A Storyteller in Your Court

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I’m looking for lords, ladies, and lieges. I’m looking to be your court storyteller. And so, I made my own Patreon page.

Click that link for a fuller explanation of what that is and how it works. The short of it is that I’ll be writing little weird stories every month (both in text and in audio). There are extra perks for those who desire them.

Even more, I want a space to commune with readers. I’ve gathered in some lovely communities in my work (particularly in video game writing), and I want to stay in immediate touch (and dole out bits of story) in between the bigger projects. So I’ve made the point of entry low. While there are higher tiers, $1 is enough for the main event — the monthly story and access to the patron-only posts.

What goes on in the patron-only posts? I’ll show behind the scenes peeks at things, involving upcoming projects and my process. Already, I’ve posted a bonus mythos story as well as my very first published short story (the embarrassment!).

One buck gets you into the circus of the strange. Pass it on! Join before the 1st of the month (tomorrow) and receive the very first of the monthly stories.

Storyteller

My GenCon Schedule

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GenCon 2016 is upon us! August 3rd through the 7th will see me (as it does most every year) in Indianapolis for a glorious gathering of geekery. This year, however, I’ll be there in an official capacity, speaking on the Writers Symposium.

Who all is going? Hit me up. I’m looking for games to play in my off time.

My updated schedule is listed below. Most Writers Symposium events (except signings) take place in the Westin (rooms listed with each event). The entire Writer’s Symposium schedule can be found HERE.

Thusday

2:00 PM — Signing (Room: Exhibit Hall)
 6:00 PM — Reading: Joshua Alan Doetsch and Suzanne Church (Room: Causus)

Friday

9:00 AM — Marketing: Social Media 101 (Room: Chamber)
11:00 AM — Writer’s Craft: Creating Truly New Ideas (Room: Chamber)
2:00 PM — Video Game Writing: What NOT To Do As a Game Writer (Room: Cabinet)

Saturday

12:00 PM — Signing (Room: Exhibit Hall)
3:00 PM — Video Game Writing: Worldbuilding for Game Worlds (Room: Cabinet)

 7:00 PM — Writer’s Round Table: The Force Awakens (Room: Capital 1)

Sunday

12:00 PM — Writer’s Round Table: Game of Thrones (Room: Capital 1)

Karl and the House of Crom

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By Crom! What am I up to in China? I’m hanging out and chatting with the folks at Nordic Trolls/Re-Roll Entertainment about the plethora of new projects coming up. There are some old Funcom faces here. One of them is Karl Andre Bertheussen. Karl and I were narrative partners-in-crime back in my Age of Conan days.

Karl is a narrative designer, a game/gameplay designer of a more storyteller bent, so we always worked well together. We both play to each others’ strengths. Karl is good at coming up with the skeleton structure of a thing, and I’m good at growing all the visceral flesh on that skeleton.

I want to give you all a taste of what our renewed storytelling tag-team will bring in the future, but taking a look at the past. Travel back with me, as the Funcom team arrives in Montreal in 2010…

Karl was now Narative Designer. I was now Lead Writer. Our first big project, where we had narrative control, was The House of Crom. It was a dungeon planned long ago, but never fully implemented. It had some basic story, level design, and some assets. We were told to fix the story, using those assets.

What we inherited:

A spooky, ancient temple, in the mountains of Cimmeria, populated with the immortal remnants of the last Atlantean colony. There was a deathless, insane Atlantean queen. There was a partially finished, giant, tentacled worm monster as the mid-boss. And there was room for a not-yet-designed final boss.

Our initial thoughts:

  1. We wanted to tell a story featuring elements of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Lots of games emulate Lovecraft’s lore, but Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age actually occupies a particular Sword and Sorcery corner of the official Mythos.
  2. The Cimmerians don’t go to the House of Crom. They do not even pray to their god (he just gives them the strength to deal with a harsh world at birth). It makes sense, in Howard’s world, to have some Cimmerians point to a mysterious temple in the mountains and say, “Crom lives there.” But they would not visit.
  3. NO IMMORTAL ATLANTEANS. We had already done something similar with an extinct culture in Khitai. It just takes away from the tragedy of Atlantis’s fall. So, instead, they would be the ghostly and undead remains of the last colony, bound to the temple for some unholy reason.
  4. The sleeping, deathless queen was ok though…we just needed a compelling reason for that.
  5. The final boss would be an Outer God from the Mythos. Perhaps Yog-Sothoth. Players would summon and then battle an avatar of this entity through an intricate ritual (with clues scattered throughout the temple).
  6. …then perhaps the mid-boss (the tentacle worm monster) would be a Great Old One?

