PBM Thanks & Secret Rage

A while ago when I was mostly bedridden several of my friends would skype with me. It really helped to have some extra communication, and thankfully with a wireless headset it meant I could rest in bed. One of my long-time friends is Richie; he’s self-employed working from home, and has a young child, so he’s ludicrously busy, yet he still allocated time for me.

In addition to saying thank you to Richie for his support, I have tried to offer small gifts to show my appreciation. Richie and I first role-played together well over twenty years ago. Due to his busy life he’s not able to game regularly, so I thought a Play By Mail (PBM) game would do us both good, neatly sliding in to his hectic life schedule, at whatever pace he could manage. I wrote an introductory series to PBM here.

Roughly a year ago we discussed playing old White Wolf’s Aberrant game, since Richie’s a fan of comics, but he’d not played that setting yet. Aberrant has a rich Supers setting with mature themes, and lots of world changing powers to explore. Sadly this game never quite got going due to how busy Richie always is, and since I was still struggling with my health I didn’t push the subject. I have managed to offer a few other things as thanks, for example I made this small thing a while ago when he was ill:


More recently I returned to the idea of offering a better present by running a PBM game. As we are both writers I considered proposing a classic style Dungeons & Dragons game emphasising the Hero’s Journey arc. Although this may feel a bit too cliché to many role-players, I think it is worth keeping in mind that there is so much you can do with good old D&D, there are so many settings and styles of gameplay. I also considered a Cthulhu game, given the single player nature of this game maybe doing something along the lines of Groundhog Cthulhu: Live, Go Insane, Die, Repeat. Or maybe going a bit over the top and running a GURPS Infinite Worlds game. I went through lists of other RPGs, even games that I’d not tried out yet. Eventually I settled on a game that I thought was the most likely to get Richie to bite, so I suggested the Gift of Werewolf.

We both adore Werewolf: The Apocalypse; well we adore all of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD). Despite how much we played Werewolf, we still want to play more, both feeling the genius game was overlooked by many gamers, and those who did take an interest in the World of Darkness games typically favoured Vampire. Over the years when I’ve been asked to pick to my favourite cWoD game I’ve always picked the World of Darkness as a cohesive whole, since that was how I always ran the setting. So my friend knows that when I suggested Werewolf, I really meant the cWoD with the primary focus being Werewolf.

After some chats I made a list of ideas for the Werewolf PBM for us to discuss further, and things quickly developed; typically I wanted to do something more and a bit different than my previous games. The initial premise was Richie playing a lone Garou, however, role-playing a lone Garou is a bit depressing; they are primarily pack animals after all. So I proposed a game spanning eons, we could use Past Lives to allow for story that covered such a time period, a chance to explore a powerful historical and social background of the Garou, and it could be about preventing the Apocalypse. The new White Wolf Publishing company are working on a new World of Darkness, one that roughly continues from the classic, without the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension ending. Whilst we are waiting for those products I considered this to be an intriguing idea.

Over the course of a few weeks I played about with the premise and kept coming back to wanting to do something more like my Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM campaigns. Meanwhile Richie wrote a cool short story, things were a go. I then had a more intriguing campaign idea, one that would take the Past Lives plan to an even bigger level, and take the game in a radically different direction. It didn’t involve abandoning what we’d initially set out to do, and Richie’s story would tie-in.

Next time I’ll go in to more detail about my Secret Rage.

You can check out some of Richie’s great designs at http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/


Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible. I was amused that the writer Max Landis, whose work I love, posted this video whilst I was contemplating this blog, and what to do about the days when I end up with a low word count.

RPG Power of PBM: Social

This post about RPG and Play by Mail Games (PBM) continues on from the previous article RPG Power of PBM: Time.

When discussing PBM RPG, occasionally someone will be concerned that there is a lack of social interaction in such a game type. They envision a lone player reading something like a Choose Your Own Adventure, or Fighting Fantasy book. Even before the explosion in email access or the World Wide Web took off, PBM games were very social. Granted some players were playing a smaller game with none of their local friends involved, and they had to wait for a letter to arrive by post from other players. Whilst phoning someone was possible, back then the cost was off putting, particularly an issue for younger players; the further back in time we go the more likely players did not have telephone access. These days, none of these concerns are an issue, if you have access to email or the web you are good to go.

