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Last day of ENnie awards voting; please support Eclipse Phase: Panopticon!

July 29th, 2012 No comments
Panopticon cover

"Two uplift enter, one uplift resleeve!"

Today is the last day of voting for the 2012 ENnie Awards, and an Eclipse Phase hardcover to which I contributed, Panopticon, is up for a Best Writing award. Please cast a vote if you’ve got a moment.

Two other products that I didn’t work on but really love are also nominated: Paizo’s We Be Goblins for Best Free Product, and the Unhallowed Metropolis RPG for Best Setting. If you’ve enjoyed these yourself, vote them up!

Thanks much!

Categories: Eclipse Phase, RPG Tags:

The Exoplanet: PAX East Steampunk Worldbuilding Workshop

April 19th, 2012 No comments

This is how 80 PAXers brainstorming awesome look.

A mad scientist opens a gate to another planet in Trafalgar Square. Colonists from Earth pour through to exploit the rich mineral resources on the other side. Years later, they’ve got their own culture, complete with shortwave radio arm clocks, a ruling class of albino weather control engineers, and a faction of rebels who disguise themselves as birdwatchers.

This was just some of the output from the steampunk worldbuilding workshop I ran with colleagues Carrie Willis and Andrew Linstrom at PAX East this year. We took a room of about 80 PAX participants, divided them into groups, gave them the seeds of a world, and had each group develop one aspect of it.

Carrie Willis has posted the full output of the exercise here, at the Steampunk Exoplanet blog. The material is Creative Commons licensed, meaning anyone can take it and make stuff with it — including commercial products — as long as they attribute it.

A lot of people complimented me on the format of the workshop, but I can’t take credit for it. That should go to Peter Rice and the late, great Wm. John Wheeler. Rice & Wheeler collaborated on some cool projects for FASA back in the day, but they’re probably best known for the Dungeon Master’s Workshop they ran at Gen Con back in the ’80s. A very similar worldbuilding exercise was part  of that workshop. I’m pleased that it was able to thrive at PAX.

Let’s do it again next year!

Categories: RPG, Speculative Literature, video games Tags:

Masks of Nyarlathotep, Session 1 [spoilers toward the bottom]

April 18th, 2012 No comments
TONGUES BLOODY TONGUES

TONGUES BLOODY TONGUES, street art from Los Angeles via thedirtfloor.com

I’ll be posting occasional updates as my groups investigator’s proceed through this campaign to the sanity-wrecking finish. All posts on this campaign will be tagged “call of cthulhu.”

Once we had a group of investigators ready to risk life, limb, and soul, I decided to give my players some homework. I didn’t ask them for detailed backgrounds, as I’ll be running Masks out of the box. I don’t want them to feel their carefully crafted backgrounds are being ignored, so we’ll let them emerge in play.

What I did ask them for was to help me out in bringing the 1920s setting to life. I asked each player to dig up period photographs or illustrations of the following for their PC:

  • a portrait of their character (my favorite so far is of a PC who was disfigured in the Great War)
  • a picture of their character’s place of residence, with a street address (easy enough to do for 1920s Chicago)
  • a picture of their investigator’s automobile, horse, or other mode of transportation (one player found pics of a restored 1920s bicycle, complete with old broadside ads)
  • a picture of their investigator’s tools of the trade, possibly including a weapon (for our group, this ranged from a pile of law books to an archeologist’s kit)
  • for the group, a period map of our starting locale — 1920s Chicago — and a period world map, printed in large format so that we can spread it on the table during play or tack it to a wall in the play area

T.'s investigator, Dr. Raymond Tindel, practices bartitsu...

Only players with lots of time on their hands will do this kind of thing without an incentive, and my group are all busy people. So I game them the following incentives:

  • Each PC who collects and prints out all the photos I requested gets to add 1 point to any attribute other than EDU or POW, or 1 extra point of income, or 3d2 points to add to any skill currently under 80.
  • For the group coming up with the maps, each PC gets to put 1 point into any attribute other than EDU (i.e., including POW), or 3d2 points to put in a skill under 80, or 1 extra point of income.

...gets around by bicycle...

The incentives were designed to be good enough that players would actually go after them, but not so good that they skew game balance. It seems to have worked, as all of my players have been busily collecting photos, and one player brought a beautiful set of maps to spread out on the table.

