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.

Running the Numbers…

Ian Robinson sent me this link. It’s Joe Konrath talking about the numbers involved in publishing, especially eBook publishing.

But now I’m convinced. Signing with a traditional publisher, even being offered $200k per book, is a VERY BAD IDEA.

My reply was:

I may have to reconsider my previously out-of print editions. With the explosion in eBook sales, I could make $300 a year.

The numbers he quotes even assume you get an advance. The possibilities for vanity press are even greater.

NINoWriMO – Northern Ireland Novel Writing Month

I’m taking part in a fiction-writing collective called “WriteWeekly” but this has some relevance as well:

Blick Shared Studios, Malone Rd, Belfast
7-9pm, Thursday 4th, 11th, 18th, 25th November 2010
Suggested donation: £1

Every November (Novel-writing Month), Studio NI hosts a series of
get-togethers to help participants write a 50,000 word novel in a 30-day
period. We’ll be holding a write-in every Thursday in November at Blick Studios,
with a series of published authors as guest speakers.

If you’re interested in the challenge, sign up at http://www.nanowrimo.org
and come along to our kick-off session on Thursday 28th October.

Frontier: Foreword, History of Mbaye Schools, page 23

[I am taking part in a weekly writing task with some friends. The first seed for this assignment was the opening line from Dune by Frank Herbert: “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”]

The pump would need repaired. During the wet seasons the housings had become eroded and the vibrations caused with the pumping had caused them to crack. It was not yet serious but every time the children filled the pails, a lot of water would spill. Water that was still a precious resource. Though his back was sore and his hands chafed from the fields, Salo plodded back to the homestead, barrow in tow, and began to unload the crops into the corrugated iron store. There was still another hour of light left and that would be enough to fix the pump.

Tools in hand he trudged across to the pump and closed off the valve. He worked until the last sliver of daylight slipped below the horizon. The pump would not leak and he had done his days portion. He caught a scent on the wind; the aroma of freshly cooked food.

His daughter Kesho came to the door to call him for dinner. Her hands were stained with saffron and her feet were bare. Kesho had been raised, with her brother and sister, to know the value of things, to know how things work. Though young, Salo knew Kesho would far exceed her brother and sister.

Salo Mbaye died an old man by the standards of the day, well into his fifties. Among his contemporaries he was well-educated and in good health and he bequeathed these benefits to his children; Baako, Kesho and the youngest, Ayotunde. Baako took over the running of the homestead and Ayotunde married a mining engineer from Dakar. Kesho lived at the homestead until Baako married and then she moved to Touba to found the first Mbaye school.

Page 23, “Mbaye Schools – A Beginning”

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.

ZOMBI PDF for download

insidefront

Here

This is missing the art for the most part which I’m going to re-scan and insert into a later copy of the PDF as well as post on here as well. The book itself is still for sale should someone want a hard copy with the art included. Without the art, the book weighs in at a lightweight 990K so it’ll even be light enough to download to a palmtop or smartphone.

I’ll include a link in the downloads section too. Enjoy! Please add a comment below if you download it 🙂

All I needed to know about Games…

…I learned from writing my own.

Lewis Pulsipher at GameCareerGuide writes that All I Really Needed to Know About Games I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

He has some core points which apply to any game but especially one which involves multiple users (a Massively Multiplayer Online Game) for example.

As a designer:
You don’t need high-level technology to make an “immersive” game.
For human/psychological games (as opposed to computer-mediated challenge games), players enjoy the journey, not the destination.
Some people like to be told stories; others like to make their own.
The objective is to make the players think their characters are going to die, not to kill them.
We all like to improve.
User-generated content enriches a game immensely. (In this case, adventures, monsters, classes, etc.)

Lewis continues:
As a player:
It’s more fun with more than one person.
Cooperation is required for survival.
Think before you leap.
Get organized!
Don’t run headlong where you’ve never been.
Keep track of the stuff you’ve got; otherwise you may forget something that could save your butt.
Always have a viable “Plan B”.
Always have a way out.
Don’t depend on luck!

If your game can take into account all of the above points then you’re well on your way to developing a game that I’d like to play. Nintendo shows us that we don’t need the most cutting edge graphics to make a game that truly involves the players – in fact – the cartoony lack of realism in the games on the Wii platform serve to make it more memorable rather than less when compared to the Hi-Def Not-Quite-Realism that you find on the PS3 and XBOX.

