Wednesday, August 23, 2017

GenCon 50, Monuments

Hi, there! Thanks for stopping by. I haven’t posted in quite a while, so I thought I’d share a few quick updates about what I was up to. I just returned from GenCon, where I spent four days running Alternity games, participating in the “GenCon 50” special presentation track, and meeting interesting people. Here are my ten takeaways from GenCon, in no particular order:

10. It was great to sit down side-by-side with Peter Adkison, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, and Jonathan Tweet to reminisce about the job of designing D&D 3rd Edition. I haven’t been in the same room with all four of those guys in almost twenty years. I know that the whole seminar was recorded; if you’re interested in D&D history and 3e in particular, I think it would be worth your time to track it down.

9. Pearl Street Pizzeria is one of Indianapolis’s hidden gems. I picked up pizzas there to bring to a game session we ran for a special backer, and I gotta say, that’s a damned good pie. I find myself doubting whether I should tell you about it, because I don’t want to see it buried under a Ram-like avalanche of hungry con-goers. Anyway, twenty beers on tap and the best pizza in Indy. You heard it here first.

8. No, Sasquatch Game Studio didn’t have a booth in the Exhibitor Hall this year. We didn’t have any new products to debut at the show, and without something new, we weren’t sure we’d see the sort of sales it would take to justify the expense of the booth. Instead, we focused on running Alternity with Baldman Games and the Herald’s Guild event management, and spent most of our time actually playing games for once. But there’s a good chance that we’ll try to booth-up again next year.

7. Wow, companies left money on the table this year. Paizo sold through their Starfinder stock on Thursday. Ditto Fantasy Flight Games with some of their new releases. I guess I’d rather sell out early than overprint for the show, but Thursday’s a little too soon to run out, isn’t it?

6. Flying in late on Wednesday is rough. I didn’t get to bed until 2 am on Wednesday night, and I had to get up a little after 6. Even without a booth to set up, it might be better to fly in on Tuesday.

5. There’s a great little game store called Good Games just a couple of blocks from the convention center. They ran a 40% off sale on Warmachine and Hordes during the show. I took the opportunity to break into a second faction: I now have a lot of Skorne to assemble and paint after I get through some more of my Menoth painting.

4. I happened to run into Mark Tassin of the Writer’s Symposium while looking for somebody else, and we had a great chat. I’ll be adding some Symposium panels to my schedule next year, somehow; I’ll also be trying to run games and maybe staff a booth!

3. The Baldman Games team at GenCon is first-rate. They’ve got a great set-up and they’re providing hundreds of tables of great gaming throughout the show. They really took care of us, even though our Alternity presence was small potatoes compared to D&D. If you’re looking for games to play at GenCon, you really should check out the Baldman Games events over in the JW Marriott.

2. I played Alternity with a lot of awesome gamers over the weekend. Every single player I had the pleasure of hosting at my table was smart, engaged, and happy to be there; when you’ve got a good table of players, running a fun game is a breeze. Thanks to any of you who might be reading this! You guys really made my show.

1. Wow, I think we’ve got something with Alternity. People picked it up fast, they had a lot of fun playing, and I heard the things every publisher wants to hear (“where can I get this?” and “when does it come out?”) Kudos to my fellow Sasquatch Steve Schubert for creating a great adventure; it was a little bit of a tight fit for a con slot, but the players seemed to enjoy it quite a lot and there were a lot of ways for those of us GMing to try out different endings.

Current Events
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Confederate statues and what to do with them. As it happens, I just finished reading Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels (a fascinating study of military leadership, as well as a great historical novel). As a history buff, my default position is don’t remove monuments. To me it seems like an effort to erase history, and I put a lot of stock in the Santayana quote about what happens to people who don’t remember history. But . . . then I thought about what it would be like to be a person of color who has to walk by a Confederate statue every day. And I also recalled that quite a few of those monuments were built by people in the early 20th century who were trying to rewrite history for their own purposes. Leaving the statues in place endorses the narrative of the Lost Cause, and that narrative’s done a lot of harm to a lot of people.

