Getting Things Moving Again, or How to Pick a Game to Run…

“Is someone in here?” The caretaker walked into the study, surprised to find a candle burning on the old wooden desk, red wax dripping down the side to puddle like blood against the base of the silver holder in which it sat. Beside it lay several sheets of parchment, an inkwell, and a quill made from one of the ravens that roosted at the top of the tower. The study’s sole chair, plain wood but for the crushed red velvet seat cushion, was moved back from the desk, angled slightly toward the only window in the room, as if its occupant had gotten up to look outside.

“Who is in here? Reveal yourself, or you will find yourself in a world of trouble.” The caretaker’s sparse white hair and liver spots on his face and hands belied his vigor, as he confidently reached inside of his coat to grasp his wand. As his fingers closed around the smooth mahogany handle, he recalled with wry amusement that his master had made him caretaker because his skill with wands allowed him to maintain everything here without touching it directly. He sighed sadly, though, for it had been a number of years since he last saw his master, and the wrinkles that spiderwebbed across his face were proof of that.

From the dark corner near the window, the silence was broken by the deliberate echo of boots on the wooden floor. The familiarity of that sound brought a myriad of memories with it, all related intimately to the tower’s owner, his own master. Entering the light shed by the candle, the figure stepped purposefully forward, black leather pants and blue tunic covered almost carelessly by a fur robe hanging open. The wide-brimmed hat atop the figure’s head did nothing to stop the candlelight from revealing his identity: the tower’s master.

Shock at seeing a master he had all but assumed was dead numbed his fingers, and the caretaker’s wand slid back into its pocket. “It IS you,” he uttered, joy tinged with confusion, because the last time he’d seen the master, it was as the latter was pulled through a portal leading to a world full of molten metal, murderous machines, and belching smoke…



First of athe_orkensturm_by_gaiasangel-d8w4w73ll, it’s oddly appropriate to a blog that talks about creativity that I wrote that in first, second, and third person point of view, before settling on what you read above. I learned a bit about proofreading, editing, and the importance of choosing the right voice for your composition. But, I digress..

The point was to poke a little fun at myself for how long it’s been since I last posted on this blog. Unfortunately, it turned into something else, and I think I like the results better than my initial idea (talking about dust and disuse). Where was I, though? Oh, yes! I was going to write a post about the many different roleplaying games out, the adventures for them, and how I don’t have enough time to accomplish even a fraction of them.

First, I suppose I should list what games I mean. This list includes many things that catch my eye for one reason or another, and there’s no allegiance to system or setting or genre.

  1. Out of the Abyss (D&D 5e) – Underdark campaign that pits the players against the drow and the Demon Lords of the Abyss
  2. Reign of Winter (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – Go gallivanting around time and space in Baba Yaga’s Tardis, er, Hut
  3. Carrion Crown (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – Gothic horror story set on Golarion, and using standard fantasy tropes
  4. Jade Serpent (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – A travel campaign, where you escort a character from a western fantasy town, over the top of the world (ice, snow, and giants!), and end in an eastern fantasy setting, complete with Oni and Shugenja.
  5. Strange Aeons (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – Lovecraftian fantasy campaign. Madness is a thing, and you will face things that should not be. Nuff said.
  6. “Ravenhead” – gothic horror set in the Victorian era, loosely based on the album by Orden Ogan; original idea. (Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death 2e/3e)
  7. “Ravenhead” – gothic horror set in the modern era, based more directly off the album by Orden Ogan; newer idea that might better fit the concept album. (new World of Darkness)
  8. The Dark Eye (TDE 5) – Any of the numerous one-shot modules (The Witch’s Dance, A Goblin More or Less,  The Molted Serpent, The Thorwal Drum, Kibakadabra) that will be coming with my copy of the core rules for The Dark Eye 5th Edition, using the German roleplaying game rules that I’ve been going on about for most of the last month.

Besides this list, I also would enjoy running Castles & Crusades for a flavor of old-school gaming (either a series of one-shots, or a campaign idea from several years back that involved a fallen god and escaped demon thanks to the PCs) or Star Wars RPG (using Edge of the Empire to run Jewel of Yavin – you have to steal the eponymous gem from Cloud City under the watchful eye of Lando Calrissian). Given 5e’s approach to rules, I could conceivably convert a bunch of PlaneScape adventures and run some outer planes adventures based in the City of Doors.

Why don’t I, then? It seems I don’t lack for people interested in playing.

The catch is very simple: planning a game takes time and effort. Converting a campaign (like with a Pathfinder to D&D conversion) would take even longer. I don’t have as much time now, as I once believed I did. Well, to be more honest, I am not as open to spending as much time on converting/planning a game now, as I did when I was 24-25, in part because I have more things vying for my attention now, and in part because when I’m tired now, I’m *TIRED*, and that extends to far more than just the physical.