We made a few decisions straight off about how to handle the many clues, notes, and handouts that are part of playing Masks:

  • We won’t be doing an Obsidian Portal site for this campaign, much as we love OP. We’re going to keep to the pre-digital 1920s feel, through and through.
  • There’ll be a physical folder for each investigator with one pocket for info they’re carrying on them, and another for info/clues/journals they’ve stashed away.
  • If cultists capture or kill an investigator, anything in their “on me” pocket is fair game for the Keeper to plunder or destroy. If anyone gets swallowed whole by Glaaki, that moleskine full of investigatory notes  in her breast pocket has a future as Glaaki-spoor.

...uses tools like these for archeology..

Now then, spoiler alert! If you ever plan to play Chaosium’s Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign for Call of Cthulhu, read no farther.

If you’re a keeper or a player not worried about Masks spoilers, read on…

Once play began, the investigators took the initiative to do the initial leg work right quick. The dice were not being kind on their initial Library Use rolls, so I Gumshoed things a bit to make sure they got all of the initial clues about the Carlyle Expedition. I was less charitable when they started digging on the expedition members.

Here their backgrounds helped, though. One investigator was an archeologist, so he’d heard of Sir Aubrey Penhew. Another was an alienist, so was able to quickly find some facts about Dr. Robert Huston.

...and keeps a 1917 S&W in case things get nasty.

Fortunately, my players are smart and asked good questions. I didn’t have to do much prompting on where to try looking things up; they came up with plenty of creative ideas on their own. (For instance, the alienist in the group went straight to psychology journals, figuring the relatively tiny number of working psychoanalysts at the time would make Huston easy to find).

One player, who’s playing an underworld type, had no applicable skills and was sidelined a lot during this first session. I’m going to have to work to keep him involved during the first chapter, but once the investigators are out in the field, there should be a lot more for him to do. Unfortunately, this boredom may have contributed to him making some really unwise tactical decisions when the investigators got to Jackson Elias’s murder scene. He dove into combat (not having played CoC before) and got taken out by a knife wound almost immediately.

One thing I will say for Masks — the first combat encounter is a teaching moment for players who haven’t done CoC before. The cultists NPCs are dangerous, especially to a group with no guns, but they’re explicitly trying to get away — so the chance of them killing any PCs in the very first combat of the campaign is almost nil, unless the players are extremely stupid.

Next week, they’ll be dealing with police. And I have a feeling they’ll want to dig a lot deeper on the Carlyle Expedition than they did the first time around.

Call of Cthulhu Investigator Relationships, Fiasco-style

April 12th, 2012 No comments

Masks: Behold the epicness.

After years of D&D, Eclipse Phase, and Pathfinder, my gaming group is finally getting down to some Call of Cthulhu. And since we’re not fucking about, I’ll be running Chaosium’s legendary Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign.

I played my first game of Fiasco at PAX East last weekend. I decided on the spur of the moment to grease the wheels on our character creation session a bit by stealing Fiasco’s index card method for setting up relationships between characters.

I put an index card between each player at the table. Their PC would have a strong tie to the person on their left, and to the person on their right — strong enough that following them to chase down murderous cultists wouldn’t be implausible.

It worked great! We ended up with the following PCs and relationships:

  • A skeptical ex-soldier who’d been conscripted into the Great War early in his university years, employee of a wealthy antiquarian.
  • The antiquarian, once an artifact hunter for a government agency, now a supplier of ancient curiosities to museums and collectors. He in turn regularly employed…
  • …a smuggler, formerly an acquirer of officer luxuries for the Army quartermaster corps during the Great War.
  • The smuggler’s uncle, a successful lawyer, who during the War gave legal counsel to the skeptical soldier.

I started with the obvious ones.

My fifth player wasn’t present, but to keep things symmetrical, her character will know exactly two other PCs.

Since it’s a globetrotting CoC game, I then had the group come up with one NPC contact on each continent (they don’t yet know which ones will be relevant). Each of these NPCs has a strong connection to at least one PC — strong enough to step in as a group member if anyone dies or goes insane far from the investigators’ home base in Chicago.

I didn’t have a chart of relationships handy for our group, but here’s one you can use for Masks,  or for just about any 1920s CoC campaign.

It’s given in the numbered format used by Fiasco playsets, but I don’t actually recommend randomizing like you’d do in Fiasco. Give it to players as inspiration. Unlike Fiasco relationship charts, these relationships are designed to encourage cooperation between investigators, rather than setting them up for later conflict.

