GM Avaluka talks about her story and making werepuppies, bone shaman clothing, and leeches.
This is the heart of the main square of Wehnimer’s Landing. The impromptu shops of the bazaar are clustered around this central gathering place, where townsfolk, travelers, and adventurers meet to talk, conspire or raise expeditions to the far-flung reaches of Elanthia. At the north end, an old well, with moss-covered stones and a craggy roof, is shaded from the moonlight by a strong, robust tree. The oak is tall and straight, and it is apparent that the roots run deep. You also see a large acorn, a heavy backpack, a large acorn, a wanted poster, some wide stone benches with some stuff on it, and a large white tent.
[“No Words,” by Harvy Turner]
Avaluka: And I know some people always ask me, well, what do you see? Do you see this blackness? What is it that you see? I can only describe it as, like, do you remember on an old TV set, if you tried to go to a channel that you couldn’t get? I see that. It’s kind of appropriate because, essentially, it’s like my brain is trying to work on a faulty connection. It’s trying to figure out what it’s seeing but it can’t, so it’s just fuzz – static.
I can see kind of like outlines of my hand in front of my face if I know my hand is there. Those are kind of like phantom images. My brain knows that’s supposed to be there if my hand is in front of my face, but it’s like a hand made of static on a background of static. But it’s like those ghost images that you can see, if you can sort of see what’s on the channel but you can’t really. I don’t know.
Milax: So, the way I make this show is that I reach out to people to see if they’re interested in talking about something they’re passionate about or in previewing something that’s coming that they’re working on or in telling a story. Honestly, way more often than not, it never really goes anywhere. People get busy or scheduling doesn’t quite work out or something gets messed up in recording or editing or something that I thought was a great idea just fails.
Recently, as I was looking for new stories for this podcast, it occurred to me that we often know way more about the characters we play in this game than the players behind those characters, and that’s kind of weird. Yes, this is a fantasy role-playing game, so we’re all playing it for some form of pretending. But I realize that the stories behind the game are, to me anyway, just as interesting as the stories about the game.
Today’s episode is actually both of those things. It’s the story of one person’s experience and it’s also about the game itself and how she’s shaping it today. With that, this is GM Avaluka and this is her story.
Avaluka: Okay. We’ll have to go back to the year of 2007 is when this all started. I was about 22 or 23 years old. I had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. At the time, I couldn’t really find a job in that particular market. I was trying to find something. I was debating. Do I want to go to graduate school? I even had the application filled out to try to get maybe a Master’s in Zoology or something.
In the end, I decided, you know what? My strength at the time, as far as a hobby, was programming, computer programming, so I decided, okay, I’ll pivot and get a diploma in computer programming. While I was waiting for that application to go through, I was working with my dad in Canada as kind of like a part-time job.
In my spare time, I was doing Gemstone, obviously, as one of my many hobbies. I did a lot of digital art, digital drawing, digital painting. I loved simulation games like Civilization, Age of Empires, Tropico, that kind of stuff. I loved the Sims, Sim City, that kind of thing. Those were all things that I really loved to do. I had lots of games on the Wii and the PlayStation and all that, like Legend of Zelda was one of my favorites. Yeah, basic hobbies, I would think.
I know it was around September mainly because I had already bought a ticket for that year’s Ebon Gate. I know it’s a weird ruler to measure that by, but I remember that the tickets had already gone out. I had already purchased it. It was an event I always liked to attend each year, so I was always looking forward to that.
A lot of what happened in that timeframe, I had to piece together afterward because I don’t really remember a whole lot. I know I started to get sick with something around September.
I told my friends I felt like my head was in a vise. I had a really bad headache. I was having a hard time concentrating on things.
I was still trying to go to work but I only have brief flashes of going to work and I know I had to bring in a notecard with the security code for the alarm system on there, so I could remember what numbers to punch in for the alarm system. Now I look back and I wonder how I managed to even do that considering what was going on.
I know this was going on for at least a couple of weeks where I was sick with constant headache, not feeling well. I was in Canada at the time and I’m a Canadian citizen, so going to the walk-in clinic wasn’t a problem. At the time, the first time I went to the walk-in clinic, I told them my symptoms and they told me, “You just have the flu. Take some extra-strength Tylenol. Go home. Rest. Have some fluids. You should be okay.” At some point, it just wasn’t getting better.
Apparently, I even told my dad, I was afraid of going to sleep because I didn’t think I would wake up. At other points where I was starting to get even more confused, like I’d go up to the calendar and keep checking the calendar as far as to check what day it was. I just started going down steadily and, at some point, I made a decision to go to the emergency room because this obviously was not getting better. Obviously, the confusion was concerning.
The problem was, I don’t think I spiked a fever, and that’s usually an indicator for them as far as what’s going on. They were trying to figure out what exactly is going on while doing all these tests.
I know I had at least two or three spinal taps and it should have rang alarm bells at the moment because I actually let them do a spinal tap because, beforehand, I was so afraid of needles. I would have a panic attack about getting my blood drawn let alone having a needle put into my back. But that didn’t show anything. I know they were probably looking for meningitis, but they never did find anything as far as that, as far as the spinal taps were concerned.
Eventually, they started considering, okay, because I was 22, 23 at the time, they consider, okay, maybe she’s having a schizophrenic break, so they started going down that avenue thinking, okay, maybe it’s mental.
