Author Archives: Rebecca M. Horner

About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...)

Tabletop RPG: Serenity the RPG System Thoughts

(After a long drought, finally an RP post! Sorry ya’ll, I had the plague and it will not go away.)

So I had bought the Serenity the Roleplaying Game’s book ages ago, along with a big old Verse map and a giant book about a specific cargo run. Why? Because I was interested in seeing how playable it was. Now, the book itself isn’t laid out in the most logical of senses, and sometimes it seems a bit screwy to me. I’m not going to critique the system as a whole, but instead, talk about how it plays.

I ran it this last weekend for a group of three players. It was specifically meant to be short, one or two sessions, three at an absolute maximum that I didn’t see happening, and so in an effort to keep it short, I chose to use one of the episodes of the series (“The Train Job”) as my framework. Bonus, most of my players had either never seen the show, seen only a small percentage of it, or hadn’t seen it in well over ten years and had since forgotten a large chunk of it. I had no worries about them actually recognizing what I was up to.

The game started off a little shaky–I’m not used to DMing, and I was trying to think of how to describe something I had seen in a show to convey exactly the right tone. But as the players started to make their plan and I got comfortable, we all started to enjoy ourselves. This is where the good parts of the game really started to show themselves. It isn’t loaded down with rules and schematics, but instead relies on the imaginations of the players and the DM, and on the way that they RP things out. It also gives some players a bit of flux.

What I mean by that is the use of Plot Points. I know of other DMs who will deliberately fudge rolls if a character rolls poorly and it may lead to someone having a bad night, or for similar reasons. Serenity makes that almost unnecessary with the use of Plot Points, provided the characters haven’t been just slinging them around. By really using them when they can tell a roll is important, it lets them get the desierable outcome without some…somewhat shady but good intentioned shady…actions on behalf of a DM, which I can appreciate.

That being said, 1’s still happen, and critical failures can lead to problems. But I’ve taken the stance that just because you failed the roll it doesn’t mean something catastrophic has to happen, and depending on what it is, the party isn’t screwed. In my most memorable case from this last weekend, one failed the hiding roll with a 1 while the other did really well. So I did something like you’d see out of a comedy skit to explain how both got hidden because of how well the other person rolled covering for both of them. Everything still proceeds, and everyone at the table got a laugh out of it. Failures don’t have to mean instant-death, and I was glad to get to DM something like that.

Is the lack of detail sometimes annoying? Oh very. And the rate of lethal damage applied to the weapons, while realistic, means that combat is never going to go well, and I’m still thinking about how to balance that out in a longer game. I also have to figure out whether I’d want to do something similar to Whedon’s work, where there is a long arc that we’re building to but a lot of it plays out in small moments, or if I want the long arc to be the focus with occasional side jobs. But that comes back to the flexibility of the system. It really lets you run the type of game that you want to run.

I don’t know if I would recommend this system for a newbie DM and newbie group of players. It’s not laid out in a way that’s neat, there’s a lot of holes, and the combat is harsh. But for a group that has messed around with a few systems, it is pretty forgiving to let them let their hair down for a bit. As a newbie DM, I had the advantage of knowing the world best, which gave me the measure of control that as DM I need to have any kind of confidence. With a group of die-hard Firefly fanatics, that isn’t going to be the case…but other new DMs may not have my anxiety crutches, so your mileage is just going to vary on that front.

If I can trust my players to stay off my blog, I might talk about the planning I go into for longer campaigns, but that’s a big maybe. I wouldn’t want to accidentally spoil anyone’s backstory or arc for them, and that will cause sour feelings. (Plus some of the players are uber private, which I respect.) In the meantime, if you can get your hands on the book or a PDF of it, it’s worth a page-through at the very least.


2019, Year in Review

It’s New Year’s Eve. Time to reflect on our struggles, our accomplishments, and celebrate that we’re still here, and what all we’re going to do in the coming year. So yes, I decided to be THAT level of extra and publish this post right at midnight, my time, about my feelings.

Ugh, what do I have to say about the start of 2019? I was coming off of a bad year, losing 75% of my pets. I was also in a horrible place because of drama within my medieval group coming to a head, stretched beyond measure between projects, and work was just not helping. Add in my health deciding to revolt, and there’s just no where to go but up.

(Ironic that I’m writing this while home with an upper respiratory virus, but you know, I digress.)

So how did it go? Well, I survived getting out from under my medieval fair group, which was a huge stress relief. To help process that stress relief, I started going through stuff in the house that summer, which…unbelievable helped and I’ll probably do it this summer too, get through all these tubs of stuff and shredding in the office. It just helped me organize my head space after that organization being a good eightyish percent of my life and social circle. I didn’t feel tired all the time, both physically and emotionally.

Which is about when Kari started having separation anxiety from being home alone without me or Tsuki…bad. Thankfully we caught the bald spots before she was completely down to the skin, but it still wasn’t good. So she went on meds, and I went on a kitten/young cat hunt, which is how we got Karu in our lives. I think he was more than just healing for Kari, he also helped me remember that yes, I do know how to be a responsible pet parent, it was just a whole lot of bad timing. Also, he’s the little ambassador of the house which means Kari can hide from people while he accepts their offerings of affection. He’s a joy in both of our lives.