I do think that some Confederates deserve remembering. Robert E. Lee performed an enormous service to our country by convincing his fellow Confederates to lay down their arms; without his courageous choice to surrender at Appomattox the war could have tapered off into years of unrest, local uprisings, and guerilla fighting. James Longstreet endured vicious opprobrium for his support of recently freed slaves after the war; it seems to me he tried to atone for the part he played. Perhaps because of my recent reading of Killer Angels, I feel some compassion toward men who felt that they couldn’t participate in a war against their home states. People of the time saw their states like we see our country; Lee loved Virginia the way you love America. Could you imagine helping the United Nations to subjugate America, even if you thought America might be in the wrong? I wouldn’t want to make that choice.


Anyway, I guess I come down on the side of removing statues to places where they no longer symbolize state power. They don’t belong in courthouses or capitol buildings or maybe even city parks. Leave them in museums, battlefields, and cemeteries—and make sure the true story of those men, both good and bad, is told. And I wouldn’t destroy works of significant artistic merit. Stone Mountain is wrongheaded, but destroying that relief would be a terrible thing to do. Tell its story instead, including how and why it came to be built and why we would never build it today. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Relay For Life

I devote a lot of this blog toward talking about fun things like games, science fiction, beer, and baseball. Today I’m changing it up a little bit to take on a not-so-fun topic: cancer. I’m participating in my church’s Relay For Life team this year, and I’d like your support. Here’s the link to our team page:

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?fr_id=80595&pg=team&team_id=2120842

You can donate directly to the team by selecting the Donate button in the middle of the page, or you can credit me by selecting my name down on the team list and hitting the Donate button there. Either way is fine with me. I’m not keeping score—I sent my own donation right to the team.

About the Relay

The Relay For Life is a fundraising event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Team members take turns continuously walking a track or path for the duration of the event to signify that cancer doesn’t take a break—and neither should we. The Relay fundraising effort spans thousands of events in many different countries, but you’ll find me at the May 13th event at Auburn Memorial Field in Auburn, Washington. I’m participating as part of the Auburn First United Methodist Church team.

Why I’m Participating

Everybody has a cancer story—someone you know, maybe someone you care about deeply, has battled cancer. I want to tell you about three people today.

Paul Randles was a co-worker of mine at Wizards of the Coast, and a friend. We played together on the company softball team and shared plenty of after-game beers back in the day. He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever worked with—a great game designer and a man with a big, big heart. Paul was just 37 when he died from pancreatic cancer back in 2003, but his favorite saying has stuck with me in all the years since: Every day is Christmas! If you knew Paul, then you know he meant it every time he said it.

My Aunt Cathy was my mom’s older sister, and just about a second mom to me at times. She and my mom were inseparable, even if she did have that special older-sister talent for getting under my mom’s skin at times. There’s a great family story about fried oysters: When my mom and my Aunt Cathy were growing up, my grandmother sometimes served fried oysters for dinner, a meal that my mom just hated. Since my grandmother belonged to the “I’ll keep serving it until you finish it” school of thought, it always developed into a colossal row. Many years later, my Aunt Cathy admitted to my mom that she didn’t eat the oysters either. “How did you get away with it?” my mom demanded. “Easy,” said Aunt Cathy. “You always made such a fuss about the oysters that I quietly slipped them into my napkin and threw them away while everyone was paying attention to you.” Aunt Cathy was a lifelong smoker, and it finally caught up to her: lung cancer, Stage IV when it was diagnosed. She got a better hand than Paul did--almost a full lifetime before cancer took her--but I miss her.

And lastly there’s Kim, my wife. Her outcome is going to be a lot better than Paul’s or Aunt Cathy’s, thank God. But she’s fighting cancer right now. Back in November she was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer—the second time she’s had it. The first time (ten years ago) required a little bit of surgery, a few weeks of radiation, and years of taking Tamoxifen. This time around, Kim came down with a more aggressive type of cancer, so the oncologist recommended chemotherapy. In fact, I’m taking her to the hospital tomorrow for her sixth and final treatment of the “rough stuff”—the broad therapies that clobber all fast-growing cells and make someone feel sick and run-down. So, the good news is that we’re just a week or two away from Kim starting to really get her energy and health back. And she couldn’t have a better prognosis—the cancer was detected early and there are targeted therapies that’ll work on it, so we’re pretty much 100% confident that this will be a good outcome. But the reason she gets to win this fight is that smart people have directed money and resources toward R&D for early detection and effective therapies. And that’s where you come in.

