Current work…writing scripts

For the last few months, on top of travelling and attending a bazillion courses, I’ve been writing.

I’ve written five short scripts in the world of THE 23RD LETTER. I’ve written two more in the world of STATUS: REFUGEE. I’ve written one horror script. And I’m looking at writing some scripts based on FRONTIER and QABAL very soon. And there’s one very special property that I would love to pitch to the BBC…

Two of my scripts are going into production in 2017 and I’ll be doing a “mobile phone” shoot of one of my scripts probably over the upcoming holidays.

So, all change.

Asshat Paladins blog

Matt Borselli has a quick writeup of his experience with Crucible Design, and more specifically The 23rd Letter, on his blog, AssHat Paladins.

I enjoyed chatting about it – getting involved in my own narcissism obviously – and it brought back a lot of memories.

Part two will be out in a week or so so subscribe to his blog if you want to catch it.

Superheroics

I’ve been reading a lot and prepping my ‘superhero’ game and though I love the concept of GODLIKE and Wild Talents, it’s really turned into an exercise of accountancy.

I don’t like point buy systems which encourage you to minmax.

I’m frustrated by this because I can’t therefore find a system I want to use. And that means I’m going to have to stop procrastinating and write my own. I’d already done some of this before, then lost all of my notes, and now have to almost start from scratch.

I think using the basis of the 23rd Letter is probably a great idea. What say you?

The WhiteChapel Project

The Project in Whitechapel was formed in September 1941 as a subsection of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was directed to encourage espionage behind enemy lines and build the core of a resistance cell in the event of a land invasion. As a result, they were entirely dependent upon the security of radio transmissions and a lot of resource was allocated to eliminating the circumstances which would lead to a break in communications. Better radio sets, more secure operating procedures and the development of proper ciphers all aided their mission.

The ISRB (Inter Service Research Bureau) operated as a cover for the SOE and was responsible for developing modern clandestine technology as well as recruiting agents for the SOE. The Frythe Estate near Welwyn Garden City was the initial test ground for the use of psychics in espionage under the guise of a wireless research unit code-named “Special Signals”. Later, it became Station IX, a weapons development centre and the Special Signals group was moved to a small building on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel. The SOE was dissolved in 1946 and most of their operational functions absorbed by MI6. The Special Signals group, however, survived. Their staff roster was filled out with German scientists, recruited from the post-war skirmish between the Allies for their knowledge.

Dr Saul Benedict had been head of Special Signals since it’s inception and guided the group through the post-war political turmoil by forming a significant attachment to the then-prime minister, Clement Attlee. While Attlee could not be convinced of the need for the SOE, the Special Signals group were able to secure their own future and Attlee consulted with precogs and telepaths regularly. He became known as an extremely effective politician and possible the most effective Prime Minister to date. Their consultations helped him decide the correct course of action and also how to build a cabinet of people he could trust. In return he pledged support for Benedict’s special interests and permitted the Project in Whitechapel far-reaching authority.

The establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 paved the way for regular screening of the population for psychic potential and the Whitechapel Project enjoyed a regular stream of enthusiastic recruits, young, cheerful and ready to do their bit for king and country. A centre for psychic research was opened in Huntingdon, funded by the NHS rather than the Special Signals group. When Churchill succeeded Attlee he was astounded his own words were so prophetic when he had accused Labour of introducing “some form of Gestapo, no doubt humanely administered in the first instance”. One of his first actions was to restrict NHS funding to Huntingdon and from that moment on Benedict and his advisors realised their remit had a wider reach than the ephemeral governments

The 23rd Letter: in film?

Back in late 2006, I got a bit of a shock. Maybe you do as I do but I like to beachcomb through Google and see what people are saying about the things I have written. I pick up a few comments about The 23rd Letter and Zombi most often, usually through RPG.net which seems to be the big granddaddy of RPG-related internet portals. It’s pretty nice for the most part and I get to talk to some interesting people (and make excuses for the things I missed). As The 23rd Letter is still on sale via Key20, every now and then I get an email asking about it which is why I’ve started posting updated materials on the blog here. There have been some relative champions of The 23rd Letter, like Chris Lupton and Max Cairnduff, who have both gone above and beyond in the past to make the games known and for that I’ve always been grateful.

Anyway, this was the shock.

 

This page linked to Starway Pictures, a Hollywood-based production company, who were producing an adaptation of The 23rd Letter, a film about ESP and psychokinesis. I was utterly gobsmacked.

