Dec 26 2018

Shade-Of-the-Candle

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A very Shady lady.

Christmas presents are on Shady this year.

…Also, the kobold king called, he wants Santa to put her on the “Naughty” list.

So yeah, this is Shade-Of-the-Candle, or “Shady” to her friends. I had already been noodling around with this idea for my next D&D character, and Catra from the new She-Ra series inspired me to go ahead and flesh her out some. She’s a chaotic neutral swashbuckler, an adrenalin junkie with no fucks to give, whose motivation basically boils down to doing all the things people keep telling her not to. (Of course, I am not a jerk player, so her CN alignment etc. are not excuses to wreck the game, merely descriptors.)

I love my little problem child. <3

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Dec 20 2018

A Cinnamon Roll Who Wants to Kill You

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Catra practices her 'Take Down Shadow-Weaver' touch.

Last night, Multiclass Geek finished watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and, on completing it, asked, “So why do you like Catra so much? You said she was a cinnamon roll! But she’s the villain!”

Well, yes, she is. And by the end of the series, Catra does some very cruel stuff. But like Adora herself, I still love Catra and hold out hope for a redemption arc, and I think it’s worth talking about why. I’ve mentioned before the parallels between Catra and my own Leona Lioness, and honestly it wasn’t until I watched She-Ra that I understood why Leona resonated so strongly for so many of my readers.

Catra is all about the way pain twists you and leads you to make dumb mistakes– and then committing to them even when you realize what a dumb mistake it is.

Having lived her life in a never-ending series of no-win situations, Catra is a survivor of a very specific kind of gaslighting abuse. Shadow Weaver explicitly states that Catra’s only purpose growing up was to be “Adora’s pet,” and this is underscored later by the way Shadow Weaver treats Catra’s successes as Force Captain as being irrelevant. What Catra thinks is “I have to jump twice as high to get half the recognition” (which is already an injustice to begin with), is actually “You will never get recognition because you are not the favorite.”

Catra finally realizes this when she says to Shadow Weaver “After all I’ve done for you, it’s still Adora that you want?” This line is the beginning of her deciding to take her own power; it’s also the moment when she shifts from feeling mostly sad and betrayed at Adora’s defection, to being straight-up wrathful.

Catra is every minority dealing with the reality of privilege. Catra is every red-headed stepchild. Catra is every younger sibling who has to get out from the shadow of their superstar older sister/brother. Catra is every kid who got beat up by a bully, and then was sent to detention for fighting.

So to answer why I refer to Catra as a cinnamon roll, I can only point to the amount of time Catra spends crying. She is deeply unhappy throughout the entire series, and even when she does smile it’s a mean “How does it feel, bitch?” kind of smirk. Her only experience of power and agency have come through being the victim of cruelty and injustice. Even Adora’s attempts at kindness had to be filtered through that. Catra’s been indoctrinated that there is no good or bad, only strong or weak, and you can tell on some level she doesn’t really believe it (hence the little moment of heartbreak when Scorpia describes her as being a great friend).

This poison in her mind makes her see Adora’s love and support as patronizing. Catra believes herself to be weak, and assumes Adora believes that as well, and so it makes perfect (if misguided) sense to resent that. Catra is the darkest version of Entrapta’s kitchen staff believing that they can’t do anything because they’re not princesses.

The entire society of Eternia is built on this “Princess/Not-a-Princess” hierarchy, which is presumably why Shadow Weaver (having been raised in Eternia’s biases herself) is so fixated on Adora. She-Ra is at the absolute top of that hierarchical heap, being the one that even the other princesses answer to. The only way to be “as good as” Adora, for Catra, is to become her opposite.

As I say, this puts her in a no-win situation. And she knows it, and she hates it, and she doesn’t see a way out of it.

So, this is why I love Catra, because I’ve lived in that no-win situation. I know how it feels, and I know how it hurts, and I want her to escape, because on my dark days I have to escape it again myself over and over again.

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Dec 19 2018

Why Am I Awake? Oh Well, Have Some News

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One of these is a sweet and loving feline, forced by circumstances to seem mean. The other is GrumpyCat.

