Writing Samples

These are excerpts and samples of writing.

 

  • A collected PDF of fiction samples can be found here.
  • A PDF of a short game script sample can be found here.
  • A PDF of an example character casting sheet can be found here.
  • A combined PDF of all of the above can be found here.
  • A collection of my released tabletop games is available on request.
  • A list of references is available on request.

 

My resume can be found in the following formats:

Sabbatical {flash fiction}

This is flash fiction written in a surrealist modern setting.


You have no idea what you should have expected when you finally met Death, but this was decidedly not it. Across from you in the diner booth, with its slightly sticky table and flickering overhead light, the woman (entity? god?) chuckles like she can hear your thoughts. For all you know, she can.

 

“I can’t, by the way,” she says unprompted, her drawl just as thick and slow as the last time she spoke. “Y’all just always think the same things: ‘What did I do to deserve this?’; ‘Can she hear my thoughts?’; ‘Can I get out of this?’ Wondering if I know what you’re thinkin’ is just the most consistent one.” She takes a deep pull of her clove cigarette and you can’t help but say it:

“Those things will kill you.”

 

Apparently, those no smoking campaigns were very effective.

 

She stops mid-drag and simply stares at you, the breath held unnaturally long. Mere carcinogens wouldn’t dare raise a hand to her. You stare back; it’s probably some kind of sacrilege but you still do it. She breaks out into raucous laughter. A few other patrons of the diner glance over before looking away again. You’re pretty sure they know what she really is. “Honey, that’s—” She shakes her head and takes a deep breath, like she’s never smoked a day in her life. “That’s not all how this works.” She still puts it out in the empty ashtray out of courtesy. “Right then, you and I need to have a little talk. Think you can manage that?”

 

You think about it even though you’re fairly certain you’re meant to just say yes immediately. If this is a dream, how long you take to answer is irrelevant. And if it’s not, you have a feeling you really want to spend some time contemplating exactly what you might be saying yes to first. In the time the cogs of your mind are spinning and grinding, you take some time to watch Death.

 

She seems content to wait, which makes a lot of sense. If she truly is Death, why would waiting ever bother her? You take a breath to speak finally and she laughs again. It’s wry and almost fond this time, with a raised eyebrow. “I don’t actually have all the time in the world to sit here and chatter away with you, nice as you might be. I have a job to do and, Fates willing, so will you.” You don’t know how to decipher that so you tell her you’re ready to listen and she gives you a smile. Rather than being ghoulish, it’s warm like someone that’s known and watched over you since before you were born. Maybe it’s the gentle wrinkles over her dark, sun-warmed skin. Maybe it’s her comfortable, just barely broken-in clothes. Maybe it’s all of it. “Before we get started, we might as well get that question you’ve got burning in your throat out of the way, before you end up with acid reflux or something.”

 

“I’m dead, right? I’m dead and this… diner is the… Afterlife?” You look around to try to figure out if you would really mind sitting here for the rest of eternity and the best you can come up with is ‘so long as I never have to go to the bathrooms’. A glance out the large bubble glass window between the blinds’ tiny slats adds ‘venturing out into the lightless night’ too.

 

“Yes and no,” Death sits back in the squeaky cushions as she tries to figure out how to best explain it in a way you’ll understand. You know the look. Your parents gave it to you, teachers, older siblings and cousins and friends. The look that say ‘you’re not dumb, you’re just not experienced enough for this’. “You are most definitely dead, kiddo. Sorry about that. It was quick, if that makes you feel any better. This here is a waystation of sorts; a place to wait until you pass on, if you’re meant to. Otherwise, you end up like them.” She jerks a thumb over at the barely moving people hunched at one end of the long lunch counter. You hadn’t even noticed but looking at them for too long makes you feel like going to sleep and you suppress an involuntary yawn. “Yeah… You sure know how to slide the hard questions in there, don’t ya?” She whips off her dingy hat and runs a hand through the tightly coiling salt and pepper curls underneath before she replaces it. “Well, anything else?”

 

You think for a moment. This feels almost like interviews you’d do for office jobs, the ones that always have postings but would never hire. So you take the advice of one of the videos you watched before the last one. “What’s your typical day like?”