The script for “The 23rd Letter” was written by Jim Beck, an aspiring screenwriter who had also written gaming material for Paradigm Concepts , a small RPG company, but Jim Beck was mostly identified via his blog at blackroosterfilms.tripod.com. My stuff is also listed at pen-paper.net and a few years ago, t23l would have been a lot more on the lips of people.

Information on the 23rd Letter movie was posted all around on Filmmaker magazine, XLCinema.com and the Digital Video Information Network. The stars mentioned it on their myspace pages and there seemed to be loads of mentions of the name as I started digging deeper. Heaps more material is available on the Starway Pictures blog in February 2006, March 2006, April 2006, May 2006 and November 2006 including demo footage and pitch reels.

I found out about it in November 2006 and have been sitting on it for months. Why? Because I was really unsure at what to do about it. Am I supposed to assume the worst?

What do you do in this case?

[UPDATE: I’ve been talking to Robert Sanders @ Starway via email (and inadvertently to his lawyer (who didn’t get the hang of “Reply All”) and I think we’re resolving any issues. I do not believe that there was any infringement of IP so it’s now down to whether they change the name or we agree to jointly use the name).]

The WhiteChapel Project – early history

The Project in Whitechapel was formed in September 1941 as a subsection of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was directed to encourage espionage behind enemy lines and build the core of a resistance cell in the event of a land invasion. As a result, they were entirely dependent upon the security of radio transmissions and a lot of resource was allocated to eliminating the circumstances which would lead to a break in communications. Better radio sets, more secure operating procedures and the development of proper ciphers all aided their mission.

The ISRB (Inter Service Research Bureau) operated as a cover for the SOE and was responsible for developing modern clandestine technology as well as recruiting agents for the SOE. The Frythe Estate near Welwyn Garden City was the initial test ground for the use of psychics in espionage under the guise of a wireless research unit code-named “Special Signals”. Later, it became Station IX, a weapons development centre and the Special Signals group was moved to a small building on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel. The SOE was dissolved in 1946 and most of their operational functions absorbed by MI6. The Special Signals group, however, survived. Their staff roster was filled out with German scientists, recruited from the post-war skirmish between the Allies for their knowledge.

Dr Saul Benedict had been head of Special Signals since it’s inception and guided the group through the post-war political turmoil by forming a significant attachment to the then-prime minister, Clement Attlee. While Attlee could not be convinced of the need for the SOE, the Special Signals group were able to secure their own future and Attlee consulted with precogs and telepaths regularly. He became known as an extremely effective politician and possible the most effective Prime Minister to date. Their consultations helped him decide the correct course of action and also how to build a cabinet of people he could trust. In return he pledged support for Benedict’s special interests and permitted the Project in Whitechapel far-reaching authority.

The establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 paved the way for regular screening of the population for psychic potential and the Whitechapel Project enjoyed a regular stream of enthusiastic recruits, young, cheerful and ready to do their bit for king and country. A centre for psychic research was opened in Huntingdon, funded by the NHS rather than the Special Signals group. When Churchill succeeded Attlee he was astounded his own words were so prophetic when he had accused Labour of introducing “some form of Gestapo, no doubt humanely administered in the first instance”. One of his first actions was to restrict NHS funding to Huntingdon and from that moment on Benedict and his advisors realised their remit had a wider reach than the ephemeral governments

23L Superhumans

Having some spare time yesterday evening I resurrected some of my notes for ‘superpowers’ in T23L. It wasn’t part of the plan to have 23L superhumans – though I was accused by Jeremy of writing my own ‘supers’ game when we published The 23rd Letter. We did have quasi-superhumans in the form of the Furies and the Terata but nothing was ever done with them.

Some of the thought process for the superhuman system was taken from the Amber system. I quite liked the way their stats were arranged:

  • Human – covering the full range of Human ability
  • Chaos – stronger than any human
  • Amber – stronger than both Chaos and Human
  • Ranked – allowing you to be a stronger Amber-ite, perhaps even the strongest.

For 23L/Supers, I envisaged a triple scale over and above the abilities of Humanity.

The 23rd Letter has a range of 1-7 for human endeavour. Given the media it is trying to emulate, I expanded this to 1-9 so that there could be some decent Batman/Captain America/peak of human ability in there. The rationale obviously was that someone with Strength of 1 would be weedy and weak whereas someone with Strength 9 would be sprouting muscles on their muscles!