It’s understandable that some players of tabletop games, and in particular LARP, would assume that socialising is an issue in a PBM game. Consider how many people refer to the online world as not being real, there is just something detached about a lack of physical presence. This lack of face-to-face interaction does not prevent a PBM player from developing strong social ties. Besides curiosity, many games promote alliances, and given the strategising power of PBM, contacting other players is normal. Obviously other players are going to form alliances, and information gathering is vital.

Direct social interacting, face-to-face, whether physically or virtually, is not something everyone wants to do. There could be any one of a number of reasons, such as: illness/injury, bedridden, social anxiety, autism, and returning to the previous article’s point about time. Please don’t think of PBM games as being just for mental health sufferers, non-neurotypicals, or the disabled, this list just highlights another benefit of this game type.

During a tabletop game, and even more so with LARP, the emotional intensity and sense of connection can be quite intense. It may seem that PBM will lack this level, but just like with any other role-playing games, whether playing with others, or reading a turn result by themselves, players can still achieve emotional highs from succeeding or failing. Given the strategy aspect I previously emphasised, having a long-time ambitious plan succeed certainly provides an emotional high. Other players also tend to be interested in what is going in the game, so there are still plenty of chances to socialise with others and froth, as well telling friends about your latest game exploits.

The raise of the modern Massively multiplayer online (MMO) owes it roots to tabletop RPG, Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), and PBM. Within these games large number of players come together to form alliances, either to compete with other players, or the game world. Organising things with other players is a big part of the MMO genre: fleet co-ordination in EVE Online, dungeon raids in World of Warcraft, etc.


As mentioned above, players were forming alliances in PBM games decades ago, and some professional games were quite popular. Playing a bigger PBM means more players to interact with, and this scaling of game size translates to more people to keep up to date with. The end result being a player can spend a lot of time communicating with other players, and this certainly addresses the query of socialising with a PBM. For some players they can be communicating with many players a day, all year, a level of socialising tabletop or LARP rarely achieve.

My first PBM game was Quest by KJC Games, which I eventually ended up running and redesigning as a moderated RPG. As a kid I had seen PBM adverts in the old White Dwarf magazine (Games Workshop), but the money I earned from my paper round went on RPG books and wargame models. Whilst at college I met some other gamers, and via these people I eventually gave Quest a go. Their Quest alliance consisted of only people they regularly hung out with, partly to keep in game information secure, and partly just because they were friends. Before a tabletop gaming session they often discussed their PBM plans, and this eventually resulted in devastating attacks on their enemies. When Magic the Gathering came along, the group would often bounce PBM ideas around whilst playing cards; fun times. I appreciate I was lucky with regards to joining such a organised group of players.

In the next article I’ll tackle a question I have been asked many times: “But how do you actually role-play during a PBM?”

DWP Appraisal Hell

I’ve not written (speech recognition of course) a blog for a while, mainly because I feel like I’ve had nothing to say, despite having plenty of things I’d like to write about. I got hit by severe depression in mid-October. Things have become better recently, but first a negative event I experienced.

A few days before Christmas I had a DWP appraisal, even though I’m not getting any money from benefits. The whole event was sickening, I don’t just mean metaphorically but also physically. I don’t think giving a detailed narrative is a worthwhile thing for me to do, and I imagine it would not be for anyone to read, but there are few things that stood out.

The first thing that struck me upon arriving at the site was how much like a prison the setup was, with a massive security fence and guards. The building entrance has a bizarre double door system, at least it had automated doors for those people that are really struggling physically, but the short corridor took up valuable room space, since the waiting area is split into two weird and quite small sections. Upon arrival people are informed that they are likely going to be waiting for over an hour, and given how they were already behind yet it was early morning, they could be waiting up to 2 hours. Given the uncomfortable claustrophobic waiting area that was quite unappealing.


