Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Handful of Dust

This week's entry on the Western Baronies is a piece of fiction, entitled "A Handful of Dust." I hope you enjoy it!


"A Handful of Dust"
a tale of the Western Baronies

“How many of ‘em do you figure there are?” the wiry, dark-haired man asked the tall blonde man crouching next to him in the dust. The blonde said nothing for long moments, simply counting the silhouettes of men in the moonlight, looking at their shabby armor and underfed horses. The dark-haired one did not prod him, knowing that patience was a virtue out on the flats, and that their quarry wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

After long moments of listening to the sounds of the desert—distant coyote yowls, the swirling wind, the voices of the soon-to-be dead—the blonde man replied. “I count thirty men. Give or take five. Firelight makes it easy to pick them out, but hard to tell how close packed they are. Most of them have shortblades and crossbows.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bleakness Cove

In case anyone is interested, I'm current writing a serially-published novel called Bleakness Cove. If you like the style, please follow the novel as it goes!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Exalted Fiction Contest

For anyone who cares about Exalted or my writing career, apparently the Exalted team is hiring writers. They are having a short fiction contest on their forum, to which I have submitted an entry. If you have time, please take a moment to go to their forums, read my piece (which is only about 800 words), and make a forum account to thank the post. The more thanks I get, the more likely that I'll be considered for the position.

I appreciate any help!

My entry on the forum thread.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Does Professor Apocalypse Hate Me?

Now that the 4th of July holiday is over, back to blogging!

The title of this entry may seem a little odd, but bear with me. Recently, I was brainstorming ways to start a group of fairly advanced characters off together without resorting to the tired old cliche of "You all meet in a bar" or "You've all been recruited by the same shadowy government agency." Not only are both of them horribly cliched, but I've actually got some players who were burned by the latter once upon a time and I don't want to spool them. (Get it? Shadow government agency? Spook?)

With that in mind, I turned to what Raymond Chandler advised: When the plot slows down, have two guys with guns kick in the door and start shooting. That is to say: When you can't figure anything else out, pick an option that throws the PCs right into the action.

The game in question is Savage TORG, which I may have mentioned in passing once or twice before. Now that I'm getting ready to run my third full campaign of TORG, I find that I can't rely on the hook I used the first two times without feeling like a hack. For both of those campaigns (the first one used d20 Modern, the second one Savage Worlds), I had both groups be composed mainly of Core Earth characters who happened to be in New York the day the maelstrom bridges fell. Putting together a survivor group trying to escape New York in the aftermath of the Living Land invasion is tense, action-packed, and immersive. Heck, it's how the TORG novels open up!

Still, I want to do something different for this campaign. More than anything else, I want to offer my group the broad, wide-open character creation ability that a mature TORG campaign offers. A year into the storyline, you have characters from all of the invading realms, a bunch of random ones, and people who have converted between realms (for stuff like human shamans of Lanala and edeinos bikers). That gonzo feel is quintessential TORG, and I've partially sacrificed it both previous times I've run the setting.

As I was walking around tonight, the solution came to me: They've been kidnapped by a common enemy who wants revenge. My players are all moderately experienced with the setting, and they're building Seasoned characters, so it stands to reason they would all have an enemy who has the power and motivation to capture them.

But why wouldn't he just kill them? Because he's from the Nile Empire, the reality of pulp action-adventure! Raymond Chandler would be proud, indeed. So, now we've got a common enemy in a pulp setting who would rather capture the heroes and throw them into a deathtrap than just outright kill them, giving them the opportunity to bond under difficult circumstances and work as a team.

A guy like that needs a cool, imposing name. Doctor Doomsday? Nah, too alliterative and comic book. Something classier. I could just use Pharaoh Mobius, but he's a major player in the Nile Empire and I want to get some extra mileage out of him. This guy strikes me as below the pharaoh but above some common thug. As I was mouthing out sounds, the word "Professor" aspirated at the end to "Professor-a", and I jumped to bad-guy words that started with "A."

