bluebeard

HOW TO MAKE A LIVING FROM SMUT: Part 0!

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

Before I start going into the nuts and bolts of erotica-based income, I’m going to tell you my story – not (only) because I’m a raging egomaniac, but because the path I’ve gone down means I’m relatively out of the loop, and I think it’s only fair to let you know that before I start doling out advice.

I’ve been reading erotica since I was 15, and started writing it for fun and posting it online when I was 24 – I’m not the world’s greatest writer, but the standard of quality for free online smut is fairly low, and so I quickly built myself a bit of a fanbase. I started taking commissions (for which I woefully undercharged) but I never planned it to be anything but a hobby until June 2012 when I quit my job and was trying to find a way to live creatively.

SJ (my girlfriend at the time) found an AMA from someone who was making a few thousand dollars a month, with tips on how to get started. (Basically what I’m writing now!) The market was pretty different back then, but the fundamentals are the same. There was a link to a forum where everyone discussed it – I spent about a week or two reading through the collective wisdom of everyone involved, and then launched into it, writing new stories + taking my old stories and extending the sex scenes, paying SJ to make covers for me and publishing a bunch of stuff.

For the next year, I kept on publishing. I used to keep super detailed stats, so here is my exact income for my first 18 months of publishing erotica. In brackets are how many books I had published, followed by how many of them were bundles (collections of books rather than original content):

July 2012: $93.21 (7)
August 2012: $471.51 (14, 2)
September 2012: $493.90 (24, 4)
October 2012: $932.32 (31, 4)
November 2012: $1,479.07 (34, 5)
December 2012: $2,459.51 (48, 13)
January 2013: $3,234.78 (52, 14)
February 2013: $1,839.90 (57, 16)
March 2013: $4,308.40 (65, 16)
April 2013: $2,759.16 (70, 16)
May 2013: $3,011.06 (82, 16)
June 2013: $2,903.02 (91, 16)
July 2013: $5,711.41 (100, 19) –I remembered this being a $7k month. It was not!–
August 2013: $4,732.35 (115, 28)
September 2013: $3,002.24
November 2013: $1,391.18
December 2013: $1,133.83

So what happened in September 2013? Amazon started banning my books.

Heads-up: this is where it firmly enters TMI territory. See, I make the vast, vast majority of my money from incest erotica. Specifically, brother/sister incest mind control erotica. I’m the world’s best brother/sister incest mind control erotica writer, which is weird, but it’s also sort of fun to be the best in the world at something.

My family know about this and they don’t care, but it’s something I’ve never announced on facebook before (for obvious reasons). I have zero interest in real life sisters, mind control OR incest, but for some reason it’s the kink that works for me and – as a result – it’s what sells best for me*.

*I’m actually lucky in that regard. Some people find that their best writing is in a kink that they have NO interest in. That’s when it truly becomes a job – they have to spend each and every day writing about gay cowboys, despite being straight and more of a pirate guy.

Amazon are extremely reactive, and so when the religious right found out about people making a bunch of money from incest erotica, they kicked up a fuss and Amazon (with no warning) started banning incest from appearing in their stores.

Emphasis on APPEARING. You can still publish – and read – the exact same books on Amazon, but you can no longer mention incest or family members anywhere on the cover, in the blurb, or anywhere like that*.

*as a result, little hinty keywords have appeared – “taboo” is the biggest one, or “man of the house” meaning father/daughter stuff.

I spent a few months scared to upload anything (if Amazon have to tell you twice, they permanently and irrevocably ban your account) until the money from my $5.7k month ran out, and I started rewriting blurbs and re-titling books. “Brainwashing my Sister” became “Brainwashing the Cheerleader”. “Blowing My Big Brother” became “My First Blow-job”.

I’ll go into all this in more detail in future parts, but Amazon is one of a few different marketplaces. It’s by far the biggest, but it’s also the most fickle. My sales income was pretty low in 2014, and I learned to live on less money (and started taking more commissions to make up the difference):

Jan 2014: $1,328.26
Feb 2014: $1,282.22
Mar 2014: $1,382.70
Apr 2014: $1,889.48
May 2014: $1,319.88
(I stopped keeping track at this point, so I genuinely can’t give you any numbers from here.)

By August 2014, I had my entire catalogue back up…at which point, Amazon decided that mind control wasn’t okay, and took my catalogue down again.

So that was fun.

Now, I could have switched gears and stopped writing brother/sister mind control. And a more sensible man would have done that (my friend who makes $100-200k/month did). But I had gotten pretty used to:
a) Writing what I wanted to write (NOTE: Do not count on this! If you want to make a living from this, you gotta write what sells)
b) The regular feedback/fan-mail/commissions I get from posting my stuff online for free, which I was continuing to do the entire time I was selling my work on Amazon. I have received exactly one piece of fan-mail for my sold books, and close to a thousand pieces of fanmail for my stuff that’s online for free.

People who buy your stuff on Amazon are a whole different audience to those who read it online for free. (as a rule, the first category are mostly women while the second category are mostly men. Men don’t pay for erotica, women don’t pay for porn.)

And so to make up the difference, I started a Patreon (like an ongoing kickstarter, or an online tip jar) which you can find here.

Like I said, I had a fan-base, and I thought I might get a couple of hundred dollars from them each month in exchange for some little perks and rewards. To my surprise, after 6 months it’s hit $800/month and continued to grow. Add that to my fairly regular $1200 from Amazon/Barnes and Noble, and the extra thousand I get from Smashwords every three months (more on payment schedules in a future update) and I make a bit over $2k/month US, which is more than enough for me to live on (especially since I still take commissions, which I charge through the nose for).

So while I’m more than happy to talk everyone through the path of online publishing, I wanted you all to know mine is a VERY unusual tale. Firstly, I put almost no effort into Amazon, which is indisputably where the big, big bucks are. (the $363k month I talked about last time was from someone who exclusively publishes on Amazon, which is probably I’d recommend you do as well. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Secondly, I make my money off crowdfunding, which no one else in written erotica does (especially since Kickstarter doesn’t allow it). Thirdly, the majority of my writing is available online for free (now that you know the taboo topic and fairly dark nature of what I write, I’ll happily point you to it) and fourthly, I’m both stubborn and lazy, so I haven’t turned my writing to more profitable pastures.

TOMORROW: The stuff you really want to hear: how to get started! (spoiler: the first step is to read some successful erotica. Again, not mine. Mine is not successful, I just happen to write a particular niche quite well. Try the Amazon Top Hundred )

Any questions before we continue?

bluebeard

EROTICA FACTS: Part 1!

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

Sometimes I remember that other people don’t work professionally in the field of erotica. I’ve decided to start posting some fun erotica facts that you are probably not aware of (these are all true), because I just flat-out find it interesting.

GENERAL TRIGGER WARNING: These stories rarely prioritise consent. They’re not stories of violent rape, but a lot of the appeal for many will come from reluctance, people being forced into situations they’re not totally onboard with, and even minds being altered.

FACT #1: A common thing in free online erotica (i.e. people who write for fun, not money) is this idea of a “concept” that dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of people do their own take on. There are a few of these, but two big ones spring to mind:

1) “Naked in School”: The US government legalises public nudity, and to encourage people to be more comfortable with their body, institute a program where a small portion of the student population is forced to be totally nude for a week (or a month or whatever). If they refuse, they’re force-stripped, and as part of the program they MUST allow anyone access to their body. It’s such a weird idea but it was hugely popular for aaages. The protagonists invariably end up sexually fulfilled and happy that they were chosen to be in the program, and many of them become much more comfortable with their bodies as a result.

2) “Master PC”: Someone opens a file that they find on a floppy disk/download from a sketchy site, and it’s a program called “Master PC” that controls reality. You look anyone within 100 miles up and a 3D model of them rotates on your screen; you have sliders to adjust anything you can imagine (from “bladder size” to “toe hair denseness”) and you can type direct instructions in (“Sal now only speaks Chinese”). It’s basically a god machine – some people just use it for flat-out wish fulfillment, some people add enemies who also have access to the program so there’s at least some kind of conflict.

