Saturday, December 26, 2015

Worlds Within Worlds

2015 mostly feels like a success.

Don't make too much of the picture. That scene came to mind because this season always raises Michael's shade. It's partly the family togetherness thing and partly because his birthday was New Year's Eve. So here's a flicker of a mood that you can stare right into. Of course, there's no evil robot for me to take revenge upon, but I've found something else.

Anyway, now that we're done with that, let's see how I did on the goals I set last time.
  • Losing Lanterns -- YES!
  • New Novel Underway -- YES! (more on that later)
  • Qalidar Supplement 1 -- Meh.
Okay, so two out of three. I don't even talk about Qalidar as something I'm working on anymore, although it wouldn't take much to finish it. As I've said before, all that's left is grunt work. It's just that, whenever I commit to sitting down and working, I want to work on the novel. The novel feels like The Future. It feels like progress. It would be nice to have that game done, though, especially after I've come so far, so it stays on the list. Eventually, it'll magically finish itself, right?

And when I don't commit to sitting down and working? Two games have really been brightening my nights lately: Icons and Dungeons & Dragons (5th edition, for those who keep count). The Icons campaign that we started in 2014 is still going, and even inspired Tom to do a few spinoff scenarios. I've rambled on before about how much fun I'm having in that game, but I felt like any summary of the highlights of 2015 would be incomplete without saying again how much I love getting together with those guys to spin our offbeat superhero tales. The D&D campaign is run by my one of my oldest, dearest friends. It's only only a few sessions in, but I'm loving both the story and the game itself. And my desert nomad paladin. She rocks.

This time last year, I hadn't decided which of three projects I was going to focus on next. A few months later, I settled on one. By June, I had changed my mind. That second plan stuck, and I got the Bad Idea outlined well enough that I was able to start getting into the prose this September. I probably should have started sooner, but the first sentence is always so hard to write. I'm still moving along and still very excited about this book. I could be putting more time into it, though.

I've even got a working title, The Throne of Gorgudai, and a web page, although the web page is not quite finished because I can't get over being offended by the expectations people have regarding summaries and character descriptions. I want to just say, "read the damn book if you want to know about the characters!" but that's probably not great for buzz or engagement or whatever the hell I'm supposed to call it.

Blackridge hasn't been abandoned. It's just something I doodle with now and then instead of a specific book I'm working on. It could very well be the next main project. One of my scenarios at last year's Gen Con was set there, and I'm thinking of doing that again. Which reminds me that I'm behind on submitting my events for BASHCon and I also need to work out my schedule for the big one pretty soon. Yeah, Gen Con's still a long ways off, but, believe it or not, the frenzy begins in January. I love Gen Con, but I hate it, too.

For next year, my only serious goal is to keep working on Gorgudai. Finishing it would be great, and should be achievable, but I'll be happy if I can honestly say that I kept it moving and stepped up the pace a bit.

So... I guess I'd better get back to work.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Lots of Games

It's funny how fast I went from mostly gaming at conventions to juggling a calendar full of home games. There's my regular superhero game (Icons), of course. I've talked plenty about this one already, but let me just say again, I'm absolutely loving this campaign. Tom's recently started his own spinoff sessions, so now and then I get to play in The Scrap Pile as well as GM. Thanks to the magic of teleconferencing, I even got to sneak off to a game while I was visiting Mom for Thanksgiving.

There's also Beckett's Red & Pleasant Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign. It's been a while since we played that one, but I don't think it's dead. That's the only completely in-person one, which makes it a little bit more challenging to schedule. The others are all online Hangout games.

And then Curtis started his 5th Edition D&D campaign, and Jerry's running at least one more session of his Old West horror scenario. There's nothing I can link to for those, but they're both pretty cool so far.

Games good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Carnage of the Lost World

Last Wednesday, we packed up after work and took off for what, if pressed to choose, I would probably call my favorite convention. I think the trip is actually part of it. Out of the soul-numbing corn flats of Ohio, we cross through the picturesque hills of upstate New York and eventually into Vermont, which is basically one giant resort in the mountains. Well, that's what it looks like, anyway.

Just to make the fairly long trip a little more leisurely, we usually stop for the night in Syracuse before moving on. That gets us to Thursday, when we settled into our room and bought some groceries. Since this was Tom's first year at the new location, we also wandered around a bit to take in the scene. It looked kind of odd to me because, last year, everything had been white.
I sent out some messages to let everyone know where we were and we got the Thursday game of Conspiracy X going. I had been having reservations about the system after slogging through a few NPCs and a "monster," to the point where I went out and found pre-generated player characters online instead of making my own.

Despite all that, the game itself ran smoothly. I had some great players (ended up using all six pre-gens because Rags joined in at the last minute) who were able to navigate my over-complicated plot in style. I say it was overly complicated but, considering the genre, maybe that's the wrong word. I mean, we were playing a game in which most of the title is the word, "conspiracy," right? Also, I did something I've wanted to do for a long time: drop a crew of modern world characters into the Tomb of Horrors. It was an abridged version, but still. The looks that went around the table when I dropped that first illustration were (I hate this word, but...) priceless.
Some drinking (okay, more drinking) and socializing followed, first at Game of Growlers, then back in the room with a smaller group. Tom poured so many glasses of rum down Matt's throat that he couldn't find his own room.

