2018 Contact Sheet

I’m finally over the concussion, caught up at work, back from holidays, and still writing from time to time. I’ve got four more settings for Stranger Creations, and then another Exalted project. I also have Virtual Machine (which is a playable draft made during National Game Design Month) and Sorcerously Advanced (a version of Sufficiently Advanced set in a magical rather than scientific world) to work on, and those are taking more of my attention and energy these days. I do intend to finish the last four settings, but it’s not a priority right now.

If you’re interested in seeing some art for my upcoming projects, here’s the Contact Sheet for 2018, much like the one I made last year. Click for a larger version.

2018 Contact Sheet

Three Months Into Recovery

It has been three months since my concussion.

A month ago, I thought it might just be another week or two until I was back to normal. This wasn’t the case. Despite multiple doctors’ opinions to the contrary, the recovery has taken another two months, and it seems likely to be another month before I’m able to handle everything I once could. All in all, I was out of work completely for 2 entire weeks, and on half-time for another 11. Work has treated me very well during this time.

I’ve seen two different nurses and two different doctors at HUHS, including my PCP. I have not seen a specialist because everyone I saw uniformly recommended against seeing a specialist. One of them, Dr. Kenneth Gold, was also an incompetent moron and I recommend that anyone with a concussion avoid him. If you have an appointment and it turns out to be with him, walk out of the room and ask for your co-pay back.

I’ve been struggling with depression since week 3. Thankfully I started looking for a therapist right away, and there was an opening earlier than they expected, so I have had mental health support from about week 6. Without that I would have had a much harder time.

The most painful part of this was not the headaches, it was feeling like I wasn’t myself. In the worst days, I couldn’t do anything but sit in the dark. Ten minutes in bad lighting could turn even my best day into a bad day. That meant walking into and then right back out of restaurants, sometimes five restaurants in a row, trying to find a place where my partner and I could eat dinner, all the while slowly becoming more hungry and less able to function. It meant saying “Let’s go for a walk” and then needing to go back inside and sit in the dark instead. It was incredibly frustrating, and I’m sure it was frustrating to others as well.

(You know how Edison bulbs have become popular again in the past 2-3 years? Those aren’t actually Edison bulbs. They’re shaped LEDs rather than incandescents, so they use a lot less power and every cafe loves them. Remembering this helped me avoid a lot of bad lighting.)

While the past two weeks have been mostly good, I’m still gun-shy, waiting for a bad day to come by again. A day when I’m unable to handle any sort of light, or when I’m light-headed for hours, unable to find a comfortable place even in my own house.

I remember the day I was able to read again. I never wanted to stop. I ended up overextending myself more than once because I couldn’t bring myself to walk away from the text. There were days when I used the computer until it started to hurt, then stopped… then read until that started to hurt, then wrote a little and that didn’t work, then listened to a podcast and that started to hurt too, and then I lay down in bed and that wasn’t enough either, so I just lay there with a cloth over my eyes. My yearning to be me again was painful and damaging, and that in and of itself was also hard to deal with.

My symptoms continue to change every 5-6 days. You might remember me saying that I had become hyper-sensitive to chemical effect on my brain (like salt, sugar, caffeine, etc.), and learned to distinguish the different headaches that came from a deficit of each one. That ability disappeared in another two weeks. The sensitivity was still there – I still got headaches – I just couldn’t tell why any more.

Thankfully this has currently been replaced by an over-sensitivity to sugar in particular. It’s easier to handle. My hope is that this will change too, but until it does, I have to take my coffee without sugar and save ice cream for rare occasions in small amounts. Being hungry also puts me immediately at risk. I need to eat small meals or snacks every three hours. Executive functioning is the first thing to go when my brain crashes. Strangely, cane sugar and fruit sugar seem to act differently, with cane sugar hitting me much worse.

I have no explanation for my symptoms, and no ability to predict what changes are coming. I can only watch and try to adapt.

