On To the Next Adventure

my very patient priest

Ten years ago when I first started filming Ask Lovecraft, I briefly recruited Rachel to do camera work which she very graciously did for the first few episodes until my fussy artistic nature and burdensome filming schedule proved incompatible with her lifestyle of having a real job. Over the decade since she has been a stalwart and patient support without which this show would not have been possible. I have had a lot of creative projects and endeavours over the years but this by far surpasses all of them in scale and that’s due to having Rachel’s encouragement at every step. With regular production of the show ending, it was only fitting to bring her back to film the finale. I am beyond grateful for all she has done and so excited for what comes next.

For now you can find her wisdom over on tiktok.

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Saying Goodbye

Mike Griffin captured a touching moment between old friends

In June of 2012, I awkwardly stood in front of a bed sheet with a flip-cam and filmed the first episode of Ask Lovecraft, a project born out of the success of a stage play I had performed in called Monstrous Invisible by Stephen Near and a subsequent guest spot on a now-defunct media review show by my friend Darla Burrow. In nearly ten years, Ask Lovecraft has brought me into contact with an entire world of authors, artists, filmmakers, game designers, and fabricators of the weird and fanciful while unlocking doors I didn’t even know were there. I’ve performed in Portland, Providence, San Pedro, Santa Fe, and even Guelph. I’ve met heroes and been humbled by opportunities I never envisioned.

And now I’m looking to pack up the suit in the closet, fold up the tripod, and let what has been a decade-long labour of love finally rest come this June. For a while, I darkly joked about doing this project until I was 46, the same age Lovecraft died but that mostly would have been a joke for one so instead I settled on the even decade. It’s neat and clean and requires little explanation for most.

For those unsatisfied by that reason, allow me to offer a few more. Ever since adding a second child to parent full time and getting involved in local politics, I became keenly aware that my energy and focus was limited. In September of 2019, I went from my mind-boggling three episodes a week schedule down to the more manageable one which allowed me to keep things spinning for another three years. Another reasons was finding the limits of my niche. This project has always been something of a boutique situation that inspires remarkable devotion among a few but never spilled out onto the larger scene. Adding Patreon allowed me to justify the time and costs the show took and I’ve appreciated the voluntary subscriptions but the cost-return balance has shifted with time and frankly, to keep charging folks, I feel I would need to provide more than they currently receive and I’d rather free up those dollars to go to other artists and creators.

As something of an eldritch sign of where things might go, over the last few weeks and well past when I made this decision, I began to garner a lot of attention over on TikTok with my tales of strange Ohio lore known as Always Has Been. I have no idea what this might turn into or where it will go but it’s been quite the exciting ride and I’m very curious.

This has been a remarkable decade and I can never adequately convey the gratitude I have for everyone who was watched, shared, donated, or sent a kind word. The show isn’t going completely dark. I hope to provide the same weekly delights up until our finale in June and then after that, I imagine there will still be occasional interviews, special episodes, and taped live shows to share. Please feel free to follow me on twitter or keep up to date with my website.

Thank you all again. I am beyond grateful for the support you have given to me and my family over the years. I’m excited for what’s next.

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What Gaming Has Taught Me About Being Mayor

I became mayor of a village in rural Ohio for the same reason I’ve often wound up a game master: no-one else showed interest in the job. Now the specifics, as always, are more nuanced than that but broadly speaking that’s what went down. Like many GMs I’ve had, the previous mayor decided they had put in their time and were ready to do something else but in keeping with the best of GMs, they encouraged others around them to step in and I was fortunate enough to receive her mentorship and encouragement. I was also fortunate to have been encouraged to get involved in other aspects of municipal governing, starting on the Planning & Zoning Commission before getting elected to Village Council. This way I had some experience with the mechanics and saw her example of doing the job so when it was my turn to take the hot seat, It wasn’t like the time I was 8 and tried to teach myself how to play my brothers’ Star Frontiers game with no assistance.

