Another Kickstarter I'm Backing: Alas for the Awful Sea

I heard about this Kickstarting system pretty much how I hear about all the systems I end up backing: through an online friend's recommendation. Occasionally I find out about a system through a blog review or pitch, but it's usually friends. So far, it's been working out for me: I've gotten what I've backed and my backlog is quite long. There's always more to play (and read, and write) than time.

The system in question for this post is Alas for the Awful Sea, which is finishing off its Kickstarter on Feb. 22nd (at 7am). It's make its goal multiple times over again, so backing it definitely means putting money down on the table. To quote the pitch:

Alas is a story-focused tabletop roleplaying game about a ship’s crew navigating the remote British Isles. There, they face a world consumed with suspicion, sadness, and desperation. Struggles for power have deadly consequences; mysterious disappearances plague the region; and those who seem human may not all be so. Amidst all this, the sea sends forth strange messages. Will you be the one to listen?

It draws on the history of fishing villages and folklore of 1800s Scottish Hebrides. So it should fill more of the disempowered fantasy section of my roleplaying games library, while using the supernatural to keep it from being too crushing. Since it uses the Apocalypse World system for the core, I should be able to pick up the mechanics faster than a system with totally unfamiliar mechanics. Which means that I, personally, am more likely to play. I mentioned that backlog of new systems to play, right?

The artwork shown so far in the Kickstarter looks gorgeous. It fits my current desire for narrative and character arc focused games, but looks like it will have enough plot focus that I will have a structure to work with, in order to play my character — I like having goals to move towards, it means I know something to do with a character. And the setting is an area I haven't explored much in gaming or my personal reading.

So all in all, a good mix of familiar and desired things along with ways to stretch myself as a consumer of media and a role-player. I'm looking forward to the finished project.

Go check out the Kickstarter, see if it's a game for you too.

The Talk

Yeah, time to just admit to myself the Pixie and Sarge stories aren't flash fiction so much as a series of linked scenes. Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five here. One out of sequence but in the same universe here.


The Abandoned Oculus Tower, Central Italy © by Brian; Posted to tumblr by beautyofabandonedplaces

The Abandoned Oculus Tower, Central Italy © by Brian; Posted to tumblr by beautyofabandonedplaces

“Sarge?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think I’m gonna be able to climb up to the gate.”

Sarge looked over at Pixie. The kid was pretty pale and sweat dotted her forehead. The improvised sling he’d rigged for her dislocated shoulder was looking a bit looser than when he’d retied it this morning.

“How’s your shoulder doing? Any swelling?”

“Don’t think so. Just… don’t think I can move it all that much. Certainly not enough to pull myself up a ladder.”

“I’ll take the bags, you go up first. Don’t take your arm out, just grab rungs with the right, pull with the left. I can steady you from below.”

“You just want an excuse to grab my ass,“ Pixie smirked, then winced and went paler.

“Since when have I needed an excuse?” Sarge said, halting and passing over Mort’s old water bottle. He kept watch while Pixie drained the last of the water. “Better?”

“Little.” Pixie breathed heavily for a couple moments. “Can… can we stop at the medic before letting Goma know about Mort? Pretty sure I’m not thinking too straight here.”

“Assuming she’s not at the gate when we get there, sure. I’ll go talk to her. I’ve got practice.”

“I should be there too.”

“You should do exactly what the doc tells you to. That shotgun butt whacked you bad. Next bend’s the turn off for home.”

Pixie shot him a tiredly mutinous look, but didn’t continue the argument. Once around the next bend in the formerly two lane road that was rapidly decaying into gravel, they paused and Sarge made his best imitation of a barn owl. Once he heard the return signal (Blue Jay cry this week), they turned off the path onto something no wider than a deer trail and continued down that. A moment later, the rhythmic banging of metal on rebar was audible through the trees.

At the ladder, Pixie pulled her backpack off her left shoulder and handed it over to Sarge. There were a couple Fencemen at the top of the ladder, on the catwalk heading back towards the concrete tower they all called home, just standing there watching. Sarge raised an eyebrow at both of them wielding spears; at least one of them should have brought a gun along, in case of raider trouble. As opposed to the usual casualties. Neither one of them were about to open up the gate until Pixie made it within arms reach, though. Certainly weren’t going to give her a hand before that.

All three backpacks balanced and tied down as best as they could be, Sarge positioned himself behind Pixie and gave her a boost up. It was slow going, probably taking twice as long as usual. Sarge was figuring how long he should volunteer for pit clearing duty, to balance the extra casualties this would attract, when the gate hatch opened. Pixie was only halfway up, but Spike was bracing his feet in the top rings and reaching down for Pixie. A little longer for her to get in reach and Spike grabbed her under the left shoulder, hauled up a bit, and grabbed the top of her jeans. Between Spike scooting back to pull up and Sarge boosting from below, they all got up in a minute.

Hauling himself up the last bit, Sarge nodded his thanks to Spike as Jones gave another Blue Jay call and reattached the gate-plate behind him. The rhythmic sound of metal on metal from over the other end of the catwalk ceased.

“Mort finally bit it, huh?”

“Yeah, Goma around…?”

“Horticulture’s been pulling over time, you’ll probably find her there. So, you all got on opening on your crew?”

“Jesus Christ Spike, I haven’t even told his wife yet and you’re angling for his job?”

Spike shrugged unconcerned. “Fence doesn’t actually need me, gonna do more for the community working here part-time and handing in a cut of the cards you bring in.”

“Get Pixie to the doc and I’ll consider it.”

