2022 Year in Review

It’s January, so typically I go on a great big rambly blog about what’s happened—or not happened—in the previous year. While normally I avoid getting too personal in this space—talking about the work, rather than my life—I feel it’s worth being pretty straightforward.

2022 was shit.

Stress, anxiety, and depression each took turns throughout much of the year. My computer was broken for a few months. I resigned from a job I’d held for seven years. Both of my grandmothers passed away. Transitioning to a new job helped, but the improvement in my mental health wasn’t lasting. In all, it led to much less writing this year. Hopefully, that will change in 2023. More on that in a bit.

Jonstown Compendium

Last year, I’d intended to publish more focused, developed content on the Jonstown Compendium than I had with the MOTM series. My goal was to publish a full release of To Hunt a God, and to also publish Treasures of Glorantha 2.

To Hunt a God‘s text is fully available in “beta” form. If you picked the book up last year, check out your DriveThruRPG library—two additional PDFs are available, about 40 or 45 pages total. One is a collection of encounters, short scenes for use during the adventure (or any other adventure which explores the Old Woods). The second is Part Two of the titular adventure, including the half-mad monkey god and final “monster,” Hrunda himself.

All of that material is still being edited and polished. It’s not wholly rough—I completed my own editing before release—but it’s getting those extra eyes so important to improving a work. I’ve received the edits on one document (and now it’s just me being slow again processing them), and the other document should nearly be complete.

I have a few illustrations in for the full release, and I’ve seen sketches for two other pieces. I’m still working on art direction, but won’t know the exact amount of art I want until I start digging into layout. I’m hopeful you’ll all love the final product. It’s going to be a long, beautiful book, one I hope will eventually join the rest of my Jonstown Print on Demand shelf (though that’s outside my control).

I’m sorry for the delay on this material. I still take seriously my promise not to produce other Jonstown Compendium content until it’s complete. I just haven’t been in a good place, mentally and emotionally, to facilitate completion of the book. We’re in the last couple laps. Art, then layout, then proofreading, then release.

I haven’t touched my Treasures or Sylthi material in a meaningful way this year. A bit of fiddling, reading my notes occasionally, but nothing substantive. I am cautiously optimistic that I can get Treasures 2 out in 2023, though.

Fiction

I’ve spent some time this year on fiction, trying to get my brain kick-started, and I had a bit of success. I spent some time outlining a novel tentatively titled Stillness this summer, and I wrote about 20,000 words of the book during this year’s NaNoWriMo. It uses the same setting as The Fall of Jiharel, Akhelas—this site’s namesake—but is a bit more simple and straightforward in plot, characters, and theme. (If you’re curious about that fiction work, I suggest taking a dive into past posts, as fiction updates and accountability are why I started writing here.)

I’m still plodding away at Stillness, and I don’t feel burnt out on the story or characters yet. I’ve finished the first major section, and am entering the second. This story idea stuck with me enough that I’ve decided to re-enroll in my graduate program. Hopefully, by completing Stillness, I can finish my Masters of Creative Writing and no longer need to worry over whether or not to finish that degree.

Stillness is about a jaded swordsman, and the chanter who strives to transform him back into a hero against his own wishes. It’s inspired by works like Rurouni Kenshin and Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” tales; by Dirty Harry and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It’s about violence, and bravery, and sorrow. The work is not Glorantha. Yet, my work on the setting of Akhelas in part is what made it feel very comfortable to write in Glorantha. They have some shared inspiration in the Iliad, in Herodotus, though I’m sure my post-Jonstown fiction has Arachne Solara’s webs all over it.

Reading

While talking about my reading list often brings me joy, I may have misplaced it halfway through this year… so I’ll just mention a few books that I remember best.

Thebaid, by Statius, trans. Jane Wilson Joyce

This is probably my favorite book I read in 2022. I love ancient epic, and discovered in some footnote or another that there’s a Roman retelling of the war between Thebes and Argos, so I went to check it out. It’s a gripping action story which, to me, managed to both laud martial virtues, and grieve over the horrors of war. Gods, heroes, monsters, sacrifices, dramatic monologues—the gang’s all here.

