One Child’s Heart – RPG

It is wonderful that there are so many great role-playing games (RPG) available these days, an ever increasing collection of new ideas for settings and mechanics. Like many gamers I have too many games to play, crafting projects and models to paint, yet I was still thrilled when I came across the new Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/camdon/one-childs-heart/

One Child's Heart About

“One Child’s Heart is a tabletop roleplaying game about empathy, hope, and human connection in the face of childhood crisis.”

Quite an intriguing and inspiring summary of the game’s goals, and having listened to several actual plays I think the idea really holds up. The setting has an interesting premise:

 “There are pivotal moments in every child’s life that shape who they become. One Child’s Heart is a tabletop roleplaying game that invites players to take the role of child welfare professionals participating in a new mental health care memory exploration experiment. The Central Limbic Engagement Recovery System (CLERS – pronounced, “clears”) brings characters into the memories of these key moments to give support and guidance to a child who needs both.”

Whilst there are various media that have explored ideas of examining interacting with memories I think a quick mainstream reference to contrast with is this game is that it is not like Inception. The player characters are not invading a person’s mind to plant a memory seed. One Child’s Heart takes a professional and ethical approach to the concept of interacting with a child and their memories:

 “You are playing child welfare professionals who are going into the memories of a traumatised child to try and teach that child resilience and make emotional connections with them.”

One Child's Heart The Team

Camdon Wright, the creator, along with Kate Bullock, project manager, have assembled an impressive team for the game. Plus as multiple stretch goals have been unlocked even more people have joined the project, another reason to look at this games Kickstarter. After being hooked by the game’s premise, looking at the team members and stretch-goals sealed my interest. The Kickstarter has had regular updates, I have particularly appreciated reading about the people involved via the Meet the Team updates.

I’m sure most people would agree that memory is a fascinating and complex subject. For example memory is not a straightforward recording of events; each memory is heavily dependent on our moment to moment state of mind, as well as our beliefs, biases and emotions. Those are all dependent on a multitude of factors, and so on. Interestingly memory seems to be editable, when we recall something we might also alter it, we might not. How memories connect to each other are also important considerations. My own fiction and RPG writing is focused on mental health and memory. Besides studying psychology, I have some experience volunteering with assisting vulnerable youth, I’ve taught a variety of skills to people of all ages, and I used to work as an admin in social services and was studying to be a social worker before my health problems interrupted things. To make it clear I am not attempting an argument from authority, I am far from being an expert, I’m just trying to emphasis why I am so invested in this project and intrigued to see how it develops.

I appreciate that trauma and mental health are complex, diverse and sensitive topics, so anyone attempting this subject has an exceptionally difficult task in order to address things respectfully and with consideration. For example: the team has already taken on-board feedback regarding the game term “Permanent Damage Threshold”. I suspect this is a case of building upon the concept of health points, whilst this sort of tracking system is a classic game convention, the label does not quite fit this game’s intent. I do not know any of the designers, yet I still feel confident suggesting that I think the game’s explanation, as well clarifications, communicates the team’s sincerity. This can also been seen with this core game statement:

“This is not a game about trauma or an invitation to tragedy tourism. One Child’s Heart is intended to be an empathy-building experience with a message of hope and human connection. It’s a game where the characters’ only goal is to support and love an imaginary child who is struggling with their life circumstances.”

From a Rules Clarification post:

“At no time can the Professionals deliberately traumatize or harm the child.”

The artwork I’ve seen so far is beautiful. From the cover art, profession symbols, the section headers, to the dice and token examples, I love the aesthetic. Also a special mention for managing to make the heart symbol anatomical correct, but without making them seem shocking/nauseating.

One Child's Heart Art by Serena Verde

Mechanics? I think they nicely follow the idea of minimising tests, I like this nonintrusive approach and think it helps convey the game’s goals. If you really need to know more, then please check out the Kickstarter page.

Even if you are currently sure you are unlikely to play this game in the next few years I think it is still worth investing in. I’m always a fan of expanding my #RPGMentalToolKit. In other blogs posts for various Kickstarters I’ve explained how I approach each project with consideration as to how integrate ideas/mechanics into existing games. Very handy if you have players that prefer to play long campaigns/story arcs, prefer a specific system, etc. Besides playing the game unmixed, I am pondering ideas about adding CLERS to many games, such as Cyberpunk or World of Darkness, in particular Mage the Ascension or Changeling the Dreaming (no Edgelord nonsense of course, Mage 20th nicely emphasised the horror of abusing Mind Magick).

