Rush and the 80s Nerd

I got into punk when I was 15 years old and never looked back. I bang on about it all the time, so if you know anything about my musical taste, it’s my 35 years in the punk rock trenches. What you may not know is that before I saw D.O.A., Black Flag, Marginal Man, and a bunch of other bands that changed my life, I had a progressive rock phase. It’s weird, I know, because punk was in part a reaction to the excesses of the prog rock scene in the 70s, but back at my parents’ house you can still find my dusty King Crimson, ELP, and Yes albums. My absolute favorite band at the time, however, was Rush.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Rush’s drummer and lyricist Neil Peart died last week, and this caused me to think about the band’s impact on my early teenage years. The first album I bought with my own money was Moving Pictures. The first arena rock concert I ever went to was Rush (December 15, 1982 at the Worcester Centrum). I remember getting into heated arguments with my classmates, who didn’t understand why Alex Lifeson was obviously the greatest guitarist in rock and roll (a very 8th grade conversation). Rush was the first band I was passionate about, full stop.

On reflection I realized it was more than music for me though. Rush was an integral part of my life at an important time. They were my favorite band from roughly ages 11-13 and what else was going on that period? Well, when I was 10 years old I first read the Lord of the Rings. That same year I started to play Dungeons & Dragons and it soon became my obsession. And to me at the time this was all part of a greater whole. One of the reasons Rush appealed to me is that their lyrics were tailor made for fans of fantasy, scifi, and roleplaying. They had a song about Rivendell on Fly by Night! The Necromancer on Caress of Steel was basically a D&D adventure, three men of Willowdale on a quest to defeat an evil sorcerer. And 2112, of course, was a science fiction tour de force. Those years were about reading Tolkien, Moorcock, and Leiber, playing D&D, and listening to Rush. This cocktail would be formative for me and lead ultimately to my career as a RPG designer and publisher. “Square for battle, let the fray begin!”

As it turns out, my experience was not uncommon for nerds of the early 80s. The thing is I had no idea this was the case at the time. This was before the internet so I had no easy way to connect with members of my tribe. The only other gamers I knew were the people in my home town. My only window into the wider world of gaming was reading Dragon Magazine, and even in the letters section there was little talk about contemporary music (more important to argue about the alignment system or rollplaying vs. roleplaying, don’t you know). I was isolated in a suburb of Boston, part of a subculture that was derided and attacked as Satanic, and nobody outside my circle of friends thought D&D was cool (and certainly nobody in Hollywood did!). The song Subdivisions, as you might guess, spoke to me when Signals came out. “Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.”

Those heady years were important but they passed. As I was getting into punk rock, Rush was really embracing the synthesizer and that just didn’t do anything for me. I wanted guitar-driven music, harder and faster. I wanted music more in tune with my angry leftism, not Ayn Rand’s poisonous bullshit. So I said goodbye to prog rock and hello to punk and hardcore (and a subculture even more reviled than D&D!). While I would never revisit most of those bands, Rush proved the exception. Their 70s records were something I always went back to. A few years ago Rush did their final tour and I actually considered going. I hadn’t seen them since 1984 and thought it might be fun to relive those days. Unfortunately, their Seattle area show happened when I was at GenCon. Ironic, that it was gaming that kept me away.

When I was 12, I had this fantasy. There were no game conventions near me and I’d certainly never been to one. I could only read about GenCon in Dragon and dream. Well, what if I organized my own convention? And what if I got Rush as the musical guest? Surely this was something a 12 year old could pull off! Now yes, this was completely ridiculous, but it shows you what was going on in my head. Music and games and fiction were sparking dreams and creativity, and from those early beginnings I’d make a career and a life. So thank you Neil, Alex, and Geddy for getting into my brain and giving me a soundtrack for my first adventures. In the early 80s Rush was more than just music for me and I know I’m not alone in that.