  1. Home Town
    1. Aunt/Uncle & Nephew/Niece
    2. Old School Chums
    3. Spiritual Leader & Congregant
    4. Businessperson & Employee
    5. Shopkeeper & Supplier
    6. Secret Society Members
  2. Academia
    1. Colleagues
    2. Student & Advisor
    3. Museum Curator & Acquirer
    4. Doctor & Patient
    5. Librarian & Researcher
    6. Greek House Members
  3. Chattering Classes & Bohemians
    1. Correspondent & Editor
    2. Entertainer & Fan
    3. Reporter & Source
    4. Artist & Patron
    5. Revolutionary & Tradesperson
    6. Occultist & Aspirant
  4. Government
    1. Officer & Soldier
    2. Comrades in Arms
    3. Civil Servant & Official
    4. Cop & PI
    5. Party Operative & Supporter
    6. Agent & Asset
  5. Gangland
    1. Fence & Contact
    2. Smuggler & Customer
    3. Prostitute & Client
    4. Lawyer & Defendant
    5. Hired Gun & Boss
    6. Detective & Snitch
  6. The Smart Set
    1. Sporting Partners
    2. Financial Professional & Client
    3. Alienist & Patient
    4. Dilettante & Bodyguard
    5. Collector & Antiquarian
    6. Heir/Heiress & Advisor

Important thing to keep in mind: These relationships don’t have to be in the present; they could well be in the characters’ pasts. But if so, they should have been strong enough for the characters to trust each other and work together years later.

Going insane is so much better among friends, after all.

Categories: RPG Tags: ,

Game concept: Three Little Pigs

February 15th, 2012 No comments

This is a storybook combined with a structural engineering game for kids. It could be a tablet app, or it could (once prices come down) be a physical game with location-aware pieces and an AR overlay to represent characters.

The player is given three types of blocks: straw, sticks, bricks. The blocks are aware of their location relative to one another. On each level, the player has to build a house for the piglet out of one of the materials. They have a limited number of blocks with which to shape a house.

When they’re done building, the wolf appears and tries to blow down the house. Certain shapes will resist the wolf’s breath; others will be blown over. Parental controls decide how graphical the latter outcome is. ;)

This idea got fired off while I was taking Latitude Research’s Future of Storytelling survey, and it was too fun not to post.

Categories: Uncategorized, video games Tags: ,

Eclipse Phase: Panopticon & Broken Time Blues Go Live

August 17th, 2011 No comments
Panopticon cover

Eclipse Phase: Panopticon. Is that a monkey & an octopus in a pit fight? You bet your sweet ass it is, paatno-san.

The new Eclipse Phase hardcover, Panopticon: A Focused Eye on Transhumanity, Vol. I, went live for PDF sales on DriveThruRPG.net today. It’s available as both a standalone PDF and a Creative Commons-licensed hack pack so that players & GMs can mash up the art for their own use.

Physical copies of Panopticon will be available in  gaming stores (at least in the U.S.) on August 31. Support your FLGS! But if you just can’t wait that long, or don’t have a game store that stocks Eclipse Phase, it’s also available through Indie Press Revolution.

Panopticon features new material on uplifted animals, ubiquitous surveillance, and space habitats (the chapter I co-authored with Justin Kugler). Along with beautiful art and detailed setting information, it’s packed with new morphs, new gear, and new mechanics of use to both players and GMs. This is a great book to own if you’re into the high tech dungeon crawl or political aspects of the game, and the chapter on sentient animals is essential reading if your campaign involves uplifts. And the opening story, El Destino Verde, also written by me, ain’t too shabby, either… in my entirely humble opinion.

# # #

Broken Time Blues cover art

Broken Time Blues: Fantastic Tales in the Roaring Twenties

Meanwhile, on the fiction front, my story Der Graue Engel appears in Broken Time Blues: Fantastic Tales in the Roaring ’20s. It’s got a little bit of Fritz Lang, a little bit of Cabaret, and a little bit of LeGuin’s Hainish Cycle, all turned loose in a Weimar Germany that’s about to hit the skids big time. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book myself, because it’s also got stories by three of my Clarion West 2010 classmates — Frank Ard, John Remy, and Andrew Romine — as well as by Paizo’s fiction editor, the estimable James Sutter. Keen-as-hell art by Galen Dara ices the cake. Our editors, Jaym Gates and Erika Holt, themed their last anthology, Rigor Amortis, around zombie erotica, so I highly doubt they pulled any punches on this one.

