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I’m a big fan of phoenixes. What can I say? Birds that burst into flame and emerge renewed are sort of my aesthetic. I also dig knights who also happen to be ladies, fights against nearly insurmountable odds, and platformers that remind me of playing Super Mario games on my NES back in the 80’s.

When I stumbled across Renaine on Kickstarter, I had to reach out to the dev team behind this game and chat with them about it. Phoenix Knight? Countless lives as part of the story? Bright graphics, fun mechanics, and a remarkable soundtrack? Renaine just might be my next jam! Lucky for me, head developer Squidly was feeling chatty! Check out the interview below.

(The following interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.)

Geek Dame: Tell me about where the game came from – I know it started out as Super Knight Quest. Where did the name Renaine come from, and the mythology of a Phoenix Knight?

Squidly: Super Knight Quest’s transition to Renaine is basically the story of mechanics and story getting married. Essentially the story is this mirror right back at what the player is actually doing – they have infinite lives, as many as they need, to do this impossible task of beating the game. Each time they don’t get stronger stats-wise but they do get better at the game. So I took that concept and made it into the story of Aine, the Phoenix Knight, who is doing just that – she has as many tries as she needs to defeat this Dragon, and yes, your failures are canonical – she won’t get it down the first time. As for the name? Well, knowing the main character’s name should solve half of that.

GD: What was your strategy to achieve a balanced game that appeals to both speedrunners and completionists?

S: So about half of that is happenstance and the other half is solidifying an opportunity. Did I see this coming from a mile away? Hell no. But what I did say is that I wanted an arcadey fun game (and indeed this game was originally made for a legit actual arcade machine,) which by default has to be fast, and has to be responsive. I am actually a huge speedrun fan (could never speedrun myself, though) and one of my first moves was to post this on the speedrun discord. That’s actually the origins of the Renaine Discord – we were told to buster off and take the discussion elsewhere (lol) and so we obliged ?

GD: While playing your demo, I was definitely getting waves of Super Mario Bros. 2 nostalgia – so much so that using a keyboard and not a NES controller was throwing me off! How much is that just part of this particular video game form, and how much is an intentional callback?

S: I wasn’t really thinking of Super Mario Bros 2 necessarily but I was thinking of Super Mario World as well as the original Super Mario Bros. Both games have a very strong sense of “flow.” If you watch speedrunners of those games, you’ll find they almost never stop. That’s one of my objectives with Renaine, actually – if you do know what you’re doing, you should find that you rarely ever stop. All the platforms and all the enemies are on local timers that start when they’re on screen, so you have time to react. This takes the guess work away from the level moving while you’re not interacting with it and puts it firmly in control of the player, which I’m 100% always for.

In addition, the difficulty curve is very Mario-like – it’s not impossible but it’s definitely not easy. I find it much harder to design games with Mario difficulty than the recent ultra-difficulty craze because of how hard it is to keep that ‘flow’ going, where the player can know what they failed at and see noticeable improvement over time. It’s funny, a lot of the difficulty of Renaine comes from the one-life mechanic – you’ll find that in the old Mario games, before the save feature, that’s how you did it – all in one go. Of course you had multiple lives but Aine doesn’t die to one hit by a walking turtle either, it takes at least 6.

GD: Roguelikes are typically characterized in part by permanent character death. Why did you decide to throw that out and go with resurrections (i.e. that phoenix feature)?

S: IMO, there’s two dominant ways of telling a story in a roguelike, either it’s persistent or it always resets. The issue is that when it always resets, you find that you can’t really focus on characters since they’re all erased. But if it’s persistent, you often have to say “well, it’s a new knight that looks just like her.” I didn’t want that. I wanted characters that remembered who you were, and I wanted a clear identifiable player character. It’s funny, the original plot of Renaine had Aine stuck in a time loop – whenever she failed, she would retain her memories but time would reset! I decided against that as soon as towns got involved and I wanted more meaningful progress.

GD: Who are the hearts and minds behind Renaine?

S: Squidly (that’s me!) is the programmer, designer, storywriter, primary animator, and overall main guy. Mason Lieberman is the musician, who’s been with me since about two or three months in to the project and has done an incredible job with the music. Carrion is the newest addition and is the tile artist as well as overall art director, he’s the reason why Renaine doesn’t look as… amateur as it used to be. We’ve had TONS of help along the way, though, and Renaine wouldn’t be anything without all the smaller hands chipping in. SinclaireStrange helped a lot with art/music before Carrion and Mason stepped in. Our poster art was done by the incredibly talented Ayaka. And finally, BM13 helped me a ton with the world building details (to which the whole concept of Renaine would’ve been a LOT weaker) as well as a ton of the concepts of characters in the game’s “high rez” images along with the original symbol for the logo!

