Category Archives: Ponies

Taking Responsibility for the Fallout is Dragons Breakup

What a crew, huh?

Fallout is Dragons was an actual-play RPG podcast / livestream show I ran from January 2014 to June 2016. It used my friend’s homebrew Pony Tales RPG system and was set in the Fallout: Equestria fanfiction setting. Looking back over my body of RPG work, it’s still probably the best campaign I’ve ever run overall.

Towards the end, though, there was a schism in the group, one person was forced out, and the show continued.

I’m not going to make this about naming names or pointing fingers or creating a thorough account of what happened. I don’t have the Skype chat logs (and have little desire to hunt them down even if they did still exist). I can hardly recall anything that was said; all I can vaguely recall is that some unforgivable things were said as things blew up.

Only now, after my emotional and mental breakdown back in 2019 and months of struggle and therapy, do I begin to have a grasp of my own role in what happened, how I let it happen through neglect. Because I wasn’t even conscious of what I was doing at the time.

Some background, though.

I was emotionally traumatized by my (very stressed-out due to other factors) parents at a young age. I was yelled at a lot as a baby and as a prepubescent child – the worst times being totally at random, going from 0 to 100% in-trouble with no ability to comprehend anything other than that I dun fucked up somehow. I developed hypervigilant personality traits and avoided conflict at all costs, and whenever conflict broke out around me, I always assumed it was my fault somehow, fled to my room to hide, and spent the next few hours blaming myself and trying to figure out what I did wrong.

That probably spells out most of the story right there, but I have a little more to add.

Between 2014 and 2016, I was on my prolonged, steady decline at my dream college. The hypervigilance I’d developed both as a child – and as a teenager having to take care of my newborn baby half-brother – made homework and teamwork impossible for me to complete with any rigor. Furthermore, I was struggling with undiagnosed sleep apnea, stealing away all my deep REM sleep and slowly driving me insane.

And yet, pretty much between the middle of my teenage years and 2019, I was in the mindset of pretending nothing was wrong with me. At all times. Putting everyone else ahead of myself and my needs. Except that my needs and traumas and fears still controlled me, unconsciously. I just pretended that I wasn’t feeling it so that the delusion of success could continue.

Knowing all that now, what happened during the complete breakdown of the Dragon Mawlers’ group cohesion – and specifically, what I did to enable it, let it fester, and let it blow up out of control – becomes so painfully, obviously clear to me. Every time people yelled during a call, I froze up like a deer in the headlights. When the yelling turned into prolonged arguments, I avoided them and stayed out of it as much as I could, maybe throwing in a judgment call or two here and there because I was the leader and I was expected to do something. When it finally blew up, I took the path of least resistance that made the conflict stop so that we could all pretend that things were fine and move on again.

It was neglect born out of fear. Deep, traumatic, unresolved fear. The fear of a 3-year-old, 6-year-old, 11-year-old, 14-year-old, all simultaneously flashing back and wanting nothing else than for Mom and Dad to stop yelling.

It’s not an excuse. A group’s behavior trickles down from the top, and I was the leader, both as the DM and the showrunner. Not only did I neglect and avoid problems, that became hard unspoken policy for everyone else too, until it couldn’t be avoided anymore. And when the worst of it broke out into flames, I basically didn’t support anybody. I hid, I dodged, I muttered indecisively, I attacked whoever seemed to have the weakest position and the most to answer for when easy opportunities arrived. I was the worst kind of boss.

And knowing what I know now… if we turned back the clock, I would not be able to act any differently. Is it theoretically possible that the conflict could have been avoided, that some adult, mature compromise could have been reached if we had tackled the problems sooner? That’s a big maybe, but this isn’t a maybe: I wasn’t capable of doing any of that. I wasn’t able to be a mature adult about anything, because I was a teen in arrested development treading water to pretend otherwise, neglecting everything – including myself – that needed attention.

My players deserved better. Fallout is Dragons deserved better. I was a bad leader and a bad DM in the long run, and its shortcomings rest at my feet.

