Thursday, December 23, 2021

'Twas the Night Before Wintersend... (A Visit from Ashe'bellanar...)

A visit from Flemeth for the holidays
Just a silly little confection, hug, and thank you to you Dragon Age friends who have made my life so rich and meaningful, especially in one of the toughest years of my life (and, I know, so many of our lives).

It's goofy, but I hope you enjoy...

Note 1: I have been schooled that I should have used Satinalia, not Wintersend here, but I still think "Wintersend" sounds better. Oops! Oh well.)

Note 2: I've broken up the poem thematically if clunkily, so it's easier to read—it's just meant to be a fun exercise so I'm totally not keeping things formal, here...

A Visit from Ashe'bellanar (The Night Before Wintersend)

'Twas the night before Wintersend, and all through the Keep

Not a creature was stirring, all Skyhold asleep!

A stillness and silence filled all Herald's Rest

While up in the Rookery ravens did nest

Both mages and templars were snug in their beds,

As gingerbread Fade spirits danced in their heads

Meanwhile, up in my quarters, in halla PJ's

I'd just gone to bed for the first time in days,

When out on the steps there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my Free Marches bed -- "What's the matter?"

Then I ran to my balcony quick as a dance

Just hoping that I wouldn't see Corypants

The moon on the battlements shone with a glow

Gave the luster of Veil-Fire to objects below

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a dragon and sleigh, it was actually here!

As it circled, it changed, and then oh, Maker's Breath,

I knew in a heartbeat that this was Flemeth! 

More regal than gods with her Hair Horns of Awesome

Her armor with touches of Arlathan blossom

"Now, Solas, now Seeker, now Varric," she called

"Now up, Iron Bull, Sera, Vivienne and Blackwall!

Get you up Leliana, and Josie, and Cullen

I bring Wintersend cheer, so you'd best not look sullen!

Up, Inky and Cole, and up, Dorian, boo!

And oh come all ye Chargers, and Maryden, too!

Sutherland and Scout Jim, come away from your stalking

I've got trinkets galore, so you better get walking!

But I won't wait forever, I've got things to do!

I just thought that I'd stop with a present or two.

So come down now to greet me or off I will fly!"

And so downstairs we tumbled, with our hair all awry.

And there in the courtyard, she stood with her sleigh

And eight tiny halla, already munching some hay

With a big bag of presents, at least twelve feet tall

She handed them round to us, Chargers and all!

There were goodies and treats and delectable things

And funny gifts too, like small toy nugs with wings

There was cocoa for Bull, and a dragon-tooth pile

That was perfect for weapons or one kadan's smile

There were kittens for Cole and a hat even wider

Plus a fine quill for Varric and a barrel of cider

A beard kit made Blackwall give Flemeth a blush

As he'd never seen anything nearly as plush

Fine thieves' tools gave Sera new chances for mayhem

And a fresh deck of cards tempting those that would play them

A new Swords and Shields to thrill Cass with each word

Plus new lute strings for Maryden's unsecret chord.

For Dorian, some fine ancient tomes of enchantment

To inspire him to further magical advancement

There were new paints for Solas in colors divine

And glasses just perfect for sweet elven wine

There were bangles and lutestrings and slippers for Leli

And tea cakes for Josie with Antivan jelly

There were potions for Inky and salve for the Mark

And an elfroot bouquet for when times got too dark

Then for Cullen a how-to on quick roof repair

And a silverite brooch for one Madame de Fer

For Lace Harding some beautiful blooms to bemuse

And bright armor for Sutherland's personal use

For gruff Cabot some barrels of Orlesian mead

While new runes gave Dagna the magic she'd need

There were new raven cages for Plucky's elites

New blankets for Schmooples and dracolisk treats

Plus a barrel of mint to make cats play with zeal

And cheese to give mice a more sumptuous meal

The bag it was endless and obviously magical 

Filled with fine gifts and not one of them tragical

For Skyhold's found family it was a delight

Filled with comfort and joy (and no plaidweave in sight!)