Please check-out this project, I urge you to become a backer as well. I think this another great example of the many innovative creators in #IndieRPG scene doing something thought-provoking and exciting.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/camdon/one-childs-heart/

I’m going to attempt a Vlog about this now. My usual pain and lack of sleep, so should be fun 🙂

One Child's Heart Kickstarter

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Beard & Public Declaration

After several years of barely any healing, now I’m finally improving, so it is time to shave the beard. Check out the video below for my public declaration to finish and publish several projects this year. In association with The Bestseller Experiment https://bestsellerexperiment.com

Dispelling Myth about Dictation / Speech Recognition

When I first started writing this I had just finished listening to episode 156 of The Bestseller Experiment; as a patron supporter I get early access to episodes, as well as being a member of the wonderful BXP Team. The marvellous episode focused on interviewing the author Julian Barr about his new book The Way Home. Julian is also a long time listener and member of the BXP Team. I highly recommend Julian’s book, a gripping tale that was well paced, characters with connections and motivations. His book has also now earned an Amazon bestseller tag! I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Important paranoid associated thought: like many writers I feel like a fraud that just needs to write more and thus I feel awkward about asking for advice, after all I’ve already answered my own request for advice “Write more!” Anyway, later in the episode the two Marks discuss writing using Speech Recognition (SR) and gave a call-to-action regarding listeners experiences with writing via dictation. I was surprised to find that I felt empowered and not a fraud, since this is a topic I know quite well.

As someone with long-term chronic Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in both of my wrists I have a lot of experience with speech recognition, going back nearly twenty years to the horrendous days of massively inaccurate software; the frustration and stress of trying to use the software often made me feel even worse! Fortunately the various programs have improved so dramatically in the last ten years that I find dictating to be dramatically faster, easier and shockingly more efficient. The vast improvements have come about because of the following factors:

  1. Understanding of what is involved in analysing language (technical).
  2. Improved code efficiency (technical).
  3. Substantially increased computer processing power (brute force).

This also means that modern speech recognition is better are recognising accent and voice differences. With training, software should adapt to work near perfect for most users; I appreciate that is quite a bold claim.

As someone that used to be able to maintain a decent enough typing speed of between 70 to 80 words per minute (WPM), having that ability taken away from me was devastating; I was unable to work or partake of most of my hobbies. Having struggled through the horrid early years of dictation I can appreciate why people are loathe to give speech recognition a try, however just about every problem has gone away these days.

In general many people are not up to date with the latest information when it comes to cutting-edge technology; after all there is so much to do/learn. This is in part because the various non-specialist media outlets are often years behind when reporting non sensational things, there is so much to talk about and typically they repeat the same core points. In this ever-accelerating technologically era I suspect anyone that has not used modern speech recognition has heard opinions that are about software from 10+ years ago. My title was not an attempt at clickbait, when I discuss or read things about speech recognition there is an understandable fixation on accuracy, but with modern software claiming accuracy of 90%+ for most people with little to no training, and 95%+ with some training, I wonder why accuracy is still considered a barrier to entry. It seems like my system is 99% accurate, but I appreciate it has been used a lot over many years. My point is that typically most people will type errors anyway, even with grammar and spell checkers mistakes slip through. Even for those that manage a rare 100% accuracy the first time they type something the result should still be double-checked. Mistakes are still made, accuracy is a concern whether typing or spoken, so why not do the vast majority of the work via speech?

When I was working in adult social services I had severe RSI flare-up, in fact my worst ever that caused a domino of problems. When I returned to work for a while I was able to cope due to using speech recognition, despite being in a large busy office. I was surprised at how accurate it was even with all the background conversations. Additionally instead of using a mouse to navigate the screen I found using commands to finally be efficient. How things had changed!

During long bouts of sleep deprivation I can somewhat rest my eyes whilst dictating. Thankfully I rarely get headaches, but dictation has also proved helpful when I have; I find it’s better to do something than nothing, since I’ll be suffering either way.

I’d like to highlight that a hybrid approach can be used. Especially if you can still type and you want to, then do so. Can be quite easy with today’s smartphones maybe you can use speech recognition whilst away from your normal work area. For the following reasons I’d recommend at least experimenting.