Tom and I woke up weirdly early on Friday, so we went across the street for breakfast at... I can't remember what it was called. Club House or something like that. Anyway, I never gave much thought to the relative quality of pancakes, but these were amazing.

We wandered around a bit, got our badges, all that. Tom went off to run a game and I went over my notes for the ones I had coming the next day. I was scheduled to play in a game that afternoon, but it wasn't my first choice and another thought had been squirming around in the back of my head.

It was cloudy and a little drizzly outside, but otherwise really nice. It was freakishly warm for Killington in November. There are hiking trails there. Hiking trails in the mountains. Remember that I live in Ohio now? I felt a little bit guilty about bailing on a game, even one where I was only a player, but this was an opportunity I couldn't miss. And hey, the convention theme this year was "the lost world," so going exploring seemed like an obvious win.

I looked over the map of the resort, grabbed an overcoat in case it rained, and took off. It was crazy windy and I did have to pull the overcoat over my head a few times. I had an umbrella, but I already knew it was no match for those gusts, so I didn't even bother carrying it. A little poking around and one false start later, I was on a trail and heading up the mountain.

It was wonderful. I didn't come across any particularly striking vistas, and the visible wildlife consisted of a woodpecker and some angry bluejays, but it wasn't long before I couldn't hear or see the road. There were no buildings, no people, and not a single goddamn farm anywhere. I realize it was hardly deep wilderness or anything like that, but it was enough.
Like I said earlier, it was crazy windy. It wasn't constant, but there were powerful gusts that started getting scary as I got higher up. I don't know how common this is, but wind like that stirs up some kind of visceral panic in me. I feel, all the sudden, like I need to crouch down and grab hold of something or I'm going to fly right off the planet. I wanted to find out what it would be like to keep pushing through that, but then the rain picked up, so, after just a couple of hours, I headed back.

I hooked back up with Tom and we had dinner at the Snowshed before our evening games. For me, that was Steven Parenteau's Spirit of 77 adventure. I played Tangerine Jones, a sleuth with an orange perm-fro who tried a little bit too hard to fit in with her cool friends. Don't tell anybody, but her real name is Edna Pearlman. I wasn't all that helpful in the mission, which involved helping our car guy's brother get some moonshine across the county line to sell, but I had a lot of fun.

I was wiped out after that. Zack came by with Tom and we chatted for a while, but I was half asleep even while I was talking.

As before, I was a little surprised by how early I was up and moving on Saturday. I swore off morning games a long time ago, so there was plenty of time to chill and then get ready.

My 13th Age game, "The Fire Within," only had two players signed up, but Tom had a few players and a game he wasn't all that eager to run, so we combined the groups into a slightly more than full table. I had seven players and only six characters, so Tom and Zack played the two brain-halves of the Frankenstein's monster character (statted as "warforged," but I don't like steampunk contraptions clanking around in my fantasy worlds).

The game itself was a lot of fun. The players kept things moving for me, so it was easy to run my "what's going on in this village" scenario. Whoever came up with the winged cat familiar on the pre-gens -- thanks! I had a lot of fun giving the wizard a headache with that one.

The rules were really smooth. Everybody enjoyed using their special abilities but (apart from the fact that, between the ranger and the druid, the party could muster two huge bears to terrorize the villagers) they weren't so god-like that they stomped the setting. The only thing that puts me off sometimes is that the characters I just described as powerful but not quite god-like were only first level. I kinda think 5th level is as high as I'd ever want to go with this game. I'm not sure that's a drawback, though, just not what I'm used to. After all, I decide what level everybody is every time in convention games, and the fact that these guys loved playing their characters is worth way more to me than my calcified notions of what first level should be like.

After a brief recharge and rule book swap-out, it was time to move on to Doctor Who with "Out of Joint." Another full-plus table gave us The Doctor, Romana, Ace, Jamie, Peri, Kamelion, and Nyssa (of Traken, not New Jersey). And yes, there was a reason for the crazy assortment of companions.

They put on a good show. The Time Lords are the hardest to play in that game (probably any game) and those players were both awesome. Peri made friends with a metal lizard, but had to leave it behind when the time spur collapsed. I consoled her player with the reminder that she wouldn't remember and was about to have her brain removed anyway. I decided to let Jamie, who was beginning to remember his work as a Time Lord agent, and the lizard, stick with the Doctor, just because. Maybe I'll use that backstory in some future adventure. Maybe they'll save Peri first because... technobabble retcon. I mean, Trial of a Time Lord was a mess anyway, so I can pretty much invent whatever continuity I want. Or they try to save Peri and just get Lord Kiv in Peri's body. Oooh, I could have an absurdly mismatched team go looking for Peri's brain!

Tom was either not finished with his evening game or was jumping right into his late game. Steve and Rags were in my game, so we were already together and headed over to the makeshift bar (the real one was being renovated) for drinks. Along the way, Matt used his unsettling ninja powers to materialize behind me out of nowhere. Or, okay, somewhere else. I'm sure he wasn't literally nowhere. That would really be unsettling.