And then giving a nod and a wink from her eye

Flemeth leaped to the sleigh and then took to the sky

The Skyholders all cheered as the Witch took a lap

Round the battlements high where the brave banners flap

Observed Dorian, "The magisters had up their sleeves

Rare spells such as Flemeth has shown us this eve."

Yet as the sleigh vanished ('twas just before twelve, then)

She called back, "It is not Tevinter, but elven."

So let us heed Flemeth's wise seasonal call

And cry, "Happy Wintersend!" and ar lath ma to you all!

Saturday, December 4, 2021

BioWare Friends Answer our Silliest Questions (2021 Dragon Age Day Edition)!

Happy Dragon Age Day 2021! 

Every year, I send over a bunch of "Silly Questions" to BioWare peeps, and every year, instead of ignoring me, a bunch of them have been kind enough to respond. This year, they responded in one giant Q&A, and it's so full of BioWare and Dragon Age goodness that you'll just have to read it yourself to fully appreciate its magnificence.

And thank you so much to BioWare, and to Patrick, Karin, Sheryl, Luke, Cameron, Ryan, Mary, Sylvia, John E., John D., and all for taking part!

Here goes...

You are transformed into an animal in Thedas. Which creature or animal NPC across the Dragon Age world (books or games) would you choose?

Patrick Weekes: "I would choose a dragon. I would actually end up a bogfisher."

Karin Weekes: "An Avvar war nug, which is obviously major life goals. (Thank you, Luke!)"

Sheryl Chee: "Baron Plucky, one of Leliana's ravens."

Which tavern would you prefer, the Hanged Man or the Herald’s Rest?

Patrick: "Herald's Rest, because of the singing."

Sheryl: "Hanged Man, because I'd be afraid to look under the tables."

Which Dragon Age character is your favorite and why? (Not one you wrote!)

Cameron: "Sister Petrice in Dragon Age 2. I admire her unapologetic bluntness, her absolute focus on her goals, her politicking and scheming--all without being sexualized or denigrated as a woman. We don't have nearly enough female characters like that in pop culture. I want a whole series about her; I would play it forever."

Which Fade spirit would you like to meet, and why?

Karin: "A spirit of Wisdom, because I need all the help I can get."

Which demon scares you the most and why?

Patrick: "Pride -- only not pride like a conqueror or a tyrant. The specific feeling of pride one gets in needing to show off how clever one is. A demon of Cleverness, maybe. That's the demon that would 100% get me. When your favorite Batman villain is the Riddler, you have to accept some things about yourself."

Who’s your favorite NPC across Dragon Age—the person with a small part but a big impact?

Luke Kristjanson: "Sutherland and his company from Inquisition. He and his little group were just a side thing for me and the Level Designer for Skyhold, a little piece of extra content, but we loved them so much. We were very protective of them, and building their arc was end-of-day fun. Sutherland’s a plucky guy assembling essentially a Level One D&D party to adventure and help where he can, and his table missions are full of little nods to classic adventure modules. I borrowed the name Sutherland from a college friend with the same infectious optimism. I had to include his company in Tevinter Nights, because I want their story to go on."

Which Dragon Age character is your strangest or most embarrassing crush?

Patrick: "Merrill. I have a type."

What’s your favorite musical?

Patrick: "OKAY, SO. For sheer musical bravado, it's Les Miz, but in terms of the one I watch and rewatch, it's Into the Woods, which I watched daily on VHS as a teenager. (Sondheim recently passed away, and someone described his style as "Beloved but not popular because he was often too clever for people to appreciate," and once again, my favorite Batman villain is the Riddler, sorry, it's me, the one who goes in hard for the nerds.)"

Karin: "I cannot narrow it down to even a short list, but the one I probably know the most songs and lyrics from by heart is The Sound of Music."

Casting Challenge: Muppets as Dragon Age characters. Go!