I added a second level, Superhuman 1 (also called Basic) which covered the range from 11-19, inferring that even the weakest superhuman was still stronger than the strongest human. All individuals with Strength at Superhuman 1 would be of similar strength ability – the second digit giving you an idea of the amount they had ‘worked’ it. Someone with Strength 11 would probably be able to press a ton and could be thin and unmuscled. In comparison someone with Strength 19 would be heavily muscled or, at least, tremendously toned and should, in theory have better control over their strength.

I then added a third level, Superhuman 2 (also called Advanced) covering the range 21-29 and a fourth, Superhuman 3 (also called Master) for very high level supers.

This also extended to the Powers they would have. And even within powers there were powers that may not be available to all superhumans (essentially the first generation superhumans had access to some powers and could get very competent with them, later ‘model’ superhumans had access to better powers but didn’t have as much opportunity to become skilled with them). The Powers were in broad categories like ‘Flight’ or ‘Coordination’ or ‘Strength’. Each power would have a description of ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’ or ‘Master’ and were meant to be built as packages, e.g.

  • Basic Flight – the character can fly up to 70 mph.
  • Advanced Flight – the character can fly at up to Mach 1. He also gains modifications to his body to better enable this, skin toughness and resistance to wind chill and friction. The player can buy Basic Coordination at half cost.
  • Master Flight – the character can fly at virtually unlimited speeds. He is resistance to the effects of this travel, gaining Basic Resistance for free. The player can buy Basic or Advanced Coordination at half cost.

Like in The 23rd Letter, the ‘powers’ were tied into the game world so that someone with Basic Strength (boosting them from Strength of 1-9 to Strength of 11-19 as well as other benefits) would be called Achilles-class. Someone with Advanced Strength would be Talos-class. A Master-Strength superhuman might be Heracles-class. A Heracles-class superhuman might have other benefits too, like being virtually impervious to harm.

This was the basis of the system of ‘More Than Human’ which was on the LateGaming site for years (since about 2001 when Jared put together the first edition of this web site) but now comes uncomfortably close to the as-yet-unreleased ‘Beyond Human’ touted by Eden (which will undoubtedly come to market around the time we release whatever this game turns out to be – if history (Zombi vs All Flesh Must be Eaten) is anything to go by.

I’ll post more on this later.

Collaboration, writing and vision

This weekend I was busy with family duties but still managed to do a bit of work on WoTW:Earth. Most notably taking the draft ideas Aidan sent through and turning them into mechanics and flavour.

Collaboration is hard.

I’m very conscious that I’m an ignorant so-and-so with strong opinions and a jeadstrong way of doing things. One sure-fire way to motivate me into completing something is to provide me with something that is not the way I’d do it. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong or that my way is actually better, but just the fact that it’s different is enough for me to work on something to illustrate my way.

Am I bloody minded enough to expect mine will be used? I’d like to think not but I think that even after all these years, I find it hard to work with others. Case in point: the lifepath systems we’re building for WotW: Earth can be done in a number of ways. I received Aidan’s notes and I wrote mine out and sent them on and I did say and will continue to say that it’s a work in progress. I don’t know, however, whether my personality (my bloodymindedness) can be put down by soliciting comment and inviting co-work. I’d have to get Aidan to be honest here about whether I am an ogre to work with.

Writing is hard

Harking back to the post on Quality of Play that I made the other day – I need to be very enthused by a game before I’d write for it (which is why I guess I don’t get paid to write – though I’ve never solicited paid writing work nor been asked). When enthused (the Solo Play part), I tend to be quite prolific and productive with writing which is why Crucible Design only published three games and they were the games that I conceived and wrote.

The irony of course is that my most productive times were when I was busy. I worked a 9-5, had a girlfriend, had a weekly game (or two) and would often have to do additional work at the weekends for my job. But I managed to hammer out The 23rd Letter. The next most productive person was Colin who had the job, the girlfriend, the hobbies and managed to do some excellent work on the Projects for The 23rd Letter. Everyone else was either in full time education (and no, it is not more work) or unemployed and getting writing out of them was impossible.

Vision is easy

What it tells me is that it’s easy to have a vision about something. It’s easy to think up a soundbite of a concept and pitch it at a small group of friends. You can wow them with some names you thought up, maybe even some basic sketches that are a subsititute for ‘real work’. The ‘Ideas’ page for LateGaming is incredibly long and I know that perhaps only 10% of them will ever have any real work done on them (and yeah, you can ask and no, they’re not all my ideas).

