Hello, everyone! It’s 2020 and that means I’m supposed to write a new blog talking about all my bright and shiny ambitions for the coming year. Or decade. Right?
I’m gonna do the generic thing and start first by reviewing what random malarkey I’ve gotten up to in the last year.
2019 in Review
Let’s start with the big one.
I published content, for money, for the first time this year! The Throat of Winter is an adventure for the tabletop roleplaying game RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, published by Chaosium. You can find it here at DriveThruRPG, as part of the Jonstown Compendium community content program.
So, yeah, that’s a pretty big deal for me. Even stranger is that people have been buying it, and liking it. Like, I’ve gotten minor compliments, and saw someone note in a group dedicated to the game that they were playing it. Which y’know, is the whole point to publishing something like that—but it’s still a bit surreal.
I’ll not waffle on any longer about that, because I intend to do a retrospect article at some point reflecting on putting it together and what I could do better next time as a self-publisher.
What else have I been working on?
Well, the main elephant in the room is Jiharel, the Big Fat Fantasy Thing. Work on it has been, unfortunately, intermittent over the last year. On the one hand, these things take time, can’t rush it, happens at it’s own pace, it’ll get right eventually, yadda yadda… on the other hand, it ought to be my master’s thesis and I’d rather like to, well, have that degree.
At this stage, I’m okay if that doesn’t happen. Not thrilled, not indifferent to it, but I’m okay with it. I enrolled in my master’s program to learn and improve, and I’ve accomplished that goal. Having the degree is relevant to my goals as a writer—and I don’t think this should come across as me saying “Oh, I’m not going to bother finishing after all”—but I didn’t go back to school with the mindset that I want this diploma in order to be qualified to work certain jobs and have certain shiny marks. I wanted to learn better to write stories, and I’m pleased with my experiences as a student.
Part of the challenge with finishing this is my experience as I write the piece. Sitting down to Jiharel feels like sitting on the toilet, constipated. You sit and sit, and nothing comes out. Sometimes I can strain, and you get a little action. Other times I strain, and the words explode diarrhetically over the page. I managed some progress that way this past fall, but at the cost of bloating the manuscript.
Jiharel currently sits at about 60,000 words, and I’m around the halfway point. Some of that, I believe, is bloat due to trying to force the manuscript. I’ve found that if I set a timer and do word sprints, I can get good wordcount additions, but that I’m much more rambling in the storytelling than I want. But ultimately, from the beginning I’ve suspected this might be a 100,000+ word story, and I just don’t know that I can finish it to a degree I’ll be halfway-satisfied with by my deadline. Words, yes; revision, likely not.
Anyway, on that, we’ll see.
Even though Jiharel has been a sludgy mess to work on, my actual effort to consistently be writing something has survived. In addition to odds and ends of flash fiction, there’s at least one short story I recall; a foundation or creation myth from one of the cultures of Jiharel. Probably a few others lying about, other fragments of fiction or world-building and so on. A lot of this gets done by hand, so it’s trickier for me to evaluate how much I’ve written.
In addition to fiction, I’ve also spent a fair amount of time writing game content. Most of this is for RuneQuest, but not exclusively. A good deal of this arises from running a weekly game, for which I write much of the content (this is from which The Throat of Winter arose). A highlight resulting from this include a partial manuscript called Dragon’s Rift, describing the ruins of a city destroyed by a colossal dragon filled with spirits of the dead. Other things I’ve worked on include rules experiments for combat rules and brainstorming ideas for a handful of full games I can see myself wanting to design (which aren’t just content for someone else’s system).
Now, it’s somewhat unlikely that any of that will arise soon in the public eye. I’ve found, as I continue writing various things, that doing various projects is beneficial to how my mind works. Focus is good, but if the focus isn’t happening I’m often better off shuffling around a variety of projects as my interests trigger. Of course, this isn’t fruitful for actually finishing a manuscript. It’s useful for the creative process and idea generation, but if I want to finish a work, my mind needs to be in a different mode.
So there’s sort of this trade-off between what’s most creatively fruitful for me, and what lets me dedicate to and finish a piece.