We were actually sitting right where Tyler had said the trivia game would be, but after a couple of drinks we wandered off for some reason, had several interesting conversations at Scott & Petra's room party (once again regretting that I had been unable to play in Tom Mechler's Cypher game where the players are all velociraptors), wandered off again, and eventually got a text from a different Tom asking where I was, so Matt and I headed over there to hang out with Tom and Zack.

And then there was Sunday. In the end, there will always be Sunday. I had planned on packing up the car and then hanging out a little bit. I think I even told several people "I'll be right back" as I rushed past. Then I got caught up in Tom's mania to omygodwegottagetontheroadrightnow and forgot about all that. My apologies to anyone who felt slighted. I honestly meant to come back. I just didn't do it.

We later found out that the hotel was already filling up for next year, but we still managed to get the room we wanted. The theme has already been announced too, and here it is: Carnage Royale. So, I guess espionage and super-spies and stuff. Or painfully stupid banter about hamburgers in Paris. I really hope it's the first one.

And then Carnage was done for another year.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Stay Tuned

...or go away. I don't care.
But I'll probably announce something this week.

Here's a picture of some chewy fish oil.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Some House Rules for Icons

We added a couple of house rules to the Icons campaign this time (session write-up coming soon) that seem to be working well.

The first one is that you can keep dodging attacks, but you get progressively worse as the page goes on. Your first dodge is a normal roll, but, after that, penalties start stacking up. Minus one on the next dodge, minus two on the one after that, minus three on the one after that, and so on. There may already be a rule for this somewhere, but I haven't come across it so far. I adapted this one from Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space.

The other thing I did was give everybody a free activation of each of their three qualities once per session. This would  probably be overdoing it for a lot of groups, but nobody in my group (including me) is used to the whole playing for determination points thing where you penalize your own character to get the bonus later. Also, I tend to forget to hand out the points for doing cool stuff, which, unfortunately, encourages hoarding. And I didn't really see more people hamming it up to do more cool things as a drawback in a four-color superhero adventure. I was gratified to see that it had exactly the effect I was hoping for. Everybody activated at least one quality, and a couple of them used more. I guess you could think of it as sort of a "training wheels" rule.

And I'm still loving this campaign.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


I was watching Agents of SHIELD on Netflix a little while ago. Skye was learning to use her powers. She opened her mind to the vibrations around her and, sensing those vibrations as part of herself, she reached out and shook a mountain.

I was surprised by how much the scene affected me. I think it's because this is what I've always been trying to do. That's what writing is all about for me. I'm not talking about the destruction. I want to feel the hum of the world all around me, to reach out and become a part of it, becoming more than just meat, becoming a resonant wave.

I'll never bring down mountains, but maybe I can still resonate.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Plot Thickens

I was just going to the store to look for some unnatural dice for a local friend's Dungeon Crawl Classics game, but they didn't have any, so this happened.

Damn it, Tyler. It's your fault.

And the cats. I'm pretty sure they were involved, somehow.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Selecting Some Systems

I'm not doing RPGaDay this year, but I'm still allowed to blog about games a little bit, right?

I bought some new games at Gen Con, and took another look at a couple that I bought last year. This has got me fiddling with my options again.

First, the easy ones. Icons rocks for super-hero gaming. Nothing else I've tried for that genre has been anywhere near as much fun. I'm sticking with that. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space is an even easier choice for Doctor Who. And yes, Doctor Who is a genre.

The Vortex System (the one behind the Doctor Who game) is great and potentially useful for lots of genres. I've tried branching out with this a few times, though, and a funny thing happens. I start putting together the pieces of whatever mini-world I'm building, and I think, "Here's something cool from the book. I'll just re-skin it and use it in the scenario. Ooh, this is nice too!" And so on. Then I look at the pieces I've thrown together and think, "You know, these things would all still work in a Doctor Who adventure." And then that's what I have. Not that another Doctor Who adventure is a bad thing; it's just not what I was going for.

I've been thinking a lot about horror/paranormal stuff. Qalidar and Call of Cthulhu are fine for that, but both lead to issues similar to the ones I have with Vortex. That doesn't bother me so much with Qalidar. The problem there is that thinking about my own game makes me angry. Maybe it's because I'm still not done with the damn layouts for the second book, or maybe it's the similarly-premised settings or similarly-pronounced names that popped up after I put out the first installment, and are still popping up now. Maybe it's something else. I don't know. Whatever it is, it sours the preparation experience, which should be part of the fun.

Both Crawlspace and Stay Alive! would work. I've been in some great sessions of these games, and would gladly recommend either of them to anyone looking for a good dramatic horror or modern adventure game. Neither really sings to me as a GM, though. I can't explain it. Too close to home, maybe.

