World Building – Start With A Map

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Every story starts with characters in a place. Often the first thing that happens is they need to go to another place. Stuff happens in between. Very many of the first questions have to do with place. Why are the characters where they are? How hard is it going to be to get from where they are to where they need to be? What is the place they need to be like? Why is it where it is?

This was my first doodles map of my new world.

This was my first doodles map of my new world.

Another core problem is why are these characters together? It is highly unlikely they are together as a party unless they are together in the starting place. Are they visitors to the starting place? Or natives, that have history and a home in the place?

In D&D your parties are almost always racially diverse. There are humans, elves, dwarves, gnome, etc. But a common troupe of D&D is there are kingdoms or domains or homelands for each of these races. There are dwarf cities underground. Elf kingdoms only partially in the forest of this plane. So why are your characters together where they are? Yes, part of character building is giving them a reason to have left their home, but generally that is looked on as why they become adventures, not why are they in the place they are in.

If you start with a map, you will start to get a feel for the places in the world. You’ll know how far your dwarf is from home. Where the centers of commerce and travel are.

Your map probably starts with geography, but sometimes geography is influenced by story. You aren’t looking to create a world for no purpose. You are doing it to tell stories in. That means you have to have mountains for the dwarves to live under. You have to have forests for elves, druids, and rangers1.

Another story element of geography is isolation. There are probably places you want it to be hard for characters to get to, especially low level characters. For instance the strong hold of the super powerful evil wizard isn’t somewhere you want lost 1st level characters to run into. So you need some hard to get to places to put those people. For instance on an island. So include some islands.

You also probably want a diversity of terrain. The typical fantasy story is modeled on medieval Europe, which is generally seen as mostly forested land with some plains and agriculture. As well as some mountains and seas. But what about desert? Jungle? Scrub lands?

Once you roughly layout the geography, the terrains, the rivers, the mountain passes, the coastline’s inlets and peninsulas, start thinking about where the people are. There are obvious places for congregations of people. Where two rivers meet. Where rivers meet the sea. On the coasts of rivers and lakes. Pencil in cities there.

Decide on travel. How do people get from one city to another? Wouldn’t it be cool to say for a particular city, “Oh, you can only access Kartan by river.”? Also cities become rich because they can easily get their goods to other cities and people. This means there are roads – or rivers – between those cities.

Now it is time to think about history.

Destroyed cities. Cursed cities. Countries. Warfare. Alliances that cause divides.

1 Or do you?

Recovering An Old Obsession – D&D

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The guy who invented D&D has died. Don’t know if I would have made it through adolescence without that game.
– Ron Davis, Reactuate.com, March 4, 2008.

My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.

My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.

Recently I’ve rediscovered an old obsession and am returning to it. There are going to be a lot of D&D related posts on the blog, so I thought I’d write one explaining what’s going on.

You see a little over 33 years ago in High School I played D&D every weekend. I doodled maps on graph paper in class and wrote descriptions of the monsters who populated them. I envied my fellow players who could draw their characters. I ran games and reveled in creating cool scenarios for people to encounter. Places they could grow and enrich their characters.

Back then D&D wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. The Hack and Slash dungeon crawl was mostly all there was. Every week was another keep that needed to be cleaned out. Another week protecting the weak Magic User in the party till he could get enough XP to start throwing fireballs. A weekend of discovering new cool magic items and accumulating so many gold pieces you knew you were violating the carrying rules to get it back home.

Over the years I mostly didn’t play any role playing games. I did continue to acquire books. I have two whole shelves of books. I’ve got manuals from every version of D&D except 4th. Dozens of GURPS supplements even though I’ve never even played GURPS once.

I recently heard it said that character creation is a game inside of a game. I know that has certainly been true for my sons. They took to the books like fish to water and created characters all through school. But I don’t think they played the actual game except the one time I ran them through a keep full of kobalds on a weekend. Now one does interactive story telling on line every week and the other has GMed an ongoing campaign with his college friends.

D&D is enjoying something of a renaissance. It’s coming back into the conscience of the culture – or at least geek culture. The live streaming and YouTubing of gaming session is something to behold. I was totally hooked on the new 5th edition of D&D after watching the very polished Acquisitions Incorporated episodes on YouTube.

I also have to thank my friends Kevin and Jesica for inviting us to play Pathfinder. Pathfinder is a fork – to use a computer term – of D&D 3.5. It has been a blast to play my Gnome Berserker Tiny Tanya whose personality is based on Tiny Tina from Borderlands.

This was so much fun I wanted more. Playing every other week isn’t enough. Also I want to DM. So I’m working on a new campaign for D&D 5th Edition that I will be running in the near future. As I develop it, I’m going to be writing about it on the blog. This gets me back to my promise to do more creative acts.

