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The Sunday Shift : Serving Up Great Chicken With a Side Helping of Ass Kickin’

While getting ready to tackle my day this morning, I came up with a TV show or comic book series pitch. It’s called : SUNDAY SHIFT.  The proper names are mostly placeholders right now, but the general basic concept was too much fun not to share.

JAMES HERO (JIMMY) is your typical disaffected 19 year old dork; he loves playing video games and looking for love, and mostly he’d rather be doing either of those things than working his day job for the pious fast food chain, WWCD (Winner Winner Chicken Dinner). WWCD is known to all for making pretty tasty chicken, but their reputation as a company owned by self-righteous Christians drives Jimmy to lie to his friends about where he works. Still, he’s a hard worker with a mysterious family history, perhaps even a legacy.  His commitment to a job done well catches the eye of his manager, MACE SOLOMON. Mace looks less like a fast food manager and more like a grizzled war veteran, and speaks very cryptically in strange, half-mangled aphorisms.   He’s missing a hand, which everyone says is due to a fryer accident at his last job.

One day after a particularly painful failure of an attempt to ask out the cute girl next door right after learning that he’s at risk of flunking out of college, Jimmy stops by to pick up his next week’s work schedule. To his confusion, he learns he’s been scheduled to work the Sunday shift… only everybody knows WWCD is closed on Sundays.

Mace tells Jimmy to show up at 11:59 PM on Saturday night, and not a minute later, claiming that they take the night to clean the store from top to bottom.

When Jimmy shows up to work his first late shift, he learns that not all is as it appears at WWCD. At the stroke of midnight, a gong sound rings out, and Mace rips off his fast food uniform to reveal tactical body armor. Hidden panels spring open to reveal weapons where there should be condiments. And a horde of demon-possessed zombie people fill the parking lot, screaming for Mace and Jimmy’s blood.

The entire building is weaponized and trapped.  Playground equipment emits jets of flame to roast baddies.  Straw dispensers turn into mini machine guns firing weaponized tubes of plastic at the horde.  Mace tosses Jimmy a shotgun and tells him that his only job now to protect the walk-in freezer with his life.

At one point, Jimmy’s cute girl neighbor nearly rips his head off, before Mace blows her away. “You killed a girl I kind of think I love!” “Don’t worry about it! She’ll get better!” Or patter to that effect.

Together, they fight off the waves of evil until, as the first slivers of dawn sunlight creep over horizon, the horde become normal people again, the dead rising as if never wounded, and they confusedly wander home, wondering what they drank last night.

Mace takes Jimmy for a diner breakfast where he explains the true nature and reason for WWCD. The founders of the company aren’t fundamentalist Christians. They’re actually an ancient order of druids, responsible for protecting the sacred places of power all across the United States and the world.  WWCD is a front that alllows them to buy up property and build defensive structures on these locations to protect them from the attacking forces of evil.

Sunday being the day that the Gods rest throughout many religions, this is the day that evil strikes.  So WWCD are closed on Sunday to the public so that they can do their “real” job which is fighting the evil.  That doesn’t mean that evil rests during the rest of the week… Mace and Jimmy have to keep a careful eye on things, as evil resorts to sneakier ways the rest of the week.

Mace has been there since the beginning, but he’s getting old, and he lost a previous WWCD to evil forces, which is now a Burger Hut (the evil forces operate their own fast food cover chain too).  He’s not got much longer in this game before they finally take him down, so he’s decided to train Jimmy to be his assistant manager.  Together, they will take down the evil across town at the Burger Hut and he will pass the torch to Jimmy.

Jimmy’s going to need help if he’s going to make it as the new assistant manager, so his first job will be to recruit co-workers to help him on the SUNDAY SHIFT.  How will he balance his school life, love life, pretend work life, and defender of the world life?  He’ll be terrible at it, and it will be hilarious to watch.

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The Self-Employed Life – Happier, but Less Secure

Anyone who knows me (and I doubt you’re reading this blog unless you know me) knows that I’ve been self-employed as a web developer for going on 10 years now.  I have a lot of thoughts about the self-employed life, but first, a study that validates them:

The study by Professor Peter Warr from the Management School and Professor Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter found that despite working longer hours and having less job security, self-employed workers were among the happiest with more freedom and control over their work life.

