Friday 15 May 2020

Illness, Stress, and the Wargames Designer

It’s been over three weeks since I put up a blog, and, truth be told, it’s been a pretty bad time. Soon after my last blog went up, I started to get chills and then developed a fever. These chills and fevers would plague me for the next four days. I don’t know if it was ‘the’ virus (thankfully there was no cough), but it was pretty bad. When the fever and chills finally abated, I was left with a host of odd aches and pains and a tremendous fatigue. For the next week-and-a-half, I would wake up around 8AM, go to bed around 8PM, and do not a lot in-between.

Then, as my physical strength started to slowly returned, my mental state kind of collapsed. I became listless and disinterested. After a couple days of this, I realized that apart from whatever virus I had, I was also suffering an acute bout of stress. It seems funny that you can be highly stressed and not realize it, but there you go.

What follows is just a list of my own issues during the lockdown. I fear it reads a bit like a list of complaints, but I really just mean it as an example. The truth is, now is not a ‘normal time’, and most of us are probably suffering in some way or another due to it. It may not look like it as we paint miniatures and watch Netflix, but when we are suddenly torn out of our routine and thrust into a different mode of life, stress is inevitable. It’s obviously going to be worse for some than others, just as the hardships are greater for some than others, but whatever your situation, your stress is valid. Recognize it, try to understand it, and then, hopefully you can start to address it.

When this lockdown started, I honestly didn’t think it would affect me that much. I mean, I’m a writer, I work from home anyway. Most days, I only left the house to go for a bike ride or to pop down to the grocery store.

Fool that I was. Of course it has affected me, majorly.

For starters, my wife and two young children have been locked down in this small house with me. My wife has been amazing throughout this strange time, but even at her best, it is not possible to keep two little kids from popping into Daddy’s office, or from screaming, or crashing pots, or whatever. Also, the pressure on her is immense, so there are times that I have to go to the rescue or give her a break.

Now none of this is conducive to creative work…or any kind of work really. Since the lockdown started, my productivity (even ignoring when I couldn’t work due to illness) has dropped noticeably. Inevitably, I have fallen significantly behind where I hoped to be at this point in the year. Why anyone should be expected to produce at the same level during this times is mystifying.

So work is going down, home life is harder, and many of my natural stress-relievers are gone. Thankfully, I can still get out and cycle – but my infrequent trips to the library, the café, and the gaming store are all gone. The gaming conventions, which not only were fun, but always helped recharge my enthusiasm for my work, have all been cancelled.  Heck, I don’t even know when I’ll be able to get my next can of Chaos Black Primer!

Also lost to the virus was a trip I was planning to take to see my parents, back in the USA. I have never felt farther from ‘home’. I didn’t get to see my family enough before, and now I don’t know when the next time will be. That’s a thought, I just have to keep at bay as much as possible.

And then, amidst all of this, my new game, Oathmark launched. It is the largest, most complex, game I have ever worked on. Any time a designer launches a new game it is going to be stressful (the same as any creative who release their work for potential review and criticism). There is going to be a flurry of reactions, questions, confusions, etc. This is a natural part of the process – though it can be a difficult one. To do so at the same time that much of the world seems to be falling apart, has made it double-difficult. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of great support from my colleagues at Osprey games, as well as numerous friends and fans.

So that’s me. I’m feeling better physically, and I have at least identified my stresses and can start to process them and see if there are ways that I can mitigate their affects. I think everyone would probably be advised to set aside a little time to examine their own potential stressors and see if there anything that can be done to relax a little more.

For me, I think one important thing is to get back to painting, when I can. I haven’t really done any in the last three weeks. The figure presented on this page is one I painted months ago, but never got onto the blog for some reason. I assembled him from bits from numerous different companies (a no-prize for anyone who can identify them all!) and painted him up as a volunteer for Operation: Last Train.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, cut yourself some slack. It is a stressful time.


  1. I'm glad to hear you're feeling better physically, and hope that you can continue to adjust emotionally to the current situation. My deepest sympathy for the loss of the trip to the States, missed time with family has been my biggest challenge in all this.

  2. These are strange times indeed. To maybe raise your spirits a bit, think of all rhe people who have been coping with the times by painting and reading and sometimes even playing Oathmark.

  3. Strength and Honour man, we're all here for you. Painting helps, i find. GW just started shipping again, my spray of Zandri arrived today. So are Element. Always hope! Stay well
    Ps Love Oathmark :)

  4. Hey man, recharge yourself.

    We need you up and running, otherwise this world of is going to collpase D:

    Joke aside, stay safe :D

  5. It's really hard being creative. Especially when there are people at home inside your creative space. Oathmark looks very interesting! ;-)

  6. Somewhat ironically, the games you created, Frostgrave and ROSD, have helped many including myself get through this stressful time by giving us a way to play games solo as well as using our large, diverse collections creatively. Here's hoping that you recover fully and find some of the joy and happiness that you have given us all.

