Monday, May 18, 2015

You Can't Come to Cartmanland

Looks like my Gen Con events are almost sold out. There's still one slot open right now, and of course there are the other Peryton Gamers to consider.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Five friends meet at a hotel to play games. What happens next will make you stop eating mushrooms!

Or maybe...
Troll Hoot V: The Hilltop Horror 
I wasn't even sure I was going to do a blog for this, since I know Tom will and I'm not sure I have much to add. Then it occurred to me that it might be fun to post something with one of those moronic clickbait headlines. Don't worry; I won't make a habit of it.

This year's hoot was in Mansfield, Ohio. For years, we've been driving past this place on the way to other things, looking up at the motel on the hilltop and saying, "we need to have a hoot there."
For a variety of reasons, it finally happened. I promised you something about mushrooms, didn't I?
Okay, we'll get to that. We got started Friday evening.

The Creep
We started off with a Crawlspace adventure by Tom, part of an ongoing series he's been running for years, most of which I've missed. One of the cool things about this game, as I've probably said before, is that your character is an actor trapped in a series of movies, so you can have the same character in a series of adventures playing a different role each time. My character is starting to build up quite a resume, from The Return of Count Vulgarr to The Swamp Troll to this one (and one more on Saturday).
In The Creep, I played the love interest to a character who had been tortured by alien experiments that left him confused as to whether he was a pizza boy or a head in a box. He was just being released from the insane asylum when we got started and was already seeing "mushroom eagles" in the sky. It didn't get better from there. Chasing each other around in circles over drugs and post-psychiatric-institution trauma, our characters were eventually abducted by three-armed alien bigfoots and experimented upon. Caed/Robin and I escaped. I'm not sure, but I think we may have been the only ones.

A Fistful of Hypo
After breakfast, we kicked off Saturday with Beckett's Glow adventure, which I loved because I got to play a humanoid ant who liked to make "human suits" out of skin. Not that that was particularly an ant thing - just something I always thought would be fun. Caed/Robin and I decided that both of our characters were named Robin because, in the hive, "we are all Robin."

Upon obtaining the fabled mulberry wine, I gained super-psychic-ant powers which enabled me to enslave the other Robin and go back home to rule the hive. I think there was also a gang war going on and Tom & Drew's characters might have gotten killed in a big explosion downtown. I can't be expected to save everybody, can I?

Cards Against Humanity
In between sessions, we played Cards Against Humanity, which I had never tried before. Lots of raunchy fun.

The Keys to Christmas Place
I played more of a cameo role in this, as a somewhat disinterested FBI agent who got dragged into a freaky case when some MIBs tried to assassinate her. There was something about kids (or gnomes) and Christmas music and a trailer park. I definitely remember Beckett's parrot turning out to be an alien flying crab-fungus. I guess I shouldn't wait so long to write these things up.

Monday, April 20, 2015

This Is Not My Beautiful House

I got into game design with the Peryton Fantasy RPG. Its first incarnation was a booklet that I photocopied, folded over, and staple-bound early in the summer of 2005. Distribution? That consisted of giving it away to whoever still looked interested after I explained what I had done. Two more incarnations brought it to its current form and even put it onto the shelves of faraway game stores.

Before I jumped into this, I had never really thought of myself as a game designer, or even someone who wanted to be a game designer. I built my first game primarily out of frustration.

I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons off and on for a long time. When the third edition came along, I liked it. I thought it fixed a lot of things that were annoying about previous editions. Weird little subsets like thief abilities and tracking were condensed into a simple core mechanic. Armor class became a target number -- one of those ideas that was so good that it seems obvious in retrospect. Multiclassing made sense. Some other stuff, probably. They also built a bloated mass of feats and skills into it, though. They turned monster and NPC creation from creative recreation into a chore. Running the game started to feel more like work than fun.

I didn't think much about it. I just started playing other games or just doing other things. When Castles & Crusades came out, I thought it looked great at first, but then I realized that, for the sake of nostalgia, they were undoing a lot of the progress I admired. What I also realized was that anybody could do this d20-modification thing. So I downloaded the SRD, tried out some ideas, and made the game I wanted to play.

