Let’s talk about Titansgrave for a moment.

Here’s a picture of Aqualad as a pirate, from one of the funniest episodes of Teen Titans Go I did.

Aqualad is a Pirate

I realize that TTG has its detractors, and respectfully request that they don’t use this post to list their grievances. I liked the show, I loved the cast and creative people involved, and there’s always the older, more serious Teen Titans for you to watch.

Speaking of older stuff: you know what holds up surprisingly well? The Land of the Lost (not that abominable movie; the original series). In fact, I used some elements from Land of the Lost as inspiration for some elements in Titansgrave.

Titansgrave. Let’s talk about Titansgrave for a moment.

Holy shit you guys Titansgrave is looking amazing. I desperately want to share some of the art images we have, including some of our character models and locations, but there’s this whole marketing plan that I have to follow, like I’m an adult who is part of a successful business or something.

Yesterday, I watched a rough cut of our first episode, and I loved it.  The photography and the set are beautiful, the actors I cast to play the adventuring party are just fantastic, and as I watched it, felt like the cameras and editing captured the experience we had when we filmed the show. This was really important to me, because translating the emotional and visceral excitement, tension, curiosity, triumph, despair, and joy we all had while we played the game and told the story into something an audience can enjoy is the only way this show will be a success.What I saw yesterday did exactly that. However, I know that, I’m not entirely objective, so I’m going to screen a few edits for some people at Geek and Sundry who weren’t on the set and don’t know anything about the campaign — basically what the audience will know going into it — to make sure that my instincts are correct: Titansgrave is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, and the characters who you’ll get to know are pretty damn compelling.

Lots of people are asking if we’re going to release the campaign setting, and what game system we’re using. These questions have been answered elsewhere, but I’ll put it here just so it’s here: the game is powered by the AGE (Adventure Game Engine) system that Green Ronin created for Dragon Age RPG. This is a version of the AGE system called Fantasy AGE, and we’re adding a few elements to the rules that are specific to our setting, that allows us to incorporate some science fiction elements, as well. At the moment, a lot of us are developing the world, writing fiction that takes place in Valkana, creating NPC allies and adversaries, imagining areas that we touch on in the show but don’t fully examine (so players at home can have their own adventures in our world) and building out the lore of this world we created. It’s a lot of work on a very tight schedule, because we are going to release the campaign setting this summer, but I’m not complaining because I have been itching to just write and write and write some more.

Speaking of writing, here’s a little bit of fiction I wrote while I was figuring out what a particular district of the city of Nestora would feel like.

Grell’s Alley

Korram put one hand on the pommel of his sword, and the other deep into his pocket. He pressed together the two sovereigns he found there, lest they make a sound and draw unwanted attention in this rough part of Nestora. Korram knew his way around a back alley, and was indeed using one at this very moment to make his way to the Shal, but there had been enough killing today. Far too much killing for the two sovereigns he had to show for it. Best to not attract attention, he thought. Some distance away, a concussive boom shook the air. Not thunder, Korram knew from instinct he had long forgotten how to explain. It was more likely a Guilder strike. The flashing of lights reflected off buildings at the end of the alley, as emergency and security hovers sped past, confirming his suspicions.

So much killing. He thought. Too much killing. Korram was tired.

He straightened his spine, pulled his shoulders back, and walked deliberately down the alley. Garbage bins and foul waste piled high around him. Rainwater dripped down from wires and off of rooftops, forming foul puddles between the cracked and broken cobbles beneath his feet.

“Oi!” Called a voice from the darkness in front of him. “Oi! Trellem!”

Korram grunted, and kept his eyes fixed on the end of the alley. With one thumb, he imperceptibly slid the leather guard off his sword.

A stocky dwarf stepped out of a shadow, and blocked his way. No dwarf would stand against a Trellem alone, Korram knew. He sniffed the air, drawing as many scents as he could, forming a mental image of everything around him: Wet brick and urine — human urine — eight hours old to his right. Garbage, a dead rat, a slowly leaking gas line to his left,  and there, above it, tucked into a fire escape made of rusting metal and rotten wood, an elf, wearing soaked Darham leather.

“Stop a bit and visit with old Grell now, won’t ya?” The dwarf said.

“I don’t think so,” Korram said. His sword settled into his hand, ready to become an extension of his arm, of his will. A single-shot blaster, tucked into his belt, felt warm against the small of his back.

