A lot of things changed for my father when I was born. He gave up smoking, took up a job he’d work at for the entirety of my life, becoming third in command at the place over time, and he also discovered this little thing called Dungeons and Dragons.

I do not know if I ever saw a single time where my father passed dice in a hobby shop and didn’t buy a set.

It feels incredibly weird to say that. For as long as I can remember, Dad had cases of dice and stacks of sourcebooks, folios full of character sheets, and a near-endless supply of miniatures he would painstakingly prime, paint, and polish for every Friday’s gaming session. There are two memories which are some of the earliest in my life, one relating to each parent, and I think both define them in my head to this day. With my father, it was him starting up Eye of the Beholder III in our den, and an early encounter was frustrating him. I watched him apply all his buffs and walk into battle repeatedly, only to have the party fall to two beholders and their anti-magic rays (which in turn left everyone pretty vulnerable to “I look at you and you become dust” stares). I wanted to help, so I just suggested he try casting something different in the fight.

“Why not Dispel Magic? If it can’t cast anything on you, this should be easy, right?”

This story is one of the only ways I know that Dad didn’t play D&D before I was born, because he probably would have realized how insane what I just said was. Instead, he nodded, applied all of his buffs, walked through the door, cast the spell, and IMMEDIATELY began swearing up a storm as all of his protections vanished in a single mouse click. It was not the only time a young me would inspire this reaction1, but it was definitely the original, because I didn’t hang around quite so close to watch for a bit after that.

I grew up my father’s son, but of his two children, I was not the favorite. That’s not a bad thing by any means – I was my mother’s child, and my sister was Dad’s. At this point, I don’t think any one of us would deny it’s how it broke down, and it’s not like I was neglected for it. But the one thing I went way more in on than her, and one of our tightest bonds for years, was my sister never dove hard into tabletop or CRPGs like Dad and I did2. We both kept going through the 90s into the lean times for the genre, but whereas I branched out into more titles, Dad stuck with the genre, began picking up CD megapacks of the older titles he missed, and over time, would replay the ones he loved most. Somewhere in here, he learned of the furthest he’d go from the party-based style: my father bought a copy of Diablo.

This was the first time I began to realize part of why he stuck to turn-based games for the most part: by the end of Diablo, Dad had to have me by his side watching the hotkeys to feed him potions and keep him going. He didn’t have the dexterity to manage a mouse, his skill keys, AND tap the right key in the heat of boss battles. Strangely, this didn’t scare him off the genre! It’s only because he kept trying to play these (but a. never online, and b. never another Diablo game) that I learned about this weird little German title called Sacred, and later, I ran all over town trying to find him a copy of the sequel which had a rocky US launch. Getting the expansion for this game was what finally convinced him to make a Steam account, and ever since, it became THE most played title he ever got into on the platform until this past year3.

My father’s taste in games: incredibly specific

The surprising thing is, despite all of this, he never finished Sacred 2. I actually don’t know what the last game he fully beat, start to finish, was. Everything in the above screenshot I’m damn sure he didn’t polish off, and maybe one game further down the list was it, Legend of Grimrock. 1. He never went on to the sequel because by that point, he was getting to the point where the sidestep-and-swipe-shuffle of those real-time dungeon crawlers was too much for him. I highly suspect due to this he never beat it, just because of how brutally tight that last boss “puzzle” could be. But he never complained! He just decided that he’d grind a little more and still have fun with the action titles he played. My father put 500+ hours into Kingdoms of Amalur just because he figured out “Oh, I can just forge and potion myself to invincibility” on his own and it meant if he got stuck, he’d just do that for a bit, then run off to some new corner of the world and make a fiefdom, and… To my father, RPGs didn’t seem to need endings, they were just worlds he was passing through. Nowhere was this clearer in the 20+ year D&D campaign he played in as I grew up.

Dad’s GM was an ex-submarine tech, and apparently, how he spent his time at sea was just taking notes. Designing worlds. Statting critters. I was a teenager the last time I attended one of them, and by that point, the man had a literal wall of banker’s boxes full of binders and notes and paperwork. It wasn’t focused on being a perfect, clockwork world – I remember Dad joking all the time about “oh yeah, you can tell someone enjoyed Jurassic Park, we’ve been running into a lot of giant lizards lately” or some other new focus that became fodder for the campaign for a few sessions. But it was a world, and whatever his players wanted to do in it, he’d let them. It had one of the more creative rules I ever saw, probably because it lasted so long: if a character reached level 104, they became an NPC. They would be a potent NPC, and probably someone that the party or successive adventurers might look to for aid or a story arc, but you were too potent to just be wandering into dungeons at that point. You were the head of a druid circle, or a local lord, or the head of a merchant empire. And all of these happened! I remember my father spending an entire week between games once statting out all of his wagons and who carried what where, calling the GM to roll up if anyone made it, were there brigands, did I hire enough guards – All of this BETWEEN GAMES just to make sure that he wouldn’t slow everyone else down handling it at the one tabletop session of the week.

