The Little Engine that Could

Man, I have been feeling full force what losing momentum can do to you. My last blog post (and my last [and first] ROW80 update) was over a month ago. Between family medical issues and an emergency remodel of my bathroom my great journey to good writing habits died before it even really had a chance. I feel it full force. I sat down to try to write on Tuesday and as soon as I began to push that great boulder rolled right back over the top of me, laying me flat.

But I’m back, with a renewed focus. 6 days are left in the current ROW80, and I plan to finish it out completing my goal I set forward over a month ago–to spend an hour a day wholly focused on writing. Hopefully with the next round coming around, I’ll be able to build up some of that momentum that I so dearly miss.


A Transition: NaNo to ROW80

So, for those of you that I know on Facebook, you are probably aware that I was intending to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It is something I have attempted in earnest 3 times before, but never actually saw it through to the end. This year I declared my participation out of a kind of blind desire for the achievement of it: To prove that I finally could.

In the weeks leading up to November, I started having doubts about it. Not just for the blistering pace of writing required, but if it was actually something that aligned with my goals. In the end, I want to “become a writer.” To me, though, NaNo is a contest for writers (or “tourists” to writing, but that’s a whole other subject). I think it works best for those that are into the habit of writing and want a motivation to bang out a draft, try a different way of writing, or just for the prestige. I am not in that habit at the moment. I am so rusty it’s a little shameful. So much of my time spent on my NaNo project this week has been looking up how to format dialogue or the differences between en and em dashes, because I had simply forgotten. NaNo is not a good exercise for someone with my status.

I am confident I could complete it if I buckled down and dedicated the hours to it, but it would be a miserable month. At the end I would have a first draft of my story (actually an anthology of short stories), but I wouldn’t have developed healthy writing habits, and I would have that draft at the exclusion of doing much of anything else this month. A big part of my interest in NaNoWriMo in the past has been to try to jump-start my writing again. I think at the end of it I would just be burnt out, and not very far ahead in terms of “being a writer” than where I started.

While looking around the web at writing articles I stumbled across A Round of Words in 80 Days (known in shorthand as ROW80), which you can find here if you’re interested. ROW80 is much more immediately appealing to me. ROW80 runs for 80 days total, and repeats 4 times a year. It is much more fluid and flexible, letting participants set their own personal goals, which are allowed to change as circumstances require. Additionally, these goals are encouraged to be set around the how and not the what: Rather than focusing on a finished product or a word count, it’s intended to be focused on how to build yourself to accomplish that. Also, since it runs throughout the year in stages it encouraged building habits that lead to better writing, rather than a mad dash one month out of the year.

So, I’ve decided to pick my hat back up out of NaNoWriMo, and throw it into the ROW80 ring. My goal shall be to spend an hour a day writing on my work days and 3 hours a day on my days off; whether that’s writing on my short story anthology, developing out Canopy, trying to get back into writing poetry, or reading articles and blogs on writing. This will help me to rebuild those writing skills that I’ve lost over the years and work towards a healthy, sustainable habit of writing.

Any further updates on my writing and on ROW80 will take place here, and will be auto-shared to Facebook as well. Feel free to comment at either location. I’m always happy to hear a bit of encouragement!

Some Thoughts on Saving Throws

Before I dive in, I wanted to address the purpose of this post for those of you that are used to this blog as a place for my short autobiographical fiction. I plan to continue that writing in the future (probably with the same sporadic consistency), but I also want to expand what I’m doing creatively as well. Rather than start a new blog for new stuff, which is what I’ve done in the past and just serves to fragment my creative output, I’m going to start putting everything out under the same banner. So my RPG content (which this post is about) will be put alongside my other content. I may in the future try to separate these into different tabs, but for now I’m just going to tag them “fiction” or “RPG.”

On to the meat: In James Raggi’s recent AMA on reddit he was talking about wanting to change the saving throw system in Lamentations of the Flame Princess to something that would be a flat score and not go up in level, possibly based on attribute scores. His thinking apparently being that poisons should always poison etc. and things that you save against should always be a huge danger to the player. This got me thinking about how I would handle saving throws in that system.

