Busy busy busy


At last! I’ve finally polished off the text for the next version of Fatescape – it’s basically FATE Core with a few added skills and a new magic system and a whole load of Planescape bumf included – so all I need to do is sit down for a few hours and drop it into a pdf layout and we should be good to go!

It could do with a decent infusion of Planescape flavour, I think, and I need to transfer more of the custom stunts across from the previous version, and I should write up some sample adversaries, and the magic needs examination… but by and large it’s at the point now where I’m tinkering rather than creating from scratch.

Big Pulp: Catskin

My short story The Canau Deception has been published in Big Pulp magazine, in the Summer 2013 anthology entitled Catskin. I’ve got my author’s comp copies but I’m not sure if its available to the general public yet – but when it is, you should all get a copy! You’ll be able to find it formatted for your e-reader of choice here, eventually.

Also, they’ve agreed to publish another short story of mine – Won’t Be Missed, about a wizard and his super-strong ex-girlfriend and the fight they have – some time in 2014.

Low Life

Continuing my publishing credits: I entered the Low Life, High Adventure contest run by Andy Hopp over at Mutha Oith Creations and my story Not So Smart scored me a place in the anthology!

If you’re not familiar with Low Life as a setting for RPGs, I highly recommend it – I originally only spun by the contest page because Andy was giving away the setting book as a free pdf, and I love free stuff, but once I’d read it I knew I had to enter. Over on Something Awful, someone described Low Life as “Gamma World meets Fraggle Rock, plus butt jokes” which is entirely accurate and still undersells how cool it is.

It’s a shame the Kickstarter for a new rulebook didn’t hit the ‘FATE version’ level, since I’m not a huge fan of either Savage Worlds or Pathfinder, but I reckon I’ll get my money’s worth just reading the pdfs as they arrive in my inbox.


Speaking of ‘getting my money’s worth from just reading’, I finally got around to backing Chuubo’s Marvellous Wish-Granting Engine – the latest work from the superlatively gifted Jenna Moran – and I’m so glad I did!

I mean, the basic premise doesn’t really sit well with me: it’s pastoral-style gaming, slow-paced and gentle; the main protagonists are all teenagers; and the sample campaign strongly expects you to play pregens rather than original characters.

But the execution! The pastoral style works for the kind of stories the game wants to tell (and there are other options, which as far as I can tell no one has seriously looked at), the pregens are without exception bloody fantastic – my personal favourites being Nightmares’ Angel, the Troublemaker, and the Prodigy – and… I still don’t care for teenage PCs* but I’ll deal. I haven’t wanted to play a game so badly in a long time.

*Says the man playing a teenage PC in an online Monsterhearts game. I think the difference is that in Monsterhearts the game tends to focus on a spiral of failure and doom, and watching the in-crowd self-destruct because they’re all terrible people is always a good time.

Shadowrun Returns

And another Kickstarter I backed is released today! I’ve got plans for the campaign editor already, so we’ll see if I can find the time to actually finish a module for the first time ever.

…oh, and I got engaged too. =3

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Hint Hint

After reading this spoiler-filled but very funny dismantling of the Dark Knight Rises, I started thinking about foreshadowing in fiction. I’m comparing and contrasting three broad methods, here – there may well be additional ways to foreshadow that I’m not thinking of, but this is me just kicking an idea around rather than writing with academic rigour, so.

The Screenwriter’s Boomerang is the term used in the linked review, which I think is a fantastic description of what it is: it’s big, it’s heavy, and you know it’s coming back later. It’s the sort of foreshadowing so heavy it’s almost fourth-wall breaking – a little note to the audience that says “Keep an eye on this; it doesn’t look important now but it will be later!”

The Lego Mystery is a phrase I’ve coined to describe a lot of contextless detail, called out by the narrative, that you have to trust will be assembled into something coherent by the time the arc finishes. You get one brick at a time and no real guidance on how they go together, so you have to use your imagination. It sort of revolves around the question “Is this incongruity part of the plot, or is it just an everyday oversight? Is this plot hole meant to be here, or is it an accident?” I first saw this in anime, where you can be barraged from episode one with things that make no sense but will be explained later (you hope) but it also pops up in Inception, in pretty much every plot-generated-on-the-fly roleplaying game ever and (really badly) in Lost.

