Buy the Toner. Get the Laundry.

I got home from work today (yay, capitalism, yep, I’m working on the 4th even though I’m technically off today, this was the best chance to get work done on-site because nobody was there)…where was I? Oh, I got home from work today with a half dozen tasks I wanted to complete before calling it a day.

  • Buy toner for our printer
  • Cut the edges from my Girl by Moonlight jumpstart booklet so it looks extra snazzy.
  • Save GBM zine creator contracts that were sent my way.
  • Confirm scholarship applications were recieved.
  • Find an editor for a new game ready to go to playtest (can’t announce it yet, but it’s cool).
  • Grab the laundry from the drier and fold it.
  • Reformat laptops that were turned in at work to use as loaners (I knew I wouldn’t finish the work, but I wanted to get them setup in my home office, so when I go in there tomorrow they will visible and ready for me to start)
  • Respond to half a dozen emails that came in between me leaving work and getting home.
  • More? Possibly, but those are the ones I remember.

I got home, showed off the Jumpstart to Karen (see the pic below, it looks cool), pet the pupper, and started working. I did those things (or most of them), but then other things came up as well. I’ve also got to:

  • Create a Discord server for the GBM Zine creators
  • Follow up on the Deathmatch Island limited edition covers.
  • Get GBM Pledge management configured
  • Update the Big Bad Con crowdfunding page.
  • Confirm next steps on a few other projects in development (sorry, can’t talk about those either).
  • Put away the dishes

And as all these interrupt tasks are being interwoven with the original tasks and pushing them back, I keep thinking that I’m forgetting something. So I head down to my office muttering my last two (original) tasks under my breath “Buy the Toner. Get the Laundry. Buy the Toner. Get the Laundry. Buy the Toner. Get the Laundry.” All more or less the same way they said “Save the Cheerleader. Save the World” in season one of Heroes.

I kept saying that under my breath as I setup the laptops (not something I was saying but I had them in hand so it was easy to remember), and as I bought the toner, and as I got the laundry.

In fact, I kept saying both things even after I bought the toner. And then I kept saying both things after I had bought the toner and picked up the laundry. And I told myself I could stop saying them because they were done, but my brain was in a loop and it refused to believe there wasn’t more to do. Because of course there was more to do…just not those things.

I think my brain is so accustomed juggling many things at once, that even when there aren’t a dozen things to do, it cycles through stuff like there is!

Is this how brains work?

The Maple Donut

I really love donuts.

Correction. I really love some donuts. More on that later.

I also have an unhealthy relationship to food. Sometimes I eat it because I want to eat, and sometimes I do it because I’m stressed out and I’m looking for a reprieve, and usually I can’t tell the difference.

So…I do this thing where I agonize, literally going back and forth over whether I should have a donut (or any sweet thing for that matter, but let’s stick with donuts for this discussion). If fills my brain and I just want it so badly, enough that it’s hard to focus on other things. I also know I probably shouldn’t eat it. It’s not good for me, and if I make it a habit—which I do—it’s worse.

If I have the presence of mind, I try to think about how I’ll feel after the donut. Will I be satisfied and think “yeah, that hit the spot” or will I still feel hungry (read: stressed)? I also think about environmental factors. Do I want the donut because I see it in front of me, or am I craving it absent of any obvious temptation?

My reasoning (sound or not) is that if I will be satisfied by the experience, my craving is genuine. For whatever that means.

I don’t love Maple Donuts

My decision tree hits a major stumbling block however, if the think I’ve been craving isn’t what’s available. I love chocolate donuts. Maple donuts are okay, but they just don’t do anything for me. When I eat one it feels like a waste of money and calories. I’ll still do it, but the chances are higher that I won’t feel sated afterwards, just self-loathing.

So I try, when my willpower holds, to say no to the maple donut. If I’m going to spend the money and incur the detrimental effects on my health and body of eating a donut, at least it’s going to be one I really want.

And that’s my take on a lot of things. I’m okay spending a lot of money or time or energy or whatever it takes on something that is really worthwhile, but I try to recognize more maple donuts in my life and say no to them. They maybe just right for someone else, but maybe my attention is better served somewhere else.

That seems a healthy choice. I think. I would love to make it with less agonizing and distracting brain thoughts, but brain is gonna brain, right?

Is this how brains work?

I offered to help our neighbors with some home improvement projects, so this morning after I did some yard work and had the tools ready, I texted asking if now would be a good time to help.