The blog has gone up and down a lot, but I think I had to sit down and think about it. I don’t consume books or movies like I used to. Oh, I go to Marvel movies and Fast and the Furious franchise films and the occasional Disney movie, but I don’t go out nearly as much. I am fed up with a lot of anime and female characters in them. I don’t have time for tons of video games. I’ve talked about everything about RP as I can unless something new comes up.

Work has also eased up. I’m still keeping a look out for work more in the direction I want to be going or uses my skill set better, but I no longer feel like it’s me or this job. Really, I have to stick with the university or the state until my student loans are forgiven. They are just growing too fast for me to keep up with, and I know it’s what makes the most financial sense for me to do. It’ll give me a lot of freedom to sit back at 35 and go, “Okay, I forgave my loans, I’m a third of the way to paying off my mortgage, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?” Some of this is going to depend on where I am with my projects, but I like having a loose plan to play with.

Speaking of projects, I am so proud of what I’ve accomplished this year and yay, the rest of this gets to blab. Sun’s Guard Ten is out and did better than I expected upon release. (I had a low bar, lol, still do because it’s easier when there are three of a series to suggest purchase to Amazon.) I’m super excited to be getting this world started and available to you all. I also got Sun’s Guard: Page started, though it hit a couple hiccups. Note to self, don’t expect to write around the holidays anymore. But it is shaping up really well, and I like that I don’t have to introduce these characters again, but instead I get to delve more into my core group for this book.

I’m going to continue working with Johnny for the book covers, and I will stay on him a little bit more this year, starting next weekend. At least unlike a sword, the next cover is more up his wheelhouse, so it shouldn’t take as long. I felt bad about that, since swords are trickier than they look, but we managed to collaborate really well I think. I’ve done a little spot editing–mostly formatting and changing colors/fonts on the back cover to make it readable–but Ten shouldn’t be touched anymore and it’s going to be my template for when I get to Page. I have a timeline laid out and I know that it’s publication date is in October of 2020, specific day going to depend on art.

Other projects of this last year include Mystic Riders. Ginny and I have put a lot of time and effort into this project already, and I thought we were ready to start the blog, which was a lot more my baby. It was a bit of a give and take, and eventually we figured out that the game mechanic blog posts are hard to write when you weren’t the one who figured them out/understand them as deeply. I know a lot, but there are some elements in video games that I don’t where Ginny had more experience. In the end, it made a lot more sense for us to divide and conquer again. We have a good plan now that makes me confident that the blog part is only going to grow.

On the flip side, we’ve also started getting some artwork in, so we’re getting more that we can present to potential studios or computer programmers. Our tentative “business plan” is to finish getting some of this artwork, work towards me getting a computer that can run Unreal, and then we can get a demo built. After that, we’ll start option one, which is finding a production studio who will hire us for working on this game–it works a lot like querying a book. Most statistics I’ve seen don’t rate the odds of success on this very high, just because neither Ginny or I have ever marketed games before. (I’ve made one, but you know, it was for class so it doesn’t count.) The other option is to build a game company ourselves. I’m hoping when I’m 35 and out of debt, I’ll be brave enough to run with that idea. In the meantime, I have plotting, writing, mapping, and all sorts of other work to do.

I started a stand alone book, which I’m hoping I’ll put out sometime within the next couple of years, but I’m not rushing it at this point. Same for these short stories Ginny recently tweeted about. They are meant more to be my, “I don’t want to throw Caley out the window, what can I do instead?” works, less on a schedule. I do have a schedule of deadlines now to try and hold myself too, though I had to give myself an extension already on Page since I had a learning curve with the holidays, lol. Hopefully everything else stays on target into 2020.


Review: Frozen 2

…Hey, I’m still doing the occasional review. Plus I figure it’s been long enough that no one will gripe at me about spoilers and still a chance for me to convince the few hold-outs to go see it. Because it is worth it.

Frozen 2 picks up two years after the original film, set in Arendelle’s autumn harvest festival. Elsa has been hearing a mysterious voice calling her, but she is so worried about messing up or not living up to her people’s expectations of her, she’s been ignoring it. But ignoring it is no longer an option when one interaction sparks ancient spirits her father told her about long ago to awaken in Arendelle…and they are not happy. The royal family goes on an adventure into the northern forests of Arendelle’s border, and into their parents’ pasts. Because when all is lost, all is found.

So first word of warning: do not go into this expecting a super intense story line. I’ve long since believed that the point of Frozen, the mini-adventures, and now this sequel isn’t some surprise ending or revelation, but instead about the emotional arcs they are guiding us through. Remember your target demo is like eight and lower your expectations a little for deep meaning/analogies and focus on what it is actually doing and how important that is. The first story focused on not only failed relationships, but how to recognize when to rebuild them and when to kick people to the curb, as well as moving on from past hurts.

Similarly, this movie seems to focus on the past a lot…but it’s more about what these characters are experiencing in the present. You have to look past we’re going from point a to point b. From worries about what the future holds, the pressures of expectations, discovering that the past they thought they knew was one-sided, the film is about coping with the shifting realities of your world. It even tackles acceptance of one’s self and grief, respectively, in ways that I don’t think a Disney film has tackled before. (Not gonna lie, these are the points where I started bawling in the theater. Twice.) Olaf has a whole song about it because, in many ways, he represents the age of the target audience and these are things that not only do they not know how to cope with, it is terrifying. And in balance, Elsa and Anna show that even adults struggle with these things, but give some strategies that are still simple enough for all sorts of people to relate to.