Upon arrival every person seems to be surprised by this information, and several people had to cancel their appointment due to time constraints. The receptionist repeated the same few statements to each person about how the system is not their fault, and that they appreciate that a person may have to leave and schedule a new appointment. A man in a wheelchair arrived and was even informed that his appointment had been cancelled, although no one had actually contacted him to explain this, and the reasons given were classic examples of bureaucratic mismanagement, along with repeated statements by the receptionist that it is not their fault. It is easy to accept/agree that it is not the receptionist’s fault, but the fact that they are acting like a dismissive robot is their fault. I guess this is a learned behaviour given their job, and I can appreciate they may be used to receiving nasty comments, but they should at least wait for some before being so defensive, and dismissive.

Since I had walked a mile to get there I was already feeling the physical impact, and added to this was the fact that I had not slept for over a day due to the usual severe pain. I suppose I could have asked to reschedule, but I didn’t see how the next time would be much different. Sitting for a length of time escalates my pain, and can result in an inability to even sit due to my nervous system demanding that I stop doing the thing that is causing my pain to spike, it’s a weird retracting pain, the urge to move away becomes overwhelming, but obviously I can’t move away from my own body. Standing up or lying down at least changes things for a while until they become deemed to be the enemy.


Eventually I was seen by a physiotherapist, which was the first sign of trouble, since a key part of my problems, and long-term domino effects is sleep deprivation and thus the psychological impact of that should be considered, not just the physical. The interview proceeded to become a bizarre movie like style of being interrogated by stupid cop, who repeated the same questions, yet lacked any comprehension of what the answers meant. I was asked about my sleeping pattern, since I had written about it in my overview. I explained that I don’t have one due to the constant ongoing pain, which sometimes becomes unbearable and overrides even exhaustion, which over the last year and a half often resulted in missing huge chunks of sleep over the week so that I became so exhausted I could get a few hours sleep, and then probably not sleep for another day even though technically that means I’m down twelve hours. Then after a few weeks of this I would manage to get more sleep for a short-while, before the erratic sleep returned. I had to explain that I have had sleep deprivation problems continually, yet it still didn’t sink in, they then asked me what time I set my alarm for this day I explained I set it for nine but then highlighted that I hadn’t actually slept so they said “so you pattern is normally what nine then?” I genuinely had to resist the urge to scream at this person, instead I managed to yet again explain the situation using simple clear words. It was odd, instead of acknowledging this answer I was asked a bunch of weird questions about my how I use an alarm, and how I use a mobile phone. This then turned into further strange questions, which indicated the person didn’t believe what I was saying about not phoning people. This went on for quite some time, and towards the end I realised how much time jumping they had done in regards to trying to piece together a timeline, even though they had a detailed explanation written out in front of them from the four I had filled in previously.


The thing I take away from this interview is that it very much seemed like I was having to prove that I was innocent of committing fraud, that they were trying to trip me up by asking the same thing repeatedly, that they were desperate to find anything to latch onto to prove I was guilty of lying, such as the bizarre mobile phone questions. And then abruptly the interview ended and I was dismissed, at this stage the person had no interest in any further conversation, and was already trying to herd me out the door. Crucially there had been no questions about my psychological state, which given the symptoms should have been a key part of the interview. As I mentioned above, the gravitas of my situation finally hit me in October, the fact it been well over a year, and at this stage I had been suffering from depression for the last two months; it has been pointed out to me that my idea of depression and other people’s has a scale of difference, being fatalistically optimistic and the fact that I’ve had long-term pain of a different type for twenty years, I view depression as an inconvenience, and what I call depression others would categorise as major depression. Having a degree in psychology I am also academically aware of things, including the difficulty of self-diagnosis, and how our beliefs and biases influence our thoughts. I had been given medication to help with the sleep problem, and to help fight off depression, this was an area highlighted by my doctor; in hindsight I should have emphasised it.

If I had ticked the box regarding depression then I am sure I would have been allocated a doctor and not a physiotherapist for the interview, and some of the questions would have been about the psychological impact of my condition. I can at least acknowledge that my involvement is part of the reason why things went the way they did, of course considering I had written about being massively sleep deprived you’d think an assessor would highlight that issue.