But that all changed when I had the first seizure and my dad actually noticed that my pupils were different sizes. At that point, they actually admitted me. At this point, I don’t remember anything at all. I don’t even remember going to the hospital or any of this stuff. [Laughter]
It was a bit of a downhill slide from there. At the time, basically, the infection had gotten into my brain somehow and my brain was swelling to the point where there was a lot of inflammation and that was what was causing the seizures, the confusion, the headache, and everything. At some point, the swelling was obviously affecting my brainstem a bit as well because my blood pressure was fluctuating. My oxygen levels were not consistent. They were having a lot of problems with that.
Eventually, they made the decision to intubate me and put me on a ventilator. At that point, they were really concerned as to whether or not I would even survive. After a while, they even had to do a tracheostomy, which is where they cut a hole in the neck and, rather than having the tube down the throat which can be damaging after a while, they just have it connected to the tube in the neck.
They had me on a ventilator. I’m not exactly sure how long I was on the ventilator. It was a couple of weeks, at least. I was in a coma – not induced. I actually had to ask my parents if they remembered. No, it wasn’t induced. It was because of the oxygen levels and my brain was swelling enough that I just was not able to not be in a coma at that point.
They kept, I think, preparing my parents that I would probably not make it or, if I would make it, they thought I would be a vegetable or I would have significant brain damage at this point because, by the time they figured out that it was actually an infection in my brain, it was a bit too late. As I said, they never really did figure out what exactly what the virus was. They were looking at all sorts of things like did I have a mosquito bite because of West Nile Virus and that could have caused that kind of thing.
I had pet rats at the time, so they thought, well, maybe she got bitten by the rats. But they tested the rats. That didn’t really bring anything up.
At some point it was just like, okay, this has happened. Whatever virus it was is gone. We just have to support her and hope that she pulls through.
Coming out of a coma, it’s not like in the movies. You don’t just suddenly wake up and look around. Okay, I’m awake now. It’s more of a gradual process.
Scientifically, I think it’s kind of like your brain is rewiring in the background. It was almost kind of like that where, every couple of weeks, a little bit more would start to reemerge.
Initially, I would be kind of just like I was sleeping. The tracheostomy tube was capped at that point. I wasn’t on a ventilator anymore. I was breathing on my own. But I was more like asleep, almost. My parents would be coming in and reading me books and all that kind of stuff. Just spending time with me.
At some point, I asked. I think I asked my mom for water. It really threw them because they were like, “Did she just say something?” For a while there, they told the doctors and nurses and they were like, “Yeah, right. She said something? I don’t think so,” because whenever the doctors and nurses would come in, I wouldn’t say anything. [Laughter] I’d only say something when only my parents were there, initially.
Then, eventually, gradually, I started getting more motor control. There were times, I think, where I actually pulled the tracheostomy tube out. There was another time where I actually had managed to take the cap off and put it in my mouth and that kind of stuff where, now that I’m looking back at it, it’s like, well, that’s kind of interesting. It’s like my brain was rewiring and trying different things and reworking itself.
As I said, I’d got sick around September or October. By October, I was in the coma, I think, at the end of October in 2007. By January 2008, or so, I was mostly awake and back to normal.
The only issue was, at that point, my short term memory was completely shot. My parents would be reading me a book. Every time they started, they would ask me, “Hey, do you remember what book we’re reading?” Of course, I had no idea.
It was an interesting benchmark, though, because I remember suddenly knowing what book was being read to me. I remember which book it was. It was kind of odd. It was like a switch. All of a sudden, I knew what book was being read. I could remember everything.
To my point of view, because the last thing I remembered was September. At that point, then all of a sudden, everyone is telling me it’s March. To my point of view, I can’t see anything, so beforehand, I was completely — I was totally sighted. But afterward, completely blind, in a hospital bed. I had a feeding tube surgically in my stomach.
To me, for the first week, first weeks after becoming aware again, it felt like a dream. I was in a lot of denial at the beginning trying to grapple with this, thinking it was a really bizarre dream that I’d wake up from, which I’m assuming is just part of my recovery, I suppose.
Before this all happened, I used to listen to audiobooks quite a bit. My parents started bringing me in audiobooks. As part of a birthday gift, my dad actually got me Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on audiobook, which was one of the only Harry Potter ones that I hadn’t had on audiobook before because I had actually read it, the actual book, physically, before I went blind. My dad thought, “Oh, this is cool. They have it on book on tape or book on CD now, so I’ll get it for her and she’ll be happy.” He brought it to me thinking I’d be happy, whereas I was completely upset with him because, in my mind, so it really jarred with my mental thing that this is just a dream and I couldn’t rectify in my brain how am I listening to this when I’ve never listened to this before.
Milax: Because you went from being a perfectly normal, healthy 22-year-old–
Milax: –reading Harry Potter and playing simulation games.
Milax: In your experience, overnight, just waking up in kind of like another person’s body, right?
Avaluka: Yes. I was just like, “No. No, I don’t have that audiobook.” For a while there, I wouldn’t let him even put it on because it upset me. Eventually, he did put it on and I remember. I actually, physically remember what was going on in my head, trying to rationalize how I was listening to this audiobook that I’ve never listened to before when I thought it was a dream. I thought I was making this up in my brain.
