Discord, Socializing, Moderation, and Events

Years ago I discovered the program Discord, a free server hosting software originally aimed at gamers but has since broadened its aim a bit. At first I was only interested in using it to keep in contact with a few friends and as a place to have voice chats during games, but as the years went on I broadened my own horizons a bit. I am an introverted person, as such putting myself out there and talking to people can be difficult for me. But eventually I found a community I clicked with. At first it was simply a server for a YouTube creator I liked, with several text channels relating to the various types of content they make (Overly Sarcastic Productions, if anyone is curious). But then the YouTuber started publishing their own webcomic, and shortly a new channel was opened for discussion of that comic. And my interaction began to ramp up.

Now that I had something I was interested in I could post more freely, and I did. Discussions of plot developments, talking about the world building, and giant posts about theorizing where things were going in the story. I was having fun, and finding people I got along with. Then one of the regulars told us all something fun: they were making a fandub of the comic, and had made their own server to organize it. Needless to say I shortly joined that new server as well. As time went by the server became more of a generalized “fan server” as the fandub went further and further on the back burner, firstly because the organizer needed to focus on college, but also because the pandemic complicated things. But the server’s shift meant it could keep going even without the fandub… with one small issue, the server master could no longer manage the number of members on their own.

With that in mind, Canine (the user name of the server master) put out a call for applications to be server moderators. I waffled for a bit on whether I would apply, finally squeaking in after the last minute. My thought process was simple “If I don’t like it I can quit. And besides, no guarantee I will even make it.” Not sure how other servers make the decision but on this server the mod candidates “campaign” for election, eventually culminating in the server members voting for who they want to be the moderators. However the final decision is in the hands of Canine, while he takes the vote into account (I think the vote and the final decision have always lined up so far) it is their server and they need people they can work with. As you can no doubt guess I made it, a bit under 2 years ago I became a moderator of the server. In the time since, a few changes have been made to the system: we added another election cycle  when we needed more moderators, leading to a twice yearly election with half the mods up for reelection each time. And Canine talking with the Moderators (not up for reelection) to decide who makes the cut. I have been the longest serving Moderator on the server and I seem to be doing a fairly good job.

Over time the server has taken on a bit of a life of its own. And one of the things we have started doing are semi-regular events. These range from holiday art events, to putting together a two year calendar spread, to several word games, and even book readings. And so, after gathering my courage, I started readings books for the server. twice a week I read from two books for an hour at a time, usually finishing 1-2 chapters per reading based on the book. I also record my readings… but for now that is just a “because I can” thing, as distributing those recordings could get me into trouble around copyright. But I have kept this up for over a year, so I am more than a bit proud of it… even if I only had one listener for a while, but an audience of one is enough to make it worth doing. In my capacity as a Moderator I have also helped a few others put on other events. Some were flops, most have been warmly received.

I am still an introvert. But I have found a place where I can be with people of like minds.

More Games to Play

Time for some more games I recommend playing.

Hades
Welcome to the world of Greek myth, the realm of the gods… or the realm one god in particular. You play as Zagreus, son of Hades, in your quest to escape the underworld and reach the surface, perhaps even go to Olympus to meet your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Speaking of your illustrious family, you won’t be tackling this challenge alone, the Olympians grant you boons as you progress through the levels of the Underworld. But… eventually you will die
And that is were the setting does extra duty, you see Hades is a rouge like game, meaning you are meant to paly again and again against randomized levels, getting different perks on each “run”. Most games in this genre have to somehow explain how you keep coming back to try again. But you are the son of Hades, Lord of the Dead, your “reresection” back home is treated as “another day, another death” by most of the denizens of the Underworld… Zagreus especially, who shakes off death about as fast as the blood from the pool he resurrects out of.
As you progress you will unlock new weapons to use, new boons to play with, and even make some semi permeant stat boosts between runs to make things more manageable. And on top of all that it even has some great interpretations of various Greek myths, and not just ones limited to the gods.

Slay the Spire
From one rouge like to another, but where Hades is an action packed brawler game, Slay the Spire is a deck drafting game. In Slay the Spire, you select a class that determines what strategies you can use in the run, for instance the warrior might go for a big armor or a high risk self damage strategy, where as the rouge might go with a cheap card strategy that relies on drawing a bunch of cards and unloading them all at once. But at the start you only have a basic preconstructed deck that shows off a few of the things your class can do, and as you progress (killing enemies, finding shops, and more esoteric encounters) you will have opportunities to add more cards to that deck… and even the opportunity to remove some cards to make your deck more consistent. But the spire has many mysteries, and many strange encounters.
For if you like the idea of rouge like games, but don’t like the twitch reaction speed elements. Or if you just like a well made deck crafting game.