So, that begs the question: what game above should take priority and receive the precious gift of my attention for development into a full-fledged campaign? Sadly, that also isn’t a cut and dried answer, as my enthusiasm level for a game changes from week to week. I can guarantee that each of those games above have held my singular enthusiasm in the past, and that I wanted nothing more than to run that game. Then, I have an “oh shiny!” moment, and I want to do something different.

It doesn’t help, either, if I am in the middle of a game. I can be running something I was really enjoying, and if I get a sense of a new game that excites me, I will find myself subconsciously wanting to end my current game to switch. It’s not that I dislike the old game, or that a story isn’t capable of holding my attention. Rather, over the years, I’ve grown used to following my level of excitement, and doing that.

Back when we started gaming regularly in 2000, we switched games every six to eight weeks or so. We rotated DMs so everyone could play, and we even rotated games as well (my D&D, another’s D&D, Brad’s Shadowrun, Mike’s GURPS, back to D&D, etc). While the idea of infinitely rolling up new characters is no longer nearly as appealing, keeping the mechanics and game engaging is definitely something that matters to me.

Also, if you exclude the entire reason I just listed, there’s also the fact that your friends coming over as much as 4-5 times a week to play games is a thing of the past. Now, at best, you can get a group over once a week or so. Factor in that, in some cases, it can’t even be weekly, so it’s even rarer. In the end, not only enthusiasm, but timing, limits the potential game nights.

When we do get together, we generally have about 4-5 hours at absolute most to game. How many of those would a game that runs players from 1 to 15 take? I think a general conceit regarding the recent editions of D&D is that a campaign should last around a year of once-weekly sessions. Factor in other obligations that limit when we play, and we have far fewer than 52 potential sessions a year.

Using Travis’s game as a guide, we started it in mid-March last year as level 4 heroes. We played pretty regularly until around late May, and we wound up breaking until July. We played semi-regularly until October-ish, and then took another break until mid-November, wrapping up the main first arc on December 7, 2015 (if anyone with a better memory wants to correct that, please do so). By rough count, that’s around 20-24 sessions. Researching Pathfinder Adventure Path duration on their forums comes up with around 45-60 sessions of about 4 hours each.

Interestingly, I don’t think I want to run a single campaign that lasts three years. I also find it interesting that knowing roughly how much time will be spent on gaming per year neatly addresses some of the concerns this post was to address. Look at it like this. We game 24 times a year, and Travis is running his game. We cut off one session a month for Leif, and Travis’s game is down to 12 times a year, unless we are able to gather more often. So, despite the fact that we believe we play one game more often, the actual number of sessions proves how little we actually play. (Again, this *IS* using the rough estimate of 24 sessions a year, or slightly less than biweekly.)

It also makes it easier, in my mind, to deliberately say, “I’m going to run a game for 5 weeks, doing one adventure, and when it’s over, we move on to something else.” Heck, the DM could hold onto copies of the characters, and if he runs that same kind of game (system/setting), he can dig the existing characters back out, as players want. My group back in 2000-2005 were far more likely to try out a new concept than playing the same old character time and again.

Now, this mindset only applies if you don’t want to run a long-term game. Travis with his game will certainly want to run more than 5 sessions at a time. Interestingly, while Travis could plan a long-term game, he could also plan for breaks (like the December-April one recently), and the group could decide who wants to run what during the hiatus.

Another thing that seems to be repeating is the timing of our sessions. We played pretty heavily in the spring last year, took part of May and June off, and resumed in July. This year, we’ve played pretty regularly (switching between mine and Travis’s, of course), and took part of May and June off. It will probably be July before weekly gaming is a thing again. Is there a trend that we can take advantage of to plan for later this year, and into next?

All of this does suggest to me that, until Travis is done with his story, planning a long-term game of my own is not likely to bear fruit. Far from feeling defeated as a result, it instead tells me that I am free to run that one-shot World of Darkness game for “Ravenhead”, pick an adventure from The Dark Eye to run when I get that material, or even dig Star Wars back out to run Jewel of Yavin. Heck, I could convert PlaneScape to 5e and run one of those or even run Castles & Crusades. Four to six sessions in what would’ve otherwise been a dry spell is a good thing, in my opinion.

On the flip side, though, “Out of the Abyss”, “Carrion Crown”, “Reign of Winter”, “Jade Serpent”, and “Strange Aeons” are all too involved to begin unless I have an open slate one day for several months at least (read: a new day to run, like Sundays or something). This is liberating, though, as I have, over the course of this post, determined how long I want to stick with a particular game, what I could do with another already running, and what I’m capable of putting together.