What this means is that in over five years of ‘writing’, we produced three books and they were the brainchild of (and written by) one person. We had plans for other books and games but none of them were ever completed and few of them got anywhere beyond the most basic concepts. Fancy playing a pirates game? We intended to write one (about 5 years before 7th Sea came out). Cowboys? Check. Corporate Superspies? Check. Commercially-minded Superheroes? Check. But I think that natural selection weeded out the weaker ideas.

The conclusion to this is going to be ‘What about Qabal?’

What about Qabal

It’s just a little too big for me and I need to get back into the flow of writing, raise the bar in terms of production values for the next books I bring out and re-learn a lot of terms. I need to ask friends who do design work for a living to help me with the look of the books and help me visualise the whole process. And all of this before I put any more pen to paper.

At the moment, I have smaller fish to fry.

23rd Letter: Projects Campaigns

A Project-based campaign is as flexible as the players want. The G.M. may choose themes as he or she wants. PCs working for a Project are relieved of many of the worries of Network members or other independent espers. Usually they are not on the run, living out of safehouses or mobile homes, lack of money should be less of a problem and equipment will be provided. Of course a devious G.M. may run a campaign where the PCs are on the streets and don’t know that they are really working for a Project…

A Project employee will draw a salary, probably live in a home of some comfort and work alongside a regular team of professionals from a government building. With the G.M’s discretion they may have access to additional resources as needed. Why they do this is up to the player and G.M. to decide. A PC may be a patriot proudly serving his nation as best as he can or a virtual prisoner, coerced into the dirty business by the regime and looking for the chance to escape. Most PCs will probably fall between these extremes. PCs which are outspokenly rebellious or disloyal may be subject to sanction or surveillance by their Project superiors.

Adventures for Project PCs may be gung-ho romps with lots of guns, action and clear villains. In this case the PCs are heroes and will probably believe themselves to be in the right. On the other hand the adventures may involve simply surviving in a grim bureaucratic nightmare where every decision will hurt someone. Yet another option is for the PC’s team to be investigators of paranormal events. There is no correct style of campaign, but it is recommended that G.Ms occasionally surprise the players by running a different type of adventure from usual. This should both stretch the players (including the G.M.) and reduce the possibility of boredom setting in. Project adventures have based on movies as different as Predator and The Witches of Eastwick so GMs ought to be able to please any kind of player.