Speech Recognition Pros & Cons

Pro 1: Health

When dictating we don’t need to be sat down or stood still, we are not tied to a keyboard. Since we can move about I often do so. Over the years I have done all manner of things whilst dictating: physiotherapy, light exercise/stretching, to things like cleaning or ironing, etc. When I am having a particularly painful wrist episode my arms, shoulder and back all become problematic, resulting in difficulties sitting or standing for any length of time, so on a particularly bad days I’ve even dictated whilst resting in bed.

Con 1: Training Time Investment

Like any new skill there can be a learning curve, which can vary dramatically from person to person. Although these days even without any training on a modern device and software, dictation can start out at 90%+ accuracy.

I appreciate that getting out of comfort zones and allocating time to learn something, can be challenging. Saying embrace the challenge is all well and good, but people and their situations can vary wildly. It is sensible to decide during an epically busy time that doing something new is too much of a risk, but because life is strange maybe the change will quickly be beneficial, even in regards to time, which links to Pro 2 …

Pro 2: Speed

Personally, I think the health reason is reason enough but just in case here is another reason. Just because a person is good at typing does not mean they should stick with that method, since dictating can allow them to be faster. I often find it easy to dictate over a 100WPM, sometimes as high as 150WPM; granted a few typists with specialist keyboards can beat that, but for the vast majority of people dictation is twice as fast typing.

Following on from Con 1, it is worth learning the extra functions like how to navigate via dictation, as well as the various advanced commands. Going from quick dictation to struggling to carry out navigation commands can make you feel like a writing session was ruined; writers typically have enough reasons to procrastinate without imagining new ones 😉

Speed is a major factor for writing events like #NaNoWriMo, thus the speed advantage of dictation can really pay off.

Con 2: Initial Costs

Not everyone has a computer (desktop/laptop/tablet) or smartphone (I’m only differentiating because so many people typically do, as it is really just a computer with a phone function). Free speech recognition exists but I do find Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be better overall, but it isn’t cheap.

Then there is the topic of what microphone to use. Whilst you can use a laptop’s built in microphone it is better to have a decent microphone, although I’ve found that a £25 microphone works just as well as my more expensive Yeti, so you don’t have to buy crazy equipment.

Other extras: I’ve also invested in a microphone stand, pop-filter, USB cable extension and a high quality wireless headset. The extension and wireless the reason I can exercise or tidy my room whilst dictating.

One of the problems I found using my fantastic quality Yeti microphone was there were a few delays/problems with the software, but this was because I had leaned back in my chair and thus wasn’t close enough to the microphone. So before you rush off to buy an expensive microphone consider how your setup can be altered to get improvements.

Pro 3: Speaking is Natural + Rhythm of Speaking

Based off this subtitle you can see why Nuance called their software NaturallySpeaking 😉 Particularly when dictating dialogue I find I can write a better scene; I think this down to being able to somewhat act the scene out, I feel more in character as I switch back and forth between character perspectives. I’ve even experimented with literally acting a scene out, although that led to some comedy moments of frantically changing my position to be the correct character, like a stand-up performance.

Sometimes we can spend a lot of time thinking about a subject only to find that when we speak we change what we had intended to say. There is something about speaking out loud; maybe it is because we engage more of a body, thus more of our brain. I also think this is probably a knock-on effect of evolution in regards to us being such a social species, we need to be careful of what we say to others.

One of the best tips for writers is: “Read your writing out loud.” Dictating can be a big help, you get used to speaking out loud, thus when it comes time to edit your work you are more likely to give it a try. This also links to one of the key tips from Bestseller Experiment, “Make a public declaration.”

There is another advantage to dictating. If you think of a sentence and then struggle to dictate it, then that is a sign there is a problem. Typically you’ll easily find a rhythm, indicating were commas and full stops best fit; granted you have to say “comma”, but I think that is no different to having to press the comma key. Maybe somebody who struggles with grammar could benefit from dictation?

Con 3: Editing

As I mentioned above I think this is a con that gets too much attention, since work should be double-checked anyway. Still it can be particularly irksome during the training period, when correcting (editing) as you go is highly recommended. I think a valid point about the accuracy aspect is that they are typically errors that we are aware of, unlike when most people type and things slip through.

