New on Desk #104 — Year in Review

I’m in the middle of finishing Muster (more on that below), and will no doubt write about that more next week. For the moment, a bit of a break from that to celebrate the successful blogging year 2021.

Also: the letterhead art is funny because it’s from the Greyhawk Folio that I’ve been referencing heavily all year.

My Year in Retrospect

This was the second year of my “newsletter regime”, which is apparently going to continue into next year as well at this point. I wrote up an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of keeping the weekly blogging going last year at the end of the year, and nothing fundamental seems to have changed since then. While writing these newsletters can occasionally feel like an extra burden on top of other things I should be doing, overall it’s probably better to keep doing them than not.

Setting the newsletter aside, my year seems to have been fairly ordinary. The spring third was fairly uninspired, the summer was a confused and unproductive mess, while the last third was clearly the most productive. No significant personal developments excepting the structure that writing Muster has been providing. I guess I’m disappointed in the aftermath about not finishing Muster quick in the spring, but it is what it is. The slow march to the grave continues.

Favourite Newsletters

I wrote 52 newsletters this year again. There was a major irregularity in the program in July, but I made it up afterwards, so we ended up with the same amount of newslettering in the end. Let’s see, I’ll go over the crop and separate the wheat from the chaff…

It seems that I wrote a fair bit about our D&D campaign over the year. It also seems that I don’t myself much care about these particular newsletters afterwards; they mostly don’t get onto my personal best of list. The ones I seem to like are educational little articles about various topics, slice of life and satiric essays. I think that my clear bias against the D&D topics is because I also write many of those D&D things into CWP publication later in the year, so the newsletter draft material doesn’t seem that interesting to me.

Another general observation is that I clearly wrote better stuff later in the year than in the early parts. No idea what that’s about.

Without further ado, the top picks of the year’s newsletters:

Funny stories

#64 — Art Gallery Week is a fun illustrated story about a particular period of our D&D campaign when Sipi was drawing with unusual activity. I enjoyed the ironic storyline about his in-fiction painter alter ego, and how his career interweaved with that of the actual adventuring party.

#55 + #78 — This is a sort of honorary pick in that the individual items aren’t perhaps that notable, but it’s amusing how I apparently ended up writing a winter weather complaint newsletter and a summer weather complaint newsletter, both with a similar sardonic style, but with no intention to coordinate. Pure luxury writing, with a trivial topic, word-smithing the only focus. I guess the lesson here is that it’s not the weather that makes me grumpy, but rather life itself.

#80 — To Eat a Mocking Bird is the haunting story of how I ended up gutting and eating one of our feathered friends. I guess this is the most dramatic thing that happened to me this year, then?

Educational Essays

#65 — Flea Market Report is a very practical, grim look at some basic dynamics to take into account when trying to sell your old trash at a flea market. I could see myself referring to this in a couple of years if I have to do another campaign in that area of life.
#87 — New Hollywood is one of these educational mini-essays I like. About the history of American cinema in this case.
#90 — Hamburger Wisdom is a fairly thorough, snappy treatment on how to cook a hamburger.
#93 — Kalevala Metric is a tour-de-force in the theory and practice of poetry. Maybe the most substantial single newsletter this year.

#99 + #100 — Two fairly weighty pieces on a more philosophical topic, namely spirituality. I probably should write more general philosophy in the newsletter, as it’s a fairly big part of my life. In practice I seem to end up writing just one or two philosophical pieces per year.

Game Design Notes

#85 — Beware of the River Devils is a closer look at one of the details of the Greyhawk setting that hasn’t aged so gracefully. The topic is weighty and the treatment fairly thought-provoking, I thought.
#91 — The Risk of Conquest is a detailed look at Risk, a boardgame with simple rules and questionable emergent structure.
#95 — Fightin’ Fantasy is a general overview of the British ’80s CYOA franchise, with some notes for future application.
#101 — Fast Male Action is a bunch of game design notes for a funky Masters of the Universe boardgame I got to thinking about.

Plans for the New Year

Finishing Muster, obviously; it getting dragged out until the end of the year has defined a lot of what I’ve been doing.