From there, I kind of got swept along. Fourth edition D&D came along and I didn't like it. Pathfinder came along and it was, if anything, worse than 3rd edition D&D. My own projects came and went. I continued to enjoy playing Peryton RPG and, eventually, I started working on Qalidar:Resistance.

Peryton RPG was never much more than a d20-fix, but Qalidar was really its own thing. Still d20-based, but with unique classes, a built-in world beyond the familiar heroic fantasy formula, and all sorts of other cool stuff that I had been dreaming up over the past 20 years or so. So, yeah... cool, I guess.

Recently, though, I added fiction to the list of things that I self-publish. Not anthologies with other writers -- those are a nightmare -- just my own stuff. For a variety of reasons, I'm loving that. One of them is that I've found a huge well of motivation and just plain joy in knowing that, once I finish a book, I can consider the job done. Sure, without promotional work, it might not sell much, but that's beside the point. It's out. And that got me thinking about why I was writing game stuff.

I no longer need to write my own game to get one I'm excited about playing. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is awesome. I have an Icons campaign that's going great. And, to be honest, I'd rather play 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons than Peryton Fantasy.

I also think that most of the fun of game design was in teaching myself to do new things -- not just the rules-wrangling, but layouts, graphic design, organization, all that stuff. It's not new anymore, though. It's just work. Tedious, plodding work. On the whole, I enjoy the work I do in my day job quite a bit more than that stuff.

I can't even remember when fiction-writing was new, and it's still immensely rewarding. Game design? Fuck that. Games are for playing.

Oh, I'm still gonna finish Qalidar. I might even support it, or get someone else to support it. I don't see me designing any more games for a long time, though, if ever. There's just no reason.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Eyes Open

Losing Lanterns was as good as Losing Lanterns could be, but there are things that nag me about it. Chief among them is that it's a novella made out of short stories. It was never really plotted out the way a novel should be, so it has a weird, lumpy, pacing and... other stuff... I guess. Yeah, boring topic. I only mentioned it because I'm excited to be doing this next one the right way.

Okay, technically, my next-up project is another Qalidar supplement, but I don't have a lot more to say about that. Okay, a little bit, but then we move on to novels. The Qalidar supplement is going to have the rules for taking characters up to 20th level, which is as high as I see it going. Beyond that, it's going to focus on a species of aliens called the stardust, including sections about their technology, organizations, goals, and methods. That's pretty much it. Mostly it's material I wrote a long time ago that just needs cleaning up.

One project that isn't next is a fantasy novel that's been slithering around the back of my head for the past 15 or 16 years. It's based on an our 1999-2000 D&D campaign, which is why I have been referring to it as my bad idea. A story like that -- even after I turn it into a coherent story -- is going to be full of nostalgic moments and other memories that mean nothing beyond a very small group of people. Naturally, I can write around that, but my own unreliable instincts would be something I'd have to constantly look out for. See? Bad idea, right? There's still a good chance I'll try it -- I came up with some great stuff just tinkering -- but not this time.

Another contender, one I haven't mentioned before, is a different fantasy novel. This one would feature Aradoc (from Losing Lanterns) on his own in a strange, dying land. The reason for this and for his jumbled memories is something that gets worked out as we go. No, it's not Hell or any other kind of dead people place. The other thing going on is a tense desert journey with a group of adventurers with loosely overlapping agendas and not much in the way of scruples. And lots of other stuff that I'm not prepared to go into here. Again, this is definitely still in the queue; it's just not next in line.

The winner? Welcome to Blackridge, a fictional college town in the Arkansas River valley. A diverse collection of characters plot and scheme in a vaguely soapish fashion. Also, some of them are conjuring spirits and making deals with dangerous alien intelligences. I'm hoping to combine some engaging characters with an area I know very well for a backdrop and some low-key but creepy paranormal/occult stuff to keep them hopping. There's an actual plot in there too, but I'm keeping that to myself for now. I don't have a title yet.

Imagine the perfect conclusion.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Losing Lanterns - Finished!

Hey, don't bother reading this long, meandering post! Just look at the cover, then run over to Amazon right now and grab the book in whichever format you prefer. It's pretty cheap, and better than anything you'll find in the ratty old blogosphere.