  7. Glad you're back! Oathmark is great - you deserve a break after working on that beast.

  8. Self care is often overlooked in times of crisis. but it's super important. Good luck, and glad to hear you're feeling better.

  9. Yep. I felt all of that as I read it.

    Hang in there. Every day done is a win.

  10. I had a confirmed case of Coronavirus a few weeks ago and experienced literally everything you just described, and I'm only now beginning to pull out of it. What an incredibly stressful and draining time. Thanks for this post. Stay safe, take it easy, and THANK YOU for all the amazing work you do.

  11. You seriously saved my ass with Rangers of Shadow Deep. I'm a social worker in mental health, and I used to blow off steam at my local game shop. It's been closed for two months, so having a game I can play alone at home has helped me in more ways than I can count. Thanks for giving so many of us an outlet during these tense, unrelenting times. I'm glad you're feeling a little better!

  12. Thanks Joe for sharing , one of the hardest things is to be kind to ourselves. We have to pinch ourselves and remember that the vast majority of us in the UK have water, food a roof, safety and healthcare. A smaller group of us have a fantastic hobby to keep us mentally active and busy and then an even smaller group can go cycling . Keep painting

  13. Glad to hear you are feeling better! I read Oathmark is looks great!

  14. Hope you feel better soon.
    But, ponder this while you are feeling low.I don't think there has been a rules writer, singular, who has had more impact on the hobby in recent times. Collaborations, like Two Fat Lardies, Studio Tomahawk and GW are common. But you have been very much a one man production unit and the games have been very well received. Even I have Frostgrave!
    Good luck for the future

  15. Glad you are feeling better. Hopefully you won't suffer any long-term side effects, as some people are being reported as experiencing.

    1. Oh my, I'm sure that wasn't supposed to come out as bleak as it sounds :-o

  16. Joe, I'm really sorry to hear about your illness and am so glad you are doing better. I can totally sympathize with your home working situation. With two young kids at home it's particularly hard for my wife and I to focus on our work (both teachers) and the kids. I can only imagine how tough it is for someone in a creative field such as yours. It feels like there is less time for hobbying or gaming than there was before quarantine.

    I'm super excited to see what you have coming up in your world of games, but more excited that you are in a better place physically and mentally for yourself and your family.

  17. I really hope you manage to get out from under and think straight again soon. I've been in much the same boat, with zero concentration and two bouts of fairly scary panic attacks. I would point out that your work has done loads for people who you will probably never meet; giving them things to do during Lockdown.

  18. Sorry to hear about this, hope things are starting to look up now, and all the best for a speedy recovery.

  19. Be encouraged! I have greatly enjoyed everything you've put your hands on. You have made countless hours of fun and time with dear friends possible. Thanks for all of your contributions. And without this post I wouldn't have discovered Operation Last Train. Can't wait to try it out!!

  20. Hi Joe. Hope you feel better soon. Thank you for writing this, I strongly identify as I'm currently working from home while juggling a small child, fighting the lethargy and anxiety most of us are experiencing. RoSD and Oathmark projects are keeping me sane at the moment, so thank you also for that! Oathmark is a lovely book, well written and presented. Can't wait to try a test game, I have every faith in you. Hope you manage to be productive enough to write an expansion with siege / buildings rules and the rumoured undead addition! :-) stay safe and well brother

  21. Hey Joe - Hope this finds you and your family safe and well, and feeling a little better about things. It's a very weird and surreal situation we find ourselves in, and will be an experience we all learn from - whether that is about our personal deep wells of strength and resourcefulness, or about community spirit. Tough times, yes, and for some (many, even) it will result in devastating heartbreak.


    Finding your own coping mechanisms is a great step forward. I was officially diagnosed as an anxiety/depression sufferer back in 2016, the diagnosis being that this condition had gone un-diagnosed for perhaps two decades (thus explaining my desire to swap jobs constantly, never finish projects be they hobby or writing related). Since the diagnosis I have learned to recognise the signs, to evaluate, and to take time to adapt my routine.

    You'd have thought this crisis would trigger an awful anxiety attack, but quite the opposite. I am taking this time to create - to paint armies, to write (I'm working on fantasy fiction and non-fiction projects right now) and to share my love for the hobby with a long-promised YouTube channel.

    Wow, this has become a bit of a ramble - anyway, long story short, it's okay to have down days. I have them all the time, but they become further and further apart as I fill my time with small manageable tasks (like today - paint 15 Elves and write some background about an Elven city).

    So keep safe, stay well and know you're not alone.

    PS: Thanks for Oathmark - it's a great system! I may have to get you on the channel to talk about it.


  22. Really great post Joe, and I think we can all relate to this in some way or another. I'm glad you're on the mend; be sure to continue to look after yourself.