Futurecon, right now

A rainbow, apparently moving between two cloudsMany cons have moved online now. Sadly necessary, but happily accessible. The fact that we can connect via the internet means conventions don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, limited to one country or one timezone. Futurecon is a convention that’s happening right now, as I write this, which is truly global in scope. Panels are happening at all times of day and night, all weekend long. Membership can be as cheap as free (if you already have the wherewithal to connect to the internet). There’s been some really cool discussion on the practicalities and challenges of translation already.

I could quibble with some of their choices: Zoom is a bad platform, for privacy reasons; they are focused almost solely on prose fiction, to the exclusion of all else; and although the overall stance has been anti-imperialist and decolonial, some pro-imperialist and pro-colonial discourse has gone unexamined.

Overall, though, it seems well worth checking out. So, do!

WisCONline

While it’s still in memory, some notes about WisCONline, which happened at the end of May.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.I was part of the concomm, doing a bunch of work behind the scenes, so I’m kinda biased. But at the same time, none of my opinions are official or anything like that — I’m speaking for myself here, not the con.

The gaming folks had arranged a huge slate of games, but the way things worked out, I didn’t get to play in any of them. Largely down to what shifts I was on.

However, with our tech setup, I was able to watch some of the games after the fact. (I have a lot of thoughts about people broadcasting games for other people to watch, and parasocial gaming, and similar things, which I may write up here at some point.) All the games I saw were really cool!

  • Atop a Lonely Tower is designed specifically to be played in a Discord channel, with the GM as an old being of magic, using leading questions to very gently guide the narrative, and all the players drifting in and out as ravens, acting as the GM’s eyes and ears and taking most of the narrative control. The players all really went with the conceit, and it worked brilliantly!
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, the Quarterly Earnings Report is about a group of angels, all having a business meeting to discuss who’s going to take over the department for the next 1000 years. It’s designed to be played as a videochat/conference call, using the quirks of this technology as innate parts of the game: players can deliberately mute themselves, accidentally drop calls on purpose, etc. If all the players understand that it’s a playfully passive-aggressive game, it works beautifully; and all the players at Wiscon did. It worked gorgeously, with some superb roleplaying on the parts of some players.
  • I saw even less of Court of Ferns, but what I saw again seemed brilliant: A game played entirely through a Google Doc spreadsheet, with players as part of a (dysfunctional) bureaucracy.

I assume the other games were equally neat. The gaming folks did a great job of planning and running things. It was also really cool to see how games are expanding into and embracing entirely new kinds of media (a game played through an interactable spreadsheet! omg!).

There was also some cool discussion about gaming and RPGs elsewhere. bankuei from Deeper in the Game pointed out the websites Roll For Your Party and Playing Cards.io, which look very handy for online gaming. And there was a lot of other wonderful geekery — too much to detail here.

Overall, it was really cool to finally see, and help, a con go online. It would of course be nice if we didn’t have to, but it’s very good that we can.

Would you buy a book of my essays?

Illustration of a bookI’ve been toying with the idea of putting together a collection of essays. Some original, certainly; there are fair number of things I’d like to set down but haven’t had the right space for. I’d also include some things that I’ve written here and elsewhere. It would be nice to develop some of the ideas further, perhaps link them together better with some interstitial notions, maybe tie more of them into a cohesive whole. Probably a bit more editing around the edges. I’ve been toying with the central theme of “Geekery without Guilt”. What do you think?

Exolore: Nifty worldbuilding with academic rigor

A world built by me (academic rigor not guaranteed)Through my astronomy interests, I found the Youtube channel of Moiya McTier. Moiya’s an astronomer and folklorist (what a great combination of disciplines!). She and a rotating group of subject-matter experts (political scientists, plate tectonics experts, cephalopod specialists, etc.) start with a general exoplanet type: Extreme seasons, tidally locked, no insolation at all, etc. The types they start with are based on the actual science; as we learn more about exoplanets, we realize how much weirder they are than we predicted a few decades ago. Then, Moiya and her guests work to build a nifty world and the beings that inhabit it.

The creations so far are quite delightful: Worlds with turtle-like beings who have pyrite shells, deep sea sentients who communicate via thermal dancing, and much more. Any of the sessions would certainly be great inspiration for an SF campaign. More importantly, though, they’re just wonderful worldbuilding. From what I’ve seen, Moiya and her guests don’t insist that there be a plot; they’re interested in enjoying the worldbuilding, as worldbuilding for its own sake.

It reminds me of the “Build a World” game I’ve played and run several times at conventions. The difference is, Moiya and her guests are much scientifically rigorous — while not losing any of the elegant intricacy or beautiful internal logic that “Build a World” usually has. And, really, their worlds are about as fun as the “Build a World” ones, too. Well worth enjoying.

Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

A rainbow, apparently moving between two cloudsEveryone and their siblings have already posted about this far and wide, but it’s worth making sure: The Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is a huge bundle of tabletop games, computer games, prose fiction, comics, art assets and more that is being offered to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Community Bail Fund. Donations will help mitigate, in a small way, some of the racist violence that Black people have been subjected to in recent weeks.

The games are well worth checking out. Some of the offerings are kinda junky — buggy computer games, short ditties that don’t really say much, etc. But a lot are really, really cool. Not only are there several massive, slickly-produced RPGs, there are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small, innovative, mind-expanding games. There are so many that I can’t even list them in the detail they deserve. (I might try to review some of them in the future, if time allows.)

Itch.io has a huge amount of innovation going on: Games that expand the limits of what a game can be, games that express viewpoints that are too rarely heard, games that push us to be better human beings. If you’ve been wanting to dip your toes into the Itch.io ocean, this bundle seems like a great place to start, while donating some money to good causes at the same time.