 

Death blinks at you and bursts out into her loudest laughter yet. “You’re a quick study, aren’t ya?” That’s when you’re sure about what comes at the end of this. “I drive around,” but you know the word she says isn’t actually ‘drive’ but something your brain can’t make sense of yet, “and I collect souls along the way. Stop in places like these, get them a hot meal, and help them to the next step. Most go quiet, they know what’s happened. Some don’t want to believe it. Some fight, those can be hard.” Death sobers for a moment then takes a slow deep breath. “It’s an eternity, I suppose, it’s got its purpose. I just like to think I’ve earned myself a vacation. Let’s call it an indefinite sabbatical. I need someone to fill in for a while, once I get them trained up. Think you might be interested?”

 

You don’t have to think about your unfulfilling job, your consistent boredom, your wish for something to change even the slightest bit, your tiny glimmer of hope. There’s no hesitation this time.

 

“Absolutely.”

Choice {flash fiction}

This is flash fiction written in a cyberpunk setting.


“We have a new assignment.” It’s said flatly, as if Hartley would really rather be doing anything else in this world, up to and including going back to ‘Dis and attending a gala in the biggest gown imaginable with their cropped black hair pulled and teased and extended and styled into some follicle confection worthy of their abandoned family name. That in itself is a tip-off that this wouldn’t be a normal assignment. He rubs at the fade starting to grow back thick and kinky after only a few days and sighs, considering their efficient little apartment kitchen.

 

Coffee first, the real stuff, then diving into whatever this is. Garou places a carafe and two mugs in the only clear spot at their oversized but still cluttered table. Only a few files and tablets have to be nudged aside and nothing clatters to the tiled floor. Small victories. “You like working, Hartley,” he says patiently and somehow their compact form fills with even more rage and indignation. Ah. This one might mean they have to go up to ‘Dis then and that always set them on edge. “We could always turn this one down. We’re not exactly hurting for money after all.”

 

Hartley sighs heavily and shakes their head, arms covered in ink crossing over their chest. He thinks he spots a new one, wedged in between two larger pieces to help integrate them a bit better, but it might just be a trick of the light. It was always hard to tell with Hartley. “I don’t want to rest on my laurels and I don’t want to go soft.” He lets out a tiny snort, completely unable to hold it back. “Don’t give me that,” they snap back with a snarl. “I left Haut Nuage for a reason.”

 

That sobers both of them for a moment, memories of their first meeting and assignment floating back. The question Hartley had never really answered still hangs in the air: if they hated the ways those at the top lived so much, why choose to work for them and do their dirty work as a cherch-merc? Garou recovers first.

 

“Alright, what about this seems off to you?” he asks softly, pouring both their cups exactly the way they like. Hartley takes their pure black and inhales the rich scent deeply before answering. He wasn’t sure why but just the scent of real coffee always put them at ease.

 

“It’s another look into that upstart vampire, the one working in prosthetics and regrowth.” He nods, still mixing cheap sugar substitute and powdered creamer into his coffee. They could afford the real stuff if he wants but some habits die hard. “The last cherch-mercs who worked this found nothing too out of the ordinary, mostly that they’re intensely private. Makes sense if you’re trying to build something that might do any kind of good.” He nods again. He was the one who kept up on reports from other teams and competing organizations, not much of this was new. “They got fired.” His eyebrows shoot up and he lets out a soft noise of understanding. It explains why nothing else had come from that crew, considering how good they had been. “Yeah, I know.”

 

“Someone needs something desperately then,” he murmurs to himself. “Someone with clout who wants the best money can buy. Anything less than tearing down that new company is unacceptable.” He goes silent for a moment, the only noise Hartley nervously cracking their knuckles. “They could do a lot of good for SouMet first if we can stall this out long enough.”

 

“And what about all the good we’re doing if they just fire us first? We—” He gives them a look, the servos in his mechanical arm whirling louder as if in indignation and cutting off the selfish tirade before it can even start. “You’re right. That’s…” They wave a hand upwards as if to indicate their upbringing in ‘Dis and the entire social structure of Metropolis speaking through their mouth. They aren’t wrong about how deeply ingrained the behaviors and culture are, or how far they’ve come in trying to unlearn even the smallest part of it, but it still rears its ugly judgmental head sometimes. “So what do we do?”