Thus, Professor Apocalypse was born. A little thinking led me to dub him Professor Jonah Apocalypse, PhD. I remembered that the excellent comic Atomic Robo had an arc called "Why Doctor Dinosaur Hates Atomic Robo," and from there the idea of letting the PCs pick their poison was born.

Now, I've got the character questionnaires I do before any lengthy campaign handy. For this one, there's an extra question at the end: "Why does Professor Apocalypse hate me?" I expect some inventive answers, knowing my bunch. They're all going to wake up in a brightly-lit room with killbots on the other side of the door, just waiting to put Mr. Chandler's axiom into effect.

I suppose the tl;dr version of today's blog post is this: When deciding how to put a group together, pick the option that throws them right into the action of the setting. That forces them to work together as well as giving them a great ground-level view of what they'll be dealing with right off the bat. Also, whenever possible, give the players investment in what they're doing at the beginning of the campaign. It helps immersion as well as a sense of cooperation with the GM.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Western Baronies: The Ko'Manna

Wow, it's been a while since I talked about my fantasy-western setting, The Western Baronies. Some people asked me about it, so I'm putting up more new information about the setting, starting with the part of it that's the most sensitive to deal with.

You see, every western setting needs Indians to go with the cowboys. But making a caricature of real-world Native Americans is about as palatable as the way most Gothic-horror settings add in gypsies without thinking about the connection to the real-world Roma people. Still, it's tough to write about western expansionism without talking about the oppression and destruction of native peoples. As long as the analogues to Native Americans are portrayed as complex and deep rather than walking "red man" stereotypes, I think it's possible to write that sort of thing without offering offense to anyone--and to ask interesting questions about right and wrong in the context of imperialism.

As well, the Ko'Manna offer an intriguing opportunity to create a cross-cultural pollination that didn't occur on a large scale in the real world, with people from the imperial side joining the natives en masse. This also gave me the chance to add something to the setting that isn't seen often even in Western games set in some version of the real world: Mormons. That is to say, a religious group that has a strange and complicated relationship with both the imperialist side and the native side of the struggle, and isn't entirely accepted by either.

For some other interesting portrayals of this question, I thoroughly recommend Totems of the Dead for Savage Worlds and the excellent Dogs in the Vineyard.

With that said, here are the native folk of the land the invaders call Marikuhl...



Though they are widely regarded as the natives of the west, the Ko’Manna and their many tribes are more properly eastern folk, driven beyond the Corundum Mountains by the colonization of Galatea seven hundred years ago.

Originally, the Ko’Manna lived in the forested hills and low mountains of eastern Galatea. They had dwelled there since time immemorial—the Ko’Manna keep only verbal records of their history—and had learned to live in harmony with the land and its natural resources. Their technology was primitive by the most generous of standards, utilizing stone tools in their lifestyle of hunting and gathering. Most tribes subsisted on the land in a basic fashion, wandering across their territory and occasionally trading with other tribes. While tribes sometimes fought over resources, such conflicts never blossomed into anything that might be considered a war.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sound the Guns!

Over on the Goodman Games forums, they were discussing adding guns to your fantasy campaign, and there were people adding in that guns should be super-rare or super-expensive or super-lethal. It occurred to me that I had never gotten to rant about my feelings about this particular treatment of guns in fantasy, so I let it all out. And here's my thoughts about it, reposted in blog form:

My great complaints about fantasy worlds that decide to introduce firearms are the ideas that firearms:

1) follow the exact same form of development as in the real world;

2) are more powerful than existing weapons; and

3) are ridiculously expensive (usually to "balance out" how much more powerful they are than standard weapons).

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Cure for the Summertime Blues

Since last we left our intrepid hero, he graduated from college, got accepted into graduate school, and found a summer job. What does the future hold for our plucky freelancer?!

I'm not sure at this point, but it's definitely been tough to submit any work to anybody. The good news is that it looks like the Hellfrost d20 stuff is finally coming out this fall. It's always nice to see something you worked really hard on coming out. I'd like to be doing more work now that I have the free time, but these days it seems to be Kickstarters all the way down. My novel project didn't go so well, but part of that is because I don't think I really understood how to make a successful Kickstarter at the time. I've got a few ideas for RPG projects that would work well for the system, but I still need to refine them a bit more.