Final Word

I find myself in the position of asking folks for money a lot. I’m the Finance Committee chairman at my church, and my partners and I at Sasquatch Game Studio run Kickstarter campaigns to crowdfund our game publishing. You might think that approaching people about opening up their wallets would be tough, and it is. But I put out the word anyway, because I believe I’m not just hitting up people for money: I’m making them aware of an opportunity that I think they’d want to know about. In the case of a game I’m publishing through Sasquatch, that opportunity is pretty tangible: you get a game. In the case of the Relay For Life, it’s the opportunity to be a part of the fight against cancer. So even if it’s just a few bucks, please—help us beat cancer once and for all!


Friday, March 10, 2017

Lethality in the Alternity Game

A little change of pace this time: I'm going to talk about some of the mechanics I'm working on for our new Alternity Science Fiction Roleplaying Game. We released a beta version of our Quickstart Guide, and we've been thinking hard about just how deadly deadly ought to be. (By the way, you can download the Quickstart Guide for free here: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/206864/Alternity-Science-Fiction-RPG-Beta-Test-Edition.

Lethality in Alternity

Since releasing the Beta test rules for the Quickstart Guide, we've seen some good discussion in a few different forums about the rules we’d created. We’re still looking for feedback on our game and we hope to incorporate some “lessons learned” into the Core Rules as we develop them, so we think it’s a *good* thing to see some of our assumptions challenged. One of those assumptions is, naturally, just how deadly guns ought to be to player characters.

If you haven’t looked at the Alternity Quickstart Guide, most of this probably won’t make much sense: This is for folks who are wondering what we did and why.

First Assumption: Let me start with one key assumption you might not agree with: Heroes are special. We’re not trying to model real-world gun lethality for the PCs. We’re trying to model action-movie, cinematic lethality. Heroes in action movies rarely drop from one shot… but mooks and civilians usually do. The typical hero’s durability track might have 6 to 10 boxes, but a mook or noncombatant might have only 2 boxes. And those boxes might have lower values than the hero’s wound boxes. For example, Dr. Ayers in the Magellan adventure has two boxes: 1-9, and 10+. That’s much more vulnerable than we want heroes to be, but that’s okay—she’s not the star of the show.

Second Assumption: Average hits produce injuries; it takes Excellent or Stellar hits to generate wounds that might be instantly life-threatening. So damage ranges for Average hits shouldn’t reach values that might punch out a hero.

So, with those two basic assumptions out of the way, let’s look at the real interaction people are curious about: one hero shoots another hero, or a NPC who’s supposed to be just as tough as a hero. (That isn’t a typical foe in our Alternity action movie, BTW—most mooks should be a lot more brittle.) So what are the odds of one-shotting the near-peer foe?

Lucky 13

The key number here is 13. If a weapon hit gets into the 13+ damage range, you’re in the wound band right before the punch-out at 16+. An unarmored character with one wound box at 13-15 is at risk of instant punch-out from any weapon that can deal 13 damage, because a Stellar hit automatically deals 2 boxes of damage. The first box of damage marks off the 13-15 wound box, the second ticks off the 16+, the bad guy drops. Assuming you get a Stellar success in the first place, that means:

Plasma Pistol (2d8) = 15% chance for one-shot
Heavy Pistol (1d8+6) = 25% chance for one-shot
Battle Rifle (1d8+8) = 50% chance for one-shot
Sniper Rifle (1d8+10) = 75% chance for one-shot

Remember, those are the same chances that Badguy Miniboss punches *your* ticket if he gets a Stellar success on your character. Good thing you’ve got a hero point or two just in case, right?

The conspicuous absences from that short table above are the weapons that max out at 12 or less damage: the light pistol (1d6+5), the laser pistol (1d6+6), the combat knife (1d4+5), etc. They can’t one-shot an “Evil PC,” but I’ll note again that they can certainly one-shot Dr. Ayers or the typical mook—because two boxes of damage kills a mook, and Stellar hits produce two boxes of damage. Whether those light weapons should be able to one-shot your PC is a fair question; maybe we should nudge them toward that magic 13 as a maximum damage roll, although it might make the heavier weapons too deadly for our taste.

Some weapons—shotguns and blast cannons, for example—routinely produce 2 wound boxes under the right circumstances. For a Stellar hit, that increases to 3 wound boxes… which means that suddenly the magic number of 13 is actually a magic number of 10 for characters with one wound box at the 10-12 band. A Stellar hit from a shotgun at close range has a 50% chance to one-shot because of that. And *any* close-range hit from a shotgun punches out a mook or noncombatant.

