All posts by Will Hindmarch

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Here’s to Wil Wheaton

Will Hindmarch just posted a thing here on WWdN earlier today and the bio on that post is pretty much still accurate.

On behalf of Stephen, Ryan, and Shane, I’d like to thank Wil Wheaton for having us at the blog this week. None of us wrote as much as we meant to (we have our reasons), but we got to talk on email about all the things that can get in the way of writing. Cheers, friends.

At the same time, thank you, WWdN readers, for sharing your time with us this week. We appreciate it.

And, Wil? When next I’m in LA, can I ring the RFB bell?

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Inspiration

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, game designer, and narrative designer. He co-founded Gameplaywright Press, assistant directs the Shared Worlds writing camp, and is a producer of Story Club South Side in Chicago.

Here’s the task they before me: Run a casual D&D game over one lunch break per week. A mere 60-70 minutes of play per week with a cast of more than ten player characters rotating in and out? Teach the new edition of the game and a world to explore in that limited time? Make an experience that’s coherent and compelling even for players who might take a few weeks off between sessions?

Sounds like a fun challenge!

The game is set in a fantastical city that was under quarantine for a strange disease. But sometime during its period of isolation … everyone inside the city disappeared. As a result, there are just two humans left in the world: a barbarian and a paladin, both of them PCs.

What makes this one difficult—and I’m a little surprised by this—isn’t crafting a compelling a world for casual and intermittent players; I’ve done that lots. It isn’t managing the dramaturgy for ten PCs; I’ve done that before. It isn’t even conveying the world through brief bits of text to minimize the game’s footprint on the lives of the players; that’s an inspiring challenge. No, it turns out the trick is juggling my own inspirations.

This is something I struggle with sometimes. I pretty carefully control what sort of inputs I take in—what shows I watch and when, what books I read and when, what games I play and when—not only to manage my time, but to influence what influences me. When I was writing my story about the white deer, for PleasureTown, for example, I put together an atmospheric playlist and read some Walt Whitman to get me in the right sort of place. (I also mined a bunch of details from my own childhood.)

When I’m writing about the faux-Elizabethan political intrigue in the City on the Saturnine for my stealth-adventure RPG, called Dark, I try to take in a diverse array of material but I also worry about sparking ideas that I won’t be able to work on for months. If I can’t put space-alien horrors into my fantastical Renaissance, I try not to consume much about space aliens.

Or I tried.

Too many great stories, too many glittering inspirations, move in my peripheral vision, all the time! How can I watch True Detective or Automata when they’ll make me want to work on projects that aren’t scheduled until later in the year? I don’t want good ideas being misspent on the wrong projects!

That right there is where I am a moron. As if creating something good diminishes some other thing that is good. What is that?

For me, at least, the truth is that inspiration and action are all about the collision of ideas in unexpected intersections. Withholding a good idea—”saving” it—is so often folly. Ideas aren’t worth much. Work has value. The writing has value. The application and implementation of an idea—that’s what’s valuable.

If I apply some influential idea to a project and it doesn’t stick, I’ve still got the idea.

If I apply an influential idea to a project and it doesn’t do everything I wanted, but it does something, that’s a kind of progress on the project, and I’ve still got the idea.

If I apply an influential idea to a project and it changes the project, that’s either an enrichment or an option to keep or reject—which is my job as the writer. And I’ve still got the idea.

Ideas aren’t currency. They aren’t electricity. They’re knowledge. They’re like lessons. We don’t spend a lesson to act on it. That’s why lessons are precious.

Ideas get conjured at the crossroads of information, where two notions collide and inspire, throwing light and shadows on the nearby buildings, and in the aftermath … there’s no wreckage. The notions survive and their fusion creates a new idea. That’s the whole point! This is a creative process … not a destructive one.

I’ve always kept notebooks. Lots of notebooks. Each major project gets its own book and certain themes of potential projects—games, novels, scripts—get notebooks, too. That’s where ideas live.

To my surprise, what sparked my realization and reminded me how to manage the influences on my own imagination, was taking an hour off to play some Destiny. The grand, enthusiastic melange of epic fantasy and sci-fi in the Destiny universe  reminded me that my job isn’t to recreate any one genre by following customs and redecorating a well-trod space, but to make the thing I’m making as good as it can be.