What's looking really good to me now is the Cypher System. Easy to walk people through, versatile, and focused more on speed than making every combat mechanically distinct, this looks really handy for convention games and sounds like a great match for my GM'ing style. The fact that it's a generic system also lets me do a variety of one-off scenarios without switching gears rules-wise. I'm not sure it's a great fit for four-color super-hero gaming, but I've got Icons for that anyway. I could even see using it for a lot of the medieval fantasy ideas I've got. For D&D style "elves & half-orcs kill a buncha monsters" gaming, though, I might still want something closer to the source.

And that's where much of my waffling occurs. I mentioned recently that I had been looking hard at 13th Age and liking what I saw. I think the easy monster generation is aces. I like how you put points into background choices to give you a nebulous skill system that still provides strong guidance for deciding what a character is likely to know. I like that moving combat along quickly was a design goal. And I like lots of other stuff. The people behind it have also put out some interesting, creative supplemental material which gives me all kinds of ideas, which in turn makes the thought of running a game exciting.

Also, though, there's 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, which I've already praised on multiple occasions. I've also run it a couple of times, and found it brilliantly adapted to my purposes. It somehow manages to both feel like the game I remember playing, and have much cleaner, more sensible mechanics. I can go portable with the basic rules, or go all-out with the complete game, or go halfway between. And it's really pretty.

The great thing about these choices is, the only drawback of picking the "wrong" one is that I might have slightly less fun than if I picked the "right" one. Slightly. It's possible, I suppose, that the ideal would be to run 13th Age for some monster-bash games and D&D for others, but, since I don't have infinite time, I'd rather just focus on getting as comfortable as possible with one of them.

But who knows? Sometimes I blather on and on about stuff like this, talk myself into an answer, then end up doing something completely different. I haven't even played 13th Age or Cypher yet, and you really don't know anything about a game until you've seen it in action.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Gen Con 2015: Mothman, Meatwad, and Metal

Another great Gen Con! It certainly didn't hurt that there was no booth to suck the fun out of it. The closest I got to working this year was handing out cards to some players who wanted to know more about my game. Not once during the entire convention did I get out of bed before I felt like getting out of bed.

I'm going to do detailed summaries of the games in their own entries this time, so if you're going to play one of these at another convention and are worried about spoilers, just don't click on the link. The photos and stuff are all here.

Don't Call it a Comeback
All week, I had been worrying about my Icons game, for which I had only had a few meager jots of inspiration. Somehow, after I came up with the idea and got the event listed, I completely lost touch with it. Once I set foot in that convention hall Wednesday afternoon, though, I knew it was going to work. The players would give me the right cues, or something new would pop into my head, or something. That's just what happens here.

Peryton Gamers Old Home Night was in the bar at Crowne Plaza. Turned out to be a really pleasant setting. We handed out GM badges and gave Jerry his "event uber overlord" t-shirt to thank him for organizing the group. Beckett had made some cool buttons so we all collected a few of those to give away. Tom lured some innocent bystanders into the party and they were fairly interesting. Well, I thought they were interesting at the time. Maybe it was the bourbon that was interesting. Thinking back, I can't recall anything particularly noteworthy about the conversation. Anyway, good times. Oh, and train car room!

And I'm Just Gettin' Warm
My first game on Thursday wasn't until 8PM, so I wandered around and checked out the exhibit hall. There were several things I was pretty sure I wanted to buy, so I went ahead and grabbed them, despite generally trying to not buy stuff until I've had a better look around. It's nice to have reading material. Stowing the Cypher System Rulebook and assorted 13th Age goodies in my room, I wandered off to find Tom for lunch. His "Big Foot Hunting" game had apparently gone well.

Some more wandering, a dinner at Champions with Caed, Jerry, and Liam (Tom didn't want to leave the JW), and then I was on my way to run "Shadow of the Peryton" for Qalidar. I had five players, which was almost full capacity, my friend Brian among them. It was a more toned-down adventure than usual, set entirely in Blackridge. It was more creepy paranormal Mothman-type stuff than gonzo alien. I kind of wish that had been the main focus all along, but at least I confirmed that the game works well for that kind of atmosphere.

Goin' Insane, Startin' the Hurricane, Releasin' Pain
Friday was the big day. After a quiet breakfast, a turn around the exhibit hall, and lunch at Claddagh with Tom and Caed, I jumped in. Icons was up first with "Raiders of the Dark Nebula," the one I had been fretting over and was still a little nervous about. One of my players, who had taken the role of a cosmic-powered hero(ish) called Nyarlathotep, summed it up well (after I confessed that I had made half of the adventure up on the spot): "How many hobbies let you come to a table with an outline, some good intentions, and a bunch of strangers, and end up with a story that nobody could have seen coming?" Well, that might not be the exact quote, but it's close enough for newspaper work.
I had enough of a break to go back to the room, switch out my game books, and have some expensive appetizers with Tom before it was time for my Doctor Who adventure, "Out of Joint." This was the only one I had actually playtested this year. Or ever, for that matter. Plus, I'm getting really comfortable with that game system. 

I wrapped up the evening with a late night Aqua Teen Hunger Force session, "Inappropriate Mysteries of the Jersey Shore." The traditional gang didn't show up, but I did get two guys who had done a great job last year. They also brought a friend, and then there were four other people. Everyone was great. They even gave me some new ideas for game mechanics. I had been thinking about quitting the Aqua Teen gaming, but no, I'm not stopping now.