Due to how physically demanding the whole event was, and the fact it lasted several hours, my pain levels later that day were a staggering fucking nine for several hours, before dropping back to my normally horrific six or seven. This is on top of the fact that I had not slept for what was approaching two days. Painkillers and alcohol didn’t do anything to the nine rating. I guess my body was flooded with cortisol both from the psychological interrogation as well as the scale of physicality I am not used to.

Miraculously four days later, on Christmas Day, I experienced several hours of a pain level of only one or two! Unfortunately that did not last, and even in to early January I was still probably averaging a six rating.

The shoulder and neck physiotherapy session have ended, I am still carrying out the exercises, and it does seem to have helped a lot. Having started physiotherapy for my stomach, back and hips it seems like the intense pain in my right midsection is starting to reduce a bit.

So once again my thoughts are flooded with daily ponderings about returning to exercise of a more tangible level, and even going back to martial arts in a few weeks, primarily BJJ. Realistically that goal is way off, even if things start improving faster, but it’s nice to have hopeful thoughts and even an anticipation of setting a simple goal. Next time something less depressing.

When Pathetic is not Pathetic

Since leaving my job due to my health I have felt almost no stress (until I ponder things in the future, so I mostly don’t), and this has helped relax the pain in my neck and shoulder. Doing much of anything is still too much, and doctors have repeatedly emphasised complete rest is the most important thing, continuing my estimation game for when I can do more. Due to this I decided to not even force myself to finish a particular blog. This helpfully allows me to do something I enjoy: starting a whole load of things, mentally being happy with the direction, but not physically finishing them. Whilst I am financially paying for myself to rest, I decided that getting the most rest, to quicken healing, really is still the priority, because then I can return to actually doing some work.

As part of my continuing focus on resting, I have even avoided doing much dictation by speech recognition. I have a massive mental list of blog posts I have pondered writing for a while now:

  • role-playing articles
    • working at KJC Games
    • game design lessons
    • more gaming stories and the lessons I learned
    • my obsession with White Wolf
    • why GURPS is the best thing, yet I’ve never played
    • tidal force role-players
  • the difficulty of doing nothing,
  • energy levels and how to plan around them
  • chronic pain
  • martial arts
    • returning from injury
    • consideration of training partners when you cannot work at your old pace
  • NoobGrind articles
    • Various thoughts about gaming
    • Guild Wars 2
    • Path of Exile

There is an additional reason that I am avoiding finishing any blog posts, since I envisioned graphics that I feel really add to the articles. The problem being, whilst I can make art and graphs to at least an adequate level, they are not areas that I practice much, so it would take me a long-time to get things to a level I am satisfied with. This links to an issue of sitting at a computer for an extended period, I normally have pain in a variety of places, and thus it is not good for my body, nor is it me resting. Pathetic sounding, but it is the reality of my situation.

I’m also aware that my wanting to have graphics for a blog post, it is me entering into the dangerous territory of pushing these partially started articles towards needing to be near perfect. In a way this justifies me not having to do what I can, and then move on.

Graphics Needed
Well, it is still nice to have some graphics.

So I decided to write the above stream of consciousness, at least then I am writing my intent in regards to what I will be blogging about soon, and I don’t need graphics. Whilst I could again use the word pathetic, that should only apply if I was healthy and avoiding doing work. If your best is barely anything, and you are still managing to get bits done, then that is not pathetic.

Wallowing in Positivity

During my bed-rest I contemplated whether to write a post about things, frustration and embarrassment were strong impediments. Since I have been in a long-term holding pattern with regards to work, training, and well, life in general, it felt like writing a blog post was not worthwhile, since it would be full of vagaries without any conclusion. My circumstances have changed and it seemed odd if I skipped the following.

Things get better, things get worse. Psychologically I kept telling myself that this was my situation. For the last year, and particularly since November, my pain levels have been appalling. When there was a brief respite from pain, my optimism would ramp-up, I was eager to get back to training and work and in those moments it seemed like I was almost healthy again. The problem was that the respite barely lasted long, and usually was due to mixing pain killers with a bit alcohol; I had consulted with several doctors about it being okay to have 1 or 2 units of alcohol a day with my pain meds.