Conversely, I could run part one of any of the Pathfinder paths, and stop after that first adventure is done. Once sufficient interest spurs a return, I can go on to part two. The beauty is that, in the meantime between games, my players and I have a chance to reo

This also bodes somewhat well for my Red Sun 5e campaign idea. I can run 3-5 mini-campaigns of 5-10 sessions each, and then move into the “long-term” campaign for the main bit for about 10-15 sessions, and wrap up my story.

So, this seems to have addressed “time” regarding gaming. The next question is pointedly, “what do the people who play in my games look for from their gaming experience?” but that is a question for another time.

If you’re still with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether they agree with mine or not. If I overlooked something, please let me know that, too. Until next time…

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Origin of my Handle

Tek2way (tek’ too way) n. – 1. Online handle of Anthony Adkins. In use on various services, chat programs, and as part of E-mail addresses, since 1997. 2. Altered form of Tech-2-way. Implemented due to AOL restrictions on “tech” being the first part of a screenname. [Derived from Old Anthony, Tech-2-way, from the tire patch dispenser on the wall of my friend’s garage back in 1993.]

Back in the summer of 1993, I was helping my friend Kevin rebuild the transmission in his 1981 Ford Escort Station Wagon. You see, the day we were supposed to go see Jurassic Park, his clutch shattered. That’s right. Shattered. I eventually saw Jurassic Park, but I spent quite a bit of time in his garage that summer anyway.

He had a pretty impressive auto-maintenance garage back then, in part because his dad ran a Gulf Station back when gas stations were known as “service stations”. (For those too young to know, a service station did more than just sell gas. They did brakes, changed oil, and those other maintenance-type things.) Well, when his dad finally closed up shop, he brought home all kinds of things that were in the service section of the station. One of them was a rather innocuous-looking tire patch dispenser.

Toward the end of that summer, I began to really become enamored of the concept of computers and BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems). For those again unsure of what I speak, let me clarify.

  • A BBS is basically a hosting software that you run on your computer, and people call the phone line you have hooked up to your computer, which would then answer the phone. It is loosely like calling an access number to get on the Internet, except that once you were dialed into the person’s computer, you only had his computer to peruse. You could get files, play games, chat with others online (via a BBS with multiple phone lines), leave messages, and read articles. Heck, if you could prove you were over 18, you could even get porn. (NOTHING like it is today. But I digress…)

One of the really important things about getting online was to have a good “handle”, or, in layman’s terms, a nickname. I thought and thought. Comic book characters, fantasy heroes from novels, heck, even Wintermute and Case (William Gibson reference for those who know). But nothing worked. It was either already taken, sounded stupid, or I was advised that I would get laughed at. Things looked bleak. I didn’t think I would ever find a handle. Which, in my way of thinking, meant I would never get to go online, and have fun. (And it looked fun to me, too. That’s the reason I’m here now. 🙂 )

One day, we were working in the garage, and I noticed the tire patch dispenser. The current topic of conversation was my handle, or lack thereof. I pointed at the dispenser, laughed, and said, “I could use the handle Tech-2-way. That’d go over well.” Kevin joined me in laughing, but we both felt it: it had that kind of ring to it. The kind of ring that makes you decide that it’s for you.

A couple of weeks later, I called my first BBS. (Note, I was using Kevin’s Amiga 500 at the time, since I didn’t have a computer at home yet. More later.) I filled out the new user application, and got to the “What do you want to be called?” prompt. I sat there, staring into the screen. The wired world, the mythological “cyberspace” from Neuromancer (W G reference 2) was just a name away. That’s when I typed those ten fateful characters:

  • T
  • E
  • C
  • H
  • 2
  • W
  • A
  • Y

Sure enough, the name fit. I was thenceforth known as Tech-2-way online. Later on that summer, I was able to buy my own Amiga 500 with money Kevin gave me for helping him to replace the head gasket on a different car. I loved that computer. *sigh*

Over the years, I’ve had to modify it a bit. I logged into one PC-run BBS (I mostly called BBSs running C-Net Amiga), and couldn’t use hyphens or numerals. I typed it out all in text. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around that BBS. When I got around to AOL, which my friend Charles was using (I was staying with him at the time), I found out that “tech” as a beginning part of a screenname was disallowed. Something about their online techs using that to signify that they’re staff. *shrug* Oh well. I thought about it, and came up with the abbreviation you see me using today: tek2way. It preserved the essence of what I had originally chosen, but looked….. cooler somehow. (I admit it, I’m a total geek.. nerd.. whatever.)

And thus, you have the (not-too-impressive) history of where my online name came from. This is the first time I’ve bothered to write down where it came from. I hope anyone who reads this will appreciate my effort. 🙂

As forever, I remain,
Tek2way

In Love with the Darkness

I have been in quite a funk for the last couple of days. You see, I don’t adjust well to Daylight Saving Time. It affects my mood in general, and I’ve been affected more than usual this year. However, that’s a post for another day.