All right, enough marketing. I’ve got another chapter of Eclipse Phase: Rimward to polish off tonight…

…and a fine Gen Con was had by all!

August 10th, 2011 3 comments
Panopticon cover

"Two uplift enter, one uplift resleeve!"

Thing with Gen Con: it’s always been too damned short. When I was a kid, it always seemed like Sunday came too soon. And now that I’m going as a game designer, ironically, it seems even shorter (you’d think all that work would make it seem longer, but no!). I didn’t see even half of the people or things I wanted to, but it was a blast all the same.

The biggest news from my court was the release of the latest Eclipse Phase hardcover, Panopticon: A Focused Eye on Transhumanity, Vol. I. We had pre-release copies of the book on sale in the Posthuman Studios booth for those lucky enough to be at Gen Con.

Like every Eclipse Phase book to date, it’s gorgeous, with yet another Stephan MARTINIÈRE cover icing the cake (I’ll capitalize his last name, because he’s French, and that’s how they roll). The writing ain’t too shabby, either, although as co-author of the section on space habitats, I’m clearly biased. The other two sections of the book deal with uplifted animals and ubiquitous surveillance. No street date yet, but EP fans may be assured that we’ve delivered the goods on this one. Can’t wait to see the forum threads on how people use these imaginings in actual play!

ENnie 2011

Posthuman be bringin' home ENnies.

I also finally got my hands on a physical copy of Gatecrashing, and it, too, is pretty darned sweet. And Posthuman won another Gold ENnie, this one for Continuity, Marc & Leah Huete’s excellent scenario from last year’s Gen Con. Congrats to them on taking one of Eclipse Phase’s core concepts — body-hopping — and building an intense scenario around it.

Other acquisitions this year included one of Dragonchow’s beautifully made limited edition Eclipse Phase dice bags; Pathfinder: Ultimate Combat (congrats to Jason & team on another great rulebook); and, from the ENnies benefit auction, a bundle of everything currently available for the Dragon Age tabletop RPG. I have to admit I’m always suspicious of RPGs licensed from a big non-tabletop RPG product, but if you look at the names in the credits (Pramas, Kenson, Kulp, Tidball, to name several), it’s clear Green Ronin wasn’t relying on a franchise name to carry this line.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend grabbed a copy of Don’t Rest Your Head RPG and its companion volume Don’t Lose Your Mind and is threatening to run it, a development I’d welcome. We gave this game a spin at Paizo Con back in June, and it’s a great little design.

Additional awesome things I did or saw, in no particular order…

Giant Robo Rally

Giant Roborally with Mindstorm Robots. Squeee!

Some brilliant genius/maniacs who apparently live at the sweet spot between Maker Fair projects and extreme geek love brought a giant Roborally board to the con and had huge Lego Mindstorm robots tooling around it. I was running by on my way to the Posthuman booth when I spotted it, but Father Fletch (of PAX Tabletop Enforcer fame) was nice enough to let me borrow his photo of it, so that y’all may know this awesomeness wasn’t just something I hallucinated after 3 days of Gen Con sleep dep.

I ran a lot of Eclipse Phase, as Posthuman was short on GMs this year. Last year I spent almost all of my time in the booth, pitching the books, so it was great to get out and game with the fans. I mostly ran Xenovore, the fan-inspired scenario I wrote and ran at East Coast cons earlier this year. Hopefully I’ll get it published some time soon.

Jesus Store

Welcome to Indianapolis, Land of Jesus Stores & Ranch Dressing

And I pitched a board game designed by Nathaniel Dean & I. Far too early to talk about what the project is, but we felt the pitch went well. It was my first experience pitching a new game of my own to a serious potential publisher, and I think my co-designer and I took a lot away from the experience.

On Saturday, advance copies of Degenesis showed up at the Posthuman booth. Gorgeous art; weird, weird setting. I was joking with booth visitors that we only do RPGs about the end of the world. Davidson & Seth, the line developers, took a really tough translation project and made it sing. Unfortunately, I forgot my copy at the booth when I rushed off to the airport, so I’ll have to wait to read it!

