August 31, 2011

Link Round-Up: New Policy, Three-Act Cat

In a world of ever-declining standards, sometimes it becomes necessary to draw a line.

And, look, I don’t normally do this. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for a perfect three-act structure:

Korad: Call For Votes

Suggestions are in for the three ideologies that will rise to challenge the old order in Korad. If you haven’t done so already, pop over to the original thread now, and vote by liking your favorite of the comments.

The Birds: Ask


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August 30, 2011

Dead Enders

While this exploration of an abandoned Libyan state security station is overall as chilling as you'd expect, a surprising poignancy attaches to certain passages. In the maw of the beast, Walter Mitty daydreams:

Hidden away inside the door of a filing cabinet, in a spot where few eyes would see them, were pictures and postcards from places a Libyan security staffer might only dream about: England, Lebanon, the pastoral countryside of rural America.

Having boldly declared that I would be on the record as having supported the Western support campaign for the Libyan rebels if it turned out to have worked, I can now courageously declare myself to have been right all along.

The fighting's not over yet, unfortunately. Where in Iraq regime supporters melted away in the face of Western ground troops, Libya's civil war remains hot. At first the ferocity of the dead-enders seems inexplicable. Why not attempt an opportunistic last-minute pivot to the winning side? Presumably the guys who are still shooting know (or at least believe) that they were in so deep with the old regime that they're irreparably screwed in the new one. Resistance, no matter how desperate, seems the only good option. Or perhaps the dead-enders are simply as psychopathic as the man and regime they loyally followed until now. Certain last minute massacres may be exercises in killing the witnesses.

Iraqi resisters vanished to fight another day, knowing they'd have a foreign occupier to mount an insurgency against—and thus at least a plausible path back to power. This strategy ultimately failed, but wasn't crazy. Their Libyan counterparts know they'll only face the people they oppressed, and who despise them. As Irony and War are long-standing drinking buddies, it maybe shouldn't come as a surprise that an environment that starves a long term insurgency comes at the cost of near term savagery.

August 29, 2011

The Hearing Trumpet

As devoted as they were to the triumph of the irrational over the conventional, of the anarchic and revolutionary over conventional authority, the fractious assemblage of artists who called themselves surrealists were notoriously a boy’s club. The artist Leonora Carrington, who died this year at the age of 93, elbowed her way into their movement, deflated their chauvinism, and outlived them all.

Her 1976 novel The Hearing Trumpet (which appeared first in French, in 1974, and was subsequently self-translated) has yet to find the full readership it warrants. No doubt this is because Carrington was reaching out of her visual arts box.

The book opens as a kooky first-person account of the admittedly ancient and eccentric Marian Leatherby. When a friend gifts her with a prodigiously effective hearing trumpet, she learns that her family intends to send her to a home. The institution, run by a pair of parsimonious, judgmental Christian mystics, houses its inmates in bizarre structures in such shapes as a lighthouse, an igloo, and a circus tent. Marian’s fascination with the dining hall’s portrait of a leering, winking nun leads her to a mysterious medieval text of sorcery, corruption, Templars and a Holy Grail that serves as a font of suppressed women’s magic. And that's where it gets crazy.

Experimental in content but clear in its narrative presentation, The Hearing Trumpet is not just daffy but genuinely playful and funny. At the risk of spoilerage, its final cataclysm earns its expatriate author a uniquely feminist (not to mention lycanthropic) spot in the literature of cozy British apocalypse. A neglected classic that deserves sit on any shelf where the literary and the fantastical collide, alongside Borges, Calvino, and Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars.

August 26, 2011

Korad: Tomorrow's Ideologies

Last week we asked ourselves which crises threaten the empire’s stability, making room for the new ideologies that will soon arise to threaten the dominant ethos.
According to the new comment-and-like system, they are:
  1. Debates between religious scholars erode faith
  2. Imminent invasion by long-absent powerful aliens, in clandestine partnership with the scholar-lords of Montvale
  3. More men are being born than women, sparking to a patriarchal, atheistic youth protest movement
A new belief system has been born somewhere in the Koradi vastness. Today it is obscure and tiny—much more so than the rapidly growing patriarch movement. Over the next few centuries, the new way will rise, persevere through a period of tumultuous struggle, and in the end eclipse the old order. Over the course of this transformation, it will change in response to the tests it faces. It is not the only nascent ideology. Two other competing belief systems will rise alongside it, challenge its hold over the people, but ultimately fall by the wayside.

