Jim talks about his work in comics over the last 20 years that have landed him writing for characters such as Conan, The Avengers, Rick & Morty, and Black Panther. He talks about his long relationship with Dungeons & Dragons that was summarized in a recent Tedx Talk he gave, which I encourage everyone to watch below.
He discusses the genesis of the Young Adventurer’s Guides and how the idea grew from a simple pitch to a multi-book series that may continue to grow. He talks about why he felt the books needed to be created, and the philosophy behind how the books were designed including why it was important to have new art and a different structure from the typical Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. Jim also discusses his work on the upcoming Descent Into Avernus adventure for Dungeons & Dragons.
It was wonderful to speak with him and learn about the creative process behind the Young Adventurer’s Guides. I truly believe they are a wonderful entry point for young readers into D&D AND a refreshing source of inspiration for long-time players.
Enjoy the 50th (!!) episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!
And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
It’s been a while since I read something that inspired me to respond with an article of my own, though that is just what happened after reading Susan J. Morris’ musings on internal tension in characters. I previously interviewed Susan on the Ego Check podcast back in January 2017 where she spoke about her work as a fantasy author and editor for companies such as Wizards of the Coast and Monte Cook Games. Her article this month on character tensions uses wonderful imagery to demonstrate how characters are affected by internal tensions and external forces:
Imagine for a moment everything your character cares about—Love, Friendship, Family, Country, Ideals, Religion, Tradition, Self, and Things More Specific—as a string, wrapped around your character.
The more your character cares about that thing, the tighter that string is pulled—the more tension on the line.
The more strings? The more interesting it gets.
She provides numerous examples of how characters can be tied up, and then offers this clear advice, “I think [the] most useful application is troubleshooting spots in your story where the tension drops or feels off.” By diagramming the tensions pulling a character in a story, a writer could identify when the tension sags and adjust accordingly.
Susan’s article provides useful suggestions for writers, though it struck me so strongly because it relates to an exercise I often complete with patients in my clinical work as a psychologist. And it is an exercise that can cut quickly to the heart of problems in one’s life.
Gaming Informs Work and Work Informs Gaming
A task I take on early when working with a patient in therapy is to clarify his or her values – in other words, why does that person want to live? What is important? It is a question I typically preface, “This may sound like an odd question…. why do you want to stay alive?”
In addition to listing the 10 values, it asks for the individual to first rate how important each value is in their life at that moment. The second step is to rate how satisfied they are with each value in their life at that moment. The third and final step is to answer some open-ended questions about each value.
The Valued Directions Worksheet gives a patient and I a great deal of information to discuss in therapy. For example, Parenting could be identified as very important while the satisfaction level with Parenting is low; this would be a good place to 1) explore and clarify why Parenting matters to the patient and 2) determine strategies for raising the satisfaction level of Parenting. One key thing we know from decades of research and clinical practice is that our mood typically improves when we engage in activities that are connected to our values. The first step for us is identifying what values are important, and the next step is taking actions that are connected to those values.
Many (if not most) of us struggle with this, and that is okay!
Susan’s article made me realize that the homework exercise above that I often give to my patients is something that my players or I could also use to create characters in role-playing games with more depth! What would it be like to complete a Valued Directions Worksheet as my Bard, The Stone? How could that exercise potentially add to my ability to “know” The Stone and role-play him effectively?
How important are these values to the character, and how satisfied are they with those values? Discrepancies between importance and satisfaction naturally lead to potential plot hooks – and as Susan detailed in her article, tension.
For example, if the NPC strongly values Education/learning and is not satisfied in that area, then how could the players interact with that NPC to increase his or her satisfaction level? Regardless if the NPC is a queen, guard, innkeeper or monster – the exercise could give the NPC additional depth for the GM and PCs to play around with as the game unfolds.