I Was a Teenage Homophobe

I am not shy about expressing my progressive politics. I am a feminist and an atheist, a supporter of LBGT and civil rights. I laugh out loud when I hear corporate friendly, drone happy Obama called a radical leftist. I was also a full blown homophobe when I was I was a teenager.

I grew up in Massachusetts in the 1970s. While the Bay State is known for being a Democratic stronghold, I can tell you that it was also home to plenty of racism and bigotry. When I was a kid, homophobia was the norm. Fag was a dire grade school insult. There were rumors about people in the community being gay, but I never met someone who was out. As far as I could tell, gay people were weirdos and degenerates. That’s what everyone said. It was known, Khaleesi!

In one hilarious incident, my aunt got me a Village People album for Xmas when I was 10. She worked at this department store called Lechmere and she had gone to their record department and asked what the kids listened to these days. I was polite about it but secretly appalled. This was disco bullshit and we liked rock and roll! It did lead to a serious (and in retrospect, hilarious) conversation in which we debated whether the Village People were gay or not. After due consideration, our jury of 10 year olds decided that no, that couldn’t possibly be true. If I may continue the GoT theme, we knew nothing, Jon Snow. And apparently, neither did the US Navy, because I remember very clearly seeing a TV special in which the Village People performed “In the Navy” on a ship to a crowd of sailors. No, really.

So how did my opinions change? Well, it started at a party at a friend’s house my freshman year of high school. It was one of those parties that went late because we were having what we considered to be “deep” conversations. Somehow the topic of gay people came up, and I spouted that classic hetero dude opinion, “Lesbians are OK but gay guys I can’t deal with.” And for the first time, someone challenged me on that bullshit! My friend Lisa, who was a couple of years older than me, put me on the spot. “If two people want to be together,” she asked, “what business is it of yours?” And that gave me serious pause.

I went home and thought about it. I never really had before, just accepted the common attitude. When I worked it over in my mind, I had to conclude that Lisa was right. Other people’s sexual orientation was none of my goddamn business. If people love each other and want to be together, isn’t that the most important thing? That was a big breakthrough for me. Then, of course, I moved to New York City for college and became friends with actual, out gay people. And hey, they were just people whose tastes were a little different than my own. This was NYC in the 80s, with ACT UP on the rise, so my education proceeded swiftly.

My step-daughter Kate grew up in a society whose attitudes were already changing. She had multiple friends in high school who were openly gay. This was inconceivable in the 1980s. For Kate though, she grew up with LBGT people in the community. I think she views homophobia as a relic of a bygone age. And I hope that’s true in another generation or two. Today’s Supreme Court decision was certainly a major move in the right direction. I’m glad all my friends now have the chance to legally marry if they want to in all 50 states.

If this decision has made you angry, if you can’t believe the nerve of these uppity queers, allow me to follow Lisa’s lead and call you on your bullshit. Who someone chooses to love is none of your business. I encourage you to chew that over.

Game Night

Note: I wrote this as one of our Ronin Round Tables, a feature we do each Friday on I thought I’d post it here for folks who don’t make it over to the company site frequently. Enjoy. 

In 1999 Nicole and I decided to start hosting a game night at our place to play RPGs. While we’ve moved from that apartment, cycled many friends in and out of the group, and changed the night of the week several times, game night has been going on as close to weekly as we can manage for the last 13 years. It’s a key social activity for us and one that we always try to maintain. Even last year, when I spent 10 months in Austin working on the Warhammer 40K MMO, I Skyped in for at least part of the night to keep that connection. Maintaining a game group is not without its challenges though, and we’ve faced many over the years. I know we’re not alone in this either. How many of these sound familiar to you?