This week we'll define those three nascent belief systems. Propose your idea for a new belief system using the comment system below.

To add a new answer to the question, start a new main comment thread.

To add a modifying riff or detail to someone else’s answer, append a reply comment.

Show your approval for an idea by liking the comment in question. Like as many comments as you want.

The original author of any main idea can count a riff on his or her idea as part of the main idea by saying so in a reply to the modification. If the original author does not make this approval, it is incorporated anyway, when the number of likes on a modification equals half or more of the number of likes on the main idea.

August 24, 2011

Link Round-Up: Ouija Payoff, Lager Reveal

Universal pays Hasbro $5 mil not to have to make a Ouija movie.

Secret origin of German lager traced to creepy-looking orange galls on Argentinean beech trees.


I’ll be making one appearance at Toronto’s FanExpo later this week. The DMing Mastery panel features Ed Greenwood, Phil “Chatty DM” Menard and myself, and happens this Friday, at 4:00 pm, in room 715B.

Despite great attendance last year, the show’s upper powers have this time around scaled back tabletop panels to this one event. I’ll be dropping the show from my commitments list from next year onwards, so if you want to see me there, this will be your last chance for the foreseeable future.

August 23, 2011

What Attack the Block Nerdtropes

Earlier, I discussed nerdtroping, the process of popularizing older genres via the addition of geek-friendly tropes.

The delightful SF-horror-actioner Attack the Block (go see it, right now in mid-sentence, before continuing to the rest of this post) nerdtropes a surprising genre: the social realist docudrama. The genre represent the underrepresented, placing its working class or underclass characters in struggles typical of a broader struggle against difficult social circumstances.

Its classic presentation, as seem in the films of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, emulates cinema verite documentary in its pursuit of polemical credibility. The genre has long held a fascination for British filmmakers working from a leftist perspective. Pioneering films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (both based on Alan Sillitoe novels) continue to shape UK film today.

Attack the Block concerns itself throughout with the social conditions that made its delinquent heroes who they are. The council housing project that defines them is the object of alien attack—a dynamic mirrored when the police come calling. The final character turn that brings the alien-conquering protagonist salvation from outside authority comes when the audience viewpoint character finally understands the circumstances of his upbringing. It wraps the message in thrilling chase scenes, bloody surprises and refreshingly lo-fi monster effects. The realism may be dustbinned, but the social message throughlines the script from alpha to omega.

August 22, 2011

[Classic Post] Neologism of the Moment: Nerdtrope


To make an old genre palatable to a contemporary, audience through the addition of fantastical, geek-culture elements.

Deadlands nerdtropes the western. 7th Sea and Legend of the Five Rings nerdtrope the swashbuckler and chanbara genres, respectively. Mutant City Blues nerdtropes the police procedural.

We’re used to seeing nerdtroping in the definitionally geeky of hobby gaming world. Now that geek culture has gone mainstream, we’re seeing it in big commercial films. Cowboys and Aliens nerdtropes the western as Deadlands did before it. Reel Steel nerdtropes the boxing flick.

Classic Posts: A Meta Note

Efforts to fully port the entire LiveJournal over to this here new blog mothership have proven fraught. I’m declaring this an official disguised blessing. Much of the 7+ years of material on the LJ is ephemera and doesn't need to be preserved forever. I won’t be deleting the LJ, so if you still want all my backdated tomfoolery, you can still find it there. Until such time, that is, as the platform deletes itself and sails forlornly to its post-digital Valinor.

However, I will be reposting key entries from the LJ here, as I need to refer to them.

These “classic posts” will be called out as such in the post titles for easy skipping by those reading from an RSS feed. Nor will you have to worry about my link-announcing from Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, as I do the fresh posts.

The Three Reveals of Gen Con (Part Three): DramaSystem / Hillfolk

At Gen Con, brave questioners heard details on up to three unannounced projects. Over the last weeks, I’ve been making those revelations here.