In Summary

Overall, how close did we get on the lethality? Well, you can be the judge of that. I’m reasonably happy with the chances we’ve described above: Some hero in the party receives a Stellar hit from the bad guys in just about every gunfight, and we don’t want a good roll from the GM to be an automatic death warrant. And hits against non-heroes tend to punch ‘em out on any Excellent success with a halfway decent damage roll, which also seems good to me.

Closing Thoughts

There are two lessons I learned from writing all this down. First, we probably ought to look a little closer at heroes with 2 boxes in the 13-15 wound band. That’s pretty good, and maybe we were a little generous with that. Second, the laser pistol and light pistol might want a wee bit of a boost to threaten a 13 on a max damage roll. But those are pretty straightforward adjustments as we continue to develop the Alternity game.

(Hmm, weirdly enough the right way to boost the light pistol might be to use a damage range of something like 1d10+3. That d10 looks wrong as a damage expression for a small weapon, but what we’d really be saying is that your .25 cal pistol only has a 10% chance of one-shotting as compared to the 25% chance for a heavy pistol. Have to think more on that!)

Thanks for helping us to dig in on our new rules set—and thanks for caring enough to share what you think about Alternity!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kipling and Casablanca

Welcome back! I see that I’ve let a couple of weeks slide by since the last post. Time is a serious constraint for me these days: I’m finishing up a contract gig with En Masse that keeps me out of the house from 8 am to 6 pm every day, I’m doing design work and Kickstarter preparation for my upcoming Alternity sci-fi game, I’m shepherding my Plan Number B expansion for Ultimate Scheme through art and layout, and I’m working on the second draft of my novel Restless Lightnings. 

With all that going on, blog posts tend to fall to the bottom of the stack. I guess the “good” news is that my contract at EME is winding up, so I’ll be able to devote 50 more hours a week to my writing and my own game design. I can use a few weeks to catch up on my various projects before the next contract rolls around, although I have to admit that I’ll miss that regular paycheck. That’s the life of a writer, I guess.

I Don’t Know, I’ve Never Kippled

I’ve been spending a few hours here and there over the last couple of months reading through Rudyard Kipling’s poetry because I’ve been looking for catchy turns of phrase I might use as titles in my Sikander North series. The first title, Valiant Dust, is drawn from the Kipling poem “Recessional.” The second title, Restless Lightnings, comes from the poem “The Islanders.” Then I discovered that I’d inadvertently established a “personality trait-inanimate object” naming system in my first two titles, and I needed to find a third turn of phrase that followed the established system. Naturally, finding just one more that suited me proved much harder than I’d expected! I’ve read dozens of Kipling poems in search of the right bit of verse.

Kipling is a writer not remembered kindly in many quarters these days. Yes, it’s tough to get around the jingoism of “South Africa” or the racism of “The White Man’s Burden.” But Kipling loved India enough to write Kim and The Jungle Book. And the man who wrote “Buddha at Kamakura” was no Christian supremacist. That last one is worth a read if you’ve never run across it. I’ve been thinking about it for days. I'm beginning to think that Kipling was a much more complex guy than we give him credit for nowadays.

I did finally find a title phrase I like, but I’m going to keep it to myself for a little bit longer. Book 3 is still a long ways away! If you’re curious, though, you might try reading “The Destroyers.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the heading… it’s an old, old punchline. The joke begins: “Do you like Kipling?”

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I watched The Maltese Falcon for the first time on Saturday evening. It’s been on my list of movies to watch for years now—I’m something of a Humphrey Bogart fan and I just hadn’t checked “the Black Bird” off my list yet. I’m afraid the movie just didn’t do much for my wife or my mother-in-law, but I liked it well enough, especially the great dialogue between Sydney Greenstreet’s “Fat Man” and Bogart’s Sam Spade. Casablanca, Key Largo, The African Queen, and The Caine Mutiny still retain their top billing at the top of my Bogart list, but I liked seeing Bogart play a quick-thinking, resourceful troublemaker. Sam Spade’s not as cynical or world-weary as other iconic Bogart characters, although I suppose that The Maltese Falcon was early in Bogart’s career.

(Note to self: Track down The Big Sleep sometime. Still need to check that off, too.)

