Okay, a slightly unusual, off-topic post this time. We’ve been living with lockdown in the UK for two months now, and it’s been rather longer since my last post, so I thought it time to put fingers to keyboard again.

Last year was looking good.

I smashed it with RPGaDay and managed to get 31 D&D-related posts out in the 31 days of August. Then in September I published my first setting on DriveThruRPG, the castle Ragnar’s Keep, which has gone Bronze!

At the start of the year, I got all keen with trying to build on this and develop my D&D profile, Melestrua. I published my second item on DriveThruRPG, the Experience Tokens. I joined WorldAnvil and started fleshing out my take on Mystara, in particular Akorros. I was building up my Facebook presence, including a portal to my musings and especially my Akorros posts. I became a regular follower of the WorldAnvil Twitch channel, and joined in their Festival of Love challenge with Cirera.

And then it all came crashing down.

Background admission: I have been living with depression for several years. With the help of daily anti-depressants, I am able to function normally most of the time, and not get too scratchy at the family. Being part of and practicing The Leadership Gift programme has helped me take ownership of my responses to my upsets. Accepting that I may always have this challenge has also helped me come to terms with it.

But “function normally” is a relative term. I can usually do the things I have committed to do – my work, running a dance society (someone needed to do it, and I had the skills, and I am very fortunate to have a capable and active committee supporting me), curating a list of dancing events for the bi-annual SCD magazine, publishing events sent to me for my dancing web site.

I can sometimes do more as well – as in at the start of this year. But I also have days/weeks when I have no energy or enthusiasm. When all I want to do is sit and read. Or sit. Or lie. When I can’t decide what I want to do, but whatever I try isn’t it. When I just want to sleep.

I don’t get very much done in those times…

I can still rouse myself to get the things which need to be done done…usually just in time…but anything without a deadline falls by the wayside.

My biggest problem when I’m down is getting started. Once I get a head of steam up, I make progress. But actually getting myself going in the first place is the challenge. And what makes it worse is taking on too much and putting too much pressure on myself.

Back to the last few months…

The next WorldAnvil challenge was a mapping challenge. I wanted to be part of it, mainly to build my profile…but my campaign didn’t need the world extending, and anyway, my world is based on Mystara, in particular Darokin, so it wouldn’t be an original map anyway. I started doing some sketches, but soon fizzled out, discouraged. I haven’t touched WorldAnvil since 🙁

I also ran dry on Akorros. I needed to prepare something more detailed for my campaign to arrive into, which meant that further development on the wider city had to wait. I was also daunted by the amount I had to create in order to give the players something to actually do on arrival. I would have great ideas during the day or in bed at night and look forward to the evening when I could get them down, but when the evening actually came I’d just sit like a cabbage and nothing would progress. The longer this went on, the more pressure there was, and so the harder it got. A vicious cycle.

Also, just trying to keep up with the flow of new stuff coming in all directions overwhelmed me – Twitter, Facebook, WorldAnvil. I felt like no matter how much I tried, I fell further and further behind, and I couldn’t keep my profile going.

Fortunately just before the black pudding of depression completely overwhelmed me, The Angry GM posted How to Homebrew: Clickbait Worldbuilding. It talks about worldbuilding, starting small and building, and it made me realise why the mapmaking challenge in WorldAnvil was a bad idea for me. At the moment, I don’t need to develop the wider world, I need to develop the local setting for the players. And then this got me thinking more widely, and I realised that I have been running my whole life like an over-enthusiastic DM world-building. I concentrate too much on my profile and reputation and other people’s expectations, and lose touch with the things that actually interest me. And then what was fun becomes a chore.

For example:

  • I spent a long time building my profile in the Agile community, despite the fact I’m more interested in developing software than in training
  • I have found myself organising so much in the Scottish Country Dancing community (and had such a bad committee experience by trying to improve things) that the dancing itself has almost become a chore
  • When I came upon WorldAnvil I dived in head-first trying to make myself visible and known, measuring myself against the major contributors and becoming discouraged, despite the fact I can’t (and have no need to) compete with them

With that realisation, I also realised I need to stop putting such pressure on myself. What people value are the things I create, and I create best when I don’t feel under an obligation. So I went into detox. I went cold turkey on Twitter, I stopped tuning in to the WorldAnvil twitch sessions, and I focussed on what I needed to do to get the campaign ready for the players’ next session. Apart from that I even stopped reading D&D.

And then came Covid-19 and lockdown. Which, as a software engineer, makes very little practical difference to my job, so I’m still working full time, albeit from home (and I realise I am extremely fortunate here). I have subscribed to a few more Kickstarters than I might otherwise have done since I can still afford to support others, but apart from that it has made little difference. I am still exhausted in the evening from hard thinking on the job, so haven’t had the energy to progress.

The biggest impact has been on our fortnightly D&D sessions. I was already struggling to bootstrap a new phase of the campaign, and now we had to do it remotely. So all my spare time went into trying to work out how to do this.

First we needed a tool, so I had to make a decision. I investigated both Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds (which took time) before deciding Roll20 was easier to get going in. I then had to work out how to import the settings and get everything set up for the first session. Fortunately that first session was a single room battle, so there wasn’t too much needed, It worked okay.

That gave me time to prepare more for the second session. But I couldn’t work multiple scenes and moving the tokens between them, and Roll20 kept on becoming unresponsive, so by the time of the third session I ended up resorting to a Zoom screenshare of a DTP package where I drew the scene on the fly while I worked out another option.

I had discovered FoundryVTT, and finally had a VTT that made sense to me, but it has taken me the best part of a month of my spare time to get my head round it and then import everything so it was at the stage where we could actually use it. We used it for the last session, and what a breath of fresh air! Particularly with Sebastian’s awesome D&D Beyond integration. It just works. And I also found DungeonDraft which makes drawing up custom battlemaps a breeze.

Anyway, so that’s why I have been quiet – first self-protection, and then having to spend all my spare time on my campaign, first on building the new stage and then working out how to carry on in lockdown.

I’m now in a better place, and I now have FoundryVTT up and running and probably have enough to run the next couple of sessions already. Also, as a result of my campaign development, there are various bits of Akorros which I’ve fleshed out, much more localised. I’ve also started capturing my campaign in a bullet journal, which is a much more natural interface for me. This means I should soon be able to get back to providing updates on my Akorros.

However, none of this is my big idea, which I still want to develop (and my work on the campaign has helped shape my ideas further), so I will probably be slower with my updates – maybe only one or two a month rather than weekly.

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