My sensitivity to screens has diminished substantially (I was able to write this all in one sitting). Overhead LED light can still be a problem. Fluorescents can be ok, but if they’re flickering, it’s a nightmare. (I’m looking at you, Defenders.) All of this is dependent on my blood sugar level. Light that I can handle on a full stomach becomes intolerable if I haven’t eaten.

This might all sound like it’s pretty bad, but I’ve genuinely seen a huge improvement. Right now I’m able to handle 4 hours of work almost every day, and to do other things afterward. I still can’t drive, but I can read normal books and play some video games. Comic books are still difficult, but I can read them too some days. (Current theory: they require a lot of mental interpolation for scene changes.)

I have a doctor’s appointment at the end of this week that will hopefully let me go back up to 8 hours of work on the days when I can handle it. We’ll see how it goes.

Where’s Colin?

I’ve been away for a while. I had a vacation, then a bunch of work, then a conference, so that ate up three weeks. And then I had a concussion.

I fell off a stage and hit my chin on Thursday July 27th. Luckily there’s no lasting physical damage, and my mental recovery is finally looking up this week. I want to give you an idea of what it was like.

The night of the injury I had a headache. I didn’t realize all of the different places I had been injured – I knew I nailed my chin, my elbow, and my toe, but didn’t notice my hip and collarbone until the next day. I iced my jaw, took some Advil PM (which might have contributed to the problem), and went to bed.

The next day I had symptoms that I recognized as being a concussion. I didn’t know how bad it would become. I took notes at the last day of the conference, which probably exacerbated things. I flew home and tried to get some rest, deciding to see a doctor if things weren’t better on Monday. They weren’t. I saw a doctor.

For those who don’t know, the symptoms of a concussion vary, but typically you have trouble with:

  • Looking at screens
  • Coming up with words
  • Remembering things
  • Thinking hard
  • Thinking quickly
  • Mental fatigue

Imagine that every time you think about something too hard, it feels like you just filled out tax forms for eight hours. Every time you have to make an effort to remember something, you get a headache.

Severe concussions (which often result in loss of consciousness) lead to cranial nerve damage and all sorts of motor-neurological things, which is why they do that test when they move a finger in front of your eyes. Mine wasn’t severe, but it was bad enough.

I tried to go into work half-time that week. I was useless after half an hour. I had to rest for at least another hour before I was useful again. It quickly got to the point where that rest time needed to be overnight.

At home, I tried to take “brain rest”, which is all they can prescribe for you when you’re recovering from a concussion. Here’s what brain rest looks like:

  • Limited screen use, including computing or watching TV or movies.
  • Limited reading.
  • Limited hard thinking.
  • Limited exercise. Don’t even walk too much or too far, as it can jar the brain.
  • No drinking – it kills brain cells and you just lost a bunch of those. Also, if you drink enough that you fall down and get another concussion, just go ahead and mark all of your symptoms as “permanent.”
  • No driving. You cannot make decisions quickly. You also can’t multitask or filter out distractions, like someone talking or music playing in the background. Do not kill someone by driving with a concussion.

I could write sometimes, but not for long, and I couldn’t read what I had written afterward. I could cook, if I didn’t need to look at a recipe. I could clean. My stove has never been cleaner. I could do martial arts forms slowly, but only the ones I remembered well. No trying to re-learn old forms.

This was the weirdest sick time I’ve ever taken in my life. Everything I would normally do while sick is on that list above. For much of the time I sat there in bed listening to podcasts until I realized that they, too, were giving me a headache. Then I just sat there in bed. Doing nothing. For hours.

The next week I took off from work entirely. (Hooray for unions and for sick time!) I went to my partner’s parents’ house in the Massachusetts countryside. I didn’t even bring my computer. Things continued to get worse for a day or two. On the worst day, I could no longer listen to music. All I could do was to sit there in a chair in the shade, with sunglasses on, watching the clouds from when they entered my field of view until they it.

They say that depression can set in about a month after a concussion. I am not surprised.

After two weeks, things finally started looking up. I was able to read a few entries in Marvel’s Guide to the Avengers without getting a headache. The next day I was able to read a few recipes. Reading from a screen was not an option, and screens are still difficult now.