The One Ring 2nd Ed., pub. Free League

I talked a bit about my experience with TOR‘s core rulebook in my review of Ruins of the Lost Realm. To recap, the volume did a great job straddling that gap between “armchair” and “table” publication. Free League’s making beautiful books for their Middle Earth RPG, providing both a satisfying aesthetic experience—the paper quality, the clean, evocative design, the illustrations—and clear directions on how to play the game.

Reading this book made me feel maybe I really could play games which interacted with Tolkien’s fiction in a meaningful way.

The Company of the Dragon, by Andrew Logan Montgomery

Reading Company of the Dragon this summer helped kick-start my sludgy brain back into work on To Hunt a God. I experienced this as an “armchair” book moreso than a “table” book, reading through it in mornings after work. The scope of its story—and how it puts the players at the heart of Glorantha’s meta-plot—helped rekindle my own love for the setting and the game. In particular, I love how Company really digs into the “seasonal” structure hinted at by the RuneQuest core rules, but not yet supported with gamemaster-facing campaign scaffolding. The book’s episodes feel interconnected enough to generate plot for the campaign, while flexible enough to allow gamemasters and players agency in choosing how the story unfolds.

My only reservation with Company and Six Seasons is that because they read so well, almost novel-like, at times, I wonder how well that translates to playing adventures out of the book.

Plans for 2023

The last few months have had me thinking and reflecting a lot on what I want to do, and how I want to live. Ultimately, this led me to make a big, scary decision:

I’m going to try writing full-time.

That doesn’t mean doing creative work full-time. I don’t make enough off of games, fiction, etc. to take that gamble (though that’s my long-term objective). However, I have done some freelance and contract work as a technical writer, and I have a current contract which should provide a foundation for taking this step. My goal is to then use game design, short fiction, and so on to help fill the gaps. I’m now working from home as a writer, and I think this will help me with managing stress and other mental health challenges (provided I can stay focused and work myself into a proper routine).

Patreon

As part of this new step, I’ve set up a Patreon page for people who like my creative work, and are interested in providing above-and-beyond support. I’m interested in providing some exclusive content or behind-the-scenes peeks to backers, but to be entirely honest I’m not sure yet what that might entail. Wordcount trackers? A breakdown of where I spend my working hours? It’s tricky to provide early drafts or similar content. For short fiction, this could well jeopardize my ability to sell the story. And for Glorantha content, I’m prohibited from putting it behind a paywall per Chaosium’s Fan Material Policy (which is an entirely fair restriction in my opinion).

I am putting together a Discord server for Akhelas, which has a private “backers” corner. Again, not entirely sure what I’ll be using it for—work in progress!—but at the moment I’m setting up space for teasers and an “ask me anything” (AMA) channel. I’ll plan to prioritize asking backers first if I’m looking for one-shot sessions to playtest game material, too.

For non-exclusive Patreon content, I may cultivate a habit of posting blogs, updates, etc. over there a few days before here and elsewhere on social media. Basically, if you’re following the Patreon you’ll see stuff earlier than on my other channels. Or not. I don’t know! It’s all a huge new step, and I’m mostly thinking “out loud” here. Which, to be fair, is a major reason why I write this “year in review” blog annually. It helps me think in a public and structured way.

As I said above, think of Patreon as above-and-beyond support. I’m not trying to pitch it as a guaranteed stream of new content from me—I just want to find ways to express my gratitude to those willing and able to provide additional support.

My initial goal with Patreon will be to help cover basic costs of running myself as a “company.” Things like website hosting and domain name, my Adobe subscription, and so on. Additional funds will probably go into the art budget. If this turns out to be wildly successful, somehow, obviously I’ll re-strategize and find ways to provide more content directly to backers.

Jonstown Compendium

I’m most well known for my independent RuneQuest publications, and I have no intention of ceasing that work as a full-time writer. I may not be able to afford maintaining the same standards of art and polish as I’ve strived for in the past. The simple truth is that for the most part, I’ve not been paying myself with my RuneQuest work, instead sending whatever I make back into my art budget. I’m going to need to draw an income from these royalties, now.