Projects Adventure Hooks

  • The government wants a powerful foreigner dead. He may be a drug baron, a terrorist leader or religious/political figure, but he is charismatic and has a large and devoted army of followers who are very anti-Western. If he dies an obviously unnatural death, he will be seen as a martyr by his enraged supporters, so the Project personnel assigned to this task must not simply shoot or blow him up. To discredit his memory, it is suggested that they made it seem he died accidentally while performing a sordid act. The mission may be carried out while the target is on a visit to the West or, better still, on his own territory, either way he will have many armed bodyguards.
  • It has been discovered that the Iraqi dictator is sponsoring his own Project (for games pre-2002, this works well). It is located in a heavily guarded complex outside Basra. The research centre is among flat farmland and has a company of 120 Republican Guards (with armoured vehicles and helicopters) assigned to protect it. A Project team must enter Iraq, travel to this place and covertly observe it to determine the Iraqis’ progress. They may discover that there are Nevada Project survivors from the 1991 helicopter held there. These people are helping the Iraqis, either willingly or under duress. What are the PCs going to do?
  • Satellite photos of a military factory in a foreign dictatorship suggest that a military aircraft of radical design is being built and tested there. Remote viewing by Project espers confirm this. The location is close to friendly territory so the PCs’ team are sent in to observe or sabotage the aircraft. But it is a trap. The aircraft is a non-flying mock-up, and a powerful esper (maybe a terata?) has planted illusions in the remote viewers’ minds to lure in subjects for experimentation. The PCs will be inserted by aircraft or submarine which will return to collect them some days later. A force of elite, but non-esper, troops (10 soldiers for every PC) will be waiting for them.
  • Reliable sources say that the Green Flag Commando terrorist group has obtained a 100 kilotonne nuclear device and is going to smuggle it into the US. The PCs will be assigned to a taskforce trying to prevent this. Other personnel on this task force will be from the FBI, CIA and another Project (the Western or Nevada). The CIA and FBI officers will either not take the PCs’ contributions seriously or resent their presence while the other Project’s people will be condescending. The bomb will be brought into New York harbour in the hold of an innocent looking Swedish freighter (most of the crew don’t know it’s there) on 30th June and detonated (by a fanatic terrorist on the ship) on 4th July. Can the PCs stop this? If they fail it may mean the death of millions of people, and the end of their own Project.
  • Police forces in California are seeking a serial killer who has murdered a young woman every month for nearly a year. The PCs’ Project has a precog who claims that the killer will be caught and found to be an esper with an interesting wild talent. Although it is outside the Project’s jurisdiction, their superiors send the PCs out to catch the killer and bring him back to their base for study (“After all, nobody will miss a creep like this”) . The Police and FBI are not informed about the PCs’ operation. The killer is Mario Xylander (see p51 and p57 of The 23rd Letter Rulebook) and is being protected by the Western Project. Xylander has had cosmetic surgery and no longer looks the same as when originally captured. Should a PC notice similarities between the present cases and Xylander’s original crimes, all records will indicate that Xylander is still incarcerated. Enquiries to the prison will alert the Western Project (but the PCs will not know this). Can the PCs capture Xylander without alerting the police or Western Project.? The GM might want to detail two of the FBI agents assigned to the case, the female is a hard nosed sceptic about the paranormal, however her spooky male partner whole-heartedly believes in psychic powers and secret government conspiracies.
  • An high-ranking official from a hostile nation has vital information, urgently needed by the government. He is completely loyal to his homeland, so will not willingly defect and kidnapping him is out of the question. In desperation, their country’s intelligence service turns to the players’ Project for help. The information is too extensive to be read by a psychic, but in their briefing the PCs will find their target has a weak spot, ripe for them to exploit. He may have a religious faith or other supernatural belief and be open to a psychically generated ‘miracle’, a beloved family member may be ill and could be cured by psychic healing or maybe just a threat of overwhelming power will work. The PCs must either bring about his (apparently) genuine defection or at least get him to give them the information. The PCs may have to travel undercover to the target’s country or he may be visiting the their own or an allied country.
  • The PCs’ team is to participate in a security exercise. They must either penetrate a high-security government installation and physically steal a particular file or guard the same file from a rival team, inside a seven day time limit. The building belongs to a ‘neutral’ agency (such as NASA or a police force). The PCs will be in competition with a team from another covert agency (for example the CIA, Delta Force or even the Nevada Project) who are to guard the file if the PCs are the thieves or take it if the PCs are looking after it. Either way there is to be no violence directed against the rival squad (or the workers in the installation), but the teams are free to use any dirty tricks they want. The winners will be heroes to their own organisation, and will be rewarded with improved status. If the PCs lose their superiors will make their lives very miserable.