The first: New Tales of the Yellow Sign

The second: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff

Now the third and final reveal: my new rules engine, DramaSystem, as expressed by its first game iteration, Hillfolk. The tagline for the project is: If Hamlet's Hit Points is the theory, DramaSystem is the practice.

Specifically, it picks up on the HHP observation that the core scenes of any narrative can be broken down into two categories: procedural and dramatic, and that RPGs have traditionally excelled at the former and given short shrift to the latter. You know those magical sessions where the rules melt away and you just find yourself freely interacting for four hours? And next week you can’t recapture whatever lightning found its way into the bottle? DramaSystem makes the free-flowing story-making happen as a matter of course. It changes the roleplaying dynamic, allowing you to create ongoing collaborative stories that unfold like serialized drama shows (“The Sopranos”, “Six Feet Under”, “Shameless.”) I’ve been in-house testing this for most of the year and am beyond excited by the results.

The first game is Hillfolk, in which you play the core members of a clan of uplands raiders at the dawn of the iron age. Their personal stories play out in a crucible of competing civilizations. Do their histories change the world forever?

Pelgrane Press will be publishing; I’ll be talking about it in stages in the weeks and months ahead. For the moment, here’s a peek at the character sheet. This is my playtest rough and has yet to undergo graphic design beautification. But you get the idea.

August 19, 2011

Link Round-Up: HHP Goes Boardgame, RPG PhD, West Memphis 3 Released

Chris Farrell applies the Hamlet's Hit Points method to board game analysis. See if you can spot the line that is exactly what I'd hoped a reviewer would say about the book.

Dissertation by Doctor of Roleplaying Michelle Nephew now available in affordable e-form.

The West Memphis 3 are to be released today, thanks in large part to a series of documentaries about their clearly unjust murder conviction. The third installment is due to play the Toronto International Film Festival in a few weeks; the directors are now rushing to add an updated ending. Among the celebrities helping their cause, it turns out that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh provided funding for the forensic tests that finally forced prosecutors to act. The three were released under something called an Alford plea, which stops short of an exoneration, leaves some charges on their records, but does not (contra early reports) require them to admit guilt.

The Birds

Paper Towel

Click here for the complete strip archive.

August 18, 2011

Link Round-Up: MCB Love, Rat Exoneration, TIFF Hazard

Mutant City Blues receives much love on the 2 GMs I Mic podcast.

Rats blameless in 1348 Black Death outbreak, archaeologist claims.

Among the condos implicated in a city-wide epidemic of falling, shattered glass is the one atop the Lightbox, the spanking new HQ of the Toronto International Film Festival. Valerie and I have agreed that if one of us gets taken out during the festival, the other should bravely soldier on and continue seeing films...

Korad: An Empire in Crisis

Last week’s poll in our Korad world-building exercise told us about the province of Palth. The following entry now goes into the Korad bible:

Nomadic pastoralist yak-herders, the Palthians make winter camp at Bridlepost. Something destroys all other communities that get "too big". They just disappear. Palthians are an ornery bunch who just plain don't like being crowded. Palthians believe weather at one's birth mystically affects one's personality and character. Youth go on vision quests/rites of passage in the mountains. In Palth, orphaned children disappear within a fortnight, without exception.

That completes our survey of Korad’s regions. Now it’s time to activate its core conflicts, as it becomes a place of contending ideologies.

In order for new ideologies to arise, the old one has to show strains severe enough to grant them purchase. As you'll recall, the prevailing culture is austere, militaristic, reverent of knowledge, and covertly matriarchal. The supreme Koradi deity is the Black Goat of the Fens (whom is symbolized by the sacred goat of the marriage ceremony), a million-teated, ever-pregnant creator who spews out fragments of the cosmos, which given enactment and form by her soldier-demiurges. Her great holiday is the Festival of Ideas.

The crucial social unit is the guild, which connects family and empire. An honorable Koradi remains ever willing to spy and steal.

For more detail, review the above-linked setting Bible.

What now threatens the empire? Answer (and vote on the answers in real time) using the comment system below.

Okay, there are new rules coming up. You’re gamers; you can figure out and follow rules.

This system will speed the last stages of the now-overlong worldbuilding exercise, by folding the pitching and polling steps into one post.