I don’t know if this is official writer advice or not, but I’ll recommend it anyway: Read and watch some of the classics. Casablanca’s dialogue is pure genius; it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time if you haven’t ever seen it, because you’ll learn something about snappy and unforgettable dialogue if you pay attention. Heck, The Caine Mutiny’s court martial scene did “You can’t handle the truth” to perfection forty years before A Few Good Men.

So, there you go: Read old poems. Watch old movies. You might learn something!



Monday, February 6, 2017

Rich's Teenage Ten Albums

There was an interesting question circulating around Facebook a couple of weeks ago: What 10 albums most affected your teenage years? I’ve been thinking about this one off and on for days, trying to remember what was really important to me when I first started listening to “my own” music and developing my tastes. Naturally, I decided to answer the question here rather than answer it on Facebook—why waste a good blog topic on a single post?

Let me establish a couple of things right up front. First, I became a teenager on October 1, 1979 (yeah, I’m getting old). I turned 20 on October 1, 1986. But some albums on this list predates that 7-year window because I tended to pick up records that had songs I liked, regardless of whether they were current—I was starting my collection with stuff that was in some cases ten years old already. Second, being a big sci-fi and fantasy nerd, I naturally zeroed in on any album that had a science fiction or fantasy theme to it. Teenage rebellion wasn’t really my thing, sorry.

Anyway, here’s my list. Enjoy!

10. The Wall (Pink Floyd). If you were a schoolkid in 1979, “Another Brick in the Wall” was your anthem. I listened to this album a lot in college, but I long ago decided that I like Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon, and Meddle way, way more than The Wall. It’s just too damned dark for me to really enjoy listening to it.

9. The Game (Queen). In 7th grade I fell in with three good friends, and the four of us played D&D together throughout high school. I didn’t like “Another One Bites the Dust” (and still don’t, Queen was so much better than that), but we killed a lot of monsters to that song. And there was an off-track on the album called “Dragon Attack,” which as you might imagine was pretty popular at the table too.

8. Rumors (Fleetwood Mac). My discovery of Rumors just squeaks into my teenage years. In my college days I spent entire semesters drinking beer and throwing darts at a dart bar called Ton-80. They played Rumors just about every night in that place. Everyone knows the mega-hits on the first side, but I always liked the second side better; “Gold Dust Woman” and “The Chain” are serious, powerful songs.

7. Heavy Metal (various). The movie Heavy Metal came out in 1981. Thanks to the wonderful magic of HBO, I eagerly watched a rated-R sci-fi cartoon with a great rock and roll soundtrack. I guess I’ve outgrown a lot of the songs from the collection (and the drug jokes and animated sex scenes), but to this day I love Donald Fagen’s “True Companion.” 

6. Synchronicity (The Police). The Police owned the charts for a couple of years when I was in high school. I wasn’t a huge Police fan, but when they came to Atlantic City, I saw an opportunity to impress a girl I wanted to impress, so I went. I had to take my sister and her friend too, but that was okay—I saw the Police Synchronicity tour. 

5. Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie). Let’s Dance was Bowie’s giant hit album during my teenage years, but I was always drawn to his earlier stuff. God, Ziggy Stardust is a great album. I can listen to “Starman” or “Moonage Daydream” all day long and not get tired of ‘em.

4. Decade (Steely Dan). I often started my exploration of different bands by picking up a “Best of” album. Steely Dan’s Decade compilation was the one that converted me into a lifelong Steely Dan fan. I bought all their studio albums on vinyl, then bought ‘em again on CD. I think Steely Dan is the only band I can say that about. If I had to pick a favorite Steely Dan album, I’d say Aja—it’s simply perfect. But they’re all good. I’ve also had the good fortune to catch Steely Dan in concert a couple of times.

3. Fire of Unknown Origin (Blue Oyster Cult). Remember that sci-fi thing? Well, a heavy metal band with science-fiction themed albums was pretty much sure to win over teenaged Rich. Fire of Unknown Origin was BOC’s big commercial success, and put them on the map at exactly the right time for me to notice. From there, I picked up Cultosaurus Erectus and Agents of Fortune and loved those albums too, although these days I think Spectres is their best. I’ve seen BOC play a couple of times—they still tour, believe it or not! 

2. Led Zeppelin IV (um, Led Zeppelin). I bet I don’t have to tell you about Led Zeppelin IV. Let’s just say that “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Battle of Evermore” hit my not-so-hidden Tolkien geek right between the eyes (although “Misty Mountain Hop” really doesn’t have anything to do with The Hobbit). Anyway, this was another soundtrack to those D&D games of my teenage years.