Self-employed people happier and more engaged at work, study finds – News – Faculty of Social Sciences – Faculties – The University of Sheffield

 

Longer hours?  Check!  Less job security?  Sort of!

I definitely work generally more hours than I did before I was a freelancer.  This is because half the jobs I’ve held as an adult couldn’t produce enough work to keep me busy.  At least one corporate job I had gave me something like 4-5 hours of work. Not per day. Per week. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone that I was laid off from that job at the start of the recession. I’d already been looking for something more interesting for a few months.

As a freelancer with a fairly well valued skillset (web development), I find myself employed mostly to the degree I want, and no more or less.  I’m very lucky in this  My billable hours goal for any given week is 20-25 hours, more if I want to buy a new toy of some sort, or more just because the work is interesting.  Of course, I work far more hours than that, but that’s how much of my time needs to earn.  And one great thing about being self-employed is, while the income is more variable, you see the writing on the wall long before the pink slip shows up.  The first time I was laid off in 2008, I was caught off-guard, if not entirely surprised. I was laid off a few months later from another job. I’ll never be surprised by someone wielding the ax again; because if anyone wields it, it will be me.  And that kind of hyper-uncertainty back in the Bad Old Times made self-employment seem far more stable even in the beginning.

The aspect of this study I do not dispute is that I have far more personal freedom than before.  If I want to take a walk, or a day off, I take a day off or go for a walk. If a project comes in that I’m not well suited for,  I can turn it down (provided I don’t need the money desperately).  In general, more personal freedom has led to higher levels of personal happiness.  Being able to do what I want, when I want, without ridiculous office place rules mucking things up has been wonderful. The downside on the happiness issue is, with great responsibility comes great anxiety. There have been times when I’ve been stressed to my breaking point by making to all continue to work.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re like me at all and you get a shot, I recommend giving it a chance. You might find your quality of life significantly improved by it.

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Five Reasons I Prefer Running Role-Playing Games to Writing Fiction

It’s true. I do, and a testament to this fact is that I’m involved in three games of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons right now, and haven’t really written a story successfully in over a year.  Due to this discrepancy, I’ve been thinking about why that might be.  Here are five reasons I’ve come up with.

Originality doesn’t matter

In my fiction, I work very hard to be as original as I can. If I lean on a trope, I try to subvert it. If I’m inspired by something else, I try to keep that inspiration as hidden as possible.  I work very hard to remain original in my fiction.  I don’t know why.  It’s probably not necessary to be successful. It’s just one of those rules I seem to stick to.

In games I run, all that goes out of the window.  The only hard and fast rule is that I want the players to experience a fun story and just generally have fun. If that means stealing liberally from other sources, I don’t mind.  RPGs wear their influences on their sleeves. They pretty much owe their existence to Tolkien fans, so a little obvious inspiration is accepted and even to some degree encouraged.

No editors.  It’s direct to the intended audience

I don’t mind editors. They do a good job of helping my work improve through their process. But the psychic wear and tear of being a writer is one of being constantly and utterly rejected over and over again. It means that if you measure success in getting your fiction to the reader (which I do), then you’re not going to feel the zing of success very often.   With RPGs, I get to tell stories and I don’t have to worry about selling them to an intermediate who determines if the work is worthy. I produce it. People play it.  There’s no middle man I have to get through. That’s refreshing and good for the soul.

Immediate response

In fiction, getting feedback on a work outside of critiquing is rare, and valuable, but often not very timely.  When running a tabletop game (including “virtual” tables), the feedback is fairly immediate, so long as you pay attention.  A good GM can tell if the players are having a good time, and if not, adjust things accordingly.  There’s little time between what you orchestrate and the reaction of the “audience” (which aren’t really even strictly an audience.  See next item.)

The other players are co-conspirators

We’re fond of saying that writers only bring part of the story, and the reader brings the rest, but I don’t see them in my office typing the manuscript and helping me figure out tricky plot points.  Players in a tabletop game are in on the gag, they’re there to shape things and play their part.  They’re semi-autonomous narrative characters, and as someone who struggles with weak characterization, I very much enjoy out-sourcing that work to sub-contractors.