My neighbor Carly said yes, but she was putting her kiddo down for a nap, so she needed a minute.

I decided to take a shower, get dressed, grab tools, then head over to help Carly.

Getting ready to shower I saw we needed laundry done, so I planned to take a shower, get dressed, start a load of laundry, grab tools, then head over to help Carly.

When I got out of the shower I saw we had a lot of dust bunnies in the room so I decided I should get dressed, vacuum the dust bunnies, start a load of laundry, grab tools, then head over to help Carly.

When I started the laundry I saw a pair of jeans that had been line drying since last time I did laundry, so I decided to fold my jeans, grab tools, put my jeans away, then head over to help Carly.

The moment I headed over to Carly’s I was focused on the work done (rehanging some baby gates that had come down) until I finished. I wasn’t distracted at all, because I had the work in front of me and each step was clear what I had to do, even when that was going back to get more tools, and while I was doing that, getting Karen a file so she could file down a rough edge on her new glasses.

My observations:

  • When I had even a few moments where I had to wait, I instantly started filling it up with other things I could/should be doing. And those things kept piling up, each taking precedence in my mind (if not my order of operations) until they were done.
  • When I was focused on work however, everything was step by step. Figure out the problem, propose a plan, evaluate it, do some testing, implement the plan, test the results, adjust as needed. I didn’t know all the steps from the start, but each step was clear, and more importantly I wasn’t waiting, so my brain didn’t start thinking up new things to distract me or change my priorities. Even when I got an interrupt request (pick up a file when I’m in the garage) it didn’t derail me.

It felt like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie but in reverse. I didn’t have the forethought to know I would keep coming up with new things to do, but before I could ever finish one task, I thought of another one that caused me to pause, and reorder my plans. Except when I was focused on a single task…then I just did it.

This is how I end up a night with my pants half way off and looking up something on my phone, thinking I need to brush my teeth, and wondering what I have to do tomorrow morning.

Is this how brains work?

Christmas Market Review 2022

As promised in the last post, here’s our review of all the Christmas Markets we visited in Paris, Strasbourg, and Berlin. Most of them were intentional destinations, but a few we found on accident. Bonus!

A bunch of pictures (from various markets) at the end)


We had lots of Markets on our list and made it to most of them. Sometimes more than one in a day!!


  • Surprise market 4/5 – is this a market?
  • Foot long “American hotdog sandwich” with onions 4/5 – tasty!
  • Giant pot of scalloped potatoes 5/5 – enticing
  • Size 2/5 – petit
  • Metro station “in the market” 5/5

St Germaine

  • Hard to find even though right next to a metro station 2/5
  • Located on the sidewalk, very crowded 3/5
  • First titanic nougat sighting 5/5
  • Rings worth trying on 3/5

Jardin de Tuileries 

  • Size 7/5 – so big 
  • Rides 5/5 – you could get in a bubble and there was a slide and the biggest Ferris wheel ever
  • Singing Reindeer Heads 5/5 for three part harmony
  • Elevated floor so we didn’t walk in the mud 4/5
  • Fire safety 1/5 – impossible to escape. Three exits in the whole thing. 
  • Fun house 2/5 – no adults allowed
  • Market variety 2/5 – same as everyone. More cashmere scarves. 

City Hall

  • Atmosphere 5/5 – very pretty. Cute Christmas displays. 
  • Unconventional Christmas animals – 4/5 Christmas dung beetle
  • Cute carousel 5/5 – double decker, very cute. 
  • Hot wine (vin chaud) – 5/5 tasty and didn’t reek of alcohol 
  • Random stranger who liked San Diego more than LA and her cute dog Tresor (Treasure) 5/5. 
  • Lights, decorations, and room to move around 5/5

St Michel

  • Also surprise, delightful 5/5
  • Ginormous nougat 5/5 – still a mystery
  • Bitchin fountain 4/5 – needed lighting
  • Shopping 5/5 – breadstick pens. 