I’m like, okay, I’ve listened to all the other audiobooks from the Harry Potter series so much, and maybe I’m just remembering when I had read Deathly Hallows and putting it in the narrator’s voice. But then I’m like, “Well, I only read that book, like, once, maybe twice. How can I remember it that well to have it repeat?”
I don’t know when the switch flipped but, eventually, I kind of accepted what had happened. But it was a gradual kind of process. I know when it started to come around to my birthday, I was upset at it being called my birthday gifts, so I made them say it was a Halloween gift. In my brain, I’m like, “No, it’s still October.” [Laughter]
At that point, I had been bedridden for so long that obviously, my muscles had atrophied a bit. Next steps for me were to do physical therapy to basically relearn how to walk. I remember the very first time that the physical therapist came into my hospital room. The only goal at that point was to sit up at the edge of the bed.
You think, “Oh, that’s simple,” but, oh, my god. It felt like they were tearing my back apart when I was sitting up for the first time because every muscle in my bad was screaming. You don’t understand how much your core muscles really work with that. Trying to sit up was just a monumentous effort that I could barely do. I don’t think I could even do it initially.
I know I remember being super upset at myself that I couldn’t do this simple task. The physical therapist had to go and help some other people at that point. I just felt bad at failing and wanted them to come back and try again. At that point, it was just very slow and steady kind of getting my strength back.
At that point, I was moved to what was called an acquired brain injury in-patient rehab unit. They had actually come to assess me like a couple months before when I was still not all there. But by the time a bed opened up, I was back to normal as far as memory was concerned. It was just the physical aspects that I needed help with, but still, it was a really good couple months that I was at this acquired brain injury rehab place.
They do an intake test when you come in to see how your degree of brain injury is. By that point, I was almost fully back to normal mentally. It was like memory tests, like I’m going to read these ten words right now and then I’ll come back to them later and repeat how many you can remember while they do some other cognitive tests. I think I scored in like the 99th percentile or something even though I couldn’t actually see. They actually had to read all the questions out to me, so at that point, it was obvious that I hadn’t lost anything cognitively.
I had only lost that six months or so of memory when I was in the coma, which was a relief, obviously, because I think there was another girl in that unit that also had the same thing that I had, which eventually was termed to be viral encephalitis because they didn’t know what virus it was and it was just viral brain swelling, essentially. She was still in the stage where her short-term memory was completely shot, so she had no short-term memory at all.
I was pretty much the youngest on that unit. Most everyone else in that unit was an older person with a stroke or someone who had fallen and hit their head or something, a diabetic that might have had a diabetic coma and had some brain damage. I was the youngest there.
That basically was every day. First, it was working on sitting up. Then it was working on basically being allowed to transfer to a wheelchair on my own because, initially, I didn’t have enough core strength for them to trust me to even transfer from the bed to a wheelchair on my own. They had to use this thing called — I think it’s called a Hoyer lift where they stick this canvas harness underneath you and then winch you up, move you over, and lower you down into the wheelchair.
Oh, my god. [Laughter] It’s a very interesting but kind of uncomfortable experience. Initially, I grew to hate having to do the wheelchair stints because, initially, they’d sit me in the wheelchair for, like, a half-hour or an hour or something just to get my core muscles back up, but it was so painful, initially, that I just hated those times.
Gradually, I was able to get enough strength back where I was able to sit in the wheelchair and even move, like wheel around on my own. I was able to transfer to the wheelchair. These use kind of like plastic board that they put one end on the bed and the other end on the wheelchair. You kind of slide down it onto the wheelchair. That was a big accomplishment. [Laughter]
Avaluka: As well as that I’m also relearning how to do stuff without sight because they had occupational therapists helping me with that. I had to learn how to put toothpaste on a toothbrush and that kind of stuff. It was all sorts of things, relearning, just relearning how to exist in this new reality.
By the end of this three-month stint, I was finally able to walk down the hall with this really awkward walker. I think it’s called a standing walker. Basically, it’s this huge contraption where your entire arms and upper body are supported by the top of this walker, but you can walk. It was only maybe ten feet, and they had the wheelchair wheeling behind me just in case I needed to sit down. It was such an accomplishment that I managed to do that.
I don’t think I mentioned this before, but I had nerve damage in my legs as well because of being bedridden for so long. Thankfully, peripheral neuropathy can improve, unlike optic nerve or spinal cord damage, because it’s a different type of nerve, so I did get some movement and motion back in my right leg. I still have to wear a brace, but I can actually walk around without it now, whereas beforehand I couldn’t really do that. It was just like a dead foot.
Yeah, after that initial three months at the in-patient rehab and then I had to go to another in-patient rehab but at a regular hospital just to basically refine my walking and get strong enough to be able to walk on my own, which initially I was only able to use a walker. But my goal was to eventually switch to canes, which I did initially at the end of the rehab.
While this is all going on, while I was in this second in-patient rehab, I was actually looking at getting back into college and trying to figure out what I was going to do for a living afterward. I’d actually gotten the acceptance letter to that computer programming program while I was in my coma, funny enough. [Laughter]
Avaluka: I know. I was able to actually call the college, though, and explain the situation. They were able to reinstate the acceptance, thankfully.
When I first went to the intake at the college, I was still using the walker, though, just for more stability because it’s a lot of walking indoors and all that. By the time I actually started the classes in earnest, I had switched, I think, just to a cane.