Here are some excerpts from the first chapter of the original “Naked in School”, to give you an idea of the tone:


This brochure explains a new program we have, where we will select a few students each week to attend school in the nude. You will not be permitted to wear any clothing this week during school hours, except shoes and socks if you wish. Could you please undress now?“

I blushed very hard. “You want me to… to take off my clothes…right here?”

“It’s a mandatory program for you, Miss Wagner. I can have a couple of gentlemen assist you if necessary to ensure your cooperation.” He glanced behind himself. There were a couple of burly men waiting there. “You have 2 minutes as of now.”


“We might as well use you at the front, since everyone is looking at you anyway. Face the class, please.”

I did so. God, it was humiliating!

“Does anyone have any suggestions of an algebra problem involving Miss Wagner?” he asked.

Half the class raised their hands, and Mr. Dennison had me write all of their suggestions on the white board.

Calculate the volume of my breasts, and percentage of my total body mass
Determine total mass of breasts among students in the school
Number of hands which could feel my breasts, buttocks and inner thighs at once
Coefficient of friction of my vagina
Equations calculating how long it would take me to have sex with every boy in my grade, and in the school, based on different assumptions to be entered as variables
Calculate distance from my lips to my throat, then based on statistics about penis sizes, determine how many boys in the school I could “deep throat”.


I found out there were 3 girls from each grade who were required to spend the week naked. The following week, a new group would be selected.

A couple of the girls were enjoying the attention quite a bit. One freshman girl, though, was even more freaked out than most of us, and had to be taken to the hospital. The word I head was that she’d have to complete the week like the rest of us, then serve another whole week later on. Wow…

(Later stories had guys participating as well.)

bluebeard

Group Theory

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

everyone is wrong

Here’s the sad truth: every group, no matter how big or small or well-intentioned or yes, even hateful, is going to contain idiots. Not just idiots – truly awful human beings who want to bring everyone else down, whose identity is tied up with being a part of the group AND their membership making them better than everyone else.

If you judge the entire group by those people, you’re doing everyone a disservice and also opening your group(s) up to the same attitude*. There’s no easy solution to this – it’s really difficult to examine the group “as a whole” or even work out the group’s true core values, because they’re so often misrepresented by these angry, loud people.

*and yes, YOUR group also contains those hateful, ugly people. No exceptions.

Instead, try to find the best of the group, see where they’re coming from, and then decide whether or not it’s a point of view you can understand, even if it’s never going to be something you agree with. Again, this is not easy, but it’s the best and most fair (and frankly most interesting) way to do things, and it’ll leave you better equipped to fight evil, and with a greater understanding of the world.

And above all, strive to never be that person. Identifying a certain way might make you feel good, but it doesn’t automatically mean that everyone who doesn’t agree with you is evil, and treating the world as simplistic and black-and-white just makes you look like an idiot.

(Now here’s a game for you – try to guess which group inspired this post! I would put money on no one being able to work this out, because though it may seem to obviously be about x or y, this philosophy genuinely does apply to EVERY group and identity I’ve ever, ever encountered.)

bluebeard

How my favourite game is slowly driving itself into the ground.

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

oozeling

My favourite game – and main hobby – is Solforge, a digital card game for the iPad and PC. For the past two years, my iPad has been almost exclusively a Solforge-playing machine, and it’s something I enjoy enough to put money aside for it each and every month.

If you haven’t ever played, here’s a basic overview: you collect (digital) cards, and put together a 30-card deck to battle against an opponent. Your cards level up and return to your deck, so you have the chance of drawing stronger versions of the creatures and spells you’ve already played. This opens up some interesting design space – a card can be extraordinarily strong at level 1, and then relatively weak at levels 2 and 3, or it can have a useless level 1/2 and a ridiculously good level 3.

The team are constantly coming up with interesting card designs for the expansions. There are a few different play modes, a bunch of brilliant mechanics, the world-building side of things is really fascinating to me,  and there are a handful of other fun features. Even though it’s only in beta, Solforge has a small-but-active community.

Unfortunately, it also seems to have a death-wish.

This is the first competitive game I’ve ever played, and so as I got deeper and deeper into the game, I learned a whole bunch of new terms. “MVP”, apparently a common sports term, means “Most Valuable Player” – in the context of Solforge, it’s used in reference to the card that did the most work to help you win a match.

And “meta” means “the competitive scene”, more specifically which decks and cards are seeing a lot of play. A healthy meta means that there are a few different top decks, and an unhealthy meta means that one particular faction or card is dominating. The more repetitive or uninteresting the competitive scene, the less healthy the meta is.

For the whole time I’ve been playing, Solforge has lurched from unhealthy meta to unhealthy meta.

(For those who play the game: when multiplayer mode was first introduced, Shapers dominated. They were nerfed in the patch that gave us the omni-present Weirwood Patriarch, which was then nerfed when set 2 came out. Yetis then dominated the meta for a few months – although that was arguably the most varied meta Solforge has ever had, with a few semi-viable alternatives – until set 2.3 was released, which brought us Ironmind Acolyte. Ironmind was then the undisputed champion of the queues until set 3 came out, which brought Broodqueen, Aetherphage and Doomrider, the combination of which has resulted in almost two months of the least interesting meta Solforge has seen so far.)

Again this is the first collectible/trading card game that I’ve ever really been passionate about. As a kid I played a tiny bit of Magic: The Gathering and the Pokemon TCG, but I never encountered genuine competitive play. My understanding is that cards can’t be perfectly balanced because it makes the game quite flat – there needs to be strong cards and weak cards, and apparently very strong cards are helpful for teaching new players how to construct a deck, but for whatever reason the Solforge team keep putting out a few cards each set that are so far above the power curve that no one plays anything else.

This seems like a fairly easy issue to avoid – don’t make a card that’s just flat-out amazing at every level. The three-level system in Solforge gives a lot of flexibility to strengthen or weaken a card (if it really needs to be stellar at level 1, give it bad stats later on), but – and this is just my personal opinion – it feels like the design team are afraid that a card they like won’t see play unless they make it exceptional at every level.

(The balance issues of some cards – such as Seal of Deepwood – are more complex than that, but the majority of offenders are simply great, all the time. Broodqueen has extremely high health, Aetherphage’s attack AND defence are incredible, and Grimgaunt Doomrider is perhaps the most egregious of all. His base stats are simply huge, AND he grows every turn.)

As a result, Solforge decks are invariably built around one or two incredibly powerful cards, and matches quite often come down to “did I draw my incredible powerful card?” – for a game with such incredible potential, it’s disappointing and frustrating seeing elegant design reduced to basic coin-flipping. Official word suggests that this is something that isn’t going to change – deck design in Solforge is always going to be “pick a card and build around it”, something I find hugely uninteresting.

But that’s just my personal preference – the issue that everyone can agree on is that Solforge‘s powerful cards are too powerful, and so the meta can consist of playing against the exact same deck for months and months on end.

Fortunately, Solforge‘s upcoming update will feature the ability to fix broken cards on-the-fly

Unfortunately, the new patch brings problems of its own.

I have a collector’s brain. It’s something that I try to limit in real life, else I’d quickly become a hoarder. Every few months, I need to make sure that I’m not filling my house with junk, just because my brain sends me pleasure signals from owning things.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Solforge so much – it allows me to collect without taking up physical space.

When you enter a tournament in Solforge, you win a prize pack at the end. The better you do in a match, the better the prize back. What’s more, if you win more than half your matches, you earn your entry fee back. This is called “going infinite”, and it’s a fun way of building a collection – through winning games, rather than just buying new packs.

When it was originally kickstartedSolforge was advertised as a trading card game – the functionality isn’t there at the moment, but eventually they’re planning to introduce the ability to trade your cards to other players, for cards you’re missing and (presumably) in-game currency.

