Greetings from the other side. (Or almost the other side; an infectious disease specialist I heard sometime last year pointed out that major respiratory epidemic/pandemics tend to last about three years, so–all else being equal–we still have a little ways to go before covid settles down into an endemic disease in most regions) I truly hope this update finds you well and definitely want to thank the people who’ve reached out briefly to say hi over the last two years. It’s nice to feel I’ve helped entertain you during these tumultuous times.
The tl;dr of this update: at this time I highly doubt I will be able to finish this whole project, documenting the full run of our campaign. 😔 My next-level goal would be to finish out the notes I had already started, but it’s hard for any writer to get themselves back into a headspace they’ve been outside of for so long, especially when it’s been so overrun by so much else in the meantime. But providing closure is also the responsibility of a writer, so as a minimum-viable-product I felt it would be nice to provide a quick update on where we’ve all landed over the last couple of years.
Because really, in spite of everything else, a lot of great things have happened for all of us.
The City, Not Long After
I thought a lot during the early days of the pandemic how much more appreciation I have for Tom’s personal experience, as I watched the city I had come to love wither away around me.
The 2020 quarantine itself wasn’t so bad, despite having to be holed up in a house with Jim. We had roommate board-game nights and BBQs in between our attempts at online work. Whenever our significant others visited our house suddenly became like a startup-incubator of remote workers scattered across the kitchen table and the couch. To get some space, and with everything closed, I often entertained myself with long walks through my neighborhoods. But as the summer progressed, I saw the temporary boards over some of my favorite shops and cafes become permanent as places I had known for over a decade suddenly disappeared. Many places survived, but still, the landscape of the city had changed, never to return to the one I had known.
In an ironic but powerful twist, though the apocalypse that Tom had (un)lived through–the HIV/AIDS pandemic–also stripped the city of so much which was important to it, it was that very experience which shaped how we all responded to the covid crisis now, almost three decades later. Community health efforts which were created out of grass-roots desperation by LGBTQ+ activists in the 1980s and 90s when no government forces were willing to intervene were eventually adopted by public health organizations as modern-day best-practices for epidemics. Most importantly, these activists directly persuaded NIAID director Dr. Fauci–yes, THAT same NIAID director Dr. Fauci–to join their cause in advocating a government response to the HIV/AIDS crisis and allowing for broader patient access to experimental drug trials. So called “compassionate care” drug trials are now a standard practice across the medical research industry and have been instrumental in the rapid development of covid treatments.
In other words: Tom is not real, but he was inspired by people who were, and their experiences–their injustices, their sacrifices, their griefs, and their loves–are now a part of all our shared cultural ancestry. This June Pride Month, I invite you to learn more about them. One good place to start is this excellent short documentary by UCSF based on interviews with local survivors of the time and gives a good introduction to the personal and medical professional experiences of the Plague Years, and their lasting impact (and for once, definitely do read the comments).
Where Are They Now?
As I mentioned in a previous update, we had finished the run of VofSF well before covid hit. Our lives had already started to shift into new directions, though, with just a few highlights summarized as follows:
Kara and Chris got married. It was a lovely ceremony in an open-space park down-peninsula with views of the mountains and Pacific Ocean, and their vows were exchanged via PowerPoint slides. I am not kidding. Also their wedding cake was shaped like Captain Picard riding a dragon. They now have two young children they are absolutely over the moon about, but despite the best lobbying of the rest of us, neither of them are named Paul or Georgia.
Jason continues to be the one of the best GMs any of us have ever had, though with our lives getting busier it became harder and harder to work in regular traditional RPG campaigns. He, Jim, and I have gotten more into one-off board games and frequently get together to play our favorite, Eldrich Horror. During quarantine, we even tried playing it online a few times though BoardGameSimulator. Though this is possible to do using a normal computer like normal people do, at one point Jim used it as an opportunity to try out his new Valve Index to VR it instead. While Jason and I discussed the scenarios and strategy for the game, Jim struggled more and more to get control over his headset and glove controls, until finally he managed to accidentally literally flip the entire digital game table, spilling all the many dozens of cards and pieces–which Jason had spent the last meticulous twenty minutes setting up–out into the digital void. Jason has never let him live that down. Jason has also had some opportunities to scratch his historian itch with international travel, especially in Europe, and has been able to visit first-hand many locations important to both our and other Vampire games of his.
