49212

Forty nine thousand, two hundred and twelve.

 

That is the number of words I wrote over the course of the last 100 days of 2015. It falls far short of the less numerically specific yet far more useful metric of “finish the first draft of this novel” but even so I consider it an accomplishment. I am in the midst of writing a novel that is going pretty well, with a unique voice and not-too-tired interpretation of the epic fantasy hero’s journey sub genre. I am not in it to overturn any tropes, but rather use them to create something entertaining. It is equal parts A Wizard of Earthsea and Gamma World — which is good because when I am not writing things that find the weird space between super-heroics and horror, that combination is right in my wheelhouse. It is called “Elger and the Moon” and in the relatively near future I will be able to tell you more about it.

 

If I have not pontificated before on the virtues of the post apocalyptic genre, I will soon, along with epic fantasy, Star Wars, and the aforementioned super heroes. In general, I will be doing a lot more pontificating in 2016 than I did in 2015, though probably not as much as I did in 2014. I have sort of allowed this blog to slip to the back burner. part of it is spending creative energy of the novel, but part of it is over-relying on my personal Facebook page as a place to spout off about my opinions on whether Tolkien’s or Anderson’s elves are better (clearly the answer is the latter) and what makes Fallout 4  bother better and worse than Fallout 3 (which i will get to once I actually finish Fallout 4). I realized that such energy is better used as a vehicle for this blog, which will ultimately exist as a vehicle for people to getting to know me (creatively speaking) so they can know whether to spend money on the creative things I produce. Facebook is great because it offers instant gratification, but it is both insular and ephemeral. I like talking about the creative process and geeky things and this is as good a place as any to do it, and better than some.

 

So, if somewhere down the line you clicked the right icon to make this blog appear in your feed or on your wall or whatever when a new post came along, expect to see more of those that you have in quite a while. Thanks for doing that, by the way. I’ll try and make my posts worthy of that vote of confidence.

 

 

The Dreams of Ruin: The Interview

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As the official release date (May 15th) of The Dreams of Ruin approaches, friend and colleague Geoff Grabowski agreed to sit down and answer a few questions. He is an interesting guy and this is some interesting stuff.

Q: For folks that might not be familiar with you, please give us a bit of background on your work in the field of role-playing games?

A: I did a bunch of work with White Wolf back in the late 90s and early 00s. Most notably, I developed the entire first edition of Exalted, was first developer for the Exalted 2nd edition core book, and wrote a bunch of other material for Wraith and Kindred of the East. I also worked on projects for the Scarred Lands setting, for Everway and Kult, and for a few other things I forget at this point.

Q: Give us the “elevator pitch” for Dreams of Ruin.

A: No-spoiler version: It’s a high-level event book or adventure setting that details a VERY dangerous threat that can seriously challenge OSR parties up to the high teens. It’s not a Sauron ripoff, nor is it a big stack of hitpoints shaped like a dragon and immune to all status effects.

Q: With so many role-playing games out there, many of which are supported by open or third part licenses of one form or another, what made you decide to craft Dreams of Ruin for so-called Old School Renaissance (OSR) games instead of, say, d20/Pathfinder or something like FATE?

A: I love the openness of the Goblinoid Games license for Labyrinth Lord. No censorship, no fees, and I can include the rules with the distributable.

I think OSR is like the “common tongue” of gaming and even if a lot of people don’t love it, most people can understand it very easily.

I don’t like 3.x series rules very much.

Finally I like the system, and the implicit setting. I ran a multi-year high level old school game and I wanted to build on my experience with that and my love for the Moldvay rules.

Q: Dreams of Ruin is neither a complete adventure campaign (“AP” in the modern parlance) nor a setting unto itself. Why did you decide to design it in this way, and what advantages do you think the format you chose has over other formats, such as the AP format?

A: In a lot of ways it /is/ a setting. It’s a mobile setting, an *all-too-mobile* setting, that will come to your regular setting and hybridize it. I let the function of the material dictate its form.