Spike pulled Pixie back to her feet, looked like he was going to go for the arm over the shoulder carry, then changed his mind, and just picked her up. Given that Pixie didn’t immediately try to rip him a new hole in his larynx, Sarge knew she was damn near passing out. Sarge had untied the backpacks and rolled his shoulders before he noticed Jones watching him.

“What?”

“Kid’s got another couple of hours on guard duty,” Jones drawled.

“I know. It’s why I’m not going to hire him. Despite appreciating the assist up the ladder.”

Jones’s grin turned sardonic. “We’ll beat the glory hounding out of him eventually. Or he’ll get bit. One or the other. Your best bet to catch Goma really is in Horticulture. Everyone’s been working like crazy over there.”

“Whats going on?”

“Ain’t nothing but rumors at this point–”

“Shit.”

“But rumor is that one of the grow rooms went tits up with some kind of infection and they’re trying to expand and get a new crop in before we all starve.”

“Great. See you later. Thanks for the heads up, Jones.”

Jones called after Sarge’s retreating back, “So buy me a beer!” Sarge waved acquiescence and continued down the rickety metal walkway.

At the other end, Sarge paused and flattened against the railing to let Nemi by; she must have drawn the short straw to fill out Spike’s shift. The entrance to the tower, up here on the third floor, looked narrower than when they’d all left on the train job… reinforcements, the Fencemen had gotten those reinforcements they’d wanted installed.

Ducking in the doorway, Sarge looked right towards the stairs up, sighed, and went left, past the hole where the stairs down had been knocked out. Couple hundred yards around, Sarge stopped next to the head of pit clearance and leaned on the trails overlooking the emptied out bottom two floors of the tower.

“Low Key.”

“Sarge.”

Sarge watched the Latent crew on the platforms dangling down to about seven feet from the ground. The crowd of casualties looked thinner than he expected. All of the Latent crew were using spears and none of the non-infected crew up around the railings was letting loose with their slings.

“Figure I owe you a shift for the extra time on the ladder.”

“Nah,” Low Key said, pulling out the toothpick he’d been chewing on and flicking it down into the pit. “Thin crowd. Blighters need to earn their keep,” he continued nodding at the platform crews.

Sarge shrugged, half-heartedly waved, then headed back towards the stairs and past them to the clinic. He stuck his head in, noted Pixie on one of the beds, then turned on a heel and walked right back out. The doc was slowly pulling on Pixie’s bad shoulder while Spike helped hold her steady; he need to either not see that or to walk in and take over from Spike. But he’d avoided Goma long enough; either he went now, or she’d end up hearing about Mort from rumor. Damn, he really thought he’d popped Pixie’s shoulder back in right. Hopefully the two day walk back hadn’t permanently fucked anything up.

On the stair landing just below the top floor, Sarge paused to catch his breath and double check Mort’s pack had everything. Water bottle (empty), the rations he’d had left, Ubiq specs (disinfected to hell and back, blood cleaned off, and dings as polished out as he could in two days), rope, flashlight, and Mort’s cut of the payout, both job fee and loot found along the way. He’d left the first aid kit and binoculars in his and Pixie’s closet of an apartment — they’d been crew gear really.

A glint of light reflected off of laminate at the bottom of the pack sent Sarge digging through the pack, squatting in the stairwell.

Son of a bitch. Mort had been pocketing drivers’ licenses found along the way, instead of divvying everything up equally. Like they’d agreed.

Sarge looked up at the door to the top floor and Horticulture. Goma would need the money. Wasn’t no way to support herself and a kid on just grower money. Pixie needed the time out of the field, let that arm heal up or they’d both be dead. With a sigh, Sarge left a third of the cards Mort had hidden in his bag, pocketed the rest, and headed up the stairs.

On the top floor, Sarge knocked on the first door on the outer ring. Door was opened by a teenage girl in jeans and beat up tank top.

“Looking for Goma, she in here?”

“Three doors down,” the kid said, wiping at the smudge of dirt on her cheek bone. “Brac is running that room, she’s not going to let you in.”

“Thanks.”

Brac was indeed the one to answer the door, three down the hall. She took one look at Sarge and moved to slam the door shut again; Sarge stuck his foot in the door.

“Got to talk to Goma, Brac.”

“No unauthorized personnel allowed.”

“So send her out, I don’t want to do this in front of y’all.”

Brac was opening her mouth to say something when Sarge hefted Mort’s backpack up a little. Her scowl softened, she looked back into the room, then turned back to Sarge with a brisk, "Wait here.“ Sarge removed his foot from the door and leaned up against the other side of the hallway.

He was just about to go knock on the door again when it opened back up and Goma slipped out. Catching sight of Sarge, her face crumpled.

"Mort’s… Mort’s in the clinic, right?”

“Goma, I’m so sorry–”

Goma let out a wail as her knees buckled. Sarge caught her before she hit the ground and eased both of them down to the floor. He wrapped her up in a hug as Goma sobbed into his shoulder.

“You were supposed to protect him! It’s your job!”

Sarge closed his eyes and just let Gonna continue sobbing. These talks hasn't gotten any better after The Crash. Just less bureaucracy on how to go about it.

About fifteen minutes later, when Goma seemed cried out, Sarge had to lean in further to hear her asked, “What happened? Did… did he suffer?”

“Infrastructure failure. He went off a bridge, and landed on a casualty. I’m sure he was unconscious at that point.”

“He didn’t… eat anyone else, did he?”

“No, no, no one else got bit.”

Goma sniffed, wiped her nose, and asked “How many did he kill this trip? Janice will want to calculate his final kill to death ratio.”

