The Ring Makers: Chapter 5

Ellie heaved the black stone into the trailer. Shadows stretched across the ejection zone. The sun dropped behind the Ring. She cranked the half track to life and made for home.

 

It was dark when she reached the cluster of trailers and RVs. Jamal and Paula were cooking and Hutch was working on an engine by lamplight. She pumped water to drink and wash, then found Luiz in his Airstream.

 

“Good batch today?” he asked from behind his paperback.

 

“Yup,” she said. Then, “It’s getting closer.”

 

“I know.”

 

“What happens when–”

 

“Don’t know,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

 

Ellie frowned. “Yeah.”

The Ring Makers: Chapter 4

Monitors depicted the Ring from different perspectives: far enough away that waves could be seen lapping at its base; close enough to reveal the individual ridges in the structure; from orbit. Other monitors displayed only data: numbers, graphs, charts.

 

Bae Hyong stood, eyes flicking from one monitor to another as he tapped his tablet. One stream of code caught his attention and his fingers danced. It was replaced by a multicolored chart, jagged but its steady rise unmistakable.

 

“Miss Ryu,” he said into the air.

 

“Yes Doctor,” the intercom answered.

 

“Tell the Supreme Leader I must speak with him. Immediately.”

The Ring Makers: Chapter 3

Genet sat on the boulder and studied the Ring before beginning to sketch. While his hands conveyed the structure of the Ring in charcoal, his mind drifted. He wondered if the boulder had been hurled up onto the surface by the impact. Perhaps it had flown so fast and high that it nearly escaped Earth altogether, only to tumble back down to where it began.

 

Genet sighed.

 

Finished, he compared this sketch to his earlier ones. The Ring was definitely closing. There was no doubt. Anticipation stirred in him.

 

Soon.

 

Genet left to tell Ephrim that the time was near.

The Ring Makers: Chapter 2

Ellie peered across the ejection zone. After thirty years, new life had begun to take hold in that wasteland. It was gnarled and mean and stubborn life, just like Ellie. And just like her, it lived in the shadow of the Ring.

 

The Ring stood as tall as the skyscrapers from Ellie’s childhood. It was a jagged circle against the sky, nearly complete. The gap was only a few degrees across now. Twenty years ago, the first time Ellie had seen the Ring, it had almost been a semicircle. At that rate, in another year it would complete.

 

Ellie shivered.

The Ring Makers: Chapter 1

Up until the moment that fragments hit London, Addis Abada, Beijing, Delhi and New York everyone still believed it was a meteor. Even after the rock fragmented, even after the pieces drifted differently than the models said they would, even after the first piece set off the Yellowstone caldera, we thought it was an accident or an act of God. But then the biggest cities on Earth were targeted, vaporized. Then we knew. We knew we had been attacked.

We didn’t really know. Not yet. We would not know for another thirty years, not until after the Ring was complete.

HereAfter

From Sigil Entertainment!

Heroes Die.

What is an adventure if not a game of chicken with the grim reaper? From a pit full of jagged spikes to giant spiders to traitorous blades in the night to angry would-be gods from the deepest levels of the Abyss, Death stalks the novice and veteran hero alike. And sometimes, Death wins the game.

But in the vast tapestry of fantasy adventure, death need not be the end. HereAfter is a meta-setting designed to take that death, especially the dreaded Total Party Kill, and embrace it. Characters awake on the shores of a mystical island in an endless sea where they have the opportunity to win their way back to the land of the living and complete their quests and find justice and vengeance. Or they can find their way to their final reward in the planes beyond.

But they aren’t alone in the HereAfter: many others before them have crossed the veil to the Endless Isle. Some have made it their home, wishing neither to return to the living or go on to the true end. Some are trapped and driven to madness, haunting the land of the dead itself. Powers and forces beyond mortal ken also watch the HereAfter, unable to enter themselves but using their influence and minions on the Endless Isle.

