Creative Dispatch – Publication and Tabletop Gaming, January 22nd, 2018

The monthly creative dispatch updates continue! While I’ve been working smarter and harder on my day work, the creative stuff continues to roll out.

My novel in progress, Hack Job, is continuing to move along at an acceptable pace. I’m about ten chapters in, and just shy of seventeen thousand words. It appears to be on target for somewhere around seventy to one hundred thousand words with the content I want to fit into it. I feel that John Ferryman, the protagonist of my love letter to cyberpunk science fiction, may even have a couple of stories to tell beyond the main novel, though any full-length follow-up titles are likely to feature new main characters. We’ll see how that goes.

On other creative fronts, gaming is looking to possibly blow up this year. I gave my dad a copy of Cthulhu Confidential for Christmas. While he got the physical copy, I got the PDF. We’ll take turns GM-ing over the internet once he’s gone off to Arizona. It’s a pared down version of the Gumshoe rules meant for one player and one gamemaster. It should solve some of our problems for finding a group provided we both get around to reading the rules soon.

Additionally, the Starfinder module mentioned previously is about seventy-five percent completed. I have all of the encounters outlined, I know all of the supporting cast. My pre-generated characters are all ready. The starships are designed. It’s all written down in a usable format. Some last-minute monster design details remain. I even made a map! I have two potential playtest groups forming, with one ready to start as soon as next week.

I was also asked by a good friend to set up a fantasy game. She knows a group she lovingly refers to as her ‘tabletop virgins’. With that in mind, I suggested Pathfinder in order to DM a module I’ve always wanted to run: The Haunting of Harrowstone. It’s Ravenloft flavored, so naturally, it drew my eye when it was first released. If the players really like it, they can even continue. I have the entire six-part Carrion Crown adventure path that will take them from level one to level twenty!

Finally, I need to make a big announcement: a short story that I submitted last year is earmarked for publication! This happened almost six months ago and I didn’t want to say anything until I had a contract in hand, but I can’t hide this any longer! Things are slow to develop (which I’m told is the norm). I’ll let everyone know which story and what publication it will be in as soon as I hear more from the publisher!

Creative Dispatch – R.I.P. Bob, December 13th, 2017

So, way longer than anticipated since my last post, almost a month. My entrance into the gig economy plays a part as does taking care of an adorable dog. I’ve been trying to adjust to new realities, working the gigs, and spending time with family. But, I’ve also been creating again, and that’s left me little time to write about creating.

1998’s films are almost complete! Six more to go in the Personal Blockbuster categories. It’s a whopper – already looking at 4,000 words plus and that’s after removing a couple movies from the list when I realized I didn’t have enough to say about them.

Hack Job continues development too. It’s the first work I’ve done in which I’ve simultaneously had a critique group working with me as I produce it. It makes a big difference. The First Writes group has been instrumental in pointing out to me ways to tighten the work, make it more relevant, and to introduce me to dimensions of craft I didn’t pay much attention to – if I was aware of them at all. Possibly the biggest one is what we call ‘state change’. If a chapter doesn’t do something to change the status quo in even a small way… why are we using it?

I’ve also spent a lot of time reading. A lot of it is for reference – although enjoyment has been no small part of it. I’ve decided to go back to the cyberpunk era proper since Hack Job takes so much from it. Instead of rereading classics from my youth, I’ve decided to hit the ones I hadn’t read. I’d missed Russo’s ‘Carlucci’ novels. I’d missed Pat Cadigan’s ‘Synners.’ I’d missed Wilhemina Baird’s books. I’m starting to catch up now, to get the different flavors of cyberpunk. While Cyberpunk is technically a ‘dead’ genre, its back catalog will keep me busy for years.

Additionally, I’ve done a deep dive into Paizo’s ‘Starfinder’ roleplaying game. I have missed greatly the ability to have a schedule stable enough for gaming. A friend of mine, separated by significant distance now, re-introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons in its fourth reincarnation. Amongst the many other things I gleaned from it, I found a gaming format that you can really bust down into small components if you don’t have time for a giant game. The dungeon delve was a good option then, though the group (like most groups – and my own preference) opts for longer format stories on a schedule compatible with nine to six jobs. But, you can opt out of that if you want for a roleplaying-light, heavy-tactical kind of game. Starfinder seems to be a way to do that or to find a weird, juddering medium road. I’ve read through the core rules, the alien archive, the Starfinder RPG Guild materials. I think I have enough to work with, and I’ve completed a scenario. It even has a map which let me flex my Adobe skills a little! With a little luck, good timing, and some Roll20 access, this could all work out. Maybe even help me reconnect with some of those far-off friends on an irregular basis. I could use that right now.

And lastly, I spent some time thinking about my first manuscript. ‘The Many Labors of Bob’ took a long time to write. Twelve years in fact. It started in 1999 after I had worked my first corporate office job. It was completed in 2010 after having spent eight years in the trenches of an office environment, and several years learning more and more about Greek Mythology. I’m glad I wrote it… but it’s time for me to put it to bed. It’s been seven years. I haven’t put any work into editing it. Working on it puts me in a bad place. It drew from a lot of hard times, a lot of lessons learned. It injected the whimsy and fantasy I wish my own life might have. But… it’s not to be. At least not right now. I’m trunking it. Those who have read it, I give you my thanks. It was a bloated, weird, first shot at writing something long form. I just don’t think it has legs enough for me to ever finish it, let alone sell it. So, for right now, sayonara, Bob. I wish you godspeed (which you kind of already had).