I’m still paying for that neglect. It all came to a head in the summer of 2019, where I couldn’t deny the pain I was ignoring anymore and everything broke down. I’m now in a purgatory where I can’t even go outside and be around strangers without having a panic attack within an hour, which means I can’t find gainful employment. Patreon and the patient kindness of the handful of friends and family members who believe that what I’m going through is real are the only things that have kept me alive and afloat the last few years. And even then, that arrangement still means I’m stuck with someone who regularly and uncontrollably triggers my post-traumatic stress buttons.

I don’t bring that up – any of this up – to gain pity points in the context of Fallout is Dragons. I’m mainly pointing it out 1) for the possibility of slight schadenfreude for those I’ve wronged with my neglect, and 2) to demonstrate that what I’d done was a pattern of behavior that I later paid (and am still paying) inevitable consequences for.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my counseling and therapy, it’s that we are all, as individuals, the sum of one unbroken and interconnected chain of events. Pretending that parts of that chain didn’t happen or don’t exist is just taking an emotional loan out from the future. Eventually you have to reckon with it somehow or go mad.

Just needed to get all of that off my chest at 3:30 AM, I guess.

10 Years of Friendship is Dragons

July 28, 2011—…

Looking back on the last 10 years has kind of depressed me, to be honest.

I started this silly little screencap webcomic where people play Dungeons & Dragons in the My Little Pony G4 setting in an alternate universe where no one’s heard of this setting when I was almost 19, on summer break between my first and second year of college.

I remember lamenting not being able to play with my D&D group from my hometown, the ones I’d first ever played D&D at all with. I wanted some way of maintaining and capturing that feeling of enjoying the fun of a D&D group while I went to college, because I knew I probably wouldn’t have the time to find a new group to play with there. (I was right.) Of course I am nothing if not a copycat of better ideas, and I had enjoyed both DM of the Rings and Darths and Droids. Plus my dad was working on a webcomic of his own that I found very amusing (because we share a dry, wry sense of humor), so making a webcomic had officially landed on my bucket list. Then, as I was beginning to realize what a surprisingly great show My Little Pony was, I came across a series of blog posts mapping the main ensemble cast each to a class from D&D. All the pieces fell into place.

I have never been much of an artist, but I had been writing fanfiction and editing/ripping video files for pretty much my entire adolescence. With the help of a program specifically designed to make the panel and word-bubble thing as simple as possible, I had just enough skill to make it happen.

Twice a week seemed reasonable at the start. I got a major boost from the fansite Equestria Daily on my second update, and I loved the rush of validation that came from updates and comments, so on the 10th page I made it double-length to celebrate and updated the schedule to thrice weekly.

And then I just kept going.

And going.

And going.

A lot of it, I don’t mind telling you now, has consistently been written, assembled, and uploaded the night before an update. Very rarely would I put in a buffer ahead of time; most of the time I’d procrastinate every page to the last minute. (I’ve gotten a little better now. A little.) But this has always been a relatively safe project to procrastinate on. Making one page can take an hour at most, and most of that comes down to writer’s block or scrolling through episodes looking for the right shot. It’s a very easy product to make, all things considered. At best, I can pat myself on the back for knowing my limits and having a streamlined production pipeline on the word go. At worst, I can’t really take much credit for the work because it’s a miniscule fraction compared to most other webcomic creators.

But hey, it’s been updating for 10 straight years now. I took a few hiatuses here and there, and I invited guests to submit pages to keep the update schedule consistent. Goodness knows I wouldn’t have survived this long without that. Gratitude isn’t really enough, but it’s all I have.

I wouldn’t have survived without the support via Patreon either. And every time generous people answered the call when I’ve had to beg for more help because it wasn’t really a living wage and I only had barebones support elsewhere.

…It’s been a rough 10 years.