Many Players, One GM
For many years, I ran nearly every RPG on game night. In the early years we played a lot of d20 games, as Green Ronin was one of the leading d20 publishers during that era. I had a long running D&D campaign, ran Freeport adventures, and playtested V for Victory, the World War 2 mini game I designed for Polyhedron Magazine. Later I ran a playtest for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition, and even a short-lived Lord of the Rings game when it seemed like we might get to design a LotR game for Games Workshop (not getting to design that game still makes me sad). Later there was Dragon Age, of course, but game night is not all about playtesting. I also ran stuff like a Savage Worlds Day After Ragnarok game and a weird mash-up of Feng Shui, Underground, Delta Green, and Deadlands. Once in a while, someone else would volunteer to run and I’d enjoy just playing, but those campaigns never lasted. We’d do 3 or 4 sessions and then I’d be back in the GM’s chair. I do like to GM but a certain point I started to get burned out. We got another GM when Ray Winninger joined the group, but ultimately Ray decided he preferred running longer sessions on weekends than working within the constraints of a week night that includes dinner and socializing (and hey, Ray, you can start those up again any time!).

Differing Tastes
Some groups have one glorious campaign that lasts for a decade or more but in my experience those games are the exception. Most campaigns seem to last six months or less. That is certainly true of our group. We’ve had maybe two that have lasted longer than a year. Naturally then, a common question is, “What are we playing next?” This isn’t always easy to answer. Tastes vary widely among our group and what we ended up playing was often a matter of compromise. In all our years of game night, I’ve never run one of my very favorite games, Pendragon, because I knew we had players who just wouldn’t be into it. That game requires a group of players who really buy into the setting and concepts, and I didn’t want to frustrate myself by trying to force it on them.

Life Intruding
I look back fondly on my teenage years, when I had way more free time for gaming. Everyone in our group (with the exception of my step-daughter Kate) is a grown up and of course we have all sorts of responsibilities. Almost everyone who has ever been in our group works in either the tabletop or video game industries, so there have been many times that we lose people for months of crunch time. Convention season is another difficult time, as many of us travel for weeks in the summer to attend this con or that. Marc “Sparky” Schmalz, GR’s Director of E-Publishing, also went back to school a couple of years back, which sometimes limits his time. Mitch Gitelman, an old friend who joined the group while I was in down south, is one of the guys behind the recent Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter and we’re pretty sure that’s going to keep him busy. So while we try to meet every week, it isn’t always possible. Sometimes it has seemed like the whole thing will unravel, but we’ve always pulled it back.

Changing Faces
The game industry can be volatile so we’ve had to watch many friends move away for new jobs, but we’ve also filled empty spots with friends who have moved to Seattle for a new gig. Sometimes the same person has done both those things. The most famous example is Bruce Harlick of the old Hero Games crew, who moved here to work on the Matrix MMO, was part of group for many years, and then moved back to California for several other video game jobs (ending with his current gig at Zynga). We still call him “Bruce the Traitor” for leaving us but he’s far from the only one. Jim Bishop left to go work at BioWare, Patrick Swift for a job at Upper Deck and now Cryptozoic, Tim Carroll for a job at Apple, Jess Lebow for a job at Ubisoft (and the distance record by moving to China!) and hell even me for a while when I lived in Austin last year. Every time we gain or lose people, the dynamic changes a little bit. This isn’t always bad, but it’s another thing that makes long term campaigns hard. GR’s webmaster Evan Sass gets bonus points for being the one person outside the household who has stayed with us through thick and thin.

Campaign Failure
For many of the reasons outlined above, we’ve found it harder and harder to maintain campaigns. While the group was originally conceived as RPG focused, a few years ago board and card games started to overtake that. Since the group often varied week to week, depending on who was traveling or crunching or what have you, it seemed better to play games we could finish in a night. And as I mentioned, I was also burning out on GMing and I wanted a break as well. So we’ve ended up playing games like Ticket to Ride, Dixit, Thurn and Taxis, Small World, Formula Dé, Dominion, and recently Miskatonic School for Girls (a Kickstarter that Nicole backed).