Chekhov’s Gun is the classic example of this sort of thing – a gun is loaded in the first act, not mentioned in the second, and used in the third. I think it incorporates the previous two, in a way: Lego mysteries are a hundred little Chekhov’s guns – Chekhov’s shotgun, if you will – while the screenwriter’s boomerang is more of a Chekhov’s elephant gun. But I’d like to keep Chekhov’s gun in its own category because unlike the other two it’s understated*. The setup needs to be simple enough that it doesn’t draw undue attention, but resonant enough that when the payoff arrives the audience immediately flashes back to the setup and realises how clever you were.

*I say understated. I might actually mean ‘really sodding difficult’.

The Sherlock Holmes Fuck You is how to foreshadow badly. The audience are presented with a mystery, a bunch of clues and invited to speculate on their meaning. Then the sleuth arrives and solves the mystery in an unexpected manner by using a clue the audience was never presented with. It’s shooting someone in the third act with a gun that has never been mentioned until now. I remember this happening a lot when I read the old Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories – hence the name – but that was fifteen years ago and I was on a lot of post-appendectomy drugs so I might be mistaken. On the other hand, the Hound of the Baskervilles episode of the modern Sherlock is a textbook model of this so I might not be mistaken after all.

There’s a principle in roleplaying games, which I think holds true in primarily visual media like TV, films and comics as well, that anything the narrator goes to the trouble of describing (or that the camera takes the time to observe) has to be important. In TV and film this is also reinforced by the soundtrack – if you watch CSI you can always tell when a detail is important because the music guy adds a sting when the camera sees it. This makes subtle foreshadowing really difficult – the question in the mind of the audience is not so much ‘is this important?’ but rather ‘how is this important?’ And that means that screenwriters and GMs need to adapt their foreshadowing style rather than just hanging lampshades on things which are going to make a return appearance later.

End Note: Kill Bill is a fantastic example of this kind of storytelling. Almost every single scene in those films is either a setup, a payoff, or both. Anything which isn’t, is an illustration of character. Which reminds me of a comic-writing maxim I once read: every panel should advance the plot, show character, or both. You can apply the same thinking to scenes in a film or locations in a dungeon adventure or pretty much any other form of entertainment. Advance plot, show character, or cut it.

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So, what’s been going on since I last updated?

Well, Purple Mountain X has been finished off – despite a load of extra work being needed on the stat blocks to make it more dangerous, it seems that the man at Purple Duck was pleased enough to offer me a second piece. That is now the Crimson Caves, a stand-alone dungeon for level 1 characters which I’m having trouble rounding up people to playtest. Still, it’s pretty much finished except for a little polishing.

I’ve also (today!) finally finished the overhaul of the magic system for Fatescape. Now all I’ve got to do is add it to the main file, rewrite the rules so they’re easier to understand, and redo the Equipment section according to the notes I’ve already got. Man, this fantasy heartbreaker thing is hard. (On the plus side it’s back to a playable state again, so maybe I’ll run another playtest game.)

What else? Another short piece of mine is being published in Schlock Magazine, and I’m waiting to hear back on two other submissions – one is a writing contest which I have no hope for at all, but since the prize was £1000 I figured it was worth a stab anyway, and the other is a pulp fiction story for royalties (i.e. bog all) which I reckon is much more likely to make the cut.

Oh, and I reckon I might start my own pulp fiction publishing enterprise. All I need is £800 and a name…

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Purple Mountain

Well, that’s Purple Mountain Level 10 (a Pathfinder dungeon written for Purple Duck gaming) finished and under the editor’s red pen even as I write. It clocked in at 35,000 words in the final analysis, but we’ll see how much of that survives the transition to the final version.

Still, one more thing with my name on.

False Idols

I wrote a modern-day pulp story for submission to an anthology produced by Pulp Empire, featuring a hyper-competent lawyer, a Chinese criminal mastermind, a psychic Russian, and an indestructible idiot who can also shoot fire. It’s modern-day, fast-moving, high-action and ridiculous, but I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing they’re looking for. Oh well: just got to run it past a bunch of test-readers to get some feedback, polish it up a bit and submit. Fingers crossed.

More Writing!

