Second Pathfinder Web Fiction Up!

Back in September, I had the great fortune to write a piece of fiction for my current favorite game, Pathfinder 2nd Edition. The piece received good reader feedback, so I crossed my fingers that I’d be asked to write more.

Then, mid-January, Paizo reached out and said they had another writing opportunity, but it was a fast, 11-day turnaround. Was I interested?

To me, the only possible answer to this question–regardless of circumstance–is “HECK YES!” Not only is writing fantasy fiction for my favorite game tons of fun, I want to establish myself as a reliable, solid writer who is part of Paizo’s regular line-up.

So Mark Moreland at Paizo sent me the image that would be the basis for the story, along with a PDF of the upcoming sourcebook that the story was meant to promote. The image was amazing, and Mark had several notes–The beastkin looks too much like a werewolf. The lady in back shouldn’t be a zombie, but a “fetchling” (a descendant of the Shadow Plane). Don’t make the piece from the adventurer’s viewpoint. It should probably be a comedy bit, based on a mistaken belief that these helpers were monsters. Good luck. Have fun.

The art is very clearly Halloween-y, so I leaned into those themes hard in the story. Something I thought of after submitting it to Mark was that the Tricksters should have been a band of halflings, making them even more like trick-or-treaters. Anyway, I’m happy with the result, hope Paizo is too, and fingers crossed this is a path to even more Pathfinder writing.

Here is the story and art: https://paizo.com/community/blog/v5748dyo6shkl?Tales-Of-Lost-Omens-Clues-In-The-Moonlight

Official Flash Fiction for Paizo!

My last several entries have been intros to my tabletop role-playing sessions. It’s a game I’ve been playing for a year now, Pathfinder 2nd Edition (basically a different–and in my opinion better–version of Dungeons & Dragons). Not just playing, actually. I’ve been the “Game Master,” which means I am the one guiding the players through our mutual story, controlling the actions of everyone in the world except each player’s character.

In the Summer, a representative from Paizo, the company that makes Pathfinder, asked on Twitter if anyone would be interested in writing fiction for them. He was immediately flooded with responses, including mine.

Imagine my surprise when Mark Moreland, the Brand Director for Paizo, sent me an email a few weeks later. Mark was a fan of some web fiction I’d written a loooong time ago, and asked if I would be willing to write for them. I think my exact response was “HECK YES!”

On Wednesday of this week, my first story for Paizo went up on their site.

Fingers crossed there’s more to come!

Zundar and the Booker

[Author’s note: I got the flu and then started working on the novel again, so there’s less to post here. But I am starting a new Pathfinder 2nd Edition game in which I get to play instead of GM and wrote up this sketch of my character.]

Giovani sat hunched over an Osirian scroll when the little bell at the front of his bookstore tinkled happily. The old man groaned, then painfully straightened, his back and joints popping. One day he would get a real chair instead of this damned, unbalanced stool he’d been using for decades.   

His gnarled finger, black from ink, pushed Giovani’s spectacles up his bulbous nose. The eyeglasses were round and thick, and made his eyes seem impossibly large on his face. Giovani glanced to the doorway with those owl eyes, blinked, and squeaked in alarm.

The thing that had pushed itself into his little bookstore was enormous — almost seven feet tall at first guess, with broad shoulders and elongated arms that hung almost to its knees. It had to crouch to avoid bumping its head on the ceiling, which made it seem even larger amidst the cramped shelves. Its skin was a ruddy, cerulean blue and hairless, with a bald head that was wide and pointy-eared. If it had been half its height it would have looked like a blue-skinned goblin. But at this size… 

“Hobgoblin!” Giovani blurted, his voice cracking. 

The thing grunted, seeming to notice the old bookstore proprietor for the first time. Crouching, it shuffled towards Giovani, clearly taking care not to knock over shelves as it approached. 

Giovani expected to be hit by the stench of the creature. But, though its scent was undeniably strong, he was surprised to find the hulking brute smelled something like a fresh Spring breeze. Giovani blinked again behind his eyeglasses and licked his lips nervously.

“I say. Um, quite unusual. May I– may I help you?” The old man’s voice squeaked out the end of the sentence. 

The hobgoblin grunted, looking around the bookstore with its menacing, all-white eyes. Giovani swallowed and his brow began to sweat.

“You the booker?” it asked, a voice low and growling.

“The– the what?” Giovani’s eyes blinked several times, lashes fluttering behind the spectacles.

“This,” the hobgoblin waved a hand the size of Giovani’s torso absently. “Bookstore, yeah? You the booker? You know books?”

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat. “This is indeed Giovani’s Rare Books and I am its proprietor, Giovani.”

The creature stared hard at him. 

Giovani’s voice quivered. “Yes, okay. I’m the–”

“Booker?” 

“If you say so, yes. I know books. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Dunno. Think so, yeah? See, I had a dream.”

“Dream?” Giovani asked, confused.

“Dream,” the hobgoblin nodded. “First time ever. Hopin’ you can tell me about it.”

“By the gods, man. Why would I be able to–”

The creature pounded one meaty fist into his other hand. “Gods! Knew a booker could help. Gods is what I need to know!”

“Please don’t hit me!” Giovani threw up his hands in defense and the crooked stool overbalanced. The old man fell backwards with a clunk, worn shoes flailing in the air.

“Hit you? Why would–” He looked down at his hands, one fist still wrapped in another. “Oh. Sorry. Scared you, huh?”

