Not Another Writing Advice Post, UGH! – Passive Voice

Yes, another writing advice post. In fact, my first such post!

Seems like an oxymoron, I know. The ‘not another – Ugh’ energy has more to do with how much writing advice there is out there, and my own hesitation over adding something useless or repetitive to the noise.

My editor for the Mr. Mystic books once described my writing as ‘artisanal’ (which amused me greatly, because isn’t all writing?). But I sort of get what he was going for with that description. I don’t tend to follow expected paths or fit into known molds, and it can make my work hard to describe. Is high-concept literary queer pulp adventure xianxia even a genre?

Answer: It is, MXTX did it better than I ever could, and it looks like this:

(In other news, ask me about my obsession with Heaven Official’s Blessing).

My writing is also artisanal in that I don’t know how to package what I do into advice that other people can use. I don’t think of myself as a ‘tips, tricks, and techniques’ writer. My usual response to writing advice posts is ‘that is a fantastic tip… I have NO IDEA how to implement it, much less how to integrate it.’ The notion of having to do something like teach a class on writing fills me with dread. It’s like the centipede teaching the spider how she dances. I guess I know how to do it, but fuck all if I know how it’s done.

Because of this, I’ve never tried to join the stream of (frankly much better) writing advice posts that are out there. It seemed disingenuous to post tricks and tips that I don’t necessarily use myself. But a recent question from a new writing acquaintance shed a different light on this. Even if I don’t struggle with a particular issue (or even if my struggle looks more like a fox putting on their scorpion mecha-armor and powering through, stabbing everything – including themselves – with their poison stinger along the way), I still have some skill at coming up with ways that other writers might identify and tackle challenges they’re facing in their own writing.

One of my dance teachers used to say that improving dance technique was all about finding the right kinesic analogy. Thanks to her, there will always be a little family of imaginary mice huddled under the arch of my foot, helping me remember to pull up and turn out.

So this (maybe) series is my little family of imaginary mice for whomever out there might need them. And I will start with the trick that spurred the idea, with thanks to my new writing pal Jeff, who has been struggling with passive voice.

Passive Voice

We’re told it’s terrible to use — hah, see what I did there? Yeah, okay. Using passive voice to discuss passive voice is barrel-scraping humor. I will try to stop.

Who says it’s terrible to use, and why is it so terrible? I first grokked this in a history class, where the professor (rightly) pointed out that writers who use passive voice to describe historical events usually have a stake in erasing the perpetrators of atrocities in those events, or in making those events seem eternal and inevitable instead of the direct result of people making choices. Z was done to Y has a different impact than X did Z to Y. Almost every action has an actor (I use almost as a caveat. I can’t think of any actions that don’t have an actor, but they probably exist). Passive voice lets you leave out the actor, almost always to remove culpability for the action.

In fiction writing, passive voice does have a use and a place. It’s a great tool (especially in conjunction with omniscient PoV) for evoking a mythic, legendary feel – like Morgan Freeman is narrating the events of your world. But the closer your PoV, the less passive voice tends to work. It ends up distancing the reader from the character, their actions, and the actions enacted upon them, in ways that you probably don’t want (unless you do, but that should be a deliberate choice).

While SFF has a long history of great works that make liberal use of omniscient PoV (and the associated tendency toward passive voice), the current taste is close third PoV (with some sub-genres like Urban Fantasy making a hard turn into first person). If passive voice distances readers from the characters in close third PoV, then in first person it can feel downright unnatural.

Tips and Tricks!

This is where I tend to get hung up. A lot of writing tip blogs give great, granular advice for avoiding passive voice – don’t use ‘to be’ constructions, especially ‘it was’ and ‘there were’, choose more active verbs, etc. But that advice doesn’t give you a path for how to naturalize and integrate this into your writing flow. She can try to teach you the steps, but how does the centipede dance?

