Long Time Gone: A Thread for Updates

Eero said he was interested in an update on what folks had been up to in the past few years, especially if we haven't been active on SG for a while. So here's a thread for that. Other folks should feel free to post here too!


For me, I'm now a 5th-year PhD student with a 3yo kid, which is very different. And I'm in San Diego, which has a small local indie games scene that I've unfortunately been too busy to be regularly involved with. We did produce a free zine for a local convention a while back:

In terms of actual play (though that now means Twitch streaming, right? ;P), I played a bunch of games over Hangouts with Johnstone and a rotating cast of other folks over the past couple years, including his game Nightmares Underneath, A Storm Eternal (Sage's hack of AW: Dark Ages), The Veil, and most recently a 30+ session campaign of Blades in the Dark with (fellow DW designer) Joe Banner. We're kinda on hiatus now, and things are really busy with school, but I'd love to keep playing stuff online in a private, non-streaming mode (Hangouts or Skype or something like that). Lately I've been itching for a journeying game like Ryuutama or The One Ring but who knows.

I've also been trying to merge my academic and hobby pursuits more. Last year I co-developed this larp-ish game as part of an artist residency at one of the undergraduate colleges here, a mock internship trial for a fictional renewable energy company called ESCorp. The premise was that ESCorp was secretly harvesting energy from this strange being from another dimension, and we ran this "internship training exercise" for students who were interested in jobs at ESCorp. The most interesting thing about the project, design wise, is that I created an inward-facing game for the co-creators to play together, which was supposed to inform the outward-facing game that we ran for students. It was fun and weird and makes me want to do more things like that. This year me and a few other people got some funding to try to co-develop some educational games about modern China, so it'll be interesting to see what comes out of that.

In terms of my own game design work, I'm chipping away at a lot of projects, as usual. Most of my recently published games have been in the freeform larp space, many in card-based formats released through DriveThruCards (The Lofty Beacons, Tomb-Priestesses of the Nameless Dead, and a few upcoming ones), which is a great format for play but a bad format for sales (not that that's a high priority for me). But those games get played kind of a lot, actually, which I'm still surprised by. I still haven't released my freeform tabletop intro-to-TRPGs zombie card game Restless, but Jason Morningstar keeps bugging me about it, because he runs it a lot. I've been thinking about moving all my card-based games over to MakePlayingCards semi-new POD service or even the Gamecrafter, but haven't found the time to do that yet. But I remain deeply interested in innovative thinking about the physical and digital formats through which games are transmitted, since I find the standard vehicles to be pretty limiting and boring, when there are so many possibilities these days.

I have several other things that are basically done and I just need to release them, like Parallel Worlds (a supplement for Worlds in Peril and other indie superhero games, built on the unpublished freelance work I did for Marvel Heroic). Lately, Jackson Tegu and I have also been talking about co-publishing a few things together (maybe under the band name "Grand Teton"), but that might still be a little while yet. So... not that surprising to folks who know me: a lot of game design projects going on, but only sometimes actually releasing stuff, partially due to being busy with school and parenthood.

I feel like there's going to be more pressure on me in the future to try to justify my game design stuff as part of my academic work, partially because it may be useful in helping me get a job and to eventually get tenure/advancement and so on. To that end, I've thought about trying to publish some games through academic journals or university presses. I have some leads and plans in that direction (including some conversations and plotting with Jess Hammer) but haven't pursued anything really actively yet.

I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot of things (like the Indie Mixtape Project, say), but that's a general update on what I've been up to. Happy to answer questions or explain anything.


  • The past years have seen little activity from me. I've been working on Draug II, but real life shit (buy me a beer, or, a dozen beers and ask me about relationships) has basically made me drop the project for the foreseeable future. Had fun running an Itras By campaign called "Itras Barn" (Itras Children). Playing some OtE currently.

    Still working as a project manager for a company that makes apps & web solutions.

    Started making a little music again! (Using Ableton Live).

  • Eero said he was interested in an update on what folks had been up to in the past few years, especially if we haven't been active on SG for a while. So here's a thread for that. Other folks should feel free to post here too!
    Thanks, Jonathan! That was interesting. (We used to be young turks at the Forge together with J here, but I've barely heard that he's alive through the last decade. Good to hear he's going strong.)

    The academic angle you've got going sounds a lot like what Ari-Pekka Lappi, this Helsinki-based gamer/grad student, spins around - I'm reminded of his intricate attempts at combining his gaming and study/work. You might find his stuff interesting if you're looking for high-end workshopping.

