Into the Shadowvale

Back in May I attended the first event of Shadowvale, a new high fantasy boffer larp using the Accelerant system. I joined this game as a player, making it only my second PC role ever!

The Setting

The Shadowvale is a mist-shrouded, spooky forest on world’s northern continent. At its heart is Wystia Castle, once the seat of power for the long-vanished kingdom of Wystia. The malevolent mists have kept adventurers away from Shadowvale and Wystia Castle for over five hundred years. Now, for some unknown reason, the mists are beginning to clear. Envoys from different nations and fortune seekers from all over the world have descended on Shadowvale — including you.

The Staff

The primary plot writers and game owners are Sue Brassard and her husband Eric Von Riegers, who I mostly know from their time staffing and NPCing Cottington Woods. The staff also includes other Cottington staffers: Matt Mitchell, Holly Bianchi, and Lisa Sants among them. There is also former Cottington player, Madrigal 3 staffer, and all-around badass JJ McGill.

Basically what I am saying is I love and trust all the staff, and that was in large part my motivation for playing! Starting with the final events of Cottington, Holly whispered sweet nothings in my ear of this game Sue was planning which was inspired by fantasy works I loved, like the Elder Scrolls. I also worked extensively with Lisa when I was NPCing Cottington to make the player of the Fen Witch regret his life and his choices, and realize I wanted to be on the receiving end of that kind of deeply angsty personal plot.

(I literally put “get tortured by Lisa” as my number one player goal for this game when I submitted my history)

Character (mine in particular)

So, the first thing to know about my character Melusina is that she started life as a character concept for Crossover, another Accelerant game. I had planned her originally as the fae Melesarla Moon-shriven, a Faithful of the Moon with a history as a disgraced assassin. Eventually I decided that, given when Crossover started, I didn’t have the bandwidth to play. I’m kind of glad I made that decision — it is a tremendously popular game, with a waitlist for every event, and I don’t have the patience for that kind of uncertainty.

But Shadowvale looked like the sort of setting that could accommodate the same general character concept. I made changes to Melesarla to turn her into Melusina, but if you still see traces of a Crossover FotM, that is why!

Character creation in SV is a four-step process, whereby you choose a race, a culture, a class, and optionally a vocation.

Race. Your racial choices are human, Ashen, or Faeborn. The Ashen are basically magicless humans, and the Faeborn are similar to elves, coming in three varieties: Shadowborn, Seaborn, and Forestborn. The Faeborn have costuming requirements that involve elf ears and variously colored hair or eyes.

Loving elves as much as I do, and given the history of this character concept, I of course wanted to play a Faeborn. Shadowborn — who evoked the Dunmer in the Elder Scrolls, Warcraft night elves, or Forgotten Realms drow — were especially appealing, and I could see how to make that work with my character concept. That was the easy choice.

Next, culture. This has to do with the part of the game world that you are from. As I mentioned, there are two continents. The southern continent is dominated by the Samaran Empire, which, as far as historical analogues goes, seems to take inspiration from both the Roman Empire, as well as Byzantine and Arab cultures. Everyone else is on the northern continent, and your options are: Solenim, which is a very Latin-inspired place, known for its sages and universities; Devon and Brenland, the two kingdoms that used to compose Wystia, and are sort of British Isles-y (one more traditional than the other; ask me if I remember the difference!); Avaria, a land of merchant city-states, very Renaissance Italian in its feel; the Free Isles, where pirates come from; and Svordland, which bears a clear Viking/Nordic influence. There were also the Old Forests, the home of the Forestborn, and the Floating Villages, a series of boat-cities, attached to large cities around the coasts, which are often peopled by Seaborn.

Shadowborn could be from just about anywhere, so I let my choice of vocation (more on that in a bit) determine my culture: Avaria.

After reading the Avarian culture packet, I made a comment to Sue that it reminded me of Camorr, from Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards books. She replied with “Avaria wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for those books.” So, uh, I chose well. In particular, Melusina is from the city-state of Devara, which is again relevant to her vocation.

The culture you choose also informs your choice of names; Avarians apparently have long, Italian-sounding names. Here is where Melesarla — which never sounded right to my ears — became Melusina, which sounds more… well, mellifluous. I added on “Ombras Sarezzo.” “Ombras” reminds me of the Latin word for “shadow”, and Sarezzo is… well, “Sarethi” is a Dunmer name I use a lot when I play a dark elf in Elder Scrolls games; it was kind of a variation on that.

Class. There are five classes, which break down further into a large choice of headers. At the top level, you can be a warrior, rogue, sage, witch, or occultist.

To be honest, I didn’t look at much but rogue. Given the backstory I envisioned for this character, I zeroed in on that class — in particular the assassin header. I also considered the Fae Hunter specialization, but dropped it when I realized that “fae” is not the same as “Faeborn” (something I had to explain many times over the weekend — the game materials don’t really delve into it, and I only know because Sue corrected me on its usage when I submitted my character history).

Vocation. Here is where you can choose things like a craft, a profession, or a faith. The faiths are tied to the culture you choose, which is why I ended up choosing Avaria — because the Lady of Mysteries, the Avarian goddess of night, mystery, and luck (good and ill), was pretty much exactly what I needed. If we’re continuing to compare Avaria to Camorr, the Lady of Mysteries is kind of equivalent to the Nameless Thirteenth god of that pantheon. The header associated with it is called Veiled Priest. In addition to the trait “Faithful of the Lady of Mysteries,” it gains you access to a really nice once-per-twilight free Avoid, and the uber-powerful No Effect to Shadow. I decided that in a game called Shadowvale, that would be the best thing ever.

So that’s me: Melusina Ombras Sarezzo: Avarian Shadowborn Veiled Priest and assassin. What does she look like?

Kind of like this:

(Fair Escape, don’t worry. I’ll be doing a full post about her costuming 🙂 )

The Site

Shadowvale takes place at Camp Frank A. Day in East Brookfield, MA — the site of Cottington Woods as well as Mirror Mirror. As far as camps go, it’s one of the nicer ones — the cabins are a little shabby, and the water tastes like sulfur, but there’s electricity in every space, and the bathrooms are generally clean. The women’s room in the player cabin area has a nice series of mirrors for checking out your costuming, too 😉 The new owners seem to actually understand larpers, too, and are fairly tolerant of our eccentricities.