With those thoughts, we mulled over possible scenarios. Something was missing. And then…I recalled “The Dunwich Horror” and I thought, What if the giant worm monster is the mad queen’s offspring? And then the rest of the pieces quickly fell into place. A grand tragedy. Call it Sword and Sanity. Non-linear storytelling, the player would just get fragments of the ancient events as they explored the horror-haunted ruins.

That project ended up being one of the bits of work that I am most proud of from my time at Funcom. The gameplay and story text never felt so joined — from the clues to the grand ritual at the climax. After Karl and I got all those thoughts into place (after drinking much coffee), I wrote the following backstory that became the official pitch that we based the dungeon around — pulled, now, from my secret vaults. Enjoy!

The House of Crom: A Backstory

A devil from the Outer Dark,’ he grunted. ‘Oh, they’re nothing uncommon. They lurk as thick as fleas outside the belt of light which surrounds this world. I’ve heard the wise men of Zamora talk of them. Some find their way to Earth, but when the do they have to take on some earthly form and flesh of some sort.
—Robert E. Howard, “The Vale of Lost Women”

The thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.
—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

It was a time of hardship for the Atlanteans—suffering greater than anything they knew before or would know after. The seas rose and swallowed Atlantis, and the seagulls feasted for months on the rot and stink of bloated souls. The few survivors huddled in the colony on the mainland, upon a mountain that still rose above the deluge. But this sanctuary harbored its own perils. The Picts attacked in ceaseless onslaught. Slipping into barbarism, the remaining Atlanteans realized they risked loosing not only their lives, but their identities, culture, and memory.

The Queen formed a desperate plan. Though their gods seemed to have abandoned them, the Queen contrived to construct a great temple to Valka, chief among the gods and creator of humankind. They would build it on the mountain, touching the sky, and the most learned priests would conduct ancient rituals while the people pray and plead. How could Valka not answer his children? The people believed in the Queen’s plan, for she was the most beloved, most pure—to look upon her or hear her voice was to banish all doubt. So the Queen, the priests, and a contingent of artisans left the colony behind.

They toiled for years. Architects and stone-cutters built the temple, refined it, filled it with statues and wonders. Goldsmiths made endless idols to please Valka. The scholars studied and the priests performed rituals. And still, their god would not answer their cries. Why could they not please him? The Queen calmed her people, soothed their lamentations with her words, saying that at the next ritual, she would clime the ziggurat and call upon the divine directly. The people were pleased, for how could anyone, even the gods, ignore someone so pure, so good, so beautiful as the Queen? Her continence eased all pain. Her words banished all doubt.

But the Queen carried a secret. Though she could protect the people from their doubts, there was no one to save her from her own. The sinking of Atlantis, the loss of her civilization, the suffering of her people had eroded her hope. She could not recall how many failed rituals it took, but at some point she realized Valka would not answer. It was all for nothing—leaving the rest of her people to die at the hands of the Picts, the years of hard toil to build the temple—all for nothing. They would all die and there would be no one to remember them. But how could she tell her people, who so loved and trusted her? So she told them pretty lies and kept them working, and the secret sat in her guts, gathered bile, turned to acid and spite, and ate away her sanity. That is when the Queen began praying to the whisper in the dark, the voice of something…Other—something aroused by the endless chanting of the priests who, in their desperation, used older and older rituals from before the time of any of the Thurian civilizations (perhaps before mankind).

The night she climbed the ziggurat alone, the Queen contacted this being, one of the Outer Gods from beyond the Gulfs of Space and Wells of Night. She made a deal with the creature and felt the icy caress of tentacles reaching from across time and space as the primordial being impregnated her. She came down the steps; hair turned white, and told her people that she had been blessed by Valka with divine conception. She said that there was more work to be done, changes to make to the rituals, and that Valka would come to them to claim his child, and the Atlanteans would be saved. The people believed. They did not doubt their queen. It is easier to believe the lie that one so desperately wants to be true. And for nine months, they toiled on.

She gave birth, in secret, in the Deep Cave. During the grotesque nativity, the midwife died of fright from the cries of the thing wrapped in swaddling. The Queen commanded a trusted adviser to seal her child in the Deep Cave, with five handmaidens to “nurse” the babe. When this was accomplished, she sealed the adviser, the only one to know the truth, in the treasury, with the key to the Deep Cave, to be guarded by magical stone sentinels who would let none pass but her. And that night, she climbed the ziggurat, holding a false bundle of swaddling, and the people cheered for they would finally see the face of their god. The hardships would at last be worthwhile. They conducted the new ritual, and the Outer God came into the House of Valka. The people had just enough time to go mad before each and every one of them died. There was hardly even time to scream.

