August 31, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Purely Medicinal

Kenneth Hite and I talk worldbuilding, creating interesting female pregens for con games and freeforms, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and time-traveling health care in a brand new episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

August 30, 2012

And the Winner of the 2012 Gen Con Buzzword Contest Is…

Since the inception of the Gen Con Buzzword Contest in 2008, with the infamous wheelhouse, one contestant, despite his hard-charging efforts and intense training, has seemed perpetually relegated to second place. He has been the Susan Lucci, the 2002 Oakland A’s, of Gen Con buzzwordery. Consistently he’s come out hard from the gates, earned an early first place, only to be passed in the stretch by such thoroughbreds as Kenneth Hite and Great Cthulhu himself.

This year, then, with pride and a not inconsiderable sense of relief, the judges declare that Kevin Kulp, the Artist Formerly Known As Pirate Cat, has finally outpaced all comers to win the 2012 event. They salute his determination, his heart, and his cavalier willingness to despoil the trust placed in him as moderator of the Gen Con Keynote address on the future of D&D. He achieved his grim victory by slipping the dread word incubate into his concluding question, before the innocent ears of a packed ballroom and the pixelated eyes of a worldwide streaming audience. Kevin’s brazen act of linguistic vandalism can be heard on YouTube or in the Tome Show podcast’s recording of the event.

Congratulations, Kevin. May your victory lap be as sweet as it was long in coming.

August 29, 2012

Treasure of Far Thallai Concludes

Because August has turned into the Robin D. Laws Fiction Explosion (RDLFE for short) I have failed to point out that with the sixth and final installment in Paizo’s Skull and Shackles Adventure Path comes the swashbuckling conclusion to “The Treasure of Far Thallai.” In “Claw Cove”, a classic ship-to-ship showdown unfolds as Challys Argent sends her ship, the Aspidochelone to intercept the Slicer, captained by the insane Kered Firsk. With final battle comes a strange decision for one of Challys’ reluctant sidekicks. Sail your galleon to the Paizo store, or to your discerning local purveyor of fine gaming products. And while you’re there, keep the plundering to a minimum, willya?

August 28, 2012

Part Two of “In the Event of My Untimely Demise”

When in doubt, have a dwarf come through the door carrying a grudge. Part Two of “In the Event of My Untimely Demise” is now up at the Paizo blog.

August 24, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Audacity of Cupcakes

Yellow signs, Kickstarter, idea wrangling and mysticism take center stage in this week’s episode of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast.

August 23, 2012

Prequeling a Dramatic Hero

The first installment of my web fiction serial “In the Event of My Untimely Demise” is now up at Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales blog. It features Luma, hero of my new Pathfinder novel, Blood of the City. A cobblestone druid attuned to the magic of the marble metropolis of Magnimar, she’s the odd sibling out in a team of urban adventurers for hire. In part one, “The Dead Client”, Luma, having been barred from a prestigious assignment, receives an unusual commission—to perform an investigation purchased in advance by a now-deceased customer.

Writing this serial posed a challenge I didn’t have to deal with when coming up with its equivalent for The Worldwound Gambit. Unlike Gad, the heisting hero of that novel, Luma is not presented as an iconic hero, who does not change in the course of the story but instead changes the world around her by remaining true to her essential problem-solving ethos. Instead she’s a dramatic hero, who undergoes a personal journey that profoundly alters her sense of self and relationship to the world.

Iconic heroes, like Batman, Sherlock Holmes or James T. Kirk, are built for recurring appearances. Dramatic heroes are tougher. I can see Luma becoming an iconic hero, maybe, after the events portrayed in Blood of the City. But going back in time, to a moment prior to the opening scenes introducing her dramatic dilemma, required some head-scratching.

Without giving too much away, the story prefigures her arc and echoes a key theme of the novel, without putting her on the path toward her transformation. It’s both free-standing story and prelude.

Head on over and check it out.

August 22, 2012

New Tales of the Yellow Sign Now Available For Kindle

New Tales of the Yellow Sign, my book of weird short fiction based on Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow Mythos, is now available from Amazon’s Kindle store.

You can also grab it from Smashwords, in the ebook format of your choice. Over the next weeks and days, it will propagate through them to other vendors including Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. As the book appears in these venues, I’ll announce them on my Twitter feed.

A last few copies of the limited hardcover run can be acquired at DragonCon from my eldritch pals at Adventure Retail. Atomic Overmind releases the softcover in September.