Shadowvale used the space differently than Cottington, and I think it was a good decision. The largest mod space at Frank A. Day is the rec center, usually referred to as “the hangar” due to its size and appearance. It is closer to the road, meaning it’s a bit of trek to get to it from the main camp. My husband jokingly referred to it as “the building that makes the dawn come,” due to how long he had spent in there as a Cottington PC.

Shadowvale does use this a mod space, too, but sparingly. We only had one mod that took place there, the Saturday night “capstone” of visiting the audience chamber of Wystia Castle. Instead of the hangar, staff used McKnight Hall — the camp’s dining hall, which Cottington used as a tavern — as the primary mod space.

Not having McKnight Hall as a tavern has some positives and negatives. A negative is that you can only get to the refrigerators/kitchen during meal times, which made storing stuff there unattractive. (Most people I know opted to keep their food in coolers at their cabin instead). I’m not sure if this is connected at all to why we didn’t have food service at the game. Two of the cabins in the Juniors area were set aside as tavern space, but they were too small for the entire game to gather at once.

I feel like not having a large, central indoor place for people to gather actually turned out to be a net positive. This turned the Juniors area of the camp, which is where PC cabins are, into the primary gathering space, rather than just a place PCs go to sleep. A couple groups (mine included) brought pop-up tents to put up outside, and these quickly became small group gathering spaces — especially when we offered coffee.

If you can imagine PCs wandering between a bunch of small groups, chatting, eating and drinking, and moving on — and NPCs coming there to hook mods — then you can imagine the homely feeling this engendered. I really felt like this, more than anything, contributed to our “town” feeling like the encampment it was supposed to be.

Also, this opened up the possibility of having field fights in Juniors field, which is something I didn’t see much at Cottington.

Logistics

Obviously, as a player I didn’t have a good grasp of logistics. From my perspective, everything ran fairly smoothly. The only noticeable lack was somewhat out of the staff’s control: NPC numbers. Apparently strep had been going around the local larp community, knocking out a lot of people who had committed to NPC. As JJ recently wrote, one of the most commonly-heard phrases in Monster Camp was, “What’s the absolute minimum you need in order to run that mod?” I know, for example, the mod that was intended to be my welcome mod was postponed until later in the evening, because they literally couldn’t spare the one NPC to run it.

I also noted that we started about an hour late on Friday night. While not great, this was completely understandable, given the lack of NPCs — and isn’t that bad, by all accounts I’ve heard of first event start times.

Plot

In a teaser that was sent out before game, we were informed that our parties that had been traveling through the Shadowvale had been overtaken by mist and gotten lost. Mechanically, this meant we would be starting in separate welcome mods.

Also before the first game we filled out a questionnaire concerning which paths we would like to follow. The different paths, with names like “Path of Magic” and “Path of the Imperial”, were mostly flavor, meant to gauge what plots you wanted to be involved in. I don’t recall my response, but I believe I rated the Path of the Rogue, Magic, and Faith highly. Holly, my “in” on staff, informed me later that these were what were used to determine what welcome mod you got.

Sorta. NPC numbers were again a concern. The Path of the Rogue welcome mod actually had to run later that night, because, as I was told, they literally could not spare the single NPC it required. So instead I ended up on (I think) the Path of Magic welcome mod. I found myself on that mod with two other people from my team, as well as two players I was unconnected to.

We were given an ambient Stun effect, to represent the fact that we had passed out or fallen asleep wandering through the mists, and a short time later, a cure for that. We found ourselves in a pool of light, somewhere in the forest. After puzzling through a challenge involving jumpy stones, an enigmatic fae(?) called the Watcher, and a confused-seeming woman named Cora, we found our way back to a way gate — a garden arch lit with purple lights and draped with black cloth. We found the rest of the players milling about there, with news that the encampment we all had been seeking was just ahead. With this, we made our way to our cabins and began meeting our fellow adventurers.

As far as introductions to the game go, I think this was a fine one. Adina of Fair Escape has opined before that she doesn’t like “cold” intros, where the staff just gathers everyone in a common space and says “game on.” This was much better in this regard. If I had any quibbling complaints about this opening, it’s that I could have used a bit more time to get into character before we were thrown into solving a physical challenge.

Oh, and I did finally get my intro mod — just later in the evening. The one other Path of the Rogue player in game (!) is my team member Kim; together, we had to pick locks and disarm traps to free Finn (also Totally Not a Rogue) who was trapped by bandits. (These were the first, of many locks I would open this weekend — Sue and Lisa sure do love their roguery). From there he led us on a series of adventures spanning the weekend, to the purpose of getting his stolen stuff back.

The main plot for the weekend involved the opening of Wystia Castle. Though the mists had receded from around it, still mistwraiths haunted the area, so it was important that we tread carefully. As a result, we would fight mistwraiths again and again that weekend. We learned, too, that humans could be taken by the mists, and what that looked like.

Our explorations started with a visit from the Sages Guild on Saturday morning, talking about what we could expect and what we should pay attention to in exploring the Castle. Many of us also learned the Surveying skill, which would allow us to do the Surveying mechanic. With this mechanic, we were allowed to read certain types of tags found in labeled envelopes throughout the ruins that described a scene; we were encouraged to then describe or draw the scene that we surveyed in our own way.

Throughout Saturday, we explored different parts of the outer castle — the stables, the blacksmith’s forge, the barracks — and discovered different bits of information and treasure there.

This exploration culminated on Saturday night with the opening of the audience chamber of Wystia Castle. We started down the road to the hangar, dogged by mistwraiths the whole way. Outside of the mod building, some of the PCs had the idea to stop and have a sort of… dedication, or oath-taking, as a way of appeasing the spirits resting within. The three priests of the dead among our number — one of whom my husband Matt plays, Silent Priest Torian Eventide — said a few words (improvised and yet quite lovely), and then as a group we knelt and swore that we came with no malice in our hearts.