WisCONline, weekend after next

The in-person Wiscon 44 has been canceled, due to the pandemic. I’m sad to miss that; it’s always great to connect with a lot of people in person.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.However, Wiscon has moved online! Registration for the con, which will be May 22-25, is now open. The online version will include streamed panels & readings, gaming, an auction, a whole chat system, and lots of chances to interact with fellow geeks. The con is also trying hard to make it all highly accessible; there will be closed captioning, and the membership rates are very reasonable, I think.

I wish fandom in general had started to seriously explore online cons in more depth before now, but I’m very glad it’s finally happening, and especially glad that Wiscon is making such an effort (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m part of). If you’ve been wanting to attend this great feminist SF&F convention but haven’t been able to make it in person, this is your chance to try it out.

A reminder: It’s okay to not be ‘productive’

Squeevolution!The measure of a person is not their ‘productivity’. That is always true! And someone with more money is not ‘worth’ more than anyone else. But in a pandemic, of all times, remember that it’s okay to not be at your maximum. Don’t be guilty about it. Don’t measure yourself or your hobbies by how richly you grease the wheels of industry. Just have fun when you can, make things when you can, do what you can when you can, enjoy worldbuilding if you want to, read RPGs if you feel like it, take it “casual” if you feel like, enjoy something slow if it’s what you need — do what it takes to get through this trying time, in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt you or others.

Remote fandom

This is a good time to be thinking about remote gaming. The current pandemic is awful, of course. But we’re lucky in that good internet, videochat, etc. allow us to connect remotely with such ease.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.Most of my gaming these days is done remotely. I’ve blogged about some before. Videochat systems leave a lot to be desired, but really, they’re quite good.

There isn’t much reason an entire con couldn’t be run online. I mean, by some analysis, web forums, social media communities, etc. already are online cons. But for something closer to in-person cons, with the same depth of personal interaction, the technology is almost there. The videochat systems I’ve tried wouldn’t be great for doing panels, but they’d be serviceable; other methods — streaming like Twitch or some of the virtual meeting systems out there — would probably work better. Some gaming doesn’t work well online. This is especially clear where physical interaction between players is required, such as passing paper, counters, tokens, etc. Other forms of gaming work just as well, or better, though. No reason an online con couldn’t include some mutual MMORPG raids, or something like that. Costume contests, virtual raves, art contests, dealers’ rooms, readings… There’s a lot that should translate quite easily to online formats. I would miss getting to hang out in the consuite together, but a lot of cons don’t practice great hygiene even in the best of times. There really isn’t much we would need to miss in a virtual con. I’ve heard some third-hand reports of full cons done online, but I haven’t seen enough of them to link with any certainty. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

A specific thing to think about: There are lots of issues to overcome with videochat. Folks have to get used to not talking over each other, and sometimes needing to ask for clarification. While videochat boosts accessibility in some ways, it lessens it in other ways: bad audio quality can be very difficult for people who have hearing difficulties, for example. Privacy and trolling are also issues. To make a whole con work, I think there would need to be some way to guarantee that only con ‘attendees’ could access the virtual rooms. I don’t know of a way to prevent attendees from recording things that they shouldn’t. Chat moderators would become extremely important in a virtual con. It seems like a virtual con would necessarily require spending money on a professional virtual meeting service, or setting up a dedicated server for something like Jitsi, and thus still needing to spend the money on bandwidth — either way, it would take money. Though, I suspect, it would cost far less than running an in-person con.

I’m sure there are other things I haven’t thought of. But still, it must be completely possible to make virtual cons happen. If we aren’t already, we should get working on that.

A reminder

Detail of a monasteryThe Medieval Mountain Monastery Murder Mystery is a scenario in which all the characters are trans. All the characters. And it deals with some pretty deep trans issues.

I’ve done what I can to get the word out about it, yet there’s never been any serious demand. I could just publish it anyway, but if sales from the Bandit Map are anything to go by, I wouldn’t make more than US$1/hour for all the work it would take. Vastly, vastly less than minimum wage.

Diversity is a great goal. It would be nice if it was actually rewarding, though.

Variation Die: Things to say

Another thing I perhaps didn’t clarify enough about the Variation Die in the Blade & Crown rules: You can use your Variation Die roll as inspiration for an original, evocative thing you say. It doesn’t just have to be a description of what you do; it can equally be a description of how others perceive your actions, or what you just outright vocalize.

Illustration of a brush-stroked twelve-sided die with a 'V' on one face(The sample of play hints at this, but I didn’t make it very explicit in the rules.)

A lot of snowclones are likely examples. “That has to be the mother of all X!” and “I don’t care how many X there are, I am determined to succeed!” are good examples of quantity-related quotations that are possible. There must be a billion variants on “You think that’s going to stop me? I X easier things than that for breakfast!” and the like.

Making a quote truly evocative and original can be tricky, but that’s where context comes in. What you say is going to depend heavily on the particular situation — cool things to say while dodging a sword are usually going to be different from cool things to say while saving your friend from a fall. And the situation will give inspiration for specific original things to say.

All that makes it difficult to come up with a single list, but here are some general ideas to serve as inspirations.

  1. “Well, that wasn’t so hard!”
  2. “All in the wrist, my dear. All in the wrist!”
  3. “Sorry about the mess.”
  4. “Just in the nick of time!”
  5. “Nice and easy… Slow but steady…”
  6. “You haven’t seen the last of me!”
  7. “Now, that’s a bit more of a challenge!”
  8. “Come on. Just… this… once…”
  9. “It’s either you, or me. And it’s not going to be me.”
  10. “You have to pay attention to the little details, you see.”
  11. “I’ve been practicing.”
  12. “It just took a little finesse, that’s all.”