HereAfter is designed for use with the 5th Edition of the first fantasy adventure RPG. It can be used with characters of any level, from any setting. Characters might adventure here for a session or two before returning home, alive and well, or have a full campaign on the Endless Isle.

Hereafter will soon be found on Kickstarter!

The Ephemeral Joy of RPGs

I meant to write a long post-TotalCon blog entry. It would have talked about how the Rebel Scum came to a satisfying conclusion with Vader allowing them to assassinate Tarkin in order to get them in the open and then eviscerating them one by one. It would have mentioned the absolute insane joy of The Battle of the Colliseum, in which 3 teams competed with one another to please the Gods and managed to raise $1000 for Children’s Miracle Network in the process. It would have even admitted the absolute exhausted, hung over session of PSINAUT Sunday morning turned out better than expected thanks to some patient players and the fast, furious fun of the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition rules.

But, I forgot. or I put it off.

Or, more likely than any of those things, the immediate bliss of those events had faded and I went on to experience other, different forms of the same with my weekly DargonHeist and Hell on Earth games.

One thing I have begun to understand about the tabletop role-playing experience is how ephemeral it is — and how that is a good thing. For me, even, it is the main draw. One can watch a movie or listen to an album or read a book over and over again. For the very good examples of those forms, those repeat engagements provide new experiences, but for most it is simply good enough to return to the shadow of the experience of watching, hearing or reading it for the first time. Tabletop RPGs are not like that. There are no repeat viewings, even if you play the same adventure over again. The people are different, or the time is different or you are different. because it is improvisational, it would be impossible to recreate the adventure even if played literally moments after finishing it the first time, with the same people in the same place.

I can’t quite articulate why, but I feel this is important. This ephemeral joy that RPGs bring is, to me, a fundamental draw. It may be the only part of the experience that truly differentiates it from all other forms of entertainment. There are lots of interactive forms of entertainment, and many ways to engage in fantasy play. But tabletop RPGs, relying as they do on a combination of player improv and randomizers, can do something not even really good MMORPGs online can do: they create a completely unique experience that cannot be repeated or effectively captured.

Some may balk at that last assertion. Yes, Critical Roll and other streaming, YouTube and podcast series are very popular. But even though people have found entertainment in observing others play, they are not themselves playing and therefore are not experiencing that ephemeral, interactive joy. Watching Critical Roll might be more meaningful for a gamer because they can imagine how they might feel were they playing, but ultimately they aren’t playing. Nor is the experience ephemeral — one can always cue it up on YouTube and watch a favorite episode or scene over again. As such, I think shows like Critical Roll kind of swing wide of the point of the RPG hobby. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge them their success or the fans their enjoyment, but it’s essentially TV, as “real” and “unscripted” as an episode of Survivor.

So what? Well, first and foremost this: if you are hungry for an experience like you cannot get from any other form of entertainment, I implore you to give tabletop role-playing a try. Whatever else the experience will provide, it is guaranteed to give you something completely unique every time you sit down at the table (virtual or otherwise). Second, if you are an active player or DM watching streamers and wondering why your game isn’t that good — stop. That experience happening on screen is a form of entertainment built for an audience. What you are doing at your table is far superior, even if it doesn’t come with the best voice actors in the business. And finally, if you are a lapsed player or DM — come back. We want you back and your love of the medium will flare back to life like a campfire in a windstorm. It has never been easier for far flung friends to play online, and D&D has never been more in the public eye in a positive way. Seek out a game store, a club at the local library or start a game night at the local watering hole.

Just because the experience is ephemeral and hard to articulate to those that weren’t there does not mean it is a lesser experience. Play.

Bow Before The PANTHEON

Turns on lights. Taps mic. “Hello? Is anyone still here?”