Patrick: "Cassandra is Miss Piggy, Leliana is Gonzo's chicken (Camilla?), Cullen is Fozzie, Sera is Janice, Dorian is an impeccably dressed Dr. Teeth, Cole is Gonzo, Vivienne is... oh, no, I'm running out of female Muppets. Anyway, the Iron Bull is Cookie Monster."

What’s your favorite line of dialogue in the Dragon Age world?

Karin: "We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss. Watch for that moment... and when it comes, do not hesitate to leap. It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly." - Flemeth

What’s your favorite Dragon Age romance moment?

Patrick: "As a player, I burst out laughing when the third dagger came out of SOMEWHERE in the love scene with Isabela."

Karin: "When Cassandra, Cullen, and Josephine walk in on The Iron Bull and the Inquisitor. The clipboard placement was exquisite".

Sheryl: When Alistair--SPOILERS--gets himself killed to save the Hero of Ferelden, even when she dumped him.

Which of your talents is the best or funniest?

Patrick: "I do a pretty good Kermit the Frog impersonation, and a not-bad-at-all Wookie!"

What’s the worst thing you ever did in Thedas?

Patrick: "As a designer, I believe I am on the record as regretting making 'You accidentally got your Dalish clan killed,' a series of war-table operations. As a player, it was when I accidentally got Leliana's approval too high in DA:O too quickly, and I bypassed the chance to opt into a romance, so in order to get her approval lower so that the dialogue hub with the romance option would appear, I had to start insulting her. We were soulmates, and then I had to start calling her a liar and a murderer so that she'd get angry enough that I could start dating again."

Cameron: "Selling Fenris back into slavery because I needed the gold for a better sword is bad, right?"

You can go out carousing for a night in Thedas. Who goes with you?

Patrick: "Sera, Dorian, Bull. Team YOLO all the way."

Karin: "Ladies' Night with Wynn, Flemeth, Isabela, Aveline, Harding, Shale, and Dorian."

Sylvia Feketekuty: "Definitely Leliana and Josephine! I feel there'd be some escapades, but they'd make sure I got home in one piece. I really liked developing their relatonship with Sheryl Chee, and it'd be fun to sample the cocktails of Thedas with them."

What’s your favorite beverage? Favorite cocktail, for those who partake?

Patrick: "Grande nonfat no-whip hot chocolate with four pumps of cinnamon dolce."

Cameron: "Scotch, neat, and the peatier, the better. I want to taste the sea and the bog and the smoke in my drink."

Sheryl: "Tea. I don't drink water. I drink tea. When I do drink water, it's warm or hot, to better approximate tea."

What Dragon Age question, conundrum, or puzzle is your favorite?

Luke: "Indirectly, the Quizquisition, the weirdo who haunts Skyhold and waylays you with trivia. It was the product of one tired day in the cafeteria, and a Faustian bargain with the Art Lead. In exchange for me adding the Quizquisition, he promised he would get us nuggalopes. So I created Lord Trifles Minutiae and his randomly rotating questions, and little did I know that 'nuggalope' would become 'war nug' and fully fledged mounts. Best deal I ever made."

Patrick: "I really like the choice about making Cole more Spirit or more Human, because it doesn't feel like there's one choice that's clearly good and one that's clearly evil. It's a choice I see people disagreeing about even when they agree on a lot of other things, and I like that a lot."

Sylvia: "The Quizquisition! (That was Luke Kristjanson's. Lord Trifles Minutiae is a fun weirdo.)"

What music was/is on your personal Dragon Age playlist?

Karin: "I can't edit to music with lyrics, so I listen to things like John Williams pieces; soundtracks like Pirates of the Carribean, Hunt for Red October, and Rob Roy; Celtic instrumental music; Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite; and sometimes choral pieces written in languages I can't understand, a la Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil."

What’s your favorite non-BioWare video game?

Luke: "Borderlands 2 is a real sweet spot that consumed hundreds of hours. OneShot hit me like a freight train. Just so perfect. But I suppose I have to say the Fallout series pulls me in more than most. There’s something about the melancholy of the setting that I love."