Today, I went to see “300: Rise of an Empire” with a couple of friends. I almost didn’t go, and armed with the knowledge I have now, that would have been a tragic decision. You see, the movie was precisely what I needed to calm my nerves, with its sex, violence, and blood, all in glorious 3D. More than that, though, was the main character, Artemisia, played by Eva Green.

Her character was dark. That is, she was arguably Neutral Evil on the D&D scale. She had reasons for her personality, but that did nothing to lessen the cutthroat nature she exhibited. From the punishment she served onto a failing general to how she manipulated those around her, including a God-King, she was cold, calculating, menacing, and dangerous.

…and I was immediately taken with her.

Sure, she was quite beautiful, with her long black hair and piercing brown-eyed gaze, but it was her personality that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I found myself, to be brutally honest, turned on by her actions. Even in the scene in which she punished a failing general, I was trying to soak up everything about who she was. I realized I was brainstorming ideas to win her.

That revelation startled me. “I like nice girls,” I told myself, “not women this clearly bad for me.” I have long told myself that I want the woman who is a nice girl. Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, for example, may be a fighter, but she also firmly walks in the light. While I may be attracted to someone like Black Widow from the Avengers, I never really considered her someone with whom I’d desire a relationship.

Or do I? The women I’ve found myself most attracted to in my life were not “safe”. Of course, I’m referring to those few women in real life that I’ve become close to. My first girlfriend was nice to me, but had a wild streak that eventually caused our breakup. My love from NJ was a bad woman from start to finish. While my longest relationship with a woman wasn’t terribly dark, the circumstances surrounding our relationship (and who we had to keep in mind) were not all rainbows and unicorns. While I freely admit that I may be stretching the examples above just a bit, I also think that there may be a grain of truth within it, too.

No matter how small Artemisia would have made me feel, as long as she was there at the end of the day, I would have been more than happy with her. No, that’s not quite right, either. Honestly, I think that she echoes something within my own soul, that I normally keep on a tight rein, for fear that it would break free and chaos would ensue.

Tonight, though, I embraced that darkness, and I found that I liked it. I attempt to live virtuously, not for any deity figure, but because I believe that’s how I should live. Doing the right thing has ever been my driving force, but for a couple of hours this evening, I walked the other path. Even in the sex scene (it’s 300, does that really surprise you?), I found that I would love that kind of relationship. Harsh at times, violent at times, yet with a mutual desire and love that ties it all together and keeps it from being simply a lust-fueled physical affair. I recently even wrote a letter about a bad relationship I had, and in it, I was appalled at my ex’s suggestion that I was anything but a gentle, loving partner.

What I find particularly interesting about this seemingly-new discovery is that, while it may feel new, it probably isn’t. Death isn’t something that many would consider a good thing, yet I have felt an absolute love of Death – albeit as personified by Neil Gaiman in Sandman – for over 20 years now. In recent years, as I have explored my pagan side, I am smitten with Freya; however, not as her love and fertility aspect, but as the goddess of Death who gets choice of the slain before Odin. I fell in love with a Michael Whelan painting of Diana/Artemis (it’s only recently that I learned they are two distinct goddesses, so that one image continues to serve as representation for both in my mind), and male suitors of her, according to myth, did not fare well.

I’ve always thought about my ideal relationship as one in which I am provider and protector. It’s not out of some antiquated ideal, but it’s what I want to do for the one I give my heart. Tonight, though, I considered the possibility that my ideal may not need a protector; truthfully, she may be my protector. I considered the possibility that the gender-standard roles in a relationship are reversed, or at the very least, interwoven more than in a typical manner.

This is a lot for me to process tonight, and I decided to put it down on “paper” before I forget it, because I know this is just the first inkling of a much larger thought process. I’m sharing it on my WordPress mainly because I wanted to get it published somewhere there’s a chance someone will see it. I don’t know why, but I want to air these words with the universe.

If you are here from the Facebook link, you are in the same group that saw that letter about my ex from New Jersey. I apologize for the random, meandering way I wrote this, but as I like to say, flow-of-consciousness is important for puzzling out things like this.

 

 

Fretting Over the Details

I haven’t done much that could be considered “creative” in a while. Of course, this causes me a great deal of worry and stress, because I fear that it’s symptomatic of the full decline of my abilities to write/create anything.

The last thing that I could consider creative would be the character I made for our Thursday night Pathfinder RPG game. I created a very Nordic-like barbarian that I named “Daufi”. Supposedly, based on the myriad web sites I read while picking a name, it means “dumb; mute”. Interestingly, the word “dauthi” means death. I figured I’d start his career with the first name, and switch to the latter as he leveled.

This exercise, though fun, was still unfulfilling. I am getting slightly ahead of myself, though.