 

Garou takes a long sugary sip as they think. “We take the assignment and get to the bottom of whatever this is. Better to know what’s happening and pass the info on if whoever is hiring just plans on firing us if we don’t deliver fast enough.” Hartley nods solemnly, the way they do when they’re already making their contingency plans. He just sighs heavily again, picks up a tablet, and starts reading up on what they should already know.

Buzz {flash fiction}

This is flash fiction written in a cyberpunk setting.


One might think, looking at me from afar as so many must do, that my life is easy. I want for nothing. I am the only untouchable person in this city. My hair, however it is coiffed for each appearance (and it is different for every appearance), has nary a single follicle misplaced or askew. My skin might well be porcelain for all the pores you can see. My clothing is trend before it becomes the trend, the lightning spark that starts the conflagration. Secrets seem to simply float into my waiting and upturned palms so that I may deliver it to the masses. Those masses think of me as an idol resting so far above they can hardly stand to look for fear they may be burned.

 

I am the Voice on high, delivering unto them the words they so violently crave to sustain their drives for ever greater accomplishments. I am the one thing they believe immutable and infallible.

 

They think me perfection given flesh.

 

They are wrong, of course. It is merely a facade, donned as needed to hold everything together. I am mortar, the glue dragging the sliding pieces of the city back into their proper places so the march may continue ever forward. I work tirelessly to ensure that all is as planned from the lowest SouMet dreg to the perpetually incumbent executive dynasties that believe themselves at the top. Each one serves a purpose and must be moved and nudged just so. That is what I have been tasked with, as was my predecessor before me and theirs before them to the founding of the Metropolis Arcology Region and the establishment of its endowing corporate benefactors.

 

I force myself out of my revelry to focus again on the task at hand. One cannot simply rely on the words of a cherch-merc in Metropolis, overflowing folders of evidence be damned. Anything can be forged with enough patience and resources. Interns and assistants cannot be trusted with something this sensitive either. Too much responsibility, too much trust, and they may think themselves just as capable without me. They are not yet aware of who we answer to, of course. Only a precious few are aware of that. They could never grasp the nuance and weight of the situation, so blinded by ratings, hits, and potential fame from a byline.

 

So here I am, wires flowing from the ports at my temples and nape like water, providing me with the anonymity to perform some verifying reconnaissance of my own. It has been too long since I’ve had to do this kind of legwork, not since I was a cherch-merc myself all those many moons ago. A twitch of the corner of my mouth is the only concession to nostalgia I allow. There is work to be done.

 

I am in a quiet little SouMet nightclub, a band playing softly in the corner as a ‘bot moves soundlessly through the tables of no more than two to gently place glasses down before gliding to the next. No one orders food here. This is not that sort of establishment. Most of them no longer need to eat for one reason or another. Some of them are vampires, demi-criminal lords of the undercity seeking a moment of reprieve and solitude. Some are from above, socialites and climbers that want to look aloof and unaffected in order to potentially snag a promotion in whatever company has trapped them with its false promises of sky-top views, dazzling galas, and private hover car services. They are there to been seen, seeming to want to remain unseen. A few are locals, watching helplessly as yet another morsel of their subculture is slowly gentrified and cleansed to be made palatable for those in the levels rapidly approaching the ground. There is also a smattering of cherch-mercs prowling for some little nibble of whatever case they found themselves embroiled in, fizzles of gossip an assistant will verify before posting it nestled within some hourly blast to be seen and swiftly forgotten by all but those close enough to care.

 

They are almost all mere noise to be filtered away into oblivion in a swift pass.

 

There are some flickers of passing interest. A pair of feuding vampire family heads are making a deal in the back, their voices just barely registering and forming into a feed in the corner of my AR HUD overlaying everything. Apparently, the crackdowns of the overcity security forces had forced the alliance and the end of a turf war. Interesting spice to pepper in somewhere as needed. A little restaurant ready to blossom into the next hottest eatery sat in contested turf. I make a note of it for later.