What Is A Creative Act?

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If I’ve set a goal of creating something every day, how will I know when I succeed? We create things all the time. Is a Facebook post saying I’m back in Texas enough? A photo of the new Cisco Supercharger?

No, I don’t think so.

Those things are creative, but they aren’t sufficient to accomplish why I set the goal. Instead I need to define a “creative act” as I’m now calling it. This is the thing I’m trying to do every day. The thing I think will make an impact on bettering my life.

The main difference between the little creations that we do all the time and the Creative Acts that change us is magnitude. It isn’t the medium. My portraits from yesterday are just as much photographs as the picture of the Cisco supercharger. But the new pictures of my friends took skill, thought, preparation and execution.

That is the kind of creative act I’m trying to do every day.

This morning was the first time I ever woke up and my first thought was, “I have to create something today.” That’s a good thing. I need to have a driving desire to create something from the moment I wake up if I’m going to accomplish my goal.

It isn’t easy. Today I spent some time helping fellow Toastmasters. Most of the day was spent trying to get back on Texas time for sleep and driving. Driving from Dallas to Stephenville, them home to Abilene. Getting stuff to the bank and dry cleaners.

Now I’m creating something, even if it just a blog post about creating something.

Tomorrow has a bunch of travel in it, but I will create something significant. Then do it again the next day.

Photos of New Friends

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I spent the week on the M/Y Pegasus at the San Diego Comic-con and one of my jobs was to take pictures. Specifically to take pictures of the crew/guests. Here are some portraits I did of my new friends Jesica, Devin and Amanda.

Jesica SDCC 2016

Jesica SDCC 2016

Devin, SDCC 2016

Devin, SDCC 2016

Amanda, SDCC 2016

Amanda, SDCC 2016

More Creating Less Consuming

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My life is pretty good. Actually really good if I look at it objectively. Not just the “I’m not a starving child in Africa” objectively either. Heck I’m writing this on a freaking yacht for God’s sake. This leads me to feel a little guilty when I start thinking it needs to be better, but that the way it is.

What needs to change? What am I missing that needs to be improved. After much soul-searching, or something similar, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not creating enough. Heck, I’m rarely creating at all.

I just spent four days at the biggest popular culture celebration of creating event in the world, Comic-con San Diego. As I walked the floor I was filled with a yearning. The rock stars from the next Wonder Woman to the guy selling cosplay photos in a booth where all creators. Even the metaphor of “rock star” means you are famous for creating something so cool that people by the thousands become ecstatic in your presence.

Given this I realized I’m not on my way to stardom. I’m looking for the next thing to get by. A job, or even a new business. My standards are low and my heart just isn’t in it.

So what is the solution?

More creating and less consuming.

For the last few months the only thing I’ve created, the only creative outlet I’ve had, is Toastmasters. Which explains why, despite how much work it is, I just keep doing more. I’m passionate about making it better and better. I really believe that Toastmasters changes people’s lives by helping them overcome their fears and learn to communicate and lead. But the joy I get out of it is in the creation.

I used to create all the time.

I had a thriving photography hobby. I blogged all the time. I did some cosplay.

Now I do almost none of these. But I do spend a lot of time-consuming media about these things. I’m consuming art, not creating it.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’m going to create more. Everyday I’m going to create something. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll post about it every day. This post is the first thing I’m creating.

Discomfort Credit Cards and BBQ

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Blogger’s Note: I haven’t blogged in forever. Used to do it all the time, but am way out of the habit. In an attempt to keep this blog from becoming a ghost town, I’m going to post my longer thoughts that have been mostly going to Facebook. Here’s the first one.

Was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast with Ramit Sethi and he was giving negotiation techniques and suggested to call your credit card company and ask for a new APR. I always pay off my CC so don’t really care much about the APR, but my uber-cool blue Sapphire Card is all scratched up and I wanted to new pretty one.

So I called them and first asked if they could tell me how much I’ve put through that card since I got it in April 2014. The number was 6 figures because I use the card for everything, including almost all our expenses in the UK, most of the repairs on the house and every travel expense we do.

Then I asked for a new card. Not surprisingly they merely asked if 3-5 days was OK for delivery.

Missed the annual fee renewal, but they’ll be getting a call next March.

And it was SO FUN, which I wasn’t expecting.

This was a follow-up to a discomfort exercise from the day before where you have to ask for a discount at any store. For some reason I decided to do it after lunch at Betty Roses BBQ.

I asked my waitress if I could have a discount because it was my first time there. I expected a no, or for her to ask how old I was to give me the senior discount :(. Instead she asked if I was in the military. I get that alot, I think for my hair cut rather than my command bearing.

“No”

“Do you have a CHL?”

“I do.”

“I can give you one for that.”