I’ve always admired Lamentations of the Flame Princess for its skill system and it’s take on the thief class, known as a “specialist” in the system. Essentially what Raggi did was convert the basic thieving skills over to the “1 in 6” style d6 roll that was used for things like listening and searching checks in OD&D. I thought this was a great way to integrate thief skills back into the already existing system for checks in classic D&D, doing away with the goofy and out of place percentile checks, and does away with thief skills that increase by level according to a preset table (similar to the way Saving Throws progress). It essentially takes two disparate skill systems and combines them into a more unified mechanic based on the classic “1 in 6” roll from OD&D. He also expanded these abilities to be possible for any class, but gave the thief 2 “skill points” every level that could increase the d6 roll, which gave a lot of player choice and agency in a very straightforward manner.

My house rule for saving throws integrates alongside this skill system. In the same way that the thief skills were taken from a table of automatic progression and their own distinct mechanic, it takes the saving throws off of preset tables and gives them the same level of player choice as the specialist has in its skills.

As of now, I suggest using the same “classic” saving throw categories (Paralyze, Poison, Breath, Device, and Magic), but simply starting each one at a 1 in 6 chance on a d6 of success. Maybe providing class based starting levels, such as starting fighters with a 2 in 6 chance of Poison and Breath saves, to reflect their greater resilience and reaction time. All classes would get a single “Save Point” per level that they could apply to any of the saving throws, moving from a 1 in 6 to a 2 in 6 chance for example. Specialists, on the other hand, would move from getting 2 Skill Points per level to 3 Skill Points per level. The Specialist can use these points on either skills or saving throws. This gives the opportunity, for example, for a specialist that is extremely resilient and dexterous rather than extremely skilled if most points are applied into saving throw categories. Or even a Specialist that is particularly weak in terms of saving throws but is extra skilled compared to others.

This does a few things. First of all, it makes saving throws follow the same mechanic as the rest of the skill system (and fall in line with the “classic” ways of doing checks as d6 rolls). Why shouldn’t a check to see if you don’t fall while climbing work similarly to a check to see if you can dodge out of the way of an attack? It also changes the numbers a bit. In the current system, players start with an average 25% chance to succeed at a saving throw, and by 10th level are somewhere around a 70% chance of success. With my system players start at a 16% chance of success for saving throws, and by 10th level, if they distribute their points evenly, have a 50% chance of success in each category (although this might change depending on the starting values for a class). This increases the risk of saving throws across the board (going along with some of the design goals of Lamentations of the Flame Princess), but also puts a lot of choice in the player’s hands. They could end up at 6th level being almost entirely immune to one saving throw category, but still 16% in the rest.

So what do you think? Does it increase the danger of saving throws too much? Should there be wholly different categories for the saving throws (maybe descriptors like dodge, fortitude etc.)? This is something I’d like to develop out (and playtest) fully and possibly put into a PDF resource, so please offer any thoughts and suggestions you have!

The Lure

He was potential turned kinetic. With those few furious actions he silenced not only Eric, but the gathering crowd of his peers. He stopped and sat still for a moment, in shocked contemplation.

Is this how Kirk felt? he thought, thinking back to the Captain’s fight with that Gorn warrior. Somehow, even without the green reptilian suit, Eric felt like much more real of a monster. Ken didn’t know how to feel about this sudden turn of events; he had never acted violently before. He felt flush with power. Conquest is easy. Control is not.

At the end, Eric had went from aggressor to defender. With that last blow, his shielding hands fell limp to the ground. Ken stood. “What the hell are you looking at?!” he screamed at the crowd. “I just wanted to go home!” He felt tears welling up under his glasses. He yanked his head around, desperately looking for any sign of understanding from his classmates. He saw only silence.

Ken ran from that stillness. He ran into the woods, where the rustling wind and bird sounds refilled the void in his ears. He ran until his gasping overwhelmed him. He dropped to the ground, finding comfort in the dead leaves. When he had finally regained control, he realized that it had become dark. His watch read 4:12 PM. He punched in some calculations on it to be sure it was still working and the beep of each button press echoed and warped into the forest around him.

