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.

ZOMBI PDF for download



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 🙂

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.


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.

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.

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 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!

    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.

    Diddlysquat is dead

    Mark notes that Diddlysquat is dead.

    I didn’t know much about it, to be honest but reading the testimony of specky I’m reminded of lots of the silliness that went on within Crucible Design.

    In the end, projects like this are fuelled by a small core of people (usefully termed schemers and collaborators.). Everyone else is pretty much surplus to requirements but as these types of projects tend to be started by friends, people can be a little over-cautious about being honest here. Allowing a project to slide (or worse fail) because you didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone who isn’t contributing seems silly on the face of it. But we all do it (at least those of us who are human have).

    The most annoying thing, when a project is failing or when someone is being asked to leave a project, is the tendency for some to be passively obstructive (or even actively destructive). I’ve seen this in the RPG industry as well as in The Real World. Failing to fulfill promises again and again, blame-shifting, becoming upset when duties are removed and yet, when the deadline comes, their inactivity causes the deadline to slide. Problems like this plagued our fanzine WildTalents and seriously delayed the production of every single book we ever published. And when I stopped propping people up, when I stopped doing the extra work to make things happen and when I refused to give credit where it was not due, then Crucible Design stopped producing books.

    Q-CON, another project I invested hugely in (I did the preliminary research, coving everything I could from WARPS, got the budget for Q-CON 1, got the people together, ran Q-CON 2 and 3) was always beset at the start of the year by people who had ideas but no intention of implementing anything or completing anything. It meant that with 2 weeks of preparation (after 6 months of failed investigation by two people), I was left alone to run the convention and pull together the Star Trek Megagame. I had to rely on real people with real commitment to fun to get it done (and a wave goes out to Colin and Lesley on this one). Sure, we pulled successful profitable conventions out of nowhere but it wasn’t without a committee that was so supportive that they had a vote of no-confidence in my ability to run the convention which failed:- probably more to do with the individuals not wanting to have to take over…

    When relations break down within a project, it’s best for everyone and best for the project if you take the steps to cut out the chaff. I wish I’d done it with Crucible wayback when but even now I find it hard to do probably because I’m not the git everyone thinks I am.


    Now, identifying the difference between chaff and rot is difficult and I dont think anyone gets it right. Chaff are just people who serve no useful purpose. They probably slow things up because in a democratic committee you have to ask everyone’s opinion. Chaff won’t kill you but they may bore you.

    Rot are much worse – these guys are scheming against you and against the success of the project. These are the guys who will plot with junior members of the team and do their best to make sure their name is at the top of the list of every success and nowhere to be seen in the event of a failure. When you’re presenting your work, at a convention or whatever, they’re usually the first out with the pen when someone asks for a book signing.

    In my experience, the speed at which someone gets a pen to sign a book at request is inversely proportional to their contribution to the book and you can be pretty sure that if someone has their pen out before you ask then they likely were responsible for delays in the product rather than actually being productive.

    Thing is: if you’re a team leader then you already know who the chaff and the rot are. Be honest with yourself.

    Riffing off The 23rd Letter.

    Ghost Whistler on came up with a23rd Planet idea. He was riffing off the name of the game but it made me think tonight about:

    The 23rd Century

    Fast forward events in The 23rd Letter by two hundred years and you might have an idea of a micro-setting.

    Making psychics essential for space travel just seems really tired these days, probably due to Warhammer 40K more than anything. If it were up to me I’d probably promote the importance of biofeedback in maintaining cold sleep. Telekinesis for construction or, probably more usefully, handling of hazardous materials or handling of goods in Zero-G and microgravity. Or the use of Regent for rehabilitation of criminals.

    And if everyone had the opportunity to be psychic? If it became a natural part of humanity? Would you see a Gattaca-type society where there was a psychic overclass? How would you FAKE psychic powers in order to advance? Would they have found ways to reduce the Stress involved in psychic abilities?

    What about alien contact? Do the aliens have psychics? Perhaps they do and thoughts are in their own language and therefore psychics are important as translators. Or are alien minds so different that they cause immediate madness in a psychic who tried to read one?

    r-Maps (and being ahead of the curve)

    There’s a lot of talk of relationship maps.