I'm Blastin' -- Outlastin'
All my events were done, so Saturday was Shopping Day. After an expensive waffle at the hotel restaurant, I saw Tom and Liam off to wherever they were going and started walking the exhibit hall, row by row. I got about a fourth of the way before I started feeling punchy and went to visit Tom and grab some lunch. Tom was just getting his game going and I couldn't get ahold of anyone else, so I had lunch with my new Icons book instead. Turns out I picked up a flawed copy, sliced so all the pages are tilted. All the text is still visible, though, so I can live with it. Looks like it's going to be a useful supplement.

Back to the exhibitor pits, I found a nifty pendant which I later decided to send to my mom as a gift instead of keeping for myself, and the Dark Dungeons movie. I spotted a few copies of Peryton Fantasy RPG in the wild. I guess it's silly to even mention it, but it's still fun to see my old stuff pop up in random unexpected places.

I also stopped by the Flying Buffalo booth to chat with Steve Crompton and take a look at the preview copy of the new Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. Obviously, there wasn't time to do more than flip through it, so I can't say much about the content. It's huge, though, like a big floppy fantasy-themed phone book. It's attractively laid out and I'm sure they did some good work, but, for me, having a complete RPG in a tiny book was the main selling point of Tunnels & Trolls. I might still buy it if I see the print version for sale somewhere. I dunno.

Tom was off having a "business" dinner with somebody. Artist, I think. I found Jerry and Liam running Circus Imperium in the the giant, noisy board/card game hall. I was a little dismayed to see that Dungeons and Dragons was also in here, while its ugly stepchild, Pathfinder, enjoyed a nice private ballroom upstairs. I guess that's what sponsorship buys you.

Circus Imperium ("The Darkshade Circuit") was fun, even just watching. Drivers would fall out of their chariots and get trampled and jump into other chariots and fight and fall out and get dragged around. Jerry drew little blood spatters on the board to mark where people died or trace the paths along which they were dragged.

Jordan called and I spent some time with him. He had just bought a new board game in hopes of keeping his youngest hooked on the hobby. I think I did other stuff, then went back to the room to wallow in loot and watch bad movies on SciFy. Or SyFy, or however the hell they're spelling it now. House of Bones is good, and was fun for us because of its similarity to "The Horrible Fate of the Haunted House Hunters," but that didn't come on until everybody was falling asleep.

Now I Got a New Tour
Sunday was a lazy day. I wandered around a bit, then came back to the room, then Tom and Liam kicked me out so they could nap. Apparently last night's Crawlspace game ran late and was trolled by idiots. It sucks that this happened, but Tom having to deal with drunken assholes almost makes me believe in karma.

Back in the exhibit hall, I found a couple of t-shirts and a Doctor Who DVD set. I grabbed some of my new books and wandered off to read while the geezers napped. I found a really nice spot with comfy chairs and settled in. A bit later, Jordan got in touch again, so I met him, John ("Cram" on Trollhalla), and Tom in the hotel bar. John had picked up a copy of Peryton RPG and asked me to sign it. I didn't think of anything good to write until it was too late, so I went with a bland, "I hope you enjoy it."

After chatting a bit while watching Jordan's son open up his new game (Dominion with, I believe, a couple of expansions included), we moved on to the victory dinner at Bourbon Street. Back at the hotel, we got to hang out with Jerry, who had been busy working the auction for most of the weekend. It was a nice unwinding-night after a great con.

Oh, there's also Tom's blog. I don't know of anyone else in the group who's done one so far. Don't believe his lies. (Edit: Jerry has now posted his.)

And that's pretty much it. Cheers.

Inappropriate Mysteries of the Jersey Shore

Bean! (Heavily Modified)
Friday, July 31, 11pm-3am
Promo Blurb: Take the roles of animated fast food products or one of their neighbors in this off-the-rails RPG based on the late night cartoon.

I started off this year with something new, in which we had someone play Doctor Weird, someone else play his assistant, Steve, and the rest play the Grant Committee. Passing in suggestions, amalgamating them, and perverting their intent, led to the unveiling of a giant blueberry, which proceeded to eat its creators and roll off to ravage New Jersey.

In addition to the standards (Frylock, Meatwad, Shake, Carl), we had Willie Nelson (not the Willie Nelson), the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, and Inignokt. Ghost and Inignokt were selling Speedos door-to-door as part of a pyramid scheme. Somehow this led to a Foreigner Belt mishap which caused a real pyramid to grow up underneath Carl's house. There was time travel, cloning, and a Boxy Brown cameo. The giant, spiked blueberry showed up on the news, but nobody cared. Carl died, but was revived when Frylock attached his head to Ghost's body.

As the neighborhood was destroyed (I think by the blueberry, but I'm not sure I'm remembering it right) Frylock and Meatwad left town.

The players had several good ideas for future sessions, including a pile of cameo characters that players could just grab, play for a few minutes along with their other characters, and then discard. That's in the works for next year, along with some tweaks to the Doctor Weird prologue system.

