Like Us On Facebook

Facebook Pagelike Widget
<div class="smashwords-widget" data-type="single" data-items="book:1057831" data-font="sans" data-ribboncolor="#4181c3" data-headline="Name of the Shadow" data-body="A Medieval Fantasy Thriller with a thief, an assassin, a necromancer, and a pirate. 
Medieval World Building
Private group · lots of members
Join Group
For people who write medieval fantasy, play medieval rpgs, and the people who read or play those worlds. For me, the medieval world is 1066 to 1509, b...

Gen Con 2023

Benita and I just got back from our one-day visit to Gen Con, and we had a great time. For a Sunday, it was unbelievably busy, and the crowds were thick. As we noted at the time, this was not an ideal place for introverts like us, but we stuck it out. The line for the will-call to get our badges took a solid hour.

I would have liked to have seen a booth for our friends at Brittannia Games Designs, but that wasn’t in the cards for them. Considering the outstanding quality of their products, primarily Chivalry and Sorcery, I’m sure they would have sold out.

Because I expressed interest in Candle Obscura and Dagger Heart, the folks at Darrington Press gave us all sorts of freebies. Publishing those game is still a ways off, but I’m looking forward to them.

At GooeyCube, I picked up a campaign setting The Wy’rded World and map pack to go with it. While the maps look too saturated for my tastes, like they had been made with Inkarnate, the campaign guidebook looks super fascinating and full of inspiration.

I picked up Kobold Presses Tales of the Valiant Alpha Release. I love KP’s products that I’ve gotten in the past, so I’m eager to dig into their new game.

I would have liked to have gone to World Anvil’s meetup nearby, but we couldn’t do that and attend Gen Con itself at the same time. Maybe in the future I’ll meet them.

Finally, I got a model 18th century sloop ship, a vessel that could easily be represented as a medieval cog when I put it together.

I had my eye out for a medieval cannon replica, and there were a few, but they were too small. I wan’t something bigger. There were some rows we didn’t get to, and there probably was a ship model to match my wants there somewhere, but patience will win out.

While I’ve heard that this might by Gen Con’s last year in Indianapolis, I hope they come back. It was a lot of fun.

Fun Art

Time’s Arrow, yada yada

My mom passed away last Thursday. It was a blessing in a way, because she had been in serious pain for years, and her body was simply shot. I talked with her every day, as as her short-term memory deteriorated sometimes two or three time per day. Now, I keep thinking she’s going to call, and I realize all over again that she will not be calling me again. Sigh. Mom was really intelligent, knew how to ask lots of probing questions from every angle, and I honestly believe she would have been great as a police interrogator.

I forgot to renew last week, and the site went down for a few days. I was lucky that the URL was still available, because there have been a few erstwhile Johnny Saturns over the years, most of them professional or semi-professional wrestlers. Sorry guys!

I recently purchased Topaz Photo AI, as well as their upscale, de-noiser, and sharpener. If you haven’t checked these out, they have the ability to drastically upscale pictures, and restore details that you didn’t know where there. I would have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself.

There is a lot of stuff going on, but I’ve got a thunderstorm coming so it’s time end this for now.


The Aftermath

I don’t know what burnout feels like for most people, but I know how it manifested in me.

I quit drawing for about two years. I quit digital art altogether. I was still doing covers for books here and there, but whenever I approached the computer I was filled with gut-churning dread, and my mind roiled with mental static. I’m not exaggerating, nor am I trying to make it all sound more dramatic than it was. It was an absolute struggle for me to do computer graphics, a struggle I often lost. It didn’t get better over the nine years since then, either.

This was not lost time for me. I didn’t understand what had happened, but eventually I rediscovered my love of drawing, pen-and-ink art, and watercolor. Now that I was doing art for me and my own projects, I became a born again traditional artist. I don’t think I’ve ever reached or surpassed my digital art abilities with traditional mediums, but I get closer all the time.