I found that my symptoms varied widely while I was recovering. The feeling of pressure in my head and the fuzzy brain were common throughout. I also have trouble with fluorescent and LED lights, which are basically the only types we have in my house.

Early on I felt incredibly mentally fatigued. I slept so much that my body was probably the best-rested it has ever been. However, this was also when the sleep apnia started kicking in. If you’re not familiar with sleep apnia, it’s where your body stops breathing until your brain wakes up to kick it back into action. It can be terrifying. I found that doing 10 minutes of exercise before bed cleared this right up for me.

Once that started wearing off, I became hyper-aware of my brain chemical levels. If I was hungry, I was unable to put off eating for more than 5 minutes without getting a headache. The same was true if my blood sugar was low, if I hadn’t had enough salt recently, if I needed water, if I needed caffeine, or if I needed protein. Each of these had its own distinct type of headache that I came to recognize over the course of about a week. This is subsiding right now, but still present.

At this point, after 3 weeks of recovery, I’m back at work part-time, hoping to go up to full sometime next week. I have some special glasses that my partner got me to cut out some blue light, which helps with screens. I can think pretty well again, though my memory isn’t perfect. I can read, though I need to hold back, because I can easily read enough to give myself a headache. It’ll probably be another week or two before I’m at 100%, assuming that I get there.

90% of people recover from a concussion within a month. Of the remainder, most recover within three months. Some people never recover. I am very grateful to be on the track to recovery.

More Art from the New Project

 

So many Lunars 400 LUNARS

While I’m working on Beneath the White City, please enjoy a random generator I made that has 400 Lunar names, totems, and roles, which I call:

400 Lunars

And which you can find at https://colin-fredericks.github.io/ex3-400-lunars/

Perfect for when your damnfool Solars stumble across a moot of 30 irritable predator-god moon-beasts and suddenly you need to come up with 30 animals off the top of your head.

Many thanks to Sarah Lancaster for helping me come up with a substantial portion of the list.

End of Echoes

That’s it for Echoes of the Godkiller! As usual, there will be a hiatus while I work on the next setting and other things.

Next up is Beneath the White City. It’ll be a less action-filled setting in the North, focused on tight scenes filled with choices, virtues, and investigation.

Cyn Walker, Daughter of Ether

Background

When her name was Sofie Wandelaar, Cyn lived in Amsterdam. She worked in hardware, building sensors and antennas for wearable electronics. She gave the drug scene a pass, didn’t care much about the city’s beautiful architecture – her mind was in her work. It wasn’t so much the devices themselves that fascinated her, it was their implications. One piece of metal sang to another over long distances, all because of the way they was shaped and the geometries that connected them. Cyn dove in deeper. She synthesized occult symbolism and modern antenna design, made a receiver that could pick up signals sent through the nonexistent ether of the world, and Awoke.

She found a similar group of mystics, the Children of Ether, by following their guerilla broadcasts. She joined them to fight against a world that would have swallowed her up and made her a cog in its engine of conformity. She took the name Cyn – she always preferred Cynthia to Sofie, and Walker was an Anglicized version of her family name. Her natural talents for materials science and long-distance correlations were much appreciated, and while she was young, she quickly gained the respect of her peers.

Then there was The Incident.

Cyn’s inspired antenna designs were receiving low-frequency transmissions that she couldn’t localize. They came from everywhere. At first she thought they might be part of the Earth itself, but one of the other Children suggested another possibility: they could be from another dimension. Cyn spent over a month building the perfect receiver for these transmissions. She built an amplifier and a frequency-shifter. She covered herself in receivers and waited to hear the sound of another world.

She vanished. For five days her mind vibrated in sync with the Splinter itself, and she felt the presence of the Maker. Then she fell to the ground, looked up, and saw a sky full of gears.

Appearance

Cyn Walker 500

Cyn has pale peach skin, blue eyes, and pale blonde hair. Her build is thin and athletic. When she is first encountered she is likely to have her hair a bit askew and dirt on her face.