As you can see, we’ve had our ups and downs. Some nights we don’t even game at all. Nicole Lindroos, in addition to being Green Ronin’s General Manager, is a fabulous chef, so she always cooks and we drink, talk, and catch up. Those nights are fun too and even if we only talk about gaming (which is pretty much inevitable for us), I’d rather get together than miss a game night. It’s gaming that keeps us bonded together, keeps us coming back week after week to socialize, and keeps our friendships strong. Of course, it’s better when we actually play something but now my step-daughter Kate (who is 16) is part of the group and she’s helping to keep us honest. Last week she basically told us that game night without games was bulllshit and she wanted to play a superhero RPG please. I think we raised that girl right!

Not Quite a Talking Head

This week I talked to a guest coordinator from a morning talk show on the Lifetime channel. She was interested in having me come on the show to talk about roleplaying games and DC Adventures in particular. How did this unlikely event transpire?

Somehow the talent coordinator had gotten a copy of DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains, Volume 1 and was intrigued. She looked at the author list and then went on Facebook and found Christopher McGlothlin. Chris, as many of you know, is a long time freelancer on our Mutants & Masterminds line and a regular at our GenCon booth as well. When he called me last weekend to tell me “a hilarious story,” I thought it was going to be some tale of crazy academia. Instead he wanted to put me in touch with this woman from Lifetime. Not what I was expecting, particularly from Chris!

Tuesday I talked on the phone with the guest coordinator. She was quite nice but knew nothing at all about gaming or the game industry. I had to explain what RPGs were and how they worked. She apparently had never heard of D&D or even HBO’s Game of Thrones show. Since Lifetime is oriented towards women, I talked about how things had changed since the 80s and a lot more women were gaming now. I pointed out how I was running a game for my wife and step daughter. I told her about Blue Rose and Faery’s Tale. She asked if we dressed up and I said (politely) hell no.

After a half hour of this, she said it sounded interesting and that she’d like to book me for the show. Great, I thought. Lifetime isn’t exactly our main demographic, but I’ll go almost anywhere and promote gaming if you give me a platform. So she’s running down the particulars, like where they tape and when it would happen. Then she tells me that the cost to us will be $5,900. I about choked.

“Is the money a problem?” she asked. I said, “Well, yes. We’re a small company. I could print a book for that money.” And this is where our real culture clash took place. This is apparently normal in her world, but it sure isn’t in mine. We give out review copies but that’s about as far it goes. We don’t pay for coverage.

We talked for a little while longer. She suggested that, since Heroes & Villains Volume 1 had so many authors, maybe they could kick in to get this great coverage for their work. I tried to imagine pitching that one to the freelancers. “How’d you guys like to pay for me to be on TV?”

We agreed to touch base the next day. I told the staff about it and I could hear the gales of laughter from the East Coast. I sent her an e-mail thanking her for the opportunity but telling her that we simply couldn’t afford it. I said I’d be happy to do the show if they waived the fee, but otherwise I’d have to decline. Fee waiving was a no go, so that’s where it ended.

Looks like TV isn’t ready for me yet. I’ll have to start with YouTube.

Resuming Transmission!

I put this website into a “temporary hiatus” in April, 2010. I meant to get back to it sooner, but other things kept getting in the way and Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal provided other venues for my day to day scribblings. I’m happy to report that the site is back up and running. Huzzah!

I must give huge thanks to Joe Fulgham, who sorted out the technical stuff for me and rejiggered the site to run off WordPress. Joe is one of the hosts of the Caustic Soda podcast, which you should check out if you have not. I was a guest on the Hitler episode, so if you want to hear me talk about Nazis, start with that one. I’m not sure what is says about me that when they needed an expert on Hitler, I got the call.

I have copied over all the blogging I did on LiveJournal the last couple of years. You’ll find the original date of publication at the bottom of each entry. I was a terrible blogger in 2011, so getting the entries over here wasn’t so bad. I hope to be better about it moving ahead.

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see me blog about, let me know. In the meantime, welcome back!

