New on Desk #60 — Sodcutting on Muster

I learned a fun word that’s ostensibly English in some part of the world, “sodcutting”. It means groundbreaking, the act of starting a construction project. Got to be the title here because I finally started working on Muster this week. I’m going deeper into the rabbit hole on that, so not in the mind to write a long newsletter, but perhaps a few remarks are in order.

Putting my writing space together

Serious writing work relies on a low-key ritual space constructed by the author to their own needs. (Perhaps there are writers who do not do this; it’s not exactly talked about much. I don’t know of an example, though.) The amount of sustained focus required to actually put down words when you could instead be out cavorting in the snow banks (or a field of jagged rocks, or just scatter sharp glass out really — anything to avoid writing) is such that it doesn’t practically speaking happen by accident. I’m personally pretty good at throwing myself at tactical writing challenges, like somebody comes up and asks me to produce a thousand words of stream of consciousness on topic X right now, but that doesn’t really do anything for a deliberate writing project. I’d need to have an entirely different kind of personality to be able to just toggle the writing on and off without, well, treating the entire writing process as this ritual practice. To my understanding this is normal, how other people approach writing as well, although I am probably a bit more of a procrastinator than most people who actually ever finish anything. (And isn’t that a nice thing to think about yourself.)

RPG theory concept of social footprint (I want to say Jason Morningstar did the groundwork on the concept?) applies here in a roundabout way: the question in setting up the writing environment is not just a simple matter of setting up an office space and shutting the door to outside distractions; there exists a wider aura of concerns in which the author resides. To create the ritual space is to get comfortable at the work station, sure, but it’s also about clearing the inbox of bills and lapsed correspondence, about putting distracting hobbies to the side, about getting a lock for that door, because you’d think that the outside world would leave you alone, but fuck if that’s how it works — I’m not a shouting and screaming kind of person, but maybe I should get into practice so the loved ones would learn to let me write instead of dropping in at all hours to talk about their sewing circles.

More ambitiously, what you want in a long-term writing project is a focused mental state, which is partly about simplifying distractions out of the writing space, sure, but also about a realistic work-life balance. At this time in my practice I think of this in weekly terms: my weekly activity schedule needs to be sufficiently project-focused to maintain the focused headspace, but not so much so that it’s physically and psychologically unhealthy. In practice I seem to prefer to dip deep into the writing on roughly five days a week.

A concrete example of the thing I’m trying to describe: “Christmassy Lapfantasy” was the postal kriegspiel scenario we played from December to January, I’ve discussed that in prior newsletters. There are two specific reasons why Lapfantasy was just great about distracting me from actually starting my writing on Muster. For your edification and mine:
a) Lapfantasy sessions were scheduled weekly on Thursdays, which combined with my D&D sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays meant that the longest span of non-gaming time I had over the January weeks was a three-day span from Friday to Sunday. With this newsletter project living at the tail end of that, I found it difficult to immerse into deep thought on Muster for lack of time.
b) Lapfantasy was a rewarding and intensively intellectual affair, but it was also entirely perpendicular to Muster, which meant that I was splitting my attentions every week: first some highly ambitious D&D, then some Lapfantasy. Doing two unrelated creative projects in the same schedule is about my limit, so flipping to Muster in between wasn’t very realistic.

We wrapped up the Lapfantasy a couple weeks back, and my writing productivity jumped pretty nicely right away, as we saw last week. Subjectively, from inside the writing chambers, this seems to me like it’s because my weekly schedule is more free for focusing on writing. I mean, it’s obvious that without spending the ~10 hours per week on Lapfantasy, of course I would have more time for other things, but the important thing is that the “dip” into a focused headspace and actually getting directed writing done is much easier with this amount of time and attention freed for it. I conclude that I’ve discovered a kind of personal ritual space watershed: it’s precisely this much of a life-commitment that I need to put into writing to make it something that actually happens week-by-week instead of ending up as futile puttering in between procrastination and secondary life distractions.

The natural question to ask is, of course, whether there would be more productivity to be had by simplifying even further. The next bit piece of the Eero time pie would be reducing Coup de Main in Greyhawk commitments; the two independent weekly-running campaign forks do certainly eat up some time. A theoretical “serious writing business” Eero would probably drop those as well, reducing life into a cycle of writing, casual relaxation and domestic chorequesting.