Characters, new characters. Okay, the Northuldra elder and the general were like my favorites of all time. I loved their interactions, and I am so happy with the direction they went with both of their characters. They could have made him a jerk, they could have made her even more uptight than she already was, but they didn’t. It was perfectly balanced. I do like the glimpses and history we see of the parents, but this is also slightly problematic for me? There’s something to be said about the emotional/mental abuse that Elsa went through, and while I hesitate to cast wrathful blame now on her parents after the nightmare that they met under, I also have to look at them, particularly their mother, and go, “Da faq? You should know better!” So yeah, trying to make those two characters from this new movie and from the first meet up is…Ugh. More work was needed.

World-building wise, we got a ton of lore and other info dumped on us. If you follow the Frozen mythos at all, not all of it is surprising–the Broadway musical brought in the Northuldra people or at least something similar to replace the trolls, and had the queen be from them, so that isn’t too shocking. The elements kinda make sense as you bring it in to the relationship with Elsa’s powers. We finally were really able to nail down a time period for the setting between Anna’s Victorian walking skirt in this film, the bicycle in the first film, and now the photographs in this one. Is it a lot? Oh yeah. Is it too much? Meh. For the younger kids who can’t follow that sort of thing, they don’t really care, it looks cool. For the older audience members, we’ve wanted answers so it is satisfying to have them. I’m not saying it’s done in the most elegant of fashions, but it got the job done and I am not going to bash on it for that.

The visuals and the music… Let me just die here. OMG. They did so many intricate touches with the visuals, and all those little touches really show. I wish there was some more in-world explanation for some of it (example: the friggin’ ponytail scene. I had to read an article to get commentary that revealed that Elsa’s braid is mostly ice and so she tied it back with something real before diving into the ocean, it was driving me nuts why they went through the wasted animation but now it makes sense), but the rest is just too cool to be punny. I appreciate the signs that they really consulted with the Sami representatives to get things right with the Northuldra and it shows.

And some of them, like even though I couldn’t understand everything being said on the water memory of the ship, I still go the feeling and it hit me right in the feels (and you know, set me up for more tears later). Also, the water fight with the water horse was brilliant and exactly what it should have been. That is totally how a pissed off horse would behave, especially with power over water and in its element. And then the ending where it got so excited to go for a run and not be sea/water locked? My heart! Speaking of water and memory and music, UGH THAT GLACIER SCENE. All about it. First scene I started crying in, and you know, it just stayed my favorite through both viewings I’ve had of it.

They did a ton more songs, but they ended up cutting so many and I think they really kept the ones that did the emotional work that they needed them to. “I Seek the Truth” is great, for example, but unneeded after the wreckage done to us on the boat. It really lets the others stand out. The only one I sorta wished stayed or had gotten reworked is “Unmeltable Me.” Does Olaf need a second song? No. But it includes some important info, like that Elsa’s powers have grown. We see it through the later half and she mentions it “Into the Unknown,” but still. I wanted to know more earlier on.

Overall, I think as long as you go in with an open mind and being prepared for a simpler story and yet a lot of info on the world being thrown at you, it works out. I didn’t touch on a lot of things, because I think they make some awesome surprises, especially for adult viewers. (I only had second hand embarrassment the first round, so they are probably just funny for everyone else.) Go see it if you haven’t already.


Writing: On Historical Fighting with a Pole Arm… (Part 2–Staff Tactics)

I had to scratch my head over the holiday to figure out the best way to write about fighting with/against someone wielding a pole arm, and I finally went with blocking it out. And then it went long so ha, more posts about me babbling about this. So there’s three parts, two blocks to each part and then an example paragraph. Hopefully it’ll make sense why I did it that way.

Part One: Plain staffs/balanced pole arm
Block 1: Fighting with
Otherwise known as fighting tactics, I know, but here we go. As previously discussed in the previous post, a plain staff, or even one with metal caps, is a primarily defensive weapon. So when you are swinging it around, you are trying to a) not tangle yourself up in it and b) tangle your opponent up in it instead so you can disarm them, smack them around, and then run away.

So about not tangling yourself in your own staff. Staff work relies a lot on aligning the weapon with your body. As an example, if you are striking at someone’s right shoulder with your left, the staff should be across your body to keep them from stabbing you in the meantime, your left hand and therefore the left part of the staff extended up and forward, and the right end of the staff and your corresponding limb, in this case your right leg, back and down. With a balanced weapon, it’s important to keep it in between your body and your opponent for defense because typically it’s the only thing you got–I’ve never seen one wielded with even a buckler shield. Separating from your body is also the fastest way for a disarm (see Part 2 below).

While occasionally you may see a pole arm with both ends capped with bladed heads, they aren’t common like at all and come with a new rush of difficulties. There’s no natural “resting” point because neither tip is blunt, so the only way to set it down is to lay the whole thing down, which means it takes more effort to pick up and move into a fight. You also lose some of your reach–you can’t swing these sorts of weapons into your own space like you do a blunt end because there’s a chance you’ll hurt yourself more than you’ll hurt your opponent. As a rule, I advice against trying to pull a medieval Darth Maul unless magic is involved as a result, and even then, it’s just more hassle than it is use. (This does not apply to two-bladed swords…but that’s a later post.)