The creature shuffled around the small desk and loomed over the fallen Giovani, picking him up like a doll and standing him up. The puffs of white hair on either side of the bookseller’s head stood out crazily.

“Unhand me! I’m fine! Please, get off!” the old man grumped, pushing those giant hands away.

Giovani regarded the hobgoblin, who looked almost comically apologetic. It backed up a step and bumped into a bookshelf. The shelf swayed but stayed upright as the creature steadied it carefully. 

“Sorry, sorry.” That scent of Spring breeze rose up again pleasantly from its blue skin, filling the room. 

The old man sighed. 

“Most unusual, most unusual. Apologies. Perhaps I have misjudged you, my large friend. Please, let’s start again. From the beginning this time. What is your name?”

It was the hobgoblin’s turn to blink. He stared at Giovani for two heartbeats and finally rumbled, “Zundar.”

Giovani waved his small hand as the creature tried to reach past him. “No, no leave the stool please. The cursed thing can barely stand on its own anyway. You and I can just talk here.”

The hobgoblin settled back into place, looking huge and out of place in the bookstore. 

“Where are you from, Zundar?”

Zundar grunted. “Here. Cheliax. I, uh… made chains. For the Hellknights.”

“In the dungeons?” Giovani’s wild eyebrows rose. 

Zundar grunted ascent.

“Well, that’s honest labor, I suppose.” Giovani tried not to let his distaste for the Hellknights or their barbaric prisons show on his face. “How long have you been doing that?”

Zundar shrugged a massive shoulder. “Always. Born in the dungeons. Just saw the sky yesterday.”

“My goodness!” Giovani squeaked again. “Just yesterday! For the first time? How? Why?”

A lopsided grin touched the too-wide mouth on Zundar’s too-wide head. “Some guy talkin’ about it. Never seen it. Thought I should.”

Giovani was suddenly entranced. He smiled. “And what did you think of your first view of the sky, Zundar?”

“Pretty,” the hobgoblin said. His grin vanished. “But then… dreamed.”

“Ah, good. Yes, now we’ve come to it. Please, tell me about this dream. Was it of the sky?”

Zundar grunted, thinking. “A lion, yeah? Lightning in the hair around its head. Body a long snake. Lots of legs. Swam through the clouds. Talked to me. A lot. Said he was an old god.”

“Lion with a snake’s body,” Giovani was muttering to himself, tapping an ink-stained finger to his lip. “An old god, you say? Yes, well. Unusual. That sounds like Ranginori.”

“RANGINORI!” Zundar bellowed, and Giovani almost jumped out of his wrinkled skin. The hobgoblin seemed to notice the reaction and said, “Sorry, sorry. Not gonna hit you. That’s what he said his name was. Ranginori.”

“He… You say he spoke to you? In your dream?”

Zundar nodded his oversized head.

“And what did he tell you?”

The hobgoblin grunted. “Lotta things. Break all the chains. So I did. Broke all the chains. Let a bunch of people go. Right thing to do, yeah? People shouldn’t oughta be chained.”

Giovani blinked again in rapid succession. “I see. Zundar, when was this that you broke people’s chains in the dungeon?”

“This morning. Before I came here.”

The bookstore was silent for several heartbeats.

“And,” Giovani licked his lips, voice cracking again. “How many people did you free?”

Another shrug of an enormous shoulder. “Dunno. All of ‘em.”

Giovani swallowed. “I say, Zundar. That’s quite an extraordinary tale. Did the Hellknights try to stop you?”

“Yeah.”

“And what happened?”

Zundar shrugged.

“I see. Well, I believe I may be able to help you after all. Perhaps you can sit and make yourself comfortable on the floor there while I go close up the shop and find a book or two?”

“Okay,” the hobgoblin said in his monstrous growl. “Hey, uh… You’ll read ‘em, though, yeah? Don’t read.”

Giovani blinked. “Of course. Yes. I can do that.”

The lopsided grin returned. “Okay. Thanks, booker.”

 

AoA 03: We Remember

[author’s note: With any Age of Ashes posts, check out this blurb for some background. I should also say that if you happen to be a Pathfinder 2 player and interested in the campaign, proceed with caution because there are spoilers in these cut scenes! This was Jethro’s third haunting vision so far.]

 

Jethro Vermillion found himself standing at the edge of a makeshift graveyard. Clouds stirred peacefully overhead. Crows called out, unseen, from distant trees. The high walls of Citadel Altaerein loomed in the background, casting into shadow the plot of land with its simple stone grave markers.

He stroked his beard thoughtfully, frowning at the figure standing within the graveyard.

Alak Stagram was as Jethro had last seen him, his once-handsome face now half-peeled of its skin, skull leering beneath. His matte plate armor, once pristine, was now scratched and dented from claws and weapons. The undead armiger, one eye plucked from its socket, attempted to smile. At least Jethro thought it was a smile, though the horrifying, blood-slicked visage was the stuff of nightmares.

“Jethro, yes?” Alak’s voice was surprisingly the same as in life, rich and dripping with highbrow disdain. “I’m afraid I never learned your family name.”

Jethro tried to answer but found himself unable to speak. His frown deepened.

“Skeleton got your tongue, perhaps? Well, no matter. I suspect this,” he waved a ravaged hand into the air, “conversation will be as brief as our acquaintance. Tell me, were you ever able to find my family’s signet ring?”