If you want to get away from passive voice (or if you need help recognizing when you’re doing it), an exercise you might find useful is to write a scene in first person, then swap it to close third person (or take a scene that’s in close third and transpose it into first person). It’s more challenging to use passive voice in first person because you are behind the wheel of the “I” that is acting (rather than the over-the-shoulder view of close third, or the birds-eye view of omniscient, to use a video game analogy). You can still do it – ‘I was struck by the disintegration beam’ vs. ‘The disintegration beam struck me’ – but shifting the PoV can help you identify when you are doing it and give you the space to make that a deliberate stylistic choice.

Note that this technique is also a helpful way to work out kinks in voice and PoV switching. First person encourages you to only think in that character’s voice, to only notice what the character would notice, and to only describe it using terms the character would use to describe things.

Outside Resources

Like I said, there is always more (and better) writing advice out there. If you want more info on passive voice in all types of writing, check out this UNC Chapel Hill Writing Center Passive Voice Handout.

And for those of you wondering what the hell I’m talking about with the centipede, I give you The Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede.

Level Unlock – Big Damn Trilogy Sale!!

Last summer, I started working on a collaborative project with Marie Brennan that ended up being more or less NaNoWriMo for four months straight. We finished the 220k word behemoth in October, tossed it back and forth between beta readers, our agents, and each other, and sent it out to editors this past spring.

This week, we accepted a deal from Orbit Books to publish it as the first book of the Rook and Rose trilogy! It will be coming under the joint pen name M.A. Carrick (there’s a story there, but that’s for later).

I’m still working on my elevator pitch for the series, but here’s the general gist:

Alta Renata Viraudax is actually Arenza Lenskaya, a con artist who has infiltrated the nobility in an attempt to set herself up with a cushy life… only to run afoul of The Rook, a Dread-Pirate-Roberts-style vigilante whose mission is to oppose the nobility — including the increasingly visible Alta Renata. Capers, banter, double-crossing, and identity hijinks ensue. Think The Scarlet Pimpernel meets Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora series.

This was the most fun writing that I’ve ever had, and I think it shows on every page. Marie and I bring out the best in each other, and because we’re both anthropology worldbuilding geeks, we were able to create an incredibly rich, dense setting for us to play in. We’ve got multiple, inter-locking magic systems — Marie developed a whole divinatory card system that will definitely be Kickstarted so we can create an actual deck, and I got to get my ritual magic on by creating another system based on sacred geometry. There’s politics and economics, swashbuckling and derring-do, queerness and genderplay galore (because hell yeah there is), and so many fun characters that it hurts sometimes to do terrible things to them.

More news to come as this moves from editing into production! A little over a year ago, all we had was an idea. Now we have a book deal. Soon we’ll have a book! These things move faster than you think. I hope you’ll all come along with us for the ride.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with what has sort of become our unofficial theme song:

My Worldcon Dublin Schedule

Worldcon Dublin is coming! I’m heading off a few days early so I can ride a bike along the Great Western Greenway and around Inishmore, but after that I’ll be in Dublin with a few thousand other SFF geeks. Here’s where you can find me:

Making the transition from player to Games Master
Format: Workshop
16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:00 – 10:50, Wicklow Room-1 (CCD)

It can be difficult to understand exactly how to make the change from being a player in roleplaying games to running games for friends or convention attendees. Come along to this panel to get some advice from experienced GMs on how to make this switch, and what would be helpful to know in the beginning.

Alyc Helms, Michael Cule, Ell Schulman, Andrew Barton

The bare bones of worldbuilding: archaeology in SFF
Format: Panel
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 10:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)

Whether it’s an actual archaeological dig looking for evidence of alien civilisations or fantasy characters camping in the ruins of their ancestors, archaeological evidence and research can be used to help develop a world beyond the here and now and add complex layers to a story without the need for exposition. The panel will discuss the ways in which archaeology has been used to deepen SFF worldbuilding and storytelling.

Ehud Maimon (M), Dr Katrin Kania, Alyc Helms, Marie Brennan

I’m also going to be hanging out at the Angry Robot booth to chat and sign things on Friday from 3:00 to 3:30pm, and on Saturday from 2:00 to 2:30pm.

