14 Things I Learned at Balticon Mobicon 2014

1. There will always be more alcohol, but time is finite. Pace yourself so you don’t lose a day of the Con to the party the night before.

2. The hotel is built on a tesseract, or maybe it just feels bigger on the inside.  Either way, you will be doing a lot more walking than you expect too and you will very likely get lost at least once.

3. Serpico. This little pizza place is about 5 miles up the road beyond the Town Center complex.  It’s hidden behind a line of trees in an office park, but the service was wonderful and the staff were friendly.  The Italian food was quite good and I look forward to visiting again.

4. Patience and a friendly smile will serve you much better than any other tactic.  The registration staff was absolutely wonderful.  Thank you to Megan and her team for treating me with respect and kindness even though we seemed to be plagued with technical difficulties.  You guys are awesome.

5. Don’t travel alone.  It may seem like a great idea to hop in the car and head six to eight hours east, and on the way to the con, enthusiasm and excitement may sustain you. But on the way home, you really want someone to talk to and to share memories with right away.

6. Be less shy. While the amount of incredibly talented people who attend Balticon can be overwhelming, the authors and pod-casters are wonderful people.  Paul Cooley was incredibly friendly and it was a pleasure to share coffee with him.  Veronica Giguere is as lovely a person as she is a voice actor.  It was a pleasure meeting both of you.

7. There is something and someone for everyone at Balticon.  You are a rockstar among rockstars. You may be overwhelmed at first, but you will find a place to fit and find friends for life. The small moments where people know your name and recognize your work will blow your mind.

8. Cosplay is for you and not for everyone else. Everyone who was in costume looked incredible.  Personally, I loved walking around the con as the thirteenth Doctor, even though I’m not sure how many people recognized the costume.  Thank you to “Donna” who tracked me down for a picture!

9. Be bold and admire bravery.  The authors and podcasters who put themselves out there in front of a live audience deserve your praise. It takes guts to share your work in public. Have the guts to thank and encourage them.

10. Get involved. Go to more panels and especially more readings. Perhaps join a panel. Personally, I found new authors and podcasts to check out by going to panels and live readings.

11. Canadians are very possibly the nicest people on the planet. For examples, see Nutty Nuchtas and the folks from Skinner Co.

12. If invited, share a meal or a coffee or a drink with strangers.

12b. Invite strangers to share a drink or coffee or a meal with you. You will make new friends.

13.  Everyone’s an introvert at Balticon. Which means no one is. Be yourself and you will be accepted for who you are – introversion and all.

14. Bring money for books and art. Support the authors and the venders. Especially if you haven’t had the guts to put your own creations out there. This is their passion and they need your encouragement.



The Language of the Trees

Inspired by a combination of Circular Gallifreyan, as well as, tree imagery that seems to be showing up in my games of late, I find myself toying with a written language inspired by trees.  It might be the language of a sapient race of plants. It might be the written language of a species that was disproportionately influenced by trees or a world tree.

I am going to gather my thoughts here, in hopes that someone can help turn the ideas into reality.

1. I want it to be functional, if not practical. That means that English can be translated into the resulting language. This may mean transliteration, but there may be other options.

2. I envision seasons as tenses. Winter phrases are represented by bare branches. Spring by fresh buds. Summer by full leaves. Fall by sparse and fallen leaves.  Now, tenses may not mean past/present/future to the native writers, in fact, I would find it cool if they did not, but see bullet 1.

3. I am uncertain of scale. It feels like a single (major) branch should represent a single thought.  A tree represents a paragraph or full argument or maybe even a chapter. A forest becomes a major work – a novel, perhaps. The goal is something visual and evocative.

4. After talking to a linguist, I am thinking that the angle of branches may also have meaning. I am imagining an imaginary circle drawn around the ‘tree’ (or perhaps a single branch) helping to differentiate the interpretation of sub-clauses. This, in my mind, helps differentiate the interpretation of root structure vs branch structure.

5. ….

I am open to your thoughts and comments.


EDITED: 6/2/2014

Jenny Everywhere and the Case of the Infinite House

I’ve been trying to run a Doctor Who inspired (set of) game(s) lately. While doing so, I’m finding that I would like to expand, but don’t want to deal with the licensing. This led to the concept of the Infinite House – which I will explore in more detail elsewhere. In short, the Infinite House takes the “you can go anywhen/where” vibe of Doctor Who, mixes in the reality of Jurisfiction from Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next saga, the exceptional/displace child vibe of series like the Chronicles of Narnia and/or the Dark is Rising, and adds a dash of the flavor of Morrison’s run on Sandman.