Solforge is completely free to play. You can create an account and play as many games as you like, without ever spending a dollar. They’re extremely generous with daily rewards – every three days, every player can enter a tournament for free, and (as I mentioned) if you win more than half of your games, you can play again – still for free – straight away.

The incentive to put money into the game is that you can play whenever you like (instead of just once a week) and any cards you get from putting money into the game are tradeable. Free-to-play accounts won’t get to trade, paid accounts will. If you “go infinite” in a tournament that you paid money for, future tournaments are also considered paid, meaning that you can chain wins to build up a bunch of tradable cards.

Within a week or two, the new update will be out, and the developers have announced a few changes to the way tournaments are going to work. From now on, you’ll only win your entry fee back if you win all of your games, meaning that the idea of “going infinite” is effectively dead. (Solforge can have a pretty high variance, and even the top players sit at around a 70-80% win-rate.) On top of that, only your first paid game gives you tradable content – any other games you play result in account-bound rewards.

As someone with a collector’s brain, they’ve basically taken away any incentive for me to put money into the game.

I understand that their previous business model may have been too generous (although for the most part, it was roughly comparable to other games on the market) but their current business model is simply going to mean that people can’t play in tournaments nearly as much. Player numbers are already down as a result of the stale meta, and it’s the kind of problem that snowballs quickly – as fewer people play, there’s fewer people to play against, which results in people playing less…etc etc.

Perhaps I’m wrong – they presumably know their own business model better than I do – but I know that I’ll be playing a lot less (I enjoy putting money into the game for the chance to go infinite, a possibility which now seems to have been taken away) and I simply can’t see how they’ll avoid losing the majority of their player-base.

Solforge is slowly digging its own grave, and it’s tragic to watch.

There are a handful of other contributing factors – the official forums are extremely hostile, both technically (it takes way too long to log-in, and cookies expire after thirty minutes) and socially (some of the community’s most unpleasant members have been promoted into positions of power, which is a huge deterrent to community interaction) and the iPad app crashes for me at least once a game – but these are teething issues that I’m happy to overlook, at least as long as Solforge is in beta.

But the main reasons that Solforge is driving itself into the ground are deliberate, conscious choices by the developers. Hugely unbalanced card design (on a regular basis), new tournament structures that will all-but-guarantee that fewer people play the game, and – counterproductively – even less incentive for anyone to put money into the game.

I really hope that I’m wrong, and that Solforge‘s genuinely brilliant design is enough to get them through the rough patches (as it has been so far). Because right now, my favourite game is on the path to completely alienating its player-base, and I really don’t want to find a new hobby.

bluebeard

Why you should identify as a feminist: Deleted scenes

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

Here’s a section I wrote for my last post but couldn’t actually fit in anywhere:

Another way of thinking about “why do feminists spend so much time on women’s issues”:

Imagine you need to paint a wall black. There are a few navy-blue splotches around, but the vast majority of the wall is a bright, blinding white. Where do you start painting? And once you’ve started, where do you spend the majority of your time?

Women, in literally every country in the world, have a measurably worse life than men do, in almost every aspect of their existence. That’s not to say men have a perfect life or suffer injustice – off the top of my head, I know that they’re encouraged to talk about their feelings less (resulting in a higher suicide rate), they go to jail more and have a worse time when they’re there, and they are less likely to get custody of their kids.

Women, meanwhile, are more likely to be raped (and to be blamed for it when they are), they earn ~70 cents for every dollar a man earns, they are held to an extremely strict beauty standard (and suffer direct consequences when they don’t adhere to it), they make up something like 17% of speaking characters in films and 30% (or less) of lead roles, they make up such a tiny percentage of political roles in the world, they’re sold into sex slavery around the world in ridiculous numbers (80% of the 600-800 thousand people trafficked around the world each year are women), they’re hassled on the street unless they have a man present…I could go on, but I hope we can agree that I don’t need to.

Women’s rights and women’s issues are the white part of the wall. Men’s issues are the navy-blue splotches. We need to start with the overwhelming issues facing women, and we need to spend the vast, vast majority of our time there.

bluebeard

Why you should identify as a feminist

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

I run a Facebook group dedicated to discussing feminism, the aptly-titled “Let’s Talk Feminism“. About a month back, I posted this mini-essay on identifying as a feminist, and someone asked me to repost it publicly. So here you go!

The question is basically “Why should you identify as a feminist?”, or to break it down slightly further, “Why put yourself in the same group as people who you think are awful, even if you technically fit the definition/share some of the same core ideals?”

(at least, that’s the question I’ll be answering: if you have a similar/related question you want me to answer, leave a comment and I’ll try to get to it.)

This is a conversation I actually have a lot. I totally get it, too: when some people hear hear “feminist”, they think “bra-burning, man-hating, all-sex-is-rape nutcases.” And yes, that kind of feminist absolutely does exist.

There are three main comparisons I like to use. Two are personal and unlikely to cause offense, and the other is more general and has the potential to make people very angry. I’m going to use all of them.

Comparison #1: 

I, personally, hate being referred to as a “nerd”. When I hear nerd, I think “socially awkward, proud-of-being-into-obscure-things (for the sake of being into obscure things), misogynist recluse.”

That’s not what the word means.

I play board games that 99% of board gamers haven’t even heard of. I make card and board games as a hobby. I’ve spent 8 years working on a fantasy universe, just for the fun of it. I make my living working online. I am a reasonably big name in the community hub of a digital trading card game.

It’s basically impossible to ignore the fact that I’m a nerd.

And so, for the record, I totally GET it. I understand why you hate that you can’t be passionate about certain topics without being landed with a label that you don’t like.
But the fact is, sometimes you’re a thing (even if you don’t want to be) and it’s fruitless to fight it. Not only fruitless, but – in my opinion – actively unhelpful. (And by now, you should all know how much I hate unhelpfulness. :P)

Comparison #2:

I want to get married, some day.

I’m a polyamorous (more-than-one-love-at-once person) feminist, who’s completely aware of the awful history of marriage.

When I think marriage though, I don’t think “Has origins in women being property”. I think “public declaration of love and commitment.” And so I want to get married, because I want to show the world how awesome marriage can be. I want to show that marriage might have awful connotations to some people, but that isn’t what it has to be – you can take the concept, and work on shaping it into something really cool.

“But why take a pre-existing word and try to change public opinion? Why not just make up a new word, like Soulbinding or Civil Union or something?”

Because, frankly, it’s not going to catch on. I can say “Hey I’m going to get soulbound to my girlfriend” and I have to explain it in full every time, but honestly no one else is ever going to use the word.

Instead, why not say “I’m going to get married” and if people look at me strangely, explain how I’m using the word?

This is an argument I see a LOT in terms of feminism. “It has ‘female’ in the title*! People who I don’t like are using the word! I’m going to call myself an egalitarian/humanist/equalist/genderist/oh my god there’s so many.”
*more on this later.

Firstly, as I said, it’s not going to catch on. Really. Feminism has been around for a very long time, and – like it or not – it’s here to stay. Feminism is THE leading movement that works towards equality of the genders. It has been since it started, and it will be for a very long time. The word means “someone who believes there should be equality between the sexes.”

If you believe that it’s been “taken over” by horrible people, there’s exactly one way to fix that, and it’s not “use a different term”. You’ll end up a confusing array of words that no one understands, you’ll splinter the movement, and – perhaps most importantly – you’re never going to convince EVERY feminist to stop using the term.

If you want to “save” feminism from meaning “people who hate men”, you need to start using the term to describe yourself while being a decent, non-misandrist human being. You need to use the term proudly while being a good guy.

That’s it.

Declaring yourself a genderist instead is going to require you to explain what you mean by that, every single time it comes up. Why not instead call yourself a feminist, and explain what you mean by that only to people who don’t already know what feminism is/use it the way you’re using it?

There are feminist dickheads. There are a LOT of feminist dickheads. But the fact is, if we all started using “genderist” instead, there would almost-immediately be a lot of genderist dickheads. So what do we do then? Make up another term?