Fun in LA

I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, or Burbank to be more precise. I wasn’t there that long, but it was funny how many LA stories I got out of it. Saturday afternoon, for example, I was coming back from a mediocre lunch at the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy (it dates to 1949, though hopefully the food does not). I saw a woman with a big stroller crossing the street with what looked like the entourage of a rap star. As they got closer to me, I saw that a cameraman was filming the whole posse. I don’t know if the baby mama was the center of attention or if she was a nanny for someone else in the group. I walked right by them and couldn’t tell you who anyone was, but it’s possible I made a 2 second cameo is some dreadful reality show.

Later I was in a quiet hotel bar doing some Dragon Age work. Two women came in, and a few minutes later a Latino guy in a fedora joined them. The women start to interview him, and they seem pretty excited. Again, I had no idea who he was. I was sitting maybe 10 feet away so I could hear the whole thing. As he dropped clues, I used my iPad to run Google searches. I finally figured that it was Jaime Monroy. I had never heard of him, though apparently he was the warm up comic for Solid Gold and opened for the Jacksons on the Victory Tour. He had some interesting stories but he lost me when he said that his hero was Ronald Reagan.

Finally my old friend Cecil Castellucci came and picked me up at the bar. Cecil and I met as college freshmen at NYU and fate kept throwing us together until we decided we were friends for life. Our most improbable meeting was in the middle of Dachau the year I Eurailed around the Old World. We have both ended up with careers in the geek world. I do the gaming thing, of course, and she writes YA novels and graphic novels (her Plain Jains book for DC was terrific). We have crossed paths at conventions from time to time but we needed a proper catch up and this was the night. She used Twitter to find a cool bar in Burbank called Tony’s Darts Away. We stayed there until it got too loud and crowded (damn hipsters), then we moved to an old school diner place we happened across called Talleyrand (founded by a fan of French diplomacy?). They still had bundt cake on the menu so I got a slice and we kept talking until I got a call from Wil Wheaton. I had a great time talking to my old friend and wished it could have gone on longer, but we had to leave.

I was crashing at Wil’s the next two nights so Cecil was kind enough to drop me off. Everyone was sick at the house and they had been working all day, so they went to bed by midnight. I’m a night owl, so I was up until 4ish. Then I got up at 8 am because I had somewhere to be early. I can’t talk about the rest of the trip yet, but that should change come March. I will say it was nerdy, fun, and a little bit Hollywood. I got home and at first thought I had missed the plague. It was sneaky though and I didn’t get sick Thursday. Now that head cold is ragin’ full on. Glad I can stay home this weekend.

Originally published on LiveJournal on February 10, 2012. 

The Highlights of My Year

2011 wasn’t the worst of years, but it wasn’t the best either. It was up and down, sweet and sour. I started the year living in Austin and working a day job at Vigil Games as lead writer on the Warhammer 40K MMO. I’m ending it back in Seattle with my family and I’m pretty damn happy to have reunited with Nik and Kate on a permanent basis. I don’t want to dwell on the negative so here are the top 5 other highlights of the year.

1. Kate’s Birthday

I wrote about this a few weeks ago so I won’t go on about it, but the most joyous event of the year had to be Kate’s surprise 16th birthday party. I often feel like it’s my job to apologize to Kate for how disappointing the world is, so it was awesome to see how happy our girl was with her party and all the friends who came out for it.

2. Brazil

In May I flew to Curitiba to be a guest at World RPG Con. This was my first (but hopefully not my last) trip to Brazil, and my first time south of the equator as well. I had a great time, though as usual with big trips like this I wish I could have stayed longer. The con was small but the organizers and attendees were super enthusiastic and they made me feel so welcome. I met many excellent gamers and had the chance to actually hang out with Steve Jackson (the other American game designer guest) for the first time.

The day after the con we got to ride the Curitiba-Paranaguá Railroad. It was a three and a half hour, 116 kilometer trip through the rain forested highlands to the coast. The route went through 13 tunnels and over 30 bridges, and the whole trip was in a vintage Italian train from the 60s. Then we had a huge seafood feast in Paranaguá, followed by more sightseeing by bus before the drive back to Curitiba. All in all, pretty awesome.