But this post really isn’t about the Infinite House, it’s about Jenny Everywhere: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenny_Everywhere and http://theshifterarchive.com/whois/ and more specifically about Daniel Solis’ brainstorming about a game featuring Jenny and her kin: http://danielsolisblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-everywheres-story-game-inspired-by.html


I could see creating such a game, particularly since he’s handing out a core die mechanic: http://danielsolisblog.blogspot.com.br/2010/10/split-decision.html


The use of 2D6 puts me in mind of ICONS which I believe is under OGL. 

And the talk of pacing puts me in mind of my thoughts of using FATE Stress & Consequences as a pacing mechanic. (FATE itself being available for licensing.)


All of which is to say that a Jenny Everywhere game might be an interesting project for 2014. Anyone interested in joining the fun?



Other relevant links:




Little Blue Boxes – Notes for a Doctor Who Universe game in FATE CORE

Here are my first draft notes on special traits, skills, rules, etc. for a FATE CORE game set in the Doctor Who-niverse. (I will also be running a game in the same shared universe using Fate Accelerated – a lot of the fiddly bits that I crafted for FATE CORE get hand-waved away for FAE.)

I would sincerely appreciate any thoughts on these proposed options.


Experienced/Inexperienced: Still Under Consideration (premise: exchange Refresh for Skill Points. Proposed: spend 2 Refresh to gain one additional level of your skill pyramid, earn 1 Refresh to lose one level of your skill pyramid; may be taken more than once)

Immortality: [1 or 2 Refresh]

  • For 1 Refresh, character does not age at all but may be killed normally. Heals normally.

  • For a total of 2 Refresh, cannot be killed at all. Heals normally.

Time Agent: [1 Refresh] May take the Traveller skill and any associated stunts. Must include Time Agent in your Core Concept. May start the game with a Gadget.

Time Lord: [2 Refresh] Must take at least one level of the Traveller skill. Must include Time Lord in your Core Concept. May start the game with a Gadget. May regenerate if you suffer massive physical damage. (See TIME LORD REGENERATION).  Get Time Lord Stunt for free.

Fast Healing: [3 Refresh] Must have the Fast Healing Stunt. Steps the severity of physical stress and complications down one additional category for purposes of healing.

Alien: [1 Refresh] Allows you to purchase alien traits, must include your alien status in your Core Concept. You may be an alien without purchasing this Special Trait – but you may not purchase any special alien powers.


Allows knowledge of cosmic culture and politics. Supports operation of time travel devices and vehicles, thought Transport is still required for targeting.


Travelling through time leaves a scar in the fabric of time and space. As a result, players can only initiate one time jump per session (per player).  Note that paradoxes trigger the Blinovitch Effect which can result in some rather severe efforts of the universe to correct the resulting time loop.


  • May refresh all Aspects but must maintain Time Lord in your Core Concept.

  • Update your skills pyramid.

    • May shift skills up or down one level.

    • Make a unmodified Fate roll – if the result is positive, your Traveller skill steps up one level. Your incarnation number is roughly twice your Traveller level plus one. If your Traveller skill advances to 7 or above, your body has worn out and you die permanently.

    • Your skill pyramid must be a valid structure.

  • Re-set your stress and complications to undamaged.

  • If regenerating during an action scene, you may instantly heal new physical complications at the cost of a Fate Point.


51st Century “Squareness Gun”: [1 Refresh]  Deletes and restores walls and other items digitally. Doesn’t work on living tissue.

Engram Erase: [1 Refresh] Deletes memories – often used on the witnesses of extraterrestrial incidents.

Sonic Screwdriver (or other): [1 Refresh] Open/close, scan, transmit, weld. Not usable on deadlock seals, tricky controls.

Vortex Manipulator: [1 or 3 Refresh]

  • For 1 Refresh, your vortex manipulator will scan, transmit, and allow you to teleport short distances (temporal functions may be activated for plot reasons)

  • For 3 Refresh, your vortex manipulator is fully functioning and will also allow short temporal jumps

  • Use Transport to target your teleportation and time jumps, Technology for other functions

TARDIS: Special. If a TARDIS is featured in the game, it will be designed collaboratively by the play group.

  • Each player can assign:

    • One Aspect

    • Five Skill Points, and

    • One Stunt

  • The GM assigns the Flaw

  • The TARDIS’s stunts and skill may be used in place in place of the PC’s abilities when they are on-board the time craft


Natural Armor [1 to 3 Refresh]  Provides Armor: 2 for each point of Refresh invested

Flight [1 Refresh]  You may move in three dimensions as easily as in two.

