Pushing Past the Devil and the Empty Well

Waiting for inspiration is the devil in disguise. That feeling of limitless potential, of the world laid out before you, begging to be discovered, explored, colonized, made real; that feeling intoxicates me into inaction.

How can I improve on that feeling of endless possibility? How can one person, crude in aspect and clumsy in skill, take even one tiny part of this bounty and hope to make something worthwhile by simply changing its form? How can one person possibly improve to the point of mastery in any craft?

[RPG Newswire] Recent Interesting Links

It's high time for another browser dump! Enjoy!

RPG Business Topics
+Tim Shorts writes about his recent experiences with an RPGNow promo in Deal of the Day Results. If you're interested in exploring marketing campaigns with DriveThru, read this and get yourself more informed. Spoiler: recommended!

SVD Press Shuts Down, and a Farewell Gift announces the permanent closing of SVD Press after 6 years. Publishing tournament deathtrap dungeons is apparently not a large enough niche to survive on, though they've put out some great adventures. If you want to download anything directly from the company, you have until the domain registration expires in April. Also keep an eye on the #irontrident hashtag for more deathtrap dungeon goodness.

General Gaming
Holy Carp, it's November again. If you don't feel like writing fiction, feel free to challenge yourself to make a game in 30 days with NaGaDeMon, National Game Design Month. I haven't done it since 2012 (Egad!), and I still need to go back to playtest and tweak Domo. It seems unlikely I'll have the cycles free to design something this year, but you never know.

Fate Accelerated's Question & Alternatives to Approaches from +Fred Hicks provides some insight into FAE's design thought processes and offers some ideas for changing the central question (FAE's default question is "How?") to hack your list of approaches.

4 Lessons in Storytelling from a Screenwriter Who's Also a D&D Dungeon Master. These tips apply to all sorts of storytelling, from GMing to improvisation to fiction writing. Good stuff.

I blame +Paolo Greco for posting about playing a couple of worlds in the game 504, because now I'm obsessing over getting a copy for Christmas. You have 9 modules to pick from (like Military, Exploration, and Roads) - choose a primary, a secondary, and a tertiary and voila! You have one of the 504 different games you can play in this one box. It's pricy, but $100 for 504 games and a whole pile of different game components seems like a bargain.

Armoured Commander is a roguelike PC game where you play the commander of an American tank rolling through France and Belgium after D-Day. You're outnumbered and outgunned, but you need to pull a victory out of somewhere using whatever screwball tactics you can. Good luck. +Benjamin Baugh posted about it this morning, and I'll be downloading it this weekend.

On Maps and Mapping
Apparently I've gathered quite a few of these. I'll be adding all of these links to the list of mapping resources in The Cartographic Arts. Check out (and share) that post if you want more maps in your life.

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use. Awesome. They have some very cool historic maps, which should spark your imagination on styles if not content.

Nearly Every USGS Topo Map Ever Made. For Free. Double awesome, because sometimes you just want to see elevation lines to tell how high you need to climb to reach the unspeakable horror's cave. And in a related article, here's How to Add USGS Topographic Maps to Google Earth.

Why Are U.S. Students Bad at Geography? National Geographic asked and answered the question, then went on to include a list of resources to help teach geography. Also, Geography Awareness Week is scheduled for November 15-21, 2015.

A Matter of Perspective gives us a look at the linearized shoreline of Lake Michigan, which shows us distance and detail from a whole new angle. It goes into some detail about design decisions and the actual process of making the map, including dealing with distortion. Fascinating.

When "North" Isn't Actually North: Geocentric Direction Systems. The concepts here are directly applicable in low technology settings. Why be a slave to your compass, when you can navigate relative to the big volcano in the center of the island, or Uptown/Downtown like in Manhattan? It's definitely another perspective to take when making maps rather than leaning on the compass rose.

And apparently, it's #MAPVEMBER. Make 30 maps over 30 days and post them with the tag. Make sure they're usable as is, but other than that, go to town. Like you need another excuse to make maps, but if it works for you, who am I to judge?

The Rustic Residence from 2 Minute Tabletop is a great-looking free modular building map that you can download and print for use as a tabletop battle map, or you can use it directly in Roll20. There's a whole series of maps to explore and mash together, and most of them are free to download and use.

Societal Commentary
Stop Saying Technology Is Causing Social Isolation, because it isn't. It's changing the nature and medium of our social interactions, but it can be a very powerful means to multiply social contact. Everyone is glued to a cell phone on the train? 60 years ago, everyone was buried in a newspaper to avoid making eye contact. Plus ├ža change...

Ten Responses to the Technological Unemployment Problem looks at some possible paths to the future as automation continues to replace human labor.

Museums and First Nations Explore 3D Printing as Mechanism for Artifact Repatriation. This is a fabulous idea for giving everybody the opportunity to touch and work with an otherwise-irreplaceable cultural artifact or ancient tool. But this may slow down researchers as museums return the originals. Also the idea of the spirit inhabiting a particular object may throw a wrench into the works. This reminds me somewhat of debates about cloning, only with cultural artifacts.

Let's Just Go Full Cyberpunk Already because we're most of the way there, but only with the negative crap: oppressive governments and megacorps, armed extremists, environmental disasters, and hackers stealing and destroying simply because they can. Let's get the good cyberpunk stuff online to make life a little easier and stoke the fires of Sloth.

Myth of Pristine Amazon Rainforest Busted as Old Cities Reappear. Recent excavations and explorations in the Amazon has turned up evidence of large cities from 3000 years ago. It turns out that over the past few thousand years the Amazon has been settled by humanity far more than it's been a pristine wilderness, and the rainforest is actually regrowth after dense human occupation. Interesting. I'd love a map of one of these old cities, once they piece it together.