(This led to a funny exchange: “do you come here with secrets in your hearts?” “Uhhh… Yes?” “Okay, let’s try that again. Do you come here with secrets in your hearts pertaining to the expedition?”)

When we were done with our dedication, the door to the castle rolled upon under an unseen hand, and a mist-shrouded spirit gestured us in.

What did we find within? A huge space, crawling with mist (courtesy of a fog machine), the lights dim. A royal court in their finery, acting out scenes from five hundred years past, mist lying heavy on their shoulders. Warnings of the court’s demise scattered about the space, in locked boxes; the court blithely ignoring these warnings, when we brought them to their attention.

It was probably the greatest of several spooky, atmospheric scenes the staff laid out for us over the weekend. And, as I said in my PEL, “spooky” and “atmospheric” are adjectives this game did really, really well.

I also want to say a word about a plot tool/game mechanic that was used in a number of mods — regrettably none that I was involved with! One of the sages (played by Matt Mitchell) invited us to engage in some “alternative revisionist meta-history” to explore the past of the world, revisit some myths and legends, and determine the veracity of past events. This turned out to be a spin on the game Microscope, a collaborative storytelling game. I’ve never heard of any game using this mechanic, and I thought it was a great way of getting players involved in building the history of the world.

I did many, many other things this game — explored a creepy mortuary in the sewers and fought an animated trash monster, helped one of the Wardens of the Shadowvale to piece back a ward stone to keep away mistwraiths, and attempted to infiltrate the Brennish delegation to the Shadowvale, to name just a few. But to write out everything I did would require way more space than I have in this post, and hey, that’s why I wrote a PEL.

Combat and Mechanics

Like most Accelerant games, Shadowvale has customized the core rules to suit its own needs.

One of the most interesting additions was “Minor” traits i.e. “Root by Minor Blood.” This is different than a Short, in that the effect can be purged in ten seconds without a rest. I understand SV wasn’t the first game to do this (it might have been 7V?), but it worked well for their purposes.

Shadowvale also has Twilight skills, which are skills that refresh at 6am and 6pm every day. Functionally this divides the game into four periods: Friday evening, Saturday daytime, Saturday evening, and Sunday daytime. Unsurprising, considering the staff, this was inherited from Cottington Woods. I was hesitant about this at first, but it turns out that having a skill that refreshes less frequently than per encounter but more than per event is really handy!

SV also borrows the use of Comatose from Cottington Woods, which allows you to choose to go Comatose when you would otherwise bleed out from called damage. From there you would would need a Cure Comatose, or 10 points of healing, to return to consciousness. This does feel a bit clunky to me, but I admit it would avoid many deaths of the “was wearing black and bled out in the woods” sort. Given my costuming for this game, I am in favor!

Shadowvale’s attribute system is different than I’ve seen, as well. You have Vitality, of course, which determines how many hits you can take before you fall. Then your abilities are mostly powered by the Resilience and Endurance stats. The former tends to be used for defenses and passive effects, while the latter tends to be used for attacks, healing, and other active effects. You also have Determination, which can be used in place of either, but costs more to buy initially, similar to how Void works in some Accelerant games. Unlike Void, however, Determination still refreshes with rest/per encounter.

All that said, I used very few of my skills during this event. Perhaps this was because it was my first time playing a melee skirmisher type character, and I was still getting my footing with that whole “sneaking around behind enemies in the darkness” thing. I had a free per Twilight Avoid as well as an Avoid that cost me 2R, and I don’t think I used either more than once the whole game. Even when Sue’s boss monster in the final fight of the weekend laid into me with a 10 damage!

It could also be a consequence of the fact that this felt like a combat-light game — at least compared to 5G, which sometimes drives us into the ground with combat! I’m not sure if this is intentional, or a consequence of how few NPCs there were.

Verdict

Folks, I had an amazing time, and I know a lot of other people did, too. I would not be surprised if this game is the sleeper hit of the season. It combines great storytelling from experienced GMs, a world we’re invited to participate in building, and a novel (to me) social dynamic.

My only regret is that there was only one spring game. Now I have to wait until September to get my fix!

Things I may or may not have done at Readercon 28

  • Went to some panels! With topics like “The Politics of Villains”, “Mainstreaming Fandom,” and “Improving Intersectionality and Representation in Speculative Fiction”
  • Went to GOH readings! Naomi Novik read from her upcoming novel Spinning Silver, which is her retelling of Rumpelstiltzkin stories, and which takes off from her short story in The Starlit Wood anthology. Nnedi Okorafor read the first chapters of Who Fears Death, Akata Witch, and Lagoon. I asked questions about localization! (Or: why her Nigerian publishers strenuously object to the title and prologue of Akata Witch).
  • Spent a lot of time in the bar (mostly not drinking)!
  • Met many new and shiny VPers!
  • Ate pizza and talked WoW and MST3K with (now Hugo finalist) Natalie Luhrs!
  • Went to the VP dinner!
  • Had many long chats with my roomie and fellow VP17er, Beth T!
  • Went to a fascinating talk by Rose Fox, on “Habit Reversal Training for Writers.”
  • Spent too much money on rare Tim Powers-related books (Secret Histories, a bibliography and collection of ephemera, as well as a copy of the 1988 NESFA Press edition of Epitaph in Rust. The latter I was helpless against — it was made out to somebody named Elisabeth!)
  • Evangelized Tim Powers to folks who didn’t know why the aforementioned things were awesome, and made Chris Gerwel jealous.
  • Wore my Vincent Price shirt, and my cat print dress. (Pro-tip: the latter is geek catnip).
  • Crashed fellow VP17ers Paul and John’s bromance, and ended up watching the first episode of a pretty wacky anime called Silver Spoon. (The folks who made Fullmetal Alchemist apparently made a high school drama set at an agricultural school in Hokkaido! The first episode is about the main character getting over the fact that eggs come out of a chicken’s cloaca! There is an adorable calf that tries to suck on his shirt, and an adorable horse that tries to eat his face!)
  • Relatedly, discovered that Paul does not in fact hate me!