Immunity [1 Refresh] Take no stress/complication from one specific thing (e.g. bullets, fire). Chosen immunity must be approved by the GM.

Natural Weapons [1 to 3 Refresh] Provides Weapon: 1 for each point of Refresh invested (the imbalance between attack and defense is intentional)

Networked [1 Refresh] Telepathic connection to similar beings within a  limited range

Shape-Shifting [1 to 2 Refresh]

  • For 1 Refresh, you have one pre-defined alternated physical form.

  • For 2 Refresh, you may take on multiple forms and replicate specific individuals.

Teleport [1 Refresh]  Need to make a Notice check to teleport to a known location.

Natural Time Travel [4 Refresh]

  • Travel through time without a vehicle or device. Time Travel costs 2 Fate Points when activated. Requires a Will check to accurately travel.

  • If you use a time travel vehicle or device, you get +2 for your Transport checks for time travel.

EXAMPLE STUNTS (need further fleshing out, players may build custom stunts according to the rules in the FATE CORE book)

Boffin. +2 to create useful gadgets

Fast Healing. Heal physical stress & complications as if they were one level less severe.

Friends. Contacts are far more reliable and accurate and may have access to info from someplace like UNIT or Torchwood

Indomitable Will. +2 to resist mental influence

Keen Senses. +2 to notice checks

Owed Favor. Can use Contacts to seek more physical and active assistance in the current adventure

Photographic Memory. Linked to Notice, +2 to recall details

Climbing. +2 to Athletics for climbing checks

Environmental Toughness. +2 to Survival checks in harsh conditions

Time Pilot. May use your Traveller skill in place of Transport for targeting time/space jumps. May make one additional time jump per session.

Experienced Time Traveller. Must have at least +1 Traveller to take this stunt. +2 to off-set penalties for using technology from a non-native era

Time Lord. Must be a Time Lord or have the Experienced Time Traveller stunt to take this stunt. For a Fate Point, you may use your Traveller rating in place of another skill.

Experienced Time Lord. Must have the Time Lord stunt to take this stunt. Choose one skill. For the rest of this session, you may use half your Traveller rating (rounded up) in place of the chosen skill.






















Traveller *



Standard Fate Core Rules except as noted:

  • Choose your HIGH CONCEPT and TROUBLE aspect – note that certain Special Traits (Alien, Time Agent, Time Traveller) must be included in the High Concept Aspect

  • Phase One: Your first or iconic adventure.

  • Phases Two and Three: Your guest appearances in two of your fellow travellers Phase One adventures – note that these may occur before or after your own. Time travel is funny that way.

  • Skills: Default is a skill pyramid topped with +4. You may optionally build on 20 skill points. If you wish to purchase the Experienced or Inexperienced trait, you MUST use a skill pyramid for your initial character design.

  • Stunts and Refresh: Each player starts with 6 Refresh and may spend up to 5 Refresh on Stunts and Special Traits.


Medical Doctor

+4: Medicine

+3: Academics, Science

+2: Deceive,Technology, Transport

+1: Athletics, Survival, (        ), (        )


+4: Craft

+3: Deceive, Transport

+2: Athletics, Fight, Stealth

+1: Survival, Technology, (        ), (        )


+4: Academics

+3: Technology, (        )

+2: Athletics, Science, Transport

+1: Survival, Deceive, Fight, Medicine


+4: Shoot

+3: Fight, Survival

+2: Athletics, Technology, Transport

+1: Deceive, Medicine, Stealth, (        )

Torchwood (or similar) Operative

+4: Technology

+3: Shoot, Athletics

+2: Deceive, Fight, Stealth

+1: Academics, Medicine, Science, Transport


+4: Technology

+3: Science, Academics

+2: Deceive, Medicine, (        )

+1: Athletics, Craft, Transport, (        )

Presented without Comment: Elite Female Reptoid Warriors

Marietta – weapons master, wears teal with wine accents
Elizabella – science officer, wears yellow
Caterina – “supply officer”/finder, talented chef, wears green
Propenzia – animal affinity, wears brown
Lucia – enhanced speed and strength, wears pink
Tereza – medic, wears purple

Past Members include: Catherine (blue), Joan (previous wearer of teal), and Sofonisba aka “Snow” (blue & yellow)

Fanaticism: Friend or Foe?