Elden Ring
From the creators of Dark Souls, Demon Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro, comes the latest “Souls” game. For those that don’t know, this company has a reputation for making “hard” games where you die, drop your unspent experience/wealth, try to get it back and make more progress, die again, and repeat. Now you will notice I put “hard” in quotations, this is because the difficulty of these games is vastly overhyped. That is not to say the games are easy, far from it. These games certainly are hard… but they are fair.
Was there a trap that caught you off guard? Look for the telegraph and learn from it. Enemy came “out of nowhere”? Maybe dropped down on you? They were always there, and if you spot them early you might even get in some free damage. Boss killing you over and over? Learn their moves and the timings, almost no attacks are completely undodgeable.
But in Elden Ring a new wrinkle was added: an open world. In all the previous games there might be a branching path here or there, but the core game was pretty linear. In Elden Ring you can go off and explore for hours before encountering your first main story boss… or even skip that boss altogether if you explore enough. Or you might be out exploring and suddenly a dragon swoops down, taking out a bunch of other enemies, and starting up boss music. The good news is that these “overworld bosses” you can encounter at random can be run away from and they will stop chasing you… eventually.
As with most “Souls Like” games there is a top level story, a sub level story, and more world building than you can shake a stick at.
If you do decide to pick up this game I heard an anecdote that rings true in my experience: “You know you are in the right part of the game if the encounters are hard, but manageable. If the boss is beating you, but you feel you can win.”

Stardew Valley
And now for something on an entirely different wave length. Stardew Valley is a farming sim game. But don’t let the simplicity of that genre description fool you it is quite a bit more than that. To start the game, your character is tired of the city life and decides to take up their decides grandfather’s offer to take over an old farm in the town of Stardew Valley. To start off you are clearing the land of some weeds, planting your first crop, caring for them, selling them off when they ripen, and repeating. But soon you get enough money to start buying some upgrades to your land and house and you will start making some things to make your job easier, like scarecrows and sprinkler systems. Soon you will discover the mines that house ore for your crafting, but also monsters you have to defend yourself from in order to get that useful ore. Or maybe you got yourself a chicken coop or barn to raise some animals? Or maybe you are focusing on your relationships with the various townsfolk and seeing what stories they have to tell. Or perhaps you might have tripped over one of the more magical aspects of this town and started exploring where that leads. Plenty of things in Stardew Valley to keep ones attention.

Game Recomendations

So I have recommended some webcomics, some books, and a specific author, now for my other big obsession: Video Games.

Going to go with a variety of choices here, the only real criteria being that I have played and enjoyed a given game. So here we go

Ghost of Tsushima
I am something of a Japanese history and culture nerd (thank Gaijin Goombah on YouTube for that) so a game that takes place during the Mongol invasion of Japan? YES PLEASE! You play as Jin Sakai, the young lord of the Sakai clan and nephew of the ruler of the island of Tsushima. After the first confrontation with the Mongols goes horrifically bad, most of the Samurai of the island are dead, with Jin being left for dead and only being saved when a female thief saves him. It is now your job to save your uncle and the island from the Mongols, but the strict way honor code your uncle taught you won’t work against this enemy, so Jin is forced to learn new strategies and make unsavory allies in order to save his home.
Gameplay wise the game is split into exploration, stealth, and combat. Most situations can be solved either by sneakily eliminating the enemy or charging in with sword drawn and a curse on your lips (although stealth is usually the better option most of the time, you can usually fall back on a brawl if things fall apart). Sometimes you are forced into stealth or combat (infiltration of a castle vs fighting on the front line of a siege) but you are fairly free to handle situations as you see fit. And all of this is not to mention that the game is drop dead gorgeous.

Monster Hunter: Rise
Want to hunt big monsters? Want to wield a giant sword while you do it? Or how about a lance that is also a gun? Or sour through the sky spinning a glaive at the monster’s unprotected back? Monster Hunter is all about it. The play loop is simple: Hunt monster, return to town, craft new weapons, armor, and items to help hunting bigger monsters, repeat. There is also a story in there, and a nice one too, plus a bunch of lore to justify hunting these monsters. But let’s be real, you aren’t here for the story, you are here for the mechanics. And Rise (like most Monster Hunter games) has a few unique mechanics to offer. Firstly is the wire bugs, allowing both for more mobility than in any other Monster Hunter game to date, and being a resource system for new big moves unique to each weapon. Speaking of weapon’s unique moves, the Switch Skills system allows you to swap out some of the moves on weapons to further customize your playstyle.
Rise is one of the most newbie friendly Monster Hunter games so far. That is not to say it isn’t hard to get into, Monster Hunter games are notorious for being hard to understand. But as long as you are willing to open a wiki or look up some guides on YouTube nothing is too arcane or shrouded in mystery that you cannot master it.