My goal throughout all this was to be strong enough with walking that I could get a guide dog, which I did eventually get. I think I got him in 2010, so that was about three years after my initial ordeal in September of 2007.
After I had relearned how to walk with that whole ordeal and I went back to college, got a diploma in computer programming — I got two diplomas in computer programming because I went back and got a more specialized software development one with an internship that gave me a bit more experience because I found that it was a bit more difficult considering I had a giant gap in my resume and I had never really done any of that kind of thing professionally before. It was helpful to have that on my resume considering it’s a bit difficult to figure out when to broach the subject that you’re blind when you do a job interview.
Avaluka: There were so many different suggestions on when to say that. Do you put it in the cover letter? That kind of stuff.
Thankfully, it all worked out considering, for a while there, they thought I would either die or be completely brain-damaged. Thankfully, I wasn’t either. The only thing that I lost was my sight, which is mainly because my optic nerves were crushed because of the brain swelling.
The optic nerves and the olfactory nerves are kind of in this bundle, kind of behind your eyes, like at the front of your brain there, so they’re very susceptible to get crushed when the brain swells a bit. I did lose my sense of smell a bit as well because of the olfactory nerves are in the same space. But the olfactory nerves can regrow. The optic nerves can’t.
I know some people always ask me, well, what do you see? Do you see this blackness? What is it that you see? I can only describe it as, do you remember on an old TV set if you tried to go to a channel that you couldn’t get?
Milax: Yeah, that sort of black and white fuzz.
Avaluka: Static, yes.
Avaluka: I see that and it’s kind of appropriate because, essentially, it’s like my brain is trying to work on a faulty connection. It’s trying to figure out what it’s seeing but it can’t, so it’s just fuzz, static.
I can see kind of like outlines of like my hand in front of my face if I know my hand is there. Those are kind of like phantom images. My brain knows that that’s supposed to be there if my hand is in front of my face. But it’s like a hand made of static on a background of static.
It’s like those ghost images that you can see. You can sort of see what’s on the channel but you can’t really, so I don’t know.
Milax: I knew, heading into this interview, that you were blind.
Milax: I was curious about that just for a number of reasons. The idea that you’d go from a plucky 22-year-old to–
Avaluka: I know.
Milax: –coming out the other side, months later, having lost control of your body and feeling like your brain is not doing what you expect it to.
Milax: Then to never have sight back. It’s amazing.
Avaluka: I know.
Milax: Then, obviously, the amazing part is the recovery, right?
Avaluka: Yeah, I know.
Avaluka: It’s not like you just jump back. I mean I wasn’t super physically fit to begin with but I was like a nerd, so I don’t know.
Milax: No, I understand that struggle.
Avaluka: I’m assuming if I was more physically fit beforehand, it might have not been a huge of a recovery. But as it was, it completely wiped me out.
Avaluka: Thankfully, I was young enough that I could kind of bounce back from that. There are a lot of things that I had to adapt to because I also had to adapt to, okay, what kind of hobbies can I do now considering a lot–
Milax: Oh, right!
Milax: Because you were a gamer and a reader, right?
Avaluka: And I did digital art.
Milax: All of those things, at least it would seem to a lot of people on its face, are suddenly out.
Avaluka: I know it’s understandable that a lot of people are afraid of blindness. I actually remember this growing up as a child, learning about different disabilities. I think it was a disability awareness day or something.
I remember thinking it would be kind of cool to have a guide dog, but I don’t think I’d want to be blind. I remember thinking to myself and hemming and hawing. I’m like, I think I’d rather lose my hearing if I was going to lose anything. Yep, that’s what I would rather lose.
Milax: [Laughter] Yeah.
Avaluka: [Laughter] I’m like, well, that’s ironic.
Avaluka: Even in college, like when I was going for my biology degree, they had another disability awareness thing where, at the dining hall, you could choose something to experience a disability. They had earmuffs, noise-canceling earmuffs for deafness, they had blacked out goggles for blindness, and they had gloves, bulky gloves to simulate a physical motor difficulty. Even then, I really shied away. I didn’t choose the googles. I went the cowardly route and I chose the earmuffs.
There were very few people. I think I only saw one person that decided to choose the goggles. I understand that, yes, the world is a very visual place and people are obviously horrified that that might be a thing that can happen, losing your sight, but I kind of got over that. [Laughter] Initially, I know I had the pity party, like why me, why is this. But I kind of like, you know what? I can either spend the rest of my life regretting this or just move forward and find other ways to be happy.
Milax: You know you’ve obviously stuck with Gemstone through all of this, right?
Avaluka: Yes. That was like the first thing I tried to actually get back onto when I got my computer because, after I recovered, the Canadian government actually has a program to fund assistive technology for disabled people because screen readers are very expensive.
The screen reader that I use is called JAWS. A license to get it would be about $800, at least, I think, U.S., just for a personal license. Disabled people can’t really afford that, but it’s such a niche software that I don’t know if that’s because they know that insurance and governments will pay that exorbitant amount or if they need to charge that much because they have much a narrow usage. I have no idea.
Basically, the government at the time, and right now, basically give you a budget and you can get a computer and the screen reading software for it. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind gives you free lessons on how to learn how to navigate a computer with a screen reader.
I was really quick at it and I know, initially, I had to have the screen reader read so slowly because I was still learning, but now I have it reading super-fast because picture — if you normally speed read, how much you scan, how fast you read in your head when you’re scanning something, you kind of want the information almost just as fast just by listening to it. You can’t have it reading at a leisurely pace. It just takes too long.