When did I turn the corner? I’m not sure, but it was pretty recent. I new there was a problem, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. ADHD? PTSD? Nope and nope. It wasn’t until I stumbled into some articles about burn out that I put it all together. As I studied, I realized that I fit the profile of a burn out, that there was no longer any question of it.

I decided I was going to break this cycle. I would have been all right without digital art–indeed, now I had traditional art. But, my digital abhorrence extended into website authoring and self-promotion. After the underwhelming sales of my first two novels, I new I had to dig back into promotion and websites. I mean, if no one was reading my books, why write them? Why not simply entertain myself with my own stories? Why write them down and try to take them to the world?

Now in 2023, I’ve begun digital art again. Most of it is for fantasy mapping and heraldry. Digital really fits this more mundane tasks. I don’t intend to go back to comics, because that’s a bit of a dead end scene, but never say never. Maybe a great idea will hit me, who knows. Probably not, though.

So, that’s it. I have no revolutionary ideas for healing burnout. I can say that once I identified the problem, I felt much better and slowly began to recover. I guess if any lesson is to be gleaned from this experience, then it is to avoid getting burned out in the first place. Take days off, spend time with family, read and travel to expose yourself to new ideas and places. The conundrum is this–if you want a career in the arts, you really can’t take time for yourself and your mental well being.

When I Burned Out

Burnout is insidious. I’m on the mend, and doing well now that I successfully have diagnosed the problem and begun to address it in earnest. I’ll explain.

For 19 years I did freelance illustration work. I did all sorts of nifty art for lots of nifty products, but I was really focused on being a comic book artist. At the time that seemed important to me, although now I can’t really see why. I admired my comic artist heroes so much, greats like John Buscema, Gil Kane, John Byrne, and John Romita Jr. What I didn’t see was the excessive hours of work, no days off, no vacations, no health care, poor page rates, etc. I always got the prices I charged, and customers kept coming back for more, but it was a punishing career choice. I never broke in with Marvel or DC, but the situation there would have probably been similar.

Around 2004, I got fed up with drawing other people’s properties, so I dreamed up Johnny Saturn. For the most part, an exciting decade followed, I garnered a lot of attention in the comic world, made a lot of fans, did a lot of conventions, and really opened up to my inner salesman and promoter. It was a heady time, and I don’t regret it, but It didn’t end all that well.

By 2012, I was producing the Johnny Saturn webcomic twice weekly, and penciling, inking, and coloring two pages a week for a vampire comic for another publisher. The vampire job paid decent, the owner was easy to work with, and it kept us afloat financially. But, burnout was building.

First, I blew out my wrist and needed carpal tunnel surgery. Then, my thumb wore out, and my right shoulder. Spending hours and hours on a computer every day was taking its toll, and it became excruciating at points. Probably because of the pain I was developing a serious hate for making digital art, and that’s not a good thing for an illustrator, I can assure you. I’m sure that my avoidance issues was due to pain and long-term, serious exhaustion.

To alleviate the issue, I began hiring different digital colorists to lesson my burden. I had talented people from all over the world working for me, even some Marvel comics colorists, and at one point I had seven different creators working for me. I probably could have leveraged this into an illustration agency of some sort, but managing that group of willful creatives was a full-time job in its own right.

I limped through 2012, trying my best to work through the pain, but by 2014 I was done. I ended Johnny Saturn, ended working for other publishers, and ended my punishing schedule of doing anything and everything I could dream up to promote my work. Promotion had become frantic and exhausting in its own right, and I easily could have kept a full-time promoter busy. Like I said, in 2014 I was done. I still did book covers for publisher/writer friends, but I already hated digital art, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Be sure to come back for the next post, the Aftermath. Happily, the story does turn around for the better.

Live Steam

When I was little, I was very intrigued by steam locomotives. I still am, I guess, even if I’m not so little anymore. A real highlight of my childhood was when I could ride steam trains. It wasn’t often, but I remember the train at Stone Mountain, and those at some amusement park like Six Flags. I fondly remember every visit to the old Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, too, when I would get to climb onto the old steam train they had there. (Well, it’s still there, in the new Children’s museum.)