“How about you just give me yer gold then?” The dwarf said, “To, uh, ensure yer safe passage through Grell’s alley.”

Korram breathed deeply. The elf was tensing its — her, he now realized — her legs and was about to pounce. He exhaled a sigh.

“There has been enough killing today.” Korram said.

The dwarf flashed a grim smile, revealing a mouth of broken teeth behind his filthy beard. “Disagree,” he said. The elf pounced.

Korram spun in place and drew his sword in one motion. The elf fell on it, sliding down its blade and catching her jaw at the hilt. She hadn’t had time to register surprise, Korram thought, as he yanked her head from her body. Dual daggers clattered to the ground and Korram turned back to face the dwarf.

Korram didn’t need to use his highly evolved sense of smell to know that Grell had pissed himself. “Too much killing,” he said, advancing on the dwarf, who fell as he tried to turn on stubby legs and run away.

Minutes later, Korram wiped his blade clean along the back of Grell’s tunic, elven and dwarven blood mingling together on the rough, heavy cloth. The lifeless heads of Grell and his companion kept watch over the alley, while Korram pulled a small bag off the dwarf’s body. Several coins inside jingled together.

Too much killing, Korram thought, but at least he had more than two sovereigns to show for it. He walked to the end of the alley, and down the lane toward the Shal.

Valkana is a broken and wounded world, a post-apocalyptic land of science fantasy that is so much fun to create and explore. I’m having a fantastic time imagining it, and I’m really excited for you all to come and visit, later this summer.

fitter, happier

Taking walks, by myself and taking walks with Seamus and Marlowe.

Exercising several times a week.

Keeping close track of what I’m eating and drinking.

Caring for my physical and mental health.

Reading more books.

Taking pictures.

Writing jokes.

Cleaning up after myself.

Holding hands with my wife.

Sitting with my therapist and talking it out.

Fitter, happier, more productive.

I still miss my dog.

 

as the tear drops rise to meet the comfort of the band

Thirteen years is a long time to spend with any living thing, and losing a companion that loved unconditionally and as enthusiastically as my little white dog did is tearing holes in my heart.

I’m trying so hard to get on with my life, but whenever I think I’m making some progress, and moving through the grief process, I see Riley out of the corner of my eye, and realize her spot on the couch is empty. Last night, when I walked into my dark bedroom to go to sleep, I automatically walked around the spot where she liked to sleep on the floor, and for less than a second, I forgot that she’ll never sleep there again. Today, I drove up our street and nearly broke down sobbing when I looked at the lawn she used to stop and smell at whenever we walked her.

Her dish is in the corner of the dining room, where she left it. Neither one of us as been able to pick it up. Her pills and her food are still in the pantry. We’re going to donate them to the Humane Society, and even though I know that’s a good thing to do, I still feel like I’m going to cry when I think about the finality of taking them out of the pantry for the last time.

Seamus has been going into my bedroom, lying down in Riley’s bed that is extra smooshy to take the pressure off of her arthritic hips, and almost crying. He fusses in a way I’ve never noticed as long as we’ve had him, and Anne thinks he’s grieving, too. He and Riley weren’t very close the last couple of years, because Marlowe was just more fun to play with, but she was part of his pack.

Anne remembered Riley over at her blog:

Riley became known as the “I’M A DOG!” face with all the pictures we put of her on the internet over the years. The outpouring of love and support from real friends and internet friends has been so overwhelmingly kind. From planting flowers in her honor, to making donations to local shelters in her memory, to even registering a star in her name just so I can look up and think of her every night, is so unexpectedly wonderful. I love that this sweet, oddball of a dog has so many people who cared about her and will miss her goofy face as much as we do.

Goodbye, little girl. We love you.

I’ve gotten tens of thousands of kind thoughts from people who never knew Riley, but seem to have formed their own bond with her in that strange way that’s only possible because of the world we live in right now. That brings me a lot of comfort, and I want you all to know that I deeply appreciate your kindness and your thoughts.

memories come rushing up to meet me now

Thank you all so much for your kind words. It’s been a rough few days here at Castle Wheaton.

I can barely define the shape of this moment in time

Last night, our dog, Riley, died. Today would have been her thirteenth birthday.

Riley had a long and wonderful life. She lived much longer than the person who locked her in a closet at a motel that was being torn down thought she would, and though she could be a huge pain in the ass, she was an important part of our family.