I got my new laptop and I think it was around October again. Was it 2008?
Milax: Did you have an Ebon Gate to help you market?
Avaluka: Yeah, so it was an Ebon Gate. It was October 2008, when I first got back on the Internet. I’m sure all my Gemstone friends thought I had completely disappeared off the face of the Earth.
But at that point I’m like, okay, Ebon Gate is going on but I don’t think I’m ready. I didn’t even know how to connect to the game at that point because I think I tried. Stormfront, unfortunately, being such an old program, it’s not accessible, so I had to ask around. I got in touch with some of my friends at that point through AOL Instant Messenger because that still was a thing back then.
Milax: [Laughter] Yeah, it still is for some people.
Avaluka: For some people, yeah. Then they asked around and someone found the way to do it. Well, I had an accessible client. Basically, it’s text-based, but it’s made specifically to work with screen readers out of the box. Basically, when you log in on the website and you try to launch Stormfront or something, there’s a file, like a .sal file.
Milax: Yeah, I’ve seen that.
Avaluka: It’s got your login key, basically. That’s basically what the website sends to Stormfront to say, “This is the character I want to sign in as,” so you just kind of have to grab that. You can input that into a regular text-based client, connect that way, and just manually give it the login code. It’s a bit clunky. I’m so used to it now; I can do it really fast. [Laughter]
Eventually, I think it was around December or January when I finally got back in. At that point, I don’t think I had actually ever had a break from Gemstone. That was my only break from Gemstone was when I was in the coma and recovering was that year or so that I was recovering. [Laughter]
Milax: When did you start playing?
Avaluka: I started in 1996, so I was like 11 or 12 at that point. It was when AOL — I know it was right before AOL had unlimited because I know I had the uncomfortable talks with my mother–
Milax: Oh, those were fun.
Avaluka: –at least once or twice–
Avaluka: –about the phone bill, so I was super excited when it was monthly and unlimited.
I was basically relearning how to do things with a screen reader, like hunt effectively and all that kind of stuff. Audio alerts are my friend, so [laughter] I had to put in a lot of audio alerts. I have one when something swings at me. I have one that kind of is like a sound of someone crying out in pain when I get hurt.
Avaluka: [Laughter] The main thing–
Milax: Are you hearing every word as it’s displayed on the screen?
Milax: Is going somewhere like Town Square Central or a Dreavening or something just an absolute nightmare?
Avaluka: Oh… When I was a game host, I’d accidentally popped into a Dreavening once or twice. I was completely blind at that point. I could not basically differentiate anything. The text was going too fast.
When I walk around, I usually have descriptions turned off unless I need to turn them on to try to find — it was usually a merchant or something where I’d turn them back on. You know they hide the containers in the descriptions, so I’d have to look and sus out which of these containers has the items in it and all that kind of stuff.
Milax: You got back in.
Milax: You’re getting used to this new way of playing this game that you’ve known since you were a little girl.
Milax: At that point, you’re still a player, right?
Avaluka: Yeah, I’m still a player. Yes, at that point. That was for several years as just a player, relearning how to hunt. As I said, I really got into unarmed combat. That was really fun to get into.
The main hurdle was trying to figure out how to know what the next move it to tier up because there’s that message at the end, which I could get to, but the information that I need was at the very end of the sentence. I’d have to wait for the screen reader to read to the very end because it’s like you sense the foe is–
Milax: Yes, susceptible to a grapple attack or whatever.
Avaluka: Yeah, I know, and I’m like, well, the thing I want is at the very end, so it takes–
Milax: Right. Right.
Avaluka: Seconds count here so, basically, what I did was audio alerts for those too, so each one of those has a specific sound so that when it pops up, I know what next attack to do.
Milax: I’m imagining punching noises from the Rocky movies, you know, like [punching noise].
Avaluka: I know. I wish I had those.
Avaluka: I just have the sample audio that came with the front-end I use. I really need to try to find some better wave files to use.
Milax: [Laughter] Yeah, right. Spice it up a little bit. Talk about how you got in. Talk about the transition from Gemstone player to GM. How did that happen for you?
Avaluka: Well, first, I was a game host. I think it was around 2015 when I was hired as a game host. Initially, I had always wanted to be a game master even before I went blind, but initially, I was kind of worried that I didn’t know if they had special tools or something that wouldn’t be accessible to me. I was kind of worried.
They did a call for game hosts and I’m like, you know what? I’ll try it. What’s the worst that could happen? It could be fun.
When I did my interview, I think, at the very end after it was done, I was like, “Just so you know, I’m blind.”
Milax: Yeah, and by the way. [Laughter]
Avaluka: I think it was Kala who interviewed me. She’s like, “Oh, I had no idea.” I’m like, “Okay. It doesn’t sound like that’s going to be an issue.” [Laughter]
Avaluka: It wasn’t and the only issue I really had, I think, was if someone had a really in-depth Stormfront issue, but usually I could direct them to player resources or something like that. I had used Stormfront before, so I had memory of, generally, how it worked before. That wasn’t a real–
Milax: It wasn’t an insurmountable hurdle for you.
Avaluka: No. No, it wasn’t a problem for me.
Milax: After game hosting for a while, then you applied to be a GM?