Sylvia: "I've said it before, but System Shock 2 made a huge impression on me and is still one of my favorites. I replay it every few years or so."

Which character would you most like to play chess, checkers, or Battleship with?

Ryan: "Solas, so just when he opens his mouth to say 'Checkmate,' I can pretend to sneeze and send all the pieces scattering."

Sheryl: "Sera. She'd lose interest before I would so I wouldn't feel bad about just wandering off."

You get to play D&D or the Dragon Age RPG with Dragon Age characters for a night. Who do you pick and how does the game go?

Mary Kirby: "We actually did this! Jennifer Hepler ran a Dragon Age tabletop game, and I played Sister Petrine, Chantry Scholar from the codex. I barely tolerated adventuring with Brother Genitivi, and our party wound up fighting our mage when he became an abomination."

What’s your canon judgment of Storvacker?

John Epler: "Always recruit. When you have the option to recruit a bear, you take it. Every time."

Sylvia: "Recruitment. It's time for that bear to see the world!"

Who or what inspired you to work in the games industry?

John D.: "I'm extremely lucky to say it was BioWare. And then somehow I had the good fortune to end up working for them. Playing KOTOR and Mass Effect 1 really opened my eyes to narrative possibilities in games. They had a huge influence on me and I vowed somehow I'd get a job in the games industry. I only dared to dream I'd get a job working for BioWare. But one day a writing position opened up, I applied, and a few months later I was writing for Mass Effect 2 DLC. It's been an amazing ride since."

Luke: "Tabletop. D&D, Champions, Paranoia, Dragon Magazine. As a kid, I didn't have friends who played, but I kept finding weird box-sets in used bookstores that had rules for making your own stories. I had dozens of sourcebooks from as many systems before ever playing in university. When the opportunity to apply at BioWare presented, I didn't know jack about making video games, but I knew roleplaying. I wrote a 40-page module using Champions as a base. Tabletop is what got my foot in the door."

What was your proudest contribution to Dragon Age?

John E.: "That's a toss-up between the Varric hug in Inquisition, or getting it so elves and dwarves could romance The Iron Bull. Both were significant technical challenges. In the case of the Varric hug, I think it was an important roleplaying moment for players to get the chance to comfort Varric, who'd been with them all throughout. In the case of Iron Bull, it was an opportunity to let more players take the romance and give dwarves and elves more romance options."

Cameron: "Daring Patrick Weekes to write an entire ability tree's descriptions in iambic pentameter (Double Daggers in DA:I). That they rhymed the ability upgrades with the base descriptions was just icing on the poetic cake."

What would your Fade “Greatest Fear” gravestone have written on it?

Patrick: Only Made Things Worse

Karin: Squandered Her Opportunities to do Good Things

Cameron: Who?

Ryan: Got Eaten

Sheryl: Couldn't Handle the Responsibility

Last but not least: What was your most inspiring moment in 2021, if you feel like sharing it?

Patrick: "Seeing our fan community come together to help others in need with Dragon Age Day and the support for Gamers for Groceries fundraisers. It is incredibly humbling to see people come together and do something to help others, and it made me most optimistic in a year filled with reasons not to be."

Celebrating Dragon Age Day 4... and the Risk (and Thrill) When You Take a Leap

“That's what happens when you try to change things. Things change.” ―Hawke

"Mass Effect has N7 Day. Dragon Age needs something too! What if we did something ourselves, maybe on December 4 as 'D4,' and tried to do something good while we're at it?"

Those were the words of my good friend Teresa "I'maSithDuh," otherwise known as "T," chatting with friends October 2018, and the next thing I knew, she'd put in motion her idea for Dragon Age Day as an actual thing, with me and some other passionate and talented close friends from the fandom pitching in right from the get-go. 

It wasn't organized, exactly. T immediately had her idea and saw the need for a group. She asked us if we'd help, and we all felt the same way—that she was right, and instantly that we should do something. So we set forth with T, a tiny crew including Savvy B., Alistair SM James, Ghil Dirthalen, and Andrastini, and we were instantly a group, and galvanized! And we were so excited to do something new in the world, something that would celebrate the world of Thedas we loved and that would also genuinely help make a currently darker world a better place.