Sarge tried not to let his eyebrows shoot up; he hadn’t realized Goma’s kid was a Black Mathematician. “Uh… Four. I’m sorry, I wasn’t counting real close.”

She nodded, wiped her nose again, and stood up. “That’ll be some comfort to Jani, I suppose.”

Sarge stiffly climbed to his feet as well and handed over the backpack. "It's got his gear and cut from this last one, should be enough to last you awhile. Sell his gear if you need."

"Guess Jani and I will be making a life out here... She'll be pleased." Goma sighed. "Time to take in a roommate or get a smaller apartment I suppose. Don't suppose you and Pixie would be interested?"

"I... I'll float it past Pixie and get back to you.”

Goma patted Sarge absentmindedly on the arm. "You're a good man. Thank you for telling me," she said and walked back into the grow room.

Scenarios and Systems I will probably not write

I've been immersed in the tabletop RPG world long enough that random things get my brain to churn out an idea for a scenario or a system at a distressingly regular rate. Distressing not because I dislike feeling creative and having ideas. But because, despite writing down the better ones to come back to later, I am fairly sure I will not find (make) the time to turn them into usable things. Because the editing and general fiction writing I do is a) more satisfying and b) expands to fill the available time, if allowed. I could fix this by just setting aside some time every week to just. freaking. write. these things. But then I'd have more projects in various states of incompleteness and each one would make less visible progress on a day-to-day basis. Which I would find more frustrating than having lists of scenario and system ideas I know I probably won't get to. It's entirely in my power to change the dynamics and make the time. I've just calculated for myself that the trade-off, right now , isn't worth it. Maybe that will change in the future, maybe it won't. But if it does, I've got my list of ideas I can use.

Scenarios ideas:

Giftschrank: I've written about this one (and the next one) for this blog before, but I haven't written the scenario yet, so it belongs on the list. The original posts went up March 14th 2016 and March 24th 2016 but the summary version is that Giftschrank literally means 'poison cabinet' and, in German, refers to the cabinet the controlled substances go in a pharmacy or, in a library, refers to a biohazard zone for information. Which just screams for a scenario in the Eclipse Phase universe about information escaping/being stolen from a research facility located on an exoplanet only accessible through a Pandora Gate with the players unsure which side they are or should be on. If I ever actually start writing scenarios, this will probably be first, just because it was the first one I wrote down and I really like the name.

Courrières Mining Disaster: I've also written about this idea, back on the 31st March 2016, but. In 1906, a very large mine in France exploded and then caught fire. It was an awful disaster that killed more than a thousand people, but the part that caught my attention was the group of miners trapped underground, in the dark, for more than a month  before rescuing themselves. To which I said, 'damn that would make a terrifying Call of Cthulhu scenario, the system already had a sanity mechanic.' Writing this one up would involve really learning the 1920s era Call of Cthulhu system, researching mining equipment, technology, and practices of the era, finding a map of the actual site (shouldn't be too difficult...), and building the characters, because no way in hell an I going to let the players build some insanely broken character taking a gun and no rope into the mine for some reason.

Base Raiders: I also have an idea for a base to loot. Well, more like a scene within the base. Let me give y'all the backstory first, because the idea came from understanding the Base Raiders setting. Base Raiders is a Fate system by Ross Payton where the players are in a world where superheroes existed before suddenly disappearing on a day. Left behind were are those superheroes' and supervillains' hidden bases, which you, as PCs, go raiding. Also, lots of the PCs are turning into superheroes themselves.

The idea for the base I'd write is that it's a superhero family and friends' ER and hospital.  Family and friends a superhero thought might be a target for hostage situations would be given emergency teleporters paired with medical monitoring devices. When the teleporter detects tampering or the monitoring service detects a problem, the user is teleported to the triage room of the base or, if the problem is severe enough or the facility is marked as currently slammed, directly into cryogenic freezing. This all came from expanding a scene in my head of a dead body on the floor of medical bay, face down in front of a gurney, having obviously bled out, based on the very old, dried pool of blood the corpse was lying in.

As for writing it up, I'd need to read the system (yes again) in order to make sure something like this doesn't already exist in canon, figure out power-levels of gear that could be looted (all of which would be medically based/themed), and see what kind of security other bases use. Then I'd need to figure out what sort of security would be compatible with a hospital. 

Systems: 

The first two system ideas come from encountering the flashbacks in the Leverage RPG (through the Drunk & the Ugly's APs) and Red Markets' non-linear time mechanic with scams in negotiations. Also how much I enjoy cop procedurals and heist films. ... And now that I'm thinking about it to write this post, Shadow Run and the inordinate amount of time I have spent planning how to hack, rob, extract, and otherwise do mischief to fictional corporations in a cyberpunk dystopia.

Any rate. 

The first is a system around criminal heists with Ocean's 11 style flashbacks while the second has cops investigating crimes with flashbacks to what the criminals did as the cops figure it out. Alternatively, combine the two where the players are both a cop and a criminal. The scenarios would start with a crime having been committed so you have the end result and the cops need to work backwards. When they figure out something, everyone switches over to their criminal character and there's a scene of what happened. I don't actually know where I'm going with this one, or really why/how is different than Leverage so there's a secondary reason this one probably won't see the light of day.

The next five are all systems I'd like to write using the Profit system found in Red Markers:

Running a community hospital

Stone Age tribe level survival

1800s escaped slaves survival

1800s colonization of the American West

Modern day survival scenarios  

So... a lot of survival games in there... It fits with the Profit system's focus on trade offs, opportunity costs, and resource scarcity. Which is how health care fits in with the rest of them for me: resource scarcity. What can I say, there's two ER doctors and a health policy economist in my family, I hear and talk about this sort of stuff more than the average lay person. For the community hospital, I think the players should be the administrative heads of various departments in the hospital. Each compete for resources and prestige in order to stay relevant (and an actual department) while having to use the resources to drive value to the hospital (along with all the other departments) so the hospital can keep their doors open.