Jethro nodded.

“Was it within the back vault? Perhaps in a drawer with a false bottom?”

He nodded again.

The skeletal warrior sighed and slumped his shoulders. “Yes, after searching the first level I suspected my mother would hide it there. She spoke of that room, sometimes, and that drawer. For all their love of order, the Hellknights do love their secrets. Perhaps the apple does not fall far from Asmodeus’ tree, eh? In any case, do bury the ring with my remains, if you please. I literally died for that thing.”

Alak straightened and fixed Jethro with his remaining eye. “It seems I was somewhat of a fool for not accompanying you into the citadel vaults, a mistake for which I cannot atone. My impatience got the better of me. Alas. Alas.”

The soil to Alak’s right began to stir, and a frog-like hand pushed its way from below. The hand searched for purchase. Alak followed Jethro’s glance.

“Aha. As promised, our conversation will be brief. In a matter of days, priest of Sarenrae, the bodies have piled up beneath you and your merry band.”

Jethro’s eyes widened as multiple corpses now pulled themselves free of their graves. There were frog-like boggards and monkey-like charau-ka, and a small legion of skeletons with their glowing purple eyes. Behind Alak, a furry arm of a bugbear began pulling its owner from the soil, a dirt-caked dagger clutched in her hand.

“I would caution you, priest. Your merry band is running headlong towards an apocalypse, an event that could scar the world. And when it happens, when that Age of Ashes, as it were, is upon you…”

Many corpses had pulled themselves free, still bearing their mortal wounds. Slashes from swords and magical burns marred the creatures. Some seemed to have holes the size of goblin fists through their throats and chests. They assembled behind Alak silently, dead eyes fixed on Jethro. With each moment that passed, more bodies filled out the ranks of the graveyard.

“…well, when that times comes…” Alak shrugged, opening his hands wide. “We remember.”

White lightning crackled overhead, and Jethro saw that what was once an overcast sky had become the angry threat of a storm. Colors flashed in the clouds: red, green, and blue.

The wet, black soil surged up and around Alak and his surrounding zombies, violently pushing them high into the air. The rumble of the erupting earth echoed in thunder overhead.

And then, towering over Jethro, was the form of an enormous creature, like a worm or snake made from the graveyard soil. Dotting its length were the bodies of the dead, with Alak Stagram at what would be the creature’s forehead, the armiger’s arm, shoulder and mangled head visible. The graveyard worm loomed over twenty feet high, swaying and dripping both soil and ichor at Jethro’s feet.

“WE REMEMBER!” announced all the heads in the creature, human and boggard and monkey and skeleton and bugbear as one. The voices then screamed wordlessly in defiance and anger, the sound like the roar of a dragon, as the worm-like creature opened its maw and struck down at Jethro.

 

 

Tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Jethro Vermillion screamed into the morning darkness, the dragon’s roar still echoing in his ears.

Where’s your writing? What’s this fantasy shit? I thought you liked superheroes? — an author’s note

For the last year+, I’ve been in a weekly writer’s group in Oakland, CA working on a post-apocalyptic superhero novel. Thus my (limited) writing energy has gone into a story I’m not yet ready to share.

But in the past several months, I’ve also begun a journey as a Game Master (GM) of a Pathfinder Second Edition game with five wonderful friends: Marcus, Owen, Jared, Dylan, and Ryan. Part of being a GM of a tabletop roleplaying game is doing a fair amount of writing, and that writing is something I’m happy to share here.

We are playing through the Age of Ashes adventure path, starting with Book 1: Hellknight Hill. The general plotline of the first book is that a group of adventurers unexpectedly save the the town of Breachill’s residents from an arsonist fire. Investigating the fire leads them to the abandoned Citadel Altaerein (known by the locals as “Hellknight Hill”) a mile outside of town, and thus headlong a much deeper series of events that may threaten the world of Golarion itself. Pretty classic high fantasy stuff, and we are loving both the adventure path and this new edition of Pathfinder.

The leader of the adventuring party is Marcus’ character Jethro Vermillion (played by a bearded Jared Leto …we cast all of our characters), a cleric of the goddess Sarenrae. Poor Jethro was born in Breachill, but was plagued by haunting visions that drove him as a teenager out of town and eventually into the faith of his goddess. As he’s returned to his home town the visions have returned. These visions are thus far the main source of writing I’ve been able to do for the adventure, adding in “cut scenes” for the group that foreshadow the possible doom they’re approaching.

(As an aside, each player has either written or is writing a cut scene for their character, which I’m inserting into our sessions at strategic times. This blog is for my writing only, so I won’t include their prose. Suffice it say, though, it’s been a truly wonderful experience of collaborative storytelling.)

I’m now on the FOURTH version of my fledgling novel, and each version has been significantly better than the last. My hope is that eventually I’ll have a finished manuscript to share. Until then, enjoy the random superhero short story here.

And, at least for now, please enjoy the prose I’ve been inserting into our weekly Pathfinder game.

Meet the Judges: Andromeda Stacey

Andromeda Stacey, twice People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Person in the World, evaluated her face in the mirror.

“You are stunning,” said the man to her right.

Andromeda almost pointed out the many flaws. For starters, those three damned freckles, too-large pores on her nose, the shadows under both eyes, how one nostril was slightly larger than the other, and the faint remnants of a pimple near her lower lip. But she never said such things out loud.

Instead, she quirked one corner of her mouth into a smile and said simply, “Thank you, Peter.”