If you want to be a part of a movement without dickheads, you’re going to be searching for a while. If you want to be part of a movement where people don’t associate the term with dickheadery, call yourself a feminist and be a good guy.

I am a nerd. I am a social, well-dressed (most of the time), well-spoken, outgoing, feminist nerd.

And the more nerds like me there are, the less ashamed I’m going to be to use the term.

Comparison #3: (WARNING: Possibility of offense ahead!)

I know someone (and if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay with me using you as an example) who doesn’t identify as a Christian.

That’s fine. I don’t identify as a Christian either.

This friend, however, believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, who came down to Earth to save us from our sins. They believe that Jesus is the path to salvation, and that belief in Him is the only way to get into heaven.

They don’t like being called a “Christian”, however, because…you know. Some Christians are crazy.

I sincerely hope you can see how completely ridiculous that sounds. If you believe that there should be equality between the genders and you don’t call yourself a feminist, that is what you sound like. For real.

COMPARISONS OVER.

Other arguments I frequently see:

But feminism has ‘fem’ in the title! As in FEMALE!

Yes. So what?

“Female” has the word “MALE” in it! “Woman” has the word “MAN” in it! Do these words bother you? If you’re going to complain about gendered terms within words, at least make sure you’re consistent about it.

We’re not going to rewrite the English language, because it would simply never catch on. English is not a literal language, and (as a writer) I can honestly say that’s one of its most beautiful strengths.

Feminism started (and is still primarily focussed*) on women’s rights. That’s its origins, and that’s why it has the name it does.
*more on this later

The word “English” is now used in hundreds of countries. But its name has “ENG” in it, as in “ENGLAND”…because that’s the origin of the word. It would be a ridiculous amount of effort and almost completely pointless to change the word just for America and Australia and Canada and etc etc.

Similarly, we’re not going to change “feminism” just for men whose feelings are hurt because they’re not in the title.

But feminism focuses on women! I want to be involved in a movement that REALLY believes in equality, spending just as much time on men’s rights.

Here’s the thing: Feminism absolutely does deal with men’s issues.

Men are encouraged to bottle up their feelings, because talking about emotions is “girly” – that’s something feminism fights against.

Men are denied custody because taking care of children is seen as a woman’s job – that’s something that feminism fights against.

Men are killed in greater numbers than women, because they’re encouraged to be violent (often specifically against women) – you’d better believe that’s something that feminism fights against.

Men are more likely to go to prison, because women aren’t seen as capable of the same sort of criminal behaviour as men – believe it or not, that’s something that feminism fights against.

A lot of feminism is dedicated to the fight that women, just like men, are human. And EVERYONE comes out on top when that fight is won, men and women alike.

I’m not a feminist – I’m a humanist.

Why not be both?

Seriously. There’s nothing stopping you from taking on both labels. “I’m not a nerd, I’m a board game enthusiast.” No…I’m both. You can consider one a subset of the other if you like, but the fact is that both labels describe me.

Anyway! There are a bunch of other reasons you should identify as a feminist – to unite the brand, because of its long and (frankly beautiful) history, and to signal to other decent humans that you too are a decent human – but the above are my personal reasons I strongly argue that you should, as well as some rebuttals to common questions I hear.

The last time I had this conversation, a friend of mine said something that I’ve always loved quoting:

“Basically, the only problem with “Feminism” is that people don’t understand it. We will not need the word when everyone identifies as a feminist.”

If anyone has any questions, or disagrees with me, I’m keen to hear about it. Special thanks to Cherese Sonkkila for helping me draft this post.

bluebeard

Why you should identify as a feminist

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

I run a Facebook group dedicated to discussing feminism, the aptly-titled “Let’s Talk Feminism“. About a month back, I posted this mini-essay on identifying as a feminist, and someone asked me to repost it publicly. So here you go!

The question is basically “Why should you identify as a feminist?”, or to break it down slightly further, “Why put yourself in the same group as people who you think are awful, even if you technically fit the definition/share some of the same core ideals?”

(at least, that’s the question I’ll be answering: if you have a similar/related question you want me to answer, leave a comment and I’ll try to get to it.)

This is a conversation I actually have a lot. I totally get it, too: when some people hear hear “feminist”, they think “bra-burning, man-hating, all-sex-is-rape nutcases.” And yes, that kind of feminist absolutely does exist.

There are three main comparisons I like to use. Two are personal and unlikely to cause offense, and the other is more general and has the potential to make people very angry. I’m going to use all of them.

Comparison #1: 

I, personally, hate being referred to as a “nerd”. When I hear nerd, I think “socially awkward, proud-of-being-into-obscure-things (for the sake of being into obscure things), misogynist recluse.”

That’s not what the word means.

I play board games that 99% of board gamers haven’t even heard of. I make card and board games as a hobby. I’ve spent 8 years working on a fantasy universe, just for the fun of it. I make my living working online. I am a reasonably big name in the community hub of a digital trading card game.

It’s basically impossible to ignore the fact that I’m a nerd.

And so, for the record, I totally GET it. I understand why you hate that you can’t be passionate about certain topics without being landed with a label that you don’t like.
But the fact is, sometimes you’re a thing (even if you don’t want to be) and it’s fruitless to fight it. Not only fruitless, but – in my opinion – actively unhelpful. (And by now, you should all know how much I hate unhelpfulness. :P)

Comparison #2:

I want to get married, some day.

I’m a polyamorous (more-than-one-love-at-once person) feminist, who’s completely aware of the awful history of marriage.

When I think marriage though, I don’t think “Has origins in women being property”. I think “public declaration of love and commitment.” And so I want to get married, because I want to show the world how awesome marriage can be. I want to show that marriage might have awful connotations to some people, but that isn’t what it has to be – you can take the concept, and work on shaping it into something really cool.

“But why take a pre-existing word and try to change public opinion? Why not just make up a new word, like Soulbinding or Civil Union or something?”

Because, frankly, it’s not going to catch on. I can say “Hey I’m going to get soulbound to my girlfriend” and I have to explain it in full every time, but honestly no one else is ever going to use the word.

Instead, why not say “I’m going to get married” and if people look at me strangely, explain how I’m using the word?

This is an argument I see a LOT in terms of feminism. “It has ‘female’ in the title*! People who I don’t like are using the word! I’m going to call myself an egalitarian/humanist/equalist/genderist/oh my god there’s so many.”
*more on this later.

Firstly, as I said, it’s not going to catch on. Really. Feminism has been around for a very long time, and – like it or not – it’s here to stay. Feminism is THE leading movement that works towards equality of the genders. It has been since it started, and it will be for a very long time. The word means “someone who believes there should be equality between the sexes.”

If you believe that it’s been “taken over” by horrible people, there’s exactly one way to fix that, and it’s not “use a different term”. You’ll end up a confusing array of words that no one understands, you’ll splinter the movement, and – perhaps most importantly – you’re never going to convince EVERY feminist to stop using the term.

If you want to “save” feminism from meaning “people who hate men”, you need to start using the term to describe yourself while being a decent, non-misandrist human being. You need to use the term proudly while being a good guy.

That’s it.

Declaring yourself a genderist instead is going to require you to explain what you mean by that, every single time it comes up. Why not instead call yourself a feminist, and explain what you mean by that only to people who don’t already know what feminism is/use it the way you’re using it?

There are feminist dickheads. There are a LOT of feminist dickheads. But the fact is, if we all started using “genderist” instead, there would almost-immediately be a lot of genderist dickheads. So what do we do then? Make up another term?

If you want to be a part of a movement without dickheads, you’re going to be searching for a while. If you want to be part of a movement where people don’t associate the term with dickheadery, call yourself a feminist and be a good guy.

I am a nerd. I am a social, well-dressed (most of the time), well-spoken, outgoing, feminist nerd.

And the more nerds like me there are, the less ashamed I’m going to be to use the term.

Comparison 3: (WARNING: Possibility of offense ahead!)

I know someone (and if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay with me using you as an example) who doesn’t identify as a Christian.

