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.

Dani & Jak-Jak

For anyone who's wondered what I sound like, Ross of Role Playing Public Radio has posted a panel I was on with him and Caleb back in August at Gen Con:

Red Markets is a game of economic horror that wrapped up on Kickstarter in June. Come listen to the creator answer questions about the book’s progress & tell us how your beta tests are going. Caleb and Ross recorded this panel at Gen Con 2016.

Turns out creating characters for role-playing games are my writing prompts. So, first draft of a vignette, which if I've done this right, it doesn't matter which gaming system it's set in. So I'll hold off on saying which one until afterwards.


Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors and pulled away from the curb. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack to settle again and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. Halfway to the end of the block, the blob of gum that booger-faced doodie head from three rows back had thrown at her finally pulled some of her hair out of her ponytail enough that she could start trying to pull the gum out. It was stuck, tangled up pretty tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and she was two whole years younger. Dani was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. Got it out through.  

Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, then scooped up the box and headed inside. Looked like Aunt Francesca (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. A week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January. 

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Dad weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway, it was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, it'd be lima beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Dad came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't noticed yet. Stupid growth spurt.

Dani eyed the box where she'd dropped it on the counter and nibbled on her toast. She really wanted to know what was in there. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Gulping down the last bite, Dani walked over to the counter and looked over the box again. Huh. 

If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up. The addresses wouldn't be damaged. And Aunt Fran had clearly taped it up other times before.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Dad let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good… 

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of Dad’s craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Aunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the wall bench seat. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. 

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Dad wouldn't let her get one. And now Aunty Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.  

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Dad’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything was felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Dad’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place. 

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Dad and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.  

Dani stopped just inside her doorway, shocked and maybe a little panic-y. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed what she'd left him. And he hasn't fallen into the floor.

A deep, reverberating, yet oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her. 

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full-grown mastiff. But still obviously puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been.  This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into the universal puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.


That is set in the Monsters and Other Childish Things setting, as background for my character Dani for the Road Trip Remix campaign I'm playing in with Technical Difficulties. Hopefully it works as a stand-alone story — tell me in the comments where I'm assuming background info and am wrong about that?

Comments/critique from my partner, my responses, and a second draft to come on Monday.

On to Editing

With half the votes, Poor Private Collins is my next writing project. Hurray small sample sizes! (Seriously, with four votes, two people got to decide what I'll write next.)

So, I thought I'd have a week or two between when the last post went up and editing Red Markets would get started. But uh, well. No. Caleb is a smart project manager and sent me a contract for building the project style guide pretty much as soon as he caught his breath from the pledges blasting through his goal. On day one of the Kickstarter. :) 

The project style guide is done and hopefully in use by a freelancer or two by now. As for me, I'm on to editing the player's section of the core book. Roughly 98K words in this section, which comes out to 195 pages in Word. I've got a day job so most of the work on this project has been happening during my lunch break (and whatever time I can squeeze out after dinner). With that consideration, I'm quite pleased to be on page 94 at this point. Less pleased that I'd intended this pass to be the 'kill-your-darlings' pass and it's turning into the clarity check. (Kill-your-darlings is a phrase at least a few writers I know use for taking out those lovely turns of phrase which have made it through iteration upon iteration of writing but don't work so well anymore, because all the surrounding text has changed.) A clarity pass is absolutely necessary to be sure, but wouldn't it'd be more effective to check for clarity after cutting text? Oh well, I knew there'd be multiple passes through this document.

Time to ignore some household chores and devote more time to editing. Aiming to get through the gear list in the next day or two. 


Quick note, the interview I was part of with Technical Difficulties of Caleb of Hebanon Games on his game Red Markets is now live! Go check it out on our website.

Little bit of a funny story about the ad at the beginning of that interview. Being in the US and having a holiday weekend, partner and I were traveling when Aaron (who does the audio engineering for TD) texted us, asking if partner could record an ad to throw up at the beginning of the interview. Having just realized that would be a good idea. Being at our friend's house for the Memorial weekend yearly get together we didn't have the microphone we use with us. So, maybe when we got home Monday evening and the interview could go up late? But wait, several of our friend are part of No Nostalgia Filter, maybe someone hasn't started the drive yet and could bring a microphone with them. Oh, you've all already started driving? Okay. Wait what? Angelo, why do you always carry your professional grade microphone with you...? No, never mind, not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

So yeah, that ad was recorded with a better quality microphone than we usually have access to, partner learned a new technique for recording multiple takes, and there was much rejoicing. 