  • Very briefly visited the super-mellow Arisia 2018 party, and colored some Lee Moyer art!
  • Did not entirely stick to my diet!
  • Did not eat any medicinal brownies!
  • Still did not go to the Miscellany or Meet the Pros(e)!
  • Heard interesting stories about Lord Dunsany from a wild-haired guy at the Fantastic Stories table!
  • Told Neil Clarke that I really loved Emily Devenport’s work and would love to see more of her stuff in Clarkesworld!
  • Received a text from my husband telling me the septic was backing up and asking if I liked unicorns? That was the end of my weekend right there.

All in all, it was a pretty excellent weekend, though exhausting in its social-ness (I came home and promptly took a long nap). Best of all, I mostly didn’t suffer from any of the professional angst I sometimes get in the presence of more successful writers! For the most part I was able to enjoy myself and other’s success, and revel in the warmth of community.

in Blog | 515 Words

Lise Opines: How to Make a Spell Packet


Some packets my husband Matt made for his Shadowvale character.

Many live-combat LARPs in the New England area — in particular in the Accelerant system — use packets to represent both spells and arrows. These are basically little mushroom-shaped beanbags made out of birdseed and knit fabric.

For something so simple, they sure do occasion a lot of discussion.

While I’m still kind of new to the boffer larp scene, in a short time I’ve developed Opinions on packets, and I’m going to share them with you. I’m also dimly hopeful this will prove useful to those of you just starting out!

The Official Stuff

First, the official word of god, a.k.a. Rob Ciccolini, on packet construction. From the Accelerant core rules, version 6.0:

Packets have strict construction guidelines.

That leaves us with some questions, doesn’t it?

To be fair, from what I understand of the Accelerant philosophy, this minimalism is intentional; the question is left open to individual Accelerant games. So let’s look to those for further guidance:

Packets – Packets are small bean bags that are thrown to represent magical attacks, arrows, or special powers. They should be made of stretchable fabric and filled with birdseed. You should use only small birdseed with no larger or sharper seeds. A square of fabric is pulled around the birdseed and its corners are gathered together to form a “tail” and closed up with a rubber band, string or tape. You may also sew a packet shut.

The head of the packet should be between 1 and 1.5 inches in diameter, and the tail behind the tape should not be longer than 3 inches. The fabric must be stretchable and cannot be pulled so tight that it no longer has give. You should be able to squeeze the center of the packet and almost touch your fingers together.

-Fifth Gate Weapon Props guidelines

Crossover has some very similar rules, too.

The Less-Official Stuff

My friend Chris S has some helpful tips and guidelines that I also generally follow:

You need fabric with 4-way stretch. I tend to like ITY Jersey knits – cheap and thin
Cut the fabric into 5 inch by five inch squares – easy to do with a fabric with repeating pattern
You need small bird seed without sunflower kernals – white millet is good, though expensive – sift larger mixes is cheaper
Each packet gets 2-3 normal spoonfuls of seed
Close it by drawing corners and then the middle points
Wrap a normal staples elastic around the packet tail 8 times
Make sure it is loose enough

-personal email

My Thoughts

There are a few important points here, and it’s vital to understand why they’re important, so you know where you can skimp if you need to.

Fabric Choice

I feel strongly that you should use knits. Knits are going to lend the packet more “give”, which means it won’t hit your target with too much force. (This is especially important if you’re using one of the newfangled packet bows, which hit with a great deal more force). They’re also less prone to fraying, so your packets are less likely to fall apart. I also personally feel they fly better, as knit fabrics are better at forming the birdseed into a regularly-sized ball.

“But Lise,” you say, “I have no idea what a knit fabric really is.”

This is what I end up concluding after seeing the VAST NUMBER of packets made out of muslin, so allow me a few moments to explain what I think is happening here, what the difference is between woven and knit fabrics, and why it matters for making packets.

I think the less fabric-savvy packet makers go to Jo-Ann’s, looking for what’s cheap, and beeline for the muslin and cotton broadcloths. They pull on the corners and say, “hey, that has stretch,” because they’re probably pulling it along the diagonal, or bias. ALL fabric, even woven fabric, has stretch along the diagonal, and that is NOT sufficient stretch for packets.

A woven fabric is woven on a loom of some sort. It has warp thread and weft threads which terminate at the horizontal and vertical edges of the fabric. As a result, when the edges are cut, the component threads start to fray off.

A knit fabric is, well, knitted. Imagine a more industrial version of something you’d knit for yourself. Instead of a warp and weft, it is one continuous thread that is brought through the piece of fabric. In traditional knitting, if you cut through the body of the work, the whole piece will begin to ladder, like a rip in a pair of stockings. Commercial knit fabrics mostly don’t do this (for some magical reasons I don’t understand), but they do roll at the edges when cut. In this case, that’s actually desirable.

Again. You need knits. Wovens will not do, even wovens that incorporate a bit of some stretchy material. In a fabric store knits are usually housed in a completely different section than the wovens. Look for the swimsuit and leotard material and you won’t be far off.

I agree with Chris’ statement about the awesomeness of ITY knits, but they are pricey. You can pick up remnants, if that’s cheaper, but an even better way to acquire packet fabric on the cheap? Buy a bunch of old t-shirts and cut them up. (The only drawback here is you’ll get a lot of packets in blacks and navy blues, which can be hard to find at the end of an event. If you’re okay with losing a few, though, do proceed!)

Fabric Shape and Size

You need a square in order to make a tail — it’s a lot harder to work with a rectangle. I’ve never tried working with a circle, but it might work. But either way, radial symmetry is important for forming the tail.

There’s some room for variation in size, within the rules of your particular game. I actually tend to cut my squares a bit wider than Chris does (5 1/2 to 6″ square), because my hands are small and I need long-ish tails in order to hold a good number in my hand at a time. On the other hand, packets made for packet bows do better with a shorter tail.

I think the only thing a long tail affects is how the packet flies, so if you make the tail too long or too short, really, the only person who’s going to be suffering is you.