The end of 2018 was one bitch of a ride. I finished my schooling, changed jobs and started writing RPG material again. In all that mess, this blog got lost — but never forgotten! Now that I have settled into work, school is over (FOREVER!) and I have found a groove with game writing, I hope to get back to this. It’s been too long since I have yelled into the void just to hear my own echo.

 

The first new business of 2019 is The Savage Sign. It is a quarterly publication for Sigil Entertainment  full of all kinds of wonderful goodies for the Savage Worlds RPG system. The Savage Sign is in the middle of a Kickstarter right now to fund its first issue. Go have a look! Among other things, and with plenty of help from some very talented designers, editors, writers and artists, I have been creating the super hero setting Pantheon. The setting is inspired by the work of my favorite comic book creators, including Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Kurt Busiek. It is four color heroics in a world full of secrets. And like any good comic book story, it won’t be done in one. We plan to support and expand PANTHEON all through the year, leading to something big in 2020.

 

Expect to hear more about this project as time goes on, as well as some other cool super hero stuff I have in the works.

The Creative Stack

The word “Blog” appears at the top of an otherwise blank sheet of college ruled paper. It is the top sheet of five such pieces of paper. The rest aren’t labeled “Blog” of course. They have labels like “Tabletop Game Design” and “Fiction” on them. And while each sheet represents a distinct creative activity, they are all part of a larger experiment: the Creative Stack.

For the past few months — well, actually, for the past few years — most of my time and mental energy has been consumed by school. I am a middle aged man with a degree in English Literature and a gnat’s level of focus, so you may ask why I am in school. I am doing what all middle aged people do in the modern economy: changing jobs before my job changes me — irrevocably. I am moving from “surveyor by trade” to “civil engineer.” I know what you are thinking, and no — I did not decide to become an engineer just so I can level up from geek to true nerd.

Ok. Maybe a little.

Anyway, all that background is to get to this: with classes ending for the summer, I find myself with free time. I could squander it on video games and extra sessions of D&D (and rest assured, I will to some degree) but I also want to ensure I use the time I have wisely before going back to school in the fall. I tried to pick a project, but realized that the whole “attention span of a gnat” thing was going to cause me no end of trouble in that endeavor. So, instead, I am writing an entry for this blog because that piece of college ruled paper told me so.

I call it the “Creative Stack” and I honestly don’t remember if I came by the idea listening to a podcast or dreamed it up myself. If it ends up working, you can be sure I will claim the latter, so we will go with that for now.

The Creative Stack consists of five sheets of paper. They bear the following headings:

Tabletop Game Design, for serious efforts toward board and card game design with an eye toward eventual production or publication.

Game Prep, for convention games and other “serious” role-playing Game Mastering circumstances.

Fiction, for prose storytelling.

RPG Game Design, for professional work in the RPG arena, including freelance writing and part time development.

and, of course, Blog, for this thing here.

(There area couple of blank pages in the stack at the moment, too, in case I get a bug for something in particular.)

The way the stack works is simple: Whatever the top sheet is, I work on for some period of time, maybe an hour or two. When I finish for that day, I write down what I did and when I did it, and then move that paper to the bottom of the stack. The next day (presuming I don’t procrastinate) I work on whatever is next in the stack, even if that isn’t necessarily the thing I would want to be working on at that moment. I don’t get to move on until I have put work into whatever is on the top of the stack.

The system is intended to both keep me working on something creative daily, and help me avoid both burnout on one project and also avoid randomly dropping a project out of disinterest or a simple failure to get back to it. In the best case scenario by the end of the summer I have reams of completed projects, and a creative stack that has turned over a few times. In reality, I will be happy if I manage to complete a single project within each category.

At the very least, it should mean that every 5-days-ish, you should see a new blog entry from me. If you like that sort of thing, I mean.

-I

Eclipse City: Lost in the Drift

 

Over this past weekend I had the opportunity to run a single session Starfinder adventure at a good friend’s 50th birthday geekstravaganza. Since many of the folks who would be attending this event were folks who make it to the annual regional cons I Gamemaster at, I decided to run a follow up to the events of Carnage 2017’s Dropship Murphies and TotalCon 2018’s Eclipse Runners/Battle for Nebula City mini-campaigns.