That’s fine. I don’t identify as a Christian either.

This friend, however, believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, who came down to Earth to save us from our sins. They believe that Jesus is the path to salvation, and that belief in Him is the only way to get into heaven.

They don’t like being called a “Christian”, however, because…you know. Some Christians are crazy.

I sincerely hope you can see how completely ridiculous that sounds. If you believe that there should be equality between the genders and you don’t call yourself a feminist, that is what you sound like. For real.

COMPARISONS OVER.

Other arguments I frequently see:

But feminism has ‘fem’ in the title! As in FEMALE!

Yes. So what?

“Female” has the word “MALE” in it! “Woman” has the word “MAN” in it! Do these words bother you? If you’re going to complain about gendered terms within words, at least make sure you’re consistent about it.

We’re not going to rewrite the English language, because it would simply never catch on. English is not a literal language, and (as a writer) I can honestly say that’s one of its most beautiful strengths.

Feminism started (and is still primarily focussed*) on women’s rights. That’s its origins, and that’s why it has the name it does.
*more on this later

The word “English” is now used in hundreds of countries. But its name has “ENG” in it, as in “ENGLAND”…because that’s the origin of the word. It would be a ridiculous amount of effort and almost completely pointless to change the word just for America and Australia and Canada and etc etc.

Similarly, we’re not going to change “feminism” just for men whose feelings are hurt because they’re not in the title.

But feminism focuses on women! I want to be involved in a movement that REALLY believes in equality, spending just as much time on men’s rights.

Here’s the thing: Feminism absolutely does deal with men’s issues.

Men are encouraged to bottle up their feelings, because talking about emotions is “girly” – that’s something feminism fights against.

Men are denied custody because taking care of children is seen as a woman’s job – that’s something that feminism fights against.

Men are killed in greater numbers than women, because they’re encouraged to be violent (often specifically against women) – you’d better believe that’s something that feminism fights against.

Men are more likely to go to prison, because women aren’t seen as capable of the same sort of criminal behaviour as men – believe it or not, that’s something that feminism fights against.

A lot of feminism is dedicated to the fight that women, just like men, are human. And EVERYONE comes out on top when that fight is won, men and women alike.

I’m not a feminist – I’m a humanist.

Why not be both?

Seriously. There’s nothing stopping you from taking on both labels. “I’m not a nerd, I’m a board game enthusiast.” No…I’m both. You can consider one a subset of the other if you like, but the fact is that both labels describe me.

Anyway! There are a bunch of other reasons you should identify as a feminist – to unite the brand, because of its long and (frankly beautiful) history, and to signal to other decent humans that you too are a decent human – but the above are my personal reasons I strongly argue that you should, as well as some rebuttals to common questions I hear.

The last time I had this conversation, a friend of mine said something that I’ve always loved quoting:

“Basically, the only problem with “Feminism” is that people don’t understand it. We will not need the word when everyone identifies as a feminist.”

If anyone has any questions, or disagrees with me, I’m keen to hear about it. Special thanks to Cherese Sonkkila for helping me draft this post.

bluebeard

Polaris: Session 2

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

Tonight, my cousin Gavin and my friends Tom and Tom sat down for our second game of Fate. We were continuing on from the last adventure which can be found here – the first session ended mid-battle, and so we started halfway through excitement and action. Once more, aspects will be written in italics and bold. If you haven’t read the first session, this may not make much sense to you!

Polaris

Captain Ezekiel Black and dandy bird merchant Chirp Feathersby had just boarded the spaceship they call home, the Polaris, escaping from the raging battle between Mosquite’s mosquitos, and the mob of townspeople who had gathered to accost the Polaris’s crew.

When the mosquitos had arrived, Gabe Able (the ship’s cyborg technician and weapons expert) had stayed to protect the humans (who, just minutes ago, had been trying to kill him). The Captain loaded the plasma cannon, turned it to face where the secret underground brewery of “Mayor” Jenkins of Swamptown, and fired,

Unfortunately, they missed, and the battle took an unexpected turn, with shit exploding, and molten steel and plasma flying everywhere.

The flying bugs, meanwhile, descended on Mayor Jenkins, sucking him almost dry – he was left alive but badly wounded (the mosquitos were uncontrollably attracted to the off-planet booze Captain Black had given him).

Rather than taking another shot, the Captain and Chirp decided to start up the ship, radio’d Gabe (via his inbuilt communicator) and told him to hurry up and leave the battle.

Gabe managed to take out two of the mosquitos (the Kamikaze Bug – trained from birth to think its own life is irrelevant, and the Shooter Mosquitos – the most accurate insects on the planet) but the third – another Shooter – fired its acidic spit at a huddled group of three humans, and Gabe was compelled to jump in its path to save them (one of them had just saved his life) and he got hit. Hard.

The acid landed squarely on his mechanical eye (Gabe is a prototype, with one mechanical eye and two bionic arms) burning through the metal and damaging it – until he got back to the ship to fix it, he was going to be stuck with one eye. For the rest of the adventure, Gabe is reduced to “normal human sight”, minus the depth perception.

The ship was ready to go, but with Gabe out of action, his crewmates were forced to rejoin the battle – from the ship’s boarding ramp, Captain Black ended the fight with a single shot, taking out the remaining mosquito warrior, and allowing Gabe to drag the Mayor onto the ship so that they could retreat.

In the air, safe from the townspeople and mosquitos both, the crew tried to work out what to do next. After a lot of deliberation, they decided to use the ship’s thermal scanning technology to see if the Blood Queen’s lair was detectable from the air.

Though they could see a detailed outline of the labyrinth of underground passages that make up the Blood Queen’s home , the entrance wasn’t obvious, so the Polaris landed on the island against, found the brewery that they’d (unsuccessfully) attempted to blow up, and freed the mosquitos from within.

Despite the horrors they’d been through, the bugs were able to express their gratitude, and at the crew’s request, took them to see the Blood Queen. Chirp insisted that the Mayor come along too, to possibly be used as barter.

Assuming (not unreasonably) that the mosquitos wouldn’t have many kind thoughts toward humans, Chirp Feathersby took the lead, claiming that Ezekiel and Gabe were his indentured servants, and that he’d single-handedly rescued the captured mosquitos and freed them to win the Queen’s favor.

The caverns were busy and full of life, and the Blood Queen turned out to be small but potent – no bigger than a human fist, she spent her time constantly buzzing around, emitting her pungent musk (capturing the must being the point of the crew’s mission in the first place) and sporadically giving birth to larvae so small that they seemed to ooze out as a liquid. Her children are her body – while she didn’t pose much of a threat in and of herself, she controlled every mosquito on the island through her odor and as a response to any threat, could control them as a whole.

The Queen was constantly shadowed by the Leader of the Swarm – a huge mosquito, twice as big as Chirp. His Queen is his everything, and as the trainer of the island, his knowledge of combat was greater than all the bugs under his Queen’s control put together.

Most mosquito citizens are simply at the whim of their Queen, and without the presence of the Queen’s musk would lead ordinary, peaceful lives – the Warriors, by contrast, have spent their whole life protecting her, and are conditioned to do so even when not being directly controlled.

In response to Chirp’s generous offer, the Queen offered him the run of her kingdom, and a tour of the whole island.

“Thanks,” he said, “but what I’d really like is a sample of that fragrant musk you possess.”

When the Queen refused, Chirp was utterly stunned. He hadn’t come up with any kind of back-up plan, so after a few minutes of standing around and trying to come up with a new plan on the spot, the four men decided to leave and come back the next day with more of a plan.

After a night of brainstorming, they remember the insect’s overwhelming desire for alcohol – during their various encounters, Chirp noticed that it even seemed to overwrite their desire to follow the Queen’s orders. While Captain Black had claimed to give away his entire supply, he Always has a drink handy, and pulled out one of his many, many back-up supplies.