Destiny’s little doses of lore—either in the Grimoire or in the text of bounties and quests and items—combine to convey a robust and wonderfully strange world. We’re still early in the life of Destiny’s story, I’m sure, yet those bite-sized doses of fictional data fascinate me. (Destiny depicts a world that I am this close to writing fanfic for—something about the way dust drifts through the city beneath the Traveler, the glint of metal on the lunar surface, the hints of everyday heroism—so write me, Bungie, if you want great fiction set in the Destiny galaxy.)

In my case, my goal is to make each 60-minute D&D session an exciting episode of play. That comes first.  And that means the players and their characters are the priority. I knew all that … but I’d also sort of forgotten it, you know? My desire to impress these players got in the way of how much I love to inspire them.

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Written Word, Spoken Word

Writer, designer, and producer Will Hindmarch (@wordwill) wrote about games and storytelling for Jeff VanderMeer‘s marvelous writing guide,  Wonderbook.

Almost twenty years ago, while I was in high school, I hosted a community radio show called The Difference Engine. I played a strange mix of genres and spoken-word tracks that amused me. Weezer’s original blue album was new, back then, and I played it alongside current mega-hits by NIN,  local Chicago bands like The Drovers, jazz classics from Louis Armstrong, and the occasional monologue excerpt by Henry Rollins or whoever, hand-bleeped in real time by me to keep us from getting nasty mail.

As a community-radio DJ and a community-theater actor/director/techie, I’d had some light vocal training, which served me well while I was alone in the booth with the mic, producing my own show. All the joys of having a soapbox and a mixtape, an audience and a mic, with none of the eyeballs or lenses staring back. Good stuff.

This past month, when I set out to produce and record the audiobook for my new poetry collection—Pregrets—all those memories, all that training fell away like a floor. I was here and they were over there, across a chasm of time, rusty from the sweat I’d left on them and the care I hadn’t taken to maintain them. As I sat, trying to edit the audio I’d recorded at home of me reading my own poems, I discovered something: I’d forgotten how to pace, how to pause, how to breathe—but not how to spot all those errors and recognize the genuine lousiness of my recordings.

Yikes.

Inside the sound of my own voice, reading my own words, is a terrible dread that rots the pillars of the pier and drops me in the saltwater.

All of it’s exacerbated by the dreaded art of comparison—of weighing my work against others. While recording my poems, I studied readings by Billy Collins, by Mary Robinette Kowal, by Henry Rollins, and discouraged myself right the hell out.

Reading my own work felt like it was sucking the life—the many different possible readings—right out of some poems. Pregrets is all about how the line breaks mislead, revise, question, and doubt. My readings felt like they put the kibosh on all that, saying “This is how this poem’s supposed to be read.” Which is, pardon me, bullshit in this case.

In contrast, I think back to the lovely, atmospheric podcast series called PleasureTown (on SoundCloud, too), and the first time I heard the story I wrote for the ninth episode of its first season.

Inside the sound of strangers’ voices, reading my own words, resides a peculiar magic. They imbued those words with so much, enriched them, opening them up for lots of wonderful characterization — and interpretation. Voices and words, like winds and kites. Words can lift up and be lifted, all at once … if you handle them right.

So I’m going to get past it, work through it, finish that audiobook (for the sake of the two people who want it made), not so much in spite of it being difficult … but because it’s difficult. I want to be good at this, better than I was back when, and see what I can make next with what I learn.

Onward.

(PleasureTown is a transmedia collection of short tales and linked characters set in a sordid town of hedonist-philosophers in the early 20th century. Season 2 of the podcast launches May 6th with 12 new episodes produced by my friends, Keith Ecker and Erin Kahoa. Even now, new minisodes are rolling out, written by fans and podcasters from Reading Out Loud.)

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Guess the Guest Posters Who Guest-Post by Being Guests and Posting

This guest post comes to us from writer and designer Will Hindmarch, co-founder of Gameplaywright Press and author of RPGs, fictions, and other things.

At about three o’clock this morning, I was walking home from an event highlighting D&D and beers, where I DM’d a table of nine players through a short session of D&D new 5th edition. In orbs of light, clinging to street lamps and glowing in the gloom, I saw snow falling on an angle in the wind. Most of the neighborhood was under an inch or so of snow and it flicked off the toes of my boots as I walked, but I passed a monk shoveling paths on a local sidewalk. By the time I woke up later this morning, tree branches balanced three or four inches of snow on their tops.

So I’m pretty far removed from any Caribbean cruise, right now.