My grandfather, Stewart Rafert, also was interested in live steam, but he was more focused on steam tractors. These giant, huffing behemoths had their own rustic charm, I must admit. I remember going to at least two live steam shows with him, and they were pretty awe-inspiring to a young tyke like myself. I particularly remember the salesman’s models tractors, all scaled down–these were fully functional stream tractors that collectors would steam around the event grounds. So fascinating.

Nearby to were I grew up in New Palestine, Indiana, my family had a friend named Otto Hefflemire. Otto was an interesting fellow who was into a lot of things, such as building homes, owning antique stores, and doing fine wrought-iron work. Anyway, next to his house he had an older house that he used for storage space for his collections of odds and ends. On the front porch he had pulled up and parked an old steam tractor. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe to partially protect it under the porch roof. As a little boy, I loved climbing all over this ancient, long-silenced giant. Let the adults visit for as long they wanted, I wanted to go hang out with the steam engine.

I’m not sure how old I was, but my grandpa got me a miniature, fully functional steam tractor. I remember lighting it up and chugging around the house with it. I still have it, and I haven’t lighted it up in over 30 years, but it’s one of my most cherished toys from my childhood. The maker, Mammod, still produces and sells them.

Now, since this is me, I’ll add a note of weirdness.

I have rather profound childhood memory of a steam tractor graveyard. Grandpa took me to see it, and it was near Anderson, Indiana. Inside a large enclosure that was fenced in with a gnarly steel fence, and there were hundreds of steam tractors, rusting away, neatly parked around a rutted, dirt track. There were birds making nests in these tractors, weeds growing up through them, and this place had a sad, ominous feel. Honestly, it was awe-inspiring, these mighty machine of industry abandoned in careful order, but lonely as well.

I’m well aware that no such tractor graveyard exists nearby, that grandpa didn’t take me there, yet the memory persists and feels real. Why? It’s a random bit of weirdness that means nothing, except to me, but there it is. Memory and emotion are strange things. It feels true to me, and I cherish this memory.


More Mayhem in May

Hello! I know this new iteration of my blog boils down to me writing to myself, but that’s okay for now. It’s been a while, but I’ll learn how to promote this and make it easy to find soon.

After some technical issues, I have begun my Artstation page. I once had a Deviant Art site, but there were issues with updating it, so I decided it was time to migrate my work to a more modern platform. This will be the home for all my paintings, illustrations, cartography, icons, templates, and textures. If you go there now, then you’ll see only the bare beginning of my efforts, but as the week ticks by I plan to flesh it out.

My WorldAnvil site, aka, continues to grow. At last check, I had over 167K words written there, and so much more to add. That’s what happens when you take a beloved world that you’ve worked on for 40 years and try to condense it down to a manageable form. An unexpected benefit is that I have been posting some solid historical guides, under Background Material. If you are a fan of history, or medieval gaming, or writing fiction for medieval settings, there are articles there that may grab your attention. For example, a lengthy Arcane Glossary for in-period magic terminology, Medieval Technology and Advancement by century, and much more.

Indeed, I currently updating my old article on medieval horses with lots of new information, and I’ll be posting it there. My writings on maille armor and its uses and history probably will follow soon.



A lot has been happening, so here are short takes:

I’ve found a great site to sell textures, icons, and assorted graphics. I’ve made a lot of these objects over the years, so I’m pretty chuffed.

With AI, they have finally found a way to accurately simulate detail lost from low resolution or blurry pictures. This seems one use of the new technology I can support.

I recently passed 167,000 typed into I’m far enough along that I’m going to have to consider what form the finished product will manifest.