 

One of the most ambitious young climbers of the largest aesthetics provider in the city is holding court in the most conspicuously inconspicuous spot possible, just to the left of the door and forming a perfect equilateral triangle with it and the band. For someone who had only been stitching together uniforms and functional apparel a few years ago to be draped in their own designs before release to the mid-level masses is no mean feat. Commendable but only fodder for a slow news day.

 

A maker is watching the band with obvious curiosity and avid interest. They too have spotted the tells and subtle giveaways. Perhaps they too have noticed that they are already starting to be covered and masked away. If they are as good as they so loudly proclaim, they should have. It would not remain obvious for much longer.

 

Interesting. Inconsequential. Insignificant in the long run. Those people would never truly change this city.

 

Two of the most notorious cherch-mercs in all of Metropolis have eyes for my mark and it nearly gives me pause. Their intelligence is not what I am here to confirm but their appearance here is almost confirmation enough in and of itself. They rarely drag themselves out of the true SouMet, the undercity that people are always so afraid of, for anything less than the most urgent of business. Or at least, this is what I have come to know.

 

The real gem of this eve is cloaked in shadows that would leave them obscured to human eyes. Their focus is single-minded and attached to the band playing across the intimate little room. Filters flicker over my vision in a rapid cycle as I attempt to confirm the patron’s identity but all fail. A REC blocking device, basic but effective if of good quality. Nothing on any market is better at concealing truths save sealing yourself in a Dyson sphere. Considering my database of faces and personal information is the most complete aggregate in Metropolis, seeing nothing is a feat worthy of attention and money. That confirms that this was no ordinary barfly.

 

The concealed figure golf claps as the band finishes, just subdued enough to be polite to the band but not enthusiastic enough to be conspicuous. I curse softly both in my flesh and in my husk as they slip through a side door that never allows me to confirm their identity. The useless cherch-merc who gave me this information must have tipped them off with their oafishness. They are far more cautious than any normal diver of the depths of the city. I will need to use some other means to tease out that particular truth.

 

I make my way into a side room, a charging station for the bar’s assorted ‘bots and the rare loaned ‘droids. I shed my skin like a serpent and resurface in my workspace, surrounded by tools of my trade and little else. It is… surprisingly lonely and, for a fraction of a fraction of a heartbeat, I am filled with regret. The pedestal I have been placed on is unfortunately too small to hold anyone but myself.

 

Several deep breaths and a Rise’n’Shine shot later, I am ready to face the city for the morning blast. It will not have the buzz to shake the world from the top curve of the climate dome arcing over the pristine ‘Dis rooftops to the lowest possible reaches of Soumet. It will not topple corporate empires or bring CEO dynasties to their knees. It will likely not even be remembered by lunch. That is fine. The shape of this masterpiece will come together perfectly when the time is right for it.

 

I will look perfect, however. That is what truly matters. I take one final breath, deliver my token smirk for the drone cameras, wait for the exact necessary microseconds, and begin.

 

“Good morning, my lovely Metropolis denizens. Do I have some buzz for you today…”

Mid-City Morning {flash fiction}

This is flash fiction written in a cyberpunk setting.


There’s a certain sort of serenity to the city when it’s this early in the morning. People are awake, of course. People are always awake at this level of the ‘plex, tossing together enough calories to force them through to their first breaks. But it’s quiet. Peaceful. Thoughtful. The filters you need this close to the ground force out most of the air-based pollutants but they can never quite get out all the smells that make it feel like home.

 

The slightly charred smell of bread left too long to toast. Lenna is usually the culprit in the ‘plex, too busy trying to press their suits and get them to sit just right for their boss. There’s always some meeting they need to look perfect for, always.

 

Caffies releasing their perfectly timed olfactory loads, the chemical reactions just right. If enough people have their windows open and they time it just right, those little pods can wake up anyone on the level from a dead sleep. Anyone but Harley, that is. Folx say her room is sealed like a tomb with good reason, that maybe she’s secretly a vampire running away from problems in SouMet. Pretty sure she just works late.

 

The artificially clean scent let lose when the drying enclosures are opened. Someone in this ‘plex is always forgetting their clothes in the racks overnight, too tired after wearing smiles or hauling components to assemble whatever the newest Upper trend is going to be before they move on like they always do.