    I’ve been playing with the idea of an r-map for gaming for use as a player aid for a while. It really started to surface when playing superhero games in order to try and keep up with the number of NPCs and subplots that were going on. Later, in Ars Magica, it helped when we had troupe play in effect and every player had at least two characters. Otherwise I’d have gone insane. The thing about r-maps is that they depict the society around the character such as this r-map for NPCs in Amber. That said, I think an r-map showing only the public moods and behaviours would be entertaining.

    Now…where was I. Yes.

    In Qabal, an r-map was necessary for every player, because Qabal was all about troupe play. The first draft I did of this was circa 1996. I liked the imagery of it because the Tree of Life looked very much like a relationship map and I was quite pumped by that idea. Add to it a card-based mechanic inspired by Blackjack 🙂 using Tarot cards and you had what I thought would be a lot of fun. Likewise in the game currently known as “Illusion”, a relationship map is necessary for the PLAYER to keep track of his multiple characters and his relationships to them. How he perceived them. Same mechanic, standard playing cards but less connection to the Tree. But still a beezer idea.

    The difference being that a character sheet then appears more like a series of circles with interconnecting lines and the content of each “circle” is the entire character sheet for that individual. For NPCs, they would be much less detailed obviously and tend to be around the edges until adopted by a player (see, another cool mechanic).


    A posting on RPGnet asks us to describe our homebrew systems. I ended up describing mine thusly.

    • Maths-easy 2d6 comedy with either a manga/anime/mecha or zombie holocaust backdrop
    • Qualitative success using 0-3d10 to create a crunchy yet narrative system which can be considered both rules-lite and “a gun game” with a backdrop of psychic powers and government conspiracies dating back to the start of the 20th Century.
    • Card-based Blackjack-inspired mechanics with backdrop of both Stage Magic and Real Magic. Yes, that game. The one I’m infamous for not finishing…
    • [EDIT: Rules light, coarse skilled d6 mechanic – happy now?]

    It’s a fun thread, some inspiring stuff in there.

    Zombie Links

    This isn’t a link blog, but these are very fun.

    Zombie World News

    “ is , as far as we can tell, a departure from other Zombie sites. Instead of the reader being a spectator, we hope to draw you in through a dynamic, ever changing scenario, that you can just read and enjoy, or jump right in and contribute to yourself. The main focus is on the world wide impact and reaction to a credible Zombie virus. How countries deal with it. Become insular, close borders, increase security, quell panic, fear and paranoia, even make arrangements for undead disposal. We also want to touch on some often overlooked aspects of a Zombie rising. Such as, how do you cope with shooting someone? For most people it would not be like a shooting gallery. It would be horrific. Is there remorse? These were people, friends, neighbors. What is the personal toll? The psychological effect.”

    The Zombie Squad

    “Q: What is Zombie Squad?
    A: Zombie Squad is disaster preparation community.
    We focus our efforts towards promoting the importance of emergency preparation awareness and working with local communities around the globe to teach them what is needed to survive whatever crisis may come along like natural disasters or man made disasters. Our mission is to make sure you are prepared for any crisis situation that might come along in your daily life which may include your home being invaded by the undead menace. Zombie Squad also supports other local and international disaster relief organizations/charities. Check out our events page for the latest charity event we have coming up.

    Zombi Review

    Jeff Rients writes about 5 old games he feels were overlooked. While I can agree with the ancient (James Bond, Lords of Creation) and the venerable (SpaceMaster) and perhaps even the weird (SenZar – though I always thought it was an internet joke-meme) I was shocked and surprised to see number 5 on his list was … ZOMBI. Go read and give appropriate linkage willya. Jeff’s blog is one of the blogs I read with my morning cereal and it was very cool to see something I wrote just there. I was interested in the “5 old games” article anyway and BOOM, he surprises me with this nugget!

    He also liked the name “SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO” and sometimes I feel fortunate that I never completed the script for SpaceFleet HyperDimensional WarFortress 44 which I think was only mentioned in WildTalents 3 as:

    “Taking SNCC to the stars, SF44 brings you the background for the Archon War. The rag- tag remnants of a hundred worlds now follow the banner of Earth to grind the Horde under their Meka-Tek heels. New rules include starship and zero-G combat. New races and new guns!”