I'm picturing the Stone Age tribal survival system as a semi-cooperative, narrative game. My idea is that players control a section of the tribe, like the hunters, the gatherers, the shamans, the elders, etc. instead of individual characters. So folks need to cooperate for the tribe and the characters they're responsible for survive but there's room for intra-tribe politics and changing what kind of society you're building. Sessions/scenarios would be things like going on a hunt, gathering resources, dealing with nature, or trying to build up a tribal improvement (like finding a good source of flint so the nappers can make better spears or something). I think I'd handle trying to change societal norms through an altered negotiations mechanic.

For the escaped slaves system, I was thinking of the American South but if I made this work I could expand it to other countries in the Western hemisphere during the same time period. For instance, I happen to know for a fact there are tribes of folks in Suriname (a small country north of Brazil) in the interior composed entirely of folks who ran from the plantations on the coast and reformed societies like the African ones they were stolen from. But the core idea came from a session recorded for Technical Difficulties (which hasn't been released yet) — it was a Call of Cthulhu game where the characters were escaped slaves who headed into the Great Dismal Swamp to escape pursuit. I'd be interested in stripping out the magic and making it just about survival and what risks the players are willing to take. Do you work towards making a life in the remote area you're hiding in? Escape to the North? The West? Canada? Flat out, can you avoid the slave catchers and are you willing to kill to stay free?

Thinking about that lead to the idea for a system in the American West about colonization. I'd want to write it so you could play the Americans pushing west (and stealing land from the Native Americans in the area) or as members of local Native American tribes. As an American, you're away from civilization, in remote areas, how do you survive? You're invading land someone else calls home under the belief of Manifest Destiny, that you deserve it more, that they're 'savages'. How far are you as a player willing to go as a character who believes those things, explicitly or implicitly? As a Native American, do you resist? Adapt to the changing social and political climate?

Both the last two systems would require a lot of research for me to feel comfortable contemplating writing. For the American West one, I would want to do as much research as possible before even attempting to approach members of the tribes in question to ask for advice. And I'm not a historian in training nor do I have the inclination during my free time. I mean, I'd do it because I have a specific goal and I'm good about working towards goals. But yeah, I am not unaware of how much work these two systems would require from me. At least I might be able to use the same information on tools and technology across the systems.

The last system, the modern day survival system, seems the easiest of the proposed systems. I'm already familiar with the time period :) Just have to research survival skills and craft a narrative around why the players are in such straits. I'm not saying that's not work, I'm just saying the other systems require researching skills and setting/time period. Thinking about the narrative, it feels like a system build around one-shots — here are your characters, here's the situation, survive. I mean, unless you're a Special Forces operator going through training, I'm not too sure why you'd end up in a series of life threatening survival situations. ... If you do, maybe it's time to look at your life choices. Anyway, I'm thinking of things like 'You're all average people from X country who just survived a plane crash in Y location. Survive until rescue or get yourselves back to civilization.' scenarios.

So there you have it, three scenarios for three different systems and six or seven full systems I probably will never write. Unless someone wants to collaborate on them and kicks my ass. I'm real good at working on things when I'm responsible to another person. ;)

An RPG system I failed to sell myself

A ways back, sometime before August of last year, Technical Difficulties had the opportunity to play test Upwind (by Biohazard Games) before it went to Kickstarter. I found Upwind to be an example of a really good, well put together system that just. was. not. for. me. 

The thing about Upwind for me was, that as different and innovative as the mechanics were, and they are very inventive, the thing that made the system itself was the setting. The world building was involved, complex,  and well-done. I'm just not terribly interested in an epic, adventure fantasy right now.

The tagline for Upwind is "A roleplaying fable of lost science, elemental magic and uncharted skies." It's set in a floating world, with sunlight above and The Dark below. Player characters are Explorer Knights on their airships, fighting pirates, keeping sailing lanes open, exploring, mapping, trouble-shooting, and dungeon crawling.

I honestly think my issues with the system have less to do with the system and more with Technical Difficulties's play test session. So I got a bit behind the week we were going to play and by the time I did sit down to read the rules I was trying to read just the rules. Well, the setting section and the rules section were not clearly labeled, and I started reading the setting section. So I'm reading, one chapter, two chapters, five chapters before I start skimming, looking for the rules, getting more and more frustrated, before finally figuring out that there's more than one file and try the other file. Oh look, there's all the rules. Which were kind of short... Which once I read the resolution mechanics made sense:

The resolution mechanic discards dice in favor of a deck of cards: player and GM negotiate two possible outcomes (both of which must allow the story to continue), determine the stakes involved, and then bid on the outcomes using a hand of playing cards. So it's a scene level resolution mechanic, rather than an action level mechanic, which is narratively based.

Once the Technical Difficulties crew gets the game rolling, it turns out that I'm the only player who had perused the setting information at all really. Which, let me tell you, is not a great way to try and use the resolution mechanic. For a narrative negotiation based mechanic to work, everyone involved really needs to be well-versed on what's going on in the world. Otherwise you don't have a great idea of what to ask for, what works as penalties, or even really the type of story to tell or feel to give it.

Also, online game.