Gabe used his technological skill puts together a few devices – a set of three or four Booze Bombs: completely airtight until they’re thrown, at which point they shatter and spill the alcohol within. As well as that, the team come up with the B.U.C.K.E.T. – a Biohabitable Unit for the Capture of Kings of Extra-Terrestrials.

The plan was simple – after requesting another audience with the Queen, they would trap her inside the B.U.C.K.E.T., throw a Booze Bomb to distract the rest of the mosquitos, and high-tail it out of there.

Things, however, went inevitably wrong.

Chirp managed to capture the Queen according to the plan – there had been a risk that her superior will would allow her to resist the trap, however he caught her in the B.U.C.K.E.T. before she even had time to react. As soon as he did, however, he spotted a bubbling fountain int he corner of the room, covered in beautiful gems…

Since when he wants it, he needs it, Chirp decided to alter the plan slightly and take a slight detour so he could nab a huge gem on the way out.

Meanwhile, Gabe – being on loan from the Science division – suffered one of his rare malfunctions at a vital moment. His arm hiccuped slightly, and instead of throwing his booze bomb at the Queen’s protective warriors, he accidentally threw it into the huge pool of larvae in the corner.

Whoops.

The Captain, meanwhile, was cool as a cucumber. For him, there’s no job too strange, and tempting insects with booze while stealing their Queen is just another day’s work, as far as he was concerned. As planned, he threw his booze bomb straight at the Leader of the Swarm, coating him in booze. He was knocked over in the process, but immediately began crawling for the door, safe underneath the swarms of bugs pouring in to try to access the alcohol.

Chirp managed to get to the gem and swipe it, first throwing Gabe the B.U.C.K.E.T. so that he could get out. Gabe headed for the door, but before they could get there, the trio started taking fire – the booze had dried up, and the Queen’s warriors quickly regained their senses.

Gabe had thought ahead, however, and pulling out a second booze bomb, threw it into the far corner of the room to distract the bugs. Unfortunately it failed to explode, instead just bouncing on the mud.

While the Captain took point in the tunnel and Chirp made his way back with the gem, Gabe pulled out his gun and fired at the booze bomb, causing the insects to again be distracted by the overwhelming smell of the uncontrollably addictive liquid. The team managed to escape without issue, getting back in time to find a message from Rear Admiral Chippingsworthton (of the Chippingsworthton Chippingsworthtons). He’d asked them to stay on-world, and investigate the Eelian forces rumored to be nearby before they left.

The crew quickly and unanimously decided to pretend they never got the message, dropped the Mayor back to Swamptown, and left the god-forsaken planet of Mosquite forever. Their mission was successful, and though the Read Admiral was cranky that they hadn’t managed to learn anything more about the Eelians, he still paid them and sent them back to the Captain and Gabe’s home world, Oestere, to rest and find their next job…

 

META:

The write-up makes the game sound much shorter than it was, simply because the two combat sessions (finishing the combat at the start, and escaping with the Queen at the end) ran quite long – it was much, much more tactical this time around, with aspects being invoked and fate points being given out left right and centre…

I feel like I actually started to get the hang of invoking aspects in this game. Before the final combat began, I went around the table, and offered each player a fate point in return for something going wrong. Chirp and Gabe accepted, which is why the gem held so much appeal and the bug-bomb went into the larvae pool instead of into the enemy’s face, but the Captain decided that it was more in-character for him to be totally at ease in the weird situation they were in.

As well as that, each room they entered had a handful of pre-written aspects that anyone could invoke, which added a whole heap of flavor to the game.

In retrospect, the combat was way, way too easy – the Fate handbook doesn’t offer a great deal of advice for how to make sure that your combat is balanced, and so I don’t think anyone other than Gabe even got so much as a minor consequence. I’d set it up so if they wanted to fight their way in and out it would have been nearly-overwhelming but possible, and left them room for alternate solutions (which they came up with, making the combat much easier for them).

The players didn’t seem to mind – they were happy to be victorious, especially since it got them off the shit-hole of a planet that was Mosquite.

I also had a bunch of stuff planned with the Eelians (character cards drawn up and all) but since the players elected to skip the side-quest, I put the information away for another time. The Eelians will remain a mystery for a while yet!

bluebeard

All-That-Is Worldbuilding: Big City

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about All-That-Is lately. And I was poking around the wiki, when I noticed that “Big City” (capital of “Land of Ogres”, the Ogre home-land) is listed as being the slave capital of the world.

My brain started ponding this, and so I thought I’d capture my thoughts as I had them.

(If you’re not familiar with All-That-Is lore, I did a world-building series back in 2009. I think it’s a fairly interesting read, and while I’ve certainly added new features since then, it should give you an idea of the fantasy world I work on for fun.)

(And for those who aren’t interested in reading back, in summary: Ogres are big and dumb. They’re the min-maxed “fighters” of the world – extraordinarily stupid, extraordinarily strong. There are four main Ogre tribes, but this post will entirely take place within the tribal region of the “Two-Eyes”, the Ogres with a facial arrangement similar to regular ol’ humans.)

I’ve never really done much to focus on Ogres in All-That-Is. An Ogre bodyguard appears in the tale of Princess Azma, the Fairy Queen who banned magic. Slave Ogres appear in passing in Life on the Wall, operating the elevator that takes people from the top of the wall to the bottom. But other than the four tribes, and a vague war that happens at some point (the Ogres invade the Human homeland, taking over the region “Anob Neeble” and renaming it “Big Fort”) I’ve not got much about them penned.

Oh, except for one idiosyncrasy – Ogres are the greatest road-builders in the world. They excel at it, and in the same way that you might play sport, Ogres will build a road. As a result, their homeland is absolutely covered in roads. In order to leave as much room for roads as possible, Ogres primarily reside underneath bridges, where one road crosses another. They’re equally adept at making bridges.

So. Big City. Largest city in Trolland (the continent that Land of Ogres sits on) and slave capital of the world. What do we know about it?

First of all, I like the idea of the city being home to several Ogre warlords. Like big, stupid gangsters – think Jabba the Hutt, with even less smarts. They will defend their homeland to the death, they’re all corrupt as hell, they lead lavish lifestyles and ruthlessly track down anyone who betrays them, and they don’t have enough brain-cells between them to fill a small puddle.

Since Ogres traditionally live in bridges, the landscape of the city is dominated by four or five massive, awe-inspiring bridges – each of them is home to a different war-lord. It would be easy to have one warlord for each Ogre tribe, but since the city is nowhere near any of the other tribal homelands, I’m going to say that there are four Two-Eye warlords, and one One-Eye warlord (simply because that’s the nearest land to Big City)

Obviously over the years and centuries the number of warlords and their tribal affiliations will change, but let’s set this in the Year of the Bee, current year of the wiki, pre-Ogre/Human war.

Big City is just across the water from the Elven homeland, but I feel like the peace-loving Elves would have serious issue with slave trading. Each country has its own slavery laws – Ogres are legal slaves in every country (including The Land of Ogres) and so they’re the most common type of slave, and no country allows its own people to be slaves (except, of course, the Land of Ogres).

But it’s weak writing to paint an entire race with one brush, so let’s say there’s a substantial Elven community – outcasts, people who disagree with their homeland’s style of government. Violent Elves – Ninjas and warriors and the like. There wouldn’t be much of a permanent Dwarven population, but there would be plenty of Pirate ships constantly coming in and out, collecting and depositing slaves.

But it’s the Demons that I really wanted to talk about.

Demons, in the world of All-That-Is, are tiny, reddish-brownish horned people. Silver-tongued, never to be trusted, good with money. They’re your archetypal merchant/swindlers, and it occurred to me that they’re exactly what the Ogre warlords would need.

So each Ogre warlord has his own personal Demon accountant – or maybe two or three independent ones. These Demons are essentially slaves, though they’re treated extremely well – they aren’t allowed to leave the bridge that they live under, but they have their choice of rooms, slaves, food etc. In exchange, all they have to do is monitor the Ogre’s accounts and ensure that they aren’t being swindled, and perhaps advise on potential business deals – with their lives hanging in the balance, they would want to give the best advice possible.