The clothing Cyn had with her when she arrived is black, with fishnets and a tiny lace-covered hat. With her ability to adjust the properties of matter, she can wear just about anything and still be comfortable, so she’s likely to adjust whatever she’s given to suit her fashion sense. She has a set of goggles with a dozen different multi-colored lenses.

Demeanor

Amazed, honest, and unconcerned. Cyn is pretty sure that everything around her is a result of an overly powerful magical approach or a flaw in her design, and that it’ll all go away eventually. Some of her imbalance is probably due to the five days she spent exposed to the mind of a Primordial. She was a little self-absorbed and hyperkinetic before The Incident, and still tends this way now. (It’s hard to be magically awakened and not end up a little self-absorbed.)

The essence that flows through the Splinter is a gushing torrent compared to the weak quintessence that flows and pools on Earth. Cyn is going to cackle madly when she realizes how much power could be at her fingertips here. Then she’s going to be very, very careful, because no one wants to blow themselves into a third alternate universe.

Intimacies: We all need freedom (defining), Keep power secret from those who would steal and abuse it (major), Be grateful when assisted, All learning is connected
Catchphrase: Who knew I was so inventive?

Capabilities

Cyn is a brilliant electrical engineer and physicist, specializing in antenna design. She’s great at mathematics and computer programming. Cyn will eventually be able to adapt her skills and learn how to manipulate essence. In addition, her programming skills could make her the best automaton designer in the Splinter. Both of these adaptations will take time. The design of existing automata is not user-friendly, and essence, as it turns out, works almost nothing like electromagnetism. Before she makes progress on either of these, she’ll need to accept that she’s in an alternate universe rather than a hallucination.

Back in Amsterdam, Cyn little hiking and rock climbing. She’s fairly fit. She’s good at fine motor control. She’s friendly, but not what you’d call a force of personality. Cyn speaks multiple languages, including Enochian, a language that will be known here as the Tongue of the World Before. Those from Creation would call it Old Realm.

As a Daughter of Ether, Cyn was adept at two types of magick. One is the manipulation of physical matter. Cyn can alter the density and composition of materials, make them stronger or weaker, see what they’re made of, and shape them. She can’t work with the magical materials, nor with living beings. Her other magic deals with the connections between places. She can find and hide things and people, connect locations so that people can speak and see each other, and teleport vast distances. She can combine these arts to duplicate objects, make short-lived communication devices, and move objects with great precision and skill. Her handbag holds a truly unbelievable number of gadgets. She also has enough training in the ways of raw magic and physical forces that she can see forces and absorb essence, but not more than that.

In raw power Cyn is outclassed by even the youngest of Exalted. In terms of flexibility, though, she’s impossible to match. Back on Earth Cyn would have been wise to use her power covertly. It’s channeled through tricks and devices that don’t really seem like they could be impossible. She’ll stick to that approach here as well, at least at first. She thinks she’s in a Paradox Realm, a world that will punish her for blatant displays of magick. If she figures out that nothing here is waiting to punish her, the gloves will be off.

Cyn is outside of fate, being a part of neither Creation nor the Splinter.

Connections

  • Cyn’s compatriots, the Children of Ether, may well be looking for her. They may even have some people who are able to find her.

Questions

  • Can Cyn reverse her accident and return home? What would she need in order to try?
  • How will the gods of fate react to Cyn’s presence here (or in Creation)?

Fate: Do the Impossible

Feather Black, the Explorer

Background

As one of eight children, Feather didn’t get a lot of parental attention when she was growing up. This let her slip out every now and then to go “investigating” in the local neighborhood. Soon enough, childhood games turned into real exploration, and Feather started bringing home interesting trinkets from the Imperial Years. She apprenticed to an archaeology firm (Kelvan Prospecting) and saw the world.

When the apprenticeship was over, Feather spent her saved money to travel to River Isle. She scouted the ruins of the Legion, bringing out fascinating journals and coded manuscripts. Sometimes she went with others, sometimes alone. She opened enough safes and sold enough old jewelry to stay solvent. Knowledge was what she really cared about.