No writer’s block

Put me in front of a group of eager players, and I will spin a yarn.  I don’t know where it comes from half the time… I do an odd mixture of prep and GMing on the fly. I’m often as surprised by the direction of things as the players might be.  There’s an energy in my GMed games that I don’t capture well in fiction.

I’ve never had GM’s block for more than a day or two.  Given all the reasons above, and their counters on the fiction side, it’s relatively easy to break free.  The problem with fiction is, well, if you want to do it professionally, you cannot make mistakes.  Unless you’re blessed with some remarkable talents, learning to write a good story is like learning to build a bicycle from spare parts.  There are so many moving parts to a story, and getting that right is an outsized effort for the rewards.

A lot of this boils down to me questioning whether i have any interest in being a “professional writer” moving forward, and whether or not I can find the same satisfaction I used to get from writing that I can easily get in the form of playing tabletop RPGs.  I don’t really know the answer to that right now.

The flaw of RPGs is that it’s all work for an audience of 5-6 people.  When it’s done, there’s often little evidence it existed; it’s ephemeral and limited.  Then again, is a short story really all that different anymore?  Certainly very few if any of my stories will outlive me or even their original publications.

Am I done writing fiction? Honestly, I hope not.  I’ve been here before, and it does have a few advantages and thrills over playing around with friends with dice.  It’s entirely possible I wrote this post simply to make myself feel better for utterly failing to produce any in the last 12 months.

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Friday Finds for March 16th

Web Design

Driver – very nice looking javascript library to created guided tours of interfaces.

Firefox 59 for developers – Mozilla | MDN – Firefox is getting better.

CSS Text Decoration Module Level 4 – I love some of the options in here.

Notched Boxes | CSS-Tricks – sweetness!

Animating Elements Along SVG Paths: Introducing PathSlider ― Scotch – animation is something I need to do more of.

Going Gutenberg: Chapter III – The Events Calendar – Gutenberg will be nice once we get over the adoption hump.

Set Up Amazon SES for Your WordPress Site – getting around hosting issues with SMTP and sending email is a valuable thing for me to look into for some clients.

Tech

Bezos Says He’ll Spend ‘Amazon Lottery Winnings’ on Space Travel – Bloomberg – good to know that slightly cheaper space travel will come only at the cost of every retail business in America.

Misc

Schwarzenegger Orchestrated a Legendary Hollywood Troll – Hollywood feuds are hilarious, but I don’t remember “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” as being that bad. Then again, I was ten.

 

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Searching the Past for Weapons Against One’s Self

This one is for all those who have found themselves laying in bed late at night, replaying failures and mishaps from their past on the flickering camera of their memory.

A friend of mine recently asked:

Is there a word for that feeling you get when you want to bash yourself in the face for something you did 25 years ago? … Well, it happens to me so often, it feels like there should be a word.

No, I said, I don’t know of one anyway.  Arrogantly, I decided, I would coin my own phrase.

I’ve experienced this many times. I imagine you have a few yourself. The moment I insulted my grandfather, telling him I didn’t need his help with the card game I was playing, and the immediate hurt on his face.  I’ve relived that one a hundred times.  Decisions in young love that went horribly awry.  Acts of selfishness that make me cringe so hard I want to turn myself inside out.  Some mistakes, it seems, are worth repeating over and over again.  It’s painful, but I wonder if it doesn’t happen for a reason.

These memories feel like ghosts to me.  They have no form or substance, but they return to remind us of the mistakes they represent, mistakes worth not repeating.  At least, it seems they return of a will of their own, but I think that is wrong, holistically speaking.  Perhaps it is us that cannot let go of them, and we summon them to inflict harm upon ourselves again and again as a way of helping us be the people we want to be, and not the people we were.

Eventually what came to me was: digging up the restless dead. 

A little of this isn’t so bad. These memories and how they make us feel are a lesson to our present selves from the past to be better than we once were.  If we forget our mistakes entirely, if we never seek out the wisdom of our dead, then we do not learn from them.