It looks like I'll actually be able to run Savage TORG again starting this fall as well. Much props to HawaiianBrian for coming up with the original Savage TORG conversion that forms the basis for my games.

I'm really grooving on several new games right now too. My love for Mistborn continues unabated, especially now that the fantastic guys over at Crafty Games got out the revised version of the pdf. I'll hopefully be picking up my hardcopy at GenCon and getting it signed by Brandon Sanderson. He's a fantastic author and a lovely person; I got to meet him earlier this year at Joseph-Beth Bookstore here in Lexington, where he signed my Mistborn novels. I'm looking forward to getting him to sign the RPG as well.

I also really like the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game from Margaret Weis Productions. I was always a little turned off by Cortex. It seemed like Savage Worlds with the fun surgically removed. The Cortex+ system on the other hand is made of raw, unrefined awesome. Cam Banks is a wonderful designer, and if I could ever work with him I would consider it one of the highlights of my career. MHR has a beautifully narrative structure and a neat dice pool mechanic.

In the category of "Games I didn't think I'd like but wound up quite enjoying," I'm going to mention the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I thought it was just another old-school clone building off the nostalgia-bomb movement of the OSR, but it's really a lot more than that. The best way I can describe DCC is as if a gamer from 1977 had been mystically transported to 2012, given a crash-course on modern game design, and set loose in an art gallery populated entirely by heavy metal cover art. By which I mean, the game is shockingly awesome and genuinely revels in its old-schoolness without being just another old-school clone. It does some genuinely original things with its design philosophy, and does so while capturing the roots of the gaming hobby. More than that, it's a 480-page book chock full of art. I loves me some games with lots of art, especially good art.

Hopefully, I can get back to posting regularly now that I don't have the insanity of senior year pressing down on me, so watch this space for future updates.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blood and Diesel: The Diesel Engine

How much do you know about diesel engines? I didn't know much at all before the research for this bit. XD


The first successful diesel engine was operated in 1897 by Rudolf Diesel, a German born to an expatriate family living in Paris. The “City of Lights” sparked the young Diesel’s imagination and his abilities as an engineer made him lauded by the intelligentsia of the continent.

Perhaps the most notable fact about Rudolf Diesel other than his self-named invention is that he was a dedicated social reformer. Having spent his life surrounded by the results of the “steam revolution,” Diesel also saw the damage done to individuals, families, and nature itself by the coal-burning steam piston engine. Steam engines were loud, dirty, heavy, and dangerous; the combination of heat and pressure made them liable to explode, and the exposed pistons—necessary for maintenance—made them quite capable of ripping off fingers or even limbs. He also viewed the industrial revolution as the end of individual effort, a time in which the work of geniuses was going to be subsumed into the vast emptiness of mass production.

Rudolf Diesel envisioned a safer engine, working at a lower temperature with a better thermal efficiency and less need for either open flame or gouts of boiling water. The diesel engine creates its initial thermal reaction by compressing the fuel until ignition occurs. At the end of the great industrial revolution, efficiency was everything; while few people cared about Diesel’s politics, the fact that he had made an engine with significantly greater efficiency at far lower cost.

The only hitch was the fuel source. Diesel experimented with coal dust, whale oil, and vegetable oils as fuel, but he was convinced that a better source existed. By the time of the 1911 International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden, he had found it in the form of distilled petroleum. The direct distillation, which he called simply “diesel fuel,” had a few issues, including turning into nonfunctional gel at temperatures below freezing, but the fair-runners were so impressed that dozens of nations were soon ordering diesel engines for their ships, airships, trains, and automobiles. Indeed, the diesel engine may well have made the widespread adoption of the automobile possible at all.

Rudolf did not live long enough to enjoy his success, unfortunately. Only two years after the “diesel revolution,” he was on a cruise in the Atlantic and disappeared from his ship. Ten days later, his body was recovered from the ocean, identifiable only from his personal effects. Though the death was ruled a suicide, more than a few suspected that the good professor might object to some of the uses that European powers were planning on for his wondrous device. Less than a year after Diesel’s mysterious death, the Central Powers rolled out their new war machine on the world—and at the heart of that war machine were diesel-powered tanks, diesel-powered zeppelins, and diesel-powered warstriders.

