Reality in Review: September 2008

It’s time again to look over the highlights of a year past! September 2008 may not have been the month I learned that a 1000-word post might work better as two 500-word posts, but it was certainly one of the first months where I made a point of writing series rather than sticking to individual posts. As a result, most of these are going to be batches rather than individual pieces.

Early in the month, I found myself in two near-simultaneous discussions of elemental magic systems, and that got me thinking about how such systems are treated in general. Maybe it’s my background in chemistry, but I just had to start by wondering why so few elemental systems do anything with mixing the elements rather than working with them separately. Then that led to notes on how to subvert the standard elemental stereotypes while still fitting thematically with the elements they were based on, and then some leftover questions that having an elemental system might bring up.

Voices in the Crowd was one part game planning, one part just listening to the crowds on the bus and at the trolley station and trying to understand why I’d rarely been able to get atmosphere of crowd across in my crowd scenes. A thought exercise, if you will.

While ranting directly against epic tone didn’t come until October, it was my dislike of that style that inspired me to write “How They Say It”. I’d heard too many people in tones so grandiose they gave me headaches that week, along with running into a few characters in a game I was playing in whom I hated on sight because of how they talked; what better way to handle that than to try to talk through why it worked that way?

Ever had to deal with one of those characters who seemed to be designed as a black hole of misery? I have, and I’m not fond of them. “Keeping Angst in Check” let me look at why, and more importantly, let me look into what it would take to make me like an angsty backstory.

I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to familiars, particularly as characters in their own right; I can think of very few characters I’ve played who haven’t at some point acquired one and whose familiars haven’t been at least as quirky as their masters were. In “The Fleshed-Out Familiar”, I looked at ways to give a familiar that certain extra spark, making it more than just shoulder candy or a source of minor mechanical benefits.

Chemistry wasn’t the only subject I’d taken in college that prompted articles from me that month. Ecology for World-Builders, my first real weeklong series, was a chance to take that pesky biology major I hardly ever use and find a nice impractical application for it. From asking why it mattered what a fantasy biology looked like to discussing the problem with only creating predators, to going into a riff that started with animals’ uses to humans, then humans’ metaphysical and symbolic views of animals, and then went all the way into just looking at the world without involving those pesky bipeds, the topic took me from territory I’d covered in college to things that would never show up on a bio major’s exams.

Some people go out of their months with a bang. I went out of September with a failure—or rather, a series on failure that wrapped right into October. It began with “Why Heroes Should Fail”, a look at the importance of screwing up to improving a character, then worked its way into a short digression on agency. Then I went into analytical mode, categorizing failures and discovering to my amusement that one could even assign them D&D alignments. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that while I had a nice solid week to work on them, I didn’t have the rest of the month, so I ran out of September before I ran out of ways to fail.

Anything in there you find worth remembering?

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