    Anyway, Thanks Jeff, for the review, the walk down memory lane and the description of LoC, which I’m going to chase in the IntarWebbage.

    TTN: Zombi

    Tonight at TableTopNorth, I decided to eschew my plans of running 2300AD because, simply, the setup is massive and I don’t know my players very well. They seemed to want an action game so I dug out a copy of Zombi, one of my own games, and decided to force them into some hot undead action.

    I decided to set it in late August of 1999. Mere weeks after the first recorded rising. Things were about to get ugly in the city (which the players decided was Kansas City) and the police force has been tasked with covering it up. They know the dead walk but there’s a pogrom on talking and desertion has meant that the City has had to hire private security companies to fill in.

    Througha combination of impro and planning, the players made up two characters. Jim Buin, a combat cameraman who spent years with the troops and has a recurring nightmare of Mogadishu and Frank Connor, his wealthy socialite anchor. They were dispatched to riots in town by the Head of News, Gaylen Ross. They’re given a official TV van and a big camera.

    In town, they fast-talk their way past a dumb uniform cop and find their way through the detritus of a deserted downtown to a riot scene. Ducking into an alley they encounter a half-corpse and decided to scale a fire escape to get a better view of the riot. Once upon the roof, they shoot a live feed of the police containing rioters, rioters who are under attack by another mob and to their horror they realise that this second mob are attacking, biting and eating the rioters!!!

    They watch in horror as a pair of SWAT vans arrive and 16 SWAT troops disembark, take up positions and summarily execute the rioters and the second mob. They’re horrified and try to escape but are apprehended by two SWAT cops who try to bring them back to their Lieutenant, a stressed out guy who will do what it is required to keep this shit under wraps. They encounter the still-moving other-half of the half-corpse…which is killed immediately by the SWAT officers (and gives the players the hint that head shots are where it’s at).

    While one of the officers is absent, they subdue the other, take his pistol and escape into the alleys with gunfire ringing in their ears. At one point, Jim breaks left and Frank breaks right. Frank reaches their van and tries to drive quickly though he’s clearly panicked and drives the can straight into a grocery store front. He’s concussed but rescued by Jim who throws the van into gear and gets them the hell out of there.

    While heading back to the city, they call in and Gaylen tells them to get out of the city. She’s leaving the station now with her fiancé using the traffic helicopter and suggests they do the same. They divert to the local gun store to find widespread looting and the gun store locked. Frank rings his father who suggests they make tracks to his ranch, 40 miles outside the city. They turn the van around and hit the freeway…Jim makes a call to an old army buddy who tells him to get out of the city and he’d call when he is in a position to give him a sitrep.

    …40 miles later they’re pulling up the long drive to the Connors Ranch. They open the front door and Frank is horrified to see the lobby is awash with blood. Jim immediately activates the centra locking on the van from his remote. Frank stumbles into the hall and spies his father, obviously injured, feasting on the remains of his younger brother. His father drops the body and starts to approach Frank and Jim. Jim fires warning shots at Mr Connors but he keeps coming, a murderous look in his eyes. They start to back away and Frank, already established as a rich but incredibly unlucky man, feels an icy hand on his shoulder – his father’s wife, Missy! Already blue from the rigor, she attacks him immediately. Jim, empties the pistol and hits nothing but air and nicks Franks ear and starts to run. Mr Connors is still approaching and Missy grabs Frank’s arm and bites down hard, taking a lump of flesh and gobbling it greedily down. Jim aims carefully and with a careful shot, takes Missy down with one shot to her temple, showering Frank with blood and gore. They back away from Mr Connors and make their way upstairs to his study where Frank says there are rifles and pistols. They’re watchful for the other members of the household – Frank’s sister Lucy, the two stablehands, the maid… – and once in the study they start ringing the other phone extensions in the house to see who answers. José, Ricardo and Lucy are in the stables! And unhurt!

    They secure the rifles and the pistols as Mr Connors starts to pummel on the door so they slide out onto the roof and drop to the ground and run to the van and load up. As they start the van, they notice Mr Connors and another walker coming out of the house. They wait til they are close by and BAM! reverse the van over them. They step out of the van and Frank shoots his father’s undead corpse a couple of times and, true to form with his bad luck, also manages to shoot out a tyre in the van. He also notes for the first time that there is blood pumping out of the bite wound on his arm….