But their usefulness must come to an end eventually. One day we put down the shovel and move on for each regret-filled memory. At least I hope so.

I worry that those of us who don’t learn with time to let go, those who find themselves becoming hostage to their regrets, will become weighed down, one phantom at a time, until they sink into the netherworld. What remains is a kind of living ghost, a body possessed by the collection of woeful spirits of their own making. A life with too much emphasis on our regrets is an overburdened one.  Just as we dig up the restless dead, we must bury them again, reseal them in their clattering tombs, and return only on those gloom-filled nights when we truly need their counsel.

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Friday Finds for March 9th

Each week I lazily gather up a bunch of links to stuff that I found amusing enough to take the trouble to paste into a blog so all three of my readers can know what I’ve been reading and find themselves mildly amused by the wasted effort.  Here are this week’s links.

Tech

Amazon admits Alexa is creepily laughing at people and is working on a fix – The Verge – JESUS CHRIST WHAT? How does a smart speaker assistant thing develop a bug where it RANDOMLY starts laughing at people.  How is this even possible?  Also, why did they program Alexa to laugh?  I’m positive this is just a bug and not an AI achieving sentience and finding our pathetic little lives amusing.  I’m positive.

Comcast Found ‘Accidentally’ Blocking Legitimate Sites — Including PayPal and Steam – I am shocked, SHOCKED to learn there is illegal gambling, etc etc.

Maker Pro News: Open Source Startup Mycroft Takes on Amazon Alexa | Make: – interesting.  I’ll keep my eye on this.

Web Design

Chrome Music Lab – Song Maker – stuff like this makes me feel like such an amateur.

Introducing the Gutenberg Plugin Compatibility Database – Make WordPress Core – The fact that this needs to exist means Gutenberg is being rushed and should not be in core.  By putting this in core, it’s going to break millions of websites. It’s going to do unbelievable amounts of damage to WordPress’s reputation.

GDPR For WordPress And WooCommerce Business Owners – A Starter Guide – GDPR is a huge pain in the ass.  But probably a good step for consumers.

Design

7 Design Principles That Are Not up for Debate | NOUPE – That’s debatable.

Misc

Long exposure photo of drones circling mountains makes them look like sci-fi landscapes : woahdude – beautiful and eerie.

Ruptured Subway Tiles Reveal Emerging Figures by Graziano Locatelli | Colossal – gorgeous.

That Time a Wheat Field Grew in Downtown New York – you have to see these images to believe it. Astounding installation artwork.  Really speaks to the Kansas in me.

“Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits” – this reminds me that I would like to take a no-nonsense yoga class at some point.  After losing 50-60 pounds.

 

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Links

That’s Not Your Email Address! That’s MY Email Address (A Story Four Years in the Making)

You’re working away one morning and someone calls you out of the blue. You don’t recognize the number, so it must be a telemarketer. Perhaps out of boredom, you answer. The person on the other end of the line is far stranger than a telemarketer.

It’s me. The OTHER you, but not from another universe. From another state, another town. I am the original owner of the gmail address you think you own, but don’t actually possess.

For four years, I have received your credit card bills, phone bills, and travel confirmations. So many times, I’ve considered resetting all your passwords, canceling your trips, your phone, and your credit cards. Please, I begged the internet gods, stop sending me this other person’s emails. I never wanted to know so much about a stranger’s life. I have received your overdue notices for bills. I have worried about you. Were you having financial trouble? Out of work? My understanding if your life was too intimate. I didn’t want to have to worry about you. I have my own problems.

I have many times wondered why you keep using an email address when, for years, you have not once received a confirmation email. In fact, I have many questions about your life that would be inappropriate for a stranger to ask. Why do you change your cell phone provider so often? When you took that emergency trip to Mississippi, was it for a funeral? Did you ever find a job, or did you just stop looking? I’m guessing you must have, because this trip to a Florida resort is damned expensive. All we have in common in a name, but I know more about you than some of your friends probably do.

After all this time, a confirmation email comes in with all your contact details. You live in Macon, Georgia and now I have your phone number. This is finally a way to reach you that doesn’t involve my own address!