GD: The art is truly exquisite and remarkable for such simple graphics. And the bluebirds are my absolute favorite – they convey such birdiness. How did you choose this art style?

S: It was a lot of things coming together at once. Stylistically, I’m inspired by my years playing Maplestory that has permanently and irreversibly cute-ified my art, hence the creatures all looking adorable. The idea of single colored sprites actually came from another game I was doing before as a tech demo that emulated the style of Hero Core – a game entirely done in two colors (white and black.) I adopted this as my dominant spriting style after having a lot of fun with it, and when it came time to do this game I had the idea of coloring in the sprites different colors as a direct contrast to another project I was doing (Authentic Octopus Game) that had hard single colored black sprites for all “living” things and 4 color Gameboy-style backgrounds. So this is the evolution of both of these things getting locked in an abandoned Crayola factory together.

GD: Your music is something else and as vibrant as everything else about Renaine. You mention branching paths keeping the music fresh on your Kickstarter page – do you mean the music evolves as you play and replay?

S: The music doesn’t evolve across runs (though that is a neat idea, actually) but it does evolve across your playthrough of a level. What you’re hearing in Shellwood Forest is actually five tracks overlayed, each an individual instrument, separated into several branches. These then get messed around with depending on where you are in the level and how things are going. When I got Mason on board, I told him specifically to not do chiptune and give me something that sounded like nothing else. Needless to say, sax in the medieval forest isn’t exactly the standard approach to that theme but it works surprisingly well.

GD: How does Mr. Octopus leg it around the forest so well? I love octopi so I ain’t complaining, but there doesn’t seem to be an ocean for miles!

S: The one known as “Mr. Octopus” is actually one of several octopi that make their homes around Lineria. They have different approaches to things, but they all share a common tendency to sell convenient items to wealthy adventurers in extremely dangerous areas. The Shellwood Forest isn’t a place you can just walk right into, let alone haul tons of items. How do they do it? Who knows…

GD: How many levels do you have in mind for Renaine?

S: Five. Well, five in the main quest, as in, if you’re gonna go lay the smack down to the Dragon as quick as possible you need to do five. But these five have alternate paths, levels, and maybe a few secrets (though as a certain mouse said, there are no secrets in this game!). What’s the final tally for levels in the game? You’ll just have to wait and see.

GD: What’s in the pipeline for your team after Renaine? What do you noodle at when you’re taking a break and dreaming of the future?

S: I’ve promised Carrion to work on his Project OvO in some manner after this game, but other than that I’m assuming we’ll go our separate ways. I absolutely love working with both Carrion and Mason, but at heart I’m a drifter who likes to constantly find new people to work with; it keeps things fresh and the art of game design interesting. Anyhow, Authentic Octopus Game needs to be finished in some manner, likely going to be rewritten from the ground up, and other than that I’ve been shooting some ideas with my friend SinclairStrange so you might be seeing a collab then if our schedules align and we find ourselves free to try something.

Renaine is now on Kickstarter – back them before their campaign closes on October 23! You’ll find links for a downloadable demo of Renaine on their Kickstarter page, or you can play it over on Newgrounds

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When I cracked open Molly Ringle’s The Goblins of Bellwater and started reading, I learned one thing very quickly: these are not your Goblin King’s goblins.

You know what I mean – or, well, presumably you do if you grew up in the 1980’s and/or love fairies (good and bad), goblins and Gelflings, not to mention Skeksis and all things Froudian. There is one Goblin King, and Sarah’s not the only one who was transported by his hip-waggling struts of rock’n’roll seduction.

THE PREMISE

Er, but back to Bellwater and it’s terrifying assortment of goblin thieves and all their sticky, sticky fingers. Basically, Bellwater is a town under siege and only one poor fool with a family curse even knows about it:

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out. Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.Then Kit starts dating Livy, and Skye draws Kit’s cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods. Skye and Grady are doomed to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever, unless Livy, the only one untainted by enchantment, can unravel the spell by walking a dangerous magical path of her own.