Riley was anxious and nervous to the point of being neurotic. She was terrified of the garden hose, had terrible arthritis in all of her joints, and was almost completely deaf. Still, she was happy these last few months, getting to sleep on a the couch whenever she wanted, or sleeping at my feet while I worked in my office. She didn’t want to play very much, but when she did I’d swear she was ten years younger. She still liked to take walks, but she was slow and stayed so close to Anne and me, she hadn’t needed a leash for almost a year.

She wasn’t crazy about Marlowe, and I think Marlowe knew it. Marlowe has so much energy, I think she sort of scared Riley, who was brittle and nervous as a result of it. But Marlowe always tried to help calm Riley down. She would lick her face and nuzzle her all the time, and she stayed out of Riley’s way the rest of the time.

Riley was the last direct connection we had to Ryan and Nolan’s childhoods. She has been part of their lives for so long, through so much and so many things, they lost a member of their family even more intensely than I did, and I have a huge IMADOG hole in my heart right now.

I want to take a second and share a moment Riley and I had several years ago, right after our dog Ferris had died. I was alone in our house because Anne was out of town, Ryan was in college, and Nolan was busy being a teenager. Ferris had died the day before, practically in my arms, in the lobby of the vet:

I saw Ferris’ empty dish last night when I fed Riley, and it unleashed an agonizing wave of sadness so overwhelming, I dropped to the floor in our living room and cried as hard and as long as I ever have in my life.

After she was finished eating, Riley came over to me and sniffed at my face. Through my tears and gasping sobs, I told her it was okay, I just missed Ferris a lot and I was sad.

She rubbed her face against my cheek and trotted into the family room. A moment later, she returned with her soggy tennis ball, which she gently put into my lap. She looked up at me, and then walked into the corner of the family room, where she picked up her rope – her favorite toy, which she brings with her to the front door whenever we come home – and brought it over to me. She set it on the ground next to me, and then laid down and put her head in my lap. I cried for a good long time, but I was comforted by Riley’s actions, even if I’m projecting my own feelings onto her. I felt like she could tell I was grieving, so she brought me the things that make her happy, before letting me cry on her until the fur on her neck was soaked with my tears. When I finally stopped, mostly because I was physically and emotionally exhausted, I felt a tiny bit better.

Riley was a pain in the ass sometimes. She was  complicated, damaged, and difficult, but she was ultimately a sweet and loving member of our family.

I really miss her, and her terrible breath, and that wonderfully derpy look on her face that always said “IMADOG!”

IMADOG

Bye bye, piles. I love you.

A small request: if you choose to comment, please don’t post that Rainbow Bridge thing. I know you mean well, but it has always made me uncomfortable.

peer into our world…

I’m not quite ready to announce the details of the world we created for our RPG show, but I am ready to show this little glimpse of it, and I encourage you to make of it what you will…

a sneak peak at the tabletop rpg world
a sneak peak at the tabletop rpg world

What could it be?

…something wonderful.

meet the players who will be rolling initiative in our tabletop rpg show

We’re shooting the Tabletop RPG show all this week. Yesterday was our first day of production, and we had so much fun, eleven hours of nonstop work flew by in a flash. In fact, at the end of the day, one of the players said to me, “that’s it? I want to keep playing!”

We’re going to be slowly announcing details about the show all this week, and yesterday, I introduced the players to the world:

Here’s a little bit about them:

  • Hank Green is one of the most successful and influential YouTubers of all time. With his brother, John, he created the Vlog Brothers. Their network has grown to over 1 billion views, and earlier this year, Hank interviewed the president. Hank is an old school role player, and he’s a fantastic storyteller.
  • Alison Haislip hasn’t ever played an RPG like this, but she was amazing in Fiasco during the first season of Tabletop. She’s worked for G4 and Nerdist, among others. It was pretty awesome to watch her start out tentatively yesterday morning, and by the middle of the day she was slinging dice like she’d been doing it all her life.
  • Yuri Lowenthal is one of my best friends. We met when we were working on Legion of Superheroes, and we’ve gone on to work together on Ben Ten, There Came an Echo, and countless other animation projects. You’ve heard him in pretty much every video game, ever, (he’s Sandal in Dragon Age: Origins), and you’ve heard him as Sauske in Naruto. Yuri has been playing RPGs as long as I have.
  • Laura Bailey and I met when we worked on There Came An Echo last year. By lunchtime on the first day, we had decided that we needed to be friends, and it feels like we’ve known each other since college. She’s an accomplished voice actor who you have heard in over 250 projects, including Dragon Age: Inquisition, Hearthstone, The Last of Us, World of Warcraft, and Fullmetal Alchemist. Laura also plays on Geek & Sundry’s RPG Twitch show, Critical Role.

