Category Archives: Random Stuff

Horror is Other People

I just finished reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome, which may be one of the best books I have ever read. I had to stop reading it at work because it was affecting me emotionally, and I just finished up with a several-hour stretch of reading in one go. It’s a massive book, that you cannot put down.

I have a memory from middle school, where an English teacher told us that a good story invokes an emotional response- that if you are reviewing another person’s story, even if you don’t like the content, if the text incites emotion inside you, even if you don’t like that emotion, it is good writing. (Perhaps excluding such things as someone with an opinion you passionately disagreeing with provoking anger. But then, maybe they conveyed their hateful position really well.)

This is perhaps the most relevant thing to writing that public schools have ever taught me.

I am a relative newcomer to King’s work; I started a few years ago with the Dark Tower series, read 1408, then moved up to It, ‘Salem’s Lot, and recently Under the Dome, borrowed from Tim’s shelves or found on the bargain bin at Half Price Books.

Throughout those three novels, there is a supernatural element to be sure- It, the vampires of Salem’s Lot, and the Dome. And the supernatural element does some pretty horrifying things. But the scenes that left the biggest emotional impressions in all three books were deeds done by normal people to normal people.

The supernatural dulls the pain. We expect the vampire to drink from the damsel, the zombies to eat the brains, the werewolf to tear people to shreds, and whatever the hell It is to do whatever the hell it is that It does. We read the lurid descriptions of gore, but does it scare us? Does it touch us?

King has a knack for ensemble casts; so there’s always the chance to throw in a scene with a normal person doing unimaginable things to normal people. And when it’s a normal person doing the killing (or worse), we don’t necessarily need the gory description. The act itself is enough. It hits closer to home. We weren’t expecting it, we weren’t prepared for it, and the real horror is evident.

(This is particularly obvious in Under the Dome, where the Dome is essentially a Dues ex Machina to crank the isolation up to 11 and focus in on imperfect characters in a stressful situation.)

As a writer, I feel this is an important realization. Horror needs to have a human element. Otherwise it’s just a monster mash.

As a gamer, to an extent I feel I already knew this: play close to home. Horror’s pretty hard to come by in D&D, where you have wizards and knights and orcs; it’s easier in Vampire which is set in the modern day (but you still have vampires and werewolves and mages, oh my). Dogs in the Vineyard? There’s a supernatural element, but it’s subdued. Sorcerers are other people. Human, imperfect people, doing evil to other people. You’ll get a look of shock in Dogs. You’ll be the horror yourself. Jeepform games take this all the way to the edge; your character might be a cutout, and you have to mentally project yourself onto it, you deal with real world issues, and the emotions are your own.

But when you know this you can still have horror with the fantastic; you just have to keep it close to home. Escape from Tentacle City works because it starts largely as camp parody, but the characters evolve and become human as the game goes on- you find yourself killing off people you actually find you care about. Wicked Nights makes the conflicts largely about humans and human interests- vampires are largely antagonists. If you want horror in D&D (and it certainly can be done), you have to make the victims human (either not just cut outs if they’re PCs, and not just background cast if they’re NPCs). Disturb the player.

Because horror is not a vampire, or a dragon, or an indescribable monster. Horror is other people.

The Carrot and the Stick

I have a short story idea I’ve got kicking around. It’s pretty cool. I should write it.
But I have so many reasons not to write it, and the biggest two are my xbox and my boyfriend. I love them both so much! It’s hard to tear myself away from both of them at once- if I’m not playing with one, chances are I’m, er, playing, with the other. Or sleeping. Or working.
So promising myself a reward helps. I think. So if I write this story, I get to buy myself an xbox game I wouldn’t necessarily have bought anyway.

(You’ll note that it’s not phrased as ‘No Games Until I get this Story Done.’ That would be a carrot. And Left 4 Dead 2 is coming out next week, and let’s be realistic: I’m totally buying it.

Gencon Pictures

Sabe and James: Ready for Gencon
Sabe and James: Continuing to be Ready for Gencon
Me and Tim: Ready for Gencon
1st Gas Stop, Roadranger, Mendota Ill.
Yup, Mendota
Glad to be at the hotel.
Post Forge Booth setup lunch.
More lunch.
Sabe chats with Misha.
I show off my new phone.
Empty dealer’s hall on Thursday morning before they let the rabble in.
Adam from the Forge Booth, moments after jumping out of an exploding helicopter.
Some of the many fine games at the Forge Booth.
Fine ashcans of the Forge Booth.
A very busy dealer hall on Saturday, with all the rabble in it.
Aftermath of the Saturday fire alarm.
Aftermath: the Continuing
Sat. Dinner at Ram with Sabe and Misha
Tim and Me at the Ram
More of Us.
The Ram’s gaming decorations
Tearing down the Forge Booth Sunday afternoon.
Increasingly empty dealer hall.
View from one of our windows.
Another view.
Sabe + Misha
Sabe + Misha + FAN SERVICE
Me & Tim
James & Kevin
James & Kevin, sadly no YAOI FAN SERVICE
Kevin plus special lunch guest Rob Bohl
This is as close as we’ll get to Yaoi, so enjoy it while you can.
No Oitering!
We paid a 1 cent/gallon premium here for the irony of shopping at a place named “gas.” It was worth it.

