Posts Tagged With: writing

Busy busy busy

Fatescape

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.

Chuubo

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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Update

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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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.

Nanowrimo

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.

Pulpy

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.

Tunes

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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