Finally, consider taking a moment (ideally, after several long, slow, deep breaths) and complete the Valued Directions Worksheet for yourself. Self-monitoring and externalization can be wonderful tools to enhance our awareness and improve our mood. If this exercise highlights an area of your life that is important while the satisfaction is low, then consider methods to increase the satisfaction.
More exercises like this can be found in The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, which is a solid resource if you’re looking for a self-help option. In addition, considering speaking with a friend, family member and a professional clinician to work on areas of your life that might be a concern.
Marc Allie joins me to talk about his history of “being geeky when geeky wasn’t cool.” He talks about his early memories of playing Dungeons & Dragons and how he jumped into the online community with his blog, The Learning DM, during the 4th Edition era. We spend some time remembering fondly elements of 4e D&D and talk about the transition to 5th Edition. Marc and I spend a good portion of the show talking about our shared enjoyment of Transformers, which hit us both in our formative year in the mid-80s. We talk about why Transformers persists while other franchises from that era have fallen in terms of greater public consciousness. He details his efforts to write a haiku for each episode of the original animated series, and we discuss our enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the Transformer films in recent years. We both agree that Bumblebee is wonderful, and hope the future is bright for additional films that will come from Bumblebee’s creative team. Enjoy our stroll down the space bridge memory lane!
Enjoy the 39th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Ed Grabianowski (aka, “The Grabster”) joins me on the show to talk about his career as a freelance writer for outlets over the years including io9 and How Stuff Works. He speaks to his start as a writer for a local newspaper in Buffalo and how that led to other writing opportunities as he continues to work on a novel. He discusses the pressures involved in producing content for an online audience that is bombarded with an endless stream of content. Ed also talks about his musical project, Spacelord. Ed performs vocals for the band, and he details their journey in the independent rock scene. While Ed provides details about Spacelord’s influences, a few samples of their music are including to give listeners a taste of their sound. The band is GOOD, and you should give them a listen! Ed shares a hilarious story about the cover art for the latest Spacelord album, and we close the show by rehashing our efforts in 2016 to narrow down to the best 12 songs from the Use Your Illusion albums by Guns N’ Roses. If you haven’t read our takeson this, then go do that now.
Enjoy the 38th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
My guest for Episode 9 of Ego Check with The Id DM is Shanna Germain, co-founder of Monte Cook Games, and an acclaimed writer and game designer. She covered many topics during our discussion, including her work as an activist and advocate in and out of the gaming industry. She speaks about her work with Monte Cook Games and how she balances the demands of writing novels and designing games. We spent an extended amount of time on the concept of grief in gaming, and this led into a discussion of politics and the recent statement by Monte Cook Games titled, Our Core Values. We conclude by talking about her roleplaying game for young children, No Thank You, Evil.
Enjoy the ninth episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
My guest for Episode 6 of Ego Check with The Id DM is Susan J. Morris, a fantasy author and editor that is best known for her work editing Forgotten Realms novels for Wizards of the Coast and novels for Monte Cook Games. She has published multiple books herself and designed Dungeons & Dragons for Kids. She also wrote a writing advice column for Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog. In the interview, she spoke about how she started running roleplaying games and transferred that experience into her professional life. She speaks about growing up as a homebrewer of campaign worlds rather than relying on published content. She speaks about her experiences working with Wizards of the Coast and Monte Cook Games, and the unique challenges of working with new content in the Forgotten Realms. She details her work as an editor, and offers advice for those interested in publishing their work.
Near the end of our talk, Susan shared some words that I want to highlight below. She spoke about the challenge of being a writer because it is a task that does not often result in positive feedback. I think her words are vital for all of us involved in producing creative content:
If you’re not writing for yourself, you’re going to be very disappointed long-term. I think you need to write things you love and that you enjoy — and then you can share them with other people, but the enjoyment should come from the writing and from doing it for yourself. Everything else should be kind of secondary or you’re very dependent on other people’s opinions for your happiness and fulfillment, which I think is never a good way to go. Writing as it is has very few moments in which you get reinforcement.