Feeries d’Auteuil

  • Shoppable 4/5 – found gifts!
  • Handmade and second hand goodies 5/5
  • Chocolat Chaud 3/5 – serviceable 
  • Location 3/5 off the path, wrong side of the river
  • Church vibes 2/5 didn’t need em
  • Arts and Crafts 3.5/5 – hand made mosaics 

Paris markets overall

  • public transportation 3/5 – Metro was great but buying tickets was infuriating. We tried MULTIPLE times!
  • Taxi drivers 5/5 – Antoni was amazing. Did a 25 min drive in 15 without breaking a sweat AND told us about Paris monument along the way!
  • Eiffel Tower 4/5 – views were great. There was champagne AND a bathroom at the top. But the line ride was horrible. 
  • Cult of Angelina 5/5 – Sean’s new religion. Best hot chocolate on the planet. 
  • Christmas markets overall 3/5 – a little underwhelming and most of the vendors had the same items. 


Probably the most famous Christmas Markets in the world. That and my sister moved there a year ago, so of course we had to go!

Off Market

  • About what we expected from Paris. Paris 4, Strasbourg 2. 

Place Kléber 

  • Big tree 5/5
  • Carrousel only kids could ride 1/5
  • Vin Chaud Blanc very tasty 4/5
  • Bretzel beignet actually just a pretzel with chocolate – 2/5 tricksy
  • Souvenir cups 5/5 (just the ones we wanted(

Cathedral Markets 

  • Short King and Old Man Nutcrackers 5/5 – picked them both up!
  • Souvenir cups 2/5 (not the ones we wanted)
  • Oppressive church bells 0/5 – they went on so long and they were so loud. 

Place Benjamin Zix

  • Cute 4/5
  • By the River 4/5

Advent Village in Petite France

  • Respect for Advent calendar display 3/5 (broken doors!)
  • On a little island and very cute 5/5
  • Cute game of tossing things between islands but you couldn’t actually play it 2/5
  • Location 5/5 – inception of Frances (Petite France inside Petite France inside…)

Place Broglie

  • Light show with explanation in English 5/5 – educational
  • Long orderly row (except at the very end) 4/5
  • Actual Santa taking pics with kids 5/5
  • Tree forest 4/5

All the others we didn’t even realize they were separate markets because the blurred together 

  • Location 5/5 – continuous Christmas

Terrasse Rohan

  • Quaint 3/5
  • Accidental market 4/5
  • Decor 3.5/5 cool hanging gingerbread men

Marche-Aux Poissons

  • Big tree 4/5 – but not the biggest!

Place de Temple Neuf

  • Cute surprise market 5 out of High Fives all around
  • Not too crowded 3/5
  • Location 4/5 – nice corner of the city 

Strasbourg markets overall

  • Year round Christmas shops 4/5
  • Variety of market goods (not all the same stuff like Paris) 5/5
  • Alsatian Museum 1/5 spoons (only one spoon)
  • Surprise taxi lane 1/5 – why is this car driving on a walking path?
  • Stuffed bears all over 4/5 – cute but a little weird 
  • Christmas Markets 5/5 – they were great and they were everywhere! You couldn’t miss them!


The final leg of our trip and a chance to catch up with friends we haven’t seen in years. Berlin was wonderful. Here’s the run down!


  • Entry fee 1/5 euros – first time we were charged but a very quick queue
  • Hot wine 5/5 – new Christmas mugs
  • Crowds 2/5 – packed like Strasbourg 
  • Ornament game 4/5 – Adorable
  • Hard pretzel 3/5 – it was fiiiiine
  • Gendarmerie close by 5/5 – so good 


  • Giant Christmas “pyramid” 5/5 – we have one of those at home with candles!
  • Bratwurst 5/5 – first in Germany, did not disappoint!
  • Weird ass Christmas tunes 1/5 – is it trying to be K-pop?
  • World clock 5/5 – on time, we assume. 

City Weihnachtsmarkt

  • Square pyramid trees 5/5 – pointy!
  • Ornament photo opp 5/5 – adorable!
  • Big ass tree 4/5 – not as big as Strasbourg 
  • Cathedral 5/5 – Bonus history lesson. Educational!
  • Sean as sparkly Santa 5/5

Potsdamer platz 

  • Big ass slide 5/5
  • Karen and Sean sliding together like the most adorable people on the planet 10/5

St Lucia (or Kollwitzkiez)

  • Ye olde 5/5 
  • Big moose head 5/5
  • Glughwein with amertto 5/5 – tasty and best ceramic mugs 
  • Yurt 4/5 – it’s a yurt!
  • Kaiserschmarrn 5/5 – had apple sauce and filled me with nostalgia 
  • Vibes 4/5
  • Very dark 3/5