Elder Scrolls and Fallout
Just some good “comfort food” games. If you don’t know them yet… what rock have you been living under? These are more or less the base lines for modern open world games.

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
This game is one part 2D side scrolling beat ’em up and one part shockingly accurate rice farming simulator, yes really. You are Sakuna, you are a Kami and as the daughter of a Kami of agriculture and a Kami of War you have inherited both of your parent’s affinities. As such, you gain power by bringing in a harvest of rice and you gain the resources to harvest that rice by going out and fighting demons. But you have to manage your time fighting because managing your rice field is a surprisingly demanding task and how well you do that determines how good your stats will be.
On the story end the game isn’t lacking either. Sakuna at the start of the story is a lazy, spoiled, arrogant, Kami. But after a chance encounter with a group of humans (a large cowardly man who is knowledgeable, but fails at most of his endeavors. An energetic, rebellious, boy and a shy, reserved girl. A baby. And a Western religious missionary.) Sakuna is forced to live on an island of Demons, tasked with subduing said demons. All the characters undergo a myriad of developments and the story intersects with the mechanics in surprising ways. And finally as with my first pick, it has a surprising amount of fairly accurate (if twisted for story purposes) references to real world things, mostly how the Japanese viewed the Kami, but also daily life and Western Missionaries.

 

I still have plenty of games to recommend, but this is enough for today.

Life, Fantasy, The Supernatural, and Some of the Most Stunning Art I Have Seen

For the past few weeks I have been posting about various works I recommend (should really get around to recommending some games, but that is for latter). These Recommendations have had a lose theme based on medium. Today the “theme” is a specific artist/author: Stjepan Šejić (and no. I will not attempt to help you figure out how to pronounce that).

So first off I will go into a small bit of personal history: How I found this artist. Years ago I was browsing Deviant Art, and I found a creator that had some cool things. This was Stjepan’s main account and included a bunch of the work he did for some major comic publishers (such as some Witchblade covers and panels, funny non-cannon things he did with various DC characters, and Harlee Quin concept art he would later pitch and have made into a graphic novel). I really liked all this art, but it is not where I became entranced with his work. Following a few of the pages favorited pieces I found another creator, Shiniez, and a silly strip they were making (more on that latter). I was hooked. Not just because of the content (Not going to lie, it was hot) but because of the characters and the ways they interacted. And that highlights a piece of what makes Stjepan such an amazing story teller: you show up for the plot (or “plot” as the case may sometimes be), but you stay for, nay get hooked on, the characters. As you may have put together the Shiniez account was also owned by Stjepan, but he tried to hide this. I had my suspicions for a while (the art style was just too similar to be a case of similar or copied style) but one day he reveled this truth and I began following his work. These are some of those works I recommend.

Death Vigil
Welcome to the Death Vigil. Our job is to stop the eldritch abominations from the other side of the veil from crossing over into our world and turning it into a buffet. Every member of the Vigil has three things in common. Firstly, they all died. But, secondly, they all got the attention of a being known as Bernadette, affectionately called Bernie, also known as The Reaper, complete with giant scythe. She gave these people a chance to be reborn and help defend the world. To help accomplish this each member of the vigil gets a Veilripper, a powerful artifact and one of the only things capable of actually harming the beings from beyond the veil. But on the other side from the vigil are the Necromancers. Poor fools that have lost, and have been promised by those from beyond the veil that their power can bring those the necromancer lost back…
Lots of action, lots of found family themes, and more than a few winding plots intersecting. The first few chapters can be found on Stjepan’s deviant art page, and he is in the process of making the next volume. For more on that, see his Patreon page for updates and early releases of all his independent work.

The Queen and the Woodborn
To be fair, I have not read as much of this story as the others. But it is just as beautiful as the others and has a great set up so…
In this world of medieval fantasy, a Queen recently lost her son and travels into the woods in her grief. These woods are ancient, magical, and forbidden for any that trespass belong to the Woodborn. But the Queen does not care, here lies some faint chance of seeing her dead son. And she thinks she has found it, until the Woodborn shows up and saves the queen from the being that had tricked her and tried to devour her. But now that she is in the woods she is bound in service to the Woodborn, and they come to an agreement: the queen will server the Woodborn until her dyeing breath. At which point it is revealed that the Queen was already dyeing and promptly breaths her dyeing breath. But that is not the end of our story, for death is not an end here, but just the beginning of our tale of mythical beings, gods, and the queen who stumbled into it all.