I dropped out of college because I was going insane from undiagnosed sleep apnea, which also led to me walking out of my first job in a panic attack. I couldn’t afford rent, so I was eventually evicted and had to move back home with my mother, where I promptly sat in a self-pitying fugue state for about half a decade. Eventually I got another job at a thrift store, went on a grand jury, decided to take online classes to become a paralegal, crashed and burned out again, decided to start going to counseling, realized that I’d been ignoring years of old scars, and slowly processed that until it all came out in August 2019 and I had the biggest emotional breakdown of my life, whereupon I had to stop working entirely. I couldn’t cohabit with my little brother in that state, so we sought help from our extended family, who ultimately didn’t take our problems seriously and brokered secret deals to try and solve our issues ‘their’ way, which inevitably became a clusterfuck but by then we’d already moved so it was too late. Then I moved again, this time in a much quieter place, but there was a ticking clock of misunderstanding about how long I needed to recover. When I was pushed to return to work, even when I knew that I would just break down again, I couldn’t step up, and was promptly evicted. So I had to move back in with my mom again.

Only in the last year have things started looking back up. Counseling has been going really well. I’m on a medication that works well for me. My relationship with my immediate family has significantly improved. I’m working on a game modding project, when game dev is something I had wholly given up on because I dropped out of my dream college. I’m learning to value my work and my skills, little by little.

I still have a long way to go, too. I still have massive social anxiety. (In a darkly hilarious way, the pandemic has been a boon for me, removing the expectation of going outside for a nice long while.) I’m starting to think that a ‘normal’ path through life just isn’t going to happen for me. Whatever my new ‘normal’ is going to be, I’m going to have to stake it out for myself.

And through ALL of that…!

I’ve been updating Friendship is Dragons.

I said in the past that the comic’s been a point of stability for me, but that’s kind of understating it in retrospect. Friendship is Dragons has been the one consistently good thing going… despite it just being an easy screencap webcomic about ponies doing nerdy things. It’s been, at the very least, something to keep the days going by, two by two (three on the weekends).

It’s hard to look back on in the context of a decade. At the start of it, I had all my dreams and aspirations ahead of me. I’ve lost and given up so much along the way. And most of what I’ve gained is a better understanding, through the slow and painful autopsy of my life, of why I was doomed to crash and burn in the first place, and why that has to be okay.

I’m sorry if this is upsetting for a 10-year anniversary celebration post. This webcomic is so heavily entwined into my life that I haven’t really been able to separate it. And when I looked back over those 10 years, I couldn’t pretend I felt a lot of joy in the retrospective. So I decided to be honest instead.

The most positive thing I can say about Friendship is Dragons from my perspective is that it’s been undoubtedly a lifeline. And it’s hard to be ‘proud’ of a lifeline. It’s hard to be proud of the thing keeping you above water. Endlessly grateful, certainly, but proud?

At the very least – for the second most positive thing I can say about Friendship is Dragons – it’s helped me keep my writing skills sharp and in practice on a constant regular basis for 10 years, which is why I can say that writing is one of my best skills today.

So here’s to 10 years of the best project of my life, which both isn’t saying much and is saying a whole lot. I’m just continuously surprised and humbled that anyone is still reading it.

Pony Tales: Aspirations of Harmony

Friendship is Dragons comfortably fills a niche for bronies who love tabletop RPGs. Yet there are those who can’t seem to get enough of their pony RPG fix, and they remedy this by making their own homebrew pony-themed roleplaying game system. And thanks to the comic, it’s easier than ever for said systems to get exposure and attract potential players.

This now makes the second time this has happened, and this time it comes from a good friend of mine. He goes by the handle Stairc, and he made his own system called Pony Tales: Aspirations of Harmony. (Not to be confused with another Pony Tales, an Open D6 pony system. From this point on, when I say “Pony Tales,” I mean Stairc’s game. I haven’t played the other one.)

Stairc organized a game with a few of my regular readers, who’ve been great about sharing recaps of their adventures with the rest of the… Friendship is Dragons community- boy that’s weird to say. Earlier this week, I got invited to create a character and play a game with the established group to try out the system. And now I hope to be a regular player each week.

Suffice to say, I really like Pony Tales, but I feel I should really elaborate on how I feel about the game, if only to satisfy the game designer in my brain.

Continue reading Pony Tales: Aspirations of Harmony