In practice I’m not tempted to drop Coup, though; maybe if I was writing like an unrelated novel and it was really important to me, a do or die thing to get some serious progress in right this spring, prove once and for all that I can actually write, but that’s not actually the scenario we are in here: we started the Coup campaign specifically to get into mindset for Muster, and the campaign brushes directly and constantly against the very topic of the writing project, butterfly kissing it all over the place. The Coup Workbook Partials I’ll be writing are basically direct reporting on the technical developments of the campaign. And when all’s said and done, Muster is small potatoes as a writing assignment, with a lax deadline. For all that I chat about the writing process here, this is actually all pretty routine at this point in the game of life.

Plus, I want to see how things start developing with this kind of weekly schedule before messing with things further. I’m hoping that I’ll get an entirely acceptable pace, and a consistently maintainable focused headspace, out of a weekly schedule that involves writing a newsletter on Sunday (or Saturday this week, apparently — efficiency!) and running some Coup on Monday and Tuesday. That leaves a four-day window every week for writing (and the occasional free day). This could actually be a perfectly sustainable schedule, we’ll see.

Rubber, road, mumble mumble

Putting the above to practice this week looked roughly like this:
Monday: Coup, setting up an astral adventure (see below)
Tuesday: Coup, setting up the visit of the fairy inquisition (see below)
Wednesday: Binging Space Force (again, see below)
Thursday: Sodcutting on Muster — setting up the manuscript file, writing some introductory remarks; online setup play for next Monday’s Coup
Friday: Reviewing the Muster outline, composing a bit; a performance review at rpg club Hannilus
Saturday: Writing the newsletter for some reason, also thinking of watching the Contest for New Music tonight
Sunday: Gotta do some Coup prep maybe?

So yeah, I undeniably did produce like ~1k words of Muster manuscript. Not the cleanest week, but I can feel the concentration: I got sufficiently focused over Wednesday to get stuff done, and am sufficiently in the zone that I’m actually whipping out this newsletter earlier than usual. Not everything I did over the week was the most effective, and ideally I’d have gotten more stuff done on Friday Muster-wise, but it could also have gone much worse.

Watching TV: that Space Force thing in the weekly report

Side note: I accidentally watched the 10-episode Netflix series Space Force this week. I apparently liked it enough to start it and just keep watching the entire thing. It’s a restrained workplace comedy, essentially a satire revolving around the newly-independent space operations branch of the USA armed forces.

I understand that the series hasn’t exactly been a critical success, but whether for lack of taste or an elevated perspective, I enjoyed it. Particularly, consider these points:

Substance helps tv drama be interesting. In this case the series ostensibly revolves around the activities of the Space Force, which is simply a pretty interesting topic. Instead of say “my teenage daughter is going to prom, oh no” or such sitcom staples you get things like space habitat testing, war games with rival branches and bickering between scientists and soldiers over space exploitation philosophy. It’s not dumbed down, either — not super deep, but neither does it insult your intelligence.

The tone is restrained, which is always a fucking relief when it comes to tv shows. No laugh track, no “wacky”, no lazy standard sitcom bits, just satirical tv drama with characters who reveal ludicrous facets of their personality without being two-dimensional gags. The family related B plot stuff could have been a drag, but interestingly that carried as simple filler drama. As is often the case with American “comedy”, the drama bits breathe better than in actual drama shows due to the lack of expressive constipation.

Monday: Coup de Main #35

As discussed last week, I was half-prepared to launch our new astral adventure in Coup, what with the mystery-archeology-with-dwarves hexcrawl having pretty much concluded. However, the players were comfortable rounding out the hexcrawl and fuzzing around with character stables, so we ended up tabling the astral thing for next time. Just fine with me, means more considerate prep (he says, knowing fully well he never preps anyway).

The main event of the session adventuring-wise was a quick visit to the Mistmarsh ranger lodge. I’ve decided that the “Ranger” class in the Coup campaign represents an ancient Oeridian warrior order that, while pretty quiescent and in a downturn, has lodges (literal log cabins or grander structures, depending) scattered around Flanaess, generally one per geographical region. The Mistmarsh lodge is a “cold” one, meaning that it’s not permanently manned. Mainly a chance for the party ranger to write some notes for the log, so as to keep their brethren of the ranger circle updated on the situation in the swamp.