The horrors of the Great War were made significantly more far-reaching by the addition of the powerful diesel engine. When the war ended in 1918, few nations looked forward to the possibility of another one. Unfortunately, the shift to petroleum as the staple fuel diminished the worldwide reliance on coal and instead made resource-hungry nations seek out more sources of readily-available oil. The Middle Eastern nations have grown wealthy from the trade in “black gold,” though many have become little more than puppets for Western powers.

Whether for good or ill, the modern world could not exist without the Diesel Engine.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Blood and Diesel

Better late than never... =3


It is an age of vastness.

This is the age of the zeppelin, the ocean-liner, the continental railway, and the skyscraper. It is the age of multinational corporations, mass political movements, and wars that span the world. Man is dwarfed by his creations, and the once-solid things of daily life are subsumed into abstractions.

The year is 1939, but not the one that you know.

It has been over two decades since the devastating end of the Great War. An entire generation was lost to tanks, machine-guns, poison gas, warstriders, bombs, and flame-projectors. In Europe, in Asia, in Africa, the war raged. Only the Americas were left untouched by battle, though it still cost the young nation many tens of thousands of lives. Germany and its Central Powers were crushed beneath the weight of debt and remuneration, while a new era of peace and prosperity was supposed to dawn for the Allied Powers.

The expected peace came at a high price, and the prosperity it bought was limited at best. Weary from war and battle, nations turned their eyes inward and devoted their resources to self-improvement. These selfish impulses ultimately led to the Great Collapse of 1929, when the world’s economy—as delicately linked as its political alliances, but not as obviously—came crashing down. Millions are unemployed worldwide, whole nations are impoverished, and radical political elements are gaining greater traction among the disaffected populace.

Nature itself rebels against the wounded nation—in the American West, over-farming and high-industry radium growth techniques have stripped the soil from the ground and sent it flying into the atmosphere. Terrible radioactive dust storms sweep the Midwest, driving towns and communities before it to avoid the killing winds, the cancer-ridden dirt, and the monsters that rise up from the few survivors of the storms. Diesel trucks have become the lifeblood of the refugees, moving from camp to camp and town to town, looking for whatever work they can find.

Life in the big cities has become an urban hell, where the strong and the rich prey on the weak and the poor. The elite live in buildings that reach up to scrape the sky, while the poor live in overcrowded, crumbling tenements within a stone’s throw of brass-gilded zeppelin stations and moving-picture theaters. Gangs begin to fill the poverty-stricken neighborhoods, looking to find ways to survive cheek-and-jowl with real bad guys: bootleggers, white slavers, bank robbers, and the leg-breakers of organized crime.

For a decade, the world’s people have languished in poverty while their governments increasingly stockpile weapons for a great second world war that may never come. Though the German sabers have rattled menacingly since the ascension of the People’s Socialist Party in 1933, the “Nazis” have yet to expand beyond their borders—though those borders are now far more secure than any time in the last thirty years. Germany has made prosperity its watchword as it rebuilds its cities, invites in wealthy foreign tourists… and quietly “cleanses” the country of its “impure elements.”

This is a world where the zeppelin is the king of the air, the train rules the long, empty spaces between the American coasts, and the diesel engine rules the road. Atomic power has been harnessed but promises only mutually assured destruction. The promises of science have turned to ashes in the mouths of those that spoke them, and the price of freedom may wind up being too high for any nation to pay.

This is the world of Blood and Diesel, an alternate-history dieselpunk game.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Good News and Bad News

The good news is that I'm still alive! The bad news is that between a bruised sciatic nerve, a bout with pneumonia, and some problems with layout and formatting, "Playground of the Damned" isn't ready yet. A little more good news is that I got accepted into graduate school! Now, I just need to pick up an assistantship and find a job for the summer, and I'm pretty well set.

I've got some various things to post up here over the next few days, including the intro text for PotD and a new setting I've been idly working on: Blood and Diesel, a dieselpunk game set in the late 1930s, drawing on sources like Metropolis, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Carnivale, and Bunraku.