To Hunt a God will have the same quality as my prior works. It began as a personal art project, not a professional “pay the bills” project, and I can afford to complete the publication in the same way. Future projects will have to stay more closely on budget, and I’ll need to draw more deeply on non-custom artwork (stock art, public domain, licensing already published pieces, etc.).

One option I have considered, as prospective budgets become more and more shoestring, is AI illustrations. I’ve seen many artists raise ethical concerns about how the “training data” was sourced for AI art generators, and I do want to take that seriously. Right now, I think my jury is out on the use of AI art. Might be a hung jury, hard to say.

For publications, I really want to write and complete Treasures of Glorantha 2. I have lots of prewriting generated for that work, and it would be damn foolish not to go back in, write, and complete the piece. I can’t schedule when I’ll do that work just yet.

I’ve printed out and skimmed over my old draft of Melikaphkaz: O-God of Traps, and I still think the idea is both funny and playable. I’ve created a format for trap descriptions, and I’ve set a goal of writing a couple of traps every day to fill out the Traps Compendium. I’m going to cut a section on temple/dungeon design from my old manuscript; this was the bloat which eventually killed that project. Focusing on just the cult writeup, and the Traps Compendium, should give me an achievable scope. When I finish processing edits for To Hunt a God, I’ll start spending my editing time doing a line-edit of Melikaphkaz. Then we’ll see where we’re at.

In all the crap from this past year, I totally forgot about Infected Fortress. I think it’s still worth finishing edits, and shuffling toward production and publication. I just need to dig up the file and get back in the saddle.

I’m also interested in trying to produce some short adventures. Beer With Teeth’s publications are a good example, but another would be creating adventures in the vein of the recent shorter (and good!) stuff produced through the Write Your First Adventure program. This is as much an exercise in creative self-restriction as it is trying to produce salable content to generate income.

I don’t know what the next step is with my Sylthi material. I think my publication strategy from last year’s review is still basically useful. However, this material’s going to take such time and energy to produce, that I don’t know when I’ll be able to set aside a long stretch of time to focus on it. I’ve been exploring writer and artist grants, which could buy me time to focus wholly on creative work. Or perhaps looking into a license from Chaosium to try funding the material through Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform. At the moment I don’t really want to commit to when and how I’ll be working in Esrolia, except to say that I’ve not given up on the project.

It’s a cool microsetting. I just need to figure out my own project management process before I can reliably return to work on the city.

Fiction

One important goal this year is to focus more on producing fiction. In particular, short-form fiction for paying markets. I have a fair amount of old resources for tracking down short fiction markets from when my focus was long-form fiction, and I’ve already submitted one story. Realistically, a combination of contract work and selling short fiction is my starting point for generating an income.

I don’t know yet what that will mean for producing my RuneQuest or other game stuff.

Another important goal is completing Stillness, to finish off my Masters. I’m considering publishing Stillness serially online, chapter by chapter, after I’ve completed the second or third draft. Whether I try sending it along through the traditional publisher route first—just to see if anyone bites—will depend on how I’m feeling about the book when it’s complete. I’m not super interested in spending months (or even years) waiting for replies to query letters, not when I really do need to be establishing income streams now.

Juggling Stillness, contract work, and either short fiction or RuneQuest work is going to be my major time management challenge. In particular, because I’m most confident and comfortable with the RuneQuest work, which appears to me to be less profitable than other creative outlets. Thinking it over… I believe I need to ramp up my working time and energy on Stillness, get that done, before working too much on other creative projects. I don’t know if I can juggle more than one fiction, one contract project at a time.

After I finish Stillness, I should spend some time working on targeted short fiction. Then while those stories are out, I can work on RuneQuest material, likely Treasures of Glorantha 2.

Whew. Long post, but one I think has been helpful. Hopefully, some of you will find it interesting, too.

Until next time, then.


Want to keep up-to-date on what Austin’s working on through Akhelas? Go ahead and sign up to the email list below. You’ll get a notification whenever a new post goes online. Interested in supporting his work? Back his Patreon for previews, behind-the-scenes data, and more.

You can also find Austin over on Facebook, and a bit more rarely on Twitter.

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