Block 2: Fighting against
This time, the scenario is fighting against someone with a balanced staff or pole arm. There are two tactics to this fight that are simplest and don’t turn into a game of chess. They aren’t the only way, but they are the way to be quick and brutal about this and move on to the next. One is the rusher and the other is the leverage.

The rusher works best if you yourself are shorter than the person wielding the staff. The key to this one is that you are wielding a weapon that is proportionate to your own size and not a reach weapon, such as a sword, daggers, axe, etc. Shields help, but aren’t required. The rusher tactic uses the reach of the pole arm against their opponent, getting in close as fast and as often as possible so they have little room to maneuver. It also means that as fast as the pole arm wielder is, there’s chances to get a blow in because you are in their way of moving to the defense in time.

As you probably expect, the leverage is the exact opposite of the rusher. This works better if you are the same height or taller than the person wielding the staff, but bonus that it can work if you are wielding almost any type of weapon. Basically, by using the leverage of binding the staff with your own weapon, because of your height (or angle if you are having to do some extra manipulating), you’ll be able to “pop” the staff free and out of your opponent’s grip. I’ve even done a fancy pop that slide the opponent’s staff down mine so I could catch it and there was no chance of recovery. By applying either upward, downward, or diagonal pressure, you compromise your opponent’s grip. But you have to be fast and you have to be sneaky about it, or else they’ll realize what you are doing and get the heck out of the way.

Both of these tactics can also work if you aren’t the best case scenario, btw, but I’m just writing about what works best when because it takes less monkeying around.

Examples
The best example I have of the rusher is my scripted fight with one of my friends from medfair. (Or fights, plural.) She is much shorter than me, though of course I’m pushing the tall thing to freakish levels, so there is a marked difference in our statures from the get-go. She is very much a rusher in general–her primary fight tactic is to get in close, fast, and hard, since her opponent isn’t going to expect it. Most of our fights she was supposed to win, but it was easy to block those fights because her natural fighting style was an answer to my own.

She would get in close and tight, switching from one side to the other very quickly and not really going for over the head strikes much because they left her in a position of vulnerability more than they did me. She did however aim closer to the core and ground, because there was a lot more harm that she could do there. My defense was limited to trying to force distance between us by binding weapons over her head and then pushing her back with my own attacks, or trying to get her weapon tangled with mine to disarm here–harder to do because again, the weapon is proportionate to her size and not something I can get a grip on easily.

The other side of the coin was when I applied leverage to some of my staff fights. I’m almost always taller, so this is really my go-to strategy (when I’m not taking advantage of a ridiculous level of reach). I tend to aim high, going for the head or even above the head because I know they are going to have to bring their weapon or extend it up and further away from them. This gives you the opportunity to get either your body or your weapon in between your opponent’s weapon and body so you can pull it away from them. (Like that pop I mentioned above.)

If you want something visual to reference for your fighting scenes, I recommend either looking up martial artists (because a staff is a staff is a staff) or flag work with a color or winter guard if you want something with flourishes.


Writing: On Historical Fighting with a Pole Arm… (Part 1-Basics)

So, I’ve decided to do more posts like my equestrianism post because apparently you all liked it, it’s easier on me, and I have this wealth of knowledge that you won’t find outside of SCA groups and a couple of other small things you can find in your community, with some being more open to writer interviews than others. (Basically, your mileage may vary.)

A quick note on these types of posts: I am speaking from my personal experience, the words of others in my own medieval group, and my own readings. Again, your mileage may vary. (Maybe this will keep the Cranky [Old] Guys off this post griping about what’s wrong if I repeat it.) But if you are writing a character who fights only with a flag pole as a flash of brilliance, and then find yourself needing to actually write out the fight with no idea what to do, this is meant to give you something to think about.

(I’ll probably do a more advanced post on pole arms in the future going over the different heads/blade styles and their uses, because the French alone have like fifteen of them, and they all serve different functions better than others. This is just your basics.)

So by definition, what is a pole arm? Basically, a really long stick, not necessarily thick because you have to be able to wrap your hand around it. Optional are pieces of metal at one or either end of the stick, and the metal can or can not be sharp depending on preferences. How long a pole arm was depended a lot on function, such as if you are wielding it from the ground or on horse back or on ground against someone on horseback, but general rule of thumb is your average one was about as tall as you are, plus or minus a hand or two counting the metal bits, if you are on the ground, and the length of your horse plus half again to double your horse’s length if you were mounted or facing off against mounted fighters.

Why were the mounted ones so long? Because horses were expensive. If you could kill the rider or at least get him down to the ground and the horse could run off to survive, that was a lot of money on four hooves for the winning side to be able to collect later. Very rarely did tactics involve killing the horses, and usually only as a last resort. Your aim was for the rider. (Unless your character is particularly blood thirsty and sadistic, but you know, bloody ground is wet, slippery ground which sucks to fight on, and horses bleed a lot, so do with that what you will.)