 

Then there’s the one smell you get every morning if you’re up early enough, the one no one likes to talk much about: the gut-churning scent of blood and oil before the scheduled morning rain rinses it away. The evidence of what happened the night before. Cherch-merc bait, luring in those vultures worse than a bad rumor.

 

It’s usually not a problem in this ‘plex since it’s mostly residential. The only bar here is a tiny one owned by the Mendezes, right next to their bodega. They make sure trouble here gets taken care of fast, to protect their investments I guess. There aren’t a lot of vampires or other supes around besides, something about ley lines and wards if you ask Tey. Or because of the one bar if you ask me. No ‘droids to malfunction here either, since no one would waste the money on one here. Nothing that could cause trouble, by anyone’s estimation.

 

I wrinkle my nose in disgust at the smell, tucked haphazardly under the frying protein squares and spices just added to the evening’s dinner to simmer throughout the day. The display in countertop flickers to life with a special report about the damages done to some new prototype ‘droid, the carnage that laid strewn across sectors and levels, the fashions already springing up from the wreckage like macabre flowers, the charity events to honor the truly dead already being announced for the following sundown…

 

I shake my head, sigh, and knock back my Caffie. I had to leave for the rail soon or be late to my desk again. The rumors from that, true or otherwise, would set me back and shove me back down a level. No one wanted that. Besides, the reports would be broadcast every step of the walk to the station. No one in the Met missed anything for very long.

Hartley Aucune {Character Casting Sheet}

The following is a character casting sheet within the same universe as the above flash fiction. This is not for any existing property.


 

Hartley Aucune

Age: late 20s-early 30s
Gender Presentation: female, she/her pronouns, androgynous presentation
Spoken Language(s): English, French, French-English patois derivative
Accent: proper French
Voice Notes: While Hartley’s words can rough and gruff, her cadence and pronunciations are proper and refined as a reflection of her upbringing.

Short Description

Hot-headed, eager for any fight, sarcastic, blunt, brash, resentful.

There’s little difference between Hartley when working as a private investigator and Hartley as a private citizen of SouMet, the city of “undesirables” beneath the city of Metropolis. Her gruffness might be put-upon way to try to shove down her literal top-of-the-clouds upbringing, but she refuses to do it by halves. She will fight anyone in her way, sometimes antagonizing them unintentionally with her stony-face sarcasm and curt nature.

Detailed Description

Hartley Aucune was born at the very top of the upper echelons of the Metropolis elite, something she still resents and rebels against to this day. She spits and curses and does all the things a lady of the cloudy heights of the near-future cyberpunk megacity should not, for fear that it might be used against them by someone in need of leverage. That stubborn rebellion centers most around her work as a church-merc, a private investigator who digs into rumors about people and corporations to undermine them. It is considered a lowly job, akin to being a janitor in an office building: essential work but no one really wants to do it.

Hartley took to it like a natural-born SouMet denizen rather than an expatriate from the city above, using her deep knowledge of the social infrastructures of Metropolis and its aristocracy as well as her privilege and access to get to information no one else could ever hope to touch. Those advantages catapulted Hartley and her partner Garou into the position of the best in their business.

Many would assume that she, even with her body covered in ink, piercings, and other modifications, is much more likely to be the talker of the pair but they would be wrong. She is the one left cleaning off her bloody knuckles at the end of a night and grumpily filing damage reports at the end of a case. She detests the work they do and how it is used, but not more than she detests the people they do it for. Maybe the knowledge that they’re still human, no matter how much they alter themselves to hide it, is enough to take the money she gets and put it back into the people of SouMet who need it.

While Hartley believes she’s doing the right (or at least best at the moment) thing, she rarely if ever takes the time to step back and examine her choices unless specifically called out to by those she trusts around her. That acceptance is always grudging but she always makes attempts to be better. After all, she is not from SouMet; she grew up with the promise of controlling untold lives as the head of a corporation as a matter of course.

Line Examples

The following examples are pieces of sample potential script with lines that reflect the character, with context for the generalized scenes they could be said within.


 

INT. DESTROYED OFFICE ̶ NIGHT
After winning a messy fight, HARTLEY rolls her shoulders and stretches. She’s clearly ready for the next one and even more ready to gloat about it.
HARTLEY AUCUNE
(cocky, sarcastic)
I wouldn’t worry about the office. Just… say you’re redecorating.