  • At short notice the PCs are attached to the HooDoo Squad. The Project has received advance notice that a hitherto unknown, but powerful esper (abilities up to the G.M.) is to appear the following night on a live, prime time chat show. If the esper successfully demonstrates his or her powers on air it will be a disaster. The PCs are to sabotage the show or if that fails limit the damage. They may take any equipment they think they need, including doses of Psilence, and any of the HooDoo Squad. They will meet with several complications, the esper is somewhat paranoid and has several habits which make it difficult to dose him with Psilence (only eats or drinks foods he/she has prepared and brought with him/her, will not willingly take pills or injections no matter what the reason). Also if they do not want to take an NPC with them, the G.M. may want them to have to take Marcus Venture, and he will be obnoxious, lecherous and a pain in the neck.
  • The PCs are returning from a foreign mission and are tired and off-guard when the crowded commercial airliner they are travelling on is hijacked! The PCs do not have any weapons and the hijackers are armed and ruthless terrorists with impossible financial or political demands. The PCs will realise that the terrorists do not intend to let the hostages survive even if their demands are met. Can the PCs with their limited resources turn the tables on their captors? There are complications too, the airliner may land in a country where the PCs have enemies, or if it lands in a friendly country the authorities may launch a bungled rescue attempt, one of the hijackers may be an old enemy or even another esper. In the early stages of the adventure, the G.M. should confuse the players, is this something to do with the last mission or an unfortunate coincidence?
  • A country friendly to the PCs’ homeland is threatening to go to war with a neighbouring state. The allied nation’s President (or Prime Minister) is a charismatic fanatic, too macho to reduce the rising tension, and believes destiny is on his side. The war will be an international disaster, which the PCs’ government wants to avoid. The PCs’ team will be sent to this country under the cover of advisors to the President (who will trust them initially) and are tasked to avert conflict. They cannot assassinate the President as this is liable to trigger a war. The G.M. can throw in border skirmishes and assassination attempts as he sees fit.
  • An important Esper from the PC’s Project has successfully defected to a foreign rival Project. The PCs’ are sent abroad to recover her. This may not require drastic moves like kidnapping her, perhaps she regrets her flight and can be persuaded to come home.
  • The son of the President (Prime Minister/monarch/dictator) is lost in bad weather in a wilderness. A Project Esper has determined that he is alive but little more, and cannot pinpoint his location. The players must lead the search through difficult terrain, which will be arduous. Perhaps the young man’s disappearance was not an accident, in which case the PCs will find themselves in combat with armed kidnappers.
  • A vengeful father is searching for his lost child, an Esper forced to work for the PCs’ Project. The father is a former covert operative and is very clever and dangerous. The players must stop him somehow, the fact that their opponent is both sympathetic and in the right makes this difficult. Just to make things worse, the child may escape…
  • To draw media and public attention from a black operation by another agency, the PCs are to fake a series of non-psychic paranormal events on members of the public. For example they make set up mock UFO abductions, poltergeist activities or other Fortean events. The players are free to pick their victims, and should be encouraged to have fun. If the GM wants there may be a dark side, they may be so successful a victim may die of a heart attack during their manifestation or a really persistent media investigation may discover too much about their activities. The FBI operatives mentioned in Hook 5 may also become involved.
  • This is the reverse of Hook 14. The PCs are sent to investigate a sinister paranormal event which is sufficiently alarming to have attracted their Project’s attention. After a lengthy investigation they will discover that the phenomena is an elaborate hoax. The motive may be a prank, a stunt perpetrated by a local tourist commission to attract visitors, or by criminals to disguise their activities. It might be Old Mr Peterson the Janitor trying to hide his counterfeiting scheme by scaring away the yokels. He may get away with it too, if it isn’t for those meddling espers…
  • The PCs’ team is investigating a series of murders of agents from their national intelligence service or Project. When they make progress attempts will made on their lives by professional assassins. Should the PCs survive, they will discover a world-wide conspiracy by a secret organisation fronted by a wealthy and charismatic megalomaniac who enjoys caressing fluffy white cats. This person is near completion of a plan to undermine the international banking system, gain control of the world’s energy resources, provoke a major war or other drastic event. He operates from an elaborate hi-tech base with scores of armed guards, booby traps and technicians, and is also protected by a fanatically loyal bodyguard/chief henchman with a colourful physical or psychological abnormality. Depending on the PCs’ morality they may try to prevent their enemy achieving his goal or else offer to throw in their lot with him if this seems more promising.
  • On the PCs’ last mission they were careless and left enough evidence to incriminate themselves. As a result, a respected team of journalists is about to present a TV special which will embarrass the PCs and their Project. The PCs must stop this. Threats and actual violence may be counter productive, as the reporters are clever and have access to all manner of surveillance gear so the PCs may find themselves on tape. Possibly the best ideas are to undermine the programme’s credibility or buy them off by revealing a story of greater public interest. A juicy sex’n’drugs’n’politics scandal (real or fabricated) may do the trick.
  • The 23rd Letter