Sunstone
Anyone familiar with Stjepan’s work was waiting for me to bring this one up. And I don’t think there is a better way to introduce this work that the words of one of the main characters at the start of the story:
“Dear reader, this is the story of how I met the love of my life. That one person that compl–
WAIT! DON’T LEAVE YET! THIS BOOK HAS LOTS OF HOT LESBIAN BONDAGE SEX!
Good. That got your attention…
You bunch of pervs…
But that’s alright. You see, I’mma let you in on a little secret
We are all a bit pervy in our own ways…”
So yeah, this is a love story played out between a pair of women who are into BDSM as a submissive and dominant respectively and the various people around them. Don’t get this confused with 50 Shades of Abuse or any other sadist porn. A very large point is made in the story about needing trust, cooperation, and consent between all parties so that everyone can get what they are looking for… and more or less paints the BDSM community as a bunch of sexual geeks that put more effort into the act and like things a bit spicier than “normal”. This is a story about pleasure, love, trauma, jealousy, miscommunication, and drop dead gorgeous art. And yes, to address the elephant in the room, there are sex scenes in this story. There is full frontal nudity in this story. And every time it happened I was either too enraptured by the character’s inner monologues or too impatient to get back to the story to care.
And yes. This is the story I found on Stjepan’s alt account that got me hooked… or at least… it kind of is. You see how this story came about is a fun story in and of itself. Told in comic form at the end of the physical copy of volume 1. Stjepan was suffering from burnout. To help combat this he created an alt account to post some silly one-shot style work, and chose the theme of the account to be: fetishistic erotic imagery. Just some random pin ups so he could get the creative juices going again, nothing serious, and obviously nothing with a storyline too it… as you can imagine that idea spiraled down the drain as the creativity spiraled out of control. Pretty soon he had characters, he had relationships, the characters were getting arcs, and he had a story that needed to be told. But all he had were loosely connected pinups and a few small comic pages. So he re-wrote it to be the story it is today.

Other works of Stjepan’s to look out for:
Achilles Shieldmaidens: Women in giant mechs fighting as part of a final resistance against aliens in giant mechs. Still in production, but from what I have seen so far I am HYPE for it to see the light of day.
Fine Print: Think Sunstone had too little sex and demons? Well half the main cast of this story are succubi/incubi. And somehow it is just as character driven as Sunstone.
Harleen: Stjepan’s take on the origin story of Harley Quinn. Amazing art (as always) and a fresh take on the story. Unlikely to get a follow up as Stjepan’s independent work is making him more than his contracted work did.

Book Recommendations

Last week I presented some recommendations for free webcomics. And I do have more… oh so many more… but today I would like to recommend some of my favorite books.

First up is one of my favorite series of all time:
The Callahan’s Series by Spider Robinson
Welcome to Callahan’s bar where all the drinks are a dollar, you smash your glass in the fireplace (after giving a toast), the puns are plentiful, the company is great, and every now and then a time traveler or alien walks in for a drink.
The first few books of the Callahan’s series (collected in the omnibus: The Callahan Chronicles) are collections of short stories told from the perspective of one of the bar’s regulars: Jake Stonebender. Each story introduces some new problem for our fun loving bar flies to contend with, ranging from an alien that needs them to stop him from destroying the Earth, to a time traveler trying to save the woman he loves, to (in a latter book) an Irish Spirit that loves nothing more than getting drunk on Irish spirits (almost closed the bar single handed). Not to say all the problems they deal with are supernatural or otherworldly, but it does make for the most memorable ones.

Next up, in an entirely different direction we have:
The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Welcome to the world of Alera, where Roman like people rule the land with the power of elemental spirits known as furies. These furies come in 6 elements, fire, wind, water, earth, wood, and metal, and bond with a person in childhood for life. But after the First Lord’s heir dies plots begin to form to replace him. As our story begins one such plot begins to unfold and one unlikely young man, the only Aleran to have no furies of his own, will pulled in and forced to try and stop it… or else lose his home and everyone he loves.
The Codex Alera is told from multiple perspectives and almost every chapter ends on a cliffhanger of one kind or another. Excellent world building and creative story telling keep the action interesting. The series was born when Jim Butcher claimed there “was no such thing as a bad writing prompt” and challenged an internet forum to give him a so called “bad writing prompt”. What he got was this: The lost Roman Legion + Pokemon. And somehow he created this series.