A woman fighting for her sister? Coffee shops and sketchbooks? Goblins and woods and secret curses and magical bureaucracy? Sign me up! Which Michelle Halket of Central Avenue Publishing kindly did, by sending me the novel for review.

LET’S MEET OUR MAIN CHARACTERS

Kit Sylvain is your typical small town sexy mechanic chainsaw artist with a penchant for carving mythical creatures from illegally collected driftwood. He doesn’t have a lot of personal relationships on account of a goblin curse – if I had a nickel for every time a dude told me that the morning after, I’d… have no nickels. Kit’s a good guy who hates stealing anything that’s not driftwood, but he’s sometimes slow on the uptake.

Skye Darwen is a fantastic artist and professional barista who loves the woods and is ready to make her mark on the world – at least until that old story unfolds: girl meets goblins, goblins force-feed girl a gross pastry, girl wastes away in the world of mortal men. She’s no damsel, though – she fights her curse with thought and choice.

Grady Sylvain loafs about Bellwater as an itinerant chef and grease monkey, putting him in prime position to get caught up in everyone else’s curses while just trying to get a sweet restaurant job in the big city. He’ll be playing the role of damsel in this narrative.

Livy Darwen is a no-nonsense Forest Service employee who swears at litter on the daily; she’s also as fierce a protector of her local environment as she is of her sister. She fights firmly in the rational world, until her world is knocked askew by thieving goblin bastards and the mysterious locals… and Kit, who tumbles her in more ways than one.

A detail from one of Arthur Rackham's "Goblin Market" illustrations.

THEN THERE ARE THE GOBLINS

These goblins are straight out of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” which is ideal since that poem inspired Molly’s novel. They’re misshapen, hooting things filled with violent, larcenous hearts – and they love a good, simple contract with all its opportunities for exploitative mischief. They murder, they assault, they bespell – they inspire lurking unease and inscribe the word goblin once again with genuine fear. Molly’s achievement here is not to be underplayed.

Each goblin is named for the first thing they stole, from Redring their ruler to Flowerwatch their whipping goblin. I kept waiting for Fidget Spinner or iPhone to turn up, but they stayed determinedly off-screen. That’s not really a joke – in considering our modern shiny things, you just know there are younger goblins with those names! (Okay, maybe not the iPod one – I bet Apple’s lawyers can find even a magically shielded goblin in order to defend their trademark.)

BOTTOM LINE

I’m a sucker for stories of family in small towns fighting for each other. Throw in solid Fair Folk mythology, a paranormal romance element that manages to be sexy while playing against mainstream tropes, and a big magical quest being undertaken by a badass lady and you have my attention.

This is also a story about the things we can’t tell each other and how we can love our families but still miss important things. Molly’s descriptions of Skye’s attempts to communicate via her artwork are stunningly visual, and she does a spot-on job of leaving you feeling conflicted but engaged by certain story elements.

There are a few missteps in this novel – the early to mid-novel is plagued by repetitious thoughts from the characters which can quickly become annoying. The mysterious locals and their magical quest don’t feel earned – this story’s so steeped in Old World fairy tale lore that there’s no real room made for the new to breathe and hold its own.

All that said, I enjoyed The Goblins of Bellwater and it’s a quick read: at $3.82 on Kindle, it’s an uncursed treat you shouldn’t deny yourself. I give this novel 4 out of 5 goblin fruits! 

Don’t miss out on Molly Ringle’s guest post here on GeekDame: To Taste Magical Fruit, complete with plum torte recipe!

Notes: The publisher provided me with an Advance Review Copy of this novel; in turn, I provided an honest review. Also, if you click on my affiliate links in this post and make a purchase on Amazon, GeekDame will receive a small kickback.

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To Taste Magical Fruit: Molly Ringle Guest Post

Goblins rule the fruit black market. Don’t believe me? Just ask Christina Rossetti. Goblins have their fingers on forbidden fruit, and the means to put it in your mouth. It’s their collective business. Longing to taste the fruit of the Lotus Tree or a dirigible plum? What would you give to taste the pomegranates from Persephone’s own garden? Come buy, the goblins cry.

It’s funny how they don’t mention what you’ll be paying for the privilege.

Molly Ringle decided to find out, and the result of her imaginative wanderings is The Goblins of Bellwater, a beguiling book due out October 1st from Central Avenue Publishing. I’ll have a review for you later in the week; today, I’m delighted to share with you a guest post from Molly herself! I asked her about magical fruit; she gave me her thoughts and threw in dessert. Enjoy!