This is it. The holy grail! I’ve dreamed about this moment.

Nervously, I pick up my phone and punch in the number. I think about what I will say if I get a person, and what I will say if I get shunted to voice mail. If our positions were reversed, you would get voice mail. But no, you answer. You have exactly the southern accent I expected. Of course you think I’m a telemarketer, because I say:

“Hello? My name is Jeremy Tolbert. Are you Jeremy Tolbert?”

Confusion occurs. The connection is bad. But eventually I convince you, by referring to the latest email, that I am in fact Jeremy Tolbert and I have been receiving your email.

“That’s weird,” you say. “My email is [name+numbers]@[otherprovider].com”

I don’t ask you how the hell you type in my email address over and over again if that’s your address. I just let you know that I’ll forward you the resort confirmation there so you can have it. We laugh, and wish each other to have a good day. I hang up.

Like most things you spend so much time dreaming about, the actual encounter is a letdown. I still want to know why you have continuously used the wrong email address for four years. I guess now I have a way to ask you. The only question that matters now is… should I?

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February Means Tired Freelancer Brains

There’s another month in the can, and boy, I don’t mind telling you–I’m a little tired. February, despite being relatively short, was a very busy month for me. In fact, I usually try to schedule vacations in February.  In the past, it worked out because my webdesign for authors and publishers business was slower at the start of the year, but for the last couple of years, there hasn’t been much of a “start of the year” drop-off. The result is that my brain feels a little overcooked, and things I usually enjoy doing, work-wise, have lost some luster.  Fortunately, we’re planning an extended trip overseas in a couple of months, so I should have some recovery time. That brings me to today’s short blog topic: burnout and time management for freelancers.

One of the hardest parts about being self-employed is learning where to draw the line between your life and the job. It’s entirely possible to work ten or twelve hour days for weeks or even months at the time. The problem is, this is not a sustainable practice. You’ll end up in really bad shape, with back problems or mental health ones at a minimum.  Taking weekends is a minimum, and instituting work hours for yourself is highly recommended

One of the ways I combat this is by planning out my schedule half hour by half hour on my Google Calendar. This helps make sure I keep rolling the ball forward for all my current projects, although it’s not entirely great for flow (sometimes I like to spend more than 30 minutes coding. Like, uh, today in which I coded without a break for 5 hours.  Not healthy.  But productive!). Still, I make myself stick to the schedule. At first, it feels weird blocking out time on your calendar to spend time with the family and eat meals, but I actually find it takes a lot of mental strain off to have a device tell me what to do (based on my own orders, of course). Google Calendar becomes my asshole boss with a heart of gold. Is it five o’clock?  Go play with your son! Otherwise, get your ass back to work.

It doesn’t work if something breaks and needs urgent fixing at 8 PM, but I’m much less likely to burn out if I regulate myself this way.  Of course, it also means less money in my pocket and maybe some decline in client satisfaction as I’ve been saying “no” more often this year.  After nearly ten years of doing this full time, I think I can safely say that there is no perfect time management solution, but we learn our own rhythms and schemes as we go.

So what do you use to manage your time?  Pomodoro?  Inbox Zero?  What strategies do you put in place to keep yourself productive, but balanced?

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I’d Rather Watch Battlefield Earth A Hundred Times Than Ever Set Up A New Computer Again

I’ve been struggling a bit with my six year old desktop machine for a while now.  Its been show signs of imminent hard drive failure and the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 left it odd.  Lately, windows would lose focus and refuse to come back into focus for no apparent reason, requiring a computer restart.  Chrome started taking an astronomical amount of memory for no good reason.  I decided yesterday that it was time to purchase a replacement. I resolved to spend the rest of the day moving files onto it, getting my software and development environments set up, and then today, I’d be back to work for my clients.

(cue sounds of hysterical laughter from the IT Pros in the back)

Computers are awful, terrible things that I don’t know how I would make a living without. I asked my wife today if she could remember the exact moment in time I went from loving computers to seeing them as little more than a necessary evil. She suggested it was while I was in college, learning a particularly buggy 3D rendering program called HASH: Animation Master. I poured more hours into learning that program than I did earning my degree, and half of them because it crashed often, losing all my work.