Cosplayers! Gotta catch ’em all!


Walking (and Talking) Eyes

Hey everyone, in April I was interviewed for the Walking Eye Podcast, and now it’s on the intertubes, right in time for Gencon.  We talk about Awesome Adventures, a little bit about Escape from Tentacle City, and how I got into gaming and game design.  Check it out!


Clearly, I don’t watch enough of it.

Increasingly Bizarre

Tim being a long time Vampire GM, and me being a smart alec, I like to ask Tim increasingly bizarre Vampire “rules” questions.

(Tim’s note: These are all weird, GM discretion answers.  Which of course, is why I asked these questions.)

Me: “So, infants don’t have teeth.  If you Embrace one, does it grow fangs?”

Tim: “Yes.  Why are you asking me this?”

Me:  “How about a really old guy, and all his teeth have fallen out.”

Tim:  “Yes.  He’d grow fangs.”

Me:  “How about a guy who the lower half of his face was blown off in The War?”

Tim:  “The War?”

Me:  “Yeah, in The War.”

Tim:  “I guess not in that case.  Or if he was a Nosferatu, he might grow a skull jawbone.”

Me: “Cool.”

Tim: “…”

Me: “Can you ghoul invertabrates?  Like spiders and stuff?”

Tim: “Yeah, I guess.”

Me:  “How about mosquitos?”

Tim: “NO!”

Me:  “I mean, they probably wouldn’t want to feed on vampires, vampires not smelling like food and all.  But if they did for some reason, they’d be ghouled, right?”

Tim:  “I suppose.”

Me: “Could they spread that Ghouling?”

Tim: “Mosquitos don’t spread blood, and there wouldn’t be enough Vitae anyway.”

Me:  “Man, it would hurt getting fed on by a Ghoul mosquito.  It would have a level of Potence and everything!  Full health level of damage, BAM!”

Tim:  “…proportionate to mosquito strength.  So not really.”

Me: “Who would win in a fight….”

Tim: “This is stupid.”

Me: “Dracula…. or Superman?”

Tim: “Sigh.”

Cyberpunk 4E

D&D 4th edition gets in your brain and infects everything else you look at.  Shadowrun is cool, but wouldn’t it be cooler if it were D&D 4th edition… in the future?  Shadowrun already essentiallty being D&D (go into the dungeon… Imean skyscraper, get the MacGuffin, get out), it makes sense.  And cyberpunk is cool.

I realize I’m not the only person to have pondered this, and I’m unlikely to actually write such a thing, unless my muse makes me, but here’s how I would do it if I did.

Martial Power Source:  Dudes that buff themselves up through training, cyberware, and kill things with skill and guns.  Powers are called Exploits.

The Samurai: Defender.  For good or ill, the Street Sam is a SR archetype.  Street Sams can get in close with close combat weapons for marking, or use automatic fire and mark their enemies with supression fire.

The Razerboi/Razergrrl: Striker.  Get in close, whack them with your funky cyberware.

The Assassin:  Striker.  Shoot ’em in the head.  Or maybe the class is Gunbunny, and Assassin is one of the builds.  Maybe this and the Razerboi are actually the same class.

The Commander:  Leader.  Like the Warlord, but with more guns.

‘Net Power Source:  Dudes that have lots of tech, and rely on attacking enemies with their tech, or attacking the enemies tech, and hacking stuff.  Powers are called Hacks.

The Rigger:  Striker.  You get lots of robots and send them out to do your bidding!

The Overwatch:  Leader.  Buff your enemies… through the internet.

The Crasher:  Controller.  Hack your enemies, and damage them with the internet.

Arcane Power Source.  Dudes that have magic spells and stuff.  Powers are called Spells.

The Mystic Warrior: Defender.  Empowers himself with magic to be badass.  More like the Warden than the Swordmage.  Also guns.  Not really that controllery.

The Enchanter:  Leader.  Buffs, spells, and good effects for your allies.

The Conjurer:  Controller.  Focus on summoning spells, area of effect conjurations and zones.


I’ve finally bitten the bullet and signed up for Twitter.  Hey you, read my Twits!

Bob Baran

Before it came up on my Pandora playlist and I saw the title of the song, I was convinced the Beach Boys’ song Barbara Ann was about a man named Bob Baran.

(And wouldn’t you know it, that song comes up as I’m making this post.)

I Watched the Watchmen

Recently, I saw the collected Watchmen graphic novel on the shelves of Walmart, and picked it up.  I read it at breakneck pace over the course of a week, and was engrossed.

Tim and I just got back from seeing the movie.  I’ll say this- it is amazing.  the ending changed- I think for the better- the soul of the book, the grit, grime, and skeletons in the closet are there.  The action is good- I’d say the action scenes are better than the comic, though that may be stylistic preference.  And they kept my favorite line from the whole book (slightly changed, but still there.)  In essence, it’s an amazing adaptation, squeezing in as much of the story as possible and doing a great job.

I want to watch it again, like right now.  I’ll be picking up the DVD of this as soon as it comes out.