Avaluka: Yes. After game hosting for a while, I think there was a call. They were doing a big hiring for game masters. At that point, I had been — oh, I’d been a game host for a couple of years at that point. I think I was a senior game host, even.
I think I probably remember when I first became a game master because the first Ebon Gate that I participated in as a game master was the second year of Caligos. It’s funny. I kind of use Ebon Gate as a time marker, but there you go.
Milax: Yeah, it’s like the milestones in your life.
Avaluka: I know.
Avaluka: It would have been around 2018, I think, that I became a game master. It was a bit of a transition, obviously, because going from a game host, which is kind of like tier-one support where, like, okay, this is a very interesting, hard issue. Let the game masters handle it.
Milax: Right. Yeah.
Avaluka: You know? Now I’ve got to handle it. Okay. But my main interest, obviously, was coding. I’ve always been a programmer, coder. I know it seems odd because, essentially, I’m listening to the code. But I was always interested in making and coding stuff, so I was excited to get that going.
It took a couple of months to get through all the training and stuff and be able to learn how to code. I know Bon Shaman Cloaks was technically my first foray into coding and, I think, after that was the quivers was my first big one.
Milax: Being a GM for you, what’s that like? Why do you enjoy it?
Avaluka: It’s like being a part of the creative part of the community, being able to be on the opposite side. As a player, I’d always have these great interactions with the MPCs or game masters or memories I’d cherish of things that happened during a merchanting session. It’s nice being on the other side and being able to give back to the community that way, being able to tell stories that way, and just be a part of the community in that kind of way.
Milax: You’re actually the first GM I’ve talked to who is on the new player experience team. We’ll talk later about some of the cool things that you’ve done with your coding skills but talk about that team. What do you do on the new player experience team? What’s the purpose of that team and your role?
Avaluka: I know we’re a new team, so it’s basically pretty self-explanatory. We’re working on the new player experience.
Milax: Right. [Laughter]
Avaluka: Which I think currently just consists of the Raging Thrak and the Sprite Quest. Basically, updating that. I can’t really say much about that particular because it’s not ready for teasing beyond what has already might have been said in previous teasing. I think Wyrom might have mentioned it once or twice in his Creating Adventure newsletters a little bit.
I know I’m allowed to talk about what I have personally been working on for the new player experience team, which tentatively is called the Newbie Clothing System, which is what I’ve been calling it. It’ll probably get a different name later on.
Avaluka: As a player and someone who makes way too many alt characters, I’ve never really capped a character. I keep thinking of new character concepts and making a new alt, so–
Milax: Yeah, it’s the alt trap.
Avaluka: Yes. I kept seeing all the newbie clothing outfits you get generated with and the randomness of it. I always seem to get that stupid one with the bearskin leggings.
Milax: Yeah, right. [Laughter]
Avaluka: I’m like, this does not fit me. Why is my female halfling wearing bearskin leggings?
Milax: She’s cold!
Avaluka: [Laughter] It’s not very fashionable. I’m sorry.
Avaluka: My thought was, it just seemed outdated. The system I’m working on will let a new player hopefully trade in their outfit and pick a new one. This is all separated by race, profession, culture, gender, so you can look at, like, it’ll show things based on what you currently have set as your race and culture. Maybe it’ll spark an idea for what they want their character to be if they look at these different outfit options and be able to find something that fits their character.
Milax: Yeah, cool. It’s like a roleplay nudge, right?
Milax: Like, oh, you’re a Dark Elf Sorcerer. You don’t know what that means? Maybe this outfit will suggest something.
Avaluka: Yeah, and of course there are generic ones. We’re still working. This is all very in progress and, obviously, subject to change a little bit depending on how things go before release but, basically, there are generic ones. There might be a one where they look more well-off. There might be one where they look more like a peasant. There might be one where they look more like–I don’t know–a chef or a baker or something. It might give them a little bit of, “Oh, that’s kind of cool. That’s what I was picturing my character as, not having shagging bearskin leggings.”
Milax: Yeah. [Laughter] All right, well, that sounds like a really cool project in the new player experience, at least that you’re working on.
Avaluka: Yes. Yes.
Milax: I’m excited to hear where that goes. I’m sure that–
Avaluka: It’s been a long process. It’s been in progress for a while now, but getting all the outfits and stuff, it’s going to be a long process.
Milax: Yeah, well, and no more shagging bearskin leggings for anybody.
Avaluka: [Loud exhale]
Milax: Now, you’re, as you mentioned, a relatively new GM, but you’ve already made a lot of things that I think are very cool and I know that a lot of people are familiar with. You started with the Bone Shaman Clothing.
Milax: You made the compartmentalized quivers, werepuppies, the bloodletting leech jar.
Milax: It seems to me you have an interest in the morbid [laughter] just in that there are a lot of bone and undead and gross things.
Avaluka: And blood. Yeah, I know.
Milax: Is that right or is that just happenstance?
Avaluka: I think it might just be happenstance because a lot of my initial items were in Ebon Gate and that’s kind of like on theme.
Milax: Yeah, it’s sort of grisly.
Avaluka: But I still kind of — I am technically a biologist. I do have a biology degree, so I’m very interested in that kind of anatomy. It’s kind of like my wheelhouse as far as interests go.
Milax: Sure. Yeah.
Avaluka: As far as bones and the old-timey medical practice of bloodletting and all that kind of stuff. That’s kind of cool.