He glanced back up and shook as he saw the form now before him. He cautiously backed up to a nearby tree, squinting and straining to make out who it was that had appeared so suddenly. Even though the figure was maybe ten feet in front of Ken, it was wholly nondescript. “Wh-who are you?” Ken stuttered, too afraid to waste time cleaning his glasses.

A thick, accented female voice responded slowly, “I saw what you did.” As the words slipped out of her mouth, Ken felt each one crawl across his skin with a thousand tiny legs.

“I had no choice!” Ken retorted desperately. “I don’t know what else to do! Cretins like Eric only understand power!”

“Is that what you would call what you did?”


“Do you think that your ‘power’ will stop him?”

“I-I don’t know,” Ken admitted, feeling a little more hopeless than before.

“I can help.” she whispered. “I can give you power. I can energize you to face that boy again.”

Ken felt his stomach drop through the floor. Each of her words seemed to clasp and pull him downward. This does not sound good. He had read countless books that started with corrupting power. He knew that if even whole fellowships struggled to contain it, he didn’t stand a chance. But he also knew that he was done with Eric and his goons, and that after he stood up to them today, tomorrow would be even worse. I can’t stand another day of them.

“Okay,” he responded resolutely. “Show me.”

“Good. Follow me,” the figure stated as she turned and drifted through the forest. Ken followed.


It was relentlessly silent. Even the ever-present Autumn breeze seemed to be waiting with bated breath. Countless berries and petals twinkled in the cool moonlight, floating in a vast sea of underbrush, anchored in silence to the dirt floor. The trees rose, cathedral-like, their tops stretching unfathomably in the dark to become one with the night sky. As I craned my neck back to take in as much of the canopy as possible, I felt the ground dematerialize and shift under my feet. I volunteered myself to the thicket and felt the leaves and branches whipping past me; neither supporting nor hindering my fall. I stared into that limitless canopy and watched it rushing away from me. The vast openness of sky left me. I knew the sky wasn’t for me, but I felt saddened. As the weight of the ground shifted its way around and above me the substance of my new surroundings felt constricting but comfortable. There was possibility in the earth that the indefinite sky could never understand.

But I missed it already.

The vastness of the sky felt like possibilities. The sky does not understand limits. But there is no material of substance in the sky, nothing to create with. Now, visionless and muted I felt creation suffocating me. In my time on the surface, the dirt fell beneath me. I tread on it without question. Now that I was immersed it felt overwhelming in its breadth and depth. I felt lost as to where to start.

I found myself buried deep. I wriggled and shifted until I felt some modicum of control. I felt determined to shape that which had always rested beneath me and dedicated myself to the Earth. I brought to bear my full might to compress and mold a space for myself. After some timeless days I was finally able to stand. As I continued my digging the Earth seemed to suddenly open for me. Still blind, I nearly toppled over myself into a pit. Groping out through this portal I could feel nothing but open air. I convinced myself that I could see the faintest glimmer of light. Trusting, I stretched a leg through and found purchase below. I lowered down cautiously and found myself standing on a small ledge. I could see a series of outcroppings that looked deliberately placed to lead me down into the darkness so I followed them. As I climbed, the faint light steadily grew.

After what felt like days of descending, I finally reached the bottom of an immense subterranean ravine. I stared upwards and started to feel that familiar feeling; that sense of dizzying wonder. I began to regret my decision to dedicate myself to the Earth. With a deep breath I regrounded myself. I turned slowly in place, taking in every detail of these new surroundings. I was standing on the floor of a cavernous ravine. I quickly became aware that I was standing in a stream as the water soaked through my shoes. Dirt walls speckled with myriad stones and pebbles shot up into the heavens. I wondered for the first time how deep I actually was. I stretched my arms out and with a little movement I could run my hands through the dirt on either side. I could now see the source of my light: Thousands of tiny phosphorescent mushrooms pulsed in a royal, majestic lavender. My eyes devoured every speck of light they could. As they slowly traced their way along the walls I could see the cave stretch for hundreds of yards in both directions before the light faded again to blackness. Even though I had only two directions to go, I felt desperately lost.