The months leading up to actually becoming mayor can be like the fervent excitement GMs put into planning their campaigns. They think about all the possibilities and just what they want to see and do. Then the job actually begins and much of that planning goes right out the window. Month by month and week by week, so much of what happens is based on what happened previously and the contradictory ways that government can both be slow and methodical or change suddenly and without warning and there is a sense of dancing on ball bearings to make sure everything goes smoothly and doesn’t fall to pieces. Villagers and council members resemble D&D players in that they all have their own agendas and interests and while they might be happy that you are there to do your job, they’re not particularly invested in what you have planned and want to play the game they want to play. Luckily, much of the disconnect or frustration can be mitigated by maintaining steady communication and managing expectations all around.

Sessions of council are where the practical skills of a GM really come to light. So much of my job is to manage this specific chunk of time and make sure that everything moves at a decent pace while ensuring that the folks around the table are able to do what they want to do without it proving a detriment to others. If you’re talking too much, chances are that folks are not going to be invested in what’s happening. Time management, encouraging folks to speak up, politely redirecting folks who might be dominating conversation, all of these skills and more are key to running both a good game and maintaining an orderly democratic process.

Should every game master get into politics? Based on my experience, that’s a definite no but I do think there is something to encouraging folks who are interested in politics to find places where they can practice the skills they will need to serve the public and manage others and you can do worse than have some experience wrangling paladins and necromancers.

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Episode 86: Kenyon Geekiness

On this week’s episode, we look back to how our college years formed our geeky credentials.

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Episode 85: Happy Endings

This week, Mother Rachel and Mayor Leeman talk about all the shows that have ended since the last time we podcasted and we talk about what makes for a good ending.

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Episode 84: Triumphant Return

Mother Rachel and Mayor Leeman are back in a new format! Instead of using this period of isolation to improve ourselves, we are instead regressing! Our hope is to have new live videos every Monday at 1.30 Eastern so join us as we discuss pop culture and its theological significance!

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Episode 83: The Good Place

Martin is the original Jeremy Bearimy

Holy forking shirtballs, we’re back y’all to talk about the finale for season 3 of The Good Place

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, Outlander, Good Omens

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s If I Were an Undead Crawler

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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The Doom That Came to Santa Fe

It’s not every day that, as an adult, I get to impress my younger self. Last week certainly made up the difference. For those who are unaware, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe which is owned by George RR Martin, author of the fantastic Tuf Voyaging and also some books about wolves, invited me out to perform my Ask Lovecraft routine on their stage. This was one of those out-of-the-blue opportunities that I simply couldn’t in good conscience refuse and so after a bit of babysitter-wrangling, I found myself out in the Land of Enchantment, living up to the state’s sobriquet.

I’ve been performing as HP Lovecraft for seven years now and am in the fifth year of Ask Lovecraft and as with any long-term creative endeavour, questions arise as to just how long I want to keep at it and where do I see it going. Folks who have been watching this spot will know that I’ve hit certain milestones that make me pause and look back on the show with a touch of introspection. Going to my first NecronomiCon in Providence, followed by my attendance at the CthulhuCon in Portland were certainly powerful moments as was getting the opportunity to do my schtick at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro. These and other opportunities to take my show before a crowd have been immensely humbling and rewarding but there was something unique about this particular adventure to Santa Fe.

This was my first time commanding a theatre by myself, not as part of a larger convention or festival but just me on my lonesome, standing or falling by own bizarre appeal. Now, I was not alone in this endeavour. My hosts at the Jean Cocteau were absolutely astounding and generous with their time and support. They organized an interview with local radio host, Richard Eeds, The Voice of Santa Fe who allowed me to babble mostly coherently about my show and my background. I was also taken out to Meow Wolf, an artistic… experience? that proved to be well worth the trip itself.

The shows themselves were breathtakingly fun. I never know if I’m going to get a crowd, let alone what sort of audience they are going to be. I’ve performed before die-hard Lovecraft fans with encyclopedic knowledge of his oeuvre, bored German tourists, and confused Anglican women’s auxiliary group attendees. Making sure to have a few ringers in the crowd in case things went south, I was still sweating bullets until fifteen minutes before my first show but it proved to be unwarranted as the folks who came out were warm, lively, willing to engage, and only mildly sauced by the cinema’s excellent bar staff. They were an incredibly delightful crowd made up of friends and complete strangers curious to hear what the reanimated corpse of HP Lovecraft had to say about his life, the world, and art.