    I'll write about my own adventures a bit as well, on the assumption that I've dropped off Jonathan's radar about as thoroughly as he's dropped off mine.


    For my own part I've deadlocked lethally as a games publisher ever since 2008 or so. I was supposed to write and publish this entry-level story game that I'd gotten a writing grant for, but a sort of an artistic crisis drove me into what can only be termed a writer's block. That whole thing has turned into the defining part of my life in the '10s as I try to get myself together and honorably finish a project that I'm too stubborn to quit and too ambitious to finish. Not quite what I was planning ten years back, artistically speaking.

    As I'm apparently not growing into a producing artist with any sort of meaningful output, I've been amusing myself with general culture industry stuff work-wise. My writing dead-end hasn't prevented me from doing ostensibly secondary gaming stuff on the side, though; I've desisted from committing to seriously publishing the fruits (that stubbornness again - I'd like to make good on that writing grant first to regain my honor), but aside from that I have to say that I'm pretty happy with what we've achieved over the years. Some highlights:
    * I did a deep dive into old school D&D, sort of semi-independently from the wider OSR phenomenon, with the intent to master D&D-by-the-way-of-Forgite-gamist-theory. That turned into a general exegesis of the spirit and tools of advanced conceptual wargaming, and, well, I have to say that we play a pretty mean game of old school D&D around here nowadays. Several hundreds sessions by this point, plenty of experience.
    * I've been doing a long-term study on how traditional rpgs work, and improving my conceptual skills in implementing rules-heavy trad games (think stuff like GURPS, Ars Magica, etc.) consistently and intelligently. We're currently enjoying the fruits of this work in the form of a 4th edition D&D campaign that is very much like your typical D&D webcomic (the sort that pretend that the game works and is consistently fun), except real and non-accidentally excellent. I have lots of plans for applying the lessons to everything from Amber to Pendragon whenever opportunity strikes - lots of excellent games in the 20th century history of roleplaying, just as long as you have the skills and techniques to set them up.
    * A particular highlight that has personal significance for me: we applied the wargaming lessons of old school D&D to Paranoia a couple years ago, and veritably cracked the mystery of how to make it sing. The campaign was an excellent, darkly comedic political thriller, tense as fuck. I consider myself a bit of a Paranoia expert now, 20 years after wandering away in confusion as a frustrated teenager. Can't wait to play more of that.
    * I've been a pretty busy bee helping out other people with their game design - we even had a dedicated playtest group in Helsinki before I moved out of town a couple years back. Some of the results have been pretty sweet, too. As one might imagine, most projects tend to get stuck in development hell, and others are limited to the Finnish market, but I've been involved with some rather interesting games over the last decade. I'll name-drop Tales of Entropy as an example.
    * This one's just weird: I've been playing S/lay w/ Me with a friend in a literary format over a blog - we essentially write a novella as we play, one per adventure. We're probably starting a new one in December. I have no idea if this is excellent, or an excellent waste of time.

    All in all - doing very well as a GM, making strides, but I've been very bad about scene communication: I report about my doings haphazardly, don't have social media presence, can't be bothered to even start blogging again, and apparently I feel like I don't need to work towards publication on all this excellent shit I'm playing. I'm sort of hoping that this'll resolve in some direction at some point, because I feel like I should have more to contribute to the state of the art. Maybe start streaming live sessions online after giving my Finnish friends English-tongue transplants.
  • In the six years since I have been on here my job has become a career, my marriage has ended, and I have focused a lot more on gaming than game design.
  • Yeah, it's definitely been interesting seeing more and more people decide that publishing is too much trouble, partially (I think) due to entitlement and harassment from both trolls and, like, impatient Kickstarter backers, but also (I think) because it's often ultimately not as fulfilling as investing the same amount of time in playing and enjoying games with other people. I've been wrestling with those feelings too, which have definitely contributed to me being weird about finally releasing stuff (at least in a way that's really public and attention-seeking and actively commercial). Then again, there's now the pressure to commodify and sell your play through streaming services, which is its own thing, even as it seems to be bringing a lot of folks into or back into RPGs (my brother, who hasn't played games since we were kids, and his wife keep telling me to check out the Adventure Zone, which is kinda weird). But, honestly, I think going back to more of a zine-like culture where people make stuff and share it in small-ish circles and it's not a huge commercial-oriented thing (which folks back on the publishing-obsessed Forge of 200X might have been appalled by) is increasingly attractive to me as a design practice that seems much more sustainable and less prone to the ego-clashes and self-aggrandizement that I find so tiresome.
  • P.S. It's revenge of the Ashcan Front now, basically, despite all the weird (and in my mind, unjustified) criticism they got at the time.
  • I absolutely agree. Publishing is so strange and unsatisfactory to me but I want people to be able to enjoy and play the games I design. I don't know how to square that circle.
  • @JBMannon Let me know if you figure it out! For now, I am just leaning into the "zine / vanity press" approaches that we once criticized and also trying to avoid giving into the neophilia (constantly looking for new things) that encourages us to stay on top of the "new hotness". Honestly, it's great to see so many people here actively playing older indie games, especially games outside of the handful of most well-known ones.
  • @J_Walton I know The Forge much more from its "theory" legacy than its publishing one (though I know enough to understand that in its heyday it was strongly dedicated to publishing), but for whatever reason you've got me really curious about the ideological history of indie RPG publishing especially as it relates to The Forge.