3. Seattle: The Returning

I moved back to Seattle in August. Nicole flew down to Austin, we loaded up a truck with the help of friends, and then it was a five day ride through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I’ve mentioned my happiness about getting back with my family, but here I’m talking about the trip itself. When I moved down, I had a fixed deadline so it was four days of hard driving and nothing else. This time Nicole and I had no schedule we had to keep to so we decided to be more casual. I’m glad we did.

Our first stop was at Reaper Miniatures in Denton, TX. Ed Pugh and Ron Hawkins gave us a thorough tour of their facility. They have a really impressive operation going on there and it was cool to see it. We probably spent too much time swapping game industry stories, but hey, how often are we getting to Denton? When it was time for us to move on, they gifted Nicole with some out of production Mousling miniatures, which made her squee with delight.

Next we stopped at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson. It’s a really unlikely place for a museum dedicated to rocketry and space flight it’s quite well done. Apparently NASA wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff back in the 70s, so Hutchinson said, “Give it to us and we’ll make a museum!” The history is well presented and they have some great artifacts, including the lovingly restored capsule from Apollo 13. Worth a stop if you find yourself in Kansas.

In Denver we stopped to have lunch with college pal Pat Brown at the Buckhorn Exchange. We worked out the meet up over Facebook on my phone while we cruised down the interstate. Thanks, technology. Pat recommended an over the top gourmet shop outside town so we had to pop in there as well. They had a huge room full of cheese that was essentially a giant refrigerator. The store keeps coats on hand in case you get cold, but after Texas I enjoyed it in there. Cheese and other goodies we got there made our dinner in the hotel later that night.

As we rode through Wyoming, I thought we were done with stops. Then I noticed on the map that the highway went right by Little Big Horn in Montana. Turns out you can get from the highway to the hill where Custer died in less than 10 minutes. Clearly we had to do it.

4. Dragon Age, Set 2

Professionally speaking, the highlight of the year for me was the release of Set 2 for Dragon Age. It took way longer to get done than I figured, but I’m pleased with the result. The release made me feel great for an hour or two. Then someone asked, “So when is Set 3 coming out?” Oh, gamers. 🙂

5. Steve Ignorant: The Last Supper

I’m ending my list with a bit of punk rock. I did not get to a lot of shows in Austin because I lived in north, north Austin and had neither license nor car. So when German band the Spermbirds came to America for the first time to play South by Southwest, I ended up missing their show. When I heard that Steve Ignorant was bringing his Last Supper show to Emo’s, I determined that I would be there. Thanks to pal Donna Prior, who agreed to drive and come to the show with me despite the music not exactly being her thing, I got my wish.

Steve Ignorant was the singer for Crass, an uncompromising British punk band of the 70s and 80s that went the Sex Pistols one better by taking their anarchism very seriously indeed. They became a hugely influential band, and ran a record label that put out lots of other anarcho-punk bands. Crass broke up in the mid-80s and I never had a chance to see them. I think they only got to America once and then briefly. A couple of years ago Steve Ignorant decided to put on a show called The Last Supper. Basically, he wanted to perform those old songs a final time as “a celebration of what Crass meant” to him.

So this was not a Crass reunion per se, but Steve singing songs from ’77 to ’84 backed by musicians from bands like Conflict, Killing Joke, and the English Dogs. I’m sure a lot of people saw the whole thing as a cynical endeavor but I don’t give a shit: it was awesome. Steve was into it, the band was tight, and hearing those classic songs live was a treat. The real surprise of the night was the performance of many songs from Penis Envy, Crass’s feminist statement on which Eve Libertine handled most of the vocals. A younger singer named Carol Hodge sang the Penis Envy songs and she killed it. She was fierce and delivered those songs with conviction and energy. It was the icing on my punk rock cake.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 31, 2011. 