Historische Weihnacht

  • Kind of hard to find 2/5 – is this a trick?
  • Vibes 3/5 -much better at night
  • Axe throwing 6/7 – Sean had good luck. Bear’s eye!
  • Axe throwing 1/7 – those axes are cold, badly weighted, and not sharp. Rigged!
  • Fire pits 1/5 – only one and it was surrounded by locals the whole time. 
  • Glogg 5/5 – Achievement unlocked. 
  • Cutest little Ferris Wheel 4/5 – no adult allowed
  • Fire dancing at 5pm – 4/5 very fun but all the jokes were in German and we couldn’t understand them. Sounded funny though!
  • Bratwurst 4/5 – solid sausage. Difficult mustard and ketchup dispenser (big pot with a wooden spoon)

Weinknachtsmarks von dem Schloss Charlottenburg 

  • Bonus market 5/5 – came for the palace and got a Christmas market too!
  • Viewing platform 5/5
  • Credit card acceptance 1/5 – no gluhwein for us 
  • ATM usability 0/5 – did not work 
  • Live bands (plural) 5/5 – they were nice
  • Ornament game 3/5 – not much else to buy. 
  • Indoor stalls 4/5 – warm but crowded
  • Place light show 4/5 – it was cute 

Berliner Weihnachtszeit Rotes Rathaus

  • Ferris Wheel 5/5 – it was good. Private car for smooches. 
  • Gluhwein with amaretto 5/5 – very tasty and warm!
  • Tree bread? 6/5 – so good. Heaven!
  • Nukspezialitäten (candied almonds) 4/5 – they were fine. Just a little warm 
  • Maroni (roasted chestnuts) 2/5 – overrated. Even the vendor didn’t seem to like them. He tried to encourage us to buy less. 
  • Santa on a flying sleigh – 5/5 – a real Santa up there!!
  • Ice Skating 4/5 – looked but our feet were too cold already and the lines were long. Some concern about the trash bins on the ice. 
  • Dope snow globes 5/5 – candlestick, TV, and ornaments!

Berlin overall

  • Space to walk 4/5 – nice to have room to walk
  • Haunted playground 5/5 – a witch definitely lives here. The ice on all the playground surfaces was a bonus!
  • View from the TV tower 5/5 – you could see so far!!! 
  • TV tower restaurant 4/5 – Yummy cake but it was too spinny!
  • Museum Island 5/5 – finally museums in their natural habitat. Our pass was only supposed to work for one museum but (as promised by our first ticket desk agent) nobody checked!
  • Berlin 5/5 – great markets with a ton of variation (competing glogg, axe throwing, ice skating, Christmas pyramids, slides, ornament picture ops)

Pics or it didn’t happen!

Pics in some random WordPress upload order!

Videos of some particular good spots

The Alsatian Christmas story featuring Hans Trapp), Christkindel, and St. Lucia (who is both Jesus and a teenage girl who sets things on fire).

Schlager, pop Christmas songs in Berlin. Everyone was cringing but I was bouncing to it!

The creation of Kaiserschmarrn, a treat my dad used to make at Christmas (which I do now as well). I’ve never had any that wasn’t made by a Nittner before!

Fire Dancing at Historische Weihnacht (part 1)

Fire Dancing at Historische Weihnacht (part 2)

Hot Chocolate Review 2022

We are traveling home from our July 2020 European vacation…that we finally made in Winter 2022! Our plan was to visit Paris, Strasbourg, and Berlin, to visit Christmas Markets (see next post), to visit museums, to relax, and (for me) to drink hot chocolate everywhere I went.

Just before leaving I asked Sophie Lagacé if she would get on a call with me to help me pronounce two very important phrases: chocolat chaud and pain au chocolat. Thankfully she prepared me well!


I intentionally didn’t do much research on where to find the best chocolat chaud I could, I just wanted to try it wherever we went, so while some of these places are exceptional, most are just the places we happened to be. Here goes the rating, based on the official S&K Review MetricsTM.

Pictures included when I remembered to take them!

Boulangerie Léonie 

  • First hot chocolate ordered in French. 3/5 – very bad pronunciation but i did it!
  • Obligatory croissant 4/5 – nom nom nom
  • Checkout process 2/5 – had to wait while others completed their orders for “reasons”
  • “Surprise door” 3/5 – backed up the line and confused other people. 
  • Delicious hot chocolate 5/5 – perfect for dipping my croissant. 