For myself, the ‘fun’ in the game has always been in the story and there is some pseudo-theory around this, the concepts of ‘gamist‘, ‘simulationist‘ and ‘narrativist‘. I identify with the latter category, being more interested in the story, in the interactions and in the ‘soft’ outcomes. In contrast, a simulationist will strive to have the most realistic ‘reality modelling’ experience possible. They might enjoy Call of Duty more than Left4Dead or Halo because the content is ‘realistic’. Zombies and aliens, despite being fun, are not real. Lastly, the gamist is in it for the game. For the challenge, for the achievements and perhaps even competitively for the win. There’s nothing wrong with being in a category and it doesn’t make what you enjoy into BadWrongFun and it’s perfectly possible to jump between categories depending on the game itself. For example, while playing “Infamous”, I was in it for the story and I found “Prototype” to be an unenjoyable button-masher aimed at Gamists but when playing any first person shooter against other humans, I tend to be a determined gamist, it’s all about the challenge and all about the winning. Similarly I want a racing game to have realistic drift physics even if the content is all about superfast floating flying machines armed with missiles and if I die, I just come back to life. It’s a joint gamist/simulationist experience for me.

Games are more fun when you’re not alone and I find the co-operative balance of games like Left4Dead to be immensely compelling because it’s the first game I’ve ever played which must be played cooperatively. Yes, there’s a certain mechanics to making sure you have the right equipment and you know the way in a game like that but similarly the ‘chaos’ introduced by other humans in the game is just the very reason I play – especially as they, through communication, can add unobvious twists to the game itself (like playing Call of Duty using only knives or Left4Dead using only pistols). My love of the story means my motivation to have the right equipment and ensure effective communication with the team is entirely because there’s nothing more frustrating than having to play the same ‘level’ again and again due to the mechanics of a game being poorly thought out. I’ve experienced this mostly with console games which require you to have twitch fingers as well as intimate knowledge of which button has a circle and which has a triangle. The fact this ‘out of game’ knowledge is required, completely jolts me out of immersion in the plot and reminds me I’m mashing buttons on a game controller.

An aside to this is the necessity of controlling player character death. There’s nothing more frustrating than your character dying because her avatar edged a pixel over some mathematical value which dictates whether the character stands or falls. At least, again in Left4Dead, some designers have thought about this. It’s not perfect but it beats the extremes of either falling when your pixels are 51% past the border or being able to stand in mid air because one of your pixels is still touching the edge of the cliff. Always err on the side of playability – as it says above, your job is to inspire the fear of character death in the players, not set out to actually kill them. Don’t punish the player for the poor edge detection algorithm in your game engine or for touching something that doesn’t look dangerous in your description or image.

Don’t miss the point about user-generated content. Some companies see Open Source as being a method of saving on developer time or a political statement designed to attract a certain demographic. I have long been of the opinion that you should let people make up their own stories. Being too restrictive here means there’s no Harry Potter RPG and there are only videogames for the franchise which permit a very limited range of activity. The potential content is controlled, closed, censored and choked. Chairman Mao Zedong of China said:

“Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.”

before doing his own controlling, closing, censoring and choking.

Whether or not you think he was using this to entice dissidents out of hiding is not what I’m here to debate but what I will say is that this school of thought is pretty much responsible for Twitter and Youtube. What can be more fun than seeing your creation being used in new and innovative ways. Back a hundred years ago in 1996 when I produced my first book, I loved seeing that someone has written extra content or modified my rules – because it meant they read them. I was often asked to explain my design decisions and why several rules were labelled as ‘optional’ and entertained by someone else’s take, someone else’s story using the background and content I had originated.

I’d love to hear some opinions on what is your favourite game and why. Do you identify most with Gamist, Narrativist or Simulationist (also labelled Narratology and Ludology in Aphra Kerr’s book: The Business and Culture of Digital Games.)

The Books again

Orders for the books have been trickling through which means that people are getting them into their hands. The Paypal links are working well and the post office is just round the corner from my work so I pop out and do the postage at lunch time and everyone is happy. We’re down to about 15 copies of Zombi already and I’m working hard on prepping a PDF for sale as well as getting a second printing done – the news about Key20 really threw a spanner in the works there.