Finally, there was my opportunity to perform for Mr. Martin himself which proved an immeasurable delight. I’ve been reading his books since my brothers grabbed a copy of the aforementioned Tuf Voyaging and I have fond memories of making my way through A Song of Ice and Fire while studying in London. His Livejournal was even a part of my regular internet experience back in the heady pre-facebook days. So I was very fortunate to have met Mr. Martin as a fan over a decade ago in Nashville when Feast For Crows came out and I could pester him with questions about whether Tyrion and Miles Vorkosigan were modeled on the same person. It made getting to interact with him as a professional colleague quite a bit easier. The fact that there were fans of my own who had driven in from Albuquerque or elsewhere also helped dilute the fan-talent divide that can sometimes make casual conversation a touch awkward.


All in all, this was an absolutely wonderful and career-defining moment for me. If putting on Lovecraft’s flesh-mask doesn’t earn me a more visibly rewarding moment than this one, it will have been worth it. I’m still holding out for the ultimate goal of hosting late night monster movies on SyFy but all in all, this was a really special week and I am so grateful to everyone for making it a possibility. Thanks to David and the Jean Cocteau for bringing me out, to Margaret for generous use of frequent flyer miles, to the Schumachers and Griggses for allowing me to hijack their vacation, to Linda for these beautiful photos, to Billiam for letting me bend time and space, and especially to Mr. Martin for being the most generous host I could ever ask for and allowing me to caper madly before him, I know, I know, oh oh oh!

 

-Leeman Kessler

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We Rebel – A Review of Star Wars Rebellion

The holidays came and went and in their jingled wake, new board games have floated ashore and one I highly anticipated was Fantasy Flight’s game of galactic cat and cosmic mouse, Star Wars Rebellion. This game caused much salivation but its price and its sheer size meant that I could not justify adding it to my growing shelf of games. Luckily, the Good Lord in His wisdom and magnanimous nature saw fit to grant us older brothers who, sensing our need, reached out and provided what we could not provide for ourselves.

Needless to say, it was a merry Christmas.

Having cracked open the game now and played it once by myself using this handy website, and once and a half with one of my dad friends (pictured above) I can give it a qualified thumbs up.

The game is devised for two players although it’s designed to be able to handle three or four by dividing up the Rebels and Empire into teams with each player getting specific duties which felt… busy. At heart it feels like and works well as a two-player game although I am not above trying it with more people.

Set up is a bit of a chore but there is a basic set up that works pretty well for quickly getting all the pieces on the board with a more complicated version for when you want to try playing with different starting systems and military force arrangements. The best part of setting up is definitely placing the Death Star on its little stand and plopping it down on the board to really set the tone for the whole affair. Also, if you have access to a Star Wars soundtrack, I do recommend cuing it up. For some reason, my wife had The Attack of the Clones on hand and that worked really well because most of the music is forgettable and non-distracting but still feel Star Wars-y

Then you get to it. It’s a Risk style game of moving armies around and trying to conquer systems but there are many quirks. First, the Empire has one objective: Find the Rebel Base and dispatch any Rebel forces there. That’s it. The Death Star can blow, Darth Vader can be frozen in carbonite, and the whole galaxy can be on fire but if they manage to find and crush that base, they win. The Rebels play a very different game. They have a victory points tracker which ticks down towards the turn marker and if every the twain shall meet, they win. So their job is to hide the Rebel Base long enough to run out the clock while fulfilling various missions and quests that make the clock run faster. If you’ve played Fury of Dracula, you might have decent idea how the asymmetric gameplay feels. These uneven victory requirements really flavour the game and make it incredibly stressful in very different ways. The Empire is running around both trying to send its massive fleets to hunt Rebels while also needing to be able to thwart their nefarious do-goodery while the Rebels have to decide between hunkering the Rebel Base down and preparing for an inevitable show down or keeping it in perpetual movement.