Lieu de Pâtisserie

  • Open late 5/5
  • Super friendly 5/5
  • Chocolate eclair 5/5 – bonus
  • Only “cafe” after passing five other “cafes” 5/5
  • Yummy hot chocolate 3.5/5

Angelina (hot chocolate stand)

  • 1000/5 unparalleled hot chocolate. A full meal in a cup. One sip is enough to fill a man’s stomach for three days and teach his soul enlightenment in a moment.

Angelina (eating inside)

  • Line ride 2/5 – pretty slow
  • Service 10/5 – Constance loved us and she is my hero. She’s the best. 
  • Almost too much of a good thing 4/5 – we were so full we couldn’t finish our croissants. 
  • Bomb ass eggs Benny – 5/5. 
  • Brunch should come with a warning and a free t-shirt if you finish it all (we didn’t) 4/5 – damn it was good, it it was dangerous. 
  • Hazelnut crepe that put Nutella to shame 5/5
  • Height of luxury 5/5
  • Life changing hot chocolate that sparked a conversation with Constance 1000/5. 


  • Only place open when it said it would be open 5/5
  • Very cute location, pitcher, and coasters 5/5 – Sean took lots of pictures 
  • Yummy hot chocolate I ordered in French and didn’t totally fumble 4/5
  • Soft boiled eggs with “soldiers” 5/5 – toasted breadsticks to dip in your egg. Amazing!!

Angelina (in Versailles)

  • Vibes 3/5
  • Finally got an advent calendar 5/5
  • Angelina’s Hot Chocolate 5/5 – am I spoiled now?

Maha’s chocolatier stand at a Christmas market

  • Slice of cake do only .5 eu more 5/5
  • Tasty hot chocolate 3.5/5 

Du Pain et des Idees 

  • Great pudding 5/5
  • Unremarkable chocolat 3/5


I loved a LOT about Strasbourg. The Christmas everywhere vibe, the markets, the rivers, Petite France, seeing my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, and how easy it was to find everything and get everywhere (easiest metro to use of the three cities we were in). One thing I didn’t love however, was the hot chocolate. Most of it was made from instant machines (which I usually only found out after I ordered it) and you know, tasted like Swiss Miss. *sad trombone noise*

Au Petit Artisan

  • Instant from a machine 1/5
  • Small but cute 3/5 – petit
  • Friendly service 4/5 – managed to get by with our limited French. 
  • Location 5/5 – right around the corner from our apartment.

Art Cafe in the Museum of Modern Art

  • hidden location 5/5 – very secret. Almost had to pay museum entrance to get in. Hidden stairs! Don’t use the chute!
  • Language barrier 0/5 – no fucks given 
  • Surprise blueberry tart 4/5 – for not knowing what I ordered, I was very pleased!
  • Actual hot cocoa 1/5 – more instant stuff 🙁

Cafe Bretelles

  • No room in the inn 1/5
  • Auto switching to English 4/5 – very friendly server 
  • Couldn’t practice our French 2/5 (“what?” and a confused look when I said choclat chaud)
  • Actual hot coco 1/5 – instant again I’m pretty sure. 

Le Quai 67

  • Cute heart in foam 5/5
  • Friendly server 5/5 – Clocked us as Americans (or at the very least English speakers) the moment we walked in the door, but was super friendly. Wished we could have gone back but we discovered this place too late!
  • Chocolate with extra chocolate on the side 5/5 – Brownie was dense and delicious.
  • Hot cocoa 4/5 – Hand made for the first time not instant powder!


All the instant powder mixes I had in Strasbourg left me a little lackluster, but we persevered in Berlin and I’m glad we did!

44 Brekke

  • Cute cream hearts 5/5
  • Not instant hot chocolate 5/5
  • With Yvonne and Dave 5/5 – Frands!
  • Tasty 3/5
  • Egg drop as well 5/5 – best egg sandwich I can remember!

Einstein Kaffee

  • Legendary food court 5/5 – they had table service!
  • Tall glass instead of mug 3/5
  • Pretty yummy 4/5

Mondrean Hotel Breakfast Buffet 

  • No toes had to be frozen in search of this hot cocoa 5/5
  • Instant 1/5
  • Cool machine 3/5


  • WTF Kitty Robot ??? 5/5 – adorable..for now. 
  • Whipped cream game 5/5 – there was a lot, it was tasty, and had chocolate sprinkles. 
  • Hot chocolate itself 3/5 – good, not instant. Not too sweet. 
  • Mikael 5/5 – very friendly server, told us the story of his future kitty robot overlord. 