And finally for this entry we have a true classic:
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Welcome to the world of Pern. An idyllic agrarian society (with only a small bit of sexism… they are dealing with it). The people are happy in their holds, tilling the land, and serving their Lords… up until the Thread returns. A long thing white organism that rains from the sky sporadically in hundred year on/off cycles, thread eats any organic mater it comes into contact with and rapidly propagates if it reaches fertile soil, spreading its destruction even further. Good thing the brave Dragonriders and their colossal mounts are here to burn the Thread from the sky… or at least that is how it always was. But now Thread has been gone far longer than is normal (around four times as long as normal) and the Dragonriders have fallen into disfavor. In fact most of the Dragonriders disappeared. So now an under maned group of Dragonriders must unite a world that does not yet realize it is in peril before it is too late.
This book is one of the classics. The first book was originally published in 1968 and popularized the idea of “dragons as noble mounts” rather than “dragons as terrifying monster”. The Dragons in this series form life long bonds with their riders upon hatching, along with a psychic link they use to communicate with one another, and have the ability to travel through a space called between, effectively teleporting. Oh! And one more thing. I should mention the series’ genre. One would think with the importance of Dragons and the low tech society this would be a fantasy book… but nope, you fairly quickly realize this is a sci-fi book. And that only gets stronger the more books you read in the series.

Comic Recommendations

So for a while I have been thinking “I should write a review stories I really like”. Part of this is that I read a lot of web comics, another is I read more than a few books, and finally I enjoy having people to talk to about these interests. As such it is helpful if other people also read these stories… and now we come to the reviews.

Unfortunately I can’t pick just one property to review so initially I will just list a few I recommend and give a short summary to try and get you interested.

First up is a long running series by a semi-legendary couple:
Girl Genius by Kaja and Phil Foglio
Home page: https://www.girlgeniusonline.com/index.php
In the world of Girl Genius being a mad scientist is not something you chose to be (I mean you can, but you will be at a disadvantage) it is something you are born into. This is called “The Spark” and gives you insight and inspiration into inventions. Surrounded by steam punk gadgetry everywhere these sparks via for power. Our main character Agatha is a small town girl attending an academy… but nothing she constructs works. It all falls apart and she doesn’t know why. One day her heirloom necklace is stolen and that triggers the unwinding of many secrets about both Agatha’s heritage, and the world at large.

Next up we move from sci-fi to fantasy with:
Namesake by Megan Lavey-Heaton
First page: https://www.namesakecomic.com/comic/the-journey-begins
Current page: https://www.namesakecomic.com/
One day a girl witnesses an accident in a library that catches the building on fire, and ends up transported to OZ. Yes that OZ, of Dorthey and Yellow Brick roads. Upon accidentally solving a “wicked witch” incident she is all set to go off on an adventure… except for a few problems. Firstly, as you might expect, not everything is as it seems and something in OZ is… off. Secondly, this girl… ISN’T DORTHY! Her name is Emma and would you stop calling her “The Dorthey” please!
Welcome to a story where fairytales are real, magical, and dangerous.

Now we have a much more recent creation:
Aurora by Red of the YouTube channel “Overly Sarcastic Productions” (I also recommend the YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/OverlySarcasticProductionsChannel)
First page: https://comicaurora.com/aurora/0-1-1/
Current Page: https://comicaurora.com/
Welcome to the world of Aurora. A world literally crafted from the dying forms of 6 elemental Primordials: Earth, Fire, Water, Wind, Lightning, and Life,. A world with a myriad of races crafted by the creator gods known as The Twins. A world where any sufficiently sized and old city/forest/mountain/lake has a god of its own, where mages sculpt the energies of the Primordials that died to make this world. But darkness lurks at the edges of this world… or should I say its heart? An ancient evil lurks sealed away and another actor, simply known as “The Collector”, has started hunting the gods themselves. As the curtain rises a great city is brought low by this “Collector” and the broken vessel of the city’s captured god has somehow gained a life of its own! Follow along as a motley crew of people, each with their own baggage, group together to face these evils… and any other they find along the way.

And finally (for this post anyway) we have:
Grrl Power by Dave Barrack
First page: https://grrlpowercomic.com/archives/comic/gp0001/
Current page: https://grrlpowercomic.com/
Welcome to an alternative version of our world… if our world had super people running around. That is not to say that super heroes are running around. Super powers are fairly rare and not well understood, and not everyone that has them is heroic (or villainous for that matter. Some are just like, barbers who happen to have super strength). Enter Sydney Scoville, the co-owner of a local comic shop. Sydney is a bit of a… hyperactive spaz with a few quirks. And after some appropriate shenanigans ends up joining the first super hero team… as a recruit. Can’t just put her on the street and say “Go get bad guys” need some training first. But her unique powerset, and talent for getting into and out of trouble, will keep her near the front lines whether she is ready or not.