Type of Seed Used

At this point, we’re going to assume you know you should use birdseed, and not, oh, fishing weights, or buckshot, or any of those things that cropped up in the Bad Ol’ Days of Larping. (Yes, for real. If you want to hear some horror stories of weapon/packet construction gone horribly wrong, corner an old timer at a larp sometime and ask).

In general, you want the birdseed you use to not be pokey, because it will come flying at your target at a decent speed.

Sunflower seeds? Right out.

Thistle seed? (which makes up most commercial birdseed mixes)? Eh. It’s small, so probably not a big danger, but it’s also, well… thistle-y. I prefer not to use it.

Another bad choice? Cracked corn, or cornmeal, or really anything having to do with corn. In particular this stuff hardens like a rock when it gets damp and then dries. Packets — which are thrown around outside in all kinds of damp and dry whether — are especially likely to do this.

You can filter the “bad” seeds out of a mix with a sieve, like Chris’ guidelines suggest, but if you value your time more, I recommend buying 20lbs of white millet birdseed on Amazon. It’s $28 and will make, by my estimation, 480 to 600 packets. It depends how quickly you use the packets, of course, but that might well be enough for an entire three-year campaign.

Amount of Seed Used

Chris’ guideline says “2 to 3 normal spoonfuls”, but I admit that level of imprecision doesn’t work for me. Does he mean tablespoons or teaspoons? Are they level, or heaping? I have an 1/8 cup measure I use for this, which I usually fill to about 80% for each packet. Experiment to get the size you want, within the guidelines for your larp.

Fastener

Use rubber bands. I can’t imagine anyone going to the mess and trouble of sewing these things closed. Tape comes undone, or tears, or gets wet and falls apart. String comes untied. Tiny hair elastics might work, too, but I feel like they’re more likely to break, and they’re probably more expensive, to boot.

Everything else

… is an “eyeball it”/”doesn’t matter too much” situation. You’ll get a feel for how many wraps of the rubber band will make the packet too tight, how to fold the fabric so you don’t lose seeds, etc. This part is very personal.

Bonus Tips

The muffin tin method: Basically each cup of a muffin tin holds your fabric square and birdseed until you’re ready to fold it and tie it. Handy to keep birdseed from getting everywhere.

A rotary cutter, self-healing mat, and plastic grid ruler (standard quilting tools) will make cutting squares of fabric much, much easier.

Matt and I have color-coded our characters’ packets before, to make them easier to recognize as yours when you’re cleaning up at the end of an event. Except, of course, if another player uses the same color as you.

I have also heard it said that a good packet should fit in a film canister. Who can remember what a film canister looks like?

We were kinda prepared: KotN does Black Temple timewalking


Credit: Wowhead

This week in WoW was Burning Crusade Timewalking — that event where we all go back in time and do those dungeons we haven’t done in years, for updated loot and badges to buy cool stuff. And recently they introduced a new feature to BC timewalking: timewalking Black Temple!

For those of you who don’t remember May 2007, Black Temple was probably the most famous raid of WoW’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Much of the expansion revolved around Illidan Stormrage’s betrayal of the Alliance and Horde, siding with demons of the Burning Legion. This plot culminated with fighting him as the final boss in Black Temple.

… okay, okay, you could also say it culminated in Sunwell, which was the final raid of the xpac, but thematically? I’d say BT was much more where it was at. Let’s not forget that the catchphrase for the entire expansion was Illidan’s “YOU ARE NOT PREPARED” line from his Black Temple RP.

(WoW’s most recent expansion, Legion, has attempted to redeem Illidan and make him a hero again. Apparently he was in deep cover, and honestly, he did it all for the Greater Good ™, guys? Many fans remain unconvinced; regardless, this is why we have a demon hunter class now, and it’s also why Illidan’s hanging around on the Broken Shore helping the PCs and having unbelievable UST with Maiev).

For a little personal history, in 2007 I had come back to WoW for the second time, transferred from Proudmoore to Thrall, and did some suuuuuuuuper casual raiding — we cleared Karazhan, but that was about all. (Keep in mind, this was in the days before flex raids, when you needed exactly X number of people, where X was usually 20 or 40). Then there was guild drama and I quit again for a while.

The long and short was, I never saw BT while it was current content. Actually, I never saw it at all until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided I needed some Malefic (warlock tier 6) pieces to go with my Diabolic (warlock T20) pieces, since they are similar models.

So! When they announced you could go back and do BT as timewalking content, with re-tuned encounters and gear (because no one has shadow resist any more, everyone has artifact weapons, and tanks can be one of six different classes now) I was SO EXCITE, guys. I was even more excited when our raid leads announced that instead of progressing current content on Tuesday, we’d be doing BT.

(Obligatory shoutout to my guild: Knights of the Night, Alliance, US Duskwood/Bloodhoof! Which, lbr, is mostly composed of my real life friends at this point).

We had a larger group than usual on Tuesday. The TW version of BT introduced an achievement you could get if you a) already had the Warglaives of Azzinoth legendaries from BT, b) had a demon hunter, c) defeated Illidan in TW BT. This achievement apparently unlocks the ability to use the Warglaives for transmog purposes, which everyone wanted. As a result, we brought along several folks that don’t normally raid with us — in addition to our usual DH raid lead and tank, Zallak, well-known Illidan fanboy.

(My pal Pickle, raiding with us on his boomkin Morfessa, commented to this effect: “It’s nice to see so many Illidari who recognize their master is off his rocker and something needs to be done about him.”)

(For strategies for the re-tuned bosses, we pretty much used this guide, complete with silly art)

Some random quotes and moments:

Fighting Naj’entus
“We’re in dark days of encounter design here… no tank swaps, no movement, just tank and spank.”
“Did we all install our threat meters?”
“Remember to wait for five Sunder Armors, guys.” (Even better because we had no warriors!)

In Supremus‘ courtyard, Zallak says, “Hey Mar… are your taunts working?”
My husband Matt (who was actually playing his monk Aulfilde, not his pally Marrais for once) replies with, “Noooooooope.”
Me: “It’s because neither of you existed back then.”
Zallak: “Hey, I existed, I was just on the wrong side!”