Coffee Brothers

  • Accidental Frankfurt airport re-routing 1/5
  • But they hot chocolate wasn’t instant 5/5
  • Hot chocolate overall 3/5 – not bad

And that’s it. We’re flying home now… with a giant tin of Angelina’s chocolat chaud in our bags!!!

Awkward family situations – a social challenge?

I had an uncomfortable and revealing conversation with my sister and niece the other day. It was the first time I had seen them long enough to share a meal and hangout in years, so after a few drinks and some probing questions, we got to sharing our feelings.

It’s worth noting that I’m very guarded with my family. They have no interest in gaming (when I bring it up the eye rolls are palpable) and they often want to go from 0 to tell-me-your-deepest-darkest-secrets in 10 seconds…too fast for me. They share a lot and I tend to keep my cards close to my chest. Why?

  • Some of my history isn’t all mine to share (it involves other people’s stories as well).
  • My family tends to jump straight into giving advice, even when they lack the context to do so. After I’ve shared I often either spend a lot of time saying “thanks but that doesn’t work for me” or just nodding along hoping it will end soon.
  • I just don’t feel…safe. I don’t know where that knowledge will go. Will it be shared as gossip with the rest of my family? Will it be used as ammunition against me later?

And that last bit is exactly what happened. They shared stories, I shared stories, we talked about our feelings, and then something I shared wasn’t okay. I had jokingly complained about my mother, who is LITERALLY the kindest, most generous, most loving woman in the world. I think complaining about parents is like one of the major sources of sibling bonding, but it turned out instead to be a point of contention, and I spent an hour trying to prove that yes I did in fact love my mother, that I think she’s wonderful, and that I do say nice things to her. It was a frustrating conversation that I felt drained by, but from my families account, it was an incredible night and they are so glad that I shared with them. They aren’t wrong, we did share a lot, and maybe it was really good for them. But for me, it was an emotional battleground that I felt exhausted by (Level 1 Harm, emotionally drained).

Why is this a gaming post?

Reflecting on it, I wouldn’t want to play out a scene like this in a game, but I can see some useful gamer bits to draw from.

  • Sometimes you don’t know you’re in a dangerous situation until you’ve already stepped in it. My family has the emotional jujitsu to put me on the defensive before I even realize that’s on the table. I think “you’re trapped in an uncomfortable situation and navigating you’re way out of it may be impossible” might be a good example of a time when you make a resistance roll just to act on your own accord. Probably Resolve (to keep my emotional balance) but I could see making an argument for Insight (to have NOPE out before it even gets that far).
  • Harm in the form of emotional exhaustion, zero fucks to give, or drained by family all makes sense. It tires you out, leaves you second guessing yourself, and takes time to recover from. I don’t want to conflate that with mental illness or emotional abuse, but good natured “sharing” can be exhausting. I think I got a mixed success. I walked out with my family satisfied (success), but I was exhausted and felt more guarded than before (consequences).
  • A great example of how the action you chose affects position and effect, but also the kind of outcomes (successes and consequences) you might end up with. Normally in Blades the players states their intent, the GM says what the threat is, the player chooses the action, and then GM sets position/effect. But it’s a conversation and sometimes things have to be amended. The threat may vary if you choose to Consort vs. Command vs. Sway vs. Wreck (hey, different people get out of awkward social situations in different ways!). I think I was consorting, trying to lead with emotional honesty, but I may have had less at stake and probably less to gain (safer position but less effect) if I had stayed guarded and tried to Sway them by placating them rather than being honest. If I had instead tried Command, I think it would have just been bad all around (Desperate/Limited) as I think the best I could hope for would be to end the conversation early, and the likely outcome if I didn’t thread that needle just perfectly would have been years of family gossip.

Any insights on gaming mechanics from your uncomfortable family gatherings?

An uncomfortable situation – social challenge

I was in a crowded restaurant where I didn’t speak the language and I was having a hard time getting the server’s attention. It seemed like the place was full of regulars who were very comfortable. They were laughing and joking and seemed at ease. Meanwhile I was trying to be polite, but also very much needed to get the bill, pay the bill, and get out to catch a train. I didn’t want too aggressive, but I wanted to be noticed, which got me thinking about a Risky Standard challenges.