My Favorite Trope — Time Travel, Pt. 1

We’ve all fallen down the bottomless pit that is TV Tropes (WARNING: Following this link will result in loss of time ranging from several minutes to several days or longer). Even if you don’t know what a trope is, you know what tropes are. For the purposes of this series, I’m not talking about the very broad literary definition of tropes that covers everything from irony and metaphor to plot elements and characters, but rather the narrower folkloric definition that refers to recurring motifs across stories. Done poorly, tropes can feel like the enemy of the original, merely warmed-over cliché. But done well? Yeah, I’m a sucker for a well-executed trope. I’m a folklorist. It comes with the territory.

It will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody who knows me that one of my favorite tropes is time travel. Due to a recent viewing of Avengers: Endgame, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I love about time travel stories and why. This ended up being a much longer exercise than I thought it would be because there is so much, so I’ve broken them down into five main story types, from easiest to hardest to execute (and, not coincidentally, my least to most liked): Time Tourism, Alternate Timelines, Open-System, Groundhog Day, Closed-Loop.

My original intent was to cover all of these in one post, but… it turns out I had a lot more to say than I realized, so I broke it down into six posts, one for each type listed above, and then a bonus deep dive post into Avengers: Endgame, the time travel story that inspired this post.

Note: For spoiler reasons, except for the Endgame post, I’m deliberately going to use examples from either really well-known properties (Back to the Future, Doctor Who, etc.) or else things that it’s very unlikely anyone will watch unless my discussion of them stirs their interest (i.e., mostly kdramas!)

Time Tourism, aka “The Past is Another Country” 

The past is another country; they do things differently there. But you can visit, hang with some famous locals, eat strange food, get involved in a history-defining event, and go on your merry way without having to worry about any damage you might leave behind. Time tourists don’t really worry about damaging the timeline because the stories they live in aren’t interested in the physics or limitations of time travel. They are pebbles that leave few-to-no ripples.

I like these stories for the tourist element rather than the way they handle time travel — I love a good fish-out-of-water story. It can be fun to watch people from our future fumble through an imagined past, using anachronistic terms or technology, imposing contemporary moral and ethical expectations on the people they meet. It’s similarly fun to watch someone from an imagined past interacting with contemporary technology that seems like magic, or encountering beliefs and behaviors that are shocking or emancipating (or both) for them.

The darker underbelly of time tourism is that it’s a safe sort of imaginative tourism in the same way that killing robot or zombie armies is safe – characters and audiences are rarely encouraged to consider the colonial or imperialistic assumptions underpinning these encounters. Time tourists aren’t held to the same standards of cultural sensitivity that spatial tourists might be, especially in this day and age. Time tourists going into the past are allowed to look down unquestioningly on other cultures they/we perceive as ‘less advanced’ (technologically-speaking) than ours. Stories about time tourists from the past to our present often dwell on a sort of uncomplicated nostalgia for a simpler past that never was – these stories often end up being a shallow and untethered critique of modernity.

Doctor Who is, with a few story arc exceptions, an example of time tourism that I enjoy. Because it is a long-running, open ended series with multiple writers, it has little choice but to take a ‘time travel physics HAH! What’s that?’ approach. The audience is almost always experiencing the past from the Companion’s perspective rather than the Doctor’s. This allows the show to sidestep a lot of potential cultural insensitivity or problematic nostalgia pitfalls through framing them as limitations of the Companion’s perspective that the Doctor can then respond to (even if it ends up creating inconsistencies in the Doctor’s own ethical palimpsest over time).

Many of my favorite time tourist stories are about doctors – of the medical rather than the Time Lord variety. I’m not the only one, as it seems like medical professional is the occupation most likely to time travel into the past. The crossroads where science collides with superstition – a place where people with an advanced skillset have to adapt to hostile conditions to save lives – is a breeding ground for competence porn. In your usual medical drama, you have to get to House levels of medical obscurity to get that sort of effect, but in a time tourist drama, any rando doctor can be a god. 