To Taste Magical Fruit:
A Guest Post from Molly Ringle

It amuses me to realize I’ve written about magical fruit for four books in a row now. The first three were volumes of one trilogy (Persephone’s Orchard and its sequels), so maybe that only counts as one. But since the series is about Persephone and Hades, naturally I had to include Underworld pomegranates. I also introduced the “golden apple” of immortality, which was actually an orange with magical properties. (“Golden apple” apparently was the phrase often used for oranges in older forms of Greek and other languages.)

However, apparently I wasn’t done with magical fruit, because after I’d finished the trilogy, I chose Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” as the inspiration for my next book, The Goblins of Bellwater. And wow, does that poem ever have a lot of fruit in it. The goblins’ luring call sounds like a lyrical, insane grocery list:

Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South

When a young woman ventures over in curiosity, she ends up in an orgy of tasting, sucking juices from one enchanted fruit after another. As you can guess, she isn’t quite herself anymore once she returns home from that. Accordingly, in my version, I made it a fruit pastry (a blackberry tart) that tempts one of my unlucky protagonists into falling under a spell: the kind of treat we see in the pastry case and just can’t resist when we’re buying a coffee. (I figured sugar was more the vice of the modern day instead of fresh fruit, though naturally I had to involve fruit somehow, as an homage to Rossetti!)

It isn’t just me with a magic-fruit interest, though. Food or drink with magical qualities is a common staple of fairy tales and myths, right up there with magic swords and magic jewelry. After all, people have to eat, which makes us vulnerable. Perhaps because of that vulnerability, and because of the many ways the wrong substances can poison us, humankind’s legends often involve the cardinal rule “Do not eat anything in the otherworld.”

In Greek mythology, Persephone became irrevocably tied to the Underworld when she ate its pomegranate seeds. (You’d think a goddess would know that rule, which makes me think she WANTED to stay with Hades, but that’s a different story…) In fae folklore it’s much the same: if you are ever brave enough to venture into the world of faeries, you are not supposed to accept any of their food or drink, or chances are you’ll never come back to the human realm again. Or if you do return, you’ll be under some spell, which will be no simple matter to shake off.

It goes against our instincts as pack animals: we like to share meals, and indeed sitting down together for meals is, in nearly all cultures, a sign of truce, at least for the length of the meal. If your host poisons you or puts you under a foodborne spell, everyone agrees that’s a pretty low down and dirty move. Nevertheless, when it comes to the fae, the prime thing to remember is that they do not operate under the same cultural rules as we humans.

So indeed, no matter how tempting that blackberry tart looks when some goblin offers it to you in the woods at night, you really shouldn’t bite into it. The residents of Bellwater learn that rule, all too belatedly.

RECIPE

This recipe is not mine; it’s the plum torte recipe run regularly in The New York Times. However, the great thing about it is that it’s not only easy (even for people like me who aren’t very ambitious bakers), but you can adapt it to nearly any fruit. I’ve made it with apples, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries and pears as well as the recommended plums. (I’m starting to sound like Rossetti’s goblins with that list.) You can also play with spices to suit your tastes, though the cinnamon goes with almost everything.

The New York Times’ Original Plum Torte (with Molly’s notes)

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ to 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened (Molly’s note: I like to substitute coconut oil for a couple of tablespoons of this)
  • 1 cup unbleached flour, sifted (Molly’s note: you can substitute rolled oats for 1/3 or so of the flour, and/or can use gluten-free flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 halves pitted purple plums (or other sliced fruits, however many it takes to cover the top)
  •  Sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, for topping

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and eggs and beat well.
  3. Spoon the batter into a springform pan of 8, 9 or 10 inches. Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and lemon juice, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, depending on how much you like cinnamon.
  4. Bake 1 hour, approximately. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with whipped cream. (To serve a torte that was frozen, defrost and reheat it briefly at 300 degrees.)

Molly Ringle’s The Goblins of Bellwater will be released on October 1st; pre-order it now

All mouth-watering tart photographs by Molly Ringle, and all Pavlovian complaints should be directed to her desk. GeekDame is not responsible for any drastic increase in daily caloric intake resulting from this post. 

“Goblin Market” illustration above by Arthur Rackham.

Disclosure: purchasing books via affiliate links above will give GeekDame a small kickback.