Having a few Demons makes it harder for an individual to pull the wool over their master and mistress’s eyes – if the numbers come out differently from a few different sources, then the Ogre will know that something is up, and order all of them to be killed, pulling in a fresh batch. A few Demons could work together to hoodwink their owner collectively, but there’s a group of free Demons who offer services to avoid exactly this – once a year, they recommend every Ogre use their services to come in and check the numbers, to make sure that they aren’t being ripped off.

I imagine some Demons would enjoy the life of indentured luxury, behaving much like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Django Unchained. Others would constantly be striving for freedom, and others would be swindling as much as they could out of their owners, and arranging the numbers in such a way that it’s undetectable by the independent Demon company. Some bridges could even be basically run by the Demons, who have arranged it in such a way that the warlord is basically a figurehead.

Big City is on the water, and so of course it would have an extensive dockland area – that would be the home of The Ogre Market – the world’s largest slave trade, with new bodies constantly being shipped in, bought and sold. The Ogre warlords have a stranglehold over the slave market of Big City, and you can find a slave of any race here with ease.

But with slavery come abolitionists, and Big City is no exception. Made up entirely of non-Ogres, the group is somewhat racist toward the Ogres themselves – their mission is to free all non-Ogre slaves, despite the fact that the majority of slaves bought and sold in Big City are Ogres. (Their stupidity and physical strength make them great workers unlikely to come up with an escape plan – perfect slaves).

They refer to their headquarters as “The Place Where No Roads Lead”, to further emphasize the distance that they keep from the Ogres, and whenever the warlords infiltrate them, track them down and destroy their base, they spring up somewhere else almost instantly. It’s rumoured that they have dozens (if not hundreds) of cells, and are constantly training up leaders, for when the head gets killed.

Actually, I like the idea of the head being a “Gray Fox” (Oblivion) type character – a figurehead who no one knows the face of. Unkillable, because he’s an idea, not an individual. Rather than a mysterious cloak or shadows hiding his identity, I’m going to literally make him a head – “The Ogre’s Head”, he’s ironically named, and whenever seen in public, he wears the face of a slaughtered Ogre over his own. The warlords can kill The Head, but another one instantly appears.

I think that’s enough to make an interesting city – significant landmarks (The Five Bridges, the Slave Market), a few groups (each of the five warlord empires, the Abolitionists, the free Demons, the violent Elves) and a few tensions (the competing gang-like warlords – especially the one from another tribe, the Demon/Ogre relations, the Abolitionists).

Suddenly Big City is a relatively thriving place, and I could quite easily see a story or three being set there.

bluebeard

Polaris: Session 1

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

I’ve started RPing again, for the first time in almost half a decade! It’s a game of Fate with my cousin Gavin, my friends Tom and Tom, and me GMing. We’re playing a Firefly-esque space adventure game, and I thought it’d be fun to type up each session after it happens!

Today consisted mostly of creating the characters and setting, but we had time to play the game for about two hours. Here’s a rough overview of the universe the game is set in, as well as each character.

If you know the Fate mechanic, I’ll be including aspects* (and relevant skills) – if you don’t, this should still make sense, but I thoroughly recommend checking out the free rulebook. It’s by far the best-constructed RP system I’ve ever seen – it makes creating stories and characters easy and fun, and sessions never (/rarely) get bogged down in rules, unlike most RPGs that I’ve played.

*aspects will be in italics and bold.

Polaris

Polaris:

Polaris is a small space-faring vessel, crewed by Captain Ezekiel Black, engineer/gunman Gabe Able, and merchant/diplomat Ex-Duke Chirp Feathersby II. Privateers by profession, they contribute to the Human Empire’s attempts to claim as much territory as possible (for pay) and take on any other paid work that they can get; legal or illegal.

In three words – “Firefly, with aliens.”

The Three Factions:

When humans left their home planet of Genera and began aggressively expanding, they were shocked to discover two other alien species doing the same – the Byrdmen, a flying race from the planet Atheta (Byrdman being, of course, a human nickname for the winged merchants – they call themselves Athetans) and the Eelian Court, a group of aquatic aliens who no one really knows anything about. Are they diverse members of the same species, or a group of allied creatures? Why do they expand to so many planets without putting down colonies? What’s their deal?

The impending War of the Three Factions alternates between being background noise and the centre of our heros’ lives, as they take on a variety of jobs, and adventure on a variety of planets – some that have been civilized for decades, some that are covered in backwards native life, just begging to be colonised…and some that have dark secrets, yet to be uncovered.

Captain Ezekiel Black:

Hobbyist Captain of the Polaris. Ezekiel Black was born into money – he was given the best Human education possible, but his family has fallen on slightly harder times of late, and so he put a significant percentage of his fortune into buying a ship (“I’ve sunk a lot of money into this!”). The Polaris is now his home, and he spends his time taking on any work that he finds interesting. (No job too strange.)

The mission comes second. Despite his financial investment in the ship, the Captain does this primarily to keep himself amused – if something comes along that strikes his fancy more than whatever work he’s been requisitioned to do, Ezekiel won’t hesitate to jettison the cargo and go after whatever’s caught his eye. And, like so many who are born rich, he always has a drink handy.

Gabe Able:

He’s more machine than muscle, and on loan from The Science Divison. Human by birth, Gabe suffered a horrific accident – he would have died if The Science Division hadn’t augmented him with cybernetic enhancements. Now he’s trying to earn enough to buy himself back from the Division – his enhancements include a highly-sophisticated gun hidden in his right arm, an affinity with computers bordering on technophilia (some call him the Computer Fiddler) and a fierce loyalty to the human race who saved his life.

Gabe acts as the ship’s muscle and engineer, able to repair any mechanical problems that the Polaris may be having and effortlessly communicate with the ship’s computer. Humans come first with him, above the mission, above any other races – and he lives by a simple mantra - if in doubt, punch it out. There are few physical threats that intimidate Gabe, and none that he isn’t able to take down.

Ex-Duke Chirp Feathersby II:

A member of the Athetan race, this dandy bird merchant considers himself the voice of the ship. Without his diplomatic connections, the crew of the Polaris would struggle to get work – and without his savvy haggling skills, they would be paying much more for almost everything. Ostrichsized from the lofty circles of the Athetan nobility after sleeping with the daughter of one of the Athetan Empire’s most important officials, he threw his lot in with the Human Empire, and uses his skills as a merchant of favours to help out on jobs…and make a little money on the side.

Don’t underestimate him, though – he may look soft, cultured, unable to hold his own in a fight, but this bird’s got claws - a standard part of Athetan upbringing is knowledge of all civilised fighting methods, and Chirp can duel with the best of them. His biggest weakness often comes back to bite him, however - if he wants it, he needs it, and once Chirp has his eyes on a valuable object, nothing can deter him.

The Plague of the Swamp Planet

Most of the crew’s jobs come from Rear Admiral Chippingsworthton (of the Chippingsworthton Chippingsworthtons) – a high-ranking member of the Earth Empire who, until recently, had never left his home town, let alone his solar system. He’s now stationed on the opposite side of the galaxy, on the planet Caepra, where he insists on dressing and acting like he’s home, toxic atmosphere be damned. The crew are eager to impress him, because once they’re in Chippingsworthton’s good books, more prestigious jobs are sure to follow.

He’s given them a simple task – travel to Swamptown, Mosquite: home of basketball-sized flying insects who suck blood, nicknamed (originally) “mosquitos” by the humans stationed there. All mosquitos are controlled by their queen – there are hundreds of queens on the swampy planet, each controlling a small island’s worth of the flying creatures. The crew are to collect a sample of the chemicals that the Blood Queen (as each queen is known) uses to control her subjects – they’re sentient, but once the chemicals hit, they find their motivations strangely in-line with whatever the queen wants them to do.

There’s something the report isn’t telling them, however – it alludes to medical issues, but it’s not until the crew land at the small town that they discover what the problem is – a significant percentage of the hundred-odd people living on the island have come down with a mysterious plague.