The Leaky Bucket

The crew of scoundrels enters the half subterranean tavern festooned with the titular buckets to catch the drips coming from the ceiling and the place is filled with a mix of Lampblacks, Crows, and a few locals invariably intertwined with one or both gang. Bazso Baz sits at a table in the back, surrounded by his lieutenants, who form a wall of conversation. Nobody is paying attention to you, and when they do give you a look it’s a sneer indicating you don’t belong here. One wrong move here will get you kicked out of the bar, beaten up, or worse. How will you get his attention?

Factors that influence position or effect:

  • Do you know anyone here? (Could improve position if you do, might reduce effect if you don’t)
  • Are you affiliated with the Red Sashes (Desperate situation right off the bat).

Possible consequences:

  • Gaining Picket, Bazso, or another patron as an enemy.
  • Kicked out (lost opportunity).
  • Level 1 Harm (Beaten up).

Tons of other factors can go into this, but I think “how do I fit into a place that isn’t welcoming to me” is a good one to ask when navigating unfamiliar factions.

Memories of Death

Content warning: ghosts, death, and the insinuation of gruesome violence.

I don’t have the book on me, but from what I remember, the experience of being in the presence of ghosts in Blades in the Dark is a combination of electrical currents (lights lighter, electric sparks, etc) and cold (hairs stand on end, shivers, windows frost over, etc).

The effect causes fear and your choice as a player is to freeze in place or run away. With a resistance roll you can instead choose to act on your own accord. However, as a GM I’ve notice the impact of saying “you feel a sudden chill wash over you” does diminish after a while. So I’ve been thinking about ghosts and what they carry with them…the memories of their death! I think experiencing them might cause the same fear as the physiological reactions we’re used to describing.

Next time my players encounter a ghost, here’s something I’m going to try:


  • You remember standing at the top of a narrow stairway leading down into a dimly lit basement full of rusted and weathered carpentry tools. You know you must descend, and you equally know that one of the stairs will break under your weight.
  • You have a memory of a man with a silver broach in the shape of a cross. His look is cold and calculating, sizing you up as though judging the weight of your bones once taken from your body. He holds a knife in his hand…not it’s smaller, thinner… a razor, dripping with your blood.
  • The steamship Medon slowly plods across the wine dark void sea. The waters are so still you can make out your reflection in them. Two dark eyes, the color lost in the sea, a hawk nose, and thin lips covering pointed teeth…so many…more than you could possibly have. Something is rising from beneath and your image fades as the water parts, torn open by jagged teeth…
  • You hear the pounding of a Bluecoats bludgeon on the weatherworn and rotted door to your families home. Your father stands int front of you with a ball pein hammer in his hand. He’s going to be the first one to die.

These are just some ideas. If you know how a ghost died in your own game, maybe that’s something you want to share with your players. As a matter of safety and consent I think it’s important to judge how long these descriptions are. I’m inclined to give a short description as that both leaves things to the players imagination and minimized the time when they are unable to say “nooooooope, I’m going to resist that shit” if they aren’t feeling it.

What are your favorite ways to introduce ghosts (or other scary supernatural entities) in your game?

A clock for Xenomorphs

I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up from a nightmare at 4am and laid in bed thinking till six when I finally gave up surrendered to the day beginning. The upshot? A 4-part clock to share for all you Aliens fans who are thinking about playing a game of Aliens Forged in the Dark.

Content warning: All the scary stuff that wakes me up from nightmares including the horror elements of the Aliens franchise (facehuggers, chest busters, etc).

First, a thought on clocks.

One thing I think gets overlooked when progressing a clock is the narrative impact of each tick. Sure, sometimes it’s enough to just say the guards are getting “more” suspicious until the finally sound the alarm when the Alert clock is full, but I’d much rather see that suspicion grow. Metal Gear Solid comes to mind. We start with “what was that noise?”, then a guard starts wandering in your direction, etc. It’s something we can see on screen and changes the situation. Stras Acimovic is the king of making each clock tick feel like it has very real consequence. A change of plans, collateral damage, a barbed insult that will make a forever enemy. Each tick is something real!

So, facehuggers, eh?

On that note, I had some thoughts about what it might look like if you encountered a facehugger and we started a clock to see if it implanted an egg. Here’s what I imagine a 4-tick clock might look like (thanks to Karen Twelves for talking to me about this at 6am and helping with the 3rd tick!).