Crucially this is a problem that fades over time, I rarely need to correct things. Since I write fantasy fiction and role-playing games I also have lots of additions for my fantasy proper nouns, my system mostly recognises these new words after the initial correction or two. Just like with typing it is more important to get something written first, then you have something to edit.

Pro 4: Flow

Due to the pain from my disability, I lost my ability to enter a flow state whilst writing/typing. It was 2009 when this this feeling briefly appeared during dictation. My comfort level with dictating slowly grow over the years, by 2009 I found talking to my computer to be more than only comfortable but also empowering.

Con 4: Habits

Initially when first learning to use speech recognition a user can feel they are wasting their time. Why bother stressing yourself out, fighting your habits? I’ve separated this point from Con 1: Training, because I think habits/traditions are such a powerful part of our psychology.

Habits are typically difficult to break; various people can react differently to the same thing. Decades ago I had the regular association of being denied the use of my wrists to type a decent work session, the threat of pain from typing as well as sitting too long, plus stress and sleep deprivation. Since back then speech recognition was lacking, I quickly developed justifications about putting things off. In the light of pain-paranoia and frustration it became easy to justify thoughts like “I need to minimise computer usage even using dictation, so I need to work out as much as possible upfront.” Once I developed this habit I found it hard to break it, even as the ability of speech recognition improved.

Pro 5: Focus

I find I do not get distracted as much when I am dictating. Maybe because I am typically away from my desk, so I cannot easily check emails or browse. It can seem like our hands have a mind of their own when within a split second of thinking about a website we’ve switched to that. This is why so many writers use blocking software that restricts their access to the Internet. Following on from Pro 3, I find that if I do start giving my computer commands to browse non-important things I quickly stop myself.

Con 5: Stream of Consciousness

Dictating does not dictate quality. The fact we can dictate more WPM means we can also have more to edit. This is a minor Con, yes I’m being nit-picky, but over the years I have dictated a lot of garbage. I think I have solved this by writing more, showing others my work, learning more about writing; not just practice, but learning to carry out skilled practice. If you feel that when you start dictating you are writing garbage, don’t worry I think you’ll quickly adapt.

Bonus Pro: Moving is Thinking

Linking back to Pro 3: Speaking is Natural, there is something about moving and thinking, dictation means you don’t have to be sat still at a keyboard. When we move we are activating different brain regions, plus getting the blood flowing, etc. Physical intelligence is one of the many types of intelligence being researched, plus whilst kinaesthetic leaners are typically separated from other learning types, the majority of people can learn in all manners of ways including kinaesthetic. Quick interesting point, animals have a more developed brain than plants because they need to navigate; the sea squirt is a fascinating creature that once it finds a permanent spot for its next stage of life eats its own brain. It is also worth looking into the tools of memory specialists and how they utilise virtual spaces to associate memories for better recall.

Some speech recognition software allows for the transcribing of previously recorded speech. You can even transcribe a recording of another person, although I’ve never done this and I am not sure of the efficiency of the process.

I’ll be making a video version of the blog in the New Year, but before I finish here are so extra points. Dictating role-playing mechanics is not a big deal, I’ve even used speech recognition to dictate computer code years ago; I am contemplating giving it another go with the vastly improved software and machine power of today.

Whether walking outside or in bed trying to sleep (chronic pain is hell), I’ve dictated notes via my smartphone’s built in software. Granted it is not as powerful as Dragon, but it is easy to do and I don’t have to get out of bed. I’ve also made use of a Dictaphone with a headset whilst walking, that I’ve later dictated at home, this counted as a first draft. Dragon Anywhere allows for dictating on the go, but I cannot afford it and I am rarely out and I have Dragon 15.

In conclusion if you are still not sure if speech recognition is for you, I highly recommend giving it a go, at least go hybrid, mix things up. The future is already happening!

Links

I’ve written about The Bestseller Experiment before.

The Bestseller Experiment Podcast

Julian Barr

NaNoWriMo

Inspirational Friends

Back in January 2018 my friend Richie Janukowicz started a vlog with the aim of doing a video a day. Richie has been involved in a few podcasts, Geek Pride and Noobgrind websites, as well as various creative projects, so he knew what he was letting himself in for.