But! I’m in good company, because although we don’t have a literal boatload of nerderati here, we have a global information network in reach, which I hear the JoCo Cruise somehow lacks. So I can google pics of boats, play JoCo’s music on my computer, and—best of all—sneak onto WWdN to keep us all distracted (I won’t go so far as to say entertained) until the One True Wil Wheaton returns.

Good news for you: it’s not just me! Three other weird cohorts are around this week to share guest posts with us and, title of this post be damned, you don’t have to guess who they are…

  • Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse writes fiction and non-fiction, excels at games, and is funnier than I am by a factor of ten.  He has a URL named after him.
  • Shane Nickerson is a producer, writer, and actor who is funnier than I am by an order of magnitude. We have the same birthday, Shane and I, but he’s better at it than I am. This URL was named in his honor.
  • Ryan Wheaton is a writer we all know for some of the best, funniest tweets to appear via @wilw, which makes him an approximate fuck-ton funnier than myself.

Some of are Wil(l)s, some of us are Wheatons, but we are none of us Wil Wheatons. Still, this week, we’re going to try hard to make Wil Wheaton proud. When we fail at that, we’re going to try hard to make Wil Wheaton laugh.

Either way, we’re in it together now, so let’s do this.

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Learning to Write

Writer and game designer Will Hindmarch is an occasional contributor to WWdN and constant mooncalf. In a good way.

When the writing is tough, I doubt a lot of my words and think hard about whether I really know what I’m doing or not. Where do I get the nerve to try to be heard or read?

As David Simon once put it, who died and made me Storyteller?

Thinking back to some of the lessons I’ve learned as a writer and narrative designer, I think about all the hours I’ve logged — through doubt and confidence, pain and passion — writing things I thought I might not be able to write. A lot of my knowledge was given to me by teachers and mentors but I think maybe none of it really made sense until I dared to fulfill or defy the lessons given unto me. I could train and train but only while I was writing did the full substance of the lessons make sense to me.

When the student is ready, the blank page shall appear.

It takes many forms. I’ve logged a gazillion hours telling collaborative stories through tabletop RPGs, which are a great way to learn adaptation, improvisation, and quick development of ideas as they happen. It’s a great medium for learning — you can imagine how excited I am by the prospect of a tabletop RPG show from my friend, games master Wil Wheaton. (So do fund the hell out of that, if you please.) We can all glean lessons from that kind of play.

Combine the experience points I’ve earned from RPGs with the  time I spent in the authorial batting cages of Ficlets (where I got to write stories in tandem with Wil) and you get my newest game design, which itself combines narrative gaming with actual writing.

That’s Storium.

Continue reading Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Learning to Write

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: The Record

Will Hindmarch is @wordwill, a writer and designer of games, fiction, and more. He blogs at Gameplaywright and wordstudio.net. 

This is both a plug and a confession. Wil Wheaton is back on dry land, so I’ll make this quick. I’m terrible at interviews.

Almost ten years ago, at the foot of an unfinished Atlanta high-rise, I interviewed architect Turan Duda for Atlanta magazine. My assignment was for a one-page spotlight on creative people doing exciting work in the ATL — one page including a picture of the skyscraper. So it was more like one column of text.

I kept Mr. Duda trapped in that interview for an hour.

We talked about spatial design, about his history and his vision, about Atlanta in general. It was a good talk for the first 35-45 minutes, before I realized how long we’d been talking. Before I realized, I didn’t know how to end an interview. (Spoiler: It’s easy. End it like a conversation, maybe.)

Mr. Duda was very generous, obliging, and impressive to this newbie interviewer. I learned a lot that day about architecture and interviews … and almost none of it helps me when I’m interviewed myself.

Interviews with me make me nervous, whether they’re in person or in text. I’ve done a few interviews lately for my new tabletop RPG, Dark. (The Kickstarter ends today!) I talked online with the Misdirected Mark podcast and I was interviewed via email for this piece at The Escapist. I ramble and I talk too fast and I’m concerned that I’ll say something — something insipid or casual or thoughtless — that will undo or overshadow a work that I’ve spent a long time crafting.

John Updike once put it like this to Terry Gross:

Once you’ve put yourself on record in an interview, and you’re sort of thinking fast and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, basically, anything to fill up the air time or the reporter’s time, it’s a little disconcerting, when you’re younger than I, to realize that these remarks which you toss off, once they’re in print, have an equal weight with all the words that you’ve labored to polish and make come out exactly right.

[via]

Part of it, for me at least, is my Impostor Syndrome. Why should anyone be listening to what I think, right? Who the hell am I?