I ran some tabletop games for years. I started in high school, and it definitely reflected my younger, self-destructive self. There was the time we all drove out towards a California wildfire to meet up and play when our school was canceled, but the house where all of our stuff was was in the path, just ten minutes out instead of five. We legit kept two trucks ready for all of us to hop into in case the winds changed, but had we been unlucky: that definitely would have killed the 6 of us. This campaign ended with one player pulling a shotgun on another, and while it wasn’t fired, this was definitely enough that it kept a bunch of nerdy teens from resuming the next week.

But we all still hung out on campus, of course, because we weren’t going to get weird about it.

I’m sure some people reading this remember that I ran another campaign for a while after that, a podcast series that went on for a few years. I’m not the fondest of it. The whole thing came about during the lowest point of my life, where I was drinking, surly, abusive, and really just an outright terrible person to be around. Barely any of those players speak to me anymore, and I don’t blame them, even though I think the majority of them still regularly play and record other stuff as a continuation of the show without me. I don’t know if anything else in my life was as much of a wedge between Dad and I. He continued playing tabletop games until he died, still getting the same enjoyment when their GM split, and they found new players, and new people. We would legitimately be running around town when I went home and I’d just get introduced to “oh, hey, this is so-and-so, she’s younger than you and she just joined our D&D group. You’ve always got a place at the table if you want it, son!”. This happened repeatedly! For him, it was never a chore, it was the peak of his week no matter what, and I envy him that. To this day, I still have possibly-PTSD over tabletop stuff, just thinking of all the horrendous things I did and how incredibly low I was with alcohol. I do not know if this one was ever public, but according to multiple of the players, there was a side session we ran one week where I was apparently so plastered that they thought I had killed myself, or at least wounded myself quite a bit, and I was giggling on the floor. I confess I don’t know about this one because I woke up on the floor or in some shitty position more than once after those games.

Can you guess my father’s taste in music?

I guess I let it slip in the last paragraph: my father is dead. Freshly so, it was this week. I’m writing this on what was his D&D night, and I’m afraid to call and ask whether they’re taking the night off just this once, or if the game goes on without him. This whole thing comes down to one last request: we knew he was going for a while, but before he did, he made quite sure that we all knew I got his dice. And so, on the day he passed, I went home to my parents’ place after work, and I helped with some of the cleanup until the hospice nurse arrived and loaded him into a van under a sheet. When I left, I did so with sacks and containers of dice, an impressive number given that sometime in the 2000s, someone broke into his van and stole all of his D&D books and bags, and this was everything he had recollected just since then.

He never played a tabletop RPG post-D&D 2e. I think they dabbled in Pathfinder a little, but his new GM and the remnants of that old group returned to their custom system, filing a few edges off for playability. That was something we had friction over at times – I was never content to just play a game. I was analyzing it, I’d find flaws, I’d nitpick. He threw himself into it and just had fun. We argued about design and whether a game was fun or not, but to my father, games were just to be played, the system didn’t matter. Every game had rules and sometimes you could do better, but nothing would ever leave his mouth in the middle of play: the rules had been set and he was going to play by them. One of the only people who ever got kicked out of that group was someone who just kept pushing those boundaries and finally everyone had enough, and while Dad kept up with him for years (I ran into him the other day, at Dad’s bedside, the day he slipped into a coma he never woke from), they all agreed: Mark was a real shitty player.

Ernie Arnett never knew me as Sibyl. His health had been failing for years, last year he received a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, and early in 2021 he caught Covid-19 and somehow survived for another six months5. I don’t doubt he would have been fine with this part of my identity, there was nothing else I ever came to him with that he didn’t accept, from my sexuality to any of my relationships to just “I don’t think I want to work at the same company as you, Dad”. But I didn’t tell him because I think on some level, he wanted A Son to continue his legacy, and I was willing to keep that fiction alive for him with the clock ticking. His father had died at 65, and his father’s father the same. That Dad made it past that milestone, even briefly, made him incredibly proud, and I told him at the time I intended to top whatever record he set. I still plan to, even if in his absence, I’m gonna fudge some of those details. My father bailed me out of so many jams and still I’ll remember one of the final things he said to me was that he wished he had done “more for his kids”. The man who raised three of us, one who wasn’t even his by birth, and still he thought he had let us down on some level.