The search for knowledge brought her to House Volan. In the hills nearby she found a strange silo, built underground, scarred on the inside with fire and lightning. In the research facility there she found a diagram in a hidden safe. It showed fifteen pieces assembled into a semblance of life and a resounding power. She had suspicions about what it meant, but she knew that her brother and his friends would be able to find out for sure.

She didn’t make it out of the facility unchanged. The Unhesitating Tiger of Lightning met her at the exit. She froze, captivated by its eyes. It stalked up to her and, as she breathed in, carefully poured itself into her mouth. No explanation, no message – just an infusion of power and a need to act. Feather can still feel part of its mind in the corner of her own, giving her courage, driving her forward.

She doesn’t sleep much any more.

Appearance

Feather Black 500

Feather and Tenor don’t look a lot alike, being step-siblings. Feather’s skin is much lighter, peach-colored and tanned, and her hair is a dirty blonde. Her eyes are a steel grey. She wears thinner black clothing, mostly cotton and leather, and likes to decorate with her namesakes. She uses a little dramatic eyeshadow and wears obsidian earrings. She smiles a lot.

When her energy runs low and she begins to drift off to sleep (once a week or so), Feather’s eyes will begin to crackle with lightning. Her hair will wave on unseen currents.

Demeanor

Upbeat, cheerful, and driven. Where her brother Tenor is dour, Feather is perpetually optimistic. However, since she was Chosen, the presence of the Tiger Mind presses on her. In shorter interactions she seems more normal. Those who spend longer periods of time with her will see that she’s rarely content to sit and wait for something. Since she almost never needs to sleep, this means she gets a lot done. Sometimes a frightening amount. The Tiger Mind demands action, and Feather agrees.

This isn’t to say that she moves forward at the expense of others. Feather is much more likely to take action at her own expense than she is to endanger others. She’s used to traveling on her own, or being a guide-and-bodyguard to more elderly explorers. Keeping an eye out for others is important to her.

Intimacies: Get Things Done (defining), Tenor helped raise me well (major), Protect those who need it (major), Leave no stone unturned
Catchphrase: AHA!

Capabilities

Feather is an excellent explorer. She can navigate on land or at sea, knows how to pack supplies and build shelters, and has a sixth sense for dangerous situations. She’s in good shape, knows how to use a hunting rifle, and can track game in several kinds of terrain. She enjoys long-distance running.

For self-defense, Feather uses a pair of steel knives. She uses the gifts of the Lightning Tiger to fight like a tornado. She can leap at tremendous speed past opponents, strike multiple times in a second, discorporate as a bullet passes through her, and ignore other lightning-based assaults. She never loses focus and never slows down. Feather does particularly well against groups of opponents or single, slow-moving targets that she can carve up. She hasn’t fought many people as fast as she is, or who can keep their heads on straight long enough to target her.

If there’s one way Feather has really changed after her Choosing, it’s that she doesn’t bother with idle chit-chat any more. If her allies want to go out to a bar to talk, let them – she’s more likely to stay back and keep studying, or to scout the nearby terrain. Everything needs to be for a purpose. This has the potential to make her life lonely and difficult.

Connections

  • Feather worked for Kelvan Prospecting, a group of so-called archaeologists who are more like tomb raiders. They’d still be interested in working with her if the right occasion came up.
  • Ruyito Pen is an aged pathfinder on River Isle, god-blooded and sharp-nosed, who competed with Feather for some of the Yushoto Family’s ruins. The two ended up with a grudging respect.
  • Speaking of which, the Yushoto Family would love to string Feather up, if they could get their hands on her. There aren’t many of them left, but they pack some impressive armament.

Questions

  • How will Feather and Stratus get along? Both are “treasure hunters” to some extent, but their attitudes couldn’t be more different.
  • Feather will think Sam is just the best and cutest. How will Sam react to the most optimistic person she’s ever met?
  • What are the other fourteen parts of the Weapon?

Fate: Ascension