I decided I would comment on every video, a simple way of keeping in touch. On some days it has been hard to figure out what to write, which is a bit pathetic but also a good example of self-imposed pressure; technically I don’t need to entertain, just comment.

I’ve not written a blog for months, besides my usual health issues I have preferred to focus on writing and design. Thankfully I’ve gotten a lot of writing done, including finishing a story. I have also been building towards making some videos about role-playing, which Richie and I have talked about many times. Like most people it has been an issue of allocating time and thus what to give up. I found Richie’s daily vlogs inspiring, somebody with his own health problems, as well family and work commitments has managed it. The short form of Richie’s videos as his workload increased is also a reminder that you can still hit a target by adjusting things. Whilst long form video essays are something to aspire to, they are extremely time-consuming, and that quality level is something to build towards, not demand of yourself at the start.

On an academic note, although there are many content creators on YouTube with an impressive number of followers and a lucrative number of views, apparently the vast majority of YouTube’s content is family centric content viewed by just a few relatives. So Richie’s videos also provide his friends and family to keep somewhat up to date with him, as well as being a diary. I presume Dr Michael Wesch: “An anthropological introduction to YouTube” is still applicable.

Gingerbread and NaNoWriMo 2017 p2

Continuing on from my previous post about the Gingerbread competition.

I successfully sent my entry for Gingerbread’s ‘One in Four’ before the deadline, which involves Trapeze Books (part of Orion) and The Pool UK. I received a confirmation email a few minutes later so thankfully my paranoia was somewhat alleviated, not entirely of course. Whilst the book is not complete, I’ll take finishing the competition portion as completing something 😉

In 2016 I entered the Richard and Judy book competition. Whilst I managed to hit the deadline, I also disliked writing it. The story was about a family recovering from losing a child in a school shooting, and I simply didn’t enjoy writing it; no surprise given the subject matter. Part of the reason was that I was still massively struggling with my health then. This Gingerbread story is different, after struggling to get going and keep momentum I started to enjoy things. Also, considering how much effort I’ve put in it would be silly to put it on hold. So the plan is to split my writing between my fantasy social services setting, non-fiction work on my role-playing guide, plus continuing this Gingerbread ‘One in Four’ tale.

A shout-out to my editor-extraordinaire Damian who also said the story so far was good. His feedback gave me a lot of confidence as I was going through my final tweaks and proofreading. Damian has helped me many times over the years, from helping me edit my rulebooks when I worked at KJC Games as well as several fiction writing projects; his eye for detail is impressively high.

I plan to resume posts about my Gollancz Festival 2017 experience next.

Gingerbread and NaNoWriMo

As my health has improved this year, I have made substantial progress with several of my projects. Like so many creative types, sticking to a single project is a struggle, so it was a mixed blessing when I heard The Bestseller Experiment interview in September announcing the Gingerbread competition: One in Four. The deadline is the 4th of December, and I’ve spent the majority of this November’s NaNoWriMo focused on that project. It’s been quite an emotionally demanding endeavour, reflecting upon distant memories, as well as talking to several people about their single-parent experience. Based upon these conversations, and my own reflections, I made a list of keywords to highlight commonalities.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I had been working on a character in my fantasy setting who is a single-parent. I debated whether to make this character in to the protagonist, and since any genre is allowed for the competition, it would make sense to keep writing within the same fictional universe. Whilst some fantasy has mass appeal, it is rare, so in the end I decided to write a story set in modern day.

Given all the work I’d done, it was still a surprise to discover that I had problems working out a single story. After abandoning several outlines, as well as several pages that I just started writing without an outline, I decided to start writing about my own experience; I could always change details once the work was done.

By the time November started, and thus the start of NaNoWriMo, I had a collection of impressive waffle. At least this approach had provided me with several scenes and some dialogue that I did like; one cannot rewrite nothing. Despite my health declining again this month I was still able to persevere through the pain and stress. I successfully outlined a fictional story inspired by the experiences of myself and friends that I actually liked, being more than just a mix of our lives. I have since written a lot, but only tweaked the outline in small ways, a good sign that this story will stay on track and be completed. I still have a few more days with which to tweak what I plan on submitting, as well as receiving feedback from friends. Surprisingly, given how self-critical I am of my writing (like many people), I am quite optimistic about my chances with this competition.

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:

BatJanoSandman

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/