INT. AGENCY HEADQUARTERS, CHIEF’S OFFICE ̶ MIDDAY
HARTLEY is lounging carelessly through a case brief, only half listening to the information. This is the first thing she’s said since walking in and greeting her boss.
HARTLEY AUCUNE 
(bored, apathetic)
Yeah, sure, we can take the case. It’s just basic mud running, yes?

EXT. SOUMET STREETS, OUTSIDE DERNIÈRE CHANSON CABARET ̶ NIGHT
After a hard-won victory, HARTLEY is trying desperately to catch her breath as she and GAROU survey the scene around them. They hadn’t expected anything like what transpired here.
HARTLEY AUCUNE 
(harried, breathless)
I admit it, I was very wrong about this one. Désolé, shame on me. Now, can we please, please get out of here?!

INT. STAR ROBOTICS LABS R&D ̶ NIGHT
HARTLEY and GAROU try to take the vastness of pristine laboratory around them, the robotic PROTOTYPES being built and tested autonomously even at this late hour. Some are preparing meals, other dancing, and a few simply watching the pair curiously but not openly. All the prototypes have the same blank face mask but wildly different personalities.
HARTLEY AUCUNE
(awed, fearful)
This is… very much not the case we were told it would be.

EXT. METROPOLIS ROOFTOP GARDEN ̶ DAY
HARTLEY and GAROU are waiting to meet with a potential client to pass along the details of what they’ve found so far in their investigations. The extreme amount of time that’s passed has given them enough time to take in the panoramic views and look over the gorgeous sculptures and gardens and then some. This is a power move on the client’s part.
HARTLEY AUCUNE
(disaffected)
Nothing I love more than being made to wait by someone who can’t tell a true Rodin from a copy. Not even a student of Rodin’s either.

(Home Is) Where The Heart Is {tabletop game}

This is an excerpt from “(Home Is) Where The Heart Is”, a short game written for Holiday Happenings 2019 and available for free on itch.io. Its main mechanics are Forged in the Dark combined with random rollable tables.


You’re a group of friends getting ready for one of your annual holiday celebrations. It’s more or less the day, so what better reason do you need to get together? There’s only one problem: the only friend who’s actually good at cooking has gotten sick and can’t do the bulk of the work the way they normally would. As a surprise, you’ve all come together to try to make something edible anyway. Use your disparate and not always applicable skills to cobble something together. It might not turn out great, but it will definitely be full of heart. And that’s what matters most (so long as you can still order takeout).

 

Setting Up

(Home Is) Where The Heart Is can be played with any number of players, so long as there are archetypes and dice to accommodate them. For play, you’ll need:

3d6 per person playing
A d12
Something to take notes
Space to play
About 1-2 hours

 

Before playing, make sure to have a chat with your players about boundaries and triggers. If you’re looking for safety tools that will work at your table, consider the TTRPG Safety Toolkit compiled by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk for several solid options and resources. Finally, this is a GMoptional game. While having a GM may make play smoother, it’s not necessary for play.

 

The Friends

Each player chooses which an archetype to play. Each one has something they’re good at. Try to use those skills in literally every situation because none of you cook and you’ve gotta make up for it somehow.

 

The Driving Friend: This friend has a car, valid license, insurance, and knows all the rules of the road. They always remember their turn signals.

The Blade Friend: This friend is really good with swords, knives, and other blades… like inordinately good… They don’t just have katanas, they probably study HEMA.

The Agile Friend: While you probably can’t run a scrum stand-up meeting (that’s probably the Organized Friend), you can get to just about anything anywhere through a combination of physicality and/or chair-based ingenuity.

The Tech Friend: This friend can program literally anything, including things that probably should not be programmed but are now. Your cat? Now posts to IFTTT when their litter box needs cleaning. Your fridge? It’s not a smart fridge but it talks to your phone now.

The Long Distance Friend: You aren’t normally around but you showed up just for this! You came bearing gifts for your cooking friend so maybe, just maybe, you have something useful for this whole attempt at cooking. They won’t mind you opening it early, right?