I have so many ongoing projects! Including one which I started in response to feedback on a previous piece which said “nothing happened for 10,000 words”. (Fair criticism, really. Sigh.) So this one is split into 1000-word segments, and something happens in each one. It’s my homage to the Traveler in Black, which I’m very deliberately not re-reading in order to avoid inadvertent copying. On the plus side, short works are easy to finish so it’s unlikely that this one’s going to get put aside halfway through.

Burning Wheel Now Burned Out

We finished up the BW game we were playing – it was fun, although I put more of that on the group I was playing with than any properties of the system itself. I still think it’s fundamentally flawed in a lot of ways.

Maybe I’ll try to start a Burning Empires game with the same group. Maybe I’ll test-run Fatescape again. (The all-new magic system is about 50% complete.) Maybe I’ll try to keep Fridays free for socialising. Truly I am a creature of unlimited whimsy.

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A Journey Home for Christmas

This was my entry for the office newsletter Christmas short story competition. It didn’t win, so I’m sharing it with the world.

A Journey Home for Christmas

The grand audience chamber does not seem to move. Gravitic panels reduce the inertia of the four building-sized engines of the Gaxian space-cruiser Gargantuan to little more than a tendency for the unwary to spill their drinks.

Dread Emperor Zorgax, Fist of Devastation, Immortal Ruler of the K17 Quadrant, Chosen One of the Unspeakable Squid-God, is coming home for Christmas.

Not to the palace-world of Spiff, where nothing exists except to serve his whims. Nor to any one of his innumerable pleasure domes, each occupying some of the most desirable real estate in the galaxy. No, Zorgax’s destination is an unmarked house, on a quiet street, on an unremarkable ball of dirt in a system off-limits to all.

This year, Christmas is at his mother’s.

Zorgax – a bear of a man with a bristling beard – stands in the grand audience chamber and considers the empty void on the other side of the monomolecular glass. He could sit on the gothic throne and regard the same view, but while the steel seat is a powerful statement of might it is also criminally uncomfortable. Cushions are not an option for a serious Dread Emperor, so Zorgax stands.

“We will be entering orbit in ten minutes, Dread Emperor.” The lackeys all look the same to Zorgax; generations of selective breeding have given them all the same unctuous unobtrusiveness. He flaps his hand in dismissal.

Zorgax paces. He pours himself a glass of some alien liquor and swirls it: the luminous teal concoction clashes terribly with his blood-coloured imperial regalia but it does refract the light in an impressive way. This year… this year will be different.

This year the bomb bays of the Gargantuan are crammed with gift-based warheads – surely one will satisfy his aunt.

This year he has had the finest minds of the empire calculate the optimal cooking time for a turkey of any given weight, although the mighty task of persuading his mother that he knows best is still down to him.

In the window a mottled blue-green orb seems to expand to fill the viewing space. Targeting overlays on the glass spring to life, picking out population centres and military strongpoints.

The Dread Emperor sighs. Festive cheer is not something he can overcome with an orbital bombardment. He swirls the liquor in his glass one more time and takes a hefty swig, which he immediately regrets. In his trepidation he has poured himself a double measure of Listerine.

It takes Zorgax a few moments of strangled coughing to realise that what he can see from the window is changing. Millions upon millions of small contrails burn through the atmosphere of the planet below – missiles, launched from the Gaxian fleet. Zorgax’s supply of gifts.


“Yes, Dread Emperor?” The lackey is at his elbow so fast Zorgax half suspects the man was standing behind him the whole time. “Might I be so bold as to mention that your breath is remarkably fresh?”

“Why are there missiles raining down on my mother’s planet?”

“You gave the order, Dread Emperor, in the strangled dialect of the extinct Orthari race.”

Zorgax is silent for a moment.

“Tell me, lackey: does the strangled dialect sound a lot like a man choking on mouthwash?”

“They have been likened in the past, Dread Emperor.”

“So descending on the population of this world as we speak is a barrage of…”

“Porcelain statuettes of adorable dogs, Dread Emperor. Most are expected to survive the descent but if they do not we still have enough ammunition for a salvo of novelty foodstuffs.”

Zorgax watches the finest dog statuettes the galaxy can provide rain down on the deserving and undeserving alike. He catches sight of his reflection in the window and quirks an unexpected smile: the bearded man in red, dispensing gifts to an unsuspecting world.