After the collapse of our first party of characters in Brad’s game, I had cause to begin thinking about the story ideas that I mentioned here in my last post. Then, whether it was from loss of confidence or my much-feared symptom of reality, I began to believe that I couldn’t actually come up with any kind of story that was more complex than “heroes get together, heroes find clue about villain, heroes defeat villain and take his stuff, repeat.” I mean, I have these fantastic ideas, and damned if I am capable of doing more than thinking of the very basic initial ideas for a story. No conflict (aside from the obvious), no mystery, no… soul.

I thought about the story that had been a dream, and all of the elements that I had written down. I was sure that I could make that make sense.

Sadly, I was stopped flat in my tracks. I had ideas of the bits I dreamed around, but the mere act of coming up with a rough outline to explain how they were connected or told a story fell flat. I tried again and again, to no avail. It began to upset me enough that I opted to take a hiatus from even trying for a while.

Now, I genuinely fear I have created a block in my mind regarding writing, because whenever I think about that story (or any story, really), I shut down and say to myself, “I can’t come up with anything for that story.”

 

…several hours later…

I just woke back up. Somehow, I closed my laptop, took off my glasses, and settled down for sleep, without ever planning it. Indeed, I cannot even recall doing any of it. So, though I am somewhat tongue-in-cheek when I say it, part of me seriously wonders if the writing gods (and my gods in particular) decided to silence my heartfelt, yet tragic, line of thinking.

I’m posting this just to be thorough, since it did start as a writing post. Hopefully, I will see you again much sooner than last time…

Thoughts on the Creative Process

I came home from work with an unusually strong feeling about putting pen to paper. I resisted the urge to hop on WoW and ignore it, yet I still managed to get sidetracked (by music of all things). I added a couple of albums to my library, but spent more time working on that than I meant to.

Now, it’s past 10pm, and while I have some time, the “urge” has passed me by. That isn’t to say I have no urge now, but it was almost a physical weight earlier. Having trouble finding my various story ideas and notes for game ideas took a lot of motivation out of me. I’m going to keep searching, because the time has come for me to plan some new adventures…

…though it remains to be seen if these adventures are fiction or a game.

[Some minutes later…]

I found my notes file. What used to be a motley collection of Post-It notes, memo pad pages, and even a napkin was preserved in a Word file.

Outline format, single-spaced, the list is 3 pages (1244 words) long. I had a very creative streak from 2003-2005. Some of the ideas are absolutely fantastic.

Interestingly, I also found a “Campaign Path” text file that, upon reading, I remember as details from a dream I had one night. The details were so fascinating, that I am feeling a pull to elaborate it. I’m still not completely sure if it will be fiction or a game, though either would work.

The Decline of Geek Culture?

(WARNING: This might meander around a bit. I will strive to keep it consistent, but this is a subject about which I’m rather passionate, and the examples are from disparate media.)

Geek culture appears to be on a slow decline and, unless arrested, will eventually collapse altogether.

What absolute poppycock”, you might say. “Geek culture is alive and well. Look at all the geek fandoms around. Geek culture has never been healthier!” It’s not a simple answer, though, so bear with me as I attempt to explain.

The Past

Years ago, more than I care to recall at times, being a geek was roughly synonymous with being a nerd. You were unpopular in school. You were probably picked on, from as mildly as people ostracizing you to daily beatings by the school bully. Whatever the case, though, you had hobbies which weren’t tied to the sorts of things that “normal” kids liked. While many boys were playing sports, ogling cars, and chasing girls (and girls were “supposed” to be worried about boys, makeup, shopping, and shoes), you might have been dialing a computer Bulletin Board System (BBS), playing Dungeons & Dragons, watching anime, practicing your Klingon warcries, reading sci-fi and fantasy books, stargazing, or participating in any number of other activities that you found immensely fun, that weren’t considered “cool” or “grown up”.

You may have been able to hide these activities, so you were left relatively alone, or you may have boldly proclaimed them, damning the consequences for the football captain seeing you walking down the hall. You may have been small enough that you were picked on daily, or you may have been big enough that it took numbers for you to suffer any kind of bullying. Yet, through it all, you found a joy and a purpose in these various activities, and as you aged, you saw those “juvenile” hobbies become more and more popular. Connecting with people over a shared interest became easier.

The rise of the Internet made it even easier, and you began making friends all over the globe, united initially with one thing in common: your love of some hobby that used to be a source of ridicule. Obtaining merchandise related to your hobbies and interests became easier and easier. Movies, video games, television shows were exploring the concept of science fiction or fantasy for subject matter. It was almost a golden age. Almost.

I began to notice a trend back in the early 90s. Back then, it was so close to nonexistent that it was hard to notice at all. I would see a piece of merchandise from some fandom in the order catalog that my comic store would use. Maybe it was a Superman bust or a card set for some comic book series. As time went on, though, I began to notice that more and more “stuff” was being released on a monthly basis. For example, DC Comics launched the Vertigo imprint, and they soon released a set of tarot cards, busts and statues, and limited edition posters.

It still wasn’t really an issue. I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income, so I made sure that what I did get was a good deal for the price. To me, that was represented by books: fantasy/sci-fi novels, RPG books, comic books, manga. Merchandise like toys, posters, statues, limited edition card sets, chase inserts, first printings, mammoth collected editions, videos (VHS wasn’t cheap!), and games were something that I carefully considered before I bought them. To my mind, I could reread a book, but a toy was just a piece of plastic that sat there, doing nothing. You could say I was a book nerd (still am).

Too Many Cooks?

It was during this golden age that I began to read the Star Wars novels. Naturally, I first picked up Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn. I loved it. Here was told a story that was a fitting successor to Return of the Jedi, one of my three favorite movies of all time. I completed the trilogy and was thrilled, because I had new stories and information about Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. I also had new characters I liked, like Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn (had he been at the Battle of Endor, RotJ would have ended differently), and Talon Karrde. Then, I found another book, by another author. And another. And another.

Through it all, I didn’t question all of this new information, and I shrugged when it altered some perception I’d held about the trilogy, because I’d heard that George Lucas himself approved each item released to the public with the Star Wars logo on it. That meant he was okay with the Han Solo in Stormtrooper gear mail-away deal from Froot Loops back in 1995. That meant he was okay with Kevin Anderson’s “Jedi Academy Trilogy”. It meant that this was all okay, and part of the universe, because my beloved creator was overseeing the further development with loving care and attention to detail.

In 1997, the original Star Wars Trilogy was rereleased as Special Editions, with new footage, effects, and cleaned up frames. We were told that the original cut of the movie was lost in creating these special editions, and that had they not been made, we’d have lost Star Wars altogether. Standing in line at noon the day that Return of the Jedi: Special Edition opened, my brother, my friends, and I were talking with someone behind us about some of the things Lucas had seemingly approved, and the person in line scoffed and told us that the “Lucas as benevolent overseer of all things Star Wars” was a myth. I refused to believe him, but had my belief shattered a couple of years later, when I saw Lucas himself say the same thing. If this wasn’t all carefully orchestrated and planned, then was it simply just an attempt to (successfully) part me from my money?

I was forced to come to terms with the fact that, while the world was initially created by George Lucas and further developed by the directors and actors in the movies, the “Expanded Universe” – as it had become known – was largely a work of fan-created material. This didn’t exactly bother me at the time. After all, I loved the idea of expanding the lore of the Star Wars universe.

Attention to Detail: A Bad Thing?

In 2001, I discovered an absolutely fantastic game setting for Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition (D&D 3e). Published by Kenzer & Company, it was called Kingdoms of Kalamar (KoK). Apparently, they had a custom setting and updated it for official release as a D&D setting. I loved the amount of detail in the book, and the map was absolutely gorgeous. I picked it up, and began hungrily reading it, for I was convinced that my gaming group would switch to this setting as soon as I managed to finish reading the book. Then, a funny thing happened: I lost interest.

My style of play has always to play fast and loose with the settings that I ran my players in. After all, they’re basically participants in the imagined stories related to whatever place I chose. As a child, I imagined visiting Narnia. As a fresh teenager, I dreamed about visiting Krynn, home of the DragonLance series. As a late teen, I wanted to visit Middle-Earth. By the time D&D 3e was released, I’d discovered “splatbooks” – accessories that fleshed out the world or the rules in some way. So, naturally, I had begun to move away from making the stories my own, and was trying to make them work within the confines of the setting material that had been released. KoK took this belief in setting detail, and embraced it. In other words, I didn’t lose interest because the content wasn’t good; rather, I lost interest because there was too much of it.

While this could be (and is) counted as a failing on my part, the fact remains that, in an attempt to give their players a “living” world in which to play, the creators left little room to expand where a potential storyteller wouldn’t feel like he was conflicting with the established material. Many sections even had rumors/adventure seeds listed. I finally decided that it was so populated with details, that I would never be happy running it, for fear that I was fundamentally altering some aspect of the setting which would have unintended consequences elsewhere. I still own that book, and I love it with all that I am. I just do not trust myself to use it as is (I’ve mined a few random details out of it before, though).

The Present

Since then, I’ve become increasingly wary when companies release some new merchandise tied to a property, and have begun greeting the growth of details about various properties with unease. I’ve begun to notice it everywhere. From open-ended book series featuring characters loved by those who first read them, to more limited edition prints, to crossed genres (Lego Star Wars is a popular example), to television shows, the list just goes on and on. I used to love walking into the fantasy/sci-fi section at my local bookstore; now, I cringe, because there are far too many books with either “A Tale of _____” or “Another _____ Story” on it. While finding a Star Wars Monopoly or Star Trek Settlers of Cataan game is nifty, I find myself sighing when I find the Dr. Who Monopoly game.