 

When last we left our intrepid crew, they had managed to save Nebula City from a plot by the nefarious Azlanti Empire and become celebrities in the process. Unfortunately, the Azzies weren’t finished and attacked Nebula City with a small fleet. Nebula City’s merchants and mercenaries stood as a bulwark against the invaders while the local pirates of the Corsair Nebula sought to take advantage of the loser. In the end, the pirates sided with the defenders and repelled the Azlanti. But even as they did, Eclipse — the divinely powered Artificial Intelligence originally stolen by the Dropship Murphies — was able to move herself from the PCs’ ship to the core of Nebula City itself and it winked out of normal space, leaving all surviving ships in the lurch.

 

We picked up the story a month later. For thirty days the rechristened Eclipse City had been floating in the Drift. Eclipse herself seemed focused on finding something, though no one was sure quite what, and left it to the former Murphies/Runners to maintain order on the station. Despite the respect their previous heroics afforded them, they did not find it an easy task. With no way to get supplies or people on or off the station — Eclipse had made sure all the Drift capable vessels were out defending the station when she engaged the drive — old alliances, agreements and other faction relationships began to fray. And while the station was not yet in danger of starving or running out of air, luxuries were beginning to run low. On a city populated by rich merchants, powerful crime lords, and working stiffs that just want a good drink at the end of a long day, that was enough to heat the pot. It would not be long before it boiled over.

 

What’s more was a series of anomalies occurring on the station. People were reporting strange experiences and even half remembered visitations. Some unknown force seemed to be watching Eclipse City — or worse.

 

With all that background established, we got going. The PCs were sent to talk with the leadership of the Recycler’s Union which had begun favoring certain factions over others in providing recycled air and water. It became clear early in the interview process that the Recylcer’s weren’t bad guys but were responding to pressure put on them by other factions. Things looked like they might turn out peacefully, so that is when the vampires showed up. Among the gangs operating on the station, the vampires were poised to do the best as food, water and other consumables were used up. All they needed was an ever increasingly desperate population of cattle willing to send one another to slaughter. So they figured it would be easiest to take out the Recycler’s Union, and if they got the station’s only “cops” in the process, so much the better.

 

It was a short battle. Vampires might be sexy, and they might scare Victorian Gentlemen, but they are no match for jump jetting dwarves, invisible sniper androids, four armed Not-Jedi, giant lizard commandos or technomancer space elves.

 

After the cleanup — vampires always die messy, it seems — the party tried to get Eclipse to leave the Drift on account of the growing instability on the station but the AI was focused on her goal: direct communion with Triune somewhere in the Drift. Finding where that “somewhere” was probably would not take more than, say 1000 years, and she only really “needed” 27% of the station’s population when she got there anyway, so it was totally doable. The PCs began to rethink their loyalty to Eclipse at that point.

 

Before they could enact any plans, they discovered they were not alone on the station. And by “they” I mean “species native to the Prime Material Plane.” A race of psychic, big headed, big eyes, gray skinned beings with a penchant for reading your mind through your local GI tract had infiltrated the station and were trying to find a way to get to the engine core and Drift drive. When they finally managed to get one of the PCs — random rolls indicated the axe weilding dwarf Hoss Bloodhammer — they had the information they needed. The race was on to stop these alternate dimensional interlopers from stealing Eclipse City and dropping it out of the Drift into *their* Prime Material Plane space.

 

In the end the PCs faced down a group of aliens in Engineering and were able to defeat them. Using the alien plot in their argument, they also managed to convince Eclipse to leave the Drift for her own safety. Unfortunately no one, not even Eclipse, knew where into normal space the station would drop.

 

We’ll find out where at Carnage 2018.