1. The Yes Album (Yes). When I turned 14, I got my very first album: The Yes Album. It was a gift from my Uncle Jeff. Jeff was a music guy and he knew I was into science fiction, so he figured a little progressive rock would be up my alley. Turns out he was right. I didn’t know a thing about Yes before I got the cassette, but I listened to The Yes Album until I wore out the tape. When I wrote The Last Mythal trilogy, a book about elves in the Forgotten Realms, I pretty much listened to Close to the Edge and The Yes Album continuously to put me in an elf-y frame of mind. Yes actually came through Seattle a couple of years ago with a show in which they promised to play The Yes Album in its entirety, and I couldn’t talk anyone into going with me. I should’ve gone by my darned self.

These ten albums aren’t necessarily my top ten right now. My tastes have broadened over time, and believe it or not I don’t just listen to prog-rock all day. Anyway, I had fun thinking up this list, and maybe I reminded you of some albums you used to love when you were a teenager. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Studio Ghibli, Steampunk

On Saturday, I did something that I hardly ever do anymore: I sat down and watched a DVD. These days, it’s so much easier to just wander over to whatever’s playing on the movie channels or to check out On Demand or Netflix. Somewhere along the line I became too lazy to actually get up, root through the DVD collection, pick out a disk, turn on the Blu Ray player, and then remember which input mode on the TV brings up the player. Fortunately my daughter Alex was home, and she wanted to watch some anime and spend quality time with her sister Hannah before going back up to school. She decided to watch Princess Mononoke.

I watched Princess Mononoke once before, sometime back in the late ‘90s. I didn’t remember it all that well and what I did recall was that it was confusing (hey, it’s been like twenty years), so I tried to watch it a lot more carefully this time. It’s a really strange story, with lots of morally gray characters. In some ways, there isn’t really a villain—even the lady who runs Iron Town and seems to be doing the most villainous things in the story is a protector of lepers and mistreated women. We’re really used to Westernized story arcs and roles in our entertainment, and it’s a bit of culture shock to be immersed in a story told in a different way.

 It was especially fun to watch Hannah (an 18-year old anime fan) become engrossed in the story. She’d never watched Princess Mononoke before. Early on, I could tell she was really struggling to digest the conflicting messages about the characters and their motives. But she was completely hooked halfway through, and by the end she was literally sitting on the edge of her seat (and observed at one point, “Okay, now this is terrifying.”)

I’ve only seen a half-dozen or so of the Studio Ghibli movies: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. Of those, I’d say my favorite is Castle in the Sky (possibly the best steampunk story anyone’s put on film so far). It’s also the most conventional (well, Western conventional) story arc of those half-dozen movies. It makes me wonder if I like it best because it’s delivering a story in the format I’m most used to, or if I like it best because I like the steampunk world in which it takes place.

Speaking of steampunk: Being a gamer, I also find myself wondering what’s the most definitive steampunk/anime RPG experience out there. Big Eyes, Small Mouth comes to mind, but it’s not really focused on steampunk. Castle Falkenstein and Space:1889 are good steampunk settings, but they’re also old. Where’s the 21st-century RPG that provides the definitive steampunk adventure? It seems like a real oversight on the part of tabletop RPG publishers everywhere. Maybe I’ll do something about that as soon as I get a suitable window in my schedule.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cover Reveal, Civ VI, Plan Number B

Welcome back! Three thoughts for today: Valiant Dust cover, Civ 6, and Plan Number B.

Valiant Dust Cover Reveal

Okay, so I know I mentioned Valiant Dust just last week, but this is pretty cool: Tor revealed the cover for my book today! I am super-happy with the artwork and the snazzy cover design work (and Mike Stackpole’s generous testimonial is double-super cool). Here’s a link if you’d like to go have a look for yourself.


I love the cover. Hope you like it too!

Civilization VI

I’ve been a big fan of the Civilization franchise for something like twenty years now. I pretty much run out and buy each new edition as soon as I can find the right moment to pick up a twenty-hour-a-week habit for a couple of months. So I’ve been happily exploring Civilization VI for the last month or two (at substantially less than twenty hours a week, since I am insanely busy these days). I’m still forming my impressions of how the newest offering stands in comparison to previous versions, but I generally like it so far. I like laying out districts for my cities, I like the civics and government, I like the lower number of units on the board, and I like the mix of strategic and luxury resources. It’s a fresh new take on the series, which is probably good—it would have been very hard to “out-Civ 5” the Civ 5 game.