“Launch the novelty foodstuffs,” he says with an imperious wave, “and ready my landing craft. The one with the red searchlight in the nose.”

Pleased with himself, Zorgax lets loose a booming laugh that echoes from the vaulted ceiling of the grand audience chamber. The lackey bows in obeisance.

“It will be a Christmas miracle, Dread Emperor.”

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Reasons to be Cheerful – 1, 2, 3

So, plenty going on on the writing front at the moment.

Nanowrimo Victory

I finished Nanowrimo for the first time in a long time, knocking out ~51,000 words about monster hunter Amelia Thorne. It needs serious work, but unlike most of my previous Nano efforts I feel the core is solid enough that any editing work I do on it won’t be wasted. Anyway, I’m going to let it sit until at least the new year while I refresh my mind with other things.

Pathfinder Victory

Purple Ducks gaming have commissioned me to write level 10 of their Purple Mountain megadungeon. Production is going well: I’ve knocked out 16,000 words covering an asylum in the depths of the earth full of crazed undead, some mad priests sent to recover it, mushroom men, a magic item, three feats and some other odds and ends. Just the temple of ooze to go, squish squish. (Oh, and about 20 stat blocks which currently exist only in super-sketchy format.)

Fatescape… Progress, Technically

Still working on the magic system. Slooooooowly. I might try to run another playtest game in the new year, which means I’ll need to polish off all the ‘under construction’ bits over Christmas.

Joan of Arc, Superspy

Candlemark and Gleam have an anthology coming out where the theme is ‘alternate history espionage’, which I’d like to submit something to. My basic idea is that Jeanne d’Arc never reached Orleans in 1430 so the English stomped all over France and now she’s part of an underground resistance organisation – religious visions, badass attitude, remarkable intellect and all. Sadly the execution isn’t coming together at the moment, but I’ll keep poking at it.

The Return of Mr Q

Also on the short fiction front, Pulp Empire are angling to put out an anthology about pulp heroes – either classic ones or entirely new ones – reworked for the 21st century. Since this features both reimagining of old things in a modern context and pulpy goodness – two of my favourite things – I’m all over this.

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Collected Thoughts #1

Welp, haven’t posted here in a while. Should probably fix that.

Fatescape: Still Awesome

I’ve been working on Fatescape behind the scenes – reworking the magic system pretty much from scratch, overhauling the equipment rules – and once I’ve sorted all that I’ll put up the newest version for people to look at. Maybe recruit some more guinea pigs for playtesting, that sort of thing.


One of the primary reasons that progress on Fatescape has been slow recently has been the devotion of my November to Nanowrimo. Things are going pretty well on that front – they were going really well until my ex decided to get all funny and put me into something of an emotional death spiral, but I’ve more or less put that behind me (again) so excellent progress should resume this evening.


A bit of good news from the weekend is that one of my short stories – The Canau Deception, known in my head as Cranston Burroughs vs. the Lizard People of the Hollow Earth – is going to be published in a pulp anthology called Big Pulp. (Not until June 2013, though. >.> ) This marks the first time that someone I don’t know personally will give me money in exchange for fiction I have written and publish it in an actual physical book; i.e. I’ll be a proper ‘published author’.

People I don’t know personally have previously given me money for RPG stuff I’ve written – On Silver Wings for the Witch Hunter game, and a handful of spells in Azagar’s Book of Rituals for 4e D&D (which earned me the princely sum of $8, paid by cheque) – but before I refer to myself as a “published author” I wanted to make sure I satisfied a definition of such that a random person on the street would agree with.


Since I last posted I have discovered Metric (creators of the best song on the Scott Pilgrim movie soundtrack and also many other good songs), Van Canto (a cappella power metal), and the soundtrack to the video game Bastion, which is better than a lot of modern commercial albums.

I would also like to share the first verse (two verses?) of Rasputina’s Choose Me to be a Champion, which has always struck me as being about paladins:

Choose me to be a champion
I am possessing of a very righteous style
I understand what’s going on
I have charisma and of course a winning smile

I stand accused of being an audacious redeemer
Not a charge I can deny
I have refused the ways of the liar and the schemer
And I’m not afraid to die

And then it goes off onto stuff about the Bounty mutineers – a subject which pops up no fewer than three times on that album, and is less relevant to D&D paladin-hood.

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