Back to the Gen Con Write-Up:

Doctor Who: Out of Joint

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space - Friday, July 31, 7pm-11pm
Promo Blurb: Swept into a twisted branch of the Time Vortex created by the nascent Time War, the Eighth Doctor finds himself surrounded by an impossible assortment of companions in an abandoned Dalek city far in Skaro's future. Or, more precisely, a maze of Skaro's possible futures.

Player characters included the Doctor (obviously), Kamelion, Romana, Harry Sullivan, Sarah Jane Smith, and Rory Williams. They made their way through the petrified forest and down to the ruins. Harry fell down along the way and discovered an odd bit of Time Lord technology.

They worked out that the towers and the pit were "like a giant TARDIS" although the term "paradox machine" didn't come up until later. They encountered several of the alternate-history Skaro life forms that had been pulled into the time spur and had a conversation with Davros, who had been making the best of the situation by improvising a crude robo-man conversion to turn his attackers into his troops. Unlike the last group, they actually looked into the pit, which was fun. It was also fun when they realized that Davros was just hamming it up and really was as much a victim of the real villain as they were.

Back to the Gen Con Write-Up:

Raiders of the Dark Nebula

Icons Assembled Edition
Friday, July 31, 2pm-6pm
Promo Blurb: The dust of a dead star-god, the Tenebrous Nebula has sheltered many strange civilizations, but none as relentlessly expansionist as the Dire Wraiths. Since their awakening at the fall of the Ilkani homeworld, these shape-shifting techno-mages have terrorized entire star systems. Take the role of a starfaring super-hero in this mashup of Micronauts, Farscape, Rom, and assorted other space fantasies.

To be fair, the only Farscape reference was the living ship, and the Rom connection (Dire Wraiths) was mostly just backstory. Also, I don't think I even mentioned the Dark Nebula in the game. I didn't really have any idea what I was going to do when I wrote that blurb. It was like January or something.

I came up with basic stats and power sets and let the players come up with names, appearance, and qualities at the table.
  • Nyarlathotep: Seriously, that's what he called himself, saying that he was inspired by the Old Ones, although he didn't seem particularly insane. He had cosmic energy powers. Typing out his full name will get old fast, so let's call him Narly for short.
  • Trixatrix: Insectoid working with Narly. Extremely enthusiastic and somewhat naively friendly. Great leaper and had a rocket lance.
  • Siren: Winged human patterned somewhat loosely after Marionette from the comics. Also had sonic powers.
  • John Legate: Experimental subject whose shape-shifting and power-duplicating abilities were far more extensive than he let on.
  • Arok: Canine-enhanced humanoid with tracking, ESP, and fast attack powers.
Siren, John, and Arok were experimental Body Banks subjects imprisoned and forced to fight in the arena (although John was pretty sure he could escape any time and was staying because he liked fighting). Narly and Trix were trying to break them out because Narly had received a vision or something about one of them being the key to overthrowing the Archon. They had, therefore, allowed Trix to be captured and thrown in with the other prisoners for... reasons. I don't know. I just thought it sounded cool.

When the cyber-tyrannosaur with rocket launchers came out, somebody said this was sounding more like Epic Magazine than a comic book adventure. They downed it really quickly, though, so I probably didn't make it tough enough. Anyway, the breakout proceeded and they fought their way past the armored "angel" guards (ironically, a much harder fight than the dinosaur) to the landing strip, where they were drawn to a big wasp-shaped ship. Trix found that it was particularly well adapted to his people. They blasted their way out, shot down their pursuers, and warped away.

Then they found out that the ship was the result of a larger project the Archon was investing in, using beings similar to Trix's people as stock to create an biologically networked race of cybernetic bug soldiers. At this point the comparisons moved from comic-book style magazines to heavy metal album covers. Anyway, the researchers lost control of their engineered soldiers and fled the planet, accidentally leaving behind the unfinished device which had allowed them to communicate with the network, but was not yet able to accomplish its intended goal of shutting the bugs down.

Deciding that this was what they were looking for, the heroes headed for the planet and found that, as promised, it was overrun by crazed cyber-bug people, some of which had exposed brains, because that's cool-looking. The building that was supposed to have the device in it was covered by a gigantic hive. Trix made some fake cyber-attachments for himself out of spare parts and John transformed himself. It soon became apparent that the bugs were communicating with pheromones and would not allow either of the imposters through, until John duplicated this ability as well.

After some tense experimentation, John and Trix fired up the machine, made contact with the bionic network, and guided it towards a more advanced level of functioning. Also, they led the horde of vengeful cyber-bugs back to the Archon's world, overthrew him, and took over.

Back to the Gen Con Write-Up:

Shadow of the Peryton

Qalidar: Resistance - Thursday, July 30, 8pm-Midnight
Promo Blurb: The quiet college town of Blackridge is being haunted by a soaring shadow, a dark, winged shape with antlers. On the ground, weird agents are looking for something, terrorizing people in their homes and then disappearing. Is it just a coincidence that there's a nuclear power plant nearby?