The Idea Workbook

Since I wrote Honor Your Ideas last week, I've put my money where my mouth is and started doing exactly that. I started with a notebook...

...and I named it ("Idea" is assumed, though maybe I should explicitly add it)...

...and I stole the index from Bullet Journal (thanks to +matt jackson for mentioning it and turning me on to that idea)...

...and I've started recording ideas within. Some of them already suck, and I'm OK with that.

I'm hoping the index will keep things fairly accessible. Bullet Journal is focused on task lists more than this idea notebook, but we'll see how it shakes out. Bullet Journal also has a color-coding scheme, but I'm not sure I have a use for any sort of categorization yet. Once I find a use for color, the color-coded pages will make the notebook even more useful.

I don't know if this will make a difference one way or another, but at least I have a more-or-less central place to brainstorm and jot down oddball ideas. And work on parody song lyrics. And think about alternate uses for geomorphs drawn on hexaflexagons, like you do.

Huh. I guess I'd better add an entry for Games In Pockets so I can start defining what the heck that's supposed to look like. Is it just a store? A line of games? A certification or license with a badge you can stick on your product? A community site for designers working on pocket-sized games?

So I'm giving this methodology a shot, and thought I'd share.

How do you track your ideas? The post-it "monitor sunflower" method? Scraps or strata of paper? Electronic to do list? Text files scurried away somewhere in the ether?

Most importantly, does it work for you?

Honor Your Ideas

Honor your ideas. Make them flesh. Commit them to a more permanent medium than the ephemeral thoughts swirling inside your head. Inside your mind every idea is perfect and the act of recording them violates the sanctity of this false perfection in the ultimate pointless act. This line of thinking embodies self-delusion, procrastination, self-sabotage. Don't give in, even though it's easier than wrestling your ideas into reality.

Record your ideas. Put them on paper. Type them into electronic files. Scribe them onto clay tablets. Encode them in laser light. Break the myth of perfection and get on with the work of making them breathe. Give them the chance to survive in the outside world. If you don’t, one of two things will happen. You’ll lose them to the aether like a dream of the morning dew, or they will torment you by invading every thought and disrupting your sleep. Do both yourself and your ideas the favor of letting them out the first time they hit your mind.

Your ideas will suck. Some will need to be shredded by whirling blades, or crushed into pulp, or set alight to burn merrily and be heard no more. Expect this. Embrace this. Not every idea survives in this Darwinian thought space. Ideas rarely spring fully formed as Athena from Zeus’s head. When they do, you'll find the flaws soon enough.

Some ideas will have a spark, a fleeting glimpse of utility, a dash of cleverness, a glimmer of divinity. Find these. Nurture them. Give them air and let them grow. You may need to wait a bit to let them mature, but don’t let them grow stale or crowd them out of your thoughts.

Keep striving to move forward every day, every hour, every breath. Know that the path you walk has slain the dreams of lesser people. Tread carefully, but always keep walking. Rest when needed. Drink often. Eat. You can switch paths and tie your fate to a different way, but never permit yourself to turn around and walk away. Walk through, and know that there will be more paths after this one. Always more.

Enjoy the journey, even the hard parts. Fill pages with ranting, for even your darkest writing hides diamonds. These diamonds will make years of teeth-gnashing worth it, doubly perfect because they were forged in the crushing fires of doubt and frustration. Know that you will smile again when the fear and darkness have gone.


Start your journey. Focus on the next step, and let the path take care of itself. Produce. Give of yourself. Spend your time on something that matters to you, and you may find that it matters to others. Find the habits that work, and harvest the output one page at a time.

In the words of Ze Frank's still-all-too-relevant video Invocation for Beginnings:
There's no need to sharpen my pencils any more.
My pencils are sharp enough.
Even the dull ones will make a mark.

Warts and all, let's start this shit up.

Write. Here. Now.

(This post was at least partially inspired by the G+ Community named Just Write The F#@$ing Thing, recently created by John Adamus, who runs The Writer Next Door. Thanks, John!)

(Written on the train home, simply because I had an idea in my head.)

A Somewhat Unethical Plan

The desk phone rings. Ell tears herself away from her screen to answer it with her usual script. “Neuro Research.”

Angry car honks and crackling line noise almost drown out the thin voice. “Hi. Is this Elana Garcia?”

Still wary of crank calls, she leans back to her laptop. Ell wonders how a pre-teen kid got a cell phone and why he’s calling from such a busy street. “This is.”

“The same Elana Garcia that works with Dr. Delgado?” A static pop punctuates his words.

“He’s no longer with the program, but I did work with him, yes.” Ell realizes the kid is using a pay phone. She didn’t realize those still existed, never mind one that actually works.

“I’m more interested in talking to the real one, if that’s possible.”

Ell forgets her laptop and focuses fully on the caller. Thin voice or not, this kid is remarkably self-assured. She hedges, “I’m not sure what you mean.” She glances at the etheric sphere and wishes Dr. Delgado still had human form and senses. It would make getting his attention and voicelessly communicating her freakout so much easier. But for now she’s on her own.

The child continues. “A little bird told me about him. The real one, I mean. And we have an idea that we need some help with, so I’m trying to get in touch with him. Can you do that?”

“Could you hold on a minute, please? I’m going to see if I can clean up this connection a little. Thanks!” She jams the hold button without waiting for a response. “Dr. Delgado? We have a problem.”