the years.

I provided her and my father with more than enough frustration during my school years as I failed classes that I should have mastered. That I well knew. What I didn’t know is that for thirty-five years we had walked around with diametrically opposed views of the events surrounding that summer, ones which filled us with very different emotions. It was one more frustration for her, not directed at me but at herself.

Memories are tricky. I’ve been fooled by them before. I was quite young. Perhaps I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. Even if I’m wrong about immediately going into the top reading group in first grade, I highly doubt the bitter and spiteful Mrs. Anderson, who filled me with fear and anxiety, succeeded in teaching me much of anything–I left her class barely knowing simple arithmetic. Even if my own desire played a huge part in me figuring out what those letters meant when placed in order, I know my mother was a huge part of it too.

Certainly as far as foundational myths go, the one in which my mother, no matter how unsuited to the task, fought for me and succeeded is one that is more attractive than the one in which she failed. Ultimately, the important part of the story is that she fought for me, and that part is true. So whatever the fine particulars may be, I will continue to believe that I can read because of my mother. I will always be thankful for that.

ACHTUNG! Trail of Cthulhu

My Trail of Cthulhu conversions of Modiphius‘s first two Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios are now available.ACHTUNG! CTHULHU The Achtung! Cthulhu setting pits agents of the Allied nations against those of the Axis as they seek to harness the cosmic power of the Mythos. The backdrop of WW II has previously appeared in Cthulhoid roleplaying, but Achtung! Cthulhu is the first setting to provide substantial material for games set in that era. Here’s a link to a bundle deal on the PDFs (where they can also be purchased individually).

The scenarios are Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea, the first two parts of the episodic Zero Point campaign, written by Sarah Newton. Each stands alone, providing an individual mission to challenge the players. Modiphius previously provided versions for Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, and PDQ. This is one of the benefits of PDF publishing, though print versions will follow at some point. Based on the great success of their recent Kickstarter—which started with two books and funded to about five times that, with the addition of miniatures, a board game, and more—this line will have a long and healthy life.

My conversions provide statistics and rules, including, of course, Trail of Cthulhu‘s method of providing clues. While these scenarios have more opportunities for furious action than Lovecraftian ones stereotypically do, they have many of the familiar qualities of investigation, cautious approaches, and mind-shattering horror. If you are unfamiliar with Ken Hite’s Cthulhu Mythos version of Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE rules, more information can be found on Pelgrane Press’s website.

While a lot of conversion work is more or less mechanical, though requiring creativity and judgment (this stat equals this one, this Call of Cthulhu skill used to find the clue is equivalent to this Trail of Cthulhu one, etc.), this project’s setting provided further interesting challenges. Sarah Newton had provided CoC rules for vehicle combat and large-scale engagements (including rules for PCs commanding such forces). I wrote rules for these aspects of warfare to fit ToC‘s style, and this was probably the most extensive design work I did on these. Also of interest to Keepers are the numerous spells I converted (three for Three Kings and seventeen for Heroes of the Sea, with two overlapping between them). Some of these are spells I’ve converted in the past, but I looked at each one to determine if changes needed to be made to fit the scenario or my own evolving sensibilities.