You can find them on the usual social networks, and we’ll all be posting behind the scenes pictures and short videos during production this week.

Wesley, I’m proud of you.

“Can I come over and play Dragon Age?” My son asked me.

“Sure. I’m just going to watch more Land of the Lost tonight, so knock yourself out.” I said.

Ryan doesn’t have Dragon Age at his house, and when he was house sitting for me a few weeks ago, he fell in love with it the same way I did. He likes to unwind with his Inquisitor the same way I do, and the world of Thedas has come to live in his imagination the same way it has in mine.

“I think we’ve both earned a night of goofing off,” I added. Ryan is the co-creator of the world and main storyline in the Tabletop RPG show, and he and I have been writing together for months, now, almost every single day, and yesterday we finally finished the hardest part of our work. Yesterday, we handed everything off to the lead RPG designer, and exhaled for the first time in weeks.

“Yeah, we totally have. You’re gonna be Mister Done tonight.” He said.

Mister Done?

“Um,” I said.

“Because I’m going to destroy you at Mister Do!,” he said.

“Come at me, bro.”

I have a Mister Do! machine (well, it’s actually a multi machine that I mostly use to play Mister Do!) in my game room, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at Mister Do!. I’m not, like, Kill-Screen-Coming-Up good, but my high score at the moment is just over 92,000, and I average in the mid 70,000s per game. Ryan’s made it one of his life goals to beat my high score, and while part of me wants to keep that score safely out of his reach, another part of me wants to teach my son how to master the intricacies of being a clown who runs away from dinosaurs and eats many times his weight in cherries.

“I’ll see you in a few hours,” he said.

I went out for lunch, had a delightfully spicy Cajun chicken sandwich, and read a bunch of the material I needed to prepare for work on Monday. For the first time in weeks, the overwhelming sense of panic and dread that I didn’t have enough time and wasn’t ready to do this show was met by some genuine excitement and anticipation, because I only have to wait a few days before I get to start exploring the world we created with some amazing players who have created extremely interesting and complex characters.

CUT TO:

A clown running through a brightly colored maze. He is chased by a small dinosaur, that is rapidly gaining on him. He runs beneath an apple, which falls on and crushes the dinosaur. Then another apple that was above the first shakes itself loose and falls on and crushes the clown, because this game is bullshit.

“What the shit?!” I shouted.

“Wow, that sucked. I’m up.”

I stepped aside and began to weave a tapestry of profanity over the game room, in the style of The Old Man from A Christmas Story.

Electric Ladyland played on the Sonos, the doors to the game room were wide open, and the dogs chased each other around the back yard. It had been 91 a few hours earlier, but now it was about 83, and suddenly the oppressive heatwave we’re having in freaking March didn’t seem so bad.

As we played the game, I told Ryan why I made certain choices to maximize points, why I chose to let a level end rather than chase another few thousand points, and how to avoid the giant fucking bullshit of an apple falling on you for no good reason.

“I try to average ten thousand points a level, and if I don’t have my first extra guy by the third screen, I know I’m gonna have a bad time,” I told him.

He heeded my advice, and over the course of several games, I watched him get better and better, averaging a score in the mid to upper 40s.

I don’t know if it’s because we’re only separated by 17 years, or if it’s because we had to work so hard to earn our family, or if it’s because Anne and I raised two really awesome, amazing kids, but I genuinely love hanging out with my adult children. I’m closer to my boys than I am to anyone in my nuclear family, and if you’d told me that this is how it would be when they were on the cusp of adolescence and their biological father was making our lives a miserable hell, I would have told you that you were full of shit.

And yet.

With Anne out of town, and Ryan’s girlfriend spending the evening with her sister, here we were. We were two adults, father and son, playing games together after having burritos for dinner (of course), after working really hard to write a TV show together and I wouldn’t trade a single second of the pain we endured to get here.

We played a few more games, and I headed inside to watch TV while he played Dragon Age in the game room.