August 21, 2012

My FanExpo Panels

I’ll be doing the guest thing this weekend at Toronto’s FanExpo, appearing at two panels, both on Friday the 24th.

At 2pm I’ll be in room 707 for Robin’s Laws of Gaming, a solo version of the classic GM troubleshooting panel. If your questions wander off that topic, I won’t call security.

5pm will see me on the Crowdfunding panel, in room 717.

I’d hoped to participate in events on Saturday as well, but alas a scheduling conflict says otherwise.

Hope to see you there, GTA-area gamers!

August 20, 2012

Gen Con Wrap

As usual the day after Gen Con, my brain is mushy and my creative spirits lifted. Thanks to everyone who attended a seminar, asked for a signature, posed questions, or shared responses to my many and various projects. Without an audience this work would not exist. This show serves as a joyous and emotionally overwhelming confrontation with that fact.

Or to put it another way, my current ear worm is the chorus to "Dream Weaver." And I think I like it.

On Sunday, the Pelgrane booth sold out of its pre-release copies of The New Hero and Shotguns v. Cthulhu.

The New Tales of the Yellow Sign sold most of its limited hardcover print run. Remaining copies will go to DragonCon courtesy of Adventure Retail, or to Atomic Overmind world headquarters, where they may be made available via mail order. The main softcover run releases next month.

Now I get to go home and decompress. Oh wait, no, tomorrow's TIFF program book day and the weekend's FanExpo. Belay that. Pass the espresso drum, nurse!

August 19, 2012

Telegraphic Snippets of a Whirlwind Gen Con Saturday

[Image is accurate rendition of author's breakfast-deprived state.]

The Pelgrane booth sold out of Ashen Stars late in the afternoon. To bask in its silver-ENnie winning setting you will now have to head to your discerning game retailer or the Pelgrane web store. Or to your bookshelf, for those of you with the taste and forethought to have acquired it already.

Supplies of New Tales of the Yellow Sign ought to hold for the last day. Find it either in its native environment in the Atomic Overmind section of the Green Ronin booth, or at the Pelgrane booth or Adventure Retail’s Cthulhuiana Corner.

The investigative roleplaying seminar went well, with lots of great questions. This year most attendees new GUMSHOE already, with a more advanced discussion resulting. It turned into a bit of a Night’s Black Agents master class, though we also covered the game’s genesis and the various future projects we’re mulling—and what to do when you have two forensic scientists in your group and they don’t agree on what tests their characters might be performing in the 1930s. I may or may not have captured usable audio of the talk on my magic phone; if so, we’ll slip some highlights into future Ken and Robin podcasts.

Today at 11am Stone Skin authors present at the show gather at the Pelgrane booth to celebrate the success of the prelaunch, and to personalize your copies of The New Hero 1 and 2 and Shotguns v. Cthulhu. Swing on by.

But now I must deal with an immediate crisis, the absence of any discernable protein at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. A desperate Plan B must now be activated. Pray for me, Gen Con. Pray for me.

August 18, 2012

In Which My Humility is Variously Assaulted

Anglo/Canadian diffidence took a thundering body blow last night as Pelgrane saw four of its eleven ENnie nominations turn into silver and gold. I’d like to again thank ENnie judges and voters for their silver nods to Lorefinder for best rules and Ashen Stars for best setting. The first constitutes greatly satisfying recognition to a book that seemed to fly under the radar when first released. In raiding GUMSHOE’s stuff and turning it into Pathfinder treasure, Gareth Hanrahan performed feats of mighty battle, and it was lovely to see him hit the awards podium at his first Gen Con in years. The setting nod for Ashen Stars was an unexpected jolt of approbation and gave me the chance to thank the art team (Jerome Huguenin and Chris Huth) as well as cupcake magnate Beth Lewis and gentleman adventurer Simon Rogers for their indispensable contributions.

For pure delight it was impossible to beat Paula Dempsey’s reaction to her gold award for Best Writing the Occult Investigator’s Guide to London, which is her first book. Contributor Steve Dempsey once again uncorked his freestyle chops to deliver his portion of the acceptance speech in rap form. I was proud to be namechecked in this profound expression of the hip-hop arts. In accepting the gold award for best electronic product for Cthulhu Apocalypse, Simon praised the fecund womb of author Graham Walmsley, veering towards and then away from an invocation of the dread buzzword.