After that’s dealt with, my one big idea would be to continue being productive on whatever way. The favourite vision is to start doing writing within the Patreon framework I set up last year; we’ve done a couple of test runs on how the system works, but there are so many topics on which I could be writing about, and so far the system (as in, the social contract of writing like this) feels pretty good, so I’m fairly eager to set Muster aside and instead see how long that optimism lasts.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #43

Our Monday game is still on Christmas break, but the Sunndi crew played, and I was there myself for once. It ended up being a compact team of regulars, which is a good thing in hindsight, as most of the session was spent in doing upkeep stuff that probably wouldn’t be that interesting for newcomers. (Then again, I was prepared to launch into adventure, too, so…)

The upkeep ended up being pretty interesting, though. The party had wrapped up the Tomb of the Iron God, ending up with a nominal 5k+ GP worth of loot from the premises of the ruined monastery. Somehow they’ve managed to work themselves into a position of simultaneously being the heroes of the monastery’s rebuilding and being in charge of divesting the monastery’s property for money and, one presumes, XP. They wanted me to referee the actual divestment, which oh boy I sure did.

The party journeyed from the temple monastery to Dhaltown, the capitol of the principality. They presented themselves as delegates of the newborn temple, requesting the crown’s aid in exchanging the unnecessary earthly lucre of the temple’s for the tools and supplies the temple community needed to start prospering again. Check out the accounting:
5200 GP is the value of the loot to begin with, in the form of various items of artistic and religious type.
50 heads of cattle, sundry tools and a new high priest, as granted by the Queen in the exchange.
3d10 GP per head to the delegates, for travel expenses.
2000 XP for faithfully enacting the task of getting the temple some cattle.

Nothing in this exchange is necessarily that strange, if you assume that the adventurers were actually just going to town with this huge pile of treasure to report to the secular government and get help in rebuilding the temple. I did get the distinct sense that the players thought that the 5k GP pile of treasure was adventuring loot that the adventurers would be exchanging for money and getting XP for. Didn’t work out quite like that this time.

Aside from the loot divestment, we worked out some new adventuring opportunities. For context, check the map I whipped up, it shows the three “operational theaters” that our Sunndi campaign has been working in over its venerable 40+ sessions of play. The campaign started in southern Sunndian principality of Aidrin, then spent a fair amount of time at the Temple of Doom, also marked on the map, and now we’re apparently adventuring in the principality of Dhalmond for a bit.

Or at least I’ve arranged some adventuring material in the area. My campaign stocking math basically ends up suggesting that there should be ~5 low-level adventures available in the principality of Dhalmond, and 0–1 mid-level ones, so how that works in practice is that I keep being on the look-out for adventuring stuff that fits the regional themes until I have roughly the right amount, at which point I stop adding more. Filling the quota here hasn’t taken a lot of effort, though a couple of the adventures end up being self-brew, for good or ill.

Then again, I also ended up including B1, In Search of the Unknown so as to have something easy and dungeonesque for the newcoming players. I have some major scrupples with B1 for being a self-keyed dungeon (it’s a shitty idea today, it was shitty idea then), but I think I figured out how to live with it sufficiently to use it here. I like the module’s maps and mapping style, so…

The players didn’t particularly oppose the idea of looking closer into said module in the next session, what with the possibility of having new players who’d appreciate a simple dungeoneering experience. There are also a few other options in Dhalmond, although some are more and some less ready to play at this time. To wit, here’s the current list of adventure hooks in this region:
Tomb of the Iron God (dealt with!)
Temple of the Seven Stars (own material, should prepare it better)
Legacy of the Ironpourers (own material, as of yet unprepared)
Family Curse of the Balanest (own material, but ready to go; something of a random encounter event)
Rapala Bandits (a hook without an adventure quite yet, gotta fit something in)
TicuTaco Bandits (a combo of two small adventure locations, the Turtle Shell Bandits and The Diamond of Hishep-Ratep)
Bounty Hunting (a sort of side adventure hook caused by those bandit concerns)
The Wolf God (there’s a dangerous god-beast on the loose in Dhalmondian countryside; less of an adventure and more of a peril)

I guess that’s about all of it. Assuming there aren’t secret adventuring opportunities in the principality, that could be the set that the players can maneuver over for the next while; until they decide to leave this bumfuck place behind.

State of the Productive Facilities

I’m trying to finish an “ashcan” 0.9 version of Muster for the New Year’s. Fairly busy going. As things stand, I still have one chapter to write, and plenty of ancillary editing to be done, but I think a pdf draft of the book laid out will serve to keep everybody abreast of the project’s progress. I’m fairly happy with the general shape of the manuscript at least, and that’s presumably the important part. Finishing this month or next month is less so.

2 thoughts on “New on Desk #104 — Year in Review”

  1. Having missed the funding for Muster, I wanted to know if the pdf would be made available for sale once the project was completed ?

    Good luck in this final stretch.

    1. Oh, it’s going to be free! Part of the project premise is that Muster’s going to be freely distributed. After all, how else can we use it as a study guide and reach maximal audiences.

      The current thinking is having it under a Creative Commons license.

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