I closed my eyes, turned a few times, and started walking. I lost track of time and direction as I walked, but after some short time I stumbled across what looked like a tunnel dug off at an odd angle from the ravine. It stood about six feet tall and looked very roughly carved into the cliff side. A large quantity of dirt was piled up at the entrance. I decided to follow the tunnel. I ducked slightly to enter, the loose shifted dirt springing slightly underfoot as I slumped my way down the tunnel. As I walked I became more and more aware of the sound of digging ahead of me. It was loud enough I felt sure that I should have heard it at the tunnel entrance. My brain was in a kind of disoriented stasis, so I felt I must have just overlooked it. I quickened my pace, eager to see what was ahead.

With the light of the mushrooms far behind, I ran straight into the hindquarters of a large furry animal. It grumped loudly as I sprung backwards into the loose earth. I could hear it working heavily to shift itself around to face me, clearly longer than the tunnel was wide. As soon as the commotion had calmed down, it seemed to take a moment to sniff loudly, trying to make out what had run into it. I then felt its wet snout scoop me up to my feet as it started to barrel forward, using its face to push and nudge me along the tunnel, clearly trying to excavate the intruder to its operation. I could barely keep up with its speed, constantly finding myself tumbling over into the dirt then scrambling onto my feet to save myself from a trampling death.

When we reached the entrance to the tunnel again it gave me a firm shove and I went head over heels into the ravine’s creek with a splash. I fully expected it to either attack or retreat back down its tunnel the way it came, but it stood for a long while, examining me in the faint light. I returned the favor, and took note of the beast’s features. It had a thin pink snout, covered in a velvety black fur and wreathed with hundreds of whiskers all around. I could barely make out its beady eyes under its thick fur and it had no ears to speak of. The thing’s front paws were heavily clawed and nearly as massively broad as the girth of the creature itself. It seemed to decide that I was of no real danger, and settled down at the opening to its tunnel. It continued to eye me curiously. I reached out a hand to test it and it continued to sit comfortably staring at me, so I ran my hands through the fur on its snout and face. I decided then that “it” was a “he” and named him Townsend. He seemed friendly and leaned into my hand as I pet him for a while. I brushed some dirt off a large stone by Townsend and sat down. Out of a curious hope, I tried to talk to him, but he merely blinked his beady eyes at me and made some soft grumbly sounds in return.

After a few minutes of this, I told Townsend goodbye and started off down the ravine again, the same direction I had been traveling. I could hear the heavy splashing of him following me. I was glad to have some company, even if it was just a mute giant mole.

The Thing

The thing climbed out of my ear while I was watching an episode of The Office. There I was, eating some chicken nuggets, when I suddenly felt something wriggling deep within my skull. Over the course of about 7 minutes, I could feel the thing work its way from the center of my head cavity to my left ear. After about another 3 minutes it fell with a slick thud onto my desk.

It looked at first like a worm; elongated and pale in a translucent yellowing pink. As I stared at it though, it become clear that the immediately visible portion of this creature was merely a sac: Some kind of soft embryo or egg. As I leaned in to peer closer I could see an undulating movement and the dancing shadows of hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny legs all in a row, moving within this thing. It pulsated and churned with a sort of unnatural charm.

I felt a kinship with it. I was not at all shocked to see it sitting in a sticky puddle on my desk. I did, however, feel an intense shame. Somehow I had created this thing out of my head. I knew that if someone else were to have witnessed it, they would not have seen the fascinating, miraculous creature for what it was, but some purulent parasite. I would be forced to either defend it as my creation, or condemn it as some freakish fluke.

I do not know what it is to become, but it is beautiful in a deeply unsettling way. I have decided to nurture it. It is unlike anything I have ever presented to the world, but I now think that’s because I have never been brave enough. Maybe it is not ready to see the light of day yet, but when it is I am sure someone else will find it beautiful as well.



I took him home and he slept. I laid him in a corner of the yard, sheltered beneath a mighty pine. I covered him with a heavy blanket then came back inside and shut the door. I could hear him snoring from my living room. For nearly a month he slept. Or, at least I thought he did. After a few weeks of restful slumber, there were times that I could hear him stirring, but I chose to ignore him. He had been so calm that I hoped he would simply return to that state if left unbothered. There was still a large part of me that was fearful.