To add a new answer to the question, start a new main comment thread.

To add a modifying riff or detail to someone else’s answer, append a reply comment.

Show your approval for an idea by liking the comment in question. Like as many comments as you want.

The original author of any main idea can count a riff on his or her idea as part of the main idea by saying so in a reply to the modification. If the original author does not make this approval, it is incorporated anyway, when the number of likes on a modification equals half or more of the number of likes on the main idea.

The three ideas with the greatest number of likes will be chosen as the primary causes of instability in the empire, to which the new ideologies must respond.

And… go!

August 17, 2011

Link Round-Up: Alien Big Rodent, Videodrome Weaponry

"The capybara is not a threat, just weird-looking."


The Final Status

The judges have received their applications, the juridical process has gone down in all of its behind-the-scenes violence and splendor, and a winner may now be announced in the 2011 Gen Con buzzword competition.

As you'll recall, the object of the exercise was to use status in a verb, as if this is a thing sane men and women actually do. Extra points were awarded for context, audacity, and fake sincerity.

Touts had chosen as their early frontrunner Kevin Kulp, who, in a swashbuckling disregard for the public trust, snuck it into his opening speech at the ENnie awards.

Yet after much debate and soul-searching, the judges have given this year’s prize to a scrappy up-and-comer, that ranker from R’lyeh, Cthulhu himself. While guesting on the This Just In From Gen Con podcast, the purulent incarnation of cosmic indifference mentioned that he’d been statusing Nyarlathotep. In so doing, he scored points for all three of the bonus categories, plus a special prize for wrapping it in a joke that worked outside of the contest.

Accepting on behalf of the winged, octopoid deity will be his public relations handler, Graham Walmsley.

Don’t despair, Kevin. When you’re up against an elder god, it’s always safest to come in second.

London oddsmakers still have Mr. Kulp down as the man to beat in ‘12. I have seen next year's word, and can attest that it is positively bone-chilling in its douchery. The competition will be fierce and without quarter.

August 16, 2011

Link Round-Up: Timely Review, TIFF Imminent

Dan Harms reviews Out of Time, the Trail of Cthulhu print compendium of non-1930s PDF scenarios.

Very exciting TIFF '12 announcements today: To, Tsukamoto, Lanthimos, Toyoda, Sono...and the 1st Whit Stillman in 13 years. Not to mention Juan of the Dead... Program book day is only a week away!

The Three Reveals of Gen Con (Part Two): Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff

Last week, I spilled my first reveal of Gen Con: New Tales of the Yellow Sign.

Now for the second reveal, earlier teased as “my imminent conquest, alongside an esteemed colleague, of a new medium.”

This would be a new podcast I’ll be launching in tandem with the Prince of Cairo, the ever-voluble, irrepressibly erudite Kenneth Hite.

Our title? “Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.” Need I say more?

I thought not.

Yet I will, regardless. We’ll be trading palaver on games, film, history, eliptony and bookhoundery. Regular features will include Ken’s Time Machine, in which Ken tells us how he’d solve a given historical problem, if equipped with the means of chronotravel. We’ve already been asked if we’ll be fielding audience questions, and the answer is yes, we will!

We’re aiming for an early fall launch. Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press is executive producing. He’s already lined up an impressive list of sponsors, but if you contact him right quick there might still be a slot left.

Watch this space for further details as our audio battle plan marches to inexorable fruition.

August 12, 2011

Link Round-Up: Porgy Backstory, Pelgrane Wrap

The dreaded virus of unnecessary backstory reaches the shores of musical theater.

I thought Pelgrane’s Gen Con sales were up 50% from last year. Nope, it doubled its previous take.

Ashen Stars on The Game’s the Thing

Episode 90 of Ron and Veronica Blessing’s The Game’s the Thing podcast focuses on Ashen Stars, with yours truly as the guest. Join us as we talk about the game’s premise, genesis, development process and additions to the GUMSHOE toolkit. Also up for discussion are Hamlet's Hit Points, why players only think they want their characters to be irresponsible, and teasers for two of the three reveals of Gen Con. Put it in your ears!

Site link.  / iTunes link.

August 11, 2011

Link Round-Up: Hitean History, Heinleinian Politics, Ocular Devolution

Suffering Ken Hite withdrawal after Gen Con? Jennisodes podcast is here to help.