The whole deck of cards thing does not work well over the internet. In my experience, you really want the tactile and visual feed back of cards in your own hands, seeing other folks' cards, and being able to look at the multiple decks that make up your various sources of cards. If only to help each other know where to draw from. So the four of us were constantly stopping to figure out our deck situation. That was partially an issue of needing more practice with the system and partially an issue with our set-up. It'd be a better mechanic for people who play together in person.

So yeah, a game I can recognize has interesting stuff going on. But isn't for me personally.

Go give RPPR's episodes of Upwind a listen through though, because they love the game and have a great time playing. Maybe it's a system for you and either way, it's a great series of episodes to listen to they have so much fun.

First Rejection

What with starting to write flash fiction consistently, I decided recently to try selling some stories to online writing markets. As of now, I have no intention to hold back on publishing stories to this blog, so anything I send out is going to be a reprint most likely. That's going to limit the markets I can submit to a bit and since I don't have to depend on sales for eating money, is not like I'm going to be putting more effort into finding markets and submitting quickly.

That said I submitted my first piece (Dani & Jak-Jak) to a YA podcast on the 13th (yes, right before MarsCon) and got a rejection noticed on the 15th (yes, while at MarsCon).

I'm absurdly pleased about this.

I'm going to be indulging in some rejectomancy on this, but let me explain.

Thank you for sending us “Dani & Jak-Jak”. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. Our readers felt the story was more appropriate for a middlegrade audience than the 12-17 year old target age group of XXX.
There are lots of articles out there on key differences between the two genres - here’s one we like:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-key-differences-between-middle-grade-vs-young-adult

If you are still searching for a podcast or magazine to publish this story, you can find a list of recommend venues on our website under Markets. And say hello for us!

Thank you again for sending us the story. We wish you the best of luck, and please consider submitting again.

 

So first off, my immediate reaction to seeing the email in my inbox so soon was not 'oh no they must have hated it.' It was 'wow, they're really professional to get back to people so quickly, I should make sure to submit to them in the future.' Also, 'man, why they working on the weekend??' Yes, I was pretty sure that meant the story had been rejected (I was right), but seriously, if the first thing I ever submitted anywhere got accepted... I'd check for jacks into the Matrix?

Second, that's about the nicest reason to be rejected I can think of, being for the wrong audience. But not completely the wrong audience, just slightly off on the audience. Now I'm reasonably sure this is a form rejection. But. Someone had to read the piece to realize why this one is off for them and  they've taken the time as a company to create a form that directs me to two different pieces of useful information: the difference in audiences and appropriate markets. I mean if they thought it was a bad piece they could have just sent the form rejection saying no thanks. Instead I get as much feedback as anyone could reasonably hope for from a rejection. That's really nice to get.

So, as expected, a swing and a miss on the first time submitting for publication but with feedback I find encouraging. Neat.

MarsCon

Partner, Metamour, and I went to MarsCon last weekend, which is a little literary convention in Williamsburg, VA. I went to a few panels while Partner and Metamour spent most of their time in the board gaming room. It's a fun, chill convention. Since it's smaller (let's be honest, my benchmarks are Dragon*Con and GenCon — anything is going to seem small in comparison) there's less rushing to get across X hotels to go to the next panel which is really nice. The hotel we stayed at was less than a mile from the convention hotel which feels like short enough of a walk that I feel guilty when I drive between them, but gods damn, 10 or 11 at night in the middle of January is cold. So, you know, more driving than let's me pretend to be a decent environmentalist.

Friday

After we picked up our badges (yay pre-reg), we tootled around the dealers' room for a bit. I grabbed all three books in the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie:

IMG_4927.JPG

I definitely paid a lot more than if I'd bought them on Amazon or something, since, you know, I paid actual list price. But they were there, I was thinking about it, and I finally just did it rather than continuing to let these books languish on my wishlist. They'll probably languish on my to-read pile now but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

I did reread Ancillary Justice in the evenings before bed at the con. Just have to finish up The Real and The Unreal at home before I let myself start Ancillary Sword. 

After the dealers' room we all went to a panel: What Makes a Good Narrator or DM?  It was fun and interesting. There was some good give-and-take and feedback before the Q&A got semi-hijacked by a kind of socially awkward teenager who didn't know how to ask his questions with telling the panel the whole story of his specific situation. And he wasn't very good at telling the story. I'm glad he could get some advice. I wish the questions could have been kept more general and relevant to more people without everyone having to individually extrapolate out from the specific question.

After the panel was dinner and then board games. For the life of me, I can't tell you what we played — that information apparently never made it into the long-term memory. But any rate, after a board game I went back to the hotel to get some sleep while Partner and Metamour played another and then went to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Which apparently was a bust: technical issues plus incorrect assumptions. They thought it'd be in the tradition of Rocky Horror and have yelling at the screen. Instead it was just a watching party. Not bad, but not a desired activity at midnight.

Saturday

Actually did make it to the 10am panel I was aiming for: Economics of Self Publishing. First of all, I can't seem to sleep in so I was getting up at my usual time of 6am. Second of all, Partner and Metamour do not share this problem. So there I was typing away on my computer when Partner starts waking up. 

"What time is is?" 

Looks at clock. Well... damn. "9am." 

I made it anyway. 

The panel was pretty good. It was my second time at this particular panel (same moderator ran it at MarsCon 2016), so it mostly functioned (for me) as confirmation I'm doing everything the author's on the panel recommend. Best line of the panel of the panel was in response to the opening question of 'what does it cost to self-publish?' Answer: time, emotion, and pain. Second best: as much as you need it to.