Jim continues to have irrationally-poor dice rolls. Currently he is in a pirate-themed D&D campaign with myself and some other friends–many of whom are not familiar with the details of our Vampire campaign–and they have independently observed this effect. And most of them are scientists, so the data is very convincing. In the last couple years he moved on to a new job as the lead mobile developer for Brilliant. Yes, that Brilliant, the one who sponsors all the educational YouTube channels. Brilliant is an outstanding educational service, I’ve used their curriculum in my classroom and for myself, so if you haven’t checked them out yet I highly recommend you do so, especially since every time you encounter a bug on their mobile interface you can now mutter, “Goddammit, Jim….” under your breath.
edit: Jim also reminds me that Jason is running an online D&D campaign in which he, Cameron, and some other people are in. Jim plays a Modron named Qubit which, from how it’s been described to me, is kinda like: “Imagine Georgia Less Bloodthirsty But Also a Mechanical Box With Legs.” Jim will concoct elaborate plans for the game based around entire, single puns, just to hear Jason scream in rage.
And all is right with the world.
Where One Chapter Ends, Another Begins
As for me, the last few years…have been a lot. Starting in 2018 I was already moving away from updates here because I was dumping more and more effort into my professional career as a high school teacher, having become department chair and a major professional development leader at my school. The beginning of 2020 got shaken up when it was announced that our all-boys school was going to become co-ed for the first time in its history starting the following year, so in February of 2020 I began steeling myself for what I thought would be the major challenge of the year, helping shepherd greater inclusivity into our school.
Then…the world stopped.
It happened fast. One Friday afternoon in early March, we wished our students a nice weekend and all went home. Over the weekend, an announcement came out that a student on the basketball team had tested positive for covid, the tournament championship game was cancelled, and the school would be closed on Monday “for cleaning.” I read that email with grim acceptance, and when a followup came out the next day saying that more positive cases had been identified and school would now be closed for the week, I wasn’t surprised at all.
Teachers were allowed back on campus at one point that week to grab books or other things we needed, and when some department members swung by my room to ask how much they should take, I told them, “Everything.”
One teacher’s face dropped and she asked why, since we were supposed to be back next Monday.
I looked her in the eye and said simply, “…It’s really bad.”
I left my classroom that day feeling like the fall of Saigon, leaving stacks of assignments I would never grade and lesson plans on the board I would never do. Then on Friday of that week, one week after our last normal day of school, the entire city shut down.
The end of that school year stumbled to a gradual halt. We did completely asynchronous classes for the last few months, and I don’t know how much my students learned but I learned A LOT about video production, iMovie, YouTube, collaborative document structures, Zoom, and of course immunology and virology. I changed my genetics unit completely to focus on how viruses work. If you’re interested in what this all looked like, conveniently enough all my educational videos from that time are still posted on YouTube, you’re welcome to check them out. I breathed a sigh of relief when the school year ended formally, hoping for a summer to recover and recharge.
But then, in the middle of quarantine, Jim announced he wanted to move out, to live with his girlfriend. Immediately after that our other roommate at the time said she ALSO was planning on moving out soon to live with HER girlfriend. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to find two new people to replace them in the middle of a pandemic, and even with falling rents I still wasn’t able to afford a place by myself, so under a deep fog of grief, I did the one thing that Tom was never able to do.
I moved out of the city of San Francisco.
Fortunately, where I moved was in with my boyfriend in his childhood home just ten minutes down-peninsula, and living with him has definitely been the right decision. It probably would have happened anyway, covid just accelerated it. But still, it was a long process coming to terms with leaving my old life behind, during a time when the whole world seemed to be doing the same.
For the 2020/2021 school year, our school was entirely online until vaccines started rolling out. And man, as much as I struggled with posting videos all the time for asynchronous learning, “Zoom-school” was the absolute worst time of my professional career. The way I describe it is: “Imagine you have a failing stand-up act, but you have to give a full hour of it. Not only that you have to do it four times a day, every day, for months on end.” It was months and months of shouting into the void, trying desperately to get my students to understand science during the most important time for humans to understand science in our history, only to get black screens, silence, and, “….Wait, what was the question?” in return. (“The question is on the screen, you guys. It is literally shared. From my desktop. And is on your screen!!!“)
This would have been a good time to get caught up on Vampire, but at the end of the day I wanted to be as far away from screens as possible. Thus, rather than turning to writing to get me through, I found tangible activities like walks and crafts. My favorite craft I took up from scratch was embroidery, since I found the tangible nature of it grounding and meditative. I was able to take classes online through the SF School of Needlework and Design and I got so passionate about it I even developed an educational microbiology embroidery project for my AP Bio class, which I am still using as standard curriculum to this day.