Writer (and Shotguns v. Cthulhu contributor) Nick Mamatas examines Heinlein as the granddaddy of contemporary libertarianism.

Can't stand 3D but unable to catch a flat screening? Whip out your 2D glasses!

The Three Reveals of Gen Con (Part One): New Tales of the Yellow Sign

At Gen Con I spilled details on up to three secret projects to those bold enough to ask. As the 2011 show fades into a whirl of memory and packing tape, I’m ready to start teasing them here.

First up: my upcoming foray into the brave new business model of ebook self-publishing. I’ve written a short story cycle entitled New Tales of the Yellow Sign. These eight weird tales, set in the past and present, in realities familiar and alternate, explore the rippling madness of Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow mythos.

(For another Chambers riff already at an estore near you, check out The Repairer of Reputations, my adaptation of his signature weird-slash-speculative story as a Trail of Cthulhu scenario.)

I’ll be selling this through Kindle and competing ebook channels, educating myself along the way on the realities of this burgeoning distribution method. For those who wish to keep their dollars within the hobby game family (a salutary aim) it will also be sold at the Pelgrane Press estore.

I’m excited to report that Jerome Huguenin, brilliant illustrator and graphic designer for the Trail of Cthulhu line, has agreed to provide the cover. I’ve seen the rough and it is full-stop gorgeous. By which I mean creepy. Creepygorgeous, if you will. I’ll give you a peek later.

I am equally delighted to say that Kenneth Hite, tastemaker of all things tentacular, has kindly stepped forward to place his imprimatur on it in the form of an introduction.

So far we’ve learned that the ebook market works for some writers and not for others. New Tales of the Yellow Sign represents my first explorative bid to find out which category I fall into. The opportunity to devote a regular block of my freelancing time to a client named Robin D. Laws holds enormous creative promise. Its success will depend on your clicks, likes, shares, and e-purchases. Accordingly, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on its progress in the weeks and months to come.

August 10, 2011

Korad: Voting Palth

For the last year or so I’ve been running an exercise in group world-building as a regular feature on the blog. We’ve now defined all but one of the regions of a fantasy empire called Korad.

Although this newly adopted Blogspot platform outshines LiveJournal in almost every way, its poll feature does lack versatility compared to LJ’s. So please hop on over to the former mothership one last time to vote on the defining traits of the final province, the arid and depopulated land of Palth.

August 09, 2011

Link Round-Up: Gothic Wiki, Cthulhu Dry

Matt Staggs presents Maundbury, an open-sourced gothic horror setting with a Dark Shadows/ Hammer vibe.

Cthulhu makes a hilariously soft-spoken appearance on this episode of “This Just In From Gen Con.” Note the moment in which the dread elder god makes a squamous stealth bid for victory in the buzzword contest.

The Birds

Click here for the complete strip archive.

August 08, 2011

Gen Con Wrap

Another Gen Con has steamrollered by. Now we the legions of gamers and game designers straggle our way home, heads full of ideas and colons full of chain restaurant food. I'm happy to have seen my various homies and comrades and already looking forward to our next grand convocation.

Sales went smashingly at the Pelgrane booth. The beautiful blue shiny tome that is Ashen Stars flew off the shelves like a crew of freelance interplanetary troubleshooters fleeing a swarm of Class-K entities. We ran out of Mutant City Blues, Skulduggery, and Bookhounds of London. Trail of Cthulhu sold out multiple times, sending chief Pelgranista Simon Rogers scrounging through the hall to round up additional copies from retail partners. A stack of Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu also vanished amid the onslaught of the book-snaffling hordes. I'll let Simon crow as loudly as his British reserve will allow him, over on the Pelgrane blog, but let's just say it was a big leap over last year, which itself was hardly chopped liver.

In addition to signing tons of Ashen Stars, I was asked to deface a good many copies of The Worldwound Gambit and Hamlet's Hit Points. With the latter book out for a year, I got to hear readers' responses to it, and found them immensely gratifying.