What were the benefits to using a pole arm instead of a sword? The big one was reach, which means that rather than only being able to attack the person directly next to/in front of you, you could actually stop him from getting close enough to you to potentially injure you. This is not only a massive benefit to a taller person (who already has a lot of reach, so more reach makes things even better), but especially for a shorter person who normally wouldn’t have as much of a shot at defending themselves–though there are ways, more on this at a later post, I will talk about tactics at some point.

They are also a highly defensible weapon. I can’t tell you how many of my fights got to the disarm bit, but because I was using a staff, it was like, “Whelp. Hmmm. How?” You have more length available to block the strike, plus usually you are using one end to block the strike, giving you the other end to pivot and whack at your opponent with while their own weapon is engaged elsewhere. (Please note: if you take the route of a pole arm with metal bits, this is more difficult because of the weight, more on that later.) With more length, it can also be tricky for someone using a sword to even get close enough to get the proper leverage to disarm you. On horseback, it’s a bit easier because you are trying not to hit yourself or your horse, but your pole arm is more of a throw away weapon for you in that position anyway because…tactics.

The cons for a pole arm are both expected and not expected. First off, breakage. While at your local medfair, you have probably seen your fair share of shattered lances. Well, I promise you that in real battle, your pole arms aren’t that fragile. Those lances are usually made with woods inclined to splinter under force, and some companies even make marks in the lance so they will break on impact. Most of the wood for a real weapon would be treated and and of specific types of wood so it can take a sword blade to it a few times. (Mine has, even in stage choreography.) However, they will break eventually, unlike metal. Speak of metal, depending on the head, your staff could not only be top heavy (and it would be), but heavy period. Thus why the whole thing isn’t made of metal–you wouldn’t be able to use it effectively. With the balance thrown off by the head, your ability to manipulate the length of your weapon is slower than it would be with a staff or a normal sword. (But note without the metal bits, it’s harder to do more than give your opponent some bruises and broken bones, especially if they are in armor.)

The more unexpected problems includes the awkwardness. Not only do you have the weight to worry about and it slowing down your strikes, the footwork for a pole arm is slightly different from a sword, so depending on which way your natural instinct goes, you may have to be constantly thinking about it or risk losing your foot. Unlike a sword that has a built in grip, a pole arm usually doesn’t so you have to drill into your body where your hands go or risk getting your fingers broken or cut off. And if its a hot or rainy day? Be prepared for slipping around. Because it is so long, they can be hard to carry for long distances (unless you strap them to your back, then it takes a hot minute to get off and by then, you’re dead). They also can get too bound up if you are fighting in narrow quarters, since the reach does also require appropriate amount of space to move in.

Speaking of being bound up, many like to think a staff/glaive/pole arm as a woman’s weapon in addition to a mounted knight’s. While I know this is true in Japanese history, and feel free to research and run with it, I don’t think it was as common in European women, at least among nobility. Not to say they couldn’t, my natural fighting instinct leans towards pole arms. So why is that my opinion? Because unlike the traditional Japanese kimono, which binds the fabric to the form tightly but can be loosened and long sleeves tied back, European women’s attire involved long skirts that usually floated away from the body. Let me tell you, I have gotten my skirt tangled up in my staff more times than I can count, unless I put aggressive riding slits into it and wear trousers underneath. It can be kilted up, but the fabric is still there and the higher the class level of the woman involved, the more layers and other bits of fabric there are. While your average lower classes would use whatever they had on hand from farm tools, including pitch forks and others that could be considered pole arms, your merchants and nobility had other options that were better suited to their attire, but that’s another post.

Hopefully these bare basics and thoughts on fighting with a pole arm help someone. I’ll do another post next weekish on tactics of fighting with and against someone wielding a pole arm, as well as some basic blocking. Let me know if you want me to continue these types of posts too. 🙂


When Your Characters Rebel…

(I’m not saying this is Season 3 Miraculous Ladybug salt… But I am saying it is probably flavored liberally with it. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities in terms of naming characters, but you know, you might get the gists of it anyway.)

So you have been working on this long running series–whether it’s for TV or a book series, comic run or insert other media here–and you have always had a couple in mind for your endgame. This is the pairing everyone needs to love, this is one that they need to get behind and want to be together. You have distractions and miscommunications in mind, whether you have an outline or just a vague concept in your head, but you also have key moments where they are meant to come together and prove that they can work.

So what do you do when they don’t do it organically, and worse yet, your audience soundly rejects it?

I’m not talking about the background characters that everyone is shipping together, cracky or not, or if the fans have decided your platonic best friends who are your main duo are meant to be, and I’m not talking about if you are dealing with a story that has no or only a very small romance plot and you can change the love interest without it changing the story one gram. This is a love-centric relationship that you, the writer, has built into the very premise, and the fans know this from day one. You may have even made the poor decision to use social media to assure everyone that yes, you know what you are doing, and yes, no matter what, the pairing will be endgame.

But remember those distractions I mentioned before? This is where things as a writer can get really gnarly. If I’ve spent time breaking my main pairing apart for the sake of time management, so they can get together in the final one or two chapters/episodes/issues/what-have-you and I have too much time to fill in between them, well… This pokes holes in why my audience is going to believe that this couple is going to work together in the end. (I am not touching my salty examples treatment and twisting of characters to make this possible.) If they fall out of love with this relationship as the characters question their feelings for each other, then when I provide a distraction in the form of new, alternative pairings… I’ve just split my fanbase.