Peter Moore had aged well, thanks in large part to unending wealth and power as a studio executive producer. He possessed a strong jaw and clear green eyes, the kind of looks that melted young Hollywood aspirants into spread-legged piles of drool. Peter could easily have been a rugged forty years old or a fit sixty. Only the deep smile lines around his eyes revealed more sixty than forty. His shaved head glowed in the bright lights surrounding the mirror.

“Listen,” he said in his deep baritone, straightening his tie in the reflection, “I know you’ve caught a lot of flak for being part of this show, but I hope it’s falling on deaf ears. You’re the perfect third judge for Alpha Squad. The audience is going to tune in because of you.”

The other person in the room, her make-up artist Barbie, was applying concealer below Andromeda’s eyes. The shadows there disappeared as she brushed out the concealer with practiced, quick strokes. Soon the other obvious flaws would be obscured. Goodbye until tonight, freckles.

“Thank you, Peter,” she said, almost without moving.

“Don’t move,” Barbie scolded.

“Good luck today,” Peter said, smiling his brightest at her in the mirror and winking. “Knock ‘em dead, and don’t take any shit from either of them, you hear?”

Andromeda quirked her lip again. After a second or so, the smile faded.

“Right then. See you on set, gorgeous.” He turned and walked out of her dressing room, the door closing behind.

“Asshole,” muttered Barbie.

“Peter? He’s not so bad.”

“Don’t move. If you say so. All he did for five minutes was talk about your looks and then ended by putting you in your place. You’re better than him.”

Andromeda put her hand up, signaling Barbie to stop with the brush.

“Put me in my place?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Barbie was built like a twelve-year-old boy, all skinny limbs and sharp angles. Her pink hair was short and spiked out from her head artfully. Today she wore a simple tank top, showing off tattoos that covered every inch of skin below her chin. The most dramatic ink was the Asian-looking tiger crawling from shoulder to elbow, but Barbie’s body was a mosaic of fantastical animals, obscure symbols, and cartoon characters.

“I shouldn’t have said anything. Sorry,” Barbie said, not sounding sorry in the least.

“No, please. What did you mean?”

“It’s just…” Barbie sighed loudly. “I mean, ‘third judge’? Like the other two are obvious and you’re the tag-along? And that follows a reminder that some people don’t even want you on the show. It just felt like tearing you down more than building you up, is all. Saying people will tune in because of you is just telling you that you’re hot, like you’re only there as eye candy. This sexist industry gets to me sometimes is all.”

Andromeda settled back into the chair, signaling it was time to resume. Barbie started expertly applying highlighter along the top of her cheekbones in silence.

In a couple of minutes, Andromeda spoke. “I don’t even hear those things anymore, to be honest. And let’s not kid ourselves. I’m only on this show as eye candy.”

Barbie snorted. “No. You’re not.”

“How so?”

“If you were here as eye candy, you’d be the host. You’re a judge. You’re here for your opinions.”

“And as eye candy.”

“Okay, sure. But it’s your words that are going to shape this show, not the luscious lips saying them. I get really tired of people treating you like you don’t have a brain, and I’ve been working with you long enough to know you do too. Your looks get you in the door, but you are smarter than anyone at the studio and both of those judges combined.”

“Hm,” Andromeda said noncommittally.

Several minutes later, Barbie was using a fluffy blending brush across her eyelids when Andromeda spoke again.

“It’s ironic,” she said, “that the person hired to enhance my looks is saying this.”

She heard Barbie snort again. “The fact that you see that irony only proves my point.”

Nearly an hour later, both women stared in the mirror, evaluating her face critically. Clay, her hair stylist, had artfully piled Andromeda’s blond hair atop her head, with spiral locks curling down each side to frame her face. That face was now smooth, perfectly symmetrical, and, Andromeda silently admitted to herself, flawless. Cheeks shone. Lips naturally pouted. Her eyes looked back from the mirror large and sensual. Purple eyeshadow glittered, ready to match the miniskirt dress that hung behind her. She had become an airbrushed photograph come to life.

“I think we’ve got it,” Barbie said.

“Yes,” Andromeda said, “Me too. The Trojan Horse is built.”

Barbie blinked, startled. Then her face broke into a huge smile.

“God yes. That’s what I’m talking about. Go get ‘em.”

Meet the Judges: Hudson

The door to the Blue Cat bar crashed open, a panting, skinny white kid silhouetted in the door frame. He wore hipster slacks, a button-up shirt with a too-big collar, and those thick-rimmed glasses that made nerds seem cool. In a glance, Hudson decided the guy was a complete waste of a life. He turned his back on the kid and returned to his Dos Equis.

A few seconds later, the kid was breathing heavily behind him. Hudson frowned.

“Mr. Hudson, sir?”

Dammit. Fanboy.

He sighed and looked at Sylvette, the bartender. She was a pretty thirty-something black girl with a halter top and a sweet afro. Hudson liked Sylvette, which is why he always came back to the Blue Cat whenever he was in LA. She saw his expression and winked, leaning back against the counter to watch the show.

Slowly. Dramatically. Hudson slid off the barstool. Stood up. Turned around.

The kid stepped back involuntarily, just like Hudson intended.

Hudson was about six-and-a-half feet tall. Right now he was wearing a white tank-top, fully displaying his physique. Oh, and his oily jet-black skin, patterned with yellow like a salamander. Seeing Hudson on TV and in person were different experiences, he’d found. He looked down on the kid with pupil-less, white eyes. The punk hipster swallowed audibly.