The last leg of the return trip to Yggsburg was downriver on fleet river boats, so that didn’t take the party long. All in all the dwarf escort mission had taken 27 days on the road, and five sessions of play; a pretty respectable medium-length hexcrawl adventure, I’d say!

The last half of the session was managerial in nature. The main conclusion was that we would be developing the astral adventure as a bit of a player vs player thing. Check out the adventure hook:

Rhet the Retainer is Lost! After participating in a kegger managed by Frida the teenage witch, and overindulging in psychotropic herbs, Rhet lost hold of his body and is now spacelost in Astral Space! Rhet may be a 2nd level Cleric, but he’s only been that for like a month after a lifetime career of dissolute keggery, and he’s hardly educamated in the astral buggeries of the Gith, so what might come of the poor jock? Frida, feeling bad for Rhet, and soon bored with changing the diapers on his stiff-as-a-board corpse, decided to overdose herself so as to follow him to the final frontiers of astral space and help our man home.

Nold the Warlock, living the Dream! Nold, a happy-go-lucky wannabe-infernalist, got roofied by a mad scientist accomplice in the interests of science. In harsh contrast to Rhet, Nold was not lost; in fact, he found himself seamlessly joining a feverish rock ‘n roll dream come true, with an electric guitar/axe, a dragon ride and an floosily dressed elf acquaintance. Sure, the Dragon can fulfill Nold’s wildest dreams of demon worship, but first he must help his ride catch its bounty: a clueless Cleric spacelost and ready to be reaped for the further glories of the Abyssal Lords…

What happens next depends on the players, but I did increase Rhet’s “get back home” quest xp reward from 1k to 4k XP when I found that the premise of the adventure would be less “let’s wander around the Astral Plane to find a way home” and more “there’s a 8 HD red dragon hunting for you, boy!” The good (well, sane at least) party here has a limited set of aces on their side, while the evil party has the powers of rock, sociopathy and dragon-fire. (Comparing rewards: Nold was promised an astral diamond by the dragon for his help. The dragon will surely keep its word, too — red dragons are known for their trustworthiness and generosity.)

In case you’re wondering, the diegetic reason for why the Abyssal Lords — Orcus and friends — care about a random astrally lost 2nd level Cleric is that Rhet happens to be an untrained and uninitiated rogue medium. In other words, there’s nothing at all preventing anybody unscrupulous enough from kidnapping and soul-branding him before returning him to the Prime Material Plane to participate in the Great Work of toppling divine creation. It’s not like the highest stakes of ever, but it is enough to send a mercenary dragon to do a bit of a pick-up job.

Session #36 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 22.2., starting around 16:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #10

Meanwhile in Sunndi, the operational theater of our face-to-face Coup game, the campaign is coincidentally in an adventure-switching juncture as well. Last time we found our way out of the God that Crawls with the Beast Society, the Chaotic Evil adventuring party that e.g. the aforementioned Nold the Warlock is a member of. (Nold got dosed with the finest Far Realm LSD in the aftermath of the adventure, to be specific.) So now it was time to figure out what we’d be doing next.

The main conceit at this point was that the Beast Society, who’d found what they were looking for in the ruined monastery of St. Zagyg, were laying low in the countryside and making new plans. It was thus time for us to figure out what the lawful adventurers, captain Bootsie foremost, were up to. Last we’d seen them they were tracking down outlaws — the Beast Society — so while we didn’t particularly expect contact to occur, we had at least a bit of a starting point on planning future activities.

The search for the outlaws petered out soon, particularly as the clock ran out on a background event that the party had been unaware of: the Grey Brothers of St. Zagyg, the monastic brotherhood responsible for the Ruined Monastery and the secrets held within, had apparently remained in the region after the fall of their monastery, and had not contacted the local ruler, the Prince. The Brothers warned the Prince of an upcoming royal inquisition into the situation at the monastery, and advised the Prince to close down any further investigation so as to prevent his minions (such as the PC adventurers) from learning Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. This being the Lawful party, they would obviously fold to such suggestions.