Now, for some marketing people, they think this is a brilliant idea. Ever since Team Edward/Team Jacob, they have been gung-ho about love triangles, since marketing took what was previously a well known if slightly tired trope and fanned it into a fandom war that sold a ton of merchandise and kept people talking about a franchise that honestly didn’t deserve the level of hype and devotion it ended up spawning. See, once a fandom war starts, if you feed the fires right, fans will entrench themselves in their camp and will go out of their way to not prove the other side wrong, but spend a ton of money to show their support of their camp.

But notice my not so nice dig at the franchise? That’s because love triangles have to be written very carefully. In order to actually make sense as a plot device, there needs to be a very obvious reason why one side is better than the other, and writers usually get lazy with this, making it a matter of the nice guy being secretly violent or just saying that the jerkass was the one who really understood the girls promise (and in my opinion encourages abuse way too much). And that’s when they start at the same time! Many franchises spend whole books or seasons establishing a love interest, and then try to throw in a rival in the new season/sequel book. That only works if it’s quite clear to your fanbase that this isn’t meant to be a new romantic angle, and that the new rival is actually really unsuitable for the character he/she is pursuing. While some fans will hop on to the new camp with this rival (it’s inevitable), the majority will stay where you want it–with the mains.

This is where things can get hairy though. If you don’t make the new character unappealing, you can completely split your fanbase. My salty example here did this in two different ways and both failed. For one, they didn’t portray her personality consistently across her episodes, so despite having more screen time than the rival for the other side of the main pairing, it was so inconsistent that fans were irritable over it. That should have been enough by itself for fans to be split on her and to keep attention on their main couple. Except the boy is an oblivious idiot, no matter what the writers say on Twitter, and he has repeatedly stated that he can’t see the female lead as anything other than a friend, but he can see this new girl as a potential love interest to move on from his celebrity crush. For fans, that was digging a grave and a lot of them jumped ship.

But that left the other half of the pairing in the wind, right? Nope, insert our second rival. He didn’t get nearly the level of screen time, but what there is, it is consistent. Now, it’s also too perfect and two-dimensional, so some fans hate him for just that reason. Again, this should have kept everything split up and the focus on the main pairing. But our female lead is not only in the wind as far as her crush and trying to move past it, she has had so many responsibilities heaped on to her that it’s a miracle she’s still standing. And this boy has said that he loves her for who she is, just her, not her superhero self blinding him so badly he can’t see her, but her. And she doesn’t even have to explain everything to her (as our male lead has thrown a tantrum over in the past).

My friends, they not only dug the grave, they put in the final nails themselves. (Supposedly there are two episodes left that will revive it like a zombie, but I doubt it.)

At this point, if I was in that writing room, I would be looking over fan responses and questions, look at my team, and go, “Ya’ll, we have to either spend an entire season fixing this, which by our premise we can’t do… Or we may have to let go of the love square being endgame.” But of course, these are a bunch of men (and one woman) and I can’t see them doing that. What I can do though is take this as an object lesson myself. If you have a couple, it’s fine for there to be complications towards them ending up together–that’s life. There’s also a line in the sand where if you cross it, you won’t get your fanbase back. This is going to apply to me for Sun’s Guard, so I’m going to take this lesson and run.


Review: Tamiko and the Two Janitors

Sorry it took so long for this review, ya’ll, I had to wait for finances to behave. ^^; For those who are curious, I am going to do the other short stories in this universe and Lord Mettlebright’s Man…eventually. It’s a matter of timing at the moment. (A small part of me wants to wait for there to be four and just do my big paperback purchase then, get everything all at once.) But let’s get to what you actually care about.

Tamiko and the Two Janitors takes the Amaranthine Saga to a location that’s only been referenced before–America, where the Emergence has not been going over well (and is anyone surprised? Nooooo). Enter elementary school principal Tamiko Reaverson. While she has no connection to the In-Between, she is determined to help the Amaranthine find a place among humans, opening up her school and the community to them so they no longer have to hide. Unfortunately, it turns out there’s secrets a-plenty in both the school, in her family, and on her family’s farm, and in true fashion, it all starts coming to a head all at once.

Alright, from here on out there may be spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum though.

Characters, as always, were amazing. I think I particularly liked our “B” plot with Melissa and Jiminy the most in this one, watching as they tried to figure themselves out and what they really wanted while working together with the wolf pack. I also liked Ash and Tamiko, though their relationship felt a little rushed to me? Maybe that’s just because the last two books it was this huge…figuring out thing, and this one it was pretty straight forward. It does break the pattern, which I totally appreciate. Kip was amusing, but the relationship between him and Joe is still murky for me, so I want more of that. The wolves sort of got to touch on things that we at least barely skimmed in earlier books, so it was nice to see more of them and how other characters react to these new elements to their world, even the ones who think they are in the know!

This book it really felt like the established characters took a step back. Oh, there were still there, but I think getting away from Japan helped keep them from taking over the whole thing and making it a web. Instead, we just got little flashes, which totally worked for me, since I definitely still want to see these characters, I just want to focus on the current story too. The way their on-going plots were touched on, such as Argent and his hunt for both the rogue fox and the rogue dragon who may or may not be working together and I can’t figure it out yet, and Kimiko and Quen and their courtship, it all wove together with this story so I didn’t question why it was included, and yet I still got an update and to see these characters I love.