“Something I can do for you, man?” Hudson rumbled.

“Ah. It’s just, well…” he stammered.

“Yeah? I’m sort of busy here, as you can see. So get to it.”

“Mr. Hudson, sir…”

Hudson grunted. “Shit, man. That’s not my name.”

The kid faltered. “Um, what?”

“My name is Deshawn Andrews, so you can call me Mr. Andrews. Or you can call me Hudson. My fucking last name sure as fuck isn’t Hudson, though. That’s my Guardian name.”

“Oh. Right. Okay.” He was sweating and seemed to gather himself. “Mr. Andrews, sir. I’m from the studio.”

Hudson crossed his massive arms over his massive chest.

“And?”

The kid almost wet himself. It took him a couple of tries to find his voice. “And you’re supposed to be on set now, sir.”

Hudson paused, frowning. He turned back to the bartender.

“Sylvette? What day is it?”

She smiled a bright white smile, framed by those luscious chocolate lips. She had a big gap between her two front teeth. Damn fine woman.

“It’s Monday, honey.”

Hudson grunted, “Damn.” He turned back to the kid, who took another step back.

“When were we supposed to start?”

“Um,” the kid checked his phone. “It’s eleven AM, so we don’t start shooting for a couple of hours yet. But you were due at nine for make-up, wardrobe, and prep.”

“Shit, man. A couple of hours?” Hudson eased his bulk back onto the barstool and turned back around. He took a long swallow of his beer.

It took the kid almost a full minute. Hudson didn’t move. Sylvette didn’t either, though her smile became bigger the longer the silence stretched on. Finally, the kid cleared his throat.

“Mr. Hud– Mr. Andrews, sir?”

Hudson took another swallow. Sylvette shook her head, still smiling.

“Mr. Andrews?”

“What, man?” He still didn’t move. The kid appeared in his peripheral vision.

“Um, we have to go, sir. I’ve got a car outside.”

“Nah.”

“Um, what?”

“You deaf? I said no. I’m enjoying a beer with this fine woman in a mercifully empty bar. Go away, kid. I’ll be there before they start shooting.”

“But… The studio wants you there for…”

“I don’t need that other shit. They get me when I get there. Thanks for letting me know.”

“But…”

“Fuck off.”

More silence. Sylvette couldn’t help it and bust up laughing. She had a sexy laugh, that Sylvette. Hudson thought he would ask her out one of these days.

“I’m, um, I’m going to call the studio,” the kid said uncertainly. “I really think they want you there now.”

“Cool. Do that. Outside.”

Another few seconds of awkward silence, then footsteps and the Blue Cat’s door opened and closed.

“You really filming something today?” Sylvette asked, cocking her head to the side. Big hoop earrings flopped around when she did that, which Hudson thought was sexy.

“Yeah. Apparently.”

“Commercial?”

“Nah. Television show called Alpha Squad.”

Sylvette’s whole face lit up like fireworks. “Oh! I heard about that! That’s the reality show for a new Guardians group! You going to be in it?”

Hudson shrugged. “I’m one of the judges. Then they want me to lead the group after the show, I guess.”

“That’s so sweet! That show’s going to be epic.”

“Hope so.”

“So why you giving that studio guy such a hard time, then?”

“Punk kid annoys me. I’m not taking orders from him. Besides,” he opened his arms out wide and smiled. “Like I said, I’m enjoying a drink with a fine woman. Nothing should interrupt that.”

Sylvette laughed and shook her head. Those hoop earrings jangled around.

“You ever going to ask me out, honey? I’d say yes.”

Hudson kept smiling. “Someday.”

The door opened again, letting in daylight for a second before shutting. The kid all but ran over to his side again. He was holding his phone out like passing an Olympic torch.

“They want you there now, sir. Mr. Moore wants to talk to you. He’s on the phone. Here,” the kid waved the phone around. He looked terrified and sweaty. Good.

Hudson sighed and took the phone in his enormous hand.

“Hey Peter,” Hudson said. “Yeah? Yeah.” Pause. “Okay. I know, I know. I lost track of time, man.” Pause. “No, it’s cool. I’ll come over now.” Pause. “Annoys the fuck out of me, actually. Where’d you get him from?” Hudson listened, then laughed. “Okay, yeah. I won’t kill him until after I get there. Thanks, man.”

Hudson tossed the phone back to the kid. He fumbled it and it clattered to the floor. Fucking useless.

“Sylvette, my dear, my chariot awaits. Thanks for opening up for me.”

“Anytime, honey.”

He reached into his back pocket for his money clip, unrolled a Benjamin and laid it on the table.

“Don’t forget what I said,” Sylvette said, taking the bill and smiling her fine, gap-toothed smile.

“Someday,” he said.

“Well, you got my number.”

“I do. Alright,” Hudson turned to the kid, who had recovered his phone and was looking appropriately uncomfortable. Hudson was going to make this ride hell for the punk, just to fuck with him. “Let’s go then.”

“Okay, great. Great! My name is–”

“Don’t care.”

He could still hear Sylvette’s sexy laugh as they left the Blue Cat behind.

Meet the Judges: Christina Ng

Christina Ng sat in her expensive office chair, staring at a framed photo on her desk. A clock over the closed door ticked seconds ominously in the otherwise silent room.