Kate’s Birthday Surprise…from Space!

My awesome step-daughter Kate turned 16 today. This being a big milestone in her life, Nicole and I wanted to ensure it was special and memorable. Nicole organized a surprise party for December 9 and spent months getting Kate geekerific gifts from all over the internet. After due consideration, I decided to contact my friends at BioWare and enlist their aid. Kate, you see, is a huge Mass Effect fan, and nearly as big of a Dragon Age fan. My publishing company, Green Ronin, is in business with BioWare, licensing Dragon Age for a pen and paper RPG.

So I e-mailed the BioWare folks and explained that Kate’s birthday was coming up. She didn’t like Twilight or boy bands, I told them, but she did like shooting aliens in the face. Mike Laidlaw, Dragon Age’s Creative Director, said, “I’m on it!” He and Chris Bain (my day to day business contact there) arranged to have three Mass Effect t-shirts and two prints sent here before the surprise party. They were a huge hit with Kate, and caused one of her Mass Effect loving friends to exclaim, “I hate you so much!” One of the t-shirts and one of the prints featured Garrus, Kate’s favorite character from the games, and this made her extra happy.

Nicole did a fantastic job with the party. Kate was truly surprised, there was a big crowd, and Kate got some killer swag. After that and a brunch at Salty’s with Bruce and Tim (who had flown up from the Bay Area for the party), I’m sure Kate thought that the birthday surprises were at an end. Mooohaaaaahaaa.

Mike Laidlaw and his BioWare cohorts went above and beyond the call, you see. Mike was able to get the voice actor who plays Garrus in the games to record a special message for Kate. I had hoped to have it for the party but the audio people needed to process it so it had the right Garrus sound. I got it on Monday, just in time for Kate’s actual birthday. I had planned to get up early the following day and play it for her then but I couldn’t wait.

A few minutes after midnight, I took my laptop downstairs and gathered Kate and Nicole. I told Kate that I had a received a message for her from space…and the future. Then I hit play. Garrus’s voice boomed out:

“Kate, we’re in this together. Odds don’t matter anymore. This fight has always been ours to finish.”

Her face lit up. She said, “That’s so awesome. Oh my god, that’s awesome. Fangirl squee!” Then a few minutes later she said, “I’m going to be smiling all the time.” I assured her that would be AOK.

I’m writing this an hour and a half later. Kate can’t sleep because she’s still too excited. I’m so pleased this made my girl happy. She deserves everything good in this world.

Huge thanks to Mike Laidlaw, Chris Bain, and all the BioWare people who made this happen. You rule from orbit.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 13, 2011. 

My New Studio!

It’s official: I have joined Krab Jab Studio in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It’s home base for a group of visual artists, including Magic: The Gathering veterans Julie Baroh and Mark Tedin, as well as Milo Duke. Now you might well be saying, “I didn’t know Chris was a visual artist.” That’s because I’m not! Confused yet? Allow me to explain.

I returned from Texas two months ago and since then I’ve been working Green Ronin full time, and doing so from my home. Nicole, GR’s general manager, also works from our home. While it has certainly been great being back, I began to notice in month number two that I wasn’t working too well at home. My office is so full of books, games, and miniatures that it’s been non-functional for years (really it’s more storage annex than office at this point). That meant that I was spending most days sitting up in bed and working on my laptop. Some days I would spend 80+% of my waking hours sitting in a 2′ x 4′ space. And with all the distractions of home, it wasn’t the most conducive environment for writing and design work. It was not, in short, a long term solution for my day to day work life.

I used to take my laptop and spend some days working in cafes and restaurants. That was an option but I wanted something more. I began to research coworking spaces in Seattle. Coworking is basically when many independent workers come together to share space and resources. It’s a way for people who can’t afford a full office or work space to enjoy a similar environment for a fraction of the cost. Green Ronin as a company doesn’t need and can’t afford a central office but I wanted somewhere to go away from my house to work, and to write in particular.