But enough with the residual glow. It's time to buckle down to the elevation of a victor and the lamentation of the also-rans. I speak of course of the buzzword competition. In previous years judges required self-reporting to occur at the show. Given how busy Gen Con has become, and thus how hard it is to buttonhole any specific person, the judges have now generously ruled that post-convention accounts of one's statusing efforts will be considered before a winner is declared. So please tell your story of buzzword use, preferably in the comments here at the newly inaugurated blogspot HQ.

Considerable panache will be required to topple the clear front-runner, Kevin Kulp, who uttered the dread phrase with utter straightfacedness in his opening speech at the ENnies. Only a nigh imperceptible puff of vapor rising up behind him indicated that a portion of his soul had detached from the rest of him, died, and evaporated.

Can anyone top this chilling act of linguistic vandalism?

August 07, 2011

Gen Con Day 3

First things first: word has it that my public display of the vapors the other day has some of you worried for me. Do not fear! Yesterday I kicked off the morning with some stretches. Throughout the day I questioned whether certain pieces of furniture were friends or frenemies. Soon I found myself back in regular Gen Con fighting trim, such as it is.

Saturday presented me with a classic dramatic arc. Though thrilled by the crazy-busyness of the show so far, I found myself feeling a tad wistful for the old days when an occasional lull visited itself on the dealer’s hall. It used to be possible to pop around to other booths and catch up with colleagues. Or for that matter to patrol the aisles for the new cool game. Now the constant and delightful crush of people makes any expedition outside the booth requires the summoned fortitude of Miskatonic explorers prepping for an Antarctic foray. If you do make it to a booth the folks you hope to chat with are as slammed as you were before you snuck away from your own.

I feel a little guilty about my zero-item shout-out pile. But then with the rise of new social platforms and the communications efforts accompanying the crowdfunding surge, the need for word of mouth from me has decreased.

Just as I was thinking this, I bumped into one of the people I hoped to catch up with, and had a lovely walk-and-talk from the Marriott to the hall. Throughout the day a wave of serendipity either blessed me or told me to quit my damn whining, presenting me with the chance encounters I needed to alleviate the social deficit. The night ended with a flash mob of beer-hoisting colleagues at an undisclosed location. The old Gen Con was back, disguised amid the hustle and bustle of the new.

One day left. Time to make the most of it. After another bout of stretching, that is.

August 06, 2011

Gen Con Day 2

At last year’s Hamlet’s Hit Points seminar, I was surprised to discover that most of the attendees hadn’t heard of the book. They’d come either on the strength of the snappy title, or because they knew my name. This time around, the audience included a few newbies but mostly consisted of people conversant with beat analysis. After I supplied a rundown for the uninitiated, I supplied As for the participant’s Qs, focusing on such issues as charging expository scenes with emotional weight (as seen for example in the opening of Casablanca), and how to ease players anxious for constant success into a dramatic rhythm where occasional defeats make victories all the sweeter*.

A like phenomenon occurred at the later GUMSHOE seminar with Kenneth Hite and Simon Rogers. We’re used to describing the system to prospective players and GMs who are concerned about potential issues without having put the game through its paces. Here we had an impressive turnout of folks who have been playing GUMSHOE for a long time were looking for fine pointers. We talked about what to do if the players solve the mystery too quickly (answer: increase the challenge of antagonist reactions and other non-investigative sequences, rather than punishing the players for being too good at what the game asks them to do), embracing players’ choices to hold onto ability points in the early going, and how to calibrate your degree of improvisation to a given group’s expectations. Talk of Lorefinder, the upcoming GUMSHOE bolt-on for Pathfinder, aroused much interest.

Speaking of matters Golarion, later I headed over to the Paizo booth to hang out with fellow Pathfinder Tales authors Dave Gross and Howard Andrew Jones, signing copies of The Worldwound Gambit. Paizo fiction impresario James Sutter says that the novel is selling quite nicely at the show, which is gratifying to hear. If you picked up a copy and would like it scrawled on, I’ll be signing again tomorrow (Saturday) from 4-5. Or grab me after the Pathfinder Tales panel at 2 (also tomorrow.) Or swing by the Pelgrane booth, which is where I’ll be the rest of the time.

Trade remained brisk over in Pelgrane territory, where the company has already exceeded its entire impressive take from last year. Other vendors report results as least as encouraging. There may be a stock market plunge and a possible double-dip recession outside the convention hall, but it’s an upbeat year in our little universe.