Ramblings About 2020
First off: making no promises here. The mode of “I’m going to do this!” goal-setting can work for me, but often isn’t my most productive method. So I’m going to talk about what I’m working on, what I anticipate working on, and so on, but if any of this changes you’re not allowed to whine.
First, this website is going to change a bit over the coming weeks or months. I’m moving to using the “Akhelas” label and this site as a company title, in a way. (I say “in a way” because I have no idea what’s actually involved in that sort of thing, but that rather I’m going to be using that name and figuring the rest out as I go.)
Of course, re-branding in this way means I need to organize a bunch of things. Like a logo!
I’m quite pleased with it, moreso than I’d expected even. So from here on, I plan to put this on anything I self-publish, and figure what all else it means to be “Akhelas” in addition to being “Austin Conrad” as I go.
Now, what do I anticipate working on in the next year (apart from Jiharel plodding however it does)?
Most of my immediately plans include further Jonstown Compendium content. What, ideally, will begin shortly in fact, is my Monster of the Month series. This will be series of bestiary entries for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha intended to come out monthly during 2020. I have the first entry written, and the illustration completed. Once I finish layout and prepare the PDF, it will be live! My goal is for that to be in the next day or so, but knowing me we’ll see how things go.
Monster of the Month #1 describes Gloranthan spirits of madness, which inflict mortals with ailments varying from paranoia to chaophilia.
I’m not sure what the next installment will be. I found a delightful bit of stock art which has spurned an idea for #2, and a community member’s quip about toilet brush golems when I asked for feedback on the series idea is, I confess, tempting. But those are two seeds planted, not yet grown—much less pruned and shaped.
As to bigger projects, in addition to the aforementioned, mildly abandoned Dragon’s Rift I have two other manuscripts in progress.
Treasures of Glorantha will be an intermittent series providing new magic items for RuneQuest using Chaosium’s classic Plunder format. In addition, each installment will include some articles on topics associated with treasure—longer writeups for a new type of magic item, new magic item rules, advice for gamemasters, and so on.
One of the reasons I’m doing Treasures of Glorantha is to experiment further with the production end of game design. Speaking frankly, I’m under no illusion that much of what I create in this regard with be financially successful. It’s possible, but if I want content to look and feel a certain way, given the audience out there, it’s unlikely that I will break even, financially. And that’s okay; I’m also working to ensure I don’t spend more than I can reasonably afford in producing such content.
The reason I bring up costs is that I’m in process of commissioning writing from others for Treasures. One of my re-brand goals is to provide a way for me to say “not everything in this is by Austin” while still emphasizing that I’m the organizing hand behind it. Another is that I find the production aspect of this interesting, and in commissioning work and (eventually) setting up a submissions process, I learn a lot about the publishing end of writing.
The other substantial manuscript I’ve got in-progress I’m tentatively calling The City of Sylthi. It’s also for the Jonstown Compendium. The City of Sylthi is a description of that city in the matriarchal land of Esrolia. In particular, this corner of Glorantha is interesting to me because it holds the central temple of the Sword Sages of Lhankor Mhy; these scholars are sort of Indiana Jones figures in my imagination, swashbuckling adventurers in search of artifacts and lore to be properly protected and studied.
I’m not sure exactly how to put a city description together (though research, like the Design Mechanism’s Sorandib, is useful) but I’ve enjoyed the process immensely. Currently, I plan for the final book to include at least one adventure in addition to the setting material and new player options for playing a Sword Sage. Originally I anticipated multiple adventures, but at the moment I suspect the volume will just include “A Murder in Sylthi” and then I’ll consider a later volume with more scenarios. Or just releasing adventures piecemeal, like The Throat of Winter is presented.
While Treasures of Glorantha should have a Q1 release if I have my act together, I have no clue when The City of Sylthi will be in shape for publication. I intend to have it together for this year, but that’s as far as I’m willing to guess. Aside from that, I’d also like to return to my Dragon’s Rift manuscript and flesh it out. I think it has a lot of potential for odd and interesting times at the table.
Oh, and I’m sure I’ll end up working on some other random stuff as the year proceeds. I nearly always do.
Until next time, then.