Speaking of plot, I wasn’t always one hundred percent sure of where this one was going to take me. Partly because I hadn’t read either of the two fanfics I could see working into the mix (just the summaries so I recognized them, lol), but also because she kept the story moving. It wasn’t in the bad way, either, the way certain writers who shall not be named tried so hard to subvert expectations that they ruined it, but instead in a way that pays off so that the reader stays with the story and is satisfied with the conclusion (aside from the obvious series hooks dangling). Like it shocked me right out the gate, I had a little freak out, and it sort of just kept going. I was highly amused by both my own reaction, and what I was reading.

I am going to touch on world building here. There were some pretty subtle prods at the situation in America being like the civil rights movement. As a local from Oklahoma, I definitely saw it more like the indigenous population and their struggles. This really pushed it more towards being like them in my head. They have a lot more of the land struggles and issues with being between nations in terms of laws and practicalities (spoken as someone who has to work with the tribes as a foreign nation at work). That makes it very personal to me, and something that I’m pretty strong about. I hope we continue to see this situation improve in future books.

As a series whole, this felt like a solid continuation of the series. I didn’t get lost like I did in Kimiko, and it excited me similarly to how Tsumiko did. This isn’t a series I’m going to put down after the third book, like others, so you can expect these reviews to continue. I think each one actually gets better…of course, Argent is still my favorite, so I also could be biased, lol.


Writing: Finding the Time

We’ve all heard the sayings: write everyday, even if it’s just three words. Set aside an hour to write everyday. Do what feels natural, even if it’s cramming everything out in three days (yikes! been there, but yikes!)… There’s a lot of them, and they sometimes seems to conflict with each other. If it just matters to put words to a page, why does it matter when we do it? If the words themselves do matter, then how do you feel productive?

I would love to say there’s a definitive answer on this one, but there really isn’t. You have to figure out your own rhythms, what makes you tick and what gives you the best response for your effort. I will break down some of these common sayings, and their equally common answers, and how I have interpreted these to help me. Some of this may work for you, some of it you may have to do the exact opposite. Do as you will.

The first myth: writing every day. There’s been some people who talk about jotting down a few sentences each days, some talk about waking up early to write first thing in the morning before the rest of the household is up and before work… I had a professor who subscribed that belief too, even had us keep a journal. In theory, I think it’s a great idea. In practice… Ugh. I don’t know about you all, but I’m a single female with two cats and a house to take care of, plus a day job and other responsibilities plus wanting to you know, have fun occasionally. Writing every single day just doesn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean I don’t work at writing every day. Here’s what I mean, take right now for an example. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I have rehearsal from 7 to 9. That means my prime writing hours are taken up doing other things, and by the time I’m home, my brain has died and writing just isn’t going to happen, at least in a way that I won’t have to completely do over during the weekend. But you know what I do have enough brain for? Piecing together characters. Fleshing out world-building. Poking at my plots to make sure that no new sub plots have grown when I wasn’t looking. All of this goes into the work of writing, so that when the weekend comes along or I have a day off or–miracle of miracles–my brain hasn’t died after rehearsal yet, I can sit down and push out a couple of pages.

Any words are good words/progress. This one, I get where it’s coming from. Staring at a blank page is not going to help you get unstuck any faster, nor is it getting your book written. Some scenes are just emotionally difficult as a writer, whether it’s because you have something else you want to be working on or the characters are being difficult or you are just plain tired. Getting a few sentences deeper can (and should) feel like a major accomplishment, and each time you do that, you get a little bit further along, a little bit closer to getting to the finish line and the wonderful world of editing.

But where I disagree is the “any” part. This is how hokey scenes happen that somehow make it past your editor/beta reader and the rest of your audience is like, “WTF was that?!” Every time I’ve had to force a scene out, I write once more to get the pain over with and enjoy it again…and then go back and read that struggle-bug scene. What was making it so difficult? Was it because someone was acting out of character? Was it because it was a shoe-horned in subplot that really needs cut out? Is the scene just boring and needs to go away? Sometimes it’s because something REALLY IMPORTANT to the plot was happening there, but I was too vague about it and I really needed to work at fleshing it out in my head during my “working on writing” days and to figure out what it is better so I can fix the awkward scene.

Don’t edit, just write. This was the next logical one to cover, lol. I get the thought behind this one too. Going over the same three scenes to get them perfect isn’t going to help you. You need to keep progressing, keep the story moving. And to be honest, those three scenes are never going to be perfect. You have to keep pushing or else you’ll never get done, you’ll just have thirty odd unfinished drafts (no, I’m not calling out certain best friends, fanfiction doesn’t count and if it did I’d be a hypocrite)! So as bad as your sentence structures are, as many typos as you may see, just ignore them and keep going with the next scene, you can fix those later (hopefully…typos are sneaky).