    Balbinus on RPG.net responds to someone asking for sourcebooks about running a campaign about the whole concept of PSI powers:

    “IMO the best is a game called 23rd Letter, it’s basically Firestarter (the Stephen King book/movie) the rpg. Probably OOP but available I would have thought on ebay.”

    Thanks, Balbinus!

    It’s not out of print! You can buy The 23rd Letter from Key20!

    http://key20.com/product.php?productid=403

    New Downloads

    Some people were looking for them so I’ve put some downloads on the books page:

    Wildtalents fanzine 1 60K PDF
    Wildtalents 3 fanzine 1.5MB PDF
    Wildtalents 5 fanzine 373K PDF
    23rd letter character sheet 22K PDF
    zombi character sheet 86K PDF

    If there’s anything else in particular that people are looking for, please mention it and I’ll see what I can dig up. Please note that this wildtalents fanzine was something I was doing nearly a decade before Wild Talents (the superhero RPG) was released.

    21/100 Making a Miniseries

    On my main blog I’ve been working through Chris Brogan’s 100 topics more as a method of amusement and to keep me writing. The rest of the entries have been a bit easier than the current one and the context of the mini-series would only make sense in the LateGaming blog as opposed to CIMOTA.

    So here we are.

    Within the remit of LateGaming has always been the writing of roleplaying games. I’m resigned to the idea that I’ll never write the Great Irish Novel so I’m not even going to entertain it. Parallel to the writing of RPGs though I have been interested in the writing of stories and by extension the thought that they could be made into screenplays and perhaps into short films or even movies. So we’ll talk about making a miniseries of movies :- this could be a video podcast or anything.

    A couple of years ago, unsure that I could string together a full movie, I wrote an outline for three interconnected short films which taken together would weave into a larger story. I had issues with pacing and desperately wanted to avoid the cliche so common to writers of shorts that a film can be interesting if it involves a man walking into a room, sitting down at a table and using witty cinematic dialogue against another occupant of the room (and yeah, we filmed this….badly).

    So what do we want to see? We want to see some action, certainly something more than watching two grown men with bad accents fence with words in a nondescript room. Let’s get some interest in there. Make the room interesting. Where are they? Why are they there? Which one owns the place? It means challenging every aspect of it and providing an answer. And when the answer is shit then you can expect the production to suffer as well.

    Making a miniseries isn’t really more difficult than making a single production just as it’s probably no more difficult to make a full-length feature than it is to make a ten-minute short. The deciding factor may be money especially if you’ve rented equipment and you’re paying your actors. Time is money and it can work out to be a lot of money. I’m going to assume that you’ve got your own camera (not unreasonable considering the drop in price of semi-pro HD cameras) and you either have the money to pay your actors or they’re doing it for their portfolio. Whatever the reasons: money is not an object.

    What are the factors that turn three short movies into a miniseries?

    1. Connected Story
    2. Time Passing
    3. Continuity

    We’ll address these one by one:

    Connected Story
    The most obvious thing is that there must be a metaplot which connects the three episodes. If they’re entirely different then they’re not a miniseries, it’s just three shorts. My recommendation is to have no less than three connections. These can be people, places, objects, vehicles, even environmental conditions.
    e.g.

    In our miniseries, we’re going to have the following:

    • One central protagonist – the character is a young girl who will appear in all three shorts. The other characters she encounters will be relatively ephemeral. It’s probably best to keep the same actor if possible otherwise you have to spend time explaining this is the same person.
    • One simple theme – the theme is about her desire for a normal life. As this is a theme, we’re going to have to exercise show, don’t tell and build elements into each short which will illustrate her desire for a normal life. By extension, we’re going to have to show how her normal life has been taken away and how it, in every short, continues to be taken away or eroded.
    • One object – I’ve not thought much about this so for now we’ll make it a pen. It doesn’t have to be anything complex or difficult to find. It doesn’t have to be a sacred amulet or anything but you may have to work to get it in there.

    Time Passing
    You have to think about how much time passes between each episode. We have to assume some amount of time will have passed. Will the protagonist look older, will there be a change of environment, how will you represent the passing of time to make each short seem like a contained episode. You can show (again, not tell) how the characters have grown in the time passing.

    • The protagonist is introduced to the plot. This will be represented by her being ignorant of the plot. We’re going to establish the normal life that she loses.
    • The protagonist has grown following the events of the first episode. She may be the same ‘age’ but her dress, knowledge and mannerisms should reflect the changes that have taken place.
    • We would hope that in the third short we would have a resolution to affairs. We might have to show the changes that have been made to the character and her difficulty in re-assimilating herself to normal life.

    Continuity
    Much like physics, causes have effects. People who are killed stay dead. Things that are destroyed, stay destroyed. If someone loses something, it’s an element of continuity that they have to find it in order to have it later. If they have family earlier, then they should have family later.

    • The pen we mentioned shall re-occur in all three shorts. In the first, she loses it. In the second she does not have it, someone else does. In the third, she regains it.
    • People who die, stay dead. This is going to cause some churn in the actors as some will only be involved for 1-2 episodes rather than all three. Some famous directors have re-used actors, for example, Romero used Joe Pilato in Dawn and Day, and it’s hard to count how often Rene Auberjonois has been in Star Trek.
    • If we introduce something early into the story, we need to flesh it out later. For instance, if in the first short our protagonist is travelling across country to find her aunts, then having that as the reason in the second short is good, unless plot events change this. And if they have, you need to examine whether or not you have shown or told the observer why.