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You can’t deny that the Old West, Wild West, whatever you want to call it is an iconic and powerful space in the collective imagination – especially when you add “weird” to the descriptor, unleashing magic or steampunk or weirder into the setting. From Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series to Michael Chrichton’s Westworld to Firefly to Back to the Future III to Red Dead Redemption (and on!), creators have mined the Old West archetype for all its worth, and found rewarding stories.

So when John Heffernan and his friends decided to develop a custom RPG ruleset built from the ground up to accommodate firearms and using a 52-card deck of standard playing cards, it felt only natural that their setting blossomed into a fantasy world defined by the Weird West. Westbound was born. He’s Kickstarting it now, and it looks phenomenal – I can’t wait to get my roleplaying crew together and give it a go. (Which I can easily do, since the full basic game is available for free on their website!)

I spoke with John recently to find out more about Westbound, his crew of collaborators, and his company Isle of Bees. Read on to check out our conversation!

(The following interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.)

GeekDame: What captured your imagination about the Wild West and inspired you to build a new RPG setting around that concept?

John Heffernan: When we started Westbound, it was originally titled “Dust and Dragons,” because that’s what we knew would be in it. Our mission statement from the beginning was to make a high-fantasy RPG that used firearms in an organic way, without needing to buff melee weapons or nerf firearms.

Once the system was developed, that’s when we had to decide what the theme would be. There was some discussion about setting it in modern times or in a French Musketeers scenario, but we decided on the Wild West setting for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it went perfectly with the system we developed, which used cards instead of dice. Drawing a hand had a poker feel, which instantly brought our minds to the old west. We quickly named the first two Sorts “The Gambler” and “The Cowboy,” and from there the setting was entrenched.

Secondly, when it comes to modern firearms, the Wild West was the first age of heroes. A time where one person could make all the difference. Its so robust for storytelling, which is evident in all the film adaptions to the setting.

GD: Introduce us to the Island of Bees. Who are the brains and hearts behind Westbound?

JH: The Island of Bees is a small team with a lot of heart. Westbound is my brainchild. I did all the designing, as well as the logistics, resource management, and recently the marketing.

The other members are largely volunteers, members of what was my D&D group at the time, although now we exclusively play Westbound. (Their request, not mine.) You’ll see them in the videos and they do a lot of editing and proofreading, not to mention being a sounding board for all my ideas.

Lastly, there are the artists, but there are too many to name all of them. Liam Maher does some of my favorite work. He’s fantastic at taking an idea and running with it.

GD: What’s your favorite part of the Westbound setting?

JH: Westbound‘s setting is largely told through the context, especially during character creation. When you make an elf, you’ll see that there is a divide between the City and Country folk and that, in a cruel industrial society, some elves will be child laborers on assembly lines for decades.

The Cael universe has a ton of details, but names, dates, and locations do little to inform a player about a world. Focusing on how the world relates to the player character will create a better feel for the world, as well as being more memorable.

As for favorite part of the setting, I would say its the goblin birthing pools. Its so weird, and disgusting, and informative.

GD: Does each player need only one standard deck of playing cards to play? How about for GMs? And do you plan to offer the custom decks you’ve debuted in the Kickstarter via your website in the future?

JH: The players and GM all have their own deck, although the GM’s use theirs a little differently. As you might imagine, playing a single character is a lot different than playing the entire world!

The custom decks and the book will hit stores as soon as every single item has been delivered to our backers. They’re our prime concern, and we’re in love with each and every one of them. If you’re looking to buy anything from the Island of Bees after the kickstarter, you would want to check in around December.

GD: Several people have mentioned Westbound‘s apparent similarity to Deadlands. Were you inspired by Deadlands in your game creation? Any broad game mechanics you want to mention that set Westbound apart from Deadlands?

JH: We constantly get messages from people relating Westbound to Deadlands. It gets irritating because the games are so vastly different.

As I’ve mentioned before, we created our system and then gave it a Western theme. We had played Deadlands before, but it never came up at all while we were designing Westbound because it was so clearly different to us. Where Deadlands is a Weird West game set in a zombie-filled USA, Westbound is a Fantasy Western set in an industrialized fantasy world.

When it comes to mechanics, its really hard to draw any similarities between Westbound to Deadlands besides the theme. Westbound‘s combat system, exhaustion system, magic system, sorts, breeds, archetypes, character creation, traits… It’s exhausting to mention all the differences, especially when our similarities come down to just Cowboys and Magic.