We got to work. Picked a charity (our first one, that year, was Child's Play). And somehow we made it happen. Somehow, we'd started something good!

Daring to be Great

Helping T form this group challenged me. I knew what to do from my work in PR, marketing, editing, etc., and now I could do it for FUN. I'm really shy, so I had never really enjoyed reaching out to people for PR (which is ironic but true after 20+ years), but now I could do so for charity, for something I loved! And somehow that made it easier.

So I was in. And I'm grateful to T, not just for the chance to help build Dragon Age Day from the ground up, but because she dared to think big. She taught me something with that. It was my first lesson in what happens in life if you just think of something and say 'what if?'—even if you don't feel important enough to make it happen, if you try hard, sometimes it happens anyway.

We just had this idea and started doing what we could. And I thought it would be fun to reach out to celebrities because, coming from PR, I knew how this could really boost our visibility. So I started researching reps and managers, getting information on who to reach out to as respectfully as possible, then making contact, convinced inwardly that nobody would probably ever respond, but it was worth a try. 

But of course, people did respond. And miracles started happening almost right away. Incredibly, people listened, responded, and donated. T's idea had become a real thing.

Flash Forward

And now here we are, and it's four years later, and our event has raised over $50,000 to benefit charities we care about (with 100% of all proceeds going to those charities directly). Andrastini and Ghil bowed out after the first year, and who could blame them—it was exhausting, and because we hadn't thought to incorporate postage (hey, we were new at this), our team absorbed all of the costs of our launch and it took years for some of us just to pay off postage and other assorted fees. We founders still cover all expenses—website, hosting, printing or shipping stuff to celebs where needed, but we do so because it's worth it. And we like that nobody will ever wonder "will my money actually go to the charity?" Our answer can be clear and short: "Yes. 100%."

But we got smarter and kept going. T, Savvy, Alistair and I kept on going, and soon our thing just kept on being a thing. We got the attention and unofficial support of EA and BioWare, who donated both funds to our charities and swag to our efforts, helped to boost our signal, and who have also provided their time and input to help us make the fans feel appreciated and loved on this special day of the year for years now.

As a group of Dragon Age fans, this attention was all we could have asked for, and continues to be a dream come true.

Lessons Learned

I've learned a lot over the past four years. Like what I can do if I have to. 

I'm really shy. But I've learned that I can overcome my shyness enough to talk to people, to even email celebrities and people I admire if the cause is great enough, like charity, and somehow they sometimes respond, and miracles happen.

And there's more. I don't like looking at myself, honestly (although I'm working on that). But I've learned to overcome that because somebody had to get on camera and ask the questions, and it turned out to be me. So now, for better or worse, there I am, annoying the universe in person, a human Muppet occasionally flailing at moments, but putting myself out there.

Those of you who read this blog know that I had a brush with death recently, and I'm still learning to manage life with heart failure. And that's been a learning experience too that's also been a direct part of this Dragon Age Day for me. Every time I thought of my terror at being on camera, or my fear of making a fool of myself, I thought about how happy I am simply to still be here, to still have the chance to grow and risk like that.

And then I go ahead and Do The Thing. Because this isn't the Fade, and this is all the chance we get. 

Celebrity Secrets...

I've learned from our celebrity supporters too. I've learned that in addition to her beauty and talent, you're never going to find a kinder person than Sumalee Montano, and that Jon Curry is just as funny in real life as Zevran. I've learned that Gideon Emery is a Renaissance man who can do anything (act, paint, sing, you name it), and that Ramon Tikaram writes as beautifully and elegantly as he speaks!

I've learned that Alix Wilton Regan is basically a real-life Inquisitor whose passion and drive could fuel the world, and that Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir aren't just great writers, they're great talkers who are inspired by the same books and shows that inspired so many of us fans (and that there's always room in life for a little snark). And that Nunzio is a nice person when his interviewer utterly panics and unforgivably and mysteriously loses the ability to speak or pronounce his name.