Millennia pass. The remnants of the Atlanteans devolve into ape-men and evolve into Cimmerians. They do not remember their Atlantean ancestry, but they know the temple is a place of divine beings, and call it the House of Crom, named after their chief god — though none go there. And somehow their culture remembers the notion that it is dire folly to pray directly to one’s chief god. Perhaps, in the distant past, a survivor of the Atlantean colonies stumbled upon the House of Crom and witnessed what lay within. Perhaps the lesson was so horrific it survived in their communal memory, scarred in bas-relief on the subconscious, locked away in the backwater of their animal brains surviving the eroding millennia of evolution.

The House of Crom still stands. The ghosts of its builders still work—they are outside of time, do not even realize they are dead, just continue to toil. The Queen (the mother) is a sleeping beauty; as part of her ancient pact, she is preserved in endless slumber, escaping the knowledge of her horrible deeds in dreams. Her child (the son) still jabbers and wails in the Deep Cave with the dust and bones of the long dead handmaidens, and the key still sits in the treasury. The Outer God (the father) waits in the spaces between, for it is the Lurker at the Threshold. It does not devour the souls of the Atlanteans, but milks them of the energy they create with their perpetual toil and angst, feeds this nourishment to its son. Slumber preserves the Queen, the Queen anchors the souls of her people, and the people feed the child. The life cycle of such beings can take aeons, and the Little Prince is only in its pupa phase. When it is time, the Outer God will release its progeny upon the world. The House of Crom is an elaborate nursery for a tentacled messiah.

Enter the players…

You’re Dead and Out of this World

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When you smile and it tears your face
It’s time for the inhuman race

Before I made my intrepid journey to China, I had a weird night with the pink penguins… But that’s a story for another time. Tonight, I saw my first set of bats in Beijing, flapping overhead, on my walk to dinner. I took it as an omen — so tonight, I want to talk about another intrepid figure sporting a fedora and satchel.

Is it…?

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No.

Is it…?

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No.

I’m talking about the vampire Beckett.

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Those familiar with the table top RPG Vampire: the Masquerade, will recognize Beckett. He is the globe-trotting, Gangrel vampire scholar. He’s a fan favorite, certainly one of mine. Recently, I got to write him.

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The ooky-spooky folks over at Onyx Path Publishing are currently running a kickstarter for Beckett’s Jyhad Diary. Visit the link for a more complete description of that book — but it is a chronicle of Beckett’s adventures and misadventures around the world, digging into the mysteries of the metaplot. Becket is a sardonic voice and a skeptical pair of eyes. He’s an ideal point-of-view character.

Click HERE and you can even read the entire chapter I wrote, taking place in Chicago (in the un-pretty manuscript format). Chicago By Night was one of the earliest books I picked up for the Vampire game as an impressionable teenager. All of those plots and undead have been crawling in my brain for nearly two decades. And I got to revisit some of them!

And my proudest easter egg — the one that makes my inner fan squeal? Malcolm. If you dig back into the 2nd edition of Vampire: the Masquerade, the sample character they use for the character creation example is a Gangrel named Malcolm, a vampire narcotics cop (so deliciously 90s). I dug up old Malcolm. If we are celebrating this game and its 2+ decades of growth and development, why not take the very first statted character I (and I’m sure others) encountered and see how he’s grown and changed? Malcolm was made a vampire just when this game started. The histories are parallel. So take a peak at what Malcolm and the other Chicago vampires have been up to.

Also…tons more lovely chapters, by talented writers, taking Beckett through his paces.

What are some of your favorite past Vampire characters? Let me know. Till next time…

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.

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From China With Love

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The last month happened in blur. Endings. Beginnings. An interview or two. And I’m only just taking a breather now, at an outside cafe, as far away from home as one can be. Walking alone in a place where no one speaks your language is like being a toddler again. I can say a few, stilted words, and I know how to point.

Right. Recap. Last month, after nearly seven years, I left my job at Funcom to pursue a few new things and see some new places. I’m now in China, till the end of July, looking in on some new writing projects for Nordic Trolls (Re-Roll Entertainment). New place. A few old faces. More details on that to come.

I’ve taken some travel advice, and my stomach has mostly held up. In Imodium I trust. How about some random images from Beijing?

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It was a little smoggy out.

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Our favorite street BBQ spot.

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You can’t escape the McDonalds!

More goodies to come this week. More announcements. So check back in, space cowboy. We’ll explore such thrilling mysteries as: my new day job projects, and old design document on a past game writing project, a new horror serial in the works, GenCon, and a vampire named Beckett.

Until then, your moment of zen.

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Farewell But Not Goodbye

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And here I am, moments before shutting off that particular computer at Funcom for the final time. The Severed Hand — my trusty companion of four offices, three countries, two continents, and nearly seven years of video game writing — and I are readying for new adventures.

Quite a day. I wrote a last bit of lore. We did a farewell Twitch stream. We had a little office shindig. Wow. So much to unpack. And I will in the coming days. But right now I’m going to soak it in.