We come down to my point about geeks: we are in danger. Once upon a time, our interests defined us. To an extent, that still holds true. The fundamental difference, now, is that the companies that sell these various products have twisted geek to mean “someone who will buy anything with a particular logo on it.” (I understand that exceptions exist, but please continue to bear with me.) It’s no longer enough to say you’re a fan of Doctor Who or Star Trek or My Little Pony; you have to be a Whovian, a Trekkie (or Trekker), or a Bronie. You have to buy up anything with that fandom’s logo, because “that’s so cool! I must have it!” Being passionate about your likes is perfectly fine. In fact, I suppose that’s what really helps us keep going, and why you always hear the advice to do what you like for your career. However, there must be limits.

Unfortunately, though, in order to keep up with demand for rising profits, those very things that we enjoyed years ago, now produce new things monthly, in an attempt to grab some portion of your disposable income. I’m not saying that a company shouldn’t make money. I’m saying that I question the ethics of a company that releases a new set of toys every 3-4 months, and sells certain toys to certain stores to be “exclusives”. I question the business ethics of a company that releases episodes of a series on DVD, then sells the two halves of the season separately, then sells them together, and finally packages the whole series together as a premium box set, and spaces the releases out just enough to help motivate a person to buy them each time. I question the practice of paying authors to continue to create “further adventures” of beloved characters, solely because another book is more money for the publishing house (for example, I adored the first two Drizzt Do’Urden trilogies: Dark Elf and Icewind Dale; now, you couldn’t pay me to touch a new Drizzt book).

To an extent, this is my gripe with the Star Wars prequels: they feel to me like they were made to springboard people into buying all of the Star Wars stuff that’s getting released. Disney does it with their princesses (I challenge you to find an item category that doesn’t have a “princesses” variation). Wizards of the Coast did it with their Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition release, with a new Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual every year, expanding the line (I know you can stop when you like, but the point is that the model they encouraged was that of the annual purchase, coupled with other purchases scattered throughout the year).

Legos are perhaps the best example of this danger we face. When I was young, Legos came in big boxes of random bricks. The point was similar to Lincoln Logs and TinkerToys: you had raw materials, so get to building something cool. Now, the Lego aisle is an example of corporate licensing, and the old boxes of random blocks are artifacts from a bygone day. The specialized sets are definitely fun, but they also very obviously put a boundary on where a person’s imagination will go.

It’s no longer enough to imagine for ourselves what may happen with a certain character like Harry Potter, Drizzt Do’Urden, or Anita Blake after we close the book; we demand a new book to explain it for us.
It’s no longer enough to be given some dice, some paper, and some rules, and be told to have fun; we have to have an adventure path of adventures to take our creations on.
It’s no longer enough to build a TARDIS out of your spare blue Legos; you want them to release an “official” TARDIS Lego set, complete with 12, 11, 10, and Clara figures.
It’s no longer enough to like a show a lot, to study about it online, and not buy anything related to it; we have to buy the most, so we can claim “#1 Fan”.
It’s no longer enough to put out one comic a month with a well-respected creative team; instead, Marvel has to have a rotating stable of writers/artists. More comics = more money.

The proliferation of merchandise related to various geek-related interests has increased by several orders of magnitude, and the geek, for all of their passion related to their interests, is being told more and more frequently that they must buy product related to the license of their choosing. As pointed out above, even books have fallen prey to the idea of “sticking to a license is more lucrative than original stories.” The geek is also being told that they aren’t really a fan, if they don’t have two rooms dedicated to their fandom (three things offset this: that you can afford to do it, that you have the room to do it, and that you’d do it without acclaim/envy for doing it – I acknowledge that some people just like some fandoms that much).

Also, find a geek, who calls themselves a geek, whose interests don’t lie with a licensed property like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, He-Man, et al. Computer geeks still exist, but with computers being cheaper to buy than build, you see fewer people obsessed with making their computer the best. The term still means what it did, more or less, but it’s been corrupted by the avalanche of merchandise we have to sift through now.

Sadly, in a way, it’s our fault. We bought the stuff in record numbers, convincing the people running the various companies that there was a market to tap, if they could just keep the supply going.

The Future

I love stories that end. It gives me something to think about for later. That longing I have, because I want to know more, is a far preferable sensation compared to the bitter tang of disappointment, when I’ve followed a property long enough to be disappointed by how it’s going (I’m looking at you, Star Wars). Before you rush to defend your fandom and say, “yes, but this happened and _____”, think back to what you thought before the new thing came out, and how you felt about your hypothesis regarding what was going to happen (or would have happened, if the series appeared to be over already). I would almost bet that you preferred your own theory, most of the time. Even if the publisher/creator did something else that you liked, there is almost certainly going to be something that you didn’t like about it. More details of the world don’t necessarily make for a better world. As you digest a story, you do so through the lens of your own experiences, so what you get from a story is almost certainly going to be different – even in a minor way – from what the author thought.