And that’s all I have for right now. I’ll see everyone soon – hopefully, faster than a month).

HeyPoorPlayer – Unknown Armies – Play

Shall we play a game?

Some of you may be aware that this is not the only place I where put my metaphorical pen to digital paper. I’ve been known to drop some words over at another blog: HeyPoorPlayer. It’s a haven for all sorts of gaming news, primarily focused on video games. It’s been wonderful writing for them, especially given my somewhat different slant on their site.

They let me in because I’m a gaming fanatic. Always have been. When dad came home with our first computer, a Texas Instruments 80, and plugged in Alpiner, that was all it took. Many other games followed, and not just on the computer. Sure, Coleco Vision, the Sega Master System and Genesis (and their expansions, Sega CD, and the 32X), and others followed. But, one of my true passions is the roleplaying game. I first discovered them when dad was holding court over a game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. He’d invited his students from his high school’s Wargaming Club (later renamed to the ‘Conflict Simulation Group’ ) to our home for an extended day of play. I was eight. They all looked to be having a lot of fun. I asked when I could play and dad gave the answer all kids get: when you’re older. Older was four years later. The game was West End’s ‘Ghostbusters: The Roleplaying Game.’ That pretty much sealed the deal.

RPGs offered unlimited possibilities. Anything could happen. Nothing had to be on rails. You could do whatever you wanted. Theoretically. You try to shake an owlbear’s hand, you’re gonna have a bad time. But, I digress.

I still acquire RPG games today because even if I haven’t the time to play them or the dedicated group of people to come to the table once a week, I love the industry and love the new ideas that crop up. The physical books are a hefy investment, with most titles starting at about thirty dollars nowadays. So, I have to really want something to get a physical copy anymore.

I got a physical copy of Unknown Armies from a store out in Phoenix, AZ (Imperial Outpost) . And it’s a doozy.

If you want, you can go learn more at HeyPoorPlayer about how the game puts you in the midst of an eternal struggle between angels, demons, magicians, and even stranger things. If you’re down for a dark trip down a strange street, it could be just the thing for you.

And while you’re at it, give HeyPoorPlayer a follow on Facebook or Twitter for more as it comes on Unknown Armies and other great titles we come across. Because games that don’t get talked about don’t get played.

Wraith 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter

I love ghost stories. Always have. Even as a kid, ghosts fascinated me. Invisible, unseen, potentially everywhere. Spooks, spectres, poltergeists, and wraiths. Couldn’t get enough. This is why Wraith: the Oblivion was so special for me.

In most RPG games I played growing up, things like ghosts were just bad guys. Annoying bad guys. Couldn’t hit ’em with regular weapons. You had to use magic, you had to have some kind of charmed weapon to hurt them. You had to bury a body or desecrate a corpse to make them stop. Ghosts were almost always wicked creatures that were to be fought against. There was very little sympathy for the devil in the early days when it came to the restless dead, but Vampire turned that on its ear and started putting out games where you played the monsters instead of hunted them. It took ’em a good long while to get to Wraith, but once they did I was hooked.

Wraith has a reputation of being the redheaded stepchild of the original World of Darkness franchise, right next to Mummy and (I shit you not) Street Fighter. Wraith didn’t have the oozing sex appeal and power of Vampire. It didn’t have the savage brutality or mysticism of Werewolf. It didn’t have the raw power and hubris of Mage.

What it did have was one of the most over-the-top dramatic settings I’ve ever seen and a true grasp of what personal horror was all about.

wraith - wake me up
No Sharpies? Well, this oughtta do in a jiffy…

In Wraith, you were playing the ghost. You were born, you lived, you made connections, you had drives and needs, and then, you died with those drives and needs unfulfilled. Your passions and fetters kept you tied to the land of the living, but death made you a part of the Underworld and subject to its empire and its Deathlords. The Underworld was a place filled with the spirits of those too defiant, too willful, too driven to just let go when their bodies expired. These are desperate souls with everything to lose – so it’s fertile ground for storytelling… provided you could wrap your head around it.

The game was maligned on several fronts. The biggest was that it was depressing. Games are supposed to be fun! Foremost, people labeled Wraith as an event where everyone sat around and got sad which really kind of missed the point for a game about passions so strong you defy death.

The second was that it was antagonistic as hell. The Powers That Be of the Underworld were very, very nasty. Every single group with any kind of power was either trying to smelt you down into raw materials or were trying to indoctrinate you into their cults. And that was if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, the inhospitable denizens of the Tempest were trying to literally eat you undead.