    I don’t want to get into it much more than this other than to say that at some point we will probably do something with this. I’m getting too old to be a protagonist these days (how’s that for ageism). It’s the story of a Twenty Third Letter person.

    The 23rd Letter – Black Monday

    “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

    The period following the end of the Second World War saw a time of huge change for the world. With peace restored, people felt it was safe to start a family again and the so-called Baby Boom ensued. Necessity had opened the door to the working woman and the signs of economic growth and prosperity were everywhere: jobs, families, houses and of course companies.

    It was during this period that the Powers came into existence. During the war, several companies had assisted the government in their research into psychics. With the war over and military spending slashed, some of the brighter minds within the Projects turned to their colleagues in the private sector for work. Many of these companies went back to their original lines of business, but a small number continued their work in psychic research, providing lab-space, equipment and, most importantly, funding for teams of scientists determined to uncover the secrets of the psychic brain.

    Many of these teams were shut down: after all, if a business unit cannot make money or shows no sign of being able to make a return, they are often the first to lose out in the annual budget rounds. But a few did well enough, through a combination of luck, brilliance and hard work. It was these few which eventually developed into the Powers of today.

    With Government observation at an all time low, individual companies were able to relax safety protocols, test more subjects and in some cases expose entire communities to programs of drugs, psychic manipulation and selective breeding, all in an effort to produce more of what they desired most: power. Those companies who decided to take a more humanist approach to their research were quickly made obsolete, taken over or destroyed by rivals.

    Were it not for the Cold War with Russia providing much of the cover, the Projects may have been able to stop the development of the Powers before it was too late. As it was, the governments of the NATO and Warsaw Pact nations were too concerned with each other to worry about what was going on in their own backyards. A blend of ruthlessness, subterfuge, assassination and recruitment kept the Powers safe while they accumulated wealth and knowledge.

    In the mid-Eighties, with the Cold War winding down, the Projects finally started to take notice of the Powers and what they were doing, but it was already too late–the Powers were well entrenched, hidden, knowledgeable and above all, powerful. Weaker Project espers investigating suspected Power activity while stronger ones were made exorbitant offers to turn coat. In turn, the Projects gave more leeway to their operatives, living by the old adage of the end justifying the means.

    This vicious circle continued until late 1987, specifically October 19th, also known as Black Monday. On that day, a well coordinated team of espers, working for Interra Holdings, used their abilities to bring about the largest one-day crash of world stock markets. Interra profited considerably from the crash and, somewhat unsurprisingly, all of their competitors lost out, some to the point of bankruptcy. Up until this point, the Powers had generally left each other alone, content to work on their own research and with their own teams, and occasionally to work together to common end. Black Monday opened up the floodgates.

    Three things happened. Firstly, the larger Powers inflicted retribution on Interra. The Projects (and even the Press) reported astonishment at how quickly things like lack of sleep, paranoia, dyslexia and even the odd psychosis did to the mundane staff at Interra. Combined with a few well placed fires, blocked water mains and so forth and eventually Interra stock became junk. De-listing and bankruptcy followed shortly thereafter. The majority stockholders of the company turned out to be the same esper team who had cornered the market–they and their profits vanished without trace before any Power ever came near.

    Secondly, Powers turned on each other. No longer seeing each other as potential allies against the Government, the Powers effectively eliminated each other, through legitimate means such as mergers and acquisitions, alongside shadier ones. This consolidation continued through the Nineties, and with the rise of globalization, the handful of remaining Powers settled into an uneasy acceptance of each other. Their activities became a lot harder to track, but their effects became a lot less prominent, and so the Projects eased off on the manpower dedicated to Power containment.

    Thirdly, at around about this time, the first recorded Network cells sprung into existence. Up until this point, espers either worked for the Projects or the Powers–one of the two was considered safe haven. Whether or not Black Monday itself was a direct cause of the creation of the Network is unclear. The escalating violence between Projects and Powers alienated a lot of people, and when Powers turned on each other, people needed a place to go.

    From the turn of the millennium, the Powers have evolved into what they are today–legitimate businesses, making lots of money in many countries, but with a hidden and darker purpose.