It feels good to be getting the stuff out there however – not quite as good as getting someone else to handle the US distribution but good enough nonetheless.

I’m still wondering what to do about Key20 and the non-payment of money from books sold. I have a feeling that’s going to stick in my craw for a while yet.

The Books

A few days ago I received some chilling and frankly angering news.

We’d been distributed through Key20 for the last 18 months (and previous to that as well) and we’d sent them the vast majority of our stock. As of last week, they couldn’t pay so they’re sending back the remaining books and the only money we’re getting is likely going to be paying for shipping back to us.

This is angering me because they received nearly all of our copies of Zombi, for which we’re getting diddlysquat – and that leaves us up the creek without the proverbial paddle.

To this end, we’re just going to offer fulfillment directly through Paypal and work on getting the PDFs done. It’d hard to find the time to do all of this especially when you consider that we’re out a lot of money.

We’ve got a few books of each variety and we’ll be receiving the shipping of the remainders coming soon and aiming for a second printing as soon as we can afford it.

  

Fonts, fonts, my kingdom….

I’m having trouble identifying a font I used for the original printing of ZOMBI and this is the replacement I have come up with.

The original was quite clean and had a name like ‘corroded’ or ‘corrupted’.

The potential new one is CM Corruged by Charly Masci (link is down).

I think it’s actually an improvement.

zombi

I’ve spent the last week working on the PDF version of zombi. I’ve been updating bits and pieces as well, adding in references for “Fast Zombies” and other things which have been popular in the years since the book was released. Hard to believe that it’s nearly ten years since it was first published.

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

MURDERDROME: iPhone comic reader BANNED!

Wednesday afternoon I popped round to Paul’s house for a quick chat (and a couple of headache tablets) and I saw a demo of MurderDrome, the first iteration of a new comic application for the iPhone.

There have been a few comic reader apps for the iPhone/iPod touch out there, most notably ClickWheel Comic Reader which gives access to a lot of content produced for 2000AD.

The Murderdrome iPhone comic demoed to me that day had a few very startling and fresh ideas.
The content was perfectly sized for the high res (160 dpi) screen of the iPod touch and iPhone. The side-side swipe of the finger moved from page to page but the UP-DOWN swipe of a finger took you through the content on that page. It removed colour, then inking, then brought the images down to the base wireframe. You could see the process on how it was made. You can, at a touch, remove or re-add speech bubbles and there are other settings (greyscale etc) which I didn’t have time to play with.

Paul (art, letters, colour) and Al (writer) have collaborated to make Murderdrome specially for the iPhone/iPod touch screen. The code was written by Philip Orr who you’ll also recognise as one of the names behind infurious. Watch Phil’s Blue Pilot for some very interesting developments soon.

See the Youtube video for more

The business model is simple. Aiming for a $1.99 price for a standard comic (equivalent to 22 pages in a standard American size comic), Apple take 30% of the money as their commission. InfuriousComics take 10% and the remaining 60% goes to the creators. Seem harsh? Not so much when you hear tales of how much comic creators get when their comics are sold – sometimes they have to sell in excess of 9000 copies just to break even – even if carried by a major publisher. This new model would mean creators get paid for every book they produce. If you sell 200 copes, you get 60% of cover. If you sell 3000 copies you get 60% of cover. That’s a lot better than the rates offered in print.

BUT….

MURDERDROME has been banned from the App Store for breaking rules about content. Please view the video and show some support for content being made available on the App Store by commenting on the article here.

You’ll also find links to other coverage of this cool new application.

Why is this relevant to LateGaming?

Apart from my association with Paul and Philip and subsequent involvement in InfuriousComics, there has been discussion about using their cool reader technology to build ‘decision tree books’ or as we used to call them ‘Choose your path’ style books. That has interest to me!

Frontier: opening the book

I find myself thinking a lot about Frontier these days. (It’s probably because I have some self-imposed deadlines for ‘Illusion’ and ‘6’.)

Over the last couple of years I’ve harvested some twenty names from the freelancer forums of RPG.net as I try to get a feel for the art that I want for my games. Some of them are for games in development, some of them capture the feel of games not even fully realised. I just want to grab the names, the web sites and keep them while my brain stews over the content.

The opening of the Frontier book should have a visual representation (otherwise known as a picture) of Kumbu. It needs some sparse flavour text to describe where to go from there and then it should move to background describing how to get there.