One thing I wish the diplomacy interface let you do: I wish there was more of a “same to you!” function available. When a NPC leader Denounces me, I want a button right there on that screen to Denounce the guy right back. And when a NPC leader asks to build an embassy in my capital, I want an option that says, “Sure, if I can build one in yours.” In the mid- to late game NPC leaders *never* let me build embassies. It’s hard not to take that personally.

I’ll touch on Civ VI a little more as I play through a couple more games, but so far I’ll give it a thumbs-up.

Plan Number B

You Ultimate Scheme fans out there will be happy to know that I’ve got a rough design hammered out for Plan Number B, the expansion deck for Ultimate Scheme. We’re lining up artist Claudio Pozas to do our card illustrations again, and we’re playtesting right now. Plan Number B introduces 5 new factions, 3 new ultimate schemes, and a couple of new X-factors. The biggest new elements of the expansion are a brand-new scheme deck (Power schemes) and the introduction of the Interpol Agent (that mysterious pawn from the original box), plus plenty of Action cards to support the new stuff.

I generally feel that game expansions ought to offer something besides just “more,” so you’ll find that the Interpol Agent provides you with a new complication to scheme around (and a new weapon to use against your rivals). The Power schemes are built around a theme of controlling the Interpol Agent and accomplishing special “mission” schemes that offer valuable new abilities as rewards. With a little luck we’ll have Plan Number B finished up in about 4-6 weeks. We’ll print and ship it very quickly after that, since we’ll be using a print-on-demand vendor for this (it’s a pretty small print run).

That’s all for now!  



Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Look!

Hi, everybody! Welcome to my newly updated blog for 2017. As you can see, I made a few changes to the template, updated my profile, and came up with a new name. Atomic Dragon Battleship was fun, but it wasn't particularly clever or any kind of play on my name, so I decided to up my game a bit. I've never actually been to Bakersfield, but it rolled off the tongue better than Baker City (it's in Oregon, and I have been there). I would have called it Baker Street after Sherlock Holmes' famous address, but Jeff Grubb kind of beat me to it with his Grubb Street blog. So Baker's Field seems okay for now.

I'll try to keep my posts shorter and more frequent than in the past. So, without further ado, here are three things I'd like to share to start the year.

Valiant Dust in November

I'm busy working on a new series of military-themed science fiction novels for Tor Books. The first one is entitled "Valiant Dust" (it's a reference to a Kipling poem), and it'll be out early in November (2017). I've actually been done with the book for more than a year, but publishers have schedules to keep, and I had to wait for a slot to open up. Valiant Dust (and its sequels) tell the story of Sikander North, an officer from the colony system of Kashmir serving in the star navy of the Commonwealth of Aquila. I'm pretty proud of it and I think it's a good read! I'm now working on book 2 of the series, working title of "Restless Lightnings" (another Kipling reference).

Hired Gun at En Masse

Back in September, my friend and former WotC colleague Daneen called me up because her employer En Masse Entertainment (publishers of the popular TERA MMORPG) had just landed a big new localization project. Daneen needed writers, stat! So for the last few months of 2016 (and the first couple of months of 2017) I've been working in a contract gig with EME to help bring a Korean game to the US market. I don't speak a word of Korean, but fortunately we're working off files that have already been translated. 

One of the interesting parts of the experience is that I'm working in downtown Seattle for the first time since moving out to the Northwest in 1997. I catch the train in Auburn at 8:01, I debark at King Street Station around 8:35, and I walk a short mile to the En Masse office (3rd and University), arriving a few minutes before 9:00. It's strange to be a non-driving commuter! I only wish the train ride were a little longer so that I could do some serious writing in transit.

Warmachine

At GenCon this year, fellow Sasquatch Dave Noonan persuaded me to buy into Privateer Press's excellent Warmachine Miniatures game. I'm still learning how to play, but I'm having a ton of fun assembling and painting minis again--it's been a good 15 years since I did any painting at all. My faction is the Protectorate of Menoth. Here's a look at my Vanquisher (I use an alternative paint scheme featuring off-white and Prussian blue, just to be creative).


That's all for now!