First item of news! I passed my coach training finals! 😀 This means I will graduate from the Accomplishment Coaching training program, and I’m about 2/3 of the way to an Associate Certified Coach certification with the International Coach Federation.

Now… just to earn a living with it. >.>

Second item of news! Yesterday I was so inspired by Seanan McGuire geeking out over her Spider-Gwen gig that I decided– with no plan how or even idea of the feasibility– that I wanted to get involved in working on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, on the grounds that as Seanan was basically born to write Spider-Gwen, I was basically born to write Catra. >.>

So I have spent all day canvassing anyone and everyone I know even marginally related to the animation industry looking for referrals or leads, as well as just flat-out e-mailing Noelle Stevenson via the address on her web page and saying “I want in! What do I do?”

In all of my years of creating comics, I never wanted to connect directly to a larger franchise before. As much fun as I’ve had banging around in the My Little Pony fandom, it never occurred to me to try to actually get involved in the show. Heck, LevelHead once offered to finance the creation of a NeverNever pilot to shop around back in the day, and I just didn’t think I was ready for it.

Why She-Ra, and why now?

Well, like I say, Catra is a big reason. She’s basically the Leona/Langley/Tanya/Brigid archetype I’ve been writing for 20 years. Another reason is something I described on Twitter a few days back, of having spent 20 years thinking I was being Tiffany Tiger in my career, when I was actually being Leona instead. For various reasons I’ve been going through my life with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake, sabotaging myself without realizing it and feeling defined by the wins other people were achieving that I felt like “should be” mine.

The transformative process I’ve been going through in my coaching career has really opened my eyes to this, and it’s time for me to change it. Part of that includes putting down the ego-driven “Must create it all from scratch!” mindset and connecting to other creators (and other projects) outside my own little corner of the universe.

Wish me luck! This is a scary, ambitious undertaking for me. Not the actual work of the writing, that part is easy! But changing who I am, moving into a much larger world… that’s hard. O.o

 

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Dec 18 2018

The Blogosphere Is Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down…

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So, Tumblr has famously splinched itself. Patreon is trying desperately to serve its most dedicated users against the will of every bank in the universe. Facebook is and always was a dumpster fire. LiveJournal was Russianized ages ago. Twitter has a Nazi problem in its upper offices. And now WordPress is “updating” itself into unusability.

I don’t mind telling you, I am frustrated.

For a shining window of time (say, 2000-2005ish? I’m terrible with dates), blogging was AMAZEBALLS. There was so much cool stuff to read! People just expounding on any nerdy thing that interested them! People would actually have discussions about stuff! Flamewars did happen sometimes, but they were considered a breakdown of the system, not an inescapable fact of life.

There’s no point in saying “What happened, man?” ‘cos we know what happened. Bots happened. Apparatchiks looking for targets happened. A bunch of broken sadboys happened. Corporate pettiness, short-term thinking, and mendacity happened. The religious right happened. A ton of bullshit happened.

Well I also don’t mind telling you, I’m not giving up. The human capacity for creativity, beauty, and deep thought is limitless, and humanity’s desire to connect, share, and grow is limitless as well. Once there were storytellers, then there were poets, then there were philosophers and playwrights, then there were writers, then there were bloggers. The mode evolves, but the drive remains.

I don’t think that the heat death of the blogoverse is inevitable, and I fully intend to rage against the dying of the light on that front. But I also know that even if the form completely chokes, that drive will manifest again in another form. And I will be watching, ready to pounce on it.

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Nov 16 2018

Stan Lee Cosplay Tribute by Sneaky Zebra

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Made of awesome and win.

So many things to say about Stan Lee, but I have no words still.

-TG

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Oct 30 2018

Once the Storm King Has Thundered, Then What?

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Ragnarok and Roll, by HarryBuddhaPalm
Ragnarok and Roll, by HarryBuddhaPalm

My Storm King’s Thunder game has been waiting in the queue for the past several weeks while one of the other DMs in the group runs his game; but we are due to get back to it soon, and I’m starting to look with serious intent at what comes after the big finish.

Assuming the characters solve the mystery of the Storm King’s court, rescue all the peeps who need rescuing, defeat all the baddies who need defeating, and restore the Ordning among giant-kind, they will probably be somewhere in the 12th level range. At that point, it becomes more difficult to realistically look at the Silver Coast in terms of a sandbox/hexcrawl environment– and I am trying to resolve that with the tenets of my DM’s Credo.