GD: You’re committed to offering the full game for free via your website, which is fantastic for players on a budget. Are you adding anything to the print version not available in the free rules set?

JH: The Island of Bees is all about Playing and not Paying, like the opposite of a mobile game. Westbound is a game first and a product second, which is why you can find all you need to play online. Our focus from the beginning was to make a cool game for people to play, and making money has never really been a goal, it’s just the side effect of a lot of hard work.

The full version of Westbound will include all the character creation options, visual aids, an expanded bestiary, and of course the gorgeous art. Most of all, you’ll be supporting us in making more Westbound content.

GD: Have you tucked any cameos into your setting? Who would you sneak in if you could?

JH: Westbound is filled with tons of inside jokes. We fit in a player character from our old D&D campaign which was just one of the players playing themselves inside the game. You may come across De Rock the Traveler, so I will give you a warning now about his fire-breathing elephant codpiece.

GD: Ha! Now, on to some just plain fun. What songs would pop up on your Westbound mixtape?

JH: During our Westbound games, the soundtrack of Bastion essentially plays on a loop. That being said, the song “I was the Sun, (Before it was Cool)” from the Starbound soundtrack is my go-to for rising action in any western adventure.

GD: What’s your favorite Western?

JH: Red Dead Redemption was amazing, especially in how it made you feel. I have a vivid memory of a stranger running into town and begging me for help. Aloud I yelled my horses name, “Epona!”, who showed up out of nowhere, picked me up without slowing down, and we rode off to save the poor pilgrim. It was amazing.

GD: Pooka armadillo vs. cactus dryad: who would win?

JH: When it comes to Desert Floramancy, I’m completely biased. I’ve seen what a Cactus Wizard can do first hand, and it involves the “Change Form” spell and a lot of prickly bear hugs.

Westbound has met is funding goals and several stretch goals already on Kickstarter! Head on over to back it yourself – there are 7 days left in the campaign, and tons of cool stuff still to come.

And if you’ve played the Westbound Quickstart game or a proper campaign of this game of Dust and Dragons – come back and tell me what you thought!

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Weekly Round-Up

A while back, I wrote something really personal about superheroes and pop culture and how representation matters – that piece was published last month on ISA Professional’s blog, and I hope you’ll all check it out: Superheroes Save Us from the World.

Read on for what else I’ve published in the last week!

Things that I wrote: 

Dying Your Hair: Before and After Care
Nail Art Inspiration 2017: Curate Your Claws!
Why You Should Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Things that I listened to:

“Hey Alice” – Rachel Rose Mitchell. This random YouTube suggestion won’t stay out of my Alice in Wonderland-loving head.
“Bones” – MS MR. First discovered this song years ago via The Vampire Diaries; it’s been back in heavy rotation recently.
“Pretty Little Head” – Eliza Rickman. First discovered via Welcome to Night Vale, this is a solo version! Still haunting.

Things that I made: 

Whiteboard Weirdness!

I also made the above graphic design honoring Carrie Fisher and raising mental health awareness, which you can find on a variety of products!

Things that I’m excited about: 

 

 

 

 

 

Click the pics if you fancy purchasing any of the above! I get a modest kickback from Amazon if you do.

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Carrie Fisher was an amazing woman: complicated and brash, outspoken and compassionate. She spoke out about mental health, mental illness, and normalizing its treatment. She lived out loud and helped others be less afraid. Losing her in the world was a blow – not just because I value her acting, value Princess then General Leia in Star Wars – but for all that she was.

There was such an outpouring of love and grief at her death, and her eulogy was written in thousands of anecdotes and farewells and spreading of her best moments across the Internet – including quotes and arguments against sexism, for mental health, delivered with a barbed and humorous tongue.

From one of her many conversations about bipolar disorder, I came across the following: “Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.” I’d been wanting to honor her with my January design, and there it was – her words which I could render graphical – and honor her and raise awareness for mental health both.

This is that design.

The words are in the color combination of a certain brand name of fluoxetine, warped into a capsule shape. I have made a number of products featuring this design available to you at my Zazzle shop, What Duck?, and my Redbubble shop.

You can pick up this design on the following items:
A large refrigerator magnet.
A standard-sized button.
A really lovely tote bag or a different tote or a drawstring bag.
A profusion of shirt types and a hoodie.
A great throw pillow.
Both mugs and travel mugs.
A selection of notebooks.
A series of wall art.