From a development perspective, one of the things that my situation as an independent author permits me is the ability to create works without worrying about contextualizing them in a product line or worrying about their effects on the storyline of some specific setting. I built the supplement I felt the project needed without particular regard for following anybody’s prior approaches.

Game adventures are often seen as unfortunate necessities of development, they tend to sell poorly (1 per group rather than 1 per player, at best) and by making it more engaging — about a topic rather than detailing a specifically constructed series of adventures — I hope that it can find a more general audience than it would if it was a more conventional setting or adventure.

I made it as specific an adventure as I thought you reasonably could, given that it’s written for characters of the 14th to 16th levels, who come from any arbitrary setting. No material you write is going to be suitable for *any* group of that size. You just can’t know what near-artifact items they’re going to have, who’s got which evil god chasing them, and what all the dynamics of the setting are. Some characters will rule kingdoms, some will live in townhouses is high-rent magical locales, some will be doing who knows what.

In terms of making it more narrowly constructed, like starting with some adventures in the youths of the characters that introduce key concepts and then developing them more as time goes by — I find that stuff utterly dismal to write. When you are outlining a property, you often put in big adventures to “show people how to use the setting” and as a place to trial young writers. Also, I feel like it’s making the decision of what kind of characters you are and what kind of setting you’re in for you, in order to make the design challenge easier.

I’m this one guy writing this one book that’s not attached to a particular setting or promoted property. I can’t expect anybody to take dictation from me about what kind of game they need to run to use my material. At the same time, I can write without talking down to the notional “average reader,” trying to accommodate someone who is a newbie gamer, or worrying about if it’ll whip sales for tie-in supplements.

Q: The art is unique and evocative. Tell us about the artists and the art direction.

A: I have the fortune to have some good artists as my friends, and they took the time to understood exactly what I wanted and needed. They worked directly with me. I had a limited budget but I knew exactly what I wanted / needed, and I feel I got a good result from our efforts. Part of the advantage was that most of the special encounters and the basic beasties were written very early in the project, so I had the artists working almost the entire time I was writing on the book. It gave me and the artists a lot of slack time.

Q: What aspect of Dreams of Ruin are you happiest with, or are most excited for customers to see?

A: The sculpture aspect of it where many terms of its license and packaging closely resemble the material it describes. For various reasons — commercial sanity, lack of concept and product line continuity foremost — you generally don’t get to be that artful with product design. This project’s license structure and all-in packaging concepts went hand-in-hand with the product content from the very beginning of the project. Again, the benefits of being an independent author working on a freestanding project.

Q: Is there going to be a “Dreams of Ruin tour”? Are you planning on hitting the summer convention circuit in order to support the product, or maybe even run a few sessions?

A: Doubtful? I’m preparing to sit for my CPA right now. I’m hoping to take it in the Autumn or Winter test windows. Hopefully the product will support *me* this summer so I can take time off to study.

I might make it to Origins to hang out with people, or *possibly* GenCon if it makes a tremendous splash and someone wants the prestige of having me in their booth as a conversation piece.

Q: You funding model is different than we usually see owing RPG products on Kickstarter. Can you explain how it works and why you chose to do it this way?

A: Well, I had the luxury of having the cash in hand sufficient to fund the project in advance. We don’t have some minimum capitalization written into the business plan to fulfill before we’re viable —  so one big difference is that our KS funded at 1 unit. It actually funded before it was announced as open. It’s all just a question of return on investment. That was fun, no antsy GIVE, GIVE TIL IT HURTS pleadings with the family and friends networks in store.

The other part is that we’re not really trying to make a business out of selling reproductions of the work. I mean, we do that, but we also give the archive away. When we accrue enough income from the sale of the product, we’re going to set the rights to CC-BY, and then people will be able to reproduce it commercially or make commercial derivative products based on it. What I am doing is selling the entire product to its nascent fanbase. Not just off-prints of the material, but the material itself. As the KS does better and better, we’re going to include the art and edited raw manuscript and the layout files and so forth in the archive, so people can more easily make new stuff out of it.