Anyway. I still go to the city; obviously every day for work, but also to continue to visit old favorite haunts and find new ones. It hurts a little, since it still feels like home to me, but the city is a phoenix, continually dying and being reborn into something new. It’s only fair I accept its lessons and do the same.
And I can’t help but notice that changing, dying, and regrowing are the nature of life, and exactly the opposite of what vampires stand for.
I’ll be honest, I’ve felt grinding low-key shame for years for not keeping up with finishing the project, since I was raised to basically never quit anything. But recently I considered why it became harder and harder to bring myself to put in the work. Obviously conflicting interests as I outlined above were a key factor, but honestly? It’s because all the good stuff is already out there.
Yes, the story continued to a conclusion, but the end of the story isn’t what we reminisce about. We talk about Kara putting the colander on her head, or Chris rolling in with a jaw-dropping counter attack for the Flyting. We talk about Jason’s never ending well of eccentricities for Dr. VonNatsi, and Jim’s ridiculous plots and snappy comebacks. Those are the things that made me happy to write because I was so excited to share them with you, the readers. The ending was fine, Jason did excellent work wrapping up this massive, multiyear project. But its those early years which I hold nearest and dearest to my heart to this day.
I am eternally grateful for this experience. And I don’t mean just writing this blog, the two million+ words of which really helped refine my storytelling and writing in ways which has directly influenced my work as an educator. For years, this game was a keystone of our lives as we flailed around through our 30s. As much as we constantly wanted to kill each other in-game, out of game we gave each other advice on jobs and our lives each week over dinner. Chris and Kara got to know each other better through it. Jim and Kara got the rest of us to attend DragonCon for the first time. And it was at a Vampire session one evening years ago, when I was lamenting the downward spiral of my corporate career and inability to get any other job offers, that Jason first suggested I try applying to high schools instead. That alone has been the single-most influential decision of my entire life, and it all traces back to one night in 2013 when the five of us were at a party and a mutual friend suggested we all start a tabletop group together.
So thank you for taking the time to enjoy even a little bit of this journey with us. It’s an unusual snapshot of a beautiful time, and when you take the time to read it, it lives again.
Other Resources and General Announcements
- Some have probably noticed I shut down the Patreon a while ago. Thank you anyone who donated! The little extra cash helped pay for the ad-free hosting here. I intend to continue paying for it myself, though, cause I hate ads, and having lots more extra cash is one of the benefits of having moved out of the city, since my rent is now literally half what it was.
- If you feel inclined to donate money, please donate to worthy causes in your own communities, or to HIV/AIDS organizations, or to help Ukraine, or to groups which promote science literacy and education, or what have you!
- If you’re missing that snarky vampire energy, if you have not yet done so, drop whatever you are doing and figure out how to get your hands on What We Do In the Shadows (TV). The movie is excellent as well, but I feel the TV show really encapsulates the general shenanigans that actually erupt in a Vampire campaign.
- If you’re missing the gay-undertone-except-its-really-more-overtone-now pirate energy of Anstis and Flowers, I also highly highly recommend you check out Our Flag Means Death. I literally required our entire pirate D&D campaign to watch it before our next session.
- If you like other table-top games, remember I wrote and published an entire genetic-engineering-biopunk-future module for the Fate system, The Crisp Line. It’s pay-what-you-want so you can download it for free just to check it out. I don’t get any money from the direct downloads but I do recommend you chip in a few bucks to help support the publisher, Evil Hat Games, cause they’re really cool people and maybe they’ll want me to do more in the future.
- Although we always avoided it within our game, if you–like most people–enjoy “crossing the streams” with your vampire fiction, my writer friend Raven Belasco writes vampire-librarian-themed erotica in her Blood and Ancient Scrolls series, available on Kindle. Her work is really fun, so if it seems like something you’d be interested in I definitely recommend checking it out!