10% off.

Oh Abilene.

Waist Reduction: Ketogenesis

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70-75% percent of my diet comes from fat, and I lost more weight in the first month than on any other diet.

Here's a day I pretty much nailed my ratios.

Here’s a day I pretty much nailed my ratios.


The Mrs and I have been on a ketogenic diet since right after Thanksgiving. Our weights have been in a free fall for the whole month. Nothing I’ve ever done before has been this effective.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

Here's the weight nose dive in my first month of Keto.

Here’s the weight nose dive in my first month of Keto.


The ketogenic diet is a high fat low carb diet. Typically you keep your carbs under 20-60g/day or <5% of your calories. You also want to moderate your protein and keep it at around 20% of your calories.

What’s going on inside your body is you are convincing your body to start burning fat for energy instead of sugar. Sugar in your body is glucose which comes from carbs. When your body wants to burn fat it makes ketones. Your cells can use either one for energy. As an aside, cancer cells can only use glucose for energy.

Yeah it seems crazy to eat that much fat, but the truth is you are probably eating more fat on your Standard American Diet (SAD), because you are eating more.

A Calorie Is A Calorie Isn’t The Whole Story

In case you thought I wasn't losing fat.

In case you thought I wasn’t losing fat.

I got inspired to try the keto diet because of a podcast where Tim Ferris interviewed metabolic cancer researcher Dr Dominic Dagostino about the ketogenic diet and its relationship to cancer. I followed this up by listening to a previous Ferris interview of Dr Pete Attia where they also talked about ketosis.

Dr Attia had an interesting distinction about calories, that I’m paraphrasing.

A calorie is a calorie. That’s absolutely true. But that statement isn’t very useful. It isn’t very interesting. It’s like saying “You know why Bill Gates is so rich? Because he spends less than he makes.” That’s true, but it isn’t the real story you want.

One question is Why? Why do people eat more calories than they burn? When you ask it that way you find out all calories aren’t equal.

There are lots of distinctions around this, but let me give you the big one for weight loss.

It Isn’t Just Chinese Food

I recently heard that ketones in your blood stream keep you from feeling hunger. In other words, if you are in ketosis you don’t feel hunger. My experience has born this out.

Most of what we call hunger is actually your brain being a whiney baby throwing a tantrum for sugar. Or maybe a better analogy would be your brain is an addict clamoring for its next fix. That isn’t hunger, but it is the most common feeling that motivates you to eat. It is the reason you feel hungry 20 minutes after eating that chow mein, or that piece of cake. A low blood sugar caused by a crash in your blood sugar.

One thing I’ve noticed is I generally feel tired before I feel hungry. Weirdly I’ll start dragging and I realize I haven’t eaten in hours. A high fat meal or snack and a few minutes later I’m awake again.

There is a big connection between the low carb, ketonic diet and fasting. Matter of fact the fastest way to get into ketosis is to fast. The two also share the pain of the first few days. That period of 2-5 days where you feel like crap because your body is out of glucose and hasn’t really figured out the ketone thing yet.

Also like fasting, after a few days you stop feeling hungry. Your body goes into ketosis and you don’t feel the hunger anymore. My friends who have fasted for 40 days tell me you don’t really feel hungry again until like 30 days in.

My Experience

The first few days weren’t bad for me, which was probably due to taking a supplement with ketones in it. There are few of these around and the one I found also had caffeine in it. Put those together and you can overcome some brain fog. Also those first few days I wasn’t tracking calories, so I ate a lot of food, just watching the carbs.

After about the first week, I started looking for a tool to track my food and carbs. In the end I went back to myfitnesspal. It has a good interface and the best database.

Once I started tracking calories I realized my biggest problem was eating enough. Having a calorie deficit is too easy when you don’t feel hungry and you get full very fast. You start looking for highly calorically dense foods. Which means fats. My cardiologist, if I had one which I don’t, would be shocked as some of the stuff I eat to get some calories in.

Is It Safe?

There is a lot of literature on this diet, and you can do the amount of research you feel is necessary to come to your own conclusion. I will tell you two things that make me think it is safe.

If you were trying to decide if a drug was safe, one thing that would carry a lot of weight is will they prescribe it to children. This isn’t a perfect test, but it does seem the bar for children is higher than that for adults.

Guess what? A doctor can and will “prescribe” a ketogenic diet to children with epilepsy who don’t respond to any anti-seizure medications. Kind of makes you wonder why they don’t just start with it.

The other fear is it will destroy your blood chemistry. Eating a bunch of fat must raise your cholesterol and triglycerides. Studies actually say the opposite, but for me it was just easier to test. I got my blood work done after 30+ days on this high fat diet and compared it to my blood work from February when I visited the doctor, the last ones I had in Evernote. The results were almost exactly the same.