By the time that I did check on him, it was clear he had needed my attention much sooner. I thought he had tamed, but he was still feral. He had been plucked out from his domain and exposed. Without follow-up care he grew resentful. He had been living off the plentiful apple trees in our back yard, but clearly hungered for something more substantial. I could tell that he blamed me for his discomfort. I gladly took ownership. He was righteously angry.

I fed him. I made sure it was clear to both him and myself that I was remorseful. Even though we could not communicate directly, I could feel him calm.

He was fiercely independent, but I had uprooted him. I now have an active responsibility in his development. With him here in my backyard I can no longer be in denial. I can no longer turn a deaf ear to that howling in the distant woods.


Understanding the Beast

There was a certain forlorn quality to his call. As I stepped out of my car I expected to see him in some state of debilitation, but he was not. He sat leaning against a great myrtle just off the roadside; far enough from the highway that I would not have noticed him if it wasn’t for that call. My glasses are obsolete, so it took me far longer than it could have to establish what I was seeing. As I discerned he sat patiently as if waiting for me.

I am quite a tall man myself, but he was taller. What I first saw as a long brown jacket, perhaps to protect against the growing wind, was actually a thick coat of fur that covered him head to toe. What I first saw as sunglasses, perhaps to protect his eyes from the unfettered spreading sun, were actually thick set eyes under a heavy brow. He sat with his knees tucked to his chest but an expectantly rigid back. He had an inhuman stare.

He called out again. I wasn’t sure anymore if he was calling to me. He seemed now to be staring off toward the road, aimlessly beckoning. I decided to approach him regardless. The noise he made was unlike anything I’d heard before. My mind raced as I tried to file it somewhere among the many noises in my memory. Perhaps something from a movie? Some sound described in text? In person it seemed alien beyond comprehension, and it defied categorization. I needed to better know its source.

As I continued to approach he began to take notice. He slowly moved up into a crouch, but did not shift from his place under that great tree. When I did not falter in my advance he stood tall. He absolutely towered over me and seemed to unfold and expand into a terrifying figure, hoping to formalize the relationship between us in no uncertain terms.

It was exactly in this position that I could see him the clearest. What I first saw as an animal body under thick feral fur, was actually a familiar human figure and proportions. What I first saw as brutal beast-like eyes, had began to show me fear.

I took him home with me that day. I agreed to co-habitate with that thing, that most would call “it” but I insist on calling “him.” I have yet to work out the details, but I know he at least deserves my respect. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully comprehend him.

Still figuring it out as I go,


A Dream

She came to me in a dream. I don’t mean that in some cliched implication of prophecy. She was no avatar of long lost love. I am perfectly happy with the one that didn’t get away. Even so, she was someone that once meant something to me. A good friend, from a time that I had far more ambition and dreams. I don’t dream much these days. I sleep fully grounded in reality, as if some part of me is enforcing on myself a tether to the concrete.

But there I was, walking across a college campus. It was some intermixture of campuses (campi?) past, the kind of place that exists only in your sleep. As I walked along my little chunk of quad, floating in some indescribed aether, she approached me. Not quite a singular persona, but some allegorical aggregate of friends past. It was as if for a moment I lived again in that space: In that discrete 6 week chunk of summer on that campus so long ago. She was a friend, a fountain of support at a time in my life that I thought I was an island.

In my dream it was as if we had not seen each other in some time. The surroundings were the same, but we were different, like some temporally displaced reunion. With a grateful embrace time scrunched and shuffled until that spacious disparity between us dissolved. I wondered why it had taken us so long to reconnect. I have not talked to her since that summer long ago.

At the time I didn’t realize the effect that those people had on me. I barely held onto them when I had them, so when it was time to say goodbye they easily slipped through my grasp. Looking back, I can see how they affected me; how those people shaped me and propelled me forward. We had yearbooks at that camp, and mine are over-filled with genuine well wishes and memories. At the time I was cynical. Those messages seemed contrived. Reading them now creates for me a new canon. At the time I created a reality for myself where I was confident I was just misunderstood.

I was the one with the misunderstanding.

I realized how much I miss those people. I don’t consider myself someone who has regrets, but I seem to have forgot that for a bit this morning.

With 20/20 hindsight,