After that, Metamour joined me at the panel on Genre Blending which was a lot of fun. Mostly thoughts on what works, why what doesn't doesn't, and talking about what's already out there. Of course, being me, I walked out with a recommendation for a book I do want to read (Vellum by Hal Duncan), a book I am going to read for the new podcast a friend is putting together where we tear apart why a book is bad and will regret reading immensely (Out of the Dark by David Weber), and an aesthetic I want to somehow write now: solar punk which was described as art deco/nouveau ecological sustainability.

If someone would like to draw that or point me at artists who already do, please please let me know in the comments.

After the panel was lunch (hurray ConSuite!) and then a Star Wars:Edge of the Empire game with a friend who found out MarsCon was happening that morning and decided to drive up for the day. Yay living within an hour's drive? Any rate, I'm finding that I like the Star Wars stupid custom dice for the variety in outcomes they could produce (... got a few single success plus two disadvantages rolls) but the Star Wars universe is not one I'm particularly interested in playing in for an RPG. Nice to visit for the length of a movie. But not play in for extended periods. 

Two things from that game:
1) my (male) friend played a female Rodian while I played a male Rodian. Nobody at the table, including the two of us, could get character genders right. argh.
2) the other player at the table had a well timed "Master, shall I attack the darkness?" that was completely in character. Play stopped for a few minutes while Friend poked me to keep breathing, I was laughing so hard. :D

After RPGs was a spin around the art show and more board gaming, where I played Cosmic Encounters for the first time. Lost, not horribly, but man, the ending to that game. A little bit like Munchkin where everyone is trying to throw everything they have at stopping whoever is in the lead until everyone runs out of things to stop other people with and someone grabs the prize. I mean, I'd play again, I think there's strategy and interesting things to do. But that particular game end felt a bit grindy.

Sunday

Sunday had one last panel for me: Indie Publishing: Getting Known. This wasn't all that useful for me. I've got that I should have a blog and twitter and stuff in order to connect with people. But like how do I drive more people like you, dear reader, to the blog or catch people's attention to come check me out? I guess I need a marketing class or guru or something to get that answered. Meanwhile, I'll keep on keeping on with this blog and hope for steady organic growth.

Last thing we (Partner, Metamour, and I) did at the convention was play T.I.M.E. Stories with a friend we only know from and see at MarsCon. So, TIME Stories is, to my mind, an RPG campaign in a box. You're time travelers jumping between bodies in the past to try and figure out how to fix something gone wrong in the time stream. There's a time limit and no way to figure everything out in that time limit. So you jump back and do the loop all over again. And again. Until you figure out where what you need is and can, essentially, do a speed run through the time loop. I felt like each loop could be it's own weekly gaming session, except maybe the last speed run one. I think we played that game for... five hours? and I was mentally fried from taxing my brain at the end of it. Lots of fun! Have to buy new stories/expansions to go with the core game in order to have replay-ability. And yet, I'd like to own it/play it again. 

All in all, a fun MarsCon trip!

Kickstarters I Have Backed

Since 2012, I have, through my account (not my partner's) backed 13 Kickstarters:

  • Singularity & Co.
  • a smart thermometer 
  • wipebook
  • a card game about using funny voices for new characters (Noisy Person Cards)
  • a board game about political movement building
  • the Baby Beastiary, vol. 2 & vol. 1 reprint
  • 7 role-playing games
    • Unknown Armies
    • Red Markets
    • Ki Khanga
    • Dialect
    • Monsterhearts (2nd edition)
    • City of Mist
    • Harlem Unbound

Honestly, I think I've got some weird tastes. Either that or I tend to think if the project will eventually be available through some mainstream sources I'll just buy it that way instead of backing the kickstarter. Or both. It could be both.

So far, Singularity & Co. did what they said they were going to (keep a bookstore open and publish some sci-fi), the thermometer and wipebook were delivered to us, and I've picked up the Baby Beastiary at Gen Con 2016. Partner and I still use the thermometer. We tried the wipebook (notebook make of dry erase pages essentially) and found that while we liked the idea, it didn't fit with how we used notebooks. Not the fault of the product, just wasn't for us. And the Baby Beastiary is directly responsible for my Monsters and Other Childish Things character. Besides just being, you know, really fun to read. So, I feel like we've gotten our money's worth out of those.

Noisy Person Cards has slipped their planned released date but were good about keeping the backers up-to-date on what was going on, where they messed up, and what was happening now. All of the rest aren't even estimated to be coming out until sometime in 2017. Heck, Harlem Unbound finished its Kickstarter this morning. All of which is going to make for an interesting 2017 if even half these projects hit their projected release dates:
March — Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Roleplaying Game
April — Rise Up (political movement building board game) and Unknown Armies
June — Monsterhearts 2
July — Dialect (birth and death of a language)
Aug — City of Mist (Noir Superheroes)
and of course the one I'm working on, Red Markets, slated for Dec. 2017

I've been lucky so far. None of the projects I've backed yet has crashed and burned, flaming out in a wreck of not-finishing or putting out a product. If that continues to hold, I will have a lot of new games I can review here :D

Space Miranda Rights

You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a firewall and the integrity of your personal memory banks. You have the right to algorithmic system access. You have the right to an advocate and a forensic programmer. If you cannot afford these services, they will be provided to you by the state. Any data you do not mention but later come to rely on in court may bias your case and be grounds for obstruction charges against you. Do you understand your rights and responsibilities as I have explained them?

State of Gaming and Other Projects

It's the last blog post of 2016, so I'm going to do a look back all my stuff for the year. At a minimum, it'll help me fix in my memory the fun stuff that I did.