*I’m afraid this wasn’t my smoothest opening in seminar history. For most of this year I’ve been struggling with ergonomic issues in the home office. In an effort to stop this from becoming the most boring blog on earth, I haven’t talked about this pins and needly saga here. Long story short: I finally have a properly adjustable chair at home and have it properly adjusted. But I’ve not yet fully returned to total shipshape, meaning that if I sit in a less than perfect chair for too long, I can mess myself up, often the day after an extended bout of wrong sitting. Both the exhibit hall chair I perched on yesterday while signing Ashen Stars bookplates and the chair/desk combo in the hotel room have shown themselves to be way less than optimal. I probably also need to swap out my many-pocketed manbag for something that isn’t constantly giving me the Vulcan nerve pinch. The upshot was that a spate of wooziness struck me during my intro to the seminar. Embarrassingly, I had to step outside to shake off my discombobulation, leaving Gameplaywright honchos Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball to vamp in my momentary absence. I mention this only to reassure those present that I am fine and have not been stricken with Venusian pleurisy or anything like that. For the rest of the show I’ll be much more vigilant against the malign intent of Indianapolis furniture.

August 04, 2011

Gen Con Day 1

Few moments in the professional life of a roleplaying designer outshine having a new core game book make its world premiere on the Thursday morning of Gen Con. Better still to have the book show up looking gorgeous. Best of all is to see people pick it up, perhaps inviting a pitch, and plunking down their hard-earned cash or credit. I could not have asked for a stronger response to Ashen Stars. Nor a more receptive mood—it seems like something out there in the gamerverse has folks hankering for a new space opera game. Writing for a living, whether we're talking games or fiction, can seem unreal and disconnected. The work seems real but the eventual end product can be hard to envision. Gen Con offers many bounties, but for me the emotional reward that comes when a book seems to be making an ideal landing brings all of the months of writing, rewriting, playtesting, fixing, replaytesting, and polishing come into focus. Creators in other fields don't necessarily get to experience this final stage of the process first-hand. This is why I am grateful to work in this very special scene of ours, with its “I've got a barn, I've got a resolution mechanism, let's put on a roleplaying book” ethos. This is the sound of blessings being counted.

Today was all about doing the booth thing. Trade at the Pelgrane booth proved brisk in general. Simon's ingenious 4-for-3 deal encourages gamers to pitch each other on the merits of the books, as they try to assemble the ideal group buy. I even heard several perfect renditions of the Ashen Stars elevator pitch! I guess Internet outreach works or something.

I refined my signing signature over the course of 400ish Ashen Stars bookplates for the Stellar Nursery and Limited Editions. (My legal signature is an illegible scrawl and no fun as an autograph.) Perhaps soon I will be Walt Disney, with a hallmark signature so ornate that I am unable to draw it myself.

Dinner kept me among the Pelgranistas, where we discovered that a St. Elmo's bread pudding stands momentously athwart its plate, providing enough delicious dessert for 5 or more stunned non-Americans. We repaired to a quiet bar to moot various future projects. Among issues mulled: balancing the ideal commercial presentation for the Gaean Reach game with what I might design in a universe unfettered from practical constraint.

Tomorrow (Friday) attendees can catch me at the 10am Hamlet's Hit Points seminar, the 3pm GUMSHOE seminar, or a 5pm book signing at the Paizo booth.

Gen Con Day 0

Last night at the Diana Jones Awards party, the clawed hand of the shadowy cabal, ably spokespersoned by Matt Forbeck, pointed its index finger at Jason Morningstar’s Fiasco, deeming it the year’s exemplar of excellence in gaming. This earns Jason the honor of being the first repeat winner of the DJA. And rightfully so—Fiasco fulfills the promise of Grey Ranks. Its excellence can be seen in its impact on the RPG scene: in the number of people excitedly playing it, and participating in its scenario generation culture. As such it earns its award not only for design but for community-building.

Some quarters have quibbled that no surprises lurked among this year’s nominees. However, it’s hard to say that it was a weak slate. And when we look back over the list of winners from a future vantage point, it’s hard to argue that Fiasco should have been set aside in favor of some quirkier choice.