  1. Grapple and tackle. The Facehugger grabs a hold of you and depending on circumstances, knocks you down or otherwise has you grappled. At this point, removal is possible and must be done immediately. Most attempts to remove are risky if someone else is helping, desperate if you’re on your own. If removal isn’t complete very soon, add another tick.
  2. Cynose-based paralytic poison administered which renders the new host (that’s you) unconscious and immobile. As a GM I’d likely describe the sting of the injection and a numbness overtaking the extremities. At this point removal is harder, any action from the poisoned victim is likely reduced effect (maybe down to zero effect if you’re alone, grappled, and poisoned, requiring a push just to make something happen, I know, scary).
  3. Tail strangulation. This isn’t exactly the order it always happens in the movies, and frankly you can swap ticks two and three if you want. They are both terrifying! The tail wraps around your neck and now removal is extremely dangerous and possibly fatal. Cutting it causes the acid blood to spray and the grip is so tight it can easily break your neck before being wrenched off. I’d likely say any direct method of removal would be desperate no matter who is doing it and effect is still reduced. Level 3 harm (acid burns) or Level 4 harm (broken neck) are both on the table as complications depending on the means applied to remove it.
  4. The ovipositor is inserted and a xenomorph embryo is implanted. The facehugger will remain inert for some time (ranging from a few minutes to a few hours before it falls off and dies, but the damage is done, and you’re now the carrier for an alien chestburster. Maybe you’ve got incredibly advanced medical facilities on hand, some kind of hive mind alien control to stop it? No, that’s okay, it’s quick to make new characters in this game.

Those are each terrible consequences Sean, why would you do all that for a clock tick?

It’s true, those are all awful and could be complete standalone consequences (often severe consequences) of their own…and I think that is fair game. They are both consequences with mechanical and fictional implications and they leading towards an even worse fate then the clock is full.

I certainly don’t think all clocks should be so dire, but I am a fan of making each tick feel real and concrete rather than an abstract “things are getting worse” meter we ignore until it fills.

Anywho, thanks for coming along this stuff-of-nightmares ride with me. I don’t suggest you actually use a clock like this (well, unless you’re playing an Aliens hack of Blades) but hopefully it offered some inspiration for the net time you start a 4-tick Alert clock and wonder what each tick could mean!

Dusting off the cobwebs

Like everyone else I’m struggling to find an online home after the inevitable crash, or more likely just complete and utter toxification of Twitter. I’ve tried out Mastadon and Hive and so far neither have really clicked for me. I think Hive might be the place once there is a desktop version, but as long as it’s mobile only, it’s not really usable by me. Many other alternatives have been offered, but the one that resonated with me the most was John Scalzi’s tweet

Followed by the article where he elaborates on the merits on an artisan web:

So, I’m going to give a shot. Who knows, if folks really start posting on their blogs a lot, maybe we’ll resurrect Google Reader.

A funny thing happened this Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving we went over to my sister’s house to break bread with her. She married into a Greek family that is very large and if not very religious, still a lot more religious that I am. Generally not a subject that comes up often, but this time I really tried to swallow my whole foot.

We arrived at 1PM and started helping. My mom, who probably arrived a day or two before, was in the kitchen getting things ready and so it was an easy fit to join her. I like to feel useful and also…there was a lot of people there, so my introverted self was happier in the kitchen.

When the food was ready, we brought it all out and setup an amazing buffet. A feast!

The food was out and folks were standing around. I made a few encouraging jests “okay, let’s start eating” but other than a few smiles, nobody responded. So I thought I’d start the feast!

I was midway through the table, when I realized nobody was behind me… I looked up and saw the were all standing in a circle quietly waiting—you guessed it—to say grace.

What? What? What?

I’m not so uncouth as to eat while someone is saying grace, but I figured that was something they would do at the table before eating. Somehow the 20 other people there had figured this out and I hadn’t.

So I did the only thing possible. I crept back into the circle, cast my head down, and tried not to die of embarrassment as my much younger cousin gave thanks for the food and said grace. <dying inside>

Can’t get any worse

The upshot? After that there was really nothing that I could do (or anyone else could do) that was more embarrassing. At one point someone knocked over a vase, spilled water and flowers everywhere, and I was like “well, at least you didn’t start eating before folks said grace!”

Sometimes I make a mistake and I’m just too mortified, but when I can laugh about it, it feels much better. Something about taking ownership of my own gaff.

How were your holidays? Any silly stories you want to share?