The license also has a time component, so no matter how well it does financially eventually people just get the stuff to play with.

This is a modification of the Street Performer Protocol that Einsturzende Neubauten used to fund their albums _Supporter Album No. 1_ and _Airplane Miniatures_. However, rather than a pledge/escrow system where the patrons hold out payment for completion of the product (Patreon is SPP implemented serially) we use a pledge system that starts with a complete product that is free (gratis) and turns it into one that is free (libre). The purchase of the archives is purely symbolic, a co-optation of consumer capitalist value transfer networks to allow patronage of free culture. The artist is never kept under compulsion for promise of reward, the consumer is never subject to false scarcity or artificial status anxiety from lack of constructed wants, and the proceeds of the work are shared by all. I believe this is an efficient value transfer model and did the project in part to promote the model.

 

Thanks again to Geoff for the interview. Next up, The Dreams of Ruin reviewed!

Dreams of Ruin: The Kickstarter

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My friend and colleague Geoffrey Grabowski has created a amazing high level adventure supplement for old school science-fantasy (a la Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future from Goblinoid Games) called The Dreams of Ruin, which I have teased here for a couple of weeks now. The Kickstarter is finally live and you can back it here. Geoff was the developer of the first edition of White Wolf’s massively successful Exalted Role-Playing Game and Dreams of Ruins comes from the same origin point in him, full of big weird ideas intended to be played.

The game releases for free on May 15th. “Wait, if it is being released for free, why have a Kickstarter?” you ask. I’ll let Geoff explain from the KS page:

We’re going to release the book into free circulation under a CC-NC-ND-BY license on May 15th. That means, you are free to circulate it, but you can’t use it for commercial purposes, you can’t create derivative works, and you have to attribute it.

We are then going to sell copies of the archive for $22 ($20 + KS fees). When I have sold the equivalent of 5,000 of them — a total of $100,000 net of direct selling expenses like venue fees — the license on the product will convert to CC-BY. You will be free to create derivative works, and even reproduce the material commercially, so long as you attribute the work.

In other words, “buying” the book helps make it truly Open. It is an interesting funding model and license structure.

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In support of Geoff and this project, I will be using my quiet little corner of the internet to help get the word out. Next time, I’ll have an interview with him and then a full review of the book. I will cap it off with my own set of conversion guidelines for using The Dreams of Ruin with 5th Edition D&D.

 

New Year, New Focus

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The tail end of 2014 was a thin one for this blog. Between end of semester class stress, the holidays and a little bout with writer’s block, I did not make many posts. As 2015 opens, I intend to get back in the groove and dedicate the time and energy necessary to keep things lively here in my tiny little corner of the internet.

 

First and foremost, I will be continuing to make 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons a major part of this blog. Both Magical Mondays and Wicked Wednesdays will continue. Much of the work I do on that front will be based on developing content for The Valley of Tombs, my “massive multiplayer table top RPG” that should see plenty of play in 2015. Most notably, I have  six four hour slots set up at TotalCon in Mansfield, MA this February 19-22. With 24 hours of play and potentially 48 unique players, I want to have lots of content on hand. In addition I am going to be occasionally be developing content for the Valley Obsidian Portal Page, which I hope to use to build interest for the game.

 

While D&D is certainly a passion of mine and a big part of this blog, I will continue to provide the occasional unsolicited rant, non-review or opinionated screed of any geeky thing that strikes my fancy. Sometimes I will even make a cogent point or two. We live in a time when geeky subjects have gone mainstream and larger cultural issues collide with niche interests, whether it is the intersection of feminism and video games or questions regarding the less palatable views of genre titans like Lovecraft. As nerds, geeks and dweebs, we are all affected by these issues in some way or another, and they are worth talking about.