If you’d like anything else, I take requests – so hit the comments.

P.S. If you were a member of my Patreon, you could have received a Limited Edition Postcard of this design as a perk!

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I Aten’t Dead

Let me just take this “I Aten’t Dead” sign off, and rejoin y’all here on the Internet. I’m dismayed to see it’s been over a month since I last posted, but there were seriously extenuating circumstances behind all of it. Namely: I got sick. Twice. In January. A bout of the flu was followed by a kick to the throat, AKA tonsilitis. It was horrible, required antibiotics, and was so bad that even swallowing ice cream made me cry. So, that happened and then February has been swallowed up by catch-up.

I’m happy to say I’m slowly climbing back on top of this mountain.

I’m also happy to say I had quite a number of blogs and articles published during these two months, so at least y’all have something to read while I get back into the groove of blogging.

D’ya like cats? Then you’re in luck! Have three cat articles on me. Over at Front Page Meews:

Can Cats Catch Colds?” – Yes. Yes, they can. But click the link to get more detail!

Are You Picking Up Your Cat Correctly?” – Hopefully so! But if you’re worried about it, I got you covered.

Purr-esidential Cats of the White House” – We did this one for President’s Day. It doesn’t have ALL of our First Felines listed, but I covered quite a few!

And now for something completely different – a variety of hair and beauty blogs over at ISA Professional’s site:

Stylish Ways to Wear Winter Scarves” – What it says on the tin. Let me introduce you to some great and different ways to rock scarves this season.

New Year’s Resolutions Get Real” – It’s hard to make real change in your routines, even with the social pressure of New Year’s Resolutions to guilt trip you. I’ve got some advice on how to succeed for real.

Fashion-Forward China” – Have you taken a look at the fashion designers coming out of China recently? Because they are amazing.

Hat-Proof Hairstyles: How to Keep Your Head Up this Winter” – I love wearing hats, but they can play merry hell with my hair. So I researched some of the best ways to combat hat hair while still looking stylish.

Valentine’s Day is for Everyone” – I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s absolutely necessary every year. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t just be about romance – read my blog on why.

Right: y’all have EIGHT new things to read now! Enjoy, and I’ll be back on Thursday with the belated January design in honor of Carrie Fisher.

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These Violent Delights Have New Merchandise

Toward the end of the year, I finally got around to watching HBO’s Westworld. Many people had commented that it was just Jurassic Park, but with androids – an argument I found both ridiculous and reductive. Westworld, after all – the original 1973 film – was written and directed by Michael Chrichton. Almost two decades before Michael Chrichton himself wrote Jurassic Park. If anything is just something else, Jurassic Park is Westworld, but with dinosaurs.

One of the most compelling aspects of the original Westworld is that you have no insight into the androids – no reason is provided regarding why they begin killing guests, or whether there’s any reason inside their machinery at all. And while that storytelling aspect is intriguing in a short 1973 film, it wouldn’t have worked for a juicy television series in 2016.

So is HBO’s Westworld “just Jurassic Park, but with androids”? Hardly. It’s a reflective, chaotic, beautiful mess of a show, broaching and tackling a number of interesting topics: the development of sentience. The quality of a society that can embrace a theme park like Westworld. A jab at meta commentary on gaming culture. What makes an entity human. The power of storytelling, and the deconstruction of narrative.

Westworld is a tornado, and one of its best summaries is that oft-repeated bit of Shakespeare: “these violent delights have violent ends.” So I made y’all a thing:

 

Violence – against others, against yourself – is a tornado, sweeping everyone in its path up indiscriminately and depositing them somewhere new. In the Maze, to come to self-realization? In a paroxysm of emptiness, a fallen and depraved society? We’re not sure. All we know is that white hats are so hard to keep clean.

And we’re grateful to Shakespeare for this line from Romeo and Juliet: “these violent delights have violent ends.” Does anyone ever listen to Friar Laurence?

This design uses the font Musicals by Brain Eaters, and features hat clipart from Clker.com.

You can find this design in both my Zazzle shop, What Duck?, and my RedBubble shop on a diverse array of designs:

On magnets and mugs, buttons and keychains!

On shirts and prints, pillows and travel mugs, stickers and notebooks, and more!

If you’d like anything else, I take requests – so hit the comments.

P.S. If you were a member of my Patreon, you could have received a Limited Edition Postcard of this design as a perk!

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