I save compulsively now and rarely ever lose more than a couple of minutes of work. Thanks, Hash!

Nothing ever takes how long you think it will when you set up a new machine, especially when replacing one you’ve had around forever, because half of the things you do on it have become muscle memory. It’s a trippy feeling to reflexively attempt a task and realize, oh, no, that application isn’t installed yet. I’m a fairly competent computer user, and I can only just imagine what this process feels like for someone who finds computers more challenging.

Well–that’s not entirely true. While I was waiting to pick up the new computer from having some more RAM installed at Micro Center, I stood next to the help desk and listened to the woes of many a senior computer user who, and I’m only loosely paraphrasing here, “just wanted the damn thing to work.” Amen to that, Granddad. You speak for us all. Despite my sympathies, listening to one poor tech patiently explain the same thing over and over again triggered my front line tech support PTSD and I was so physically uncomfortable I had to walk out of earshot to regain my calm. I hadn’t realized until then just how stressful I had found being a tech back in the day. I still do plenty of tech support, but not for hardware. Never hardware. If you open up the case of a modern computer wrong, the souls of demons will come screaming out. This shit is black magic compared to my 486.

Somewhere, a sixteen year old is reading the above paragraph and rolling their eyes so hard they’ll need transplant surgery when they’re my age.

Today, I’m typing this while yet another large batch of software applications install. I’ve nearly tweaked the new machine’s configuration to match the old one, far as I can tell. I intend to keep the old machine hooked up to a KVM switch for at least the immediate future so I can get back to it as needed. It will replace our Windows XP-running media PC as the media server for the house, but it will likely be months before I fully reconfigure things and catch every esoteric little thing that I need tweaked exactly right to feel at home.

I am newly resolved to avoid going through this nightmarish process again for at least ten years. After spending most of my adult life replacing my computer every three years, this last one made it six years (thank you, joys of parenting). Who knows? Maybe this one will last me into my sixties! Maybe I’ll finally become that cranky guy who writes on a decades-old word processing software because it’s what he knows and he doesn’t have enough time left to learn a new one.

Who am I kidding? I’m already that guy. I was using Word 2003 until this upgrade! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take my fiber pills and blood pressure medication.

Pictured above, my workstation, prior to the switch. That’s where the magic happens, people!

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If You Think Dungeons & Dragons Is Fun, Try Playing It With Kids

Recently, a friend’s kids expressed interest in learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons, so this friend reached out to me to ask how they might learn how to play. I suggested that they come over for an afternoon and Sarah and I would teach them how to play as best we could after checking around and not finding an active Adventurer’s League in the area. We invited along our 12 year old nephew who lives near by, and Sarah rolled up a character to round out the party, which she shared some with Little Dude Tolbert, who yes, is on the young side to play a game like this, but you try stopping him. He knows entirely too much because my office is usually full of D&D stuff. Mostly, he sat on Sarah’s lap and goofed around, didn’t pay super close attention. He had fun rolling the dice and moving the miniatures, and he loved listening to the bigger kids have fun.

We ran the session today and it served a reminder to me to how fun Dungeons and Dragons can be the first time. Kids who have never played before have only the vaguest preconceived notions of what D&D is and how it should be played, which meant that they had some great and inspiring moments. Here are some anecdotes and loosely organized thoughts about the game.