The Extremely Online Friend: This friend is capable of finding a video for anything or at least a blog post about the video. Sometimes, it’s a wonderfully detailed tutorial and sometimes it might just be a hilarious TikTok.

The Organized Friend: This friend knows where things are, what goes where, when it’s needed, and how things in theory have to happen. They probably have a bullet journal, calendar reminders for everything, and several life-governing spreadsheets. Or so you assume.

The Book Smart Friend: This friend can do mental math easily and has great memory recall, but only for semi-obscure facts you’d learn in school or college. Perfect for when you want to know the chemical effects of turkey but not when you want to know how to cook it.

The Outdoors Friend: You have great wilderness and survival skills and could live off the land indefinitely, provided there’s enough land around.

The Bartending Friend: If it involves alcohol and liquid imbibements, this friend is who you should call.

The Strong Black Woman of the Post-Apocalypse: About War Chief Sona in Horizon Zero Dawn {critical analysis article}

This is a short excerpt of this blog post. The full post can be found here.


 

[War Chief] Sona [from Horizon Zero Dawn] is a stereotypical Strong Black Woman. Full stop, no questions. She’s capable of standing alone, evidenced by the fact that she’s never shown to have a spouse of any kind, has several children, and has risen to an honored title in the Nora tribe. She fights and hunts to protect her home. Her indeterminate age and scarring are proof that she survives. Her children, Vala and Varl, are both shown to be equally capable and would inevitably stand in a similar place once they reach her age. In fact, I should have no problems with her character at all given this evidence. And I didn’t. In part, that’s what I expected would be said of her. There are a lot of factors to it but the Strong Black Woman is a monolith for depictions of capable Black women in media. Sona’s off-screen for much of the opening act of the game and she’s made to be an almost mythic figure by those you can talk within the area of Mother’s Heart. She’s going to be different, I told myself, she’s going to be more. All that changes for me when we meet her.

 

On meeting Sona the first time, she’s leading what’s left of her group of fighters in a chase after the cultists who attacked Mother’s Heart. Why is she chasing them? Pride and vengeance, if we’re honest. Pride, because outsiders came to her territory, dared to threaten it, and were escaping with their lives. Vengeance, because her daughter Vala was killed in their attack during the Proving ceremony of the latest batch of Nora fighters. She orders her son Varl to guard the gates of Mother’s Heart with his life to leave on a wild goose chase that could end hers. No one had ordered her to and it isn’t even clear if she’d waited long enough to mourn her own child and deal with her grief. That sets off some flags but, I considered, maybe that was how Sona would deal with her grief. All of this that we as players don’t experience directly, we learn second hand from Varl, who asks us to find out what happened to his mother who still has yet to send any word. Remember, even with the tech this game’s setting shows, she can’t exactly just shoot a text. No one expects to see her in a few hours. She’s been gone long enough to worry several people and her bosses and have an acting war chief be named in her stead. The acting War Chief swaggers about like he’s just gotten a permanent promotion. We finally find and meet her and I’m immediately put off. So much of how she phrased her words rubbed me the wrong way. How dismissive she is of Varl and his worries for her. How she ignores her own wounds. How she rarely brings up Vala. It reminded me of all the worst parts of the Strong Black Woman.

 

Some of you are probably wondering what that phrase even means in reality. To you, it might just be a meme. The Strong Black Independent Woman Who Don’t Need No Man, so prevalent in so much media. For Black folks raised by Black families, it’s often a very ugly and damaging reality. The Strong Black Woman’s characterization is fairly simple to pick out: fierce, independent, stubborn to a fault, always rising from tragedy, hard-working, willful. The tireless lioness protecting her cubs. It’s revered and often put on a pedestal to aspire to for Black women. But the Strong Black Woman also ignores her own emotions and problems, rarely allowing herself to unpack them and certainly never in any sort of public way. She works twice as hard to get half as much, to the detriment of relationships she has. Those relationships and their actual health, not how they appear from outside, are secondary at best. She has to be the best and most perfect incarnation of whatever it is she’s doing, lest someone question her capabilities. Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder is a perfect example of this, though the audience does see her try to deal with the issues in her life because we see her in private. Rarely does the Strong Black Woman receive that luxury in her narratives. She is meant to be a pillar of outward-facing strength and often little else, someone who helps or guides the true main character of the story she’s found herself in. Games and media don’t exist in a bubble though. This ever-repeated narrative affects people.