The k-drama The Great Doctor (aka, Faith) plays with this in an amusing way when a soldier from Goryeo (pre-Joseon Korea) kidnaps a present-day doctor to save the life of his queen (the co-founder of what would become Joseon) who has been stabbinated in the neck. Unfortunately, Eun-Soo (the doctor he kidnaps) is a plastic surgeon. The show plays with the increasing limitations of her skillset as she runs out of supplies she brought with her, and it also shows her learning from doctors in the past as well as teaching them what she knows. It also has a fairly decent closed-loop time travel execution, so it gets double marks from me. 

Another example with great medical competence porn is Time Slip Dr. Jin. During Dr. Jin’s jaunt back to the late Joseon era, he trepans people multiple times, makes penicillin to treat syphilis, and struggles through a dysentery outbreak, all in gloriously gory medical and scientific detail that gives me joy. The time travel framework of the show is… better if you just don’t think about it. But the doctor-out-of-water competence porn is A++.

You don’t have to be a doctor from the present to engage in competence porn to bring me to the yard, though. I love stories that let people from the past be competent in the present. Although Sleepy Hollow had a lot of problems, one of the places it worked for me was when it juxtaposed Ichabod Crane flailing with modernity against him being a smart and adaptable fish-out-of-water. I wish they would have delved more into him flailing and then figuring things out. 

A similar example that worked better for me in executing that element was Queen In-Hyun’s Man. Although he’s a Joseon scholar plopped onto the film set of an historical k-drama, Kim Boong Do doesn’t stay a fish-out-of-water for long. He has the transferable skill of being smart and crafty. He quickly adapts and figures out how to use his jaunts to present-day South Korea to defeat his enemies in the past.

What are your favorite time-tourist stories, and why do they work for you?

Next up – The ‘have your cake and eat it too’ of time travel stories: Alternate Timelines!

Clarion West Write-a-thon Wrap-up!*

The Clarion West Write-a-thon is over, and I’m pleased to share that this year was by far my most successful year, both in terms of donations and in terms of blitzing through my main goal.

The first goal was to progress on the Super Sekrit Projekt, with 5k words a week. I can now share that the secret project is a collaboration with Marie Brennan, code-named R&R. You can read about it on my blog and hers.

We’ve been knocking out about 9k words a week, and this past week we managed a whopping 15k. We’ve completed six chapters and hit the 1/4 mark. We’ve also mapped out all the chapters and scenes for the next quarter — collaboration pretty much requires both of us to do a lot more gardening than either of us are wont to do on our own. It works really well to keep our pace up. There is never a question of ‘what are we doing next’… except insofar as both of us are likely to forget our names if we sleep. But that’s why Google made spreadsheets.

Marie is much better about providing weekly updates for that project. You can find them on her blog under the R&R tag if you want more details.

My second goal was revising Chiaroscuro. I’ve made some progress on that, though the runaway progress on R&R has dominated everything. I don’t think I will make the August 30th deadline I gave myself, BUT I have a good map and a few empty weekends ahead of me before Worldcon, so I’m going to plow through on that.

Third goal was short stories in my re-imagined ballet line. I managed bupkiss on that one 😀

*Sung to the tune of Winter Wrap-Up:

What I’m Doing This Summer

I’ve recently made passing mention to a super secret collaborative project I’m working on. I’ve been hesitant to say more because so often projects like this die before they ever get momentum.

However, after six-ish months of planning, plotting, and worldbuilding, and three weeks of intense writing that have already pushed us past the 25k point, I feel confident in saying this is a thing.

To get a feel for the flavor, listen to this:

Capers! Heroic vigilantes and antiheroes! Identity hijinks! Masquerades and mistaken identities! Romance and betrayal and rooftop assignations, all while wearing fabulous outfits!

So that’s what Marie Brennan and I are working on, if you can call it work. Writing with her is so much fun that I actively look forward to getting butt in chair every day.