Seeing as this is a Thursday post and therefore technically a gaming blog post, I'll start off with the gaming podcast I'm on: Technical Difficulties. We launched at the end of March 2016 and as of Dec. 29th (knock on wood), have yet to miss an update! We've completed two campaigns and are in the middle of both playing and releasing a third, as well as 17 episodes of one shot scenarios. Lots of multi-part one shots... Had an interview with Caleb of Hebanon Games, a couple bonus post-mortem episodes on our campaigns, and talked about Gen Con for an episode too. Played in eleven different RPG systems (good grief), three of which were play-tests: Red Markets, Upwind, and The Veil (which, honestly, I don't think we're going to release those two episodes; system was not our speed). All in all, we've released 52 episodes in roughly nine months and have 9 episodes in the backlog. Pretty good for our first year!

Speaking of Red Markets, I've just totaled the word count of what I've edited on this project so far: 235,108. Wow. I just... It doesn't seem like quite as much when you work with it in sections (with each section under its own contract). And the sections get shorter and shorter as Caleb realizes just how many pages its going to take to print everything. There's still a fourth section being written that I'll get to edit. I did my best to trim down the first two sections — pulled 4k and 2k out them. But this third one, I finally asked point blank for a word count Caleb needs to keep the entire book under the planned page count.

He needs me to trim a 64K word section down to 50K, or the fourth section is going to have to be severely cut down. I'm doing my best: pulled out 4K so far. But we'll have to see how close I can get to 50K. It's good to have ambitious goals, right?

I also got to do some writing for Red Markets! When y'all get the finished product, check out the d100 encounters table. I wrote 33 of those. :)

Also in 2016 Red Markets work, the con packet has gone out for play testing.  Tom, Partner, and I did meet our goals of having something runnable for Gen Con and WashinCon. We all ran at least one game at both of those conventions, for a reasonable mix of people who already knew of the system and folks who'd never heard of it before. We got some good feedback, refined some of the text, wrote the text we'd previously skipped (because we knew the information in our heads) in favor of time, and generally expanded actual explanations and GM tools. Thanks to Caleb's monthly updates to the Red Markets Kickstarter backers, we opened up a play test to run this packet for folks who hadn't written the packet. So far, we've handed the packet out to 123 people and already gotten 14 responses. Which is just amazing to me. Did have to turn one dude down — he wanted to get the packet so he could read up on the game before a friend of his ran it at a convention. I think the line was 'so I can mess with [GM] when they run it.' Not cool dude, not cool. Told him we preferred clean runs of the game and looked forward to hearing from [GM] with feedback. We are cutting off handing out the packet on Dec. 31st and asking for all feedback to be in by the end of Feb. 2017. So there's my project time in March planned out.

Speaking of project time, I have finally started making time for my personal writing again! I've started doing drabbles for my Monday posts and I'm finding them to be a) really fun and b) good exercise in letting go and writing without a plan. Now to work on consistently writing more than three or four hundred words. And describing things, instead of relying on the visual I'm using for inspiration to do it for me. Also, the fourth draft of my novel project is in the works. I'm excited for this draft — it should close up a couple plot loopholes and add depth to a couple characters. Hurray useful critiques!

Speaking of critiquing, I was part of a critiquing circle through Scribophile this year. I guess it was like a writing circle? Any rate, there were four of us and we all gave each other beta reads. Scheduling was interesting since we had folks from three different US time zones and one lady in France. Any rate, that was helpful in that I got some specific feedback (although Caleb's is playing a bigger part in this fourth draft of the novella) and worked on my critiquing skills more. Also my ability to express "uh... this is a problem," tactfully. Explaining that someone had accidentally written colonialism and racism into their epic fantasy aiming for anti-racism was tricky.

Finally, I also signed a contract to edit a second RPG project! They approached me! I'm so excited. I haven't actually gotten clearance from them to talk about it in public, so I'm not going to say the name. But I hope I'll be able to talk about it more in 2017.

Oh, yeah, I also kept up a posting schedule here and on my Tumblr :D 

On the personal front, it's been a reasonably good year. For everything else Fuck 2016.

Happy New Year everybody. May the next year be better than the last.

On Deciding to Back an RPG Kickstarter or Not

Partner popped up with an RPG Kickstarter today called Harlem Unbound and did I want to back? RPG stuff is one of those things we try to both agree on before buying since we both like the hobby and would prefer to share. Partially that's because RPG books can be expensive and partially because any game is a bit of a time commitment, so only one of us being interested in any particular RPG is a great way to either not play together or one of us have an un-fun time. Besides, if it appeals to both of us, there's a better chance it'll be good, ya?

So, what do I look for when deciding if I want to back an RPG Kickstarter? Figured I'd walk y'all through my thought process.


Well, first thing I check (and this might be way too obvious) is the title. Is it evocative? Does it give me a sense of what the project is going for? In this case, I find 'Harlem Unbound' to be pithy, evocative, and I'm already thinking I'm inclined to give this thing a chance.

Alright, next, is it a new system or supplementary material for a system already in use? In this case, we've got a supplement, here called a sourcebook, to Call of Cthulhu or Gumshoe. I like playing in the mythos setting, have had good experiences with Call of Cthulhu, and am interested in learning Gumshoe (even if I haven't gotten around to it yet). So far so good. 1920s Harlem — a time and place I only know as the briefest of sketches that would expand the world I could play  in those systems? I'm interested.

Next watch the pitch video. Looks like the creator put time and effort into making it look professional and evokes the time period in question. Cute framing device (creator's three or four year old daughter interviewing her dad) that also evokes the 1920s. Creator name checks a couple names I'm at least aware of from the era as part of the research he's done. Clean description of what the project is. Still interested.