This is where I broke down crying and stopped, weeks back. I keep returning to this post in fits and starts. I’ve helped pick up around my parents’ house, cleaning up the master bedroom that became a remote hospital bed for months. The strangest things set me off throughout this. The realization that I will constantly just see my father “online” for a while to come as my brother in law laid claim to his PC/Steam account, an account whose only friend was me, so I could gift him titles, is a weird sensation that trips me out every time6. I’ve got a big pile of Dad’s dice and a lot of his media that ended up in my care for sorting, there’s some real weird landmines in those bags. When that Wheel of Time show comes out this fall, that’ll probably be a fresh gut-punch, we both read those together every time a new one dropped. On and on, and still, despite it… this is probably for the best. I don’t want to forget my father, he was a wonderful man, even if his declining years were not amazing on a few levels. He just faded out, far from the worst way cancer could end.

As I post this, I can still see “Dad” online and playing the last thing I ever gave him. It’s bittersweet in a few ways.

I keep putting off finishing and posting this. I find myself thinking of other stories to add7, or more ways to try and extend the metaphor… it’s like if I finish this, if I admit it’s over and release it, then I’m burying my father myself. Now that I’m sitting here staring at the terminal, though, I know it would just be cruft. I’d edit half of it out and start over, or keep trying to reframe this whole thing so it “flows better”. It’s not going to flow better. It’s me processing grief on a page. I’ll have to do it again later, I know that much. We can’t really hold a service or see any other relatives in the middle of a pandemic kicking back into high gear, with family all around the country and the travel being risky as hell. So someday I’ll revisit my father’s grave, and maybe I’ll break a sober streak and down some liquor with aunts and uncles, and see which of us yells at the other first, especially because I’m sure it’ll be the first time a few of them find out “Ah, you’ve got tits now, and not like your father did”. But I set myself a timer on this, and I’m almost done with the last song on the playlist, Tom’s Diner. It was just the right bit of melancholy to round this out, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have some Sarah McLachlan stuck in my head for a week after this.

He was the man who helped make me who I am, and I intend to be surpass him, same as he aimed to with his father.

Endless Hellscape: Introducing… the Backlog!

Believe it or not, these days, I’m almost functional. I know that’s kind of hard to imagine, because depending on how long you’ve known me or how you found yourself at this site, you know me as (pick one): a raw-dog media masochist, a raw-dog media sadist, an alcoholic with no self control or filter1, a spend-crazy madman nickel and diming himself to the poorhouse, a digital hoarder, or just kind of an asshole.

But the damage is done in that while I am trying to become more reliable for, y’know, my wife, family, and friends, I decidedly fucked around and built up a lot of shit I haven’t gotten around to.

oh is that all? Piece of cake. And by piece of cake, I think I’m silently begging for death with my eyes.

There are also a few hundred books, physical and otherwise, film and TV on the pile, and worst of all, I have this hideous compulsion in that if someone buys me a gift, I need to finish it somehow. And if I don’t, it becomes this massive source of anxiety… which is ironic given that the purpose of this column is to try and winnow down some of this massive backlog, starting with those gifts before moving onto odd or curious works. (It’s also ironic in how long I’ve let some of these stare at me and make me feel terrible for not touching them… without touching them.) But there’s the rub.

See, with stuff like License Hell or Bootleg Hell, those are me recycling old content from other dead or dying websites. LH was originally going to be a series of LPs, as I’ve said, and Bootleg Hell was going to be written for a now-vanished television site years back. (For what it’s worth, there’s at least one upcoming series which is also recycling an unfinished idea, but it’ll at least be visual in nature!) This series is the most original thing I’ve created for the site so far which isn’t kvetching about my mental health, and it feels, which I realize is going to sound stupid on a site I bought to put my name and works on, incredibly egotistical. On the one hand, it’s probably good to do some smaller or different pieces here and there to see what y’all enjoy most, or just have a series that I can do more regularly without a huge time investment2, or where my writing lacks. On the other…

There’s a type of creator you’ll see sometimes and they’re people who go beyond “being their own brand”. I get that idea. It’s the modern version of “making a name for yourself”, combined with having to be your own PR and publicity team until you have a base who can take some of the latter work off of your hands. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’d dig someday just being known for writing silly shit like this. But I also worry, especially with this series, that I’m drifting into being the kind of insufferable twit who can’t let themselves try or enjoy anything without making it into “content”.