Now that R&R (our code for it) is out of the bag, look for posts about collaboration, magic systems, clothing design, economic and political systems, folklore, civil engineering, and all the other fun things that come up when you knock two anthropologists together and tell them to design a world for fantasy intrigue.

Changing Up the Pronouns: They/them edition

For a long time I didn’t change my pronouns because I’ve spent my life correcting people on pronouncing my name, and it’s exhausting and annoying.

However, revising Chiaroscuro (especially the Sadaz chapters) has had me thinking a lot about pronouns, identity, visibility, and the importance of language in disrupting people’s gender assumptions. For that reason, I’m asking people to start using they/them when referring to me. It’s a small hill on which to pitch a battle, but every inch counts.

And hey, I actually think it’ll be easier to get people to use they/them than it has been to get them to pronounce my name correctly.

Art is not Apolitical

I went to see the touring production of The King & I on Thursday night (in order to get Hamilton touring company tickets, we had to get SHN season tickets, and The King & I is one of the season shows). Just before the King’s song “A Puzzlement,” in a line of dialogue that I don’t recall from any production I’ve seen, the King contemplates the value of building a wall around Siam vs. reaching out to French or British allies who might pose a larger existential threat to his country.

The actor had to pause for several moments while the audience laughed darkly. It’s San Francisco, so it was an audience sympathetic to the particular critique embedded in that line. I’d be very interested to know how it plays at other stops on the tour… if they even leave the line in?

But that moment, and then the performance of “A Puzzlement” right after it, really drove home how political even the classics of musical theater are. I mean, they might seem simple or problematic by today’s standards, but with shows like The Sound of Music or The King & I, Rodgers and Hammerstein presented some fairly topical critiques alongside their earwormy tunes.

The King & I is banned in Thailand for its presentation of King Mongkut as, to paraphrase the Wikipedia article, “a polka-dancing tyrant,” and for the suggestion of a romance between British Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut (though… interesting fact we learned… Anna was likely Anglo-Indian and hid her descent to avoid prejudice against her and her children). However, the show, for its time and genre, makes a solid attempt to give Mongkut layers and to address issues of colonialism in SE Asia even as it critiques human rights issues in SE Asian countries. Yul Brynner (Russian, btw, so there’s a valid yellowface crit to be made against the original productions) was definitely a reason that the King is such an iconic character for many lovers of these classics, but I think the actual conflicts that King Mongkut struggles with in the show are a reason he endures as a memorable character long after Brynner retired from the role.

I’ve been chewing on these thoughts the past two days, thinking maybe I’d write a post about them, and then Mike Pence went to see Hamilton, and the intersectional cast of PoC, LGBT people, and women voiced a critique and a plea to Pence at the end of the show. They could have done something else. They could have refused to perform for the pleasure of a man who has spent his life and political power ensuring that these actors and people like them will be treated as less than human. They didn’t, possibly because they recognized that Pence was only one person in an audience of people who don’t share his prejudice or history of oppressive action, an audience of people they wanted to perform for.

But to expect them to be silent and happy performing for such a man…? No. It’s a sickening thought. If I was one of those actors, expected to perform at the behest of a man who viewed and treated them as subhuman… I would have spoken out, too.

Like Tuptim speaks out to the King at the end of The Small House of Uncle Thomas:

TUPTIM: Topsy glad that Simon die, Topsy dance for joy! I tell you what Harriet Beecher Stowa say that Topsy Topsy say:
“I specks I’se de wickedest critter in de world!”
But I do not believe that Topsy is wicked critter. Because I too am glad for death of King. Of any King who pursues a slave who is unhappy and wish to join her lover. And your Majesty, I wish to say to you…

[King rises in anger, silencing Tuptim]

Your Majesty, and honourable guests! I will tell you end of story. Is very sad ending. Buddha has saved Eliza. But with the blessings of Buddha also come sacrifice.

Hah. See. We come full circle.