Milax: Yeah. I know that with werepuppies especially, that was the big hot release at the last Ebon Gate. I know it’s–
Avaluka: I know I kind of — did you know that I — I think I might have crashed the game when the raffle first drew.
Milax: I didn’t know that.
Milax: Well, I remember all of the lines for raffles at Ebon Gate are super long, right?
Milax: But that one, that room was just — I mean everyone was in there.
Avaluka: Everyone was in there.
Milax: I’m sure with all of their alts, you know, just desperately hoping.
Avaluka: It wasn’t — thankfully the — I think there were over 200 entries in that raffle. It was some obscene amount.
Avaluka: It was right after the raffle drew and I think everyone who didn’t win and didn’t want to stick around to watch started leaving. It was like a minute or two after that, as everyone was leaving, that it crashed.
Avaluka: I don’t know if I was the one who crashed it, but I suspect it might have been a contributing factor. I don’t know.
Milax: It probably didn’t help things, right?
Avaluka: [Laughter] No.
Milax: Yeah, I know that I really wanted one of those and it’s incredibly unfair and cruel that I didn’t get one, but we can have that conversation later.
Milax: How did the concept for werepuppies come about?
Avaluka: Oh, god. I know a lot of people had always been wondering, “Okay, we have DHU kittens. Why don’t we have DHU puppies?” That was kind of like a discussion even on the player side.
When I became a game master, I always — I’ve always been interested in animals. I used to — initially, I wanted to be a vet, so I’m always interested in animals. Basically, domestic animals. I’m like, you know what? I’m going to be the person that brings DHU puppies into existence. I’m going to try that if I’m allowed to.
But then I thought, you know what? It’s kind of boring just to have them just be boring old puppy like the kittens. I know other people apparently had been asking for, like, zombie kittens or undead kittens or something.
Milax: What?! [Laughter]
Avaluka: I don’t know. Some people had been asking for that, apparently. I think, okay, well, maybe I could do that. But then I thought, I don’t know — I think someone was talking on Discord. Werewolves came up or wolves came up at some point and that brought me to thinking about werewolves in general.
I know Dragon ROM has that werewolf race. That kind of had me thinking about that. I’m like, “Huh. I wonder if I can hook them into the Moon Phase somehow and have them change? That would be kind of cool.” Then it kind of snowballed into that. We were like, “Okay, I can’t have them just change into werewolves. I could have them change into a zombie. I can have them change into a ghost-like Pirates of the Caribbean kind of thing.
Avaluka: Then it all just kind of snowballed into that. I’m like–
Milax: You landed on the cutest possible outcome, which is the werepuppy.
Avaluka: Yeah. [Laughter]
Avaluka: Yeah. I know. I’m hoping I’ll have time to maybe update them a little this year. Maybe not.
Avaluka: I have no idea if I’ll have time or not.
Milax: I don’t care if you update it or not. Just stick one in my locker and we’ll call it a day.
Milax: I know — so, the first thing that you actually — well, actually, I should say I was really excited. The big raffle that I won at Ebon Gate was the unlimited leech jar.
Avaluka: Oh, god, yes, you did. [Laughter]
Milax: Which was really fun and I had a lot of fun sticking those on people and grossing people out by eating them. That’s a blast.
Milax: But the first item that you made that I got really excited about was the compartmentalized quiver.
Milax: Because that–
Avaluka: Back then, it was working off of how archery worked back then.
Milax: Yeah, well, back then it solved the problem of archery, right?
Avaluka: Yes, and I don’t know if dev at the time might have been — I don’t know. I don’t think dev at the time was thinking about changing archery at that point. I wanted to do the quiver, so I worked with what the archery system was as it was then.
There were a lot of other items that were similar, like all the auto-bundle pelt bags and auto-bundle herb kits and everything. I figured it was kind of like a similar kind of functionality.
I know I did get a lot of questions after I released it, like, “Why can’t you put this into the archery as a whole?” Unfortunately, I don’t have the authorization for that. Funny enough, now, basically, that’s what happened.
Milax: Yeah. Well, and then you gave them an overhaul–
Milax: –to make sure that they sort of stayed on power level, right? How did those change?
Avaluka: Basically, I was in contact with Nagen (phonetic, 00:51:34) initially when he initially released the archery document because as soon as I read it, I’m like, that’s essentially the fully unlocked quiver.
Avaluka: It was essentially one of their features was, basically, you’d get an arrow and fire in one command. That’s essentially what every quiver and bow does now. Essentially, the auto-bundle thing completely went out of the window because bundling is not really a thing that’s needed any more, at least not to the point where you’d need it on the quiver.
Milax: Where it would be like a special feature.
Avaluka: Yeah, it might be more hindrance than anything because, why would you need it? You kind of like get the bundles you need ahead of time and put them in the compartments. That’s it.
Also, the gather thing. That was another fully unlocked feature that completely went out because there’s no more ammo to gather. That was three features completely — and I think Nagen even said, “Sorry. I completely gutted your quiver.”
I’m like, “No, that’s fine.” I initially was an archer and I’m happy for these archery changes to go forward. I just didn’t want to be the one to hold it back because I don’t think that the new archery changes could have gone forward without the quivery updating because it was completely broken. It would not have worked at all unless I had made changes.