Still here? Hrm. Well... Okay, I guess I'll have to blather on about how I ended up writing this - as in history'n all that. Once upon a time, there was Eposic. They published my story, "Starshadows in Sideways Time" in The Book of Exodi (out of print).

After that book, the next one was scheduled to be Out of Order, in which the theme was, as you might have guessed, stories with a mixed-up temporal presentation. I don't remember if time travel was a requirement or if Faulknerizing would be allowed. My submission for that book was "As Always," the precursor to Part One of this novella.

Well, Eposic accepted "As Always," but went out of business before Out of Order was published, so I got the story back. I sent it to a couple of other places. I also sent the story that would become Part Three of Losing Lanterns around a bit. "As Always" actually got accepted by another outfit that went out of business before publication. I got a couple more rejections and got bored with the whole process. I know, I know, but it just occurred to me that I already knew how to get art and do layouts and all that, so maybe there was no reason to burn all those hours dealing with the ritual bullshit of submitting stories elsewhere.

I had intended all along for the two stories to mesh into a larger collection once they were done with their appearances in third party magazines, so I decided to just go ahead and re-shape them into a novel. Or a novella. Whatever.

Then I finished it, and everybody hated the end. Eventually, I agreed with them.

Then I finished it again, and here it is.

Monday, February 23, 2015

BASHCon XXX: Awesome Mix

This year's BASHCon was a wonderful surprise. I was pretty sure I'd have a good time. I can't think of a BASHCon that I didn't end up enjoying. Still, though, I just wasn't getting excited about it as it closed in. I suppose, for one thing, I was preoccupied with finally getting Losing Lanterns polished up and published. A few other naggy details were on my mind as well.

When I came home from work on Thursday to find Tom and Monk relaxing in the living room, I couldn't help smiling. I filled out character sheets and packed while they started up a Z Nation marathon. I was a little cranky Friday morning because this ridiculously cold weather is starting to get to me, but a nice breakfast at our favorite diner cleared that up. They picked me up from work and we were on our way. Not that it was an epic journey or anything. Toledo is only about two hours away.

Monk had signed up to run a game at 5:00, so we were a little rushed, but registration was moving right along. We were all set and at the table on time. I hadn't really expected to get to play in his Black Lotus Affair, because it overlapped a Friday night tradition, but he decided to shorten it so that they could run back to back. Black Lotus is a pulp era journey across Europe, seasoned with the machinations of princes and assassins. We traveled by dirigible, ferry, train, and… well, the train was as far as we got. Monk used a FUDGE variant to run the game, and it seems to work well for him. It was a lot of fun, even if we did have to use those "special needs" dice with the plusses and minuses on them.

Tom replaced our traditional Friday Tunnels & Trolls game with a Crawlspace one, The Swamp Troll. Jerry showed up with Liam, Beckett was there with a friend, and we had two other people join in as well. Beckett and I played characters we had used before in "The Return of Count Vulgarr" but, because of the way Crawlspace works, they didn't actually know each other in-game. I played an on-the-edge small town sheriff in the midst of supernatural cult activity and soap-opera-like personal entanglements. We barely stumbled our way through to a resolution, at which point Tom killed us all.

Paul showed up briefly to say hi and show off a cool bit of craftwork, but wasn't feeling well, so that turned out to be all we saw of him. After the game, I checked in to the motel and started winding down to crash mode while Tom and Monk and maybe other people went out for drinks and snacks.

Saturday morning, my Doctor Who event fell through, so we did some shopping and just hung around. I bought a couple of cool rings and almost bought the Archer board game. I love that show and the game looks like fun, but, given time to think about it, I decided that it would just end up in a pile with all the other interesting but unused board games I have.  Tom, Monk, and I eventually ended up haunting Phoenicia for a while, chatting, enjoying the comfy chairs, and, in my case, sketching out a few maps.