Elevator Pitches for TTRPGs {tutorial article}

This is an excerpt from this blog post. The full post can be found here.


How should I use an elevator pitch for TTRPGs?

Pitch content and structure is up to the one making it and what it’s made to do but part remains pretty consistent: the opening is short and sweet (about two sentences), and it conveys the core idea in such a way as to hook the listener/reader. It’s something that can be said in about 10 seconds or less. Here are examples of mine:

 

Misbehavin’ is a Prohibition-era urban fantasy Forged in the Dark game. A blend of Teen Wolf and Boardwalk Empire, seasoned with my life experiences, that deals heavily with being marginalized and community.

H E  I   S    T is a hyper-stripped down, one-shot Forged in the Dark game that makes heist and spy action movies playable. You can sit down and make your own Kingsman or the Fast and the Furious or Cowboy Bebop.

As The World Ends… is a  one page game with Apocalypse World-esque mechanics, thematically based on Train to Busan. You’re trying to outrun an apocalypse, sure, but the real focus is on your human stories with other survivors.

 

Get the picture? You want to try to condense the entire premise of the game into as few words as possible and put them in front of people. Using pop culture touchstones is a big help, as it helps to further convey the mood and tone of the game. That’s also why having touchstones for a game somewhere easy to find is so important to me. Knowing what inspired your game absolutely will help sell it to me and others.

 

The rest of the elevator pitch is very much expanding on what you’ve already laid down with the opening. In the case of HEIST, one of the very next things I would do is lay out what remains from Blades as a Forged in the Dark game and what I’ve added in the Cinematic Death mechanic. For Misbehavin’, I would do much the same and talk a bit about the new community mechanics. This part, though, isn’t necessary. You can simply deliver those opening two sentences and that it, which is the true beauty of them. In theory (and hopefully practice once you’ve gotten in the groove of writing them), that’s all you’ll need to communicate about your game generally.

 

To wrap it up, have your name and a card or a link or link aggregate to present. Only give those if they’re asked for. Otherwise, you can just give the offer for one. If it’s declined, don’t take it as a personal affront. Cards can take up a lot of space and even a small amount can feel daunting.

 

This whole structure will undoubtedly vary from game to game and game designer to game designer. It might take you a while to find how you want to do it but I think you got this.

The Problem With Madness Tables {tabletop game design; critical analysis article}

This is an exceprt from this blog post. The full post can be found here.


 

So first, let’s take a look at the madness rules. They’re part of the SRD in a pretty complete form so here’s a link. You might notice something pretty quickly looking these over.  We rapidly go from flavored status effects of a semi-mundane sort to awkward mechanical mimicking of actual mental illnesses to character flaws. Let’s talk about just this first because it sure is a lot.

 

My biggest problem with the short-term madness table is that these could just be conditions in a table. Attaching the “mad” flavorings to them along with directly labeling them as madness pushes this into some very gross territory. For example, fainting is on this table. Fainting is considered a “short-term madness”. Because adventurers are being diagnosed by Victorian-era women’s physicians just about to proclaim them hysterical and recommend an orgasm or two given in the office. That shit ain’t right.

 

There’s also some mimicking of real-world neurological effects and chronic illness symptoms, in the form of hallucinations. Hallucinations of the sort described in the table can come from a number of sources. Falling asleep or waking up. Being drunk. Having a fever. A symptom of brain cancer or liver failure. Some people may not want something they have actually experienced to be the “punishment” for spending time too close to a creature they’re fighting or being on a plane from a bit too long. Remember, fighting things is the whole point of 5e. You have to fight to level and leveling is the only tangible reward system in the game.

 

That’s a trend that continues through all three of the madness tables. Long-term madness (which lasts for a max of 100 days uncured) leans much more into real-world mental illnesses and neurological conditions. The long-term madness table is the one that comes up most often in adventures in my readings. Interacting with some types of monsters, going into some areas of the planes of existence, or just as a Thing in certain adventures. All of them can cause long-term, indefinite, or special madness. Generally, they become punishments for rolling poorly to stave off the effects.