    I have no idea what it took to independently publish an RPG 20 years ago, but I would guess that the growing accessibility and popularity of digital products (both in terms of devices that make them more usable and marketplaces that deal in them) might have done a lot to have changed norms about what's seen as minimally necessary to launch and/or support a product.

    I also wouldn't be surprised if more open approaches to intellectual property (starting with d20 and the OGL, something that had a profound effect on the creative-productive side of the OSR movement, for example) have also made it easier for people to simply "dip their toes" into indie publishing, piggy-backing on the already existing markets of popular game lines.
  • @yukamichi I'm happy to talk about this, but I'm not sure if we should start a new thread or not? From my perspective (based on memory and the stuff I wrote recently for the Roleplaying Game Studies book), all of that stuff kind of happened around the same time, circa the year 2000, and we've been wrestling with the fallout from it ever sense. That's when 3E/d20/OGL happened, the Forge was founded, PDF sales became a thing, online preorders for games became widespread, the rise of digital printing started lowering the minimum print runs you had to order (from 10,000 to 2,000 and eventually to 100s and individual POD with Lulu), etc. The "ransom model" came soon after, which merged with preorders to become crowdfunding, RPGNow was created, and so on. Basically, by 2000, a whole lot of people had access to the internet, and that forever changed how RPG publishing worked, based on the practices that people developed around it. Those developments started before 2000 (RPGnet was founded in 1996, and the older Forge folks got started on rec.games.frp.advocacy on Usenet in the 90s), but by 2000 it started coming together in a big way.

    Building on that, there was a set of semi-standard game publishing practices that folks on the Forge intentionally/unintentionally promoted in the early-to-mid 2000s and that remained the common sense wisdom for a while after that. That's now been overtaken, I think, by "how to run a Kickstarter/Patreon" stuff, as crowdfunding has become the standard/assumed model for releasing indie games. But, at least in my mind, both of those "common sense" approaches run the risk of obscuring all the other possibilities for publishing games, including practices that might make specific people much happier or ultimately be more fulfilling than the standard models. Indie game designers/publishers don't all have the same publishing goals, right? (Just like how all of our games are trying to do different things.) So one model of publishing isn't going to work for everyone. But there's often a lot of social pressure to follow the same model as other folks ("You should totally Kickstart this game; it's so good!"), and the availability of certain tools and support make it much easier to follow established paths rather than trying something different. I think that's as true now as it was in the mid-2000s.

    But we can talk more about this if you're really interested. I'm sure other folks have different memories or perspectives.
  • Holy shit I've been managing libraries for more than 5 years in NYPL. I recently got my purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I'm getting read for a good but scary big life shift that I'll talk more about later.

    I'm hoping to have Dictionary of Mu back in print before the end of the year.
  • @Judd Wow, so excited for Mu's return.
  • edited October 2018
    Highlights of my story game hiatus:

    From 2013-2016 I wrote and playtested an original game called Monster Draft, one that was designed to exactly suit my play preferences and which succeeded for the most part. It was on a track for a kickstarter, but when I came to the intersection of Get Serious and Not a Publisher I turned towards the latter and I don't regret that at all. I am sympatico with @JBMannon on this -- being a publisher is acres of tedious and hard work and I am in awe of the people who do it well, especially the people who do it on top of having another career and family.