Earlier in the day I was happy to appear alongside Paizo fiction majordomo James Sutter and fellow scribes Richard Lee Byers and Dave Gross for a panel on the Pathfinder Tales novels. Ed Greenwood popped in for a cameo appearance to announce his upcoming book for the line. To what must surely be his eternal chagrin, he missed the later discussion of the supposed chasteness of the series, which turned into a list of all the naughty passages in past or forthcoming books. I think James might have been blushing. Along the way we mulled the inextricable relationship between plot and character and maybe even found a few fresh ways to talk about the balance between respecting and obscuring game rules when writing RPG-inspired fiction.

I also had a fine time doing the guest thing on the Tome Show podcast. You can listen to it when it drops, so I needn’t recap. The D&D focus of the ‘cast provided me with a welcome topic shift. Thanks to Tracy and Jeff for inviting me and for their incisive questions and smooth direction of the Q&A segment.

Today I’m at the IPR booth at noon for a Don’t Read This Book group signing, and doing a GUMSHOE seminar with Ken and Simon at 3. Other than that I’ll be chatting and signing at Pelgrane temporary global HQ, booth 1427.

August 17, 2012

Fast Times at the Pelgrane Booth

Thursday is always my favorite day to man a booth at Gen Con. That’s when your most devoted readers and gamers show up to say hi and grab the new stuff. Pelgrane had a record Thursday this year, with an early rush followed by a slow and steady diminishment of its stacks of books. Thanks to all the Pelgraniacs who reported for duty.

The star item this time is unquestionably Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents. Its “Bourne if Treadstone were vampires” elevator pitch makes for an easy sell. So much so that the booth may well run out of them before show’s end. If you’re planning to grab one, don’t put that off for the last minute.

I was unsure how the Stone Skin Press books would do at a gaming convention—our adventure into fiction is not directly related to the main Pelgrane mission after all. Once more the taste and sagacity of Gen Con attendees dispels my reflexive Canadian pessimism. We will probably run out of these as well. (That’s The New Hero 1 and 2, and especially Shotguns v. Cthulhu, for those joining us already in progress.) There will be a signing with many of the Stone Skin authors here at the show on Sunday at 11am, for which we’ll be holding a quantity of the books back.

Also garnering a gratifying response is the Tartarus/Terra Nova adventure double-header for Ashen Stars, combined in the Ace Double style of old. I didn’t even know this would be here, but that’s Simon and Beth for you. Turn your back on them for a minute, and they’ll print up your new product and have it out for Gen Con.

For which, see also the appearance of the Dying Earth Revivification Folio, which I also didn’t expect to see here in its tastefully arcane finished state. Since the Dying Earth RPG started it all for Pelgrane, it tugs at the heartstrings a little to see this refurbished, streamlined version to the game being exchanged for the richly-deserved terces of a discriminating clientele.

I tend to forget last year’s big thing, but Ashen Stars itself continues to sell well at the stand as well. If you’ve been thinking of picking it up, now’s the time, as the first print run dwindles as we speak. The tricky economics of reprints may force Simon to go turn the glorious color of the current run into black and white, so get it while you can.

In other news, my first but hopefully not last Writer’s Symposium event, the advanced plotting workshop, gave John Helfers, Matt Forbeck and I much to talk about. We represented a continuum of authorial pre-planning, with Matt on the mellow end and me as the obsessive who diagrams every major beat using Campaign Cartographer and the Hamlet’s Hit Points system before going to written outline. We managed to stop talking soon enough to give specific notes to writers currently grappling with their own works in progress.

Today (Friday) I will don my Pathfinder Tales author’s hat (disclaimer: not actually a hat) for a panel at noon and a signing at 1:30, where I will gladly deface copies of my new release, Blood of the City, and last year’s controversial demonic heist novel, The Worldwound Gambit.

I’m also the interviewee at a live recording of the Tome Show podcast, at 6pm, right before the ENnies.

With all these festivities planned, this had to be the day for the wonder of the Utamaro shirt. Prepare to be awed.

August 16, 2012

Nords Triumph at Diana Jones Awards

Defying the Vegas oddsmakers, who had crowdfunding as a heavy favorite, authors Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola last night earned the 2012 Diana Jones Award for their book Nordic LARP. As a document of an inherently ephemeral movement in narrative art, the book is an achievement in itself, while also allowing the DJA committee to recognize the importance of that movement as a whole.  (Were one to foolishly attempt to divine their motives of this mysterious collective entity, which is, of course, the sheerest folly.) Though the authors were still ensconced in deepest Scandinavia, Emily Care Boss was on hand to read their heartfelt and inspiring acceptance statement. Apparently she’s even hand-delivering the award to its year-long stay in the high latitudes. Congratulations again, Jaakko and Markus.