For this one, I had five players, taking the Ascendant, Fixer, Karcist, Mystic, and Scrapper characters. They were third level, high enough to have some cool powers, but low enough that they can't just rampage through the town. I opened with the statement that they had all done a little bit of Storm walking, but this was a familiar town on a familiar world. The Fixer was actually a student at the local college (University of Arkansas at Blackridge) and the Karcist was his dad.

As the blurb promises, there had been some weird sightings and some suspicious retractions, and the heroes were there to check it out. Also, there wasn't really a nuke plant in town, but several people had seen the ghostly image of one across the lake.

After finding out what they could from their senile motel manager, they headed out to the college to interview students. After stalking a few, they found their way to Matt, a zine publisher who was able to point them in the direction of Jim and Stacy, who had seen the creature, and to Doctor Morton, who had made a public statement and then retracted it. Also, there had been bigfoot sightings at the Cliffs overlooking the river, but not even Matt put much stock in those stories. The Mystic and the Fixer saw a cloud that looked like a steam plume from a nuclear plant.

Morton wasn't terribly helpful, but Jim and Stacy independently provided fairly consistent accounts of an encounter on a hiking trail on Chactas Mountain. The Ascendant had a strange, brief conversation with a man in a suit. They really did see Bigfoot at the Cliffs, much to the Fixer's delight. The Karcist nailed him with a magic feather and he floated off into the foliage below.

On a nocturnal trip to the lake, they encountered a pair of eyeless children whose psychic assault almost killed the Karcist. The Ascendant encountered another man in a suit hidden in the trees, but he (the man in black, not the Ascendant) disappeared during the fight with the other creatures. I was gratified by the level of creepedoutedness my players displayed in reaction to this encounter.

Finally, they made their way out to Chactas Mountain, where the Karcist's ghostly helper led them to the peryton, actually just a winged shadow-humanoid with smoky tendrils twisting up from its head. In the fight, it was destroyed fairly quickly, only to release a fiery wraith from its charcoal-coated skeleton. The wraith was eventually destroyed by the Scrapper's crystal knife as well, leaving a fine, iridescent dust which the Fixer collected in a canteen.

Renting a boat from Ray's 24-Hour Marine, they went out to the nuclear plant and confirmed the Mystic's intuition that the forces drawing it towards this reality (which would have been extremely disruptive) had been neutralized by the creature's destruction. There was other stuff that led them to all this information, but that's the general idea.

And, damn it, I forgot to tell them about interrupts, which is a pity, because interrupts are cool.

Back to the Gen Con Write-Up:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Carnage 2015 Events

Here's what I've submitted so far. This'll probably be it:

Doctor Who vs. Cthulhu (Friday, 11:30 pm)
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
A panicked message from his old classmate, Drax, leads the sixth Doctor to a frozen ruin on the surface of Pluto. An unscrupulous syndicate has determined that the planet is passing through a region of "soft space" that can be used to access a parallel universe known as E-Space. In their efforts to exploit this potential energy well, the Synarchy has tapped into the dreams of something sleeping on the other side, and quite possibly disturbed the ancient star god enough to awaken it. Oh, and, "Promise you won't get nettled? Come on, Doc, it ain't all that bad! It's just that you may not be the only old school chum I called."

The Fire Within (Saturday, 1pm - 5pm)
13th Age
A fallen star, a dead mayor, villagers scouring the hills for an unknown prize, and a mysterious prisoner that no one has seen.

Doctor Who: Out of Joint (Saturday, 7pm - 11pm)
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
Swept into a twisted branch of the Time Vortex created by the nascent Time War, the Eighth Doctor finds himself surrounded by an impossible assortment of companions in an abandoned Dalek city far in Skaro's future. Or, more precisely, a maze of Skaro's possible futures.

The theme this year is "Carnage of the Lost World."

Saturday, July 04, 2015


Is it really so hard to understand that constantly insisting on technical precision in conversational language is an obnoxious waste of time? When people are making speeches, the difference between a democracy and a republic is almost always irrelevant. There's no reason not to refer to the Whateverittechnicallyusedtobe as the Confederate flag, because that's what it's called here in the future. I've even heard people sniffing haughtily over the difference between strategy and tactics, which... seriously? And don't even get me started on the gun jargon evangelists. The point is, outside of specialized professional usage, if everybody knows what you mean when you say a word, then THAT'S WHAT IT MEANS.

Okay, I feel better now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fantastic Fourness

I'm a long-time fan of the Fantastic Four. It was one of the first comic book series I collected and I still re-read the old issues. Despite the inevitable doubts, I'm excited about the new Fantastic Four movie. I can't help it. I had reservations at first about Sue and Johnny not being biological siblings, but I found that fairly easy to get over. As long as they act like brother and sister, I'll be fine with it.

I also like the other two movies, though, and I'm a little bit sad that they didn't just continue that line.

I know, I know. These movies are far from perfect. Their Doctor Doom was just not Doctor Doom. In both movies, Sue had to get naked in public for no particular reason. The scene where Sue's response to Ben's angst was to whine about Reed not paying attention to her makes me cringe every time. And back to Doom: besides not being properly Doomish, he has awful, awful, awful fight banter.