Some people say Gen Con leaves them exhausted. True for me, physically, but on a creative level, I find it incredibly energizing. I went home very much revved up for another year of writin’ and schemin’.

PAX, a brief spell of Minecraft addiction, PaizoCon, Firefly & Points Beyond

July 21st, 2011 No comments
El Destino Verde cover

El Destino Verde, part one of an Eclipse Phase novelette

Stuff I’ve done the last few months…

  • Ran some games at TempleCon, including Eclipse Phase and the AD&D 1st Edition module White Plume Mountain (one of my all time favorites).
  • Spoke/discussed/brawled in panels at PAX (which we shall now call Prime rather than East, because it is bigger) and Total Confusion.
  • Played Minecraft until it warped my perceptions of the real world. (But I’m better now. I swear.)
  • Headed out to Seattle with my girlfriend to experience the novelty of a gaming con (PaizoCon) where I don’t do any work. Well, minimal work. Before heading back to Bahston, we spent a day in Seattle visiting friends & a few of my Clarion West haunts.
  • Built a giant bug (actually, it was a mammoth, but… long story… anyway) out of forest deadfall & burned it whilst a bunch of hippies danced semi-clad around it with fire.
  • The usual feverish writing in my off hours, including Eclipse Phase: Rimward.
  • My first piece of Eclipse Phase fiction, “El Destino Verde” came out in e-book. It’s the opening fiction for Eclipse Phase: The Panopticon, as well as first of a three part novelette. You can get it from both DriveThru RPG and the Amazon Kindle store.).

Stuff I’ll be up to…

  • Gen Con! I’m rather excited about it. I actually get to GM Eclipse Phase this year (as opposed to being in the booth the whole con). And I’ve even convinced a few people to observe the ancient Gen Con tradition of playing Dawn Patrol (aka, Fight in the Skies) on Saturday morning. Other than that, I’ll be in the Posthuman Studios booth much of the time.
  • Broken Time Blues, the anthology containing my story “Der Graue Engle” will be coming out soon. I’ll devote a post to it once I know the release date.

Panels at TotalConfusion (Massachusetts, Feb. 26)

February 17th, 2011 No comments

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get Eclipse Phase onto the schedule for TotalConfusion this year, but I was asked to sit on a few of their panels on Saturday, 2/26. So I’m going to be placed at a table with other RPG writers, where we will hold forth on the following topics…

Making Great Adventures, Saturday 11:00-Noon

Our panel of esteemed guests will discuss adventure design. Listen in as we discuss the success and pitfalls of adventure design and learn what it takes to make epic adventures. We will cover everything from the one-shot to the epic campaign. Don’t miss this opportunity to get access to some of the greats. Audience participation is highly encouraged, so bring along some questions for our panel.

Gaming and the Media, Saturday 3:00-4:00pm

Game design is only the beginning of any company’s efforts to be successful. Once the product is out, it needs to be promoted and supported. This has changed vastly over the years from primarily print to primarily electronic. Join our panelists as they discuss how the process has changed over the years. Come to enjoy the “war stories” from the trenches of gaming media and get great insight on what works best for promoting your own product. We’ll be discussing print magazines, the evolution of the pdf model, webzines, podcasts, and more. Audience participation is highly encouraged, so bring along some questions for our panel.

Overcoming Gamer/Geek Stereotypes (with Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks)

What does it mean to be a geek? This seminar tackles that question with strength and dexterity. . . . part personal odyssey, part medieval mid-life crisis, and part wide-ranging survey of all things freaky and geeky … playful … funny and poignant … It’s a fun ride and it poses a question that goes to the very heart of fantasy, namely: What does the urge to become someone else tell us about ourselves?”

I’m especially excited about this last one. I haven’t gotten to read Ethan’s book yet, but it sounds like part Napoleon Dynamite autobiography, part journalism, part soul searching.

Hope to see some folks at TotalCon!

Thoughts on hobby gaming

January 21st, 2011 1 comment

Gaming is not taking what you’re given, but instead demanding something more interesting. Gaming is not an escape; it’s a way to comment on our experiences. Gaming is cerebral, it’s tactical, but it’s also emotional. Gaming is killing the monsters and getting the treasure, but then, so is real life, right? Gaming is stepping outside yourself to understand other points of view, and knowing yourself better when you get back. Gaming is alchemy, and it’s something I’ll always do.

Categories: RPG Tags: