Sunday, July 5, 2020

I Refuse To Leave Angry

Over a year since I have posted anything that didn't have to be deleted. That seems about right.

I'm right now editing a book that has proven incredibly difficult for various reasons. It's my book. My poems from the last ten years. 

The main issue is that in order to edit it I've had to go through files compiled over the past ten years countless times looking for design elements and pieces I need for the book, but every time I do this I come face to face with the past ten years. Or what's left of it in pictures, poems, and countless pieces created with someone who is gone.

It's a book about people who are gone, and in order to edit the book I have to spend a lot of time with their ghosts to ensure the story I tell is about love, creativity, and the best days of my life, not the pain of losing it. 

So, like someone walking through fire, my impulse is to hurry. Because every time I have to go back into that fire it hurts more and more. 

But my reality is such that I may not have the time to ever finish another book, so this is it. I have to endure that fire hopefully just a while longer so that others will not be burned if I am careless. 

One of my conflicts has been wanting to tell a whole story. My story. And I thought that meant leaving in details about pain and loss. But as I get closer and closer to pressing the button that sends the final copy to the printer none of that seems to matter. 

I loved and was loved. Incredibly. I created magnificent things with the love of my life. No one hardly ever gets that lucky.

I have to fade out on a sour note, it seems, but I don't have to leave the stage angry, feeling cheated, or leaving behind a legacy of bitterness or ingratitude. 

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons: The End of Our Tal Dorei Campaign, and My Thoughts About It

I started our year-long Tal Dorei campaign last May as Large Silent Friend, a Firbolg Druid who had been banished from his village as an adolescent for unwittingly smothering a miraculous creature he was bringing back to his village to show everyone. He followed the Blood Hunters Banlys and Trogg into the city of Tal Dorei having no idea what would happen next. My reasoning with this character was that he could be a fish out of water, sort of like a Crocodile Dundee, and present a counterpoint to everyone else's reaction to the city. This never manifested in our campaign at all. 

My Tal Dorei character Large Silent Friend, as drawn by Lucian Kuranz, a fellow member of the 317 Art Collective

Our campaign ended this Tuesday after I took the Dungeon Master seat three months ago and drove it home with a fairly cliched storyline where Asmodeus used the vacuum of power inherent in the Tal Dorei system to reunite with his son Graz'zt, and manipulate the party into destroying anyone who could have stopped him, culminating in a final battle where the party decimated Vox Machina.

They made it fairly easy by snagging the Hand and Eye of Vecna, then all separately agreeing to deals that would have them killing off Asmodeus' only real competitor, the Mother of Ravens. The player who portrayed Pliz'skin, who was the one who took the Hand of Vecna at a black mass, then bargained with Iggwilv for the Eye, was a real joy to watch play, because he just bulled forward at every opportunity, and never asked or cared if anyone was going to follow. It was a damn lot of fun to watch someone play it that way, and really fit in perfectly to how I wanted to finish this campaign.

Which dovetails into my review of Tal Dorei. I start by saying I didn't read the sourcebook. It just wasn't very interesting, but I did assimilate the part about how the gods of Exandria had been banished. This story point led to what seems like the obvious end to any Tal Dorei campaign. Once any godlike entity anywhere in the Multiverse gets wind that there are no gods in Exandria, they are naturally going to want to fill that vacuum and seize power. When our original DM, the magnificent Travis Legge, allowed the campaign to veer into Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, then The Dungeon of the Mad Mage, the die was really cast. The gate to the Forgotten Realms was opened, and the party actually moved Trollskull Alley into The Cloudtop District of Tal Dorei, and opened Trollskull Manor, renaming it Trogskull Sporksbar, after two characters who had died in battle. For the second half of our campaign it could be said we were always in the Forgotten Realms. 

And if you're in the Forgotten Realms, the gods, devils, and demons are NOT banished. Halaster Blackcloak found a way to open a portal and invite Graz'zt and Iggwilv through, and from that point on it was a ll a matter of corrupting the players for three months into doing their dirty work until they brought through the Lords of Hell, a convoy of Hellfire Engines, and legions of lower devils to take over the entirety of Exandria.

It is natural the final battle would be with Vox Machina, the previous heroes of Tal Dorei, who remained Chaotic Good for the most part, and played a prominent role early in the campaign, even lending the party their vestments. I haven't watched the Critical Role podcasts, but the Vox Machina had several tactical weaknesses in the composition of their party, not the least of which was some confusing multi-classing, and they after four rounds of combat really presented no resistance to our Planescape Tuesday's party. 

I think they may have been more composed for entertainment than actual D and D playing. 

One of my interesting takeaways is that even after having killed Vox Machina, a group of celestials playing a Stryper song in their bar at a battle of the bands, and having plunged the city into the iron fist of Asmodeus, the party didn't consider themselves evil at all.

I'll admit after one character foisted the Hand and Eye of Vecna there really wasn't any going back, and all they could have really done was confront and overwhelm him. Otherwise, they just had to go along and get along, which they did. It presented some real difficulties for me as a DM because I had four characters who were either leaning Neutral Good, or at most Neutral, and one character who was now literally the Hands of the Devil. 

I also broke one of the cardinal rules of being a Game Manager and asked if I could play my own character, Large Silent Friend, as I really just wanted to join in the fun. They agreed. It wasn't as much of a burden as I would have thought. Mostly he just hung out and wild shaped so he could absorb tons of damage. 

On a personal level, getting to sit in the Dungeon Master's seat right as I turned fifty was a bucket list item. The first week I was so overwhelmed and nervous all I could think to do was have have Halaster compel the party into an auditorium where they fought an identical party composed of simulacrums of  themselves created by the lich Trobriand. This was a fun battle and allowed me to play them against them, so I learned a good deal about their abilities and weaknesses. The next week they went to Trobriand's Graveyard and tracked down Trobriand, played by Doobie Brothers singer, Michael McDonald, and almost managed to kill him aboard his prime creation, The Shockerstomper. I say almost because Trobriand cast a Meteor Storm at the end of the battle and killed everyone but Pliz'skin and Zox Clammersham, who brought them back with a Wish spell. 

Shockerstomper, helmed by the Lich Michael McDonald, er, Trobriand, designed by Jack Mathews

I remember my first foray into Dungeons and Dragons took place at the height of the Satanic Panic, and we were banned from playing at school, then one by one, in the basements of our friend's houses. In the end all I had was the books, and no one to play with, until I came home one day and mother had burned the books. 

I'd have to say waiting over thirty years to play again, then getting to Dungeon Master a campaign, was damn sweet. 

Tal Dorei is fine. I'm not looking to bash it. The city is a totally solid place to base a campaign. But you'll probably end up somewhere else before it ends. Of course, that's almost always true in the Multiverse that is Dungeons and Dragons. Can't wait to sit in the DM seat again.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Few Notes For Myself On Turning Fifty

I turned fifty last month, and was surprised with a trip to Mardi Gras by my partner. 

Fifty was a surprise to me as I always expected to die from the same thing and at the same age that my mother did. I got open heart surgery instead, and survived. In a lot of ways that left me completely unprepared for everything that was to come after. I didn't expect any of it. 

I had a very vain and selfish goal for my fiftieth birthday. I wanted to train hard in the gym and end up doing a naked pictorial on the street outside my apartment documenting being in the best shape of my life and generally just not giving much of a shit what anyone thought.

So, I set out last March training for that photo shoot. And I blew out my shoulder immediately. Followed by both elbows. Then I sprained my foot so badly I could barely walk.

But I trained through it all. I wanted to be like one of those guys in the commercials for fitness products who says "I'm fifty, and I'm in the best shape of my life." Yest nothing went right. It was the most agonizing training cycle in my entire life. 

February came around, and every part of my body hurt, and the photo shoot never happened. Like almost everyone else who ever lived on planet Earth, I didn't get to stand in the middle of the street at fifty years old documenting how robust and powerful I was. Instead, I didn't achieve the results I dreamed of, and I took a selfie in my bathroom mirror.


Then I went to New Orleans and ate my way through the city with my partner and came home to the best friends a guy ever had.

I may not be in the best shape of my life, but I never had it so good. I have become the Dungeon Master for my Tuesday night Dungeons and Dragons group, and I am part of an art collective where I have two shows this month. 

So, please indulge me in the sharing of a clearly self-centered photograph. Maybe I'll be back at 100 and do another one. 

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mermaid By Jenny Mathews

This is what's on my rolltop desk right now. 

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Zombie Logic Press Productions VHS Intro Animation

Growing up as a teen in the 80's the video store was a sacred place in my life. And the animations for a hundred different horror movie distribution companies still elicit a Pavlovian response from me. There's still a void in my life sometimes on Friday night when I feel this irresistable draw towards the video store, but there isn't one around.

Hearing of my longing for those days, and knowing I wanted nothing more in this life than an animation for my own production company, Zombie Logic Press, my workout partner and long-time friend Tim Stotz set out to work.

And today after our workout at the Y, instead of doing cardio, we decided to finish this...

Or rather, he decided to finish it while I sat there and drank a Candian Club on the rocks. 

Well, I did help a little, by providing the sound effects. And now forever after I have my own animation for my production company. Now we just have to finish my movie Dead Drunk. 
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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Buy The Blood Dark Sea By Dennis Gulling

What amazes me about the poems in this book is how elegantly they delve into some really dark subject matter, but are never once prurient, or mean-spirited. There's humanity to these observations of people in some pretty awful situations. But there's also a sense of humor and no judgement. These things happen. The Blood Dark Sea is the kind of book where you can be glad they are happening to someone else, and a poet with a keen eye and flair for the subject matter is there to report back, so to speak.

This illustration by Jenny Mathews is a pefect visual metaphor for the lives of the people described in the poems of The Blood Dark Sea, a book of noir poems.

The Blood Dark Sea By Dennis Gulling

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Friday, July 13, 2018

This Is Where You Buy The Koa Tree By Stephen Schreiner

Had a blast today at the Rockford Area Arts Council booth at Rockford City Market unveiling The Koa Tree, the second children's book by Stephen Schreiner. Now it is available here at Zombie Logic Press. 

The Koa Tree By Stephen Schreiner


The book, which Schreiner co-wrote with his grandaughter Ava Fitzsimmons, was lavishly illustrated by Renee Noelle Jacobs, and is a fable of the lessons learned by a tribe of native islanders on their quest to build a boat mighty enough to reach Tahiti. Both authors, as well as the illustraot, will be available to sign copies and discuss their book.

The Koa Tree is the sixth book in the Rock River Literary Series, which seeks to publish and promote Rockford area writers to a local, regional, and national audience. The series is dedicated to long time local publisher Frank Schier, who passed away in 2017. 

Working in tandem with local design wizards at Mainfraim, the author was able to realize a dream of his to have this book made available with a glass cover. Copies of the book with the glass cover will be available as well a paperback version. Previously Zombie Logic Press has worked with Mainfraim to release a book with a wooden cover, and has plans to experiment with even more unique formats in the near future. Those books are assembled entirely here in Rockford.

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