I did some research and turned up place like Office Nomads and Indie Ballard in the area. I found some promising leads but all of them required bus commutes of some distance. Then my friend Jenny told me that Krab Jab Studio was looking for a fourth member, since one of their artists had left recently. I’m not an artist but she thought they might be cool with having a writer come on board. Turns out that Jenny is smart.

I had a good feeling about Krab Jab before I even visited. I learned that Mark Tedin was a member and we had worked together at WotC a decade ago. In fact, we spent something like a year carpooling together from Capitol Hill. The studio’s location in Georgetown was also a huge plus to me. For one thing, it’s close to my house and thus an easy commute. Georgetown is also the closest thing Seattle has to NYC’s Lower East Side, or at least how the LES used to be. Just the place I’d enjoy spending more time. The building itself is also pretty cool. It used to be the bottling plant of the old Rainier Brewery, and now is the home to a variety of art spaces and small businesses.

After meeting Julie and Milo, it didn’t take for me to decide this was a great fit for me. I get a coworking space close to me in an area I like, but I also get a chance to plug in to the Georgetown community. Krab Jab is now organizing the Georgetown Art Attack, a twice monthly neighborhood event that delivers “art, music, and mayhem.” Those of you who remember my days at ABC No Rio in NYC know this is all right up my alley.

So on Nov. 1 I’ll officially become the “writer in residence” at Krab Jab Studio. Conveniently, I have extra furniture and such from my Austin apartment that’s currently sitting in my garage, so I can set up my area easily enough and maybe even free up some room at home. I am hoping that a new space that gets me out of the house and interacting with other creative people will benefit my work as a writer and expand my horizons in interesting and chaotic ways. I want some structure but not the soullessness of the cube farm. I’ll admit that sharing a studio with three artists is not the obvious move for a writer, but to hell with the conventional. I’ve already had too much of that.

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 26, 2011.

I’m a Bad Blogger

It’s true, I’ve been a bad blogger. I haven’t updated since mid-July. My own site,, has been moribund for over a year. I really need to get that up and running again. I haven’t written much in part because I’ve in busy, in part because I’ve been lazy, and in part because it’s too easy to squirt out a thought or two on Twitter and Facebook. Still, looking back on my old entries, I regret not writing more about what I’ve been up to. Details fade over time and it’s good to record them when memories are fresh. At least my Tweets are being preserved in the Library of Congress.

I’ve been back in Seattle for two months now. Had I stayed at Vigil, this week would have marked one year of employment there. Other than being poor again, I don’t regret leaving the job. I missed Seattle, and my friends and family here. My Austin sojourn already seems like a strange dream. I sometimes think, “Did I really live in Texas for almost a year?” Then I have some of what Seattle calls BBQ and I know the answer is yes, yes I did.

The focus of my effort moving ahead is Green Ronin. I have plenty of work to do, with my major task being the completion of Set 3 for Dragon Age. I am taking on some freelance work as well, to bringing in extra money and in some cases just because it’s fun. I got an unexpected offer from an surprising source to work on an intriguing project that is right up my alley, and I’ll probably take that on. I may do some shorter projects for video games as well, and I’m writing an essay for an upcoming anthology.

One thing I’d like to write more of is fiction. I’m going to start tinkering with a novel soon, because while I’ve written a lot of game books I have not written long form fiction. I have a bunch of competing ideas; I just need to pick the one I want to pursue. I’d also be interested in writing the occasional short story. If any of my publisher or editor friends need authors for short fiction collections, let me know.

Since my schedule is my own again, I also hope to travel more. I did make it to Brazil this year and that was awesome, but I’m always hungry for more. When I have a day job, I have money but little time. When I don’t, I have time but little money. This is why most of my travel in the last decade has been convention or business related, though Nicole and I have become masters of making the most of that.

My parents are visiting right now, so we’ll be hitting some museums with them this weekend. Hopefully, I will blog again before another two months have passed!

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 22, 2011.