I confess I hate that term, “content”. It sounds like you’ve turned your work not into an article or a video or a podcast, but just some kind of grist from a mill, the end result of processing it into X amount of time, meant to be consumed and shat out, moved on from. I don’t imagine I’m going to make a lot of stuff early on that you need to revisit, or share around like it’s the hottest new comedy? But I need y’all to slap my hand if it turns out I get into a rut where I’m just writing to hit quotas on here or say “Look, I did a piece every day! I’m regular!”

Anyway! That got a little off-topic! I’ll be back in a week or two with my thoughts on one of the older gifts I haven’t opened, care of a good pal of mine, which definitely makes me feel a little ashamed he bought me this…

Oh fuck me, almost 5 years ago now. Wow. I am the most terrible friend sometimes.


I have some problems with anxiety.

That’s kind of an understatement, so let’s go back a bit. This document has been open between my phone and my PC for three days now as I mulled over the different ways to begin1. But what I’ve figured out from absolutely overthinking this piece and how to continue when I pulled it up is the most ass-backwards revelation I think I could have as an adult:

I’m a lot better at pulling my ass out of the fire than trying to avoid it.

Or, to sum up how this relates to writing specifically, I have a dramatically higher chance of getting a competent bit of work out of myself if I shit out an intro and then just keep going from there without stopping, but if I let myself hesitate or overanalyze the concept, I’m going to choke. It came to me when I realized that 99% of my job was just wild improv and figuring out how to make things happen, not trying to plan ahead for them. I’m excellent at cleaning up messes, my own or not, but I just get paralyzed if I try to take it slow and avoid trouble.

This whole thing hit me because I’ve been trying to exercise more, running on my lunch breaks and all. One day, as I’m on the loop back to the office, I see a coworker has texted me a photo: it’s me, looking like a rabid wolverine, mouth wide in a grin that she described as “child-eatingly pleased with myself”. Apparently when I’m on a jog I short-circuit the part of my brain that deals with looking professional2. While I’m decidedly not posting that photo here (yet?), I have kept it on the phone as a reminder that nah, sometimes being a dork is the best option for me, and a little awkwardness is okay in the long term.

Now, this isn’t to say that I should just go off half-cocked all the time. That’s what got me into a lot of horrible problems growing up, ruined multiple relationships, so on, so forth. But I’ve got to stop holding myself up on trying to make things perfect and just do something, there’s time to edit later3. Strangely, though, this has made me realize that this is a problem I’ve had much longer than I realized? When I started this, the idea was to talk about how I didn’t used to have anxiety, but some traumatic events set me down a path of being incredibly timid about the prospect of failure, etc, etc. Then a lot of things clicked when I was trying to find a file on my desktop.

File names removed mostly because some of this involves in-progress work for clients, or just things I’m ashamed to have visible which were quickly shunted into folders. The big thing here is just the amount of installers kicking around near the bottom: I have a lot of software I use where it downloads updates and then I don’t run them because I’m in the middle of something, and I’m worried the update will break something or change a feature I use, but then they pile up and the odds of a major change becomes more likely, and so… etc. Or the PDF books kicking around, some of which were Patreon rewards, or just free downloads, but I hate reading PDFs, so they sit around. Or Cheat Engine tables for particularly thorny games that I stalled out in the introductions of, so…

I could point to my relatively recent hobby of Gunpla4 model kits, which began with me buying one at fire sale prices and then failing to open it for an entire year. (This is still a problem in that my first Real Grade kit is now lying on my workbench behind me for the fourth month, where I stopped at the legs because the skeleton was such a jump up in complexity from prior projects.) Or how unless someone else presses me into trying the pilot of a series, I’m likely to sit on it for a while and just “go back later”. And as you’ve now all seen, lord knows I hesitate and flake on just writing a new piece, which I also confess has been hampered by making all sorts of excuses since it’s the first “real” content for this site.

At first it was wanting to start off with a bang, so that’s the extra-long one I took screenshots for and have half complete as I try to bridge the two parts. Then I started the outline of this one, but I also told myself “well, you can’t make the first post a depressing one, people are going to leave, so you need to finish something more entertaining at the same time!” But then that stalled out, and as you saw at the start… this one has been in the works for a bit now5.

So I guess here’s the plan: this exists, I’m going to finish writing about video games in the next day or two (it will be a piece with a lot more pictures and fun to it), see if I can’t hack together the tag hiding system I’ve been working at, and then start posting introductions to some of the different series of articles I’ve been working on, just to have those out and gauge interest. That sound good? Let’s run with that. Thank you for remaining here, and I’ll be back much sooner.

(PS: in the month since that screenshot was taken I’ve finished running all of the installers and cleaning up a lot of the loose files, reading some books, polishing off one of the aforementioned Cheat Engine titles, and just better organizing. Sometimes, shaming myself works! Hopefully this piece will be part of that.)