Speaking of vast vistas of time, a curious but delightful apparition manifested at the party. Steve Jackson is back at Gen Con, for the first time in something like a decade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in more ebullient form.

Another devoutly wished-for arrival: the print gods have smiled on Pelgrane. Ashen Stars (my new GUMSHOE game of freelance troubleshooting in a gritty space opera universe) made it to the show in its thick and full-color glory. Other books hot off the presses: Dead Rock Seven, a collection of four ready-to-play scenarios for Ashen Stars, and Out of Time, a collection of non-1930s Trail of Cthulhu adventures appearing for the first time in paper format.

So I’m off to the new exhibit hall to hold Ashen Stars in my hands for the first time, and to warm up my signing hand for 400+ Stellar Nursery Edition signatures. If you’re here at the show, be sure to stop by.

August 02, 2011

Link Round-Up: Skulduggery F-Word, Ghoul Misnomer

Skulduggery review resorts to the F-word. No, not that F-word.

This is not a nightmare for the ghouls. They seem pretty into it.

A Roleplaying Exercise, In Which You Enter a Tavern

This will be my first Gen Con since discovering that I like beer. Over the past months I have explored various local craft and and international beers here in the fine province of Ontario. While in Madison I enjoyed, thanks to John Kovalic, a quaffing flight of Wisconsin’s finest. Now keens the annual siren call of Indianapolis, with its pungent streets and monolithic chain restaurants. At this point in my beverage journey I have reached various conclusions, such as:
  • Mill Street can do no wrong.
  • Hockley isn’t chopped liver, either.
  • Likewise Blanche de Chambly.
  • German beers just aren’t doing it for me. Germany, you will perhaps be granted a later opportunity to defend this sacred cornerstone of your national identity.
  • Kingfisher tastes like soap.

On a macro level, it transpires that I like or dislike beers regardless of their category. From lagers to stouts, from cream ales to wheat beers, I dig some and am unimpressed by others.

Okay, a roleplaying exercise. The two of us are in an Indianapolis bar. We might or might not be waiting for a guy in a funny hat to tell us where the dungeon is; that’s immaterial. I am about to buy myself a beer.

Wait, let’s be realistic here.

You are about to buy me a beer, as but partial tribute for my many contributions to the roleplaying form. As either a proud Indianapolan, or a frequent visitor already well acquainted with its finest beers, you wish to impress me with your purchasing prowess.

What beer do you buy me?

August 01, 2011

Link Round-Up: Dog Cologne, MCB goes SF

Dogs roll in carrion in pursuit of social status. Just like the rest of us.

Paul Weimer introduces the SF Signal audience to Mutant City Blues and GUMSHOE.

See P. XX

The pre-Gen Con edition of Pelgrane Press’ webzine bursts open like a veritable seedpod of roleplaying bounty.

My eponymous column shows you how to structure a GUMSHOE scenario around the characters’ defining investigative abilities. An Ashen Stars scenario serves as its illustrative example, also giving you a preview of that game. You'll also get a glimpse at the main cast of my in-house playtest.

But that’s not all! Kenneth Hite and Will Hindmarch present their afore-linked Fiasco / Trail of Cthulhu crossover. Ken reappears with a preview of vampire building from his upcoming game of blood-draining espionage, Night’s Black Agents. Simon Rogers rounds up current and upcoming Pelgrane releases. And Beth Lewis gives you the time-sensitive scoop on Pelgranic activities at the big show. Plus, you get to help name a rootin’-tootin’ western orc.

It all starts here!

The Repairer of Reputations


New York, 1920. A new day dawns. America celebrates peace and victory after repelling the German invasion of New Jersey. The cityscape has been rejuvenated and cleansed of foreign influence. And finally, in accordance with popular demand, the government unveils its first public suicide machine. Yet beneath this placid surface hums a sinister conspiracy... one only you, along with your fine circle of upper-crust chums, can thwart.

The Repairer of Reputations is a Trail of Cthulhu scenario by yours truly, based on the classic story by Robert W. Chambers, from his King in Yellow cycle.

Designed for one-shot play, it features a new wrinkle for GUMSHOE: on-the-fly, cooperative character generation.
Available in PDF only.