Here’s what helped me out: the live-lit storytelling scene. I co-produce a show in the Story Club series and we have an open-mic component to our events. It’s never been wasted. Everyone has stories to tell —  I’ve known that for a long time — and I think everyone should get a chance at a mic to talk about their passions, their projects, their past, and their plans. Some of these mics are mics, some of them are blogs, some of them are Twitter, some of them are cameras — whatever.

If you get the chance to tell your stories, take the chance. And if you get a chance to interview someone, to help them tell their stories, try it out. Ask your friends friendly questions. When you meet people, politely ask about them. Let’s get more stories told, more perspectives shared, and more voices at the mic.

It’s like what Wil did this week. He invited people to speak in his absence. He shared stories he might not have been able to tell on his own. Thank you, Wil.

Speaking of which, he’ll be back any minute and I’ve got to clean up. Think he’ll notice if I use his 3D printer to replace all the beer we drank?

 

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Funny Vs. Happy

Will Hindmarch is a writer and game designer. Find him online at Wordstudio or Gameplaywright.

On one of his spoken-word records, The Boxed Life, Henry Rollins talks a bit about being funny or happy all the time. If you could be funny or happy all the time, which would you pick?

I’ve been thinking about this since 1995. I first heard Boxed Life in 1995 and I’ve been thinking about this since then. I’ve been thinking about other things, too, but still. The question, it vexes me.

“I’m funny all the time, I’m not happy all the time,” Rollins said. “So, okay, but that’s all right, because I’d rather be funny than happy … all the time.”

Historically, I’ve found it easy to answer this question … but hard to shake it. If I had to choose, I’d choose to be funny.

“There’s not a lot to learn from being unfunny,” I used to tell people when I’d talk about this. That idea is plainly bullshit — there’s plenty to learn from bombing on stage or mucking up a joke — but it’s what I would say. People who are happy all the time irk me.

In part, I believe the lessons learned from being unhappy are valuable. I have to believe that. I have to believe that the time I spend feeling miserable will pay off somehow, maybe by informing my work, maybe in insights or wisdom. I want to believe that misery isn’t a waste of my time because I only have so much time and I don’t want to think that I’ve wasted so much of it.

The trouble is, I’ve cooked the question too long. I reduced out a lot of the nuance and the flavor and I’ve sometimes forgotten that the heart of the question is in that phrase “all the time.”

I think it’s easy to breeze through happy times without learning anything. Happiness feels easy even when it’s not easy. If you’re like me, good times can feel sustainable when you’re in them.

They’re not sustainable. Nothing lasts forever. And here’s the thing about misery: it doesn’t have to make sense.

This has been a great month for me, creatively. My new tabletop RPG, Dark, is doing well at Kickstarter. The new online storytelling game I’m working on, Storium, just entered a new phase of alpha testing. I’m designing a series of new Fiasco playsets I can’t tell you about yet. Lots of fun work happening at once.

Things are, measurably, good.

Last week, I couldn’t see that. Something grim settled over me like a glum fog, blocking out the light. I wanted to do good work but I couldn’t see straight — I hated everything I wrote not because it was bad, but because I wrote it. I put off work I wanted to do because I didn’t feel like I had earned the right to work on it yet. It was a dessert-and-vegetables thing, I told myself. But that’s bullshit, too. When I’m that miserable, I fear and resent happiness. I feel like I owe it nothing, like it’s betrayed me, like I have to learn how to function forever without it because I may never be happy again.

That’s the inherent, fascinating, dangerous fallacy inherent in the funny-or-happy equation. It’s in that phrase: all the time.

Happiness is impermanent. So is misery. What’s fleeting is often beautiful.

The trap I fell into was thinking that unhappiness, misery, and depression were somehow more revealing, more authentic than happiness. As if there’s less to learn from happiness than from misery. Look around and you’ll see people tripping on this idea all around us.

(It’s an easy mistake, I think, because misery ruminates, obsesses, and stares at itself. Depression warps time, pushing us to dwell on things that still exist when we’re happy — things that we just don’t fret about so much when things are good.)

We have a lot to learn from happiness and contentment and while it is sometimes harder to pause and glean the insights when you’re busy laughing and dancing and making merry, let’s do that more. We don’t have to be happy all the time (because, seriously, ugh) but we shouldn’t mix up happy with oblivious, either. I did that for too long.

Anyway, I still don’t want to be happy all the time because I think I’m ill-suited for that. I want to learn from happiness and misery, both. And if I could be funny all the time, I could bring  laughs and joy to others and that would rebound back to me. When other people laugh at my jokes? That makes me happy.