On the personal writing news level, I have finished transcribing The Night Clerk! My next writing project (which I have no plans to try and push forward while editing Red Markets) is going to be a novelization of that scenario from Role Playing Public Radio. It's going to be my first foray into horror which is going to be fun. Specifically atmospheric and mental horror, so lots of opportunity to focus on and work on my descriptive writing. I'm looking forward to this.

I have a several-step process to prepare for novelizing an actual play of an RPG session:
1.  Transcribe the audio
    Transcribing gets me to listen to the episode again, in a very intent way, really concentrating on what happened and who does what. But, more importantly, it creates a record I can text search if I need to refresh my memory. Instead of trying to find the proper time code for the specific issue I have a question about. This is the part that takes the longest; depending on many factors, I can transcribe 1.5-3 minutes of audio in 15-20 minutes. This particular audio was ranging on the high end (2.5-3 minutes in 15) because there were only three folks talking and they were pretty good about not talking over each other. Let me tell you, I am very, very familiar with these folks' verbal tics...
2.  Research points
     Next I reread the transcription and note all the points I think I need to research. These can be things I think I need more historical background on so I'll write it properly, technical details I want to double check, and things that just sound interesting and would like to know more about.
3.  Outline
     I build an outline of what happened in the audio. This is partially to have a timeline and partially to start breaking things down into 'scenes,' which is how I organize things in Scrivener.
     3a. Writing Outline
           If I notice plot holes or things that make sense for a gaming session but not a written story, I'll create a second outline that rearranges scenes. This is to smooth out timeline issues and/or improve the movement between scenes.
     Please note that I am completely willing to rearrange scenes after they're written.
4.  Do the research
     DO THE BLOODY RESEARCH. This step is NOT skippable. This is where I'll pull together reference material into Scrivener's Research section and maybe build a relevant Pinterest board.
5.  Character Bible
     A document where I pull together everything that seems relevant about the main characters and any minor characters who show up for more than one scene.

And once all that is done, then I get started writing.

Red Markets Kickstarter is Live!

I am super excited, the Kickstarter to publish Red Markets is live today! I've loved listening to the RPPR play-test campaign, loved getting to play this myself through the open play-test, and am looking forward to more games struggling against the apocalypse, in order to pay rent.

This game, written by Caleb Stokes, really dives into an aspect of role-playing games I haven't seen before – being on the sharp end of Capitalism's stick. The rules are as simple or crunchy as you want to play, the system keeps the prep weight off the GM's shoulders, and the players have a lot of say in the world. But you know, don't listen to me, Caleb's ad copy is much better. Check out the Kickstarter: 

Red Markets Kickstarter

And, two interviews he's given about the game, one on Roleplaying Exchange and one on Legends of Tabletop

The apocalypse happened, and I'm its editor

It's been a year and a half of doing a lot of new things for me. In that time, I started writing, learned to use new software (Scrivener), started critiquing other people's writing and began learning how to receive critiques, taught myself a little bit of graphic design, designed a book cover, printed a book through my local library's print on demand machine, started playing tabletop role-playing games regularly with strangers (now friends) over the internet, started blogging again, started using social media (regularly), wrote several short stories, and started a podcast (Technical Difficulties) with said now-friends.  

And on Monday, the Technical Difficulties crew interviewed Caleb Stokes of Hebanon Games about Red Markets and the upcoming Kickstarter campaign for it. 

This was especially awesome to me because we as a group formed specifically in order to play-test the Red Markets system. As you may notice from the number of episodes of Red Markets we've posted (campaign's not going to finish posting until June either). And once the Kickstarter makes, I'm on-tap as the editor for the project. A job I got because of the beta Caleb released – basically I really wanted to read the book, didn't think I was very good at giving feedback based on just reading the rules, and didn't (yet) have a group I could play with to do a play-test. So I went through and copy-edited all 250 pages. Guess Caleb liked the quality of my work.

So the interview. One of the things I thought was nice was that we could go more in-depth with the game and Caleb's process to get it this far, instead of spending a lot of time on the basics of what the system is, because of how much time we've spent playing the game already. And because we're all fans of Caleb's work from Role Playing Public Radio actual plays, we could talk about Caleb's progression from designing scenarios to a campaign to this particular complete system.

The Kickstarter opens up on May 23rd and our interview will going up on the 30th. I'll post links on those days and I hope you'll check it out. There's not many games where the apocalypse has happened but the rent is still due.