I ended up watching TNG on BBC America. The episode was Pen Pals, and I had completely forgotten everything about it, even though it’s a fantastic Wesley Crusher story — maybe one of the best ones we ever did.

I felt like I was watching someone else, who looked just like me, rise to the occasion of some really great writing, in an episode that completely holds up, almost 30 years later. It was a strange feeling to be watching myself without judgment or wishing I’d made a different choice or just … acted better, I guess.

Put another way, I could see how a smart kid or the parent of a smart kid could have watched that episode and identified with Wesley Crusher, because he wasn’t just an idea. He was a person who was dealing with some heavy stuff that he wasn’t quite ready to deal with.

I watched the entire episode, and I cheered for Wesley when the stupid adults who never listened to him or respected him gave him credit for having the insight to run the fucking scan that made all the difference. I can see how a cynic or someone who was just determined to hate the character no matter what could roll his eyes at that, but I thought it was handled in a way that was grounded in the reality of the show, and not just I feel strange but also good.

I looked at that kid, who grew up to be this adult, and I identified with him in an entire new way. I identified with him as a parent who raised two kids who were a lot like that him — struggling to deal with with a bunch of really heavy shit they weren’t ready to deal with, wanting to do the right thing, but being paralyzed by self doubt — and for the first time in decades, I had a new reason to be proud of wearing Wesley Crusher’s goofy grin and helmet hair.

I turned off the TV, and went back out to our game room, to spend some more time with my son.

 

pages upon pages

We begin production on Monday, and I’m in the final lap of the writing marathon this week.

Yesterday, I wrote a whole bunch of stuff, until I got to a point where I just had to walk away, because I wasn’t getting anything useful out of my brains. This was really difficult for me to do, because I feel like I need another two weeks of work time between today and Monday.

Today, I went back to the stuff I wrote yesterday, knowing that I had to make lots of cuts for both time and budget. I honestly wasn’t sure where I was going to make those cuts, until I went through and just murdered some things that I liked, but thought didn’t need to be there.

Like magic, the whole piece came together and became something I love. That stuff I cut? I don’t miss it, and I can’t imagine that it was ever there…

…except I can imagine that it was there, because it needed to be there so I could write the stuff that I ended up keeping. It’s sort of like building a scaffolding in Minecraft, to make it possible to build the thing you really want to build, then tearing it down (or burning it down, if you make it out of wood around a stone structure, which is really neat).

So this is another thing that goes into my writer’s toolbox: permission to write and write and just keep writing, and not judge or edit along the way until the draft is finished. Because I may think that something is crap and needs to go, and maybe it is and does, but it needs to be there at this moment so I can find the good stuff.

so i throw the windows wide

I’ve been beating myself up a little bit for not putting something new here every day, and for missing my self-imposed-but-flexible Monday deadline for Radio Free Burrito. I have a pretty great life! Why can’t I just do these simple things?

Well, if those were the only things I was doing, I would be justified in beating myself up. But those aren’t the only things I’m doing. I’m working my face off to get the RPG show up and running as production draws terrifyingly close (we have our actors coming in on Monday to create their characters! Already! I’m not in a panic! YOU’RE in a panic!)

But it’s not just the RPG show (which is about to be titled, officially) that’s making demands on me, creatively and emotionally. I’ve had to travel — well, that’s not right. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to some neat places to do some really neat things with some really neat people (fun fact: Sir Baldy hated it when we said “neat” in the old days. He never explained why. I said it a lot to troll him. It worked). I’ve had a bunch of meetings with really fancy people for some really fancy gigs. I’ve been doing a ton of work that I can’t talk about because of NDA.

I started to get anxiety just writing all of that. Sheesh.

So I give myself permission to accept that my creative output isn’t going to be writing stories and telling stories and adding something new to my blog every day. I give myself permission to miss a deadline on a podcast, because I’m making it for my own entertainment and hopefully some people come along for the ride. I mean, it’s free and everything.

One of the reasons I can give myself a little bit of a break was the realization, this morning while I was waiting for my coffee to brew, that I have told tons of stories and written hundreds of thousands of words here in my blog for over ten years, almost every day. That’s a really long time, on a really aggressive schedule, to create stuff. So if my creative energy is pointed away from my blog for a little bit, that’s okay. This isn’t a job. This is … well, it’s a lot of things, but it isn’t a job.

Help me out, here, Internet: what is this, again?

50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong

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