But the biggest of those is easy to dismiss. Doom isn't Doom, but he's a great villain in his own right (except for the banter, but that's only a few seconds of pain). Seriously, try watching it without comparing him to the comic book character, and then tell me what's wrong with him. And the thing is, we don't even need Doctor Doom. Sure, he's a great villain, but he doesn't define the Fantastic Four. He never did.

For me, Fantastic Four is about two things: (1) these characters and their relationships, especially with each other, and (2) facing the Unknown. Just look at the first issue. First off, see who's not on the cover? Right. Doctor Doom. After a little bit of bickering, they bravely and illegally hurl themselves into the  void. Then they go into a kaleidoscopic underworld and face not only strange monsters, but the Mole Man. Like the FF, the Mole Man is a human transformed by his exploration of the Outside. When they do meet Doctor Doom in #5, it's as a set-up for a time travel adventure.

Doom is still an important recurring villain, one most FF fans look forward to seeing. I wouldn't deny that at all. I just want to make the case that what really defines the Fantastic Four is not the villains they fight; it's the new worlds they explore. And the family thing too, but I don't think I need to argue that point with anyone who's ever even flipped through an issue.

The two movies from a few years back have what I'm looking for in a Fantastic Four movie. They've got mad science, the Unknown, and four people with super-powers held together not only by that fact, but also by a disarmingly normal kind of family bond.

I've heard people fuss about the cast. Unless they're only talking about Doom, I don't get that at all. The actors playing the Fantastic Four in these movies all handle their roles beautifully. I don't even know how to argue the point, because the opposite position makes no sense to me.

So anyway, yeah, I'm looking forward to finding out what they've done with the my old friends in this one. I can tell from the previews that they know it's got to have the Unknown, and I think I see the kind interpersonal dynamics I want, as well. It looks like it might also have another strange way of pointlessly cramming Doctor Doom into the story, but I'm still going in with an open mind and a lot of hope.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Carnage, Social Media, and Bad Ideas

I switched my main focus from Blackridge to the Bad Idea. I just found myself too consistently pulled in that direction, while every step on Blackridge was feeling forced. Still, maybe someday. There's a lot of potential there, and I developed some cool stuff while I was working on it. One of my Gen Con events is set in Blackridge, even.

Qalidar... yeah, I know. I'll get there.

I submitted one event (Doctor Who: Out of Joint) for Carnage. Planning to put in one more. I'm thinking it'll be D&D or another Doctor Who. Possibly both, at which point I guess the "one more" bit would need updating.

I probably won't be visible much on Google Plus or my public Facebook page for at least a few weeks. Maybe longer. I think social media stuff is consuming way more brainspace than it's worth right now. Seems like I've been figuring out ways to talk about what I'm working on more than I'm actually working on it. I'll probably still tweet a random thought now and then, though. It's easy enough to blurt those out and be done with it.

Here's a picture of a tree.

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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Nameless Way

The novel I'm working on is based on a game I played in the late 1990’s. Like, not just inspired by, but actually based on it. Yeah, I know, bad idea.

Some time in 1998 or early 1999, my brother and I got together at the comic book store we were running and started talking about how much we missed gaming. We set up a plan that we hoped would help our ridiculously busy group keep going, with multiple dungeon masters, a world that we built as we went along, and no fussing about continuity if one or two people couldn’t make it to a session. We went with Dungeons & Dragons, partly because everybody was already familiar with it.

I provided the first adventure (or you can ride the Wayback Machine), establishing the village of Timber, Kasmordo’s tower, and the forested mountains around them as the initial setting. This session also established Ezren’s supernatural bargain, Shao Tsang’s frequent Tao-quoting, and a number of other recurring themes. Before long, there was a forum, a web page, and even a yearly awards poll for things like best quote, best adventure, and so on.

We eventually wrapped up the campaign because we wanted to try 3rd Edition. For a variety of reasons, the group fell apart after only a few sessions of that second campaign. I could blather on for a while about what those reasons were, but it’s beside the point. The only reason I bring up the second campaign at all is that it showed me something about the first one that I hadn’t realized.

Our characters in the second campaign were fairly iconic: the grim fighter, the brash half-orc barbarian, the rogue with the shady past, and the bossy but loyal cleric/sorcerer. In the first campaign, that hadn’t been the case at all. Those characters were flawed, damaged, and often kind of weird. They eventually stumbled their way into heroism, but most of them started out as misfits with something to prove. They learned to be a team, but they didn’t just snap together like pre-fabricated shelves or video game archetypes; they had to work at it, and sometimes they failed.

Around that time, I published a piece of flash fiction that would eventually evolve into this book’s prologue. You can probably find it online if you really want to. I made a few starts on a follow-up story, then got distracted by other things and forgot about it for years,  although Ezren, Mogdar, Seisha, Shao Tsang, and Tellar did lend their names to spells in both the 2006 and 2009 editions of the Peryton Fantasy Role-Playing Game.

Recently, having decided to focus more on novels, I came back to these characters and their adventures, and I found something new. I suppose it could still turn out to be a bad idea, but I don’t care.

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.