It was a sizable office, but spartan. Various marketing and business bestsellers lined a modest bookcase mounted on one wall. On the opposite wall hung a framed document–AlphaTech’s first approved letter of funding as a new start-up in Silicon Valley. A tasteful white orchid, to match a tasteful white throw rug. A few modern chairs in which to sit, also white. Occasionally, someone at AlphaTech would ask her about adding some character to her office, and Christina would point out the wall of windows overlooking the San Francisco Bay Bridge behind her. To her, the view was the only aesthetic needed.

The photo showed a younger Christina at her MBA graduation from Stanford University. In it, she wore a red robe and cap, hugging a classmate with eyes shut and smile wide. She could remember that day so well, perhaps the happiest day of her life. Graduating was an accomplishment, but even more a beginning. The day after graduation, Christina began sketching out the business plan that would lead to AlphaTech’s framed funding letter. Staring at the photo brought Christina peace, and hope in troubled times.

Someone knocked on the door twice and then opened it a foot. Samantha Winters, Christina’s executive assistant, stuck her head into the room. She was a young, plump, pale, blotchy, and generally unattractive woman with glasses, and she always had a perpetually startled look on her face. Wicked smart and capable, but easy to underestimate just looking at her.

“Christina?”

Christina blinked from her reverie and looked at Samantha. “Hm?”

“Five-minute warning. Then they’ll escort us to the airport. I’ve got your bags ready.”

“Okay, thanks Sam.”

“Do you need anything?”

“No, thank you.”

Samantha stepped more fully into the room. She was wearing jeans and an unflattering floral top. “You okay?” she asked.

Christina blinked again and smiled with lightly-freckled cheeks. The freckles were the only blemish on her China-doll face.

“I guess. Just sort of thinking about beginnings. It’s a big day, right?”

“Yep. And a fun one. It’s going to be great. Let’s see how you look.”

Christina dutifully stood up and stepped around her desk. White blouse, gray business blazer and matching pencil skirt. She was a small woman–just barely topping five feet tall in her stiletto heels, and petite in every way. Her straight black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and fell to the middle of her back. She smoothed her skirt unnecessarily as her assistant looked her up and down.

Samantha cocked her head. “Beautiful and polished, as always. But…”

“But?” Christina quirked an eyebrow.

“For a Board meeting? Perfect. For today, though, I think the people at the studio are going to spruce you up a bit.”

“Spruce me up? What needs sprucing?”

“Just some color, maybe. A dramatic hat, or a scarf. Something for the audience to talk about.”

Christina smirked. “I’m not exactly aiming for the audience talking about me.”

Her assistant crossed meaty arms and smiled. “Well, maybe I’m wrong.”

“You are, frustratingly, rarely wrong, Ms. Winters.”

A male voice shouted from behind Samantha. “Christina!”

Samantha flicked Christina a look that said, “Want me to get rid of him?” and Christina flicked back a quick shake of her head. It was one of those near-telepathic interchanges both women valued about their partnership.

“And here’s Gareth!” Samantha said, falsely beaming. She stepped aside.

Gareth Graham was a medium-height, skinny Englishmen with perpetually unkempt-yet-stylish hair. He wore a navy-blue suit and a salmon tie, loosened to also look unkempt yet stylish.

“There you are! I’m glad I caught you. Listen, before you kick off this ridiculous enterprise I wanted to try one more time to tell you what a bloody disaster it’s going to be.”

Gareth always had a wild, insistent energy to him. Christina, meanwhile, exuded an aura of serene calm. Their two styles often clashed in AlphaTech’s boardroom. Christina crossed her hands behind her and met Gareth’s panting figure with a half-smile. A moment of silence passed.

Gareth straightened, and exhaled loudly.

“That is to say,” he said less emphatically, “I’d like a word, if you please.”

Behind him, Samantha smiled. “I’ll leave you, then. The studio folks will be here any minute so make it quick.”

“Thanks Samantha,” Christina said as the door closed. Christina backed up a bit and sat lightly on the edge of her desk, gripping the edge with her hands. “Now then, Gareth, we’ve been through this, and the Board agrees with me. You know that.”

Gareth grimaced. “I know. Of course I know. I’m appealing to you to step back and see the wider picture here, Christina. Everything is coming up roses for AlphaTech, and there’s no need to take away that momentum. This could ruin us.”

“I appreciate your concern.” Gareth started to say something, and she held up a hand, cutting him off. “And I appreciate it’s a risk. Companies take risks, Gareth. My job as CEO is to make these decisions. I made the decisions that brought us to such a rosy P&L, you may recall.”

“Yes, but…”

“And if Alpha Squad is a disaster, well…”

“You’ll be out,” Gareth said violently. “You’ll be done. A laughing stock. This company you built will be taken away from you.”

Christina cocked an eyebrow. “Paving the way for a new, vibrant, visionary CEO, perhaps?”

“Dammit. If I wanted the job and wanted you to fail, I wouldn’t be here pleading with you. I’d let you bloody fall flat on your bloody face.”

“Fair point. So why come?”

“In hopes that on the precipice of this disaster that you’d see reason. Don’t do this. Please. I don’t understand why you’re so driven to make us such a public spectacle. I didn’t think you wanted to be a celebrity.”

“Is that what you think this is about? This is about building a brand, Gareth. AlphaTech’s, not mine. And doing some good while we’re at it.”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Well, I’m off to Los Angeles, it seems. I’m afraid the die is cast, Mr. Graham.”