Art is not apolitical. Critique is not harassment. And I applaud the Hamilton cast, a cast of one of the most political shows ever to come out of the musical theater tradition, for saying, politely, that the tyrant in their audience – polka-dancing or not – should consider whether it’s right to enjoy the work and efforts of those actors when he has a history of using his power and position to dehumanize and oppress them and is in a position now to do much, much worse.

#Imwithhamilton

Can the Subaltern Kick Ass?

griffon-riders-01

We’re two games in on ‘The Path to Power’ chronicle, and I’m thinking I should have subtitled it ‘Can the Subaltern Kick Ass?’ because the entire party is made up of characters from colonized indigenous groups and allied Others. We have Altani, an envoy from the local nomadic Shoanti tribes who were violently pushed off their land 300 years before by explorer expeditions from the Empire of Cheliax (and by violently, I mean about 75 years of ongoing armed conflict that the book materials mostly gloss over). We have Calendral and Carandolwen, two elves, both displaced in different ways (the local elven homeland forest has been occupied for a few hundred years, so there’s diaspora). We have Arenza/Lady Renata, a Varisian con artist pretending to be Chelish – the Varisians were another group indigenous to the area who are only slightly better treated than the Shoanti. And we have Gundlag Stonetower, aka Skai, a half-orc woman encountering all the ignorant racial intolerance you’d expect from a D&D setting.

Now, the Pathfinder setting-as-written is not critical of the Chelish occupation (nor of the unquestioned racism against orcs, which I’ve re-envisioned as uninformed propaganda). The original explorers who colonized Korvosa are all framed as heroes and adventurers. Large parts of the city are named after them. So yeah, I’ve done a bit of retooling and refocusing to make it clear that the heroes of Korvosa are not unproblematic. To make it clear that the land they ‘discovered’ was very much inhabited, the inhabitants are still around, and hey, they’d kinda like their shit back.

I somehow don’t think the colonizing structures of authority in Korvosa are going to survive the campaign.

What makes this doubly interesting to me is that the players are all white, middle-class (one man, some women, some genderfluid) folks who are very aware of the problems of colonization and their own privileged subject positions. I suppose what we’re doing could be read as taking on a colonized identity so that we can feel properly heroic (which is a topic my ex, David Higgins, has done some solid academic work interrogating in SF/F).

I think it’s more complicated than that. A lot of it comes down to using play as a way of testing out new approaches, models, and solutions. If we were dealing with the colonization of Korvosa, then we could play through stopping it from happening, or change how it was happening. But we’re not. We’re dealing with a thriving port city three hundred years later. The questions we’re grappling with are how to break down the current (nominally local now, but still very Chelish) power structures and make room for the indigenous groups and non-Chelish who have been shut out of power and the structures that support it.

This really wasn’t my intent when I said “I’m just going to run a Pathfinder game straight out of the adventure path. No changes! Just fun hack-and-slash, murder-hobo adventuring.” But then I read the path, and I took exception to how the villain(s) of the metaplot were written. And I pieced together the history of the region and was horrified at how one-sided the presentation of that history was. Hell, I even fixed the population of the city (20k people for a major city that supports three major universities three separate military organizations, and half a dozen temples? Come ON. Venice during the Renaissance had between 80-120k, and there were cities in China that had over a million!)

All of this probably makes the game sound like no fun. I guess I’ll let my players weigh in on that. The first game, they caused chaos at Exemplary Excrebles by releasing all the fighting pit animals (to save them, including two wild griffons). The second game included Skai serenading the griffons to get them to eat pig heads. Skai’s half-brother got an adjunct position at the University of Korvosa (just Intro to Magic Item Use for Non-majors, but he’s the first orc student ever to get a teaching gig!). Lady Renata got into some sneaky caper-shenanigans at a party at the Arkona estate. Also, Altani’s companion bulette, Olon Toms, got a snazzy vest for the party.

See, tons of fun with our postcolonial critique.