My Icons event, Night of the NecroDon, was up at 3:00. I had Tom, Monk, Liam, and Jerry playing an amphibian, a shape-shifter, a batman, and a dazzler. They dealt with an outbreak of superhuman mob violence, fought among themselves, and finally confronted a mad scientist/sorcerer in his lair. His lawyer got away, though, so there's bound to be a sequel. Monk said he really liked Icons and was planning to get a copy to use in his own games.

I tried out my recently-purchased Noteboard to provide a map of Lightfoot Island and to sketch out certain locations. I meant to take some pictures, but I was too into running the game, so I've enlisted Tio's help to model the product at home. He does great work, don't you think? Anyway, I found this little gadget immensely useful, and so much less cumbersome than the traditional rolled-up vinyl mat. Tio can be contacted for additional work through this profile.
 Jerry was ready to run pretty quick, so I grabbed a falafel wrap to go and we jumped into his AD&D game, part one of A Farewell to Hands. That's a pretty disturbing title if you don't think about the literary pun. Last year, we ended the game with the realization that we had acquired the Hand of Vecna. Not having anyone in the party who wanted to be both mutilated and brainwashed, we decided to look for a way to destroy the artifact. Our sources suggested that we should consult a floating head in Myth Drannor, where it's really stressful to be a wizard. We arrived by magic portal and fought our way through the tunnels until we hit the cut-off point for the next day's adventure. Tom and Monk were in another game, which wasn't even close to being over, so we had a late snack and Jerry dropped me off at the motel.

Sunday, Jerry had a full table for A Farewell to Hands, so Tom and Monk wandered off. Tom grumbled happily (yes, it really is possible) about being glad he didn't have to play D&D. The character I played before had already been claimed, so I played a fighter instead, which was actually something of a relief with all the funky magic distortion going on there. We fought our way on to the floating head, got the answers we needed, and finished off our quest to lose the extra hand by exposing it to the bone-crushing rays of an undead beholder.

After that, Tom presented me with a cool-looking pendant that had a clock inside it. Neither of us knew until Monk commented on it that it was a Harry Potter thing. We met up elsewhere with Jerry and Liam for Mexican food and talked about what a good con it had been.

Conclusion-writing. Bleah.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bothered About Basic Books

I just had a set of the latest D&D Basic Rules printed up. It was kind of a joke, actually. I already owned the core hardbacks, so I didn't need it, but I had seen this overwrought pamphlet from the bad old days of panic-mongering anti-role-playing activism and just had to make a cover out of it. The prominence of the title "Dungeons and Dragons" and the irony of wrapping it around the thing it so luridly decries made it irresistible. The pale blue color is even reminiscent of the classic "blue book" rules.

So, this book arrived and I posted a picture to show off how clever I was, and, even though I had read through the Basic Rules before, I flipped through it a bit. It occurred to me that I actually did have something useful in my hands.

The official hardbacks are beautiful. I'm especially fond of the Dungeon Master's Guide. And the rules actually live up to the publisher's hype. This is definitely my favorite edition of the game. I want to run a campaign with these books, or play in one, with other players who don't need their hands held. I want get to know a group of these characters from first level and watch them advance from riffraff to world-savers – or whatever. Right now, though, I'm running an Icons campaign and really enjoying it, and one campaign at a time is about all I can manage. D&D, for now, is more likely in the realm of pick-up or convention games.

And that's where the Basic Rules become an appealing option. For one thing, it's one relatively slim book instead of three larger ones. That matters when you're packing your book bag for a convention. Also, a more limited selection of character options hops from minus to plus when I'm facing the task of filling out and explaining everyone's sheet. Or, if it's a pickup game instead of a convention scenario, it's still handy to keep everything moving instead of waiting for everyone to decide which otherworldly patron their warlocks are bound to.

The beauty of 5th edition in this case is that the expanded rule books still aren't useless. You have zero conversion issues if there's a sequel or two and somebody from the pickup game wants to learn some feats or try multiclassing later, or if the dungeon master wants to throw in a new challenge from the Monster Manual. A player with the Player's Handbook could still use the extra options while the dungeon master runs the game from the Basic Rules. 

So, yeah, I'll bring this book to BASH Con next week and, the next time I run D&D at a convention, there's a good chance I'll make sure the Basic Rules (plus whatever I come up with myself) are all I need.