At the Diana Jones party, where the cream of the industry gathers to get their schmoozing heads back on, Atomic Overmind honcho Hal Mangold had in his capacious pocket copy zero of New Tales of the Yellow Sign, which has safely arrived at the show in all its horrible splendor. After posting this I’ll be off to the hall for some signing and numbering. It will be at the Green Ronin booth; we’ll also work out a complex Traveller-style triangular trade agreement to get copies in place at the Pelgrane stand.

Prior to the DJA party, I took the chance to network with colleagues in the fiction world, at a meet-up for participants in the Writers’ Symposium. This series of events offers a full track of seminars and workshops to aspiring fiction writers. People can, and do, come to Gen Con strictly for that. I’m dipping my toe into this pool to as one of the gurus at a sold-out workshop on advanced plotting. Although I’ve written a great deal of fiction over the years my networking circle has always been on the gaming side, so it was great to indulge in a related but different line of shop talk. Maurice Broaddus and Dave Gross were on hand to assist with introductions, and I made sure to talk up their contributions to the Stone Skin Press line. (Maurice is in The New Hero; Dave’s stories appear in Shotguns v. Cthulhu and The Lion and the Aardvark.)

Likewise gratifying is the chance to hear positive feedback on the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast, which, if you hadn’t heard, is now available through iTunes.

And now it’s time to head down to the exhibit hall, attempt to plot the shortest route between decent coffee and the exhibit hall, and hope that a certain distinguished publisher remembers to text me his prepaid cell number so I can claim my badge…

August 14, 2012

Factors in Arranging The Lion and the Aardvark

Ordering the stories in a fiction anthology is always an exercise in multi-level thinking. The Lion and the Aardvark, the upcoming book of modern fables I am editing for Stone Skin Press, adds some new wrinkles to the task. In addition to the usual matters of mixing tones and voices, I have to equally space the stories we’ve chosen to have illustrated (by the perfectly cast Rachel Kahn.) Ideally I’ll find the right rhythm of the personal political, the funny and poignant, the affirming and the disturbing. That’s all par for the course, too. But for the first time I also have to avoid clusters of:

  • cats
  • dogs, wolves, coyotes & foxes
  • birds
  • fish
  • bugs
  • dragons
  • scientists
  • zombies

August 13, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: It’s a Wonderful Life, Batman

Just in time for your Gen Con travels, it’s episode 2 of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast, where we ask if Risk: Legacy is a story game, answer a question on weaving roleplaying stories in the face of player unpredictability, assign Ken and his time machine to stop WWI, and discuss Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

August 09, 2012

Finding Me at Gen Con

Is it just me, or does it feels like Gen Con ‘11 happened only a few months ago? Nonetheless, my calendar reliably tells me that the great tribal gathering happens next week.

My new releases for the show take on a distinctly fictional cast this year. Print gods willing, you’ll be able to grab:

Blood of the City, my Pathfinder Tales novel of urban mystery, political machination, and family intrigue. At the Paizo booth.

The limited edition hardcover of my short fiction collection New Tales of the Yellow Sign, serving up weird new takes on the weird mythos of Robert W. Chambers. Seek it in the Atomic Overmind section of the Green Ronin booth.

Advance print copies of The New Hero, The New Hero Volume 2, and Shotguns v. Cthulhu, the first three Stone Skin Press anthologies, which I edited, will be at the Pelgrane Press both. If you missed the Kickstarter campaign, allow them to entice you into the notoriously seductive Pelgrane 4 for 3 deal. There you may also avail yourself of the chance to pick up The Birds: There Goes My Day Job, which came out earlier this year but makes a perfect convention impulse buy.

Even more important than the consumer frenzy I hope to whip you into is the chance to say hi, whether to catch up or meet up for the first time. Catch me at any of the following scheduled events:


3-4 pm

Writer’s Symposium Advanced Plotting Seminar



Noon – 1 pm

Pathfinder Tales Fiction Panel

Crowne Victoria C/D


1:30 – 2:30 pm

Pathfinder Tales signing

Paizo booth


6 – 7 pm

Tome Show Podcast

Crowne Victoria C/D


Noon – 1 pm

Don’t Read This Book signing

IPR booth


3 – 4 pm

GUMSHOE / Investigative Roleplaying panel


Pennyslvania Stn

During exhibit hall hours, when I’m not off in a meeting or desperately scarfing down a slice of convention center pizza, I’ll be manning my post at the Pelgrane Press booth. Please don’t be shy about coming up to chat. It’s what I’m there for!