Then our mage Magos (formerly known as our DK Anieros) pointed out that maaaaybe taunts weren’t working was because the tanks weren’t hit-capped — spell hit was a big Thing back in TBC. I… would not be surprised if this was the case. (Incidentally a lot of our interrupts just weren’t working, even on abilities that seemed like they should be interruptable).

Shade of Akama. We wipe and have to reset the encounter because someone (probably not on Discord) started it before we were ready. “What part of DON’T TALK TO AKAMA did you miss?”

Teron Gorefiend… “The original death knight!”

Pickle reminded us all that there used to be a Flash game where you could practice the Shadow of Death mechanic without wiping the raid.

“So literally… you have to kill him before he kills your entire raid.”

“This boss destroyed guilds…”

Reliquary of Souls, phase two…
“Just do slow and steady damage” (because he does damage proportional to how much damage you do)
“I’m an afflic lock, slow and steady is all I do.”

We compared notes about how old we were when TBC came out and what we were playing. Zallak was probably the youngest of us — he was twelve at the time. “Twelve and raiding Sunwell… what the hell was I doing?” Then he concluded, “Oh, who am I kidding? I was a resto shaman; I had a guaranteed spot, and all I had to do was spam Chain Heal.”

Gurtogg Bloodboil… my pal Mel, on her resto druid Tyrwll, excitedly points out to our tanks, “Look, there’s a TANK SWAP, guys!”

Remember when trash sucked?… I’m not convinced they did much to re-tune the trash in here. The Sisters of Pain and Pleasure before Mother Shahraz could basically one-shot our melee dps, because their reflect of an auto-attack swing was their entire scaled-to-70 health pool.

Very disappointed to see that the Den of Mortal Delights was lacking an exotic gnome concubine. Elisande has one up on Illi-chan, there.

We take a break before Mother Shahraz; people pull out toys. I use my Orb of a Sin’dorei and suddenly my gnome is transformed into a blood elf who looks like he just discovered facial hair. “Hey, my fake blood elf has the world’s tiniest soul patch!”

Mel: “But why are you a dude?”
Me: “… because my toon is a dude? Like yours?”
Mel: “Oh, right. Dammit, all gnomes look alike.”
Someone else: “Dude, that’s racist.”

Illidari Council. “And the guy on the left, the rogue… I guess he does nothing special.”
“He’s a rogue? He looks like a confused shirtless warlock to me.”

Pausing outside of Illidan’s room:
“Okay, let’s explain this fight.”
“But I thought we were supposed to not be prepared?”

Waiting for our DH contingent to take screenshots with Illi-chan before started the encounter. Gnomes jumping up and down in front of Zallak to ruin his screenshot.

Zallak doing the /sorry emote before starting the encounter.

Illidan ends his RP with “You are not prepared!” and Mel squeals, “HE SAID THE THING HE SAID THE THING.”

Two wipes when one of the Flames of Azzinoth decided to just switch targets randomly, move from the glaives, and enrage.

Finally got him on the third try. No warglaives, but he drops [Stormrage Signet Ring] for Zallak. Pickle says, “Hey Zallak…. sempai noticed you.”

My overall impression? Timewalking BT was a weird blend of old and new mechanics, with a heavy frosting of nostalgia. I was so hyped and full of love for my guildies afterwards that I couldn’t get to sleep for another hour. Highly recommended.

… also now I kind of wish they would do the same thing for Icecrown Citadel in Northrend, another raid I didn’t get to see when it was current.

in Blog | 1,312 Words

Why editing is a shitshow, but I’m still doing it

I haven’t posted much about editing Lioness lately — because, let’s be honest, editing sucks and I have been avoiding it a lot.

Reason number one why editing sucks

It’s hard to tell “something is broken and needs to be fixed” from the normal anxiety of being a writer and hating everything you’ve ever written.

Reason number two

It is basically impossible to see your writing with enough of an outside view to edit it adequately.

Oh, people claim you can. There are all kinds of editing methods aimed at giving you a new view of your writing. Edit backwards. (I’ve never understood this one — by word? By sentence? By paragraph?) Change the font. Export it as an ebook and read it on a device.

These are good for catching prose-level stuff, but I think they are useless for structural-level stuff. It won’t tell you, for example, that the character that you have in your head isn’t on the page.

“Put your MS in a drawer for a while” is another method I’ve heard of gaining objectivity, and this has some truth to it. I’m certainly more objective about stuff I wrote years ago. But a mere month or two is not enough for me to sufficiently forget all my infelicitous authorial choices.

Reason number three: lack of concrete goals.

Right now I’m working through a list of potential edits, based on comments from alpha readers and my own impressions after reading the full draft. I feel like I never get to cross anything off this list. “Make viewpoint really tight on Yfre throughout” is not a point at which you arrive, at least not until the very end. Or sometimes I’ll partially implement something (like “make it clear early on that deep sea navigation isn’t possible”) but realize I need to do it in more than one place to be really effective.

Reason number four: unhelpful criticism.

I mean, my writing group is great, and I have some wonderful feedback from my alphas. But then there is feedback which is basically, “make this novel something else entirely,” and that is not helpful. At its worst it depresses me for days and makes me wonder why I even bothered spending the time to write this novel.

Reason number five

Ultimately it is not instructing my twelve tiny dwarves to build a shelter on a barren wasteland and fight off hordes of monsters.

The Way Forward

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last month last few months last approximately forever largely avoiding doing it, but to get back on the bandwagon, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April–

… and that kind of fizzled. According to my highly unscientific calculations, I did ~6 hours of editing in April, but then larp season happened.

One big change I have made recently — which I tentatively think may be the best life change I’ve ever made — is to change my work schedule from 10am-6pm. Not only am I avoiding the worst traffic, it also means I can get 45mins to an hour of work in before my day begins.

Assuming I wake up at the same time. Which is sometimes hard after a holiday weekend spent bingeing on video games. But I seem to have gotten back on track, just in time for the weekend 😉

I’m really hoping to be done by the time the Pitch Wars submission window opens in early August. Though, seeing as I am still busting and reconstructing complex relationship structures in the first third of the book, maybe this is too optimistic.