I actually somewhat agree with this one, aside from what I stated just prior. Short of something being unnecessarily difficult and figuring out why, I am a big proponent of just go, go, go, write till you hit…the mid point. Once you hit the mid-point, of your plot, I advice a pause. Reread. Is your plot doing what you want it to do? THREE TIMES, I looked back at Sun’s Guard: Ten and went, “Nope. This ain’t doing it. Try again.” And each time, it got better, before I finished the book and suddenly had a huge amount of editing to do. It lets me catch big mistakes like wrong subplots or a character not getting enough “screen time” early so I can fix it sooner and then continue what I’m doing. I fix typos if I find them, but I don’t worry about structure or things like that, I’ll do a huge print out later for that.

It takes as long as it takes. This is someone wanting to take the pressure off of how long it can take to write a book, to free up pressure. And there is a point there, because if you rush, the writing isn’t as good and you’ll make more errors. But this one I really want to advice people to throw out. The publishing industry runs on deadlines. Even if you self-publish, you need to build some sort of momentum and can’t be dead silent for five years and only release a book that often. You will struggle with building an audience. So I have created a publishing schedule for Sun’s Guard and Truth in Justice. Sun’s Guard has it by the month, Truth in Justice just has a general year of when I expect to put each of those out and could obviously move around a bit. I now have internal deadlines that I need to meet. I know exactly how long it takes me to edit and to format, and how much space I need to take between edits to insure fresh eyes. This gives me a timeline that I need to adhere too, so I can build my audience at a consistent rate.

These are the most common bits of advice I’ve seen floating around. Anyone else have others you want my two cents on? Want me to collect them and do another post? Let me know!


Back-Up Characters, Yay or Nay?

We have all heard the horror stories of TPK–where the DM or the dice decided to just off the party. And sometimes it isn’t the whole party, just your character that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on your level and how high the treasure is running, you may have no hopes of resurrection either. Even if you can afford it, you may not have someone able to cast it right away and what are you supposed to do in the meantime?

This is where it can be handy to have a back-up character. Thing of them as second-string, someone to run with the party until your main is brought back to life if they even can be. My group also uses them because sometimes, we get bored with our main or they aren’t the right fit with the party, or even because something story wise has come up that it makes more sense for them to leave the group (usually to settle down somewhere) because their goal has been accomplished or they have been thrust into a role of responsibility.

So this raises a question. What do you do for a back-up character?

I don’t like playing the exact same thing I’m replacing–it feels like cheating. But you have to think about your group dynamics. Do you need a tank, a healer, a damage per second, what? While there is a way around most gaps, it’s something to think about–you can have a party of entirely clerics, but you need to be different types of clerics. So keeping that in mind, then you need to decide what this character is going to be–a loner who is temporarily joining the group, either by their own will or being hired as a mercenary, a permanent addition. That will help you decide on backstory and class archetypes.

Whether or not I have a back-up character usually depends on the campaign. For example, Hekate is basically the linchpin for her campaign. If I lose her, I would need to consult with the DM on what exactly we could do. As a result, I haven’t built a back-up character and probably never will. But for Jadzia’s campaign, where death is a pretty constant threat? I’ve been contemplating a back up for a while, I just hadn’t settled on anything until the last couple of weeks. My new back-up in case of Jadzia retiring or dying is now Aurora, a Justice Archon Legate Paladin of Athena.

Now that I have a concept, the next question is how far should I go in building this character? There’s some schools of thought, such as waiting to build until you need them, but that could bring a session to a grinding halt if you die within the first hour of a planned four hour meeting with your group. (Or at least it would for me.) Sometimes the rest of the group can keep pushing on, sometimes they can’t and they have to wait for you to build. At the same time, your group is going to run into a lot of items that if your character dies, may be good to pass on to your new one. But if you’ve spent your gold on it already, it can become a headache to backtrack. Plus, gold for a new character scales with their level, more headaches.

My personal way is to get the backstory figured out. Race, name, age, family, home region, and class. Also go ahead and get my stats rolled up and assigned as needed. This lets me get my skills sorted, and I usually go ahead and pick out my feats. With all that figured out, I can level this character at the same time as my main, or at least close to it. That will make the needed character creation should something happen to my main limited to just buying items. (Which can also take forever, but once you get your basic kit, everything after that is just bonus.)

Like I said earlier, not all campaigns want or need a back-up character. And you should always talk to your DM if you want to retire your main, and give them plenty of warning. (I saw a tweet where someone had been setting up a character-centered arc for months, only for the player to change characters out of nowhere on them, I felt sooo bad…) If they know who your second string character is, they also know are prepared for what is coming with that new character and can keep in mind how to introduce them if needed.


Review: Descendants 3

I know I live tweeted this during the premiere, but now that I’ve watched it multiple times, I still have feelings that I need to get out, plus the set needs to be complete. As a note, I am trying to be…less abrasive, I suppose?…of my reviews, even if I have issues with them. This is especially true for this movie, since it premiered so soon after the loss of Cameron Bryce (Carlos).

Descendants 3 picks up a bit after the second movie, bringing a fresh class of kids from the Isle of the Lost to Auradon for a chance at turning good. However, a clash with Hades at the gate puts the entire program in jeopardy, especially when a villain appears and begins to wreck havoc on all of Auradon using Maleficent’s scepter. Mal and the others must obtain Hades’s ember, the only force capable of countering the scepter, and bring an end to it…once and for all.

Okay, spoilers from here on out, ya’ll. Look away if you don’t want to see anymore.

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