Random, everyday hazards of a fantasy setting are not going to be a problem for these guys… the way I put it in conversation recently was, “The Avengers don’t wander around New York taking down muggers.” Once you’ve defeated Thanos, what’s next? And more importantly, how do you integrate a threat on that kind of scale in a way that doesn’t just shove them down the players’ throats? Having Galactus show up and threaten to eat the world is pretty darn railroadey. >.>

Another challenge for me in this particular area is that I just don’t natively think in “high level” style. The majority of my campaign world is fairly mundane: think Middle-earth instead of Asgard. At one point, while they were hunting down Svartjaw, one of my players mocked the Thane of Acholt by asking “What kind of lord doesn’t even have a magic weapon?”

Given the assumptions of D&D, it was a legit question. The answer was twofold: first, he didn’t have a magic weapon because mechanically he was a Knight from the back of the Monster Manual with his greatsword swapped out for a longsword and shield; and second, because my conception of the world is that magic items of any kind are super-rare. Does Theoden of Rohan have a magic sword? I mean, yeah, he might, but the text never mentions it. The moment of Theoden taking up his sword and all his men losing their shit about it is supposed to be because Theoden King is Awesome, not because he has a longsword of leadership.

But even with magic items being scaled back the way they are in 5E, it is absolutely not the case that magic items are super-rare in D&D, nor in the way I’ve structured the campaign. Everyone in the party has at least one and probably two or three pretty wifty items at this point, either awarded as treasure, or because to accommodate one of the players’ desired campaign style I created a “vaguely 3.x” subsystem to allow them to spend treasure on items.

In short, I’m still bringing low-magic thinking into an intrinsically high-magic framework and that also applies to my adventure design. On some level, my idea of a “high level conflict” is the characters being at the head of armies taking on a million bazillion orcs; but D&D‘s idea of a “high level conflict” is more like “one of Demogorgon’s heads declares war on the other and as a result the cosmos is being torn in half.”

I… just don’t think that way. O.o To lean on the MCU metaphor, I love-love-love the “ground level” threats of Captain America: The First Avenger and Spiderman: Homecoming, and I can even enjoy Thor: Ragnarok for a romp or two, but Infinity War kinda makes me check out. Crazy-big cosmic adventure is a foreign language to me.

Going back to the matter of high-level adventures and the sandbox/railroad dichotomy, the hugeness of high-level threats is part of what makes it hard to relate to them in a sandbox context. CR 15+ things don’t just wander around the world waiting for your players to bump into them. They are things like Cagarax the Red, the ancient dragon who claims the Silver Coast as his terrority, or Iuz the Old, cambion emperor of the realm who bears his name, or the Cult of Elemental Evil spilling out of their temple and marching across Veluna. The world is only stable enough for low-level sandbox play because these major powers are content to lurk in their lairs for now. When it comes time for high level adventures, these are the sources that trouble is going to come from, but the moment I decide “Iuz is going to go on the march,” that is me deciding what the adventure will be.

Now, my players might be totally fine with that; years or decades of “the DM creates the adventure and we show up for it” style play have pretty much made that the norm. And as long as everyone’s having fun, that’s hardly “wrong.” But I have been striving to change my approach to gaming, and if I am serious about making “player empowerment” a priority, I have to examine that facet of things. I mean, I can just decide “Iuz is going to go on the march” and then ask the players, “What do you want to do?” It’s entirely possible they might reply, “We buy popcorn and watch.” In that sense they’re perfectly empowered. But I suspect if I tell them Iuz is marching, what they will hear is “The adventure is over there, go get it.”

And if I tell them “Iuz is on the march, and Cagarax has decided to take the city of Argent as his new lair, and Elemental Evil is spilling out of its temple, what do you want to do?” they may very well just go, “Uhhhh….?” and vapor-lock. In a low-level sandbox, choosing not to take on the lizardfolk lair because you’re going to the barrow downs is not the end of the world.

Choosing not to mess with Galactus because you want to focus on Thanos? Just might be. >.> Where’s the “choice” in that?

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