Third, every character in the game had in essence an insubstantial evil twin, The Shadow. It was the part of the Wraith that has one hundred percent accepted its death and just wants the Wraith to let go and sink into Oblivion – and that entity was portrayed by someone else around the table who wasn’t your GM. When another player in the group is playing your nemesis, it’s easy for you to start hating that person.

wraith - shadow
Muhahaha, the Shadow’s job is done here.

The big stumbling block though was the depth of the Underworld as a setting. It was complex and nuanced, and it was hard to wrap your brain around it. You had to break down locations into the Skinlands, where the living yet move; the Shadowlands, the dark mirror of the land of the living just beneath the Skinlands from which Wraiths could watch and sometimes even interact with the living; The Tempest, the roiling storm beneath both Skinlands and Shadowlands in which one can find the varied Empires and Far Shores of the Dead; and  then there was the Labyrinth, the home of Spectres and their dark lords the Malfeans. At the bottom of the Labyrinth was Oblivion – the growing core of darkness that will eventually destroy all that has ever been. It was too much for a lot of people to keep track of, and the non-Euclidean nature of the Tempest didn’t help when trying to explain things.

wraith - escher
Like this, but more confusing and with inadequate lighting.

Finding the kinds of players who’d sign up for this experience was hard. I ran Wraith for a grand total of three groups between maybe ten sessions. None were successful, but man did I love that game. And so did a lot of other people – just not nearly as many as there were fans of their other bigger, better-selling titles.

And now, Onyx Path is gonna revive the game’s corpse and make it better, faster, stronger… deader. That’s right, it’s getting the 20th Anniversary Kickstarter treatment a la V20 and W20. I didn’t Kickstart either of those products – but you can be guaranteed I have Kicked The Living Shit Starter out of this at a Reaper level.

The folks at Onyx Path had made some noises about this previously, but other than a couple low-key announcements they were very quiet about it. Wraith was a difficult horse to back, so I understand why. I remember the Curse that seemingly followed this entire product line. Until I saw that 300% Kickstarted funding reached  didn’t want to dare to hope. Shit, they even acknowledge the curse on their own Kickstarter site:

wraith curse

Click and read, they dare you!

But, we can keep funneling blood an Oboli into the production of the book. There’s still stretch goals to reach and about twenty-seven days left to hit ’em at the time of writing.

So go out there and make it happen. Or something may come for your soul.

New Bloods – Second Gen Gamers

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that I frequent game stores. I like all types of game stores from the ubiquitous video games stores to the personal favorite RPG stores.  We have a local store nearby, The Days of Knights, in which I have spent much of my formative years in. I have seen it in no fewer than four locations in my time on this Earth, and while I don’t get the opportunity (or disposable income) frequently enough to go as regular as I once did, I find myself there on occasion still to commune with my fellow gamers.

On my last trip in, I was in the back of the store and I overheard a conversation starting and could not help but listen in with the acuity of Sawmise Gamgee.  The conversation  was between a middle aged fellow and his tweenage daughter. It went something like this:

Daughter: These are the games?

Father: Yes, these are the games.

Daughter: Dad… you know… these are books.

Father: Yes. The books are the games.

Daughter: [silence] How…?

Father: You have the games in the books. You just have to go through them and, you know, make them.

Daughter: And you said you played them?

Father: Yes, I used to all the time.

Daughter: [first sign of real interest] With who?

Father: Lots of people.

Daughter: When?

Father: A long time ago.

I was touched. I was getting to see something happen between a parent and child that is sacred, at least to me personally. I’m a second generation gamer – my dad taught me the basics via Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. He taught me how to GM. I still bounce stories off of him when I develop plots as he so infrequently can manage to show at the table regularly these days. So I felt kind of privileged to be hearing it, at least at first.

There was a brief period of time here where my attention flagged (cause you know, I’m in a game store and I found something shiny), and then I hear something that kind of made me step back for a second and question whether or not this father might be the best person to explain RPGs to this youngster. They cross my path again and I hear this exchange:

Father: You could be a fighter, or a knight, or a wizard –

Daughter: [Hopeful] Or a unicorn?

Father: [Exasperated] You’re not getting it.

death unicorn
I dunno… she might be getting it.

On the face of it, it’s funny, but on the other hand I found a part of my inner gamer a little bit cross. While on the father’s side in my own terms of gaming, who says that his daughter couldn’t play a unicorn if she really wanted to? In the age of FATE and My Little Pony, I’m thinking that somewhere there’s a niche roleplaying community and  market for second gen gamers to play unicorns to their heart’s content. Her dad might not be able to provide that for her (nor could I really), but someone else could. Since gamers are communal in nature, it’s entirely possible there’s someone her dad would trust that could do that for her, or at least he could incorporate a unicorn into the game as a companion animal. Roleplaying Games aren’t really meant to be constrained – people play the things they want to play. That’s why there are so many. Creativity can grow out of it, and limitations on it can stifle the imagination in those wonderful younger years of gaming.

Ultimately though, the dad was trying to share something he loved with his children – and I suppose that’s good enough. I just hope the girl can go off and find a game where she can be a unicorn all she wants.

UPDATE 11/28/14: Apparently, there’s even a Pathfinder supplement for the guy’s daughter: Ponyfinder.

Click through the image if you dare.

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