“Mark my words,” Gareth said, shaking a finger, “this Alpha Squad nonsense will. Not. Work. You may have a meaningless reality TV show career at the end of this, but it will be the end of you leading a global enterprise.”

“I suppose we’ll see,” Christina said gently.

“I suppose we bloody will.”

The door opened, and Samantha stood there with an older, bald white man and several young people with tablet computers held to their chests. Gareth turned on his heel and pushed through them angrily. The group looked on briefly as he stormed towards the elevators, then turned their full, smiling attention to Christina.

“Big day,” the man said in a deep voice, stepping forward and extending his hand. “It’s good to see you again, Christina. You look beautiful.”

“Thank you, Peter.” Christina pulled herself away from her desk and met his grip, her hand comically small in his. “Well, let’s get going.”

As the two of them made their way out of the office one of the young people, a cute girl with sunglasses perched on top of her head turned to one of her young companions.

“I’m thinking we need color,” she said.

“Definitely. We’ll do that in LA. I have some ideas. A yellow scarf, maybe?”

Christina overheard and paused long enough to look at Samantha. Her assistant shrugged.

The group moved to the elevators, leaving the office door open. Only the ominous sound of a clock ticking filled the silence.

Thankful (With Cheese!)

It’s been quite a month! I attended the League of Legends World Championships in Berlin (and brought my son, as a birthday present), which was awesome. I then followed it up with Riot’s first-ever global Talent Summit, gathering all of the Talent professionals at Riot Games from our seventeen global offices into one place. The Summit too was awesome. Since then I’ve been in the year-end buzzsaw, full of compensation reviews, 2016 financial forecasting, and holiday parties galore. Whew.

Speaking of holidays, tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S., and so I’ve been getting in touch with my deep wells of gratitude from this past year. Today’s post might be a tad cheesy, but who am I kidding? I’m sort of a cheesy fellow.

First and foremost, I am incredibly thankful for my wife and two kids. I haven’t always been a terrific husband or father through my working life, but this past year has been a high point on both the husbandly and fatherly front. My job means that I am away from home a lot, but the quality of time we’ve been spending together has been arguably the best ever. We laugh more. We share more deep feelings. We are genuinely sad to part and genuinely giddy to reconnect. I feel interwoven into my kids’ weekly activities and am courting my wife again despite eighteen years of marriage.

What could be causing this quality family time? Well…

…I’m also ridiculously thankful for Riot Games. This past year has been the most fun of my career, which is astonishing in part because I was coming off of two of my least fun years. Read most any of my previous blog posts and you’ll see why 2015 has been so great. Riot’s culture is fantastic. My bosses, Riot’s founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck, are two of the best humans I’ve met. I’m challenged at work, and also feel tremendously supported. I’m surrounded by gamer nerds all day every day, and make time to play constantly. If you’re not a passionate consumer of what your company does—if you’re not completely gung ho about your company’s mission—I think it’s worth stepping back and asking why you’re there. I’m sort of bummed that it took my half of my life to figure this obvious truth out, but am really, really happy that I eventually stumbled my way here. I officially love what I do and with whom I’m doing it.

I’m thankful for the Talent team we’ve been building over the past year. We’ve added a cadre of impressive leaders and “T-shaped” folks (meaning professionals who have deep expertise but also a lot of utility) at all levels and across our many sub-disciplines (recruiting, talent development, operations, rewards, etc.). The Summit was in many ways an official kick-off to this team as a team, and I’m excited for what this powerhouse group of folks can accomplish in the coming years. Despite lots of change they’ve continued to stay excited about their work and Riot. And one of the coolest indicators that we’re on the right path is that several times a week now I’m approached by Rioters from other teams wanting to join Talent. Super cool.

I’m thankful for League of Legends, and all of the ways it continues to surprise and delight me as a player. As I’ve mentioned before, League is a game that has brought my family together, and has inspired me to throw a ton of hours into trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to master it. What impresses me is how much the League team takes risks and is willing to change pretty much everything from season to season. It feels like a living, breathing environment. My son Jonah is obsessed with Surrender at 20 updates and League’s developing lore. He also finished the last season ranked Silver 4 in North America. Meanwhile, I’m working on my Diana game after reaching level 5 Champion mastery on Fizz, Brand, and Taric (the next Riot Rumble season kicks off in January, for which I’m thankful too). I’ve played a lot of other games, but League of Legends continues to hold my attention week after week.

I’m thankful for the Golden State Warriors and their record-breaking start to the season after winning the NBA championship last year. I’ve been a Warriors fan since 1998, and let me tell you that the last two seasons feel like nothing short of a miracle. They are such a fun team to watch. Sadly, I’ve also been an Oakland Raiders fan since 1991, which has been a lot more consistently frustrating. Thank you, Warriors.

Finally, I’m thankful for my health. In 2014 I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, which was due to both my stress at work and also unhealthy eating habits. It’s the first time I’ve ever started medication of really any kind. This year I’ve lost some weight, do regular meditation, and generally just feel a lot healthier inside and out. My most recent physical at my doctor’s office was stunning in its turnaround, and sure enough it looks like I’ll soon be coming off the blood pressure medicine. There’s some sort of virtuous cycle happening, where I am loving my job, loving my family, and also feeling better. I can pretty much draw double-ended arrows between all three of those things.