    I'm playing fewer games and more drums these days. After years of playing/practicing alone, I found a band in 2015 and this summer recorded an EP. I am so proud of this I can't even, especially the title track "Nimrod." Playing on this record was like playing in a really good RPG session where at the end we had something that was more -- much, much more -- than any of us could have made alone.

    I work for a rocket company now, as an inventory programmer. It is not an astronaut-track position, alas, but it is a pretty great gig.
  • I'm still doing my thing trying to get better at playing games.

    This year I committed to try to increase the number of brand-new RPGers I play with and it's worked so far. I've introduced two couples and two standalone folks to the hobby with 2- and 3-month campaigns, including a Call of Cthulhu campaign I'm running again tonight!
  • @Judd Man, I can't wait for Mu!

    @Eero_Tuovinen I still don't really get Paranoia so insights on that would be really cool!

    As for me, I moved back to Canada and started Samjoko Publishing officially after I realized I'd probably want to publish more games. I've been publishing more of my brother's stuff (Fraser Simons) than my own under the label so far, though, mostly because my wife and I have also since had two kids (both girls, 2 yo and 8 month old). He's already kickstarted and fulfilled The Veil, The Veil: Cascade, and has Hack the Planet upcoming. He's got a bunch more waiting in the wings, too, more cyberpunk and most not.

    Even after the fifth kickstarter, I'm still learning about the platform and what people want; my game Operators I ran a KS for last November and it struggled quite a bit. I've working on fixing up a Fast and the Furious-type game that I've been working on since I-don't-know-when and I'm pretty psyched about where it's at now!

    Most of my free time gets channeled into writing and designing rather than playing; I have so many drafts of games that I'd like to get out there at some point - so much so that I almost always pass up chances to play for fun (rather than playtesting).
  • I completed but essentially washed out of a Master's program. Worked in printing for a few years. Shifted in hospitality, managed a gamer bar, did some traveling, landed back of the west coast of Canada. Am missing Jay Walt at GoPlay NW.

    I've been playing with Johnstone Metzger in my home group. Mostly Blades, but also whatever he wants to play test.
  • I absolutely agree. Publishing is so strange and unsatisfactory to me but I want people to be able to enjoy and play the games I design. I don't know how to square that circle.
    I've been designing games without really publishing them for years. Playing them at conventions, having a blast. Sometimes they're not written down. More than once someone else has gotten so annoyed that it's not available that they have written it down for me. Heck, Nerver av stål is now available in an English translation without the Swedish original being out in anything more than a PDF attached to an old forum post. The games that do get written down and even laid out are basically just free PDF:s and books on Lulu.

    To me, playing my games in person with people (at home or at cons) is a lot more satisfying than people I've never met playing them (though that's fun, too!), and I know I'll never make serious money from my games (especially since I write in Swedish), so I don't bother trying. Not making money from the game also frees me from having to take a responsibility to provide support/awesome illustrations/a good game.
  • I don't know about anyone else, but I'm massively excited for a discussion on non-commercial oriented game design and play.
  • @Judd Wow, so excited for Mu's return.
    Seconded, especially as I've been teaching myself how to play Sorcerer over the last 5-ish years.
  • edited October 2018
    So cool hearing what folls have been up to!
    My updates:
    In 2015 I launched a kickstarter for Fall of Magic, a story game that came on a 5ft long screen printed scroll, This led to me having to build and manage a scroll factory which is really hard and rewarding and stressful.
    After delivering of the KS we started making custom textiles for other projects, most notably Inheritance, Dialect, and shirts for Bully Pulpit, Evil Hat, Dungeon World with some more coming up.
    I published a larp with Mo Golden called Night Forest, and wrote a story game about girlhood and friendship with my mom called BFF! which is almost done.
    I started an artist in residency program at Heart of the Deernicorn, we brought Jason Morningstar for a week of workshops and events called Future Play. Next year we plan to bring Kira Magrin and Thorny Games for similar events.

    I go to lots of cons! Too many!

    Fall of Magic won a bunch of awards and people know who I am and see me as a successful game designer which is cool but I have to deal with things like lawsuits, online harassment, bank and cc debt, and game community politics which is a heavy load, so people who choose not to publish: I see you and that is not a bad move!

    My partner Mo moved to the east coast for grad school then moved back. She is a curriculum designer with a backround in expressive arts and immersive design and has a lot of cool projects that I do my best to help her on.

    I have a 19 year old cat.

    I am a 39 year old man now.

    those are my updates!