August 07, 2012

Announcing the Gen Con Buzzword for 2012

We’ve noted what is and isn’t in our collective wheelhouse. We’ve gone out to hoe the old idea farm. Last year we statused each other incessantly. But now another journey to Indianapolis beckons and it’s time to announce this year’s 2012 Gen Con buzzword competition.

Before the word is announced, a recap of the rules for those joining us already in progress. Players attempt to drop this hideous piece of business jargon into conversation in as many contexts as possible. Straightfaced usages score full points. Visible irony earns you a deduction. For extra points, slip it into podcasts, ENnies acceptance speeches, or like circumstances in which an innocent public is subjected to the buzzword’s full horror.

Super extra points are awarded for causing some other unfortunate soul to use the word as if it is a thing decent, sane people actually say.

To count, usages must occur at Gen Con.

With that out of the way, I can now formally announce that this year’s buzzword is incubate. This term of business jargon art takes the ordinary act of creating or developing ideas one hopes to make money from and confers on it a unearned halo of innovation. By likening your business plan to the protection of fragile new life, it conveys a sense of nurturing that couldn’t possibly be exploitative or douchey.

Examples of use:

  • “We’re incubating the project a little longer before taking it out to crowdfunding.”
  • “I’ll let that incubate a couple days and get back to you.”
  • “Let’s really incubate a sense of community on that one.”
  • “We don’t just hire talent. We incubate it.”

Report point-scoring activities to me for inclusion in the final tally, to be announced after the show. All judging decisions are final.

August 06, 2012

Big Thanks to Stone Skin Backers

Yesterday morning the Kickstarter clock ticked its final tick, leaving the Stone Skin Press fiction launch funded at 250% of its goal. Thanks to all of you who pledged. I’m very proud of the fiction anthologies we’ve assembled and look forward to seeing them reach this all-important first wave of readers. And I can stop compulsively refreshing the Kickstarter page to see if the total has ticked up.

Congratulations to Managing Director Simon Rogers and Managing Editor Beth K. Lewis for managing a fun campaign, full of personality and blatant cupcake solicitation. Now it’s time for us to buckle down to work on those stretch goals, from audio performances to the limited edition chapbook.

We’ve learned lessons along the way, which we’ll be applying to Pelgrane’s next crowdfunding campaign, for Hillfolk. That will kick off in late September, just as I’m recovering from my annual jaunt to the Toronto Film Festival. The hiatus also gives us the chance to gather more art to feature in the campaign. Visuals are now appearing in my inbox and I’m confident you’ll be as knocked out by them as I am.

While I have my thanking hat on, I’m also grateful for the immediate enthusiasm expressed for the inaugural edition of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast. Many of you have asked if there will be an RSS feed and/or iTunes availability, and the answer is yes to both. Setting up the RSS feed so that it talks nicely to iTunes takes a bit of messing about, which is now underway.

If you missed the grand unveiling on Friday afternoon, you can in the meantime head over to the episode page to listen through your browser or download for manual transfer to your listening device of choice.

August 03, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Has Gone Live!

After much preparation, a great leviathan lurches its head from the dark waters of podcasting. Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, my new podcast with boon compadre Kenneth Hite, is now live, with a popping site festooned by the finest cartoon stylings of John Kovalic, whose Dork Tower is a Ken and Robin sponsor in perpetuity.

Grab the inaugural episode to hear us discuss Night's Black Agents, English perambulations, the role of the GM in contemporary game design, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

August 01, 2012

Extreme Zombies Lurch Toward a Bookstore Near You

Emerging with grave dirt on its face and mayhem on its mind, Extreme Zombies resurrects a passel of previously published stories of the shambling undead, including my own “Susan.” I’m pleased to share a table of contents with such gut-munching luminaries as Joe R. Lansdale, Nancy A. Collins, and George R. R. Martin. It is likewise salutary to rub rotting elbows with Jesse Bullington and Monica Valentinelli, whose work will be appearing in forthcoming books from Stone Skin Press. Paula Guran edited; Prime Books published. Grab it on Amazon or from the brain-devouring bookseller of your choice.