It’s a nice feeling, crystallising the book in your mind. Makes you want it all the more.

COPS – Japan Stylee

Eamon, a technologist in the area of Cybernetics I know[1], posted this:

“If you peruse Japanese foreign-resident forums you’ll read a depressing amount of stories about foreigners being told to sign kanji-laden papers ‘so you can go’, only to find they’ve signed a confession – which the courts accept as totally truthful. That acceptance of the confession is because ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to work in Japan’. The chastened criminal confesses, justice is served, end of story. Foreigners get it even worse, because arguing against one’s confession is seen as insulting to the court. Bigger sentence time.”

…and some other observations of the police forces in Japan. It’s interested reading and story-nugget-laden as well. I don’t know what Eamon expected from Japan but it would be interesting to see what he has made of it so far.

Sub to his blog. You never know, he might talk Sci-Fi!

[1] Eamon was one of the contributors to Crucible Design and one of the go-to guys for Sci-Fi technology, physics and the interactions between bones and stainless steel joints (via a PhD in the wear and tear on hip replacement). I kid you not. In gaming sci-fi, his only failing was ‘knowing too much’ and therefore losing some of the ability to partake of ‘handwavium’ for plot elements. He does know an awful lot about Traveller but I don’t know if he games much these days.

Paper, PoD, PDF

All of the books we’ve published (whether as Crucible Design or LateGaming) have been less than 100 pages. In general, this has felt big enough for the game that was being written, and every time we start out with a new game, one of the earliest questions is “how big is the book?”

With the advent of PoD and the easy acceptance of PDF-only games, this question is now preceded by “are we making an actual book?” The major downside of printing a book is of course the up-front cost of printing, although once you get beyond a certain number of copies (usually around 1000 or so, depending on your printer) it becomes a lot more cost effective than any print-on-demand service.

In general, we prefer to have printed books, and we believe that most of our target market are the same. It’s a lot easier to play a game when the rules are in a book that can be easily handed from player to player, and a lot less exclusive than having the screen of a laptop on a the gaming table. However, people have printers (and printers in work) and some folks would rather save the money or environment by buying the PDF and printing out at their leisure.

Personally, I love buying books. I love the “new book smell”, the cracking that pages make when you first turn them, and reading something paper as opposed to on my screen. While I have no qualms about buying (or selling) titles on PDF, I will always want something on paper, and in my old age I like to have things that are quality. With any book, I prefer to buy hardbacks than paperbacks, illustrated over plain, and so forth. The caveat there is what my wallet can afford.

Which segues nicely to print-on-demand. No up front costs to the publisher, and a physical product in the consumer’s hand, which seems to be a good compromise. But you can’t stack it on the shelf in a shop and even knowing that the PoD quality has made these books virtually indistinguishable from offset printed ones, there’s always that little niggle of doubt about whether it’s as good as “the real thing”.

So, what does all this mean for LateGaming? It means that as much possible (which usually means budget allowing) we will offset print a Limited Edition of every game, hard-bound if possible, along with offering the books via print-on-demand and digitally via PDF.

Game book layout: the four parts

In trying to layout some of our recent game projects, I’ve noticed some common components in every book, which has led me to the conclusion that every game book really consists of four parts:

  1. Character Generation/Creation (Chargen)
  2. Game Rules
  3. Setting
  4. GM Section

Different games put these sections in different orders or interweave one or more of them into single sections, and put different levels of emphasis on each one. Some games even go so far separate those sections into different books.

Is there a right order for these? Although I’ve put them in an order above that is purely to show that they are four in number. Often Character Creation and Game Rules are intertwined, and the same with Setting and GM Section. Likewise, the GM Section will often contain Game Rules that are not applicable to players. Sometimes games will make the split into Player Section and GM Section, with sub-sections of Game Rules and Setting. Usually Chargen is bundled under the Player Section in that case.