The system control mechanic is really fascinating. Systems not only give you places to fortify and launch attacks from but they give you troops and ships if you can keep them loyal and this building and maintaining loyalty really becomes a fun puzzle for the rest of the game. The Empire can still get some materiel by just occupying with troops but the real gains come from actually building up loyalty, which can be accomplished if needed by Death Starring a planet into space dust. Needless to say, it is very gratifying.

Perhaps the real defining mechanic of the game is the use of Leaders. It essentially grafts a worker placement game onto a war game. To move fleets, carry out missions, or thwart the other side, you need to plop Skywalker and Palpatine and Bobba Fett down on the board and put them in harm’s way. This is where the heart of the game’s strategy lies. At the start of a round, both players simultaneously secretly assign leaders to missions and leave the rest in reserve. This can be frustrating because you can’t change mission cards later on during the actual round when you might want to respond to crises as they play out. It also means you can try to chain missions only to have them fall flat. This can happen with the Empire’s Capture mission which unlocks other missions like Interrogate or Freeze in Carbonite. The stress comes from trying to figure out if it’s worth it to lock in a leader for the whole rest of the round or if it makes more sense to hold on to them to try to stop the other side from carrying out their missions.

Moving the fleets is a different stress. To move the fleet, you plop a leader down in the system you want ships to go to and then you move the ships from any adjacent systems like iron filings sliding towards a magnet. What can really jam things up is that you cannot move fleets from a system that *already* has a leader even if the leader hadn’t moved any fleets prior. So if the Empire sends Palpatine to carry out its Espionage mission into the heart of the Rebel fleet and the Rebels send out Obi-Wan to stop him, the Rebels can’t move the fleet because now, presumably, they are too busy entertaining General Kenobi. The rule makes sense as a way to keep the Empire from darting its fleet around with leader after leader like a sinister game of leap frog, but it can feel a little arbitrary at times.

Of course, the worst part about moving fleets is that they might do what they are meant for and get into combat and if there is one place where this game absolutely drags it is combat. If you were like me and played a lot of the Total War games, you might have had lots of fun scheming and politicking and then as soon as you got into a real fight, clicked Auto-Resolve so hard, your mouse cracked a little. That’s the same feeling I get when I engage in combat. It’s a bizarre mini-game with a lot of finicky, non-intuitive rules and sub-rules and when I say it slows things down, I am not joking. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to use the actual game board to lay out the pieces for the fight and there are so many different types of ships, vehicles, and soldiers that you need to be able to see them to know how to take them out so we will often move the pieces to the box top or some other flat surface to help show damage and remaining force sizes. In our last game, combat also presented us with a moment that almost made the Rebel player flip the board.

The Rebels had been building up their Rebel Base for a while and were trying to keep the Imperial fleet split up enough while drawing a remnant into a trap. The trap sprung but the combat wound up being a disaster for the Rebels and they lost the game all because of one rule: You can only roll five dice at a time. You see, the Rebel player had tons of troops in his base but he could only ever use so many at a time and while the Empire had the same limitations, the Imperial forces are just that much stronger and have more hit points that the limit benefits them more. The combat was still close but really, given the force size difference, it shouldn’t have been.

However, after discussing the game and going over all the frustrations, within about ten minutes we were eager to play again and I think that says something that is very Star Wars. You see, none of the movies are perfect and indeed, they all have gaping plot holes. plodding acting choices, and cheesy effects. However, their is something about any given film as a whole that makes you overlook those flaws so that a Force Awakens feels like a better movie than a Phantom Menace even if you could put both movies side by side and show how they share many similar weaknesses. This game is like that. Yes, there are problems. Yes, there are frustrations. I still enjoy it and still want to get back in there and that, I feel, is the hallmark of a great game.

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Episode 82: Ghostbustin’ Lady Chains

We saw Ghostbusters and whoo boy do we have some thoughts!

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Does Leeman play too many videogames? Mario Teaches Typing, Joel McHale on the TV, Ghostbusters (2016), Bridesmaids, Airplane! Sisters, Intersectionality episode, Ernie Hudson, Dr Who, and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s If I Were an Undead Crawler

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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