  • This was a simple “meet in a tavern and get hired for a job” gig. They were hired by a merchant to recover some stolen property. Right away, they pressed the merchant to know exactly what was stolen. After some successful persuade checks, they learned that the property was “livestock.” Later, they learned that it wasn’t exactly legal. I was hoping for some misdirection here, but pretty much not thirty minutes in, they guessed that the “livestock” were people, which they were immediately down to put a stop to all of it. It went from a “find and retrieve job” to a rescue mission, and right away they planned to pay a visit to their employer afterward, which they did with fiery anger. I worried a bit that “slavery” might be too heavy a topic for kids, but it brought up conversations about Abraham Lincoln and there was no discussion over whether or not they would end it immediately. All of them had already learned about our country’s history of slavery and they were not okay with it. The kids are alright.
  • If you want to have a lot of fun with a character with low intelligence, have a three and a half year old role play it’s dialogue. At once point, after they rescued the stolen children from evil cultists, the fighter was put in charge of baby-sitting them while the rest of the party went off to deal with their “boss.”  Little Dude Tolbert’s first words to the kids, said in an adorable, gruff voice: “Hey, you kids! Don’t do anything with my legs. And just stay in this room.” There were several other great lines.
  • The nephew rolled up a bard with the ridiculous name of Jerry Jeff Parkanson, or “JJP” to his fans. The other players rapidly became his fan club, and any time it was JJP’s turn to act, they chanted “JJP! JJP!” Yes, even Little Dude Tolbert got in on the action. This made the nephew feel like a star, and helped bring him right into the game. Everywhere they go in the future, the legends of JJP will travel with them.
  • The oldest player did a great job of playing a rather foppish sorcerer with a poorly carved staff and an enormous hat that was just a delight. The voice she adopted for him sounded a tad like Taco. Embarrassingly, I kept misgendering the character (I missed early on that it was a male elf, so I was catching up). The player politely corrected me every time and I finally had it mostly right after an hour. (Again. The kids are alright.)
  • The younger brother of the teen created a delightful halfling rogue with a big mouth who got them into trouble more than once. He also helped the bard come up with some spectacularly hilarious insults to use for his main attack spell which involves insulting the bad guys to death.
  • Nearly every encounter began with an attempt by them to either use diplomacy or bluff their way out of. They tried intimidating wolves, talking their way out of fights with kobolds, and they even managed briefly to disguise themselves as evil cultists to try and stop a very bad ritual meant to serve the stolen children up for dinner to evil monsters.  Again: the kids are alright. They fought only when the bad guys gave them no choice. Which, this being D&D, was more often than not.
  • Kids’ emotions are double that of adults. A bad die roll, and they’re kinda devastated and you have to boost their spirits a bit. A natural twenty, and they’re doing a little victory dance around the table and cheering as they finish off a bad guy in one blow.  Their highs and lows are wild to witness, and it made the game even more fun for me than usual.
  • All of this made me even more certain that one of the main directions for Level Up Guild needs to be our “DM in a Box” service, and we need to market to parents of teens and pre-teens. I won’t even care that much that I’m making a lot less doing this than I do building websites. I kinda want doing this to be my job in the future.
  • I should probably work to develop more kid-friendly plot lines and bad guys. I’m not sure I have *any* idea what’s properly age appropriate because I was playing D&D at 6 and there weren’t really “age appropriate” things when I was growing up. I probably helped kill half the princes of Hell in D&D by the time I was 10. Skeletons and zombies are an easy thing to have them fight, though, so we did a lot of that. They’re basically the D&D equivalent of robots.
  • I never had to explain some basic mechanics, like what “hit points” are or “armor” or the types of weapons, the different fantasy races, etc.  Some of the stuff we didn’t know about when we were kids playing for the first time, these kids have absorbed through video games and other media.
  • D&D is by nature kind of violent when played the usual way, and parents need to be cool with that. Little Dude Tolbert and his mom and I had a long talk about makebelieve and pretend and how everything is just a game. He rolled with it really well, and had a good time rolling dice and doing math.  I would say that D&D is no more violent than modern video games (probably much less vividly so), but my combat descriptions could probably stand to be toned down as well, at least when playing with younger folks. We can fade the violence into the background of hit points and maybe I don’t need to be visceral at all in my descriptions with them. I’ve actually been struggling alot with the themes of violence and adolescence as I work on the Dungeonspace stories.  I also want to try my hand at writing more adventures that have less combat, and have bad guys run away or surrender more often.

In general, I learned an enormous amount from running this game, and I am looking forward to playing with these kids again. They were excitedly talking about what they would get at future levels and how they would deal with the three children they rescued, so I feel obligated to play with them again some time soon. I am really looking forward to learning yet more lessons of how best to DM for a group of mixed age kids.

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