  • I have a 19 cat.
    Man, that's quite a feat of longevity!
  • I'm almost 50 now. I go to 2-3 conventions a year and run lots of traditional games, but they're terribly infected by storygame techniques.

    I'm mostly focused on D&D 5e and Traveller/Cepheus Engine these days. I ran a 35-session dungeon crawl campaign on Roll20 with 20-30 rotating players. I occasionally test out other games at The Windup Space, a Baltimore bar. I ran Over the Wall there, and I ran the Expanse preview there.

    I'm working on a MAIN SEQUENCE, a hard-sci-fi / post-cyberpunk setting for Cepheus Engine. I wrote a convention scenario and ran it once; it's pretty awesome.

    I'm working on TOWERLANDS, my white whale of a fantasy setting for D&D 5e. It's almost in a playable state.

    I started a vanity press game company called Verdigris Press and published two little supplements for other people's games. I have lots of half-finished products in the works.

    My wife hit all the Bestseller lists (including NYT) with her historical fiction. She's kinda a big deal now.

    I got promoted to vice president of software at my company, but then recently we got purchased by our competitor and everything is in flux and I'm trying to navigate all of that. They just sent me to Thailand for a week, so I figure that's a sign they're not going to lay me off tomorrow.

  • I'm hoping to have Dictionary of Mu back in print before the end of the year.
    This is excellent news. That game deserves more play.
  • I've been working mostly on theater stuff in the last several years, and am starting up a theater company (Euodyne Immersive Collective) that's going to focus on immersive stuff, finding the common strengths of larp and theater and whatnot and building new things from that. (An immersive improvised Elizabethan tragedy show that I put up in January won some local awards, so that's been validating.) I'm still directing, teaching, and performing in regular old improvised theater, too, but not as hard as I used to.

    I don't get to play games as much as I'd like to—we're all busy doing stuff, and I'm not able to make it out to conventions that much any more (for various reasons), but I'm going to try to make it a focus next year to hit some of the big ones that I"m still able to, and maybe even make it out to Camp Nerdly or something, if possible.

    I'm 95% done with Icebox: Timeline, a non-linear story game about life on a lost generation ship—it's done and well playtested, I'm just doing a final editing pass before finishing the layout and getting it up and out. I'm 90% done with Last Winter's Lights, an old Game Chef game of mine that had legs—also done and playtested, I'm just working out the kinks in the visual design and UX of the cards for the game. I've got a shelf of other stuff 5%-50% finished, from boardgames to megagames, game poems to freeform larp, and so on, but my momentum has been steadily worn down over the last few years, so I'm just plucking away at things as I can.

    I've lost a lot of friends here over the last few years, and I don't know why. It's heartbreaking and crazy-making, and I don't think it's going to stop.

    I'm still living in Austin, TX with my fantastic partner and my almost 12yo daughter. I'm working full-time as a full-stack web development instructor at Galvanize/Hack Reactor, teaching grownups how to build web stuff as a new career. I've seen a lot of shitty entitled wannabe tech bros run themselves out, and a bunch of amazing people from under-represented backgrounds bust ass and completely transform their lives. It's alternately infuriating, exhausting, and inspiring—I don't know if I'm going to be able to manage it much longer, but I've learned more in the last few years of teaching software development than I have in the last long while of hands-on work, and I don't regret a minute of it.

    I'm 48 now. I've been around these parts for the last dozen years or so, and I'm not going anywhere.

  • Hey all! I've been mostly missing from here for about four years, I think. Let's see...

    I became a grandfather during that window, so that's been pretty cool. Cathesa is about 22 months old right now. We also inherited a second cat. My daughter Kivi, youngest child, will turn 17 in two days and I look forward to empty-nesting with existential dread.

    I've been playing in a shared-GM sandboxy Whitehack campaign for two years with three friends. We meet for a six-hour window roughly every other Sunday and two people run roughly 2.5 hour sessions. We each maintain a stable of characters and choose one of our currently spare ones for any given new hook. Maintaining the chronology has been our biggest challenge. We have good ideas on how to, but we haven't really implemented any well. It's been a pretty neat experience and reincorporating junk that other GMs leave lying around the hex-map is fun (and occasionally problematic due to stepping on secretish stuff).

    That same group played shorter campaigns of Hillfolk and maybe Torchbearer as well as lots of one-shots during the time I've been away.

    I've also taken up growing chiles as a hobby.
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