    They make their way down to the stables to find José, Ricardo and Lucy who are very happy to see them and Jim immediately gets the two men to change the tyre. Frank’s arm is still bleeding profusely and Ricardo uses his animal nursing skills to suture the wound and bandage it up.

    Jim rings Gaylen. She’s about 450 miles north but needs to refuel and the only place is a small airfield about 60 miles away from the ranch. they decide to meet up. She tells Jim that the dead are walking, they kill and eat people. Those they kill, get up and kill. Jim looks at Frank very closely….

    And we finish up with them loading into the van….and heading for the airfield…..

    Origins of The 23rd Letter


    As mentioned earlier, it started out as a psionics ruleset for a sci-fi corporate espionage game called Syndicate which was masterminded by John. Syndicate was never published and indeed never went beyond a couple of dozen pages of brainstorming materials. I adapted some material from some of my earlier attempts at game backgrounds, mainly one called 8162AD where superhuman psychic investigators were sent to fight terrorists and criminals on an interstellar stage. But it went nowhere so…


    This was the first working name for the game. I got it from “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester who goes strangely uncredited in the Wikipedia article and I reckon Bester’s work had a lot to do with the film Minority Report (2002) but I digress. It fit and I used it.

    Right up until 2 days before we went to print, which was weeks and weeks after we’d started marketing the book.

    Cease and Desist

    Came the email. From some guy called James Hudnall. Remember this was before Wikipedia, before Google. This was early 1996, the dot-com boom wasn’t even there. Turns out he’d authored a comic book called Espers back in ’86 and he thought we were ripping him off. Our local comic shop had never heard of him or it. So we had to decide. I certainly didn’t have the money to fight a battle just for a name that neither of us owned, so I took the easy route and spent an evening thinking up new names. And one of them stuck.
    I eventually got hold of a copy of one of his Espers books and was quite happy that the name was the only similarity. They’re superhero comics, not comics about shadowy psychic conspiracies. They’re more Marvel/Image than Warrior/Vertigo if you know what I mean. Anyway, we changed the name and I don’t regret it one iota.

    The Project Sourcebook

    This unfinished work came out of a couple of years of writing part-time by half the team. Now I’m glad it was unfinished and unpublished (though it was released as a PDF for a while). It needs rewritten, heavily edited and heaps more content added.


    The 23rd Letter will be back on sale in the US with a couple of distributors. I’d like to hear from people who know of it, or who liked it. Or just if they read about it on this blog. I’m kinda upset that we’re not in the wikipedia article for Psionics (roleplaying games) but I’ll get over it.

    Crucible Design….looking back

    When we started out, we thought of several names for the company. One was Aes Dana Publications and another was Apocryphal Games. We played with FarTooReal, considered LeannanSidhe and with a group vote, settled on Crucible Design.

    We had a list of games (and supplements) we were going to produce:

    Syndicate (plus ‘World Conquest’ and ‘The System’)
    Cabal (plus ‘Not Alone’ and ‘Ordo Magnus’)
    Frontier (plus ‘Traders Tales’ and ‘The Ant Hill’)
    Awakenings (plus ‘High Seas’ and ‘Opus Dei’)

    plus some that never made it past initial ideas such as

    Silver Star
    Empire of the Stars
    Tir na’nOg

    I initially did a lot of writing for Frontier and Syndicate and a lot of reading for Cabal. We played $uper$ a few times and I ran a game of Empire of the Stars once as well.

    The first time I wrote anything for The 23rd Letter was when I started writing the psionics rules for Syndicate which was subtitled “ESPace”. I was more interested in the psionics stuff than I was in the whole game, to be honest.

    So…some time later, when none of the games listed above seemed to be completing, I wrote a separate background for this game about psychics and presented it to the group while at WARPCon one year. It was met with amazing resistance until I explained where I saw it going and what it was. It wasn’t one of the super, epic full-colour hardback games we planned to make – it was something however to turn Crucible Design from a group of people who thought about writing games to actually having a product. Eventually they agreed and we started working on the first edition by adding background materials and I laid it out on a UNIX workstation running Frame.

    Boom. We had a game.

    All of the games we eventually made were done like that. Little side games I was working on which were polished and finished so that we’d have something to publish!