And there will be more news on just what I’m doing after all this. Much to tell. It’ll be posted here. Or keep an eye on my Twitter. Or…if you’d like some other conveyance of such news, leave a comment below and I’ll see what I might get going.

To the future, sweetlings.

PS … HOLY SHIT! Thank you, players and Secret Worlders. All the lovely words and good wishes are enough to give the sort of feels that will ruin a dark horror guy’s brand. Brand be damned! *sniffle*

GenCon 2016 Writer’s Symposium

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My nerdling broodmates, hearken! I have visited the phenomenon known as GenCon since I was sixteen. This year, I go in a more professional capacity as part of its Writer’s Symposium. The schedule for the symposium has just been released, and I’ll highlight my events below. Between those events, I’ll be there to sign things, hand out toe tag bookmarks, play some games, drink libations, meet people new and known, and cast dark rituals. I hope to see as many of you as possible. Perhaps we’ll shake some dice and tell a story or raise a glass.

My schedule:

Thusday

2:00 PM — Signing (Room: Exhibit Hall)
 6:00 PM — Reading: Joshua Alan Doetsch and Suzanne Church (Room: Causus)

Friday

9:00 AM — Marketing: Social Media 101 (Room: Chamber)
11:00 AM — Writer’s Craft: Creating Truly New Ideas (Room: Chamber)
2:00 PM — Video Game Writing: What NOT To Do As a Game Writer (Room: Cabinet)

Saturday

12:00 PM — Signing (Room: Exhibit Hall)
 3:00 PM — Video Game Writing: Worldbuilding for Game Worlds (Room: Cabinet)

Is that my voice?

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Last weekend was a busy weekend if you like the sound of my voice as much as I do. I had two meaty interviews live on the web. What’s that? Did you miss it? Are your ears frowning for my dulcet tones? Have no fear!

On Friday, the delicious folks at The Secret Podcast interviewed me regarding my position as Lead Writer of The Secret World. We talked video games, writers block, video game writing, and more. Learn of my secret origins over at Funcom. You can see that interview HERE.

On Saturday, after an all-nighter of writing, I was interviewed by the wonderful Beth Barnes (also known as DJ Psywarrior). Our main topic of discussion was writing LGBT characters in video games. It’s not a topic of discussion I’d ever thought I’d be specifically invited to talk about, but I’m glad I did. We dug into some weighty stuff, all while killing zombies (a wonderful activity to do while talking serious topics). Beth made me feel very comfortable and welcome and it was easy to spill. That’s her magic. We even discussed fictional characters I’d smooch! Check it out HERE.

Portraits Beat Impostor Syndrome

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Some gourds got more reason to grin than others.

I’m a portrait! Look, look! The wonderfully phantasmagoric-minded Mel Addams made this for me. You can read their  story why here.

I’ll break the image down, because I want to illustrate just how much thought and effort went into this. Mel saw that I had some lovely paintings of both Poe and Lovecraft on my wall, by Michael Bielaczyc.

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I once talked about the notion of Impostor Syndrome, the insidious doubt that you don’t belong or that some success was not really earned, and how that can pop into anyone’s head, from beginning to novice to the most successful. Mel, in their glorious and kind wisdom, thought a good safeguard would be for me to look up and see my face with a couple of my heroes. They put my face to the same stylized tilt as the Bielaczyc paintings. And they pieced me together from bits of things I’ve provided online over the years.

The Great Pumpkin

Years ago, I played around with photo shop to make this image of me.

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The one-eyed cat on the left, in the portrait, is my actual one-eyed cat, Raven. I adopted her in Montreal and she has been my home scrivnomancy familiar ever since.

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The served hand on the right, is my workplace familiar. I picked it up one Halloween, when I lived in Oslo. It’s been my office mascot ever since (in three countries). And was once a regular character feature on my twitter.

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And finally the top hat. It’s actually my leather top hat, purchased from a vendor, many GenCons ago. The eyeball patch I got from Grichels. The hat has taken on a life of its own. Players and readers have gotten to know me by the image. It’s featured in the live twitch dev-stream I do for The Secret World, called The Streaming Ones.

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The hat has even taken on surreal digital life within The Secret World game itself. Behold, Nyarlatophat!

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Also featured are a coat and vest of mine.

And there you have it. The gift Mel gave me, besides their amazing talent, was an image that I unknowingly got to collaborate on making (by taking pieces of me). That’s a swell gift to someone who likes composing visual things (but with no real technical skill for it). It means the fiddling I did with photoshop or the eyeball I had attached to a hat, and the paraphernalia I surround myself in, all contribute to a sweet image. THANKS, MEL!

If you happen to want a print of the portrait, you can contact Mel Addams to order.

 

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