All of this kvetching is to say, for those of you who ask: I’m still doing it. I may hate doing it, but persist.

I just hope that at the end what I have is a polished gem, not a shoebox full of story fragments.

Links & Accomplishments, 6/4/2017 to 6/10/2017

I haven’t kept up with these very well. Oops.

Links

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate, and the related article, How to Beat Procrastination. An oldie but a goodie. Procrastination is explained here with funny drawings and anthopomorphic pals like the Instant Gratification Monkey. I resemble… most of this. And scheduling, I can confirm, has been a great way to (sometimes but not always) get the Instant Gratification Monkey on my side.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Attended writing group
– Worked ~1h on Lioness edits

Other Media
– Listened to Larpcast #91 and 93
– Listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, “Anthropodermic Bibliopegy”
– Listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, “Neurosecurity: Dawn of the Brain Hackers”
– Listened to Stuff Mom Never Told You, “Policing Women’s Speech”
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin #120

LARP
– NPCed for Madrigal 3
– Wrote Mad3 NPC PEL

Health
– (Mon) Ninja Fitness Strength workout #3 and Agility #1
– (Tues) Ninja Fitness Endurance workout #4 x 2 (~2.67mi at 4.5-4.7 with an incline of 0.0-2.0)
– (Tues) NF Zen workout #1
– (Tues) 1 min plank/1 min wall-sit
– (Weds) 2.34mi walk
– (Thurs) NF Strength workout #2 and #4; Zen #2
– (Fri) 1 min plank/1 min wall-sit
– (Fri) ~2.5mi walk/run with sprinting intervals
– (Sat) NF Agility workout #2

Rejection Log

– “Remember to Die”, 24-day form from Arsenika

Links & Accomplishments, 4/30/2017 to 5/6/2017

Links

Women Are Dying Because Doctors Treat Us Like Men. In a continuing vein of “the substandard medical treatment of women really pisses me off,” I guess. I know much of what we know of heart disease, for example, comes from longitudinal studies like the Framingham Heart Study, which was all men.

Given my success with Zombies Run!, I am trying out a new fitness app for iOS: Ninja Fitness. Basically you level up your little ninja avatar, gaining different “belts”, through doing real exercises in four categories: Strength (upper body and core exercises), Agility (lower body), Endurance (running), and Zen (yoga and stretches). As you exercise you also gain stars, which you spend to unlock more exercises, as well as outfits and whatnot for your avatar. It’s not quite as slick of an app as Zombies Run!, but for 99 cents, I think it’s worth it. I’ll be switching to this for my runs where I just want to listen to my own podcasts without interruptions.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Wrote ~2800 words on a new short story, “Swan Song”
– Wrote a new poem, “The hope of the chestnut”
– Submitted “Remember to Die” to Arsenika

Reading
– Read “Sigrid Under the Mountain”, by Charlotte Ashley (orig. in The Sockdolager; republished in Podcastle #468)
– Read “Sun, Moon, Dust,” by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny #16A)
– Read “Auspicium Melioris Aevi” by JY Yang (Uncanny #15B)
– Read “Real Ghosts”, by J.B. Park (Clarkesworld, March 2017)
– Read “I Know All of His Names”, by Kate Heartfield (Liminal Stories, Spring/Summer 2017)

LARP
– NPCed for Madrigal 3
– Wrote PEL for Mad3

Other Media
– Listened to Radical Candor episodes 5-6, 15-17
– Listened to Larpcast episode #88
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin, episodes #114-115
– Listened to Stuff You Missed in History Class, “Three Nuclear Close Calls” and “A Brief History of Foreign Food in the U.S.”
– Watched episode 13 of the new MST3K
– Watched episodes 36-39 of the Forensic Files collection
– Watched episode 1-2 of Bill Nye Saves the World

Health
– (Mon) Did Zombies Run 5K training week 8, workout 1
– (Tues) Did Ninja Fitness strength workout #1
– (Weds) Did Zombies Run 5K training week 8, workout 2… ish. (Had technical issues)
– (Thurs) Did Ninja Fitness strength workout #2, agility workout #1, zen workout #1
– (Fri) Did Zombies Run 5K training week 8, workout 2. Completed the program, woohoo!
– (Sat) Walk in the woods, don’t know how far, maybe ~2mi?

Picture of the Week


Gaultheria procumbens, one of the many plants known as “wintergreen” (also teaberry or checkerberry). This was the only picture from when I went wildflower-spotting this weekend — a lot of spring ephemerals had passed.

Links & Accomplishments,4/23/2017 to 4/29/2017

Links

Shared by friend and travel buddy EB: How I Found the 4 Hardest-to-Find Bookstores in the World. There’s not a single one of these I’d want to pass up, but the underground bookstore in Coober Pedy, Australia, sounds especially interesting.

Accomplishments

Reading
– Read Changeless by Gail Carriger
– Read Blameless by Gail Carriger

Social
– Took a road trip around western MA with EB, visiting numerous places from Atlas Obscura and the 1000 Best Places to Visit in MA list. (Hopefully a post on that sometime soon?)

Other Media
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin, episode #113
– Listened to Radical Candor, episode 3 and 4
– Listened to Stuff You Missed in History Class, “Mongolian Princess Khutulun”
– Listened to Larpcast episode #87
– Watched episodes 34-35 of the Forensic Files collection
– Watched episode 12 of the new MST3K, Carnival Magic

Health
– Took a ~4mi hike in the Savoy Mountain State Forest
– (Mon) Repeated Zombies Run 5K training, week 7 run 2
– (Tues) 10 x crunches
– (Weds) 10 x crunches
– (Thurs) Repeated Zombies Run 5K training, week 7 run 3

Career
– Gave a presentation to my team about CSS Shapes and Clipping/masking

Picture of the Week


“20 Miles from Boston – 1768” — not sure if it’s truly an 18th-century original, but I found it on Old Connecticut Path in Framingham/Natick while out on a run.