Waste Reduction

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“People are always amazed when I tell them we only put out a bag of trash every couple of weeks,” said my friend Lora Frost.

What? How’s that even possible? You’re full of crap. Hippie. You’re pulling my leg aren’t you? Sometimes my inner voice is an ass.

This is where your trash goes. Isn't it pretty.

This is where your trash goes. Isn’t it pretty.

These we some of the thoughts in my head when I heard this. But the truth is I respect Lora and believe her. This got me thinking.

She’d told me her and her husband just recycled a bunch and they reduced the stuff that actually has to go to the landfill.

Well I believe if someone else can do something, then so can I. Her statement made me think it was possible, so I began on a journey to reduce my waste.

Step 1: Mindfulness

There is a concept, mainly in the Buddhist tradition, of mindfulness. Put in simple terms it is paying attention to what you are doing. Mindfulness is relevant to eating, because we rarely pay attention to every bite we eat. I found mindfulness to be the first huge step to reducing your waste.

Pay attention to what you are tossing in the trash can.

Think in terms of volume. How much space do different things in your garbage take up?

The thing that became very obvious to me was most of what goes into my trash is packaging. In many cases this can be recycled.

Step 2: Recycle All You Can

Before we started this waste reduction journey we recycled plastic bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans. We kind of did cardboard, but it was a pain so we really mostly did it only for boxes that things game in the mail.

Once we noticed that packaging was a huge part of the volume of our trash, we made a place for recycling cardboard and paper. It was a big reduction in volume.

As with most changes you try to make you need to make recycling as easy as possible. This means you have to have a place to put each kind of recycling, and those places have to be easy to find and use. We moved our current recycle bins from the laundry room into the kitchen and added a paper recycling trash can in the kitchen as well.

Step 3: Stop Using Disposable Stuff

The next thing you notice is we use a bunch of stuff that is made to become instant trash. For me the big one was paper towels. Why do we have these things? Yeah they are easy to use and handy, but really most of the time we could just use a regular towel and wash it instead.

Paper napkins are another example. Why not just use cloth napkins?

You might say both of these example are paper, but once you fill them with debris and food etc, you really can’t recycle them.

Another high volume disposable thing we had were plastic sandwich/quart bags, to-go cups, and to-go containers. We used little plastic bags all the time to hold leftovers from a meal, and packaged foods like cheese we’d opened and need to store in the fridge. Then when you are finished with whatever is in the bag to you send it off to the landfill. The solution to this one is reusable containers. In our case it is those plastic tupperware things with lids.Styrofoam Containers

We eat out a lot and as a result get quite a few to-go boxes, usually styrofoam which is the worst because you can’t recycle it, at least not in Abilene. Same for cups. This is one we haven’t fully implemented a fix for, but I now take my own cup to my favorite wings place and they just fill it for me. I plan on putting a large plastic container in my car to use for to-go stuff in the future.

Our main solution to this restaurant left over problem has been…

Step 4: Stop Taking Crap You Are Just Going to Throw Away

Once you’ve taken the extra effort to start reducing your waste it gets really annoying that everyone give you so much crap that you aren’t just going to have to throw away.

You have to learn to say no a lot.

But let’s talk about the simple way we’ve dealt with restaurant left overs. About half the time the food we want to take home is for the dog. In that case we just wrap it in a paper napkin if they are on our table. It’s a good reuse of something we could do without.

One time we were at a place with cloth napkins – Yea! – but we wanted to take some meat to the dog, so The Mrs asked the waitress for some aluminum foil to wrap it in. That was brilliant because it is definitely recyclable. Sadly the waitress brought us not just foil, but a styrofoam container as well. The container stayed unused on the table.

Paper handouts. Everyone wants to give you a big piece of paper with information on it. Just say no, or take a picture of it with your phone if you need the info and hand the paper back. I’ve been doing this with business cards for a couple of years now anyway. I used the incredible Evernote, which reads the business cards and makes the info searchable.

Bags. Everyone wants to give you a bag to hold stuff in. The culture has started to realize we can bring our own better, stronger, reusable bags to the grocery store. Guess what? We can do that to any store. Also, if you carried all your items to the register you can carry them to your car as well, so just say no to the bag.

I could go on and I probably will in future blog posts.

I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, but I was touring a gym the other day and they wanted to give me a couple pages of information that was on their website. I just blurted out, “No thanks I can get that off your website. My new years resolution is to reduce the amount of waste I produce and I’ll just end up throwing that away.”

The head of the gym smiled and said, “That’s a lot better new years resolution than a lot of people make.”

Why don’t you join me in an easy change for 2016? I challenge you to be mindful of what you are throwing away. Just doing that will probably inspire you to create less waste in the all year long.