Once the crew acquire the chemicals used to control the mosquitos, the Human Empire will be able to step in, wipe out the queens, and take the planet as their own – with the population’s unwilling approval. And just to add to the fun, there’s rumours of underwater Eelian bases all over the island, with one even said to be right near their destination…

Session 1:

The crew land and head straight to the tavern-hut – the small village is made entirely of similarly crude mud huts – where they find “Mayor” Jenkins, an Empire man who was sent to get things in order. As they enter, they notice everyone is drinking what looks like beverages made out of the swamp – in an act of solidarity, the Captain pulls out his ever-present hip-flask and takes a swig.

“Care to share that around?” a man asks, and Captain Ezekiel offers him a taste of the potent alcohol. After taking a mouthful, the stranger tries hard to clean off the mouth of the bottle, and collapses into a coughing fit.

“I think there’s something wrong with him,” Gabe points out as the man hacks up three large, bloody chunks.

A quick inquiry reveals that the man struggling to breathe on the floor is their contact, and after letting him recover, they press him for everything he knows about the situation. All he can tell them is that there are a group of rebel mosquitos two clicks out of town, beyond the reach of the queen’s chemicals, and that everyone is drinking swamp-distilled alcohol because anything more pure sent by the Empire attracts the mosquitos’ attention – they’ll literally suck a man dry to get to it.

The Captain nervously realises that he’s a prime target, and decides to spend the next twenty-four hours hiding out on the ship. Until he has another drunk, he’ll be dry and grumpy. Chirp, innately sensing corruption, launches an investigation to see who’s distilling and selling the swamp booze – so that he can get in on the action. And Gabe, seeing the suffering of the townspeople, swears that he won’t leave the planet until he’s worked out exactly what’s making everyone sick.

Gabe visits the closest thing the small town has to a doctor – a large man who once lived down the road from a hospital. He’s known, ironically, as “Doctor” Phillips, and he’s kept a detailed diary of the town’s goings-on, including when people got sick. Gabe manages to talk him out of a copy, despite the man’s reservations dealing with anyone who isn’t completely human, and Gabe uploads it to the Human Empire’s dataspill to analyse it and see if there’s anything he can do to help.

After a day of trading favour and hobnobbing with the locals, Chirp has discovered that “Mayor” (an equally ironic title – no election took place) Jenkins has been brewing and selling alcohol to the townspeople. He was sent in by the Human Empire due to his reputation as a man who gets things done, but since he’s arrived all he’s really managed to do is swindle the people out of their paycheques in exchange for disgusting liquor.

Gabe is unsurprised to discover that an analysis of the diary reveals people started getting sick around the same time that they started drinking the swampwater (everyone on the planet is utterly miserable, and insist on some form of drink to dull the pain of their posting).

Chirp is keen to discover the specifics of the Mayor’s distilling method, so he and Gabe convince the Captain to confront the man. Mayor Jenkins’ initially tries to hide his activities from the crew (them being Empire representatives who technically outrank him), until the Captain offers him his entire personal supply of off-planet alcohol in exchange for him showing them the distillery. Outside of town are all the ships used to get to Mosquite, but one of them is just a hull, with the distillery hidden underneath.

To everyone’s disgust, Mayor Jenkins proudly shows them how he’s been distilling the swamp-water – a ring of eight mosquitos are trussed up under the hull, with the first drinking swampwater, and the second drinking the excretions of the first…until the last pumps out a thoroughly disgusting, but drinkable, liquor.

Captain Black tries to explain that the swampwater on this planet is, itself, alcoholic, and Gabe offers to put together a basic distillery so that the people can drink something that won’t make them sick (and hasn’t come out of an insect) – for a cut of the profits, Chirp is keen to add. The Mayor refuses, however, and after an explosive rant from Captain Black, ensuring that the Mayor will turn the town against him, the crew storm out and head back to the ship to work out what to do next.

“Let’s make our own distillery anyway,” Chirp suggests, and Gabe is able to put one together quickly. The planet’s swampwater takes 6 hours to distill into a pure – but hopefully not strong enough to attract the mosquitos – drink. The Captain tastes the test batch, declaring it disgusting but distinctly alcoholic, and they put a week’s worth of drink on to brew.

By the time it’s almost done, the Captain is looking sickly – he’s coughing up blood, and having trouble breathing. Gabe wants to work on discovering exactly what’s causing the illness, but the Captain has had enough of this backwater planet, and wants to get the job done so they can get paid and move on.

The two almost come to blows, with Gabe imploring the Captain to listen to reason, but Ezekiel pulls rank, and leaves Gabe recoiling. He shot at the king and missed, and even worse – while they were fighting, he failed to notice Chirp leaving the ship and offering free samples of their new alcohol to the townsfolk.

The crew manage to acquire a boat and head out to meet the rebels – after observing humans and their complete autonomy, some mosquitos decided that they want a similar kind of freedom, and implore our heroes to help them. Lying through their teeth, the crew promise to do what they can and, after learning that the queen is located somewhere in the very centre of the island, they decide to go back to the ship and work out exactly what they want to do next.

Meeting them at the shore, however, is an angry mob – incited by the Mayor after discovering Chirp’s actions. The crew drop the bombshell that the Mayor has been serving them drinks straight from a chain of mosquito arses, but the Mayor reveals that putting it through the mosquitos is the only way to stop it being toxic to humans – he, and anyone else who has fallen ill, drank the swampwater before they discovered that method of refining it.

“But it’s still gross!” the Captain declares, and the mob is forced to agree.

Before the mob can be swayed either way, warrior mosquitos sent by the Blood Queen attack – she heard of the humans meeting with the rebels, and overheard rumour of her subjects being held captive to secrete alcohol. Chirp and Ezekiel flee from the battle, while Gabe fights to defend the humans. “Doc” Phillips is hit by pellets of hardened blood, shot by the swarm of angry warrior mosquitos, and Gabe manages to take out half a dozen of them with one shot.

The Captain runs back to his ship, where he decides to open fire on the Mayor’s distillery – and misses it by one ship. The townspeople, Gabe, and the mosquitos fight it out, while hunks of molten hull land all around them…

To be continued…

Meta:

This was my first time GMing a full session, and considering I put the whole thing together in just a few minutes, I think I did pretty well! Things to work on – compels. Looking back, there were a number of times that I compelled characters without realising (and thus without giving them the fate points they deserve), and I need to remember to make my compels more story-based, instead of motivational-based.

(For example, I compelled Gabe with something like “You don’t want to leave until you work out how to help the humans get better” – that’s not really how you’re meant to use compels. Something more like “He doesn’t want to help you because you’re more machine than muscle“ is more in the spirit of the game.)

Story-wise, I think we had an interesting session, and I’ve already got the next one roughly plotted out. Originally the mosquitos were going to be attracted to soft-drink or sugar or something like that, but I mentioned the swamp-water that the townspeople were drinking, and the players got really hooked on that small detail – fortunately it was extraordinarily easy to turn “soft drink” into “alcohol”, and bring the Captain’s always has a drink in his hand aspect into play.

The “convincing the mob not to riot” sequence started as combat, but I quickly realised it should have been a contest – who can influence the mob? As well as that, I should have given “Mayor” Jenkins an aspect like “Trusted by the townspeople”, because that shouldn’t have been as close as it was – next time I’ll actually be able to write out character sheets for the NPCs, which will obviously solve most of those problems.

Lastly, I need to get better at aspects in general. They’re such a brilliant mechanic, and I can use them so much more than I am, in such more interesting ways. I need to start adding situational aspects, scenic aspects, etc etc. I’ll have a stack pre-prepared for the next session, and I’ll also make sure that one or two are added each time a new scene starts.

Having said that, the above was the single greatest RP experience of my life, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to more! I expect Plague of the Swamp Planet to be wrapped up next session, and I’ve already got ideas brewing for the next adventure the Polaris’s crew will be undertaking…