Links & Accomplishments, 4/16/2017 to 4/22/2017

Links

As I mention below, I recently did some research on the CSS Shapes specification (as well as the Clipping/Masking spec, which can work well in tandem). Unfortunately it’s not well supported yet — and given all the resources I found date from 2014, maybe it will never be — but the general idea is it allows content to flow in non-rectangular shapes. Kind of a neat paradigm shift for laying things out on the web, I thought. Here’s some more info on it:

Accomplishments

Writing
– Worked on Lioness edits (~90 mins total)

Reading
– Read “The Hulder’s Husband Says Don’t,” by Kate Lechler, Fireside Fiction, April 2017
– Read “It Happened To Me: I Was Brought Back to Avenge My Death, But Chose Justice Instead,” Nino Cipri, Fireside Fiction, April 2017
– Read Soulless, by Gail Carriger

Other Media
– Watched episodes 5-11, 14 of the new MST3K
– Watched episodes 24-33 of the Forensic Files collection
– Listened to Radical Candor, episodes 1-2
– Saw the RiffTrax Live of Samurai Cop

Apparently the Forensic Files episodes on Netflix aren’t the whole series, just a collection of episodes from various seasons. So these numbers have no actual basis in anything but Netflix itself. Oh well — I’m enjoying it, nonetheless.

Social
– Visited several Atlas Obscura sites with EB: Johnny Ro Veterans Memorial Park, birthplace of Johnny Appleseed, the gravestone of Joseph Palmer, and the Rollstone Boulder

Health
– Had a not-so-fun (but minor) medical procedure
– Went contra dancing at the Concord Scout House with Alison
– Took a 1.4mi walk

With the Unpleasant Medical Procedure, it was not a good week for running, alas, but I at least got some exercise in and didn’t stay idle.

Career
– Did a developer self-directed day on CSS Shapes and Clipping/Masking

Picture of the Week


Lise presents: a rock so beloved the town of Fitchburg blew it up, glued it back together, and stuck it in the middle of a traffic circle.

in Blog | 352 Words

Links & Accomplishments, 3/19/2017 to 4/15/2017

Who has two thumbs and has been suffering some nasty depression the last 2-3 weeks?

👍 👍 THIS GIRL

Luckily, I wasn’t completely idle during that time. Just to get back on the blogging bandwagon, here’s what I’ve been up to.

Links

You’re Writing for Friends, by Mette Ivie Harrison. Pullquote: “Here’s what I want you to remember: You’re not writing for everyone.”

How Hyperfixation Helps Me Cope With Anxiety and Depression. Or: why Lise games more when she’s struggling with depression. I posted this on Facebook, but it’s important enough that I’ll repeat it for the people in the back. In particular, I identified with this quote:

“I don’t know how to cope with my undesirable thoughts without total immersion.

“If I’m not binging on a show, the thoughts are more likely to make an appearance. If I don’t listen to a specific artist or album on repeat, my mind is filled with self-loathing thoughts rather than lyrics.”

When I’m having bad days, thoughts like, “maybe I should have more mastery on my afflic lock?” are a welcome distraction from the chorus of “hate HATE hate HATE HATE.”

A friend of mine replied with, “At what point does hyperfixation become addiction?” It’s a good question, but I’m not sure I know the answer. The facile answer is, “When it becomes harmful,” but in the moment it’s sometimes hard to see the line. I know I’ve crossed it a few times in my life. Mostly these days I think I manage it pretty well; I’m a lot better than I used to be at recognizing when everything in-game starts to take on a funhouse-mirror over-significance. One thing I stopped doing recently — which probably helped me dig out of this depression — is visiting the WoW subreddit, which is a font of negativity and misogyny. Leaving that helped me step back and gain some perspective.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Worked on Lioness edits ~ 7.5 hours total
– Attended writing group

Reading
– Read Heretics and Heroes, by Thomas Cahill
– Read Love in the Time of Victoria, by Françoise Barret-Ducrocq
– Read Double Negative, by David Carkeet
– Read “With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips” by Beth Cato (Uncanny Magazine #15A)

Other Media
– Listened to Stuff You Missed in History Class episodes: “The New London School Explosion,” “Interview: Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr”, “Jules Cotard and the Syndrome Named After Him”, “Aphra Behn, Writer and Spy”, “H.P. Lovecraft”
– Listened to Writing Excuses #12.6-12.14
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin #109-112
– Listened to The Training Dummies #159-163
– Watched episodes 1-4 of the new MST3K
– Watched episodes 1-23 of season one of Forensic Files (it’s all on Netflix now, ohmygod, I love this show)
– Watched The Brontes. This was so good, and made me want to know more about the sisters!
– Got the “Ahead of the Curve: Gul’dan” achievement in WoW (basically completing heroic Nighthold with my guild)
– Got the “Accomplished Angler” achievement in WoW (finally, after many years). So now my main is titled “Salty” Silbuns.

Social
– Visited my mom in upstate NY
– Had dinner at Bluefin with Kevin

Career
– Attended 2-day leadership training
– Attended MBTI training (I came out as an ISFP, in case you were curious — maybe a post on that later?)
– Finished the CI Scrubber redesign project

Health
– Zombies run 5K training: week 6, workout 2 (3mi) — I ran for 10 minutes straight!
– Zombies run 5K training: week 6, workout 3 (2.95mi)
– Zombies run 5K training: week 7, workout 1 (2.67mi)
– Zombies run 5K training: week 7, workout 2 (2.69mi)
– Zombies run 5K training: week 7, workout 3
– Zombies run 5K training: week 6, workout 1 (3.06mi)
– Zombies run 5K training: week 6, workout 3
– Zombies run 5K training: week 7, workout 1 (2.92mi)
– Had fasting bloodwork

I took a ten-day break from running in there, and REGRETTED MY LIFE AND MY CHOICES, as I’d lost a lot of progress. But I’m mostly back on track now, and approaching the end of the 5K training program. Who knows — maybe I’ll actually run a 5K once I’m done?


A sock monkey pirate that my mom got me as a present. Since he came from a Quebecois Christmas fair, I’ve named him Monsieur Jangles.