Because it was my very first project, it was kind of — to me, it looked messy behind the scenes. I’m like, you know what? I’m going to take this chance. I completely nuked everything, completely rewrote everything from the ground up.
I know I wanted to keep the compartments. The compartments were the main feature and I’m like, “Okay, how can I lean into that?” I think I was asking Nagen for ideas as well and I don’t know if he was the one that came up with changing the compartment as you fired. Initially, I didn’t think that could even be something that could be done, but apparently so in the new system.
I started to build around that thinking, okay, it’s going to be like a Hawkeye quiver where you would tune it to certain things and the quiver automatically finds the right compartment for whatever your targeting. Even if you do a multi-fire, it’ll change the compartment for each fire if it’s different targets.
Milax: That’s pretty cool.
Avaluka: Yeah. Yeah, that’s the fully unlocked one, obviously. Another benefit that used to be there was that the compartments are weightless, other than the one that you’ve currently selected. Even then, that benefit kind of went out of the window because the bundle weight went down with the update. I’m like, well, it’s kind of like not really a benefit anymore.
It was kind of a hindrance because, initially, each compartment added an extra pound to the quiver’s weight. That’s completely gone now. There is no added weight to each compartment. The only weight you have is what ammo you have in the currently selected compartment. Everything else is weightless.
Avaluka: I think there was also the auto-advance feature from the original that that was completely scrapped. That made no sense anymore. That got turned into the wear location change, which I’m going to admit I kind of stole the idea from Fancy Sheaths because it seemed like a good idea and it seemed like something that people might prefer to be able to change where they want to wear that. It seems to have gone over as a popular thing, so people seem to like that.
Milax: No, I mean they’re in demand.
Milax: I saw the change and I was like, “Oh, maybe I can get one of these on the cheap because people don’t–” No. People know and they’re trying to get them. Once again, I am one step behind everybody else.
Avaluka: Unfortunately, yeah. Even before the changes, the fully unlocked certificates seemed to sell out, in prime anyway.
Milax: But they’re very cool and I think that your resume of coding projects that you’ve done is pretty awesome, so I’m excited to see what you continue to come up with.
Milax: Moving forward, what else is on your plate in terms of stuff that you can talk about right now?
Avaluka: I don’t know if I can talk about much. I know I’m working on one thing for Duskruin, but I can’t really talk about it because it’s still in progress, and a bunch of stuff for Ebon Gate, but that’s all still in progress. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah, so real soon, now, we’ll find out what it is.
Avaluka: Oh, yes. RSN. Yes. Yeah, soon.
Milax: I will say, I did enjoy your spoiler story that you wrote for the werepuppies.
Avaluka: Oh, the werepuppies. Yeah.
Avaluka: I knew it was going to be an epic release, so I’m like, “I’ve got to do something fun and cool for this.”
Milax: Yeah, it was fun. I liked that.
Avaluka: I wanted to extend out the shock and awe to the very end.
Milax: Oh, yeah. You have to.
Avaluka: I was still working on it a bit at least year’s SimuCon, but I couldn’t say anything about it because it wasn’t ready. It wasn’t ready, like out of QC yet or anything, so I couldn’t say anything. It was torture; I couldn’t say anything. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah, and you were like, “Ah, I want to share this!”
Avaluka: I know, but I can’t and they’re going to be so excited.
Milax: That must be a really common GM experience.
Avaluka: I know. I know. Usually, when I have an idea list, I just want to — then I know I have to follow the right channels, right?
Avaluka: Heaven forbid that something would get shot down or wouldn’t work out.
Avaluka: I want to make sure it’s in complete of a state as possible before I announce anything.
Milax: Yeah, that makes sense.
Milax: That’s the considerate thing to do.
Milax: In the next year of GM’ing, what is a goal that you would really like to accomplish?
Avaluka: [Loud exhale] Just more cool items. I don’t know. I like cool items and I really want to get that newbie clothing system out the door. It’s just been something I’ve been working on for quite a while now. I’m hoping — well, I’m sure it’ll be released with the rest of the newbie updates when those are ready. Hopefully, that’ll be done, but just continue working on creative stuff.
Milax: And putting out gross things that people can eat.
Avaluka: Yeah. Yeah. Last year, I did add a goblet of blood to my Bone Shaman Shop so people could drink blood.
Milax: I saw that. I saw that. Yeah, you’re just really giving the people what they need.
Avaluka: Yes. Yes.
Milax: Yeah, so Avaluka, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It was really a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you for sharing your incredible story with us.
Avaluka: No problem.
[“No Words,” by Harvy Turner]
Milax: Many thanks to Avaluka for coming on the show today and for sharing her story. Also, a special thank you to [names spelled phonetically 00:58:25] Arianiss, Aspen, Ephrup, Lucktar, Licel, Chris, Warclaidh, Helman, Darren, Heather Anne, Lexbubba, The TownCrier, Drea, Leif, Zorus, Altheren, Conrash, and Samanthae for being patrons of the show.
If you like the show and you want to support it, you should consider becoming a patron on Patreon. The link to support this show can be found in today’s episode notes.
That’s all we have for this week. I hope everybody enjoyed Rumor Woods, whether it’s because you’re now riding around on a turtle or you managed to snag yourself a fox. Hey, if you know a player with an interesting story, let me know. I really enjoyed putting this episode together and I’d like to do more like it. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening and catch you next time on Town Square Central.