I've also learned that Steve Valentine is as witty as Alistair, that Gareth David-Lloyd is so generous he would probably tear down the Veil for charity, that Mark Hildreth is incredibly nice even when your cat invades his interview, and that Corinne Kempa and Alec Newman are also really kind people who are willing to donate their time and effort just because they appreciate the fans and want to make a difference.

Basically, I've learned that sometimes, the people you admire for their talent and brilliance will  actually turn out to be even kinder and cooler people than you could have imagined, which is what happened when I got to interact with Patrick Weekes, Karin Weekes, and David Gaider, as well as the rest of the BioWare team, including the responders to our "Silly Questions" each year, like John Epler, Sheryl Chee, Lukas Kristjanson, Mary Kirby, Brianne Battye, and so many more!

Sharing Friendship and Fandom

I've also learned that working on something with friends can be amazing, especially when you're all fans of the same thing, like Dragon Age, and that when you bring on fellow fans to help (our volunteer team is now over 30 dedicated, amazing people) those people quickly become your friends as well. 

I've been so grateful for our incredible Dragon Age Day team because you're never gonna find a sunnier, kinder, more hardworking group of people. From T's passion for kindness and justice, to Alistair's superb management and tireless cheerleading, to Savvy's warmth, art, and graphics, I'm always inspired by my fellow founders and their leadership and support.

And that's just the beginning, because I also have to spotlight our team's rock stars like Azkabella, Nik, Rachel Hoover, Lumi, Kristen, Binky, Lady Iolanthe, Jessica, Jen, Janette, Liz, Cafe!, Felassan, Dymme, Jasmine, Gabby, Kala Elizabeth, Ashley, Sherry, Kemvee, Joanna, Morgan, Noire, Madeline McQueen, Sara, Zayne, Tina Cloud, C├ęsar Allori, Andarateia, and many more!

We're just a group of fans, having a great time, celebrating Thedas, and supporting each other while try to bring a little healing elfroot to the world. And I've learned from every one of them.

Just Going For It

Most of all, I've learned that you have to risk and be brave to make a mark on the world.

So the next time you have an idea that seems impossible to you, or too big to risk, I'm here to tell you to DO it. Go ahead and try. 

Take me, for example. In the past three days, I got to interview some of my favorite artists on the planet, and spend some time in conversation with them—from writers Christina Weir & Nunzio DeFilippis (Blue Wraith), to actor Mark Hildreth (Resurrection, The Looming Tower, V, and Sten in Dragon Age Origins). I got to DM a Honey Heist game live, with a group of wonderful players including Eugenio Vargas, Karin Weekes, Patrick Bly, Josh Hood, Anjelica Grey, and my friend Teresa herself. As the icing on the cake, I tweeted a plea to Critical Role to support our cause and was absolutely floored when it was retweeted by Matthew Mercer and Dani Carr (and then Critter-hugged to a wonderful degree).

Again, it's a great reminder to go ahead and try for stuff. Just to go for it. You never know what will happen next.

I'm so happy with the lessons I've learned over the past four years. I'm so honored and proud to be part of Dragon Age Day, to work with my hardworking cofounders and our incredible team, and it's been amazing to watch it grow each and every year.

Thanks for being a part of Dragon Age Day, and here's to the next one. We've had our most successful year yet, and we have a lot of plans to continue to grow our event and charity outreach year round, as well, so stay tuned!

Now I hope you'll go forth, all you Wardens, Hawkes, and Inkies! And be brave! Take that risk. You never now what will happen next, and some dreams don't just live in the Fade. Some dreams become reality.

"Dragon Age: Dreadwolf" Predictions & Ponderings (and "What's in a Name?" Redux)

He doesn't call, he doesn't write, but finally, it looks like we might be hearing from Solas at last (2023?), as BioWare announces t...