Besides the chronic left shoulder, neck and sometimes back pain, along with lack of sleep, things have been made worse by a lack of exercise. The weaker I get, the worse everything becomes. There were times that I felt like I could get out of bed and do something simple, not too strenuous, like a short walk, but when I did so, I suffered. Even the action of walking, was something I had to carefully consider, pretty obvious when you consider how the arms swing, and the interconnectivity of the body. So, was going for a short walk to help reduce my body’s deterioration, and a chance to get out and about a sensible thing to do, when it also could aggravate damaged areas.

It’s strange having to learn how to tolerate switching between being in chronic pain, to that of having a few hours a day when the pain is tolerable. As the pain level lowers I enter a strange mental place: like being at the eye of a tropical cyclone, allowing me to come out of the fortified cellar, however, coming out is a mistake, the storm has not gone! There is also the weird feeling of being both overtired yet having energy and the need to do something. Since exercise correlates with health and quality of life, I am also concerned about long-term health effects. That even after healing I could be facing a year of rebuilding just to reach a basic level, never mind something more athletic.

So, as the shoulder swelling and pain started reducing, returning to work became the target. A previous phased return to work had failed, since I attempted it shortly after no longer being bedridden, but this time I’d had more rest time, as well as a cortisone injection. I saw several Doctors and they advised that if work/lifestyle changes were in place, that preventative measures at work like using speech recognition: Dragon (DNS), that a phased return to work could help. Having a routine should help with my sleep pattern. That moving about a bit would start to strengthen me weak body as well as my energy levels; simply being out of bed for the day was tiring.

The last phased return to work failed. The pain levels had reduced drastically, but even after the cortisone injection I was not healed enough. Also despite new medication I still had severe problems sleeping.

I didn’t want to leave this job, it wasn’t too demanding, I found it interesting, and they even provided assistance to help keep me in work. Working for social services was also rewarding, since I was part of what is effectively the fourth emergency service, which I agree with. A further bonus was talking with social workers, who I found to be overwhelmingly genuinely nice people. It is easy to imagine that it simply comes with the territory, somebody working in a job where they have to prioritise another person’s needs, as well as a client’s capacity, would be a good person. However, given how tough the job is, the layers of bureaucracy (mostly appropriate), and the complexity of figuring out what is best for somebody, it would be naive to think that all social workers must be wonderful positive perfect people. As somebody interested in psychology and writing I’ve certainly learnt a lot from working there, as well as several interesting ideas to follow up on.

Now I am left with more bed-rest, careful physiotherapy, but a positive attitude that things will improve if I keep things simple and sensible. Throughout my experience I have felt like I am a few days away from being fine, when things were really bad, maybe a few weeks; odd to think that I have been wallowing in positivity. At least I have plenty of time to think about life plans.

Update and NoobGrind GTX 1080 article

I am now fortunate to have occasional hours without any pain, but then excruciating pain in my left shoulder, neck and even arm, can return for seemingly no reason; likely my pathetic amount of activity was too much. Due to this the new role-playing article I have been tinkering with just feels like a low priority. I decided not to force myself to write something, but thankfully something came along and grabbed my attention.

I have been putting off upgrading my PC for about a year. Since my current system does what I need it to do, I have been able to get by. Amusingly I don’t want to upgrade for gaming reasons, but due to how resource demanding Dragon NaturallySpeaking is. Though the software works incredibly accurately the vast majority of the time, there are occasional moments when it struggles.

Last week I finalised a list of parts and sent an email to a company to price up for me. Thankfully they have been slow in responding, which is handy since NVIDIA have announced their new video card range. So at the weekend I watched the presentation and got quite excited due to how impressive the cards are. After a lot of research I ended up writing an article for NoobGrind about them: http://www.noobgrind.com/next-gen-graphics-cards/

The GTX 1080 is certainly more than I need currently. Buying one would be a bit like buying a sports car but then never driving it more than 30mph. However, in the future I do have plans; I will ponder more.

I hope to have a role-playing related article finished in the next few days. I’ve had a few really interesting ideas recently about my decade long unfinished guide, motivation to do something without that is growing.