Design Blog Part Deux

I’m working on something new for Aorlis. The citizens of each of the 18 countries in Aorlis have their own distinct outlooks, I’m heading up each country with a “worldview listing.” Here’s an example:

Blackvale’s Worldview

We are the trees, stoic, patient, and we only say those things that need to be said. We are vigilant, for the forest is our heart. Our eyes are the owls, wise beyond words, forever observing, the guardians of ancient magic. Our will is the hawk, the perfect predator, with fleet wings and keen vision that misses nothing. We are the bow, resilient and deadly. We are the arrows that fight our battles and feed our families. We remember the Others from the Bright World, and their blood still pumps in the veins of our oldest families. We bless each other in the fae’s names, and we honor the spirits of oak, and recall the wild dance of remembrance.

Here’s another:

Orlois’ Worldview

Historians claim the Jotuns of old were destroyers, a ravening scourge to the civilized world. The historians sadly are misinformed. It was Jotuns who tore down the old world and built the modern age with all its wonders. Our detractors write about ocean-born reavers, of berserkers who feel no pain, of the Hidden God of our grandfathers and the mysterious power of runes. Those things are outliers, and historians are grasping at history’s low-hanging fruit.Jotun ships were technological wonders that could sail the Known World via ocean, sea, river, and creek. With these vessels, we established the trade routes that crisscross the planet and interconnect Kainded’s vast expanses.Most Aorlisians treat their women as property. Not us. In Orlois, we have shield maidens, fighting women who can vote alongside the men in the Allthing. We have the Volva who command magic (seidr) and advise our leaders. Our women are not servants, but warrior, witches, and healers than can hold their own with any men.Now, living in the little tract of Aorlis that we have claimed as ours, we Orloisians still burn with the energy to bring a new, more connected future to Aarthus.

They are a bit easier to read on the site because I’ve broken them into bullet points and nestled them into quote boxes. So far I have about 12 of 18 of these posted, and I think these vignettes will help both game masters and players access the mindset of the people in question.

One reason I did this was because in popular role-playing games there are humans and then assorted non-human lineages (elf, dward, etc.) Those are handy because each species comes with a given set of expectations for players to latch onto. Aorlis, however, is a primarily human world, and it focuses on cultures, not species.


Design Blog

I’m leaning into the system agnostic/neutral approach with fiction setting and game world, Aorlis. Dice have become involved in the campaign side of the equation, because not everyone is equally qualified to decide everything by fiat. Random encounter charts, for example, were important to set up.

For example, I need a weather system. I begin to look into a simple approach to weather, and I wandered into a wide field of variables (season, climate, geographic location, etc.) that I had to stop. I still am unsure how I’m going to proceed.

Is it important for a medieval fantasy world to have ocean current maps, wind current maps, and/or plate tectonic maps? At some level, maybe. When it comes to plate tectonics, I realize I’ve once again stumbled into a field about which I know little, trying to reverse engineer something that probably doesn’t subscribe to any known logic or science. It’s interesting, because as a storyteller you can simply state what a thing is, and it’s so. As a campaign resource, the underlying logic means a lot to some people.

More as the project develops.

Special Collaborations

Just to remind everyone of my love for medieval imagery, here are some of my favorite collaborations with “my” art and Benita Story, all for sale in a variety of formats on Spoonflower.

I put parenthesis around “my” art, because these are loving recreations of medieval art. I inked, cleaned up, and colored these drawing. So, I guess you could say that I was also collaborating with the nameless artists of bygone centuries. I’ve learned a lot as an artist by working with these long-ago masters.

Here’s the Plan

This site has been dormant. That’s mostly because of social media, which has filled a space that many of us once used for blogging. Times change, and there is no guarantee that anyone will come here to keep up with me. I’m not concerned because the role of this site is a bit different–all my social posts will debut here and then migrate to my other outlets.

This is not an all-purpose site. I may show off new artwork here, but most of that is heading for ArtStation. ArtStation is a modern day, cleaner version of Deviant Art. It’s purpose designed.

Furthermore, I need someplace to collect and organize all my links, products, and announcements. Thus, I now return to blogging.