Let's see if we can't get this show back on the road!

Friday, February 3, 2012


Sorry for the delays on stuff. As I mentioned in a comment thread, after my blackout day I suffered from a personal injury that's kept me laid up for most of the last couple of weeks. I'm just now getting back into sorts. Hopefully, I'll be posting regularly again soonish. Sorry for the delays. =)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I would be posting the full text for my adventure "Playground of the Damned" today, but instead my blog is blacked out.

I am a content creator and occasional writer of fan material. My blog would most likely be destroyed by PIPA/SOPA, so I am urging people to speak to their congressfolk to stop these horribly damaging bills before they get a chance to become horribly damaging laws. That is all for today.

Friday, January 13, 2012

End of the Kickstarter

Well, the Kickstarter for Black Bottom Hollow ended unsuccessfully. Thanks to everyone who contributed or shared information about the project. This isn't a failure--just a setback. Anyone who didn't get a chance to read the prologue is welcome to do so. It's still online:

Here's to the future!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Edition War II

Meant to post about this yesterday, but was so worried about beginning-of-school stuff that I didn't get a chance.

D&D 5th Edition has been announced, and right on time from my predictions a few years back. When I was playtesting D&D 4th Edition a few years ago (no, really! look in your book! I'm in it!), my group told the designers that there were significant holes in the system, that the fluff and flavor didn't feel like D&D anymore, that it did too much to throw away the legacy of the game, and that once they started adding new mechanical options it was going to be tough to continue balancing the game--and tougher to make those options distinct. Now, we're getting word from the new design team that all of those concerns, which were basically ignored at the time, were all pretty much right on the money and are driving concerns behind the creation of the 5th Edition game. Oh, and of course that they're kind of getting murdered in market share by Pathfinder.

Monte Cook and Mike Mearls are both working on it, so it's bound to be awesome. The game might well turn out to be the best version of D&D ever. The problem is that it will also probably have all of the same problems with the economic end of things that 4th Edition has: Wizards going for a quick buck instead of the long haul. Making money now instead of building the fanbase and enjoying their loyalty is very much the Wizards of the Coast way of dealing with the game, and the biggest part of their profit motive is based around short-term hobby gamers instead of lifestyle gamers.

Paizo, on the other hand, has taken their magazine subscription model and turned it into a very strong way of doing business as a gaming company. While Wizards is talking about an "open playtest"--which was one of the big draws of Pathfinder--that alone won't nearly be enough. They're going to alienate their 4th Edition fanbase without necessarily regaining the trust of the people they abandoned when they moved away from 3.X Edition. Their quick-money, quick-turnover way of doing business doesn't win them any points for customer loyalty, and Paizo has very much cornered the market in "customer loyalty" right now, so I wonder how Edition War II is going to pan out.

Meanwhile, Savage Worlds continues to chug along merrily, wondering why everyone over in Otherplacia is fighting amongst themselves. ;-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Now that the holidays are over, I'm back!

Recently, I picked up the Mistborn RPG from Crafty Games. I'm frankly floored. It's simply amazing. I'm a huge fan of the Mistborn novels, and getting to meet Brandon Sanderson earlier this year was a real treat for me, but the game is really good on its own merits. A big chunk of the book is dedicated to the setting and to the setting's very unique magic system, but the core system is solid in and of itself. The game basically sets difficulties from 1 to 5, the player rolls a pool of 2 to 10 six-sided dice, and matches sets of at least the target number succeed. Rolling 6's doesn't count toward success; instead 6's are "nudges," which you can spend to get better results from a success or reduce the penalties of a failure. The system is pretty narrative-driven, which I've been getting more into lately, so that's a plus.

"Does that mean this blog will stop being primarily about Savage Worlds?" you ask. No! Still, Mistborn has won enough of my love that I'm seriously thinking about using a hack of it for the steampunk game I'm planning right now instead of SW, which makes it the first game I've considered using over SW in a couple of years. I'll give some more info once I get to playtest it a little.

More coming soon! Happy New Year!