Jess Nickelsen: Discombobulated
August 19, 2020 - A Big Thank-You


Hey there. I know it’s been a while. Despite not having written for, well, five months or so, I received a very lovely email a few weeks ago, to say that a really nice person called Merry Hermit sent me a virtual coffee via my Ko-fi.

To be honest I’d been in a bit of a funk, in terms of writing, and my feelings about the internet and social media. It’s not about the $$ (honestly), but the little ping” of someone saying hello, and reaching out to say they enjoyed reading the blog, really gave me a happy feeling. Simple, but true. So thank you very much, Merry Hermit, wherever you are.

I’m also writing right now, because I’m trying out a new piece of software. It purports to be a Ulysses clone, for both Windows and Mac (wouldn’t it be nice if it was available for Linux too?), and I want to test that out. Anyway, it’s called Inspire Writer, and that’s all I know about it. They have a few typos on their webpage, which always makes my inner pedant clench, but making spelling mistakes and making good software are two different things, right? Anyway, they offer a 10-day-free trial, and they offer a lifetime license if you write a review on your website. Why not, right?

My writing has mostly been in a notebook these days. I really like the Decomposition Books, which are like composition notebooks, but with really lovely art and 100% recycled pages. I got a large stack of them from milligram(.com? when they were obviously trying to get rid of them - for $4 AU a notebook, compared to the usual $14 or $15. So all of mine have lions and cape buffalo and rhinos on them, but I don’t mind. I think I’ve written something in the vicinity of around 7,500 words, but you’re going to be shaking your head in a moment, on yet another rendition of my Felathia novel, that is starting to feel like a wart or carbuncle at this stage. I just can’t get rid of it (out of my brain, I mean), and seemingly can’t construct a coherent narrative, if all my drafts mean anything.

I know that changing up software is the lipstick-pig equivalent, but I just feel like I need to see it differently somehow.


On the gaming front I have been busy during lockdown. (Did I mention that New Zealand is back into our levels? There’s been an outbreak in Auckland, which means the whole city there is at level three, but the rest of the country is at level two. Level two is mostly around distancing, reducing group numbers to less than 100, etc. Lots of things being postponed/cancelled at the moment.) I found a great old-school D&D (using Rules Cyclopedia) game running on Roll20, and was brave enough to join up with a group of complete strangers. They are all really, really great though, and we’re at the point where we can all joke around with each other and it’s a lot of fun. The only downside is that it runs on Friday night for them (in the US), which is Saturday afternoon for me. It’s not usually a big deal, though Leila sometimes gets quite cross with me for being online.

I’ve also started Judging a game! That’s a clue: a Judge is a GM / DM when you’re running Dungeon Crawl Classics. I got hold of a rulebook a while ago (as well as the very excellent supplement, Hubris) and it is serious chaos. Wizards mutate if their spells go wrong, warriors can perform weird and wacky mighty deeds, halflings are bad-ass dual-wielding luck machines, and the adventures are totally on the gonzo side. It’s really a lot of fun, and I’m running it for some friends, half of whom have never played a tabletop RPG before (and so are totally lenient with my newbie GMing). It’s sort of turning into a campaign, but we’ll see how that goes.

I have also been doing some solo stuff. The longest one was a DCC group I was initially wanting to run through Anomalous Subsurface Environment…only they never seemed to get out of the city! Using a combination of Mythic, and the very excellent Street Kids of Ur-Hadad” from Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 1, I somehow wound up with my characters in the middle of gang wars, city conspiracies, and weird artefact research. I couldn’t get them to the damn megadungeon. Then they went off in search of some lost temple, most of them died, and the thief decided she would go into retirement.

Another one I started running (another DCC game) was using Mythic, and the very beautiful Castle Xyntillan, by Gabor Lux. (He also seems really nice—he reached out to me after I ordered his book, to say he wasn’t sure how long the physical copy would take to get to me, as due to Covid he couldn’t currently ship to New Zealand.) The party did amazingly well but all wound up being paralysed / killed by ghouls in the Gardener’s room. Luckily the hireling torch-bearer made it out alive.

I’ve since started yet another game (this time, using Old-School Essentials, plus Mythic), which was intended to be a walk through of the Hole in the Oak adventure (by Necrotic Gnome), but after a close-call with the nasty Fauns near the entrance, the party has had to backtrack and go rest up somewhere for a while. I do own the Dolmenwood supplements, so thought I would throw the Oak in somewhere close to Lankshorn (volume 2), only rolling on the hexcrawl procedures (vol 5, I think), my characters took several falls on the mishaps table. The first one dropped to 0 hitpoints and I ruled was knocked-out, but the second dropped to something like -4 hp. I sat there looking at it, thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me, and then retconned it (the death) and just spread the damage around. Who knows, maybe they got hit by falling rocks or something.

I’m rambling, I know. Two more things and then I think I’m done (heh).

One: Dolmenwood is a lovely setting, but really difficult to work an actual adventure out with. I like the village and the characters, but I do think a big book with everything combined is probably the best way to digest the material. Apparently the kickstarter for this is on the way at some point, so if you have been meaning to look into Dolmenwood, I’d recommend waiting.

Two: as much as I do love DCC, I find the difference in how they treat XP (you get between 1-4 xp per encounter, and XP thresholds are really low) sort of takes some of the joy out of dungeoncrawling in an adventure that’s been written for gold=xp. Further, all the recommendations say you should reduce the value of items (make all gold=silver, etc) and even make magic items much less valuable. I can sort of get behind that (DCC characters do get really powerful even at level 3), but you never really feel like you win the jackpot when you find some amazing trove. It’s still just worth 2 xp if you beat the trap, or the guardian monster, to find it.

Anyway, I’m going to head off now, and see if I can wrangle Felathia a bit with this software. Things I like so far are its use of markdown, the look and feel (for Windows, it looks reasonably modern), and some of the export options.