 

Finally, 2015 will be a year of refocusing on my own fiction writing. I don’t know how much of that will show up here. I don’t intend to make this blog a showcase of my fiction like I had in the past, but I will certainly be talking about it and whatever process in which I engage. I plan on writing one novel this year, but I have a lot of world building ahead of me before I can even hope to start writing. I may give self publishing short stories a try, and if I do I’ll surely be fretting about that process here.

 

Happy New Year and thanks, as usual, for reading.

GenCon!

I’m at GenCon! As awesome as that is, it means updates are going to be sparse, including the final installment of Vicious Variants. My apologies to that one guy looking forward to Bursting Zombie stats!

Emerging from the Crysalis

It has been some time since I decided to take a break from this blog in order to figure out exactly what I wanted it to be. Over those weeks, I have thought about everything from what I write to why I write and even how and when I write. When distilled down to its essence, I discover that there are two kinds of writing that I do, and I think this blog is really only fit for one of them.

 

I write fiction. In fact, today I finished a 6000 word fantasy story (that I thought was only going to be about 3000 words, but that is a different post altogether). Sometimes I write fiction very quickly — I crowd source a few story elements and cobble together a flash fiction in an hour or so — and sometimes I write very deliberately and it takes weeks to finish something (if at all). The thing is, I don’t think a blog is a good choice for me for fiction because once I hit “Publish” it feels, well, published. The problem with that is that while the story exists Out There, I know that it might be seen by two or three people. I have “published” it and gained nothing. One day I hope to make a living telling stories, which means that simply finishing and posting stories is counterproductive to that goal.

 

The other kind of writing I do, which I feel is much more appropriate for the blog format, is essentially this: I am thinking on paper (or “in bytes” I suppose) and expressing my thoughts and opinions about one thing or another. I know, the internet is a sea of thoughts and opinions and mine are no more special than anyone else’s — which is precisely why I think this sort of writing lives better on a blog. I believe that I have the ability to tell stories that people will not only want to read but will be willing to pay to read. As fond as I am of my own opinions, I am not sure they qualify as salable.

 

That said, I may occasionally throw fiction on here, or a link to fiction if I need eyes on it before a revision. And I plan to rant less and think through my opinion pieces more — articles, rather than screeds, if you will — in order to make those pieces informative and attractive.

 

this, then, is my goal for this blog in 2014: entertain, elucidate and maybe even educate, all the while working toward professional status as a fiction author.

Going Into A Chrysalis

In the six months or so since I started this blog, I have experimented with a number of different types of posts with varying degrees of concentration on fiction, analysis, writing theory and more traditional blogging. In the end, none have seemed to create any noticeable level of interest or growth. As such, I am planning on rethinking what it is I want out of keeping a blog, or even if I want to to continue to do so at all.

 

Assuming I decide to continue I.E. it will be something very different than its larval stage, and hopefully fly.

Bloctober

For the past few weeks, a combination of day-job stress and personal blahs has given me quite the case of writer’s block. I could go into a long screed on writer’s block — why’s, wherefore’s, theories, strategies — but not only has that stuff been tackled before by far greater writers than I, it’s boring. Suffice it to say that I hereby declare the month of October to be “Bloctober!”

What is “Bloctober?” I don’t know for sure what form it will take, but in the lead up to National Novel Writing Month (that’s November for the uninitiated) the goal is to work out the writer’s block and get in good mental and creative shape to be able to power through a novel come next month. The crux of that simply writing, every day, even when I don’t feel like it or aren’t creatively “there.” It’s like “100 Days, 100K” but without the overinflated sense of self worth.

Here’s to Bloctober! Hope to see you there.

A New Look

As you can see, I decided to change the look of the site a little. The background image is a concept art for an Elysium-like habitat via NASA in the 1970s.

I may, of course, fiddle with it some more, or even spring for a premium site theme and/or some custom art, but in the meantime I will get my ass back onto the chair and my fingers back onto the keyboard (to paraphrase the astoundingly prolific J. Michael Straczynski).