Let’s take a few quick examples (from memory, so apologies if there are any inaccuracies):

  • GURPS – Chargen comes first, bleeding into Game Rules, and finally GM Section. There is very little Setting in the main book. Many supplements exist with Setting, and many of those also include extra Chargen, Rules and GM Section.
  • Pendragon (4th Ed) – Chargen is again first, bleeding into Setting. Then Game Rules, with more Setting, and finally a GM Section with more Setting. The Setting is tightly interwoven throughout the entire book, which is why Pendragon ranks highly in my estimation. Supplements follow that same pattern.
  • SLA Industries – Setting comes first, then Chargen and Game Rules, with many of the Rules surrounded and influenced by Setting. The GM Section is comparatively small.
  • 23rd Letter – A little bit of Setting, followed by Chargen and Game Rules and then a GM Section which includes more Setting (given the conspiratorial nature of the game).

I think what is important is that your game (or our games) consciously include all of these sections, whether or not they are labelled this way, or are separate sections. Any game will need to have components that fall under those four headings in order to be complete.

Do you have a preferred order for these? Seen a game which didn’t have all four? Is there one that must be there that I’m blatantly missing?

Ransom

The idea of ransoming game material is definitely new and innovative. It’s being done rather successfully by Greg Stolze for his Reign supplements and there’s a Delta Green book ‘Targets of Opportunity’ which is being funded this way as well.

Shane Ivey wrote:

“If we collect enough “pledges” through Fundable.com to cover the various and high costs of manufacturing “Targets of Opportunity,” we’ll do it now. For each pledge, we’ll ship you a copy of the book by priority mail. (Or by airmail for fans outside the U.S., but the pledge needs to be higher to make up for the high cost of shipping.)

If this doesn’t work, we’ll hold off on it until we save up enough cash the old-fashioned way to release it. That would be … later.”

The 1000 copies of Targets of Opportunity will generate probably $35 000 of revenue. Take away fees for (6) writers and (1) artist and the cost of printing and it’s a small profit for the company.

Would I pledge? Yeah, except it’s DG material which puts it safely in the hands of kinnygraham. I’d only be tempted to read it if I got it.

Some naysayers describe it as a begging bowl. I disagree. Palladium did a begging bowl previously where they asked their fans to just send them money, old socks or whatever because you love them so much. For that you got very little. This is simply pre-pledging for a book, making a tiny profit and making sure that if 1000 copies are printed, then there are enough people out there to buy them.

I think it’s a good plan, though obviously with the names they have involved and the following they have with Delta Green (now the de-facto modern Cthulhu setting), it’s about a million times easier. Greg Stolze does his Reign supplements for $1000 a pop which he tends to meet quite quickly.

This idea really meets up with the ‘1000 fans‘ which I wrote a couple of months ago. 1000 fans buying $100 worth of books from you every year is a living, no? And what is $100? A main hardback book and 5 or so small booklets? As I said elsewhere – this isn’t about scamming $100 out of every fan you have but of working hard, getting good quality books out there and reaping some rewards. Obviously the RPG market is a tiny fraction of the music market but for some, it just might work (especially when you consider I’ve spent probably £200 (nearly $400) on RPG books* in the last six months.

*Maxx supplement, Saipan supplement, Sufficiently Advanced, Deathwatch 2000 Supplement, Reign, Thousand Suns, Psi World, Grimm, Dark Heresy, GURPS WW2, another GURPS WW2 booklet, Will To Power, Godlike GM screen and about $100 of PDFs just for starters…

WotW: Earth – 21 Days of Invasion

The Narrator of the book was close to one of the arrival sites but this was not necessarily the most active site. He also spent more than two weeks (or a three week invasion) hiding in a collapsed house. He was not the first to discover the dead Martians at the end of the invasion and perhaps was even one of the last. We have to speculate what else happened during the time he was hiding and we have only the barest hints from the book

Week 1
This period is overshadowed by killing and destruction as the Martians make their presence known and start to cow the human populace and deter any efforts of the Military to gain any meaningful intelligence on their movements. The Martians spend this time constructing their machines to defend themselves and then set about building their towers and handling machines. The Humans, when they are roused from their overconfidence in the stability of their way of life are immediately routed and the roads fill with refugees. Some individuals attempt to hide among the ruins. Others still try to fight, joining the hundreds who have become an informal militia, both under-equipped and relatively low of morale considering the onslaught of crushing defeats. Armed with only relatively static and heavy guns, the defenders have to face the physical might of the Fighting Machines as well as the dreadful gaze of the Heat Ray and worse, the deadly caress of the Black Smoke.