Check the creator's track record: already backed 52 other projects on Kickstarter and this is their first project on Kickstarter. Says to me they likely have seen what works and what doesn't on Kickstarter, so will only promise what they can deliver. Successful previous projects on Kickstarter would be nice, but everyone has to start somewhere and this doesn't look like a heartbreaker project, so consciously choosing not to penalize for not already being successful.

Goal: modest and already surpassed three times over with three weeks left to go. So definitely will fund. Hm, extra swag/add-ons of the physical stuff variety (dice and a sweatshirt). That's not great — many a Kickstarter has been sunk by physical stuff costs...  Let's check the stretch goals next.

Let's see, already funded are two extra scenarios, a keeper's screen, more art, a longer history section, printing in color, and extra creatures. Left to be unlocked are another character class, a scenario, and printing a hardback book. I like the stretches, they are focused on making the core product better. I'm a little worried the creator isn't asking for enough money for each stretch goal, but I haven't done the research on printing an RPG book and they look similar to what I recall from the Red Markets Kickstarter. So. Still good so far.

Okay, I'm pretty sure I'd like to back this, so let's look at the pledge levels. 

Hm. There's a 5$, 25$, 40$, and 50$ pledge level (actually, there are higher levels too, I just know my limits). The 5$ just gets Partner and I in the acknowledgements page — that's no good, I want to use the product. 25$ gets me a digital copy but none of the stretch goals. I assume that would be the additional scenarios but the creator isn't making two books, one with the longer history section and one without. That's an assumption but it sounds like a waste of time to me... Any rate, I personally may not care about getting a GM's screen, but I do want those additional scenarios. 40$ gets me that digital copy with the stretch goals while 50$ gets all that plus a hardcover copy. Well, Partner and I already have a lot of RPG books, both digital and physical. I'm alright keeping this digital only, especially since I don't actually own a physical copy of either base system. 

I would have loved to have seen the digital only, no stretch goals at 15$ with a softcover + digital (maybe no stretch goals?) at 25$ or 30$. But again, I haven't run the numbers from the creator's side and the pledge levels are in no way egregiously different than other projects I've seen, so I really just have to trust that they're selling it at the fairest price they can while paying everyone working on the project a fair wage. 

40$ pledge level it is.

Annnd backed.


So that's more or less how Partner and I choose RPG Kickstarter projects to back. Is it in a genre we like to play? If not, is in an area of RPGs that we're looking to stretch into? Are the creators people we feel we should back and support in order to bring new ideas or new perspectives into the hobby? Does it look like it's going to meet minimum viability? Does it look the creators have an idea of what they're doing? Do they have a plan (as evidenced by the stretch goals)?

And finally, can we afford the price they're asking right now?

We've started to get feedback

I'm finding getting feedback on the Red Markets Quickstart guide is just as exciting as any time I've gotten a critique on Scribophile. We're already at eight responses, just two weeks after sending out the first wave of packets, so I thought I'd walk through some of the feedback and my thoughts on it.

My impression, looking through the responses, is that this feedback comes from five different gaming groups. Of the eight responses, the first four

  • came in at different times
  • all played the Papers, Please job
  • three said they were playing with their regular groups in person (in different locations than each other)
  • the fourth was playing with their regular group remotely

The second set of four responses are all from the same group, I think, because:

  • they all played the same job (The Same Old Grind)
  • they all played remotely
  • NOT with their regular group
  • and oh yeah, they all filled out the survey at the same time

So far, 75% of the players have been from the US which isn't notable except that I'm slightly surprised it wasn't 100%. Hello Norwegian and Filipino Red Markets players!! 
5 out of 8 played in their sessions and three folks GMed which is a decent ratio from my perspective. Nobody had ever played (or GMed) before which meant we are reaching our intended audience. I'm slightly sad that the job I wrote (The Same Old Grind) has been used by fewer groups (assuming my assumptions are correct) than the Papers, Please job. But it's hard to argue with a mall job in a zombie apocalypse. Either way, everyone has seemed to enjoy their gaming sessions. Well, except for one person.

One person did not like Negotiations at all. Which, to be fair, can be it's own little mini-game. And is the section we're getting the most feedback of "please clarify this." But they didn't feel like it builds the setting, enhances the play experience, or ties in with the survival/resource management style or zombie genre of the rest of the game. But, you know, the genre is Economic Horror so either we did a bad job of selling the game to this person or this isn't the game for them. Which is going to happen! I'm sad they either didn't enjoy or didn't understand how to flesh out the home base through scams in Negotiations. But. It's one person out of eight. And we absolutely do need to clarify the Negotiations section. It's been the trickiest part of Red Markets to explain and to learn. For Caleb too, not just us. 

On the other side of things, we did ask folks for their favorite part of their session. We're gamers guys, of course we want to hear about that crazy thing that happened during the game. So, before the play test, everyone we'd played a session with was already familiar with the setting. This meant that one of the Legs we'd put in to illustrate a particular danger in setting (fast zombies essentially), every player had gone 'oh shit, Vector' and shot them before they could get up and be scary. It made for some tense times at the table if players missed their shot, but. Slightly disappointing for us as GMs.

The first GM to give us feedback managed to get the Vector up and running at their players. :D Based on their feedback, that part of game play does work as intended on new players: "the stress shown by the players was palpable and made for a very tense, frantic fight." And then of course two of their players rolled complications of zombie bites.

Life is good. 

So, generally happy players, direction for us on specific things we mentioned but didn't explain, and a whole bunch of people going 'Negotiations are confusing and this didn't really explain it!' Plenty of direction for us to work with, even if we never get another survey response.