So yeah. Pretty cheesy, as advertised. I’m in a good place. At some point I’m sure to hit a rough patch, and when that happens I’ll write an equally dour and frustrated post. For now, though, everywhere I turn I’m finding a reason for gratitude.

If you’re in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving. Regardless, here’s hoping you find your own virtuous cycle, full of loved ones, fulfilling work, and healthy habits. Then you too can write with gooey, cheesy goodness!

-jms

The Games I Play

On Tuesday night of this week, I found myself teaching almost forty Rioters how to play Magic: the Gathering. It was a crockpot cook-off, which meant we had high-caloric food, chips, bread, wine, and beer, to go along with a whole stack of Magic Origins Intro decks, 20-sided dice, and 6-sided dice. The event was meant to be a Talent team bonding thing, but other people who wanted to learn Magic heard about it and asked to join. We started at dinner, and the games lasted into the wee hours.

I’m not going to write specifically about the event this week, but I do want to pause and say again how tickled I am to be at Riot Games. It wasn’t until I woke up Wednesday morning that it occurred to me that we just used our team-building time to play my favorite game. With a big crowd. For hours. Plus beer. How cool is that? If you’re not a gamer, it probably doesn’t sound cool. For me, though… Heaven.

Wait, did I just say that my favorite game isn’t League of Legends? It’s true. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge Magic nerd. I wrote a weekly column for the official site for years, and I’ve also written a lot for other sites. For awhile, I even wrote Magic card names and flavor text. My time invested in Magic has waned a lot since having kids and a rocket-ride career, but I still have booster drafts at my house every month or so, still play Commander with my son, still attend prerelease events more often than not, and still mentally make Standard decks (I never end up assembling or playing, sadly) with each new set release.

It’s fair to say that I’ve taught hundreds of people to play Magic over the last twenty years, and have a tried-and-true formula for doing so. I’d never taught a whole roomful of newbies before, but it seemed to work out fine. At least a few people in the crowd had that “This game is AWESOME!” moment that lets me know they’ll play again. In my mind, the more Magic players that exist in the world, the more people I have to play with me and spread the good word of Trading Card Games. Yay for virtuous cycles!

Riot is a collection of really diverse nerd-flavors, and we’re all gamers of some sort. For a ton of Rioters, League of Legends is the end-all, be-all of games. We are littered with Diamond and Platinum-level players, and pretty much everyone plays League throughout the week.

But is that all we play? Pff. Hardly. How else do you think we have a packed room wanting to learn Magic on a Tuesday night?

In fact, my gaming tendencies have really had a chance to stretch and grow over my first year at Riot. In the last twelve months, I’ve played more League of Legends than all other games combined, but I’ve also spent quality time with Magic and…

  • Hearthstone – Hearthstone is a sort of simplified Magic, and has a great user experience. Games are fast and feel cool with lots of slick visuals and sound effects. Unfortunately, no one else in my family plays Hearthstone and we’ve vowed to avoid solo games. I like the strategic complexity of Magic more, and I like the experience of playing with physical cards with my son. Still, though, I’ve logged my fair share of Hearthstone, and it’s something a lot of Rioters play too.
  • Smite – I felt a little dirty when my son Jonah told me that his friends and pulled him into Smite and that I should give it a try. It’s basically a competitor to League, except from a different camera angle and using various pantheons of gods as the champions. There are a lot of cool things about it–and I like the pantheon theme a ton–though it’s a little too frenetic for my tastes. Still, I’ll keep playing Smite as long as Jonah’s interested.
  • Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder – I’m an old guy, and still love classic tabletop role-playing games. It’s still some of the most fun, social experiences of pure nerddom that I’ve experienced. Truth be told, I’m a much, much bigger fan of superhero RPGs like Champions, Mutants & Masterminds, Villains & Vigilantes, Golden Heroes, and, well… pretty much anything with spandex and capes. I haven’t found a group of folks who love this genre as much as me, so for now I’m fine with fantasy-themed games.
  • King of Tokyo, Bang!, Avalon, and many others – When Rioters are on a bus, or convention, or on a break from a big meeting, or in an airport… They bring games. The really fun ones then make it into my household for Friday Night Game Nights, which then spreads the part-game and board game virus across our friends. The three I listed here are our particular favorites at the moment.
  • Secret Ponchos – This was my favorite game from Pax this year, and I’m hoping that with last week’s release the controls for the PC are less bizarre than the beta (it started as a console game). I love the look and feel of Secret Ponchos, though, and I’ll keep checking in on it from time to time.
  • Heroes of the Storm  – Also a competitor to League, but one I probably only played a few weeks before turning away. The tutorial is amazing and the visuals are awesome, but in my limited MOBA time, I prefer League. I also don’t have any family members or friends who are hooked on HotS.
  • Guilty Gear and Marvel vs. Capcom – I really like fighting games but don’t own a console. A friend of mine has Guilty Gear Xrd and we have Marvel vs. Capcom in Riot’s arcade, so I get a fair amount of time on those two. When I wish I owned a console, it is almost exclusively so that I could play fighting games.

I’ve dabbled for a few hours with others, but that’s pretty much what I play these days. As gamers go, that’s a pretty light list. But I’ve never been a console gamer. I don’t like horror games or first-person shooters, both of which make me feel icky. And, of course, given my role and family, I just don’t have the time I’d like to expand beyond the above list.

You know, unless you were to recommend something awesome in the comments…

-jms