Next time, instead of gushing about how you hope to see some creator make a sequel or “another book in the series”, consider pondering over it in your own head while you’re driving to work or washing the dishes. You know those characters intimately. You’re familiar with where they had their adventures. Play it out in your head, or write a short story if you’re so inclined. Using your brain can only be a good thing, especially if you’re normally digesting one fandom TV show or another. Doing it about a book series will give you a better idea of what an author goes through to make those stories.

Who knows? You might discover a previously unknown and untapped talent, and that talent is precisely what I fear we will lose, if we just absorb only the stories they tell us and buy the stuff they make to go with those stories. Someone has to be creative enough to write the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, to have the vision to draw the next Spider-Man or X-Men, to have the imagination to create the next Doctor Who or Star Wars.

As for the merchandising aspect of things, well, that’s a difficult thing to fix. We have to buy something, or they will decide that they properties aren’t popular anymore, and quit making the shows or comics. With book series, I wouldn’t mind seeing them come to an end, but I don’t want a good author to be out of work because their publisher refused to let them do anything but Popular Property A.

So, all I can suggest is to be smart with your discretionary income. Don’t buy something just because it has a logo that matches something you like. Instead, ask yourself:

  • Can I afford it?
  • Is the item useful to me in some way (notebook, pencils, bedsheets)?
  • Is it an item to handle (book, comic, game)?
  • Can the item bring joy to those around me (game, mug, movie/show on DVD)?
  • Do I want it just because of the logo?
    • Do I have room to store it?
    • Would I buy this, regardless of whether or not I could compare my collection with others?

Maybe, if we can shop a little smarter, we can force the companies that make merchandise for those things we like to actually give some serious thought about what they are going to make. This isn’t foolproof, nor is it intended to be an all-around solution. Humans are also very, well, human. (Case in point: when I hear about Iron Maiden, I tend to get glassy-eyed and think about the purchase after I’ve made it.)

In closing, I hope you understand why I felt compelled to write this long-winded disquisition. I love geek culture, and want it to thrive, but being a geek is about more than simply loving a subject enough to buy a lot of shit with that logo on it. Good geek fandom will uplift you and help you realize your potential. Even if that potential is relatively minor in the scheme of things, it isn’t minor to YOU

…and that’s what matters.

In Memorium..

Today, Bradley Lea – my friend, my one-time coven brother who never considered that bond broken – passed into the arms of the Goddess. This is cold comfort for me, though, because I am selfish.

I am selfish because I want one more coven meeting where the women yell, “Bradley!”
I am selfish because I want one more opportunity to think, “damn, he DOES smell pretty.”
I am selfish because I want to share one more beer with him.
I am selfish because I want just one more game of pool at Mug’s.
I am selfish because I want to hear him call me “brother” one more time.
I am selfish because I want to see him riding up on his bike and know he’s alright.

My grief is a very selfish thing. I didn’t want him to die. I didn’t want him to leave. I didn’t want anything to change. Unfortunately, we do not get to pilot anyone else’s ship.

We are the pilots of our own ships, and we are all plying the waters of the sea of life. Sometimes, the waters are calm and we cluster together for companionship with other ships. Other times, the waters are rough, and we cluster together even more.

The unavoidable and inescapable fact is that no two ships can ply the same course. Though both of our bows may point to the North Star, we follow slightly different courses. But that’s okay. We are together, even if only side by side, even if only for a time, so we make the most of it.

We all eventually point our ship away from the fleet of our loved ones, and strike off to the unknown. Those still in the fleet shout in fear for us, thinking we are lost, but it is not us for whom they fear. They fear for themselves, that they will look up and find that they are all alone, without a fleet. However, they are not alone, for they are part of a limitless fleet of ships.

We, too, are not alone, even then. Eventually, the time will come for our Navigator to direct us to steer toward our destination. We have no reason to fear because our Navigator is with us, has always been with us, and will always be with us. Our Navigator has charted this course, and is there to help ease the final leg of our voyage.

I am selfish.

I wish that I didn’t have to write this about a man I was proud to call friend. I wish that I didn’t have to feel my own fear as I see his ship sailing over the horizon. I wish that I didn’t have to accept that my fleet has shrunk by one.

However…

I am proud of the memories I have of Bradley. I am proud of the time I spent with him. I am proud to say that I knew a great man. For all of my grief at his passing, my memories are good memories, and they shine as a reflection of who he was. Bradley Lea was a great person, a living example of what we should strive to be in our own lives, and I will never forget him.

May his ship forever find fair skies and calm waters.

…and I will remember.