 

 

Dark Days, Bright Days

Guest blogger, Will Hindmarch, is a writer and designer in Chicago. You might know his work from the book design for Memories of the Future, Volume 1 or from RPGs like Always/Never/Now.

There I was, alone outside an unfamiliar hotel-room door, with nowhere to hide. It was too late to flee. I had already knocked.

My newest tabletop RPG design was in my bag, ready to make a first impression. I felt like I had worms in my guts.  I thought I could feel my brain’s insidious chemicals  diluting the meds I take to keep my head above the waves. I took a breath, let it out.

Settle down, you idiot, I thought to myself. Just don’t be a dick.

Someone worked the latch on the door. It swung open.

“Hey, how are you?” Wil Wheaton asked, doorknob in hand. “Come on in.”

I went inside.  But I’d already made my first mistake. It went into my mood like a drop of dye clouding into clear water.

Did you catch it?

Continue reading Dark Days, Bright Days

some kind of verb, some kind of moving thing

This guest post was written by Will Hindmarch, a freelance writer and designer of games and fiction. Read more at his blog at wordstudio.net.

A few years ago, inspiration struck me a few times in a row and I started work on a new tabletop game. It was a story game about journeys. I knew that much. Sitting down at my kitchen table, writing in my notebook, ideas collided and threw off sparks that I distilled in handwriting as quick as I could.

One idea sparked another. I wrote down design questions and then answered them, right there on the spot. Not every answer was right. I learned that much. Actually playing the game showed me new questions and confounded some of my answers. No worries, though, that’s just the way that goes. Onward.

A few months ago, I described this game to a friend of mine who digs these sorts of things. I discovered as I talked that the game felt pretty finished. I’d been testing it for years, playing it with a myriad of new players, but I didn’t know how to tell myself it was ready to show people. So when I described the game to this friend of mine and he said “That sounds great!” it gave me the jolt I needed to turn my notes into a manuscript.

I’d been sort of writing this thing, in bits and pieces in my head, for a year. I knew what I wanted to say but I had been slow to turn my thoughts into text. Part of it was fear: this was a new kind of game for me and I’d be measured against giants when it was done. Another part of it was … also fear: what if what I wrote sucked out loud? I write for a living and I still feel that way sometimes.

Odyssey by Will Hindmarch
Odyssey by Will Hindmarch

A few hours ago, I launched the crowdfunding campaign to pay artists (and me) to finish the game book. The game’s called Odyssey. I think it’s pretty good.

I wanted to make this thing. I’ve wanted to make this thing for a while. What I needed was to get excited. It was a spark of enthusiasm — from a friend I wanted to inspire — that helped make this thing.

We participate in the creation of so many things, sometimes without knowing it. I don’t know if my friend knows that his casual enthusiasm powered this project’s creation like a life-giving bolt, but it did. Sparks start engines.

the sky above the port

This guest post is brought to you by Will Hindmarch, writer and designer of such titles as the one he’s about to tell you about…

A-N-N

You were the best. Underground, cyberpunk street samurai, burglars and breakers, agents of a mysterious spymaster with half a name, zero history, and a plan. He made the missions and you carried them out. You were the go-to crew for high-stakes break-ins, dangerous ops, and impossible escapes. You fought the megacorps, the tyrants, the killers—all for the sake of making a better future, of beating the Technocrats at their own game of shaping tomorrow. You always won, never quit, lived in the now. 

Until, eleven years ago, he disappeared…

Now he’s back—back in trouble—and it’s up to you to save him and maybe, along the way, change the world.

Today is the day. Today I debut Always/Never/Now, an all-in-one RPG adventure of futuristic cyberpunk action and intrigue. It’s 100+ pages in PDF format and available at DriveThruRPG right now for the somewhat remarkable price of FREE.

Additional posts and thoughts on A/N/N can be found at always-never-now.tumblr.com.

A/N/N is developed from adventures and characters my friends and I played years ago — and then brought out of retirement for one more mission in 2011. I retrofitted the adventure I wrote for that reunion and playtested it at conventions like Gen Con, Origins, and PAX until it was sharp enough to share. Then I invited artists Steven Sanders, Noah Bradley, and Craig S Grant to make it more handsome.

And today, at last, it’s ready for you to play.

If you find that you dig A/N/N and you’d like to thank me with dollars, please click the donate button on my website.

—Will Hindmarch