For some time now, I’ve been feeling badly about myself because I’m not really a fan of anything.

“Wait a just one cotton-pickin’ second, Doc!” you protest. “How can you say such a thing? Clearly you’re a fan of superheroes, rpgs, and the intersection thereof, aren’t you?”

Well, yes… and no.

Let’s take a quick look at the etymology of the word “fan”.

Fan is short for fanatic, or “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal for a particular topic, group or belief”. To me, this means a fan is someone, who when presented with a decision about how to spend their time or money, overwhelmingly chooses to make that investment in a single, consistent fandom, organization or ethos.

Given this definition, I see a wide variety of fans every day. I think many cosplayers, especially those who handcraft their own gear are fans of their chosen genre, of crafting, or both.

Anyone who has turned their hobby into an income stream (I’m looking at you Evil Hat) are clearly fans. You don’t reach that level of success without a single-minded focus on raising your game.

I also think you find fans in the workplace. These are the men and women who consistently and authentically wear the company logo. They are vocal customers of the corporation. They come in early, work late, and never complain about the time they invest.

Now the thing about fans is they draw attention. Cosplayers are a focus for photo ops. The fanatical hobbyists blow past their crowd-funding goals. The corporate fans get promoted.

This all brings me to the crux of why I feel bad about not being a true fan of anything. It’s not the lack recognition, so much as it is about the lost opportunities. I’m not able to share my vision through published games – because I haven’t dedicated the time necessary to publish them. I’m not selling t-shirts or graphic novels featuring characters that I created – because I haven’t built the networks required for success in such arenas. I’m not moving through the ranks of the organization and earning the financial benefits related to that movement – because I don’t believe in the 60 hour work week.

So, I have started to explore where I have chosen to invest my time and money. What gets in the way of my fandom? What do I do instead of writing? Where do I choose to spend my time instead of working long hours? Is my failure due to breadth of interest? Due to a lack of focus?

And during this introspection, it struck me – I might just be a fan after all. Now, I have to admit, it is a pretty small fandom. You probably haven’t even heard of it. (Very hipster of me, I know.) I’m a fan of my family.

Given a choice, I will spend my time and money on them. I would rather drive my kids to choir than put in another hour at the office. My wife’s needs and preferences are more important than doing another editing pass on that game document.

And the recognition of my particular chosen fandom? It’s awesome. I get regular and enthusiastic hugs from my daughter. I have a pre-teen son who wants to hang with me. And I am blessed with a wonderful wife and partner.

So, maybe, I will never be an officer of my company or a create a major internet meme, but I think that’s just fine.


Closings and Renewed Focus

For those playing the Doc Blue home game, you will have noticed that a couple of my communication vectors have dried up.

I’ve been using Posterous for several years. I was quite fond of the interface – it was easy to produce content and add media. I liked it so much that I recommended it to others. Then Posterous got sold. For a time it appeared that the transition would be seamless, but sadly the new owners closed Posterous at the end of April. I’ve tried to use their proffered archive tool to capture my content from the site, but it is unclear if I was successful. Overall, a disappointing experience.

Now, while I am disappointed by the dissolution of Posterous, I am down right saddened by The Secret Lair closing its doors. I was very fortunate to be asked to join the staff of TSL in late 2011. The Lair had a good run, providing insightful articles on topics ranging from parenting to discussions of the various sciences, from a quasi-serial comic strip to charity-focused geekery. I am proud to have been part of it all.

But it is over now. The minions have finished packing up the hazardous materials, putting the lab animals into cryogenic storage, and mothballing the equipment. So for now, there is a skull-headed mountain sticking out of Lake Erie waiting for a new mastermind to give it new life.

What does this mean for me? Well, first, this means that Strange Selves will be the primary source for all my musing for the foreseeable future. Second, the text version of the Doc Azrael tales from Flash Cast will be finding a new home – likely on the Flash Pulp website – more on this later. Finally, the whole experience helped me refine how and what I want to be creating in the near now.

About 18 months ago, I shifted from wanting to create games for a broad audience to wanting create games for specific audiences. Now, I find myself shifting further as a result of my many experiences over the last six months. Now I am focusing further on building custom scenarios and mechanics for specific people. I enjoy running games at conventions and my regular face-to-face games. I like that immediate feedback. And they still give me the opportunity to build and tweak mechanics.

So, I am going to work on building games for specific events – gathering of friends and family, for parties, for conventions. I am going to continue to run my regularly scheduled game sessions and to look for opportunities to bring custom games into the lives of others.