 

T-minus Two Days… and my music isn’t ready

Two days left for the start (restart?) of The Path to Power (my chronicle title for the Crimson Throne/Korvosa game). I still have a long list of stuff to do to get ready. My to-do list, parts redacted for spoilers:

  • Fully outline metaplot/plot points
  • Finish reading/skimming ALL player guides
  • Sort out music/playlists
    • Figure out how to play music at B&Ks
  • Detail out first game
    • Scene order & details
    • Encounters/Combats
    • Character descriptions/introductions
    • Important hooks/information
    • Reminder instructions
  • Prepare combats
    • Draw map of XXXXXX
    • Pull out monster pogs
    • Print out character & NPC pogs
    • Input monster stats for encounters at XXXXXX into combat manager
  • Write up/send Shoanti myths to Adrienne
  • Write up/send area history tidbits to group
  • Send Harrowing interpretation to Bryn
  • Confirm that final character sheets from group are in folders

So… that’s a bit of stuff still to do.

meat dress

All the World’s Meat – For Foodies and Fashionistas!

Tuesday night I ran the characters through a mock combat. It was the ‘All the World’s Meat’ encounter from the Edge of Anarchy path, so it was more than just combat. It was terrain, NPCs fleeing, a few other surprises. It went surprisingly well. I did some damage, they did a bit more damage (so it was well-balanced, I think). Everyone got a refresh on the rules, and our new-to-Pathfinder (and fairly new to gaming) player did very well and didn’t get too arm-flaily over how confusing everything was.

I also used the combat as a way to try out Combat Manager. In the past, I’ve always just pen-and-papered it. That requires a fairly significant amount of prep, and I’ve never found a system of tracking things that I’m entirely happy with. It always feels like my tracking is bogging down the flow of combat.

Holy macrame, where has Combat Manager been all my life? I think the encounter (with one very new player, three somewhat rusty players, a rusty GM, and some breaks between combats for exploration) took an hour and a half. The first fight (CR 1) went two rounds. The second fight (CR3) went five rounds (including some fleeing and catching up and other movement shenanigans). Everything flowed well. There was hardly any downtime that wasn’t ‘what was that movement rule again?’ It was… just lovely.

There are some flaws with Combat Manager. There doesn’t seem to be a way to calculate in feats (like weapon finesse), but there are manual entry things that I can do to fudge the effects of the feats. It crashed several times, but I found the behavior I was doing that was making it crash, and I can do the same thing using another path. Once I figured that out, no more crashes. Sadly, it looks like the program isn’t being supported anymore, but I think I’ll be perfectly fine working with it as-is. I can use it on my tablet (and honestly, the tablet interface is a bit nicer), but I think I will stick to my laptop for the larger screen and east of typing stuff in quickly.

Overall, A++, will definitely use a lot going forward (though if anyone has suggestions for a more robust and supported combat manager, I’m all ears/eyes/senses/whatever).

We were down one player last night because Wendy is at VMworld schmoozing and getting lost. But I think we’ll be in good shape for the first game.

The future saviors/destroyers of Korvosa are:

  • Bryn – Lady Renata Viraudax/Arenza Lenskaya, “Ren” – Human Varisian con artist and social rogue posing as a Chelish noblewoman.
  • Kyle – Calendral Kalessarien, “Cal” – Elven urban ranger, shingle-runner, and son of Persifal Kalessarien, the elven ambassador. Batman with living parents.
  • Lil – Carandolwen Duvanieth, “Cara” – Elven (Forlorn) brawler and newest recruit to the Grey Maidens, the personal guard for Queen Ileosa.
  • Adrienne – Altani (honorifics TBD) – Human Shoanti ‘Shaman’ (class: druid), nomadic princess with a pet landshark, Olon Töms (a bulette runt made with a modified snapping turtle template. His name means ‘hungry potato’).
  • Wendy – Name TBD – Half-orc alchemist (grenadier template) who is currently working at the grotty local circus (Exemplary Excrebles), but will soon be getting a griffon and grudingly allowed to join the Sable Company.

Oh yeah. This is going to go well.