Week 2
The Martians start to establish themselves and build their main factories. They shift their production facilities at the cylinders to constructing Handling Machines which process their raw materials as well as herd their ‘food’. They have built great cages into which the Fighting Machines deliver hundreds of frightened humans daily. The Handling Machines also start to collect and manufacture food for their human herds, raiding homes and shops at first and then upon analysis, producing it from the earth itself. These captive humans are under constant threat of death but after the first few days of captivity, their cries and wails die down as they become resigned to their fate. For those who misbehave, food and water are withheld from an entire group and that quickly becomes the leveller. Most relevantly, the Martians have exhausted all other food sources and start to feed upon their herds.

Week 3
The Martians are already deep in decline and the Red Weed itself seems to be suffering from a similar malady. Though the Martians never managed to adapt to our gravity, it is noted that they have become excessively lethargic, even their Handling and Fighting machine seem to spend long periods resembling statues. And in some cases, their installations are completely abandoned. Cage farms quickly become the domains of petty warlords, those who are strong and charismatic enough to mobilise a breakout and take control. At the same time, the remnants of a once-proud military nation start to creep back to their cities and resume their lives to find domains carved out of neighbourhoods, the destruction of homes and landmarks, the looting of food and valuables. There is also the opportunity cost as the British Empire is upon it’s knees at home and lifting it’s head once more just as news of it’s fall was reaching the colonies.

Subversion for Writers.

TUAW has a link about Subversion for Writers.

Subversion is a popular open source version control system. “It allows you to work collaboratively with folks on the same files (in most cases code) without fear of overwriting the work of others. Subversion tracks all the changes made to those files, and who did them, and allows you to rollback changes or branch off into different directions with having to worry about mucking up the entire project.”

The instructions are a little hairy if you’re not used to the Terminal but you can always get someone to help you set it up and host it for you.

(Now, wouldn’t it be neat if you could find a collaborative text editor (like SubEthaEdit) which also had automagical Subversion built in?)

What’s He Building In There?

Title taken from the Tom Waits track.


This blossomed into a scenario where the PCs were sent to investigate a murder. A newcomer to a quiet US suburb was found beaten to death in his home. The house is trashed. And no-one else in the suburb heard or saw anything…

Anyone else have done something similar? Created a scenario out of a song? (And let’s face it. this song is pretty much the entire inspiration for Desperate Housewives. Imagine the pitch – “It’s like that Tom Waits track….but with boobs!”

Archaeology

I spent a couple of hours in the attic of my parent’s house excavating some old books. I have a notion to sell some of them considering that I’ve not looked at them in a decade but as I continued to browse I don’t think I could find one that I would seriously get rid of. Games like “Chivalry and Sorcery” and “Bushido”. I know the last time I looked at this pile was around 1995 because the most recent game in the attic was Nightspawn by Palladium which was published in 1995. I moved out in 1996 and the books were put into storage (and to this day I’ve still not read Nightspawn).

More importantly were the other things I found. Games and stories I wrote nearly a decade before I put pen to paper for The 23rd Letter. Pictures I drew of “SuperTeams” from my superhero games. Maybe a photo or two of the notebooks I would bring with me to school (we’re talking about the 80s here) and spend my lunchtimes and free study classes writing game materials and stories in. All personal to me.

I’m going to bore the shit out of some of you by reproducing some of them here in a new category called “Archaeology” so you can avoid them if you like.

WotW: Earth – Art

Last night I commissioned two art pieces from Storn Cook for the upcoming War of the Worlds book. I really like Storn’s art (massive thread on RPG.net here) and he was very nice when I enquired about the commission and explained what I wanted, even going so far as to suggest additional things.

The ‘look’ of the Martian fighting machine is very important. We’ve seen the interpretations from the 1953 Paramount film and the 2005 Spielberg film as well as the very recognisable version from the front cover of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds ‘opera’. We need to take a different direction to all of these and start from first principles. We need something that looks in place in the start of the 20th Century but also Storn suggested we do an updated model which I find encouraging. I am now beside myself with impatience at what the result will be.

Some of the interior art from editions of the novel are striking. The theme of it being like a round hut on legs is peculiar as my impressions from reading is that the machines appear ‘cowled’. More on this later.

Things are moving along and we have a great vision for the book.

(Minor edit – fixed the link)
(Minor edit 2 – added in the RPG.net link)

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.