Just as we’d gotten to terms with suddenly closing down the manhunt, worrisome news emerged from the countryside surrounding the Ruined Monastery: “something” (it’s the God that Crawls, obvious to the players) dangerous and lethal has appeared in the countryside, harassing the local populations. The Grey Brothers advice outright evacuating the surrounding hexes, something like ~1500 people. Much sudden instability. Being Lawful good guys, we of course do what suspicious anonymous operators with royal sigils tell us to.

Amusingly enough the session featured two PC deaths for all that we weren’t necessarily doing anything particularly dangerous: the first one was due to a run-in the PCs had with the local Zagygian loyalists, what with them asking around quite openly about matters that were guaranteed to get the daggers to come out. The second was one of those cartoony exaggerated action sequences that D&D is prone to, with a character who didn’t know how to ride a horse being sent as a fast courier, falling off a horse, breaking their ankle and then perishing to wildlife before anybody found them. The best part was how there wasn’t any particular need to send an untrained rider to do the job, it was just one of those “of course we’ll have a PC do it” things.

It was a calm and relaxed session all in all, mostly preparing for the arrival of the royal inquisition. I’m actually pretty enthusiastic about this new adventure myself, as we’ve managed to develop quite the brew of political concerns, even with D&D adventurers usually being such boring (non-committal, random, footloose) people. Check this out:

The Grey Brothers are a conspiracy safeguarding a state secret. Readers familiar with the God that Crawls know what’s going on. It’s quite the good adventure, isn’t it? I like it very much when an adventure has the potential for interesting follow-up events, and here we have one. There are things going on in the Ruined Monastery that some people are willing to kill to keep hidden, justified or not. The PCs flit in the outskirts of events beyond their ken.

The royal inquisition is an elf-ridden special interest group. We’ll see about the particulars in the next session, but I’m envisioning this visit from the distant northern capital to feature what amounts to a rival adventuring party (roughly 4th level) bullying their way into the local situation, suitably paranoid and willing to enforce royal prerogatives with force where necessary. It’s an excellent chance for PC adventurers, well known for foot-in-the-mouth-itis, to get themselves killed over Knowing Too Much.

The Beast Society desires civil unrest to achieve their goals. Sipi, being a sportsman, isn’t taking the developments in the area lying down. His character, the Cultist, is all for unrest and political complications, so we’re probably going to see some shenanigans going on to ensure that the inquisitorial visit does not go uncomplicated.

The local Prince wishes to avoid a constitutional crisis. As the traditional ruler of the princedom of Eyedrin, the Prince hopes to cooperate fully with the royal inquisition. Thing is, the Prince’s legitimacy and the crown’s legitimacy stem from different historical developments (the Elvenking of Sunndi is a recent political necessity inspired by foreign pressures), which means that technically the only reasons to believe the Prince loyal to the crown are interpersonal ones. A castle built on sand should a serious conflict of interest emerge between the royal inquisition and the Prince.

Captain Bootsie is totally innocent of anything and everything. Or at least nearly innocent. At least not culpable for the exact thing the inquisition is concerned for (information leaks from the monastery). I’m still intrigued about whether he can keep his position (and his head) with all that’s going on. The Prince would absolutely hate for Bootsie to get into loggerheads with representatives of the crown, that’s for sure. Technically speaking, as long as the inquisition doesn’t catch any important members of the Beast Society, it’s unlikely that anybody can reveal Bootsie’s crimes to the inquisition. Assuming Bootsie himself manages not to.

There’s a distinct lack of sexual perversion and venality in this political brew, which I take to be due to player characters generally being pretty boring, but in this case the players are delightfully making up for it with Chaotic Stupid. As you know, political drama (or political wargaming, as in this case) hinges on vested interests, so you basically can’t have a court intrigue scenario with standard even-keeled adventurer PCs because they have no commitments and desire nothing.

Here the intrigue development is working, however, thanks to the combination of captain Bootsie being firmly entrenched in society while simultaneously getting constantly undermined by his habit of associating with horrible, awful murderhoboes. It’s so beautiful I actually feel sorry for the good captain — he could be an entirely honorable member of high society if not for his proclivity for hiring murderers, cultists, vagabonds and outright morons into his ersatz dungeon commando crews he uses to solve all of life’s problems. The poor man’s too loyal for his own good, too, so instead of ruthlessly burning the party members he needs to, he tries to save everybody.

State of the Productive Facilities

See the feature article.