Excessive Fiction

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was working on some fiction inspired by the same computer game that is inspiring me to work on an RPG. The game is Borderlands (right now, Borderlands 2) and the RPG I’m designing is under the working title Pandora Excess.

Here is a snippet that I think could be easily plucked from its environment and dropped into the RPG – if you dig on fiction in your games, of which I am honestly not particularly a fan. Like the plot of Borderlands, the story has a group of mercenaries seeking out a fabled storehouse . . . or something.

The fiction:

Solitaire sat in the middle of ruins, sand dunes stretching through the shattered remains of a hotel lobby, her feet upon the desiccated corpse of what might have been a crocodile the size of a rhino. Sparse of build, with short dark hair and an angular face, she frowned slightly at the three men who had burst through the door and leveled assault rifles at her.

“You didn’t even knock.” She didn’t move, save to raise an eyebrow.

The most average among the three lowered his weapon to reach inside his jacket and pull out a piece of paper. “You’re the mercenary known as Solitaire. The Tetrarchy of Hemera have a bounty on your head, a pretty damn big bounty.”

“We’ve come to collect.” That was the shortest of the three, speaking through the few crooked teeth still in his mouth.

“And here I thought you’d come to warn me.” Solitaire stretched, her right hand extending over her head. Three pairs of eyes followed that hand. None of those saw her left hand reach for the submachine gun leaning against her chair.

The mediocre one with the paper opened his mouth to say something. He didn’t speak. Solitaire drew up the Helios F-51 Igniter SMG. His eyes widened the moment before the three-round burst caved in his face and set his flesh alight.

The other two stumbled back, the biggest one grunting something feral. Solitaire flipped back, somersaulting over the chair and the stonework behind that. She got cover just as the two bounty hunters – well, I guess one could call them that, not that they had earned the title – unloaded their assault rifle magazines in a flurry of poorly aimed and uncontrolled cyclical fire. Under the cover of flying lead and shattering stone, Solitaire crawled to her left, keeping herself well below the rim of the stonework.

She hoped her pack didn’t take a hit or even some shrapnel. It had very fragile circuitry, and she had no idea what would happen if the pack’s dimensional interface ruptured. Something bad?

She had moved a few metres when the shooting stopped and she heard the unmistakeable sound of empty magazines leaving ports. She rose on one knee. So focused on changing magazines, the two didn’t see her. They certainly didn’t see the lean man, all in dark colours, masked and with an enhanced vision device over his eyes, step through the door, a revolver in each hand.

“Jester? What the fuck?” She spoke loudly, gaining the two men’s attention.

They slammed home magazines, and started to work bolts when Jester’s two revolvers fired, one just after the other. Brains painted floor, hitting well before the collapsing bodies did.

“Hazard sent out the call.” As always, a voice modulator veiled Jester’s voice. “You didn’t answer.”

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Weekly Round-up for 27 July 2014

Fever” by the Black Keys. I really enjoyed El Camino, but I had no idea this was the Black Keys when it became an earworm for me. Luckily Live 88.5, my local station, has a song list on its website, so I was able to track this down after listening. Am I going to purchase the whole album? Not likes. While I liked El Camino, I really ended up buying the album for three songs.

Raven’s Shadow: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan. A friend at work recommended this novel very strongly. I picked up the ebook – let me say right now, it seems like publishers want me to pirate their books, because $8 for an ebook is way the fuck overpriced when the paperback is $9.50 – and put it in the queue. Its number came up this week. I’m a few chapters in and really liking it. It seems like heroic fantasy, which I dig, and kind of has a David Gemmell-vibe to it. So far, this is a definite recommend.

Name of the Game” by the Crystal Method. This is a stand in for all the songs I’ve been listening to while writing Pandora Excess. The Crystal Method has a lot of songs that are perfect for the feeling of crazy, bullet-ridden action. I got hooked on “Name of the Game” watching Blade 2, and only after did I realize it was Crystal Method, who I got into after hearing “Keep Hope Alive” while watching the Replacement Killers. These tunes really get me in the mood to work.

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Mandarins of Manchukuo: After Action Report

The playtest for the Pulp version of A Team of Losers went exceedingly well last night, both from a story level and mechanically. In this post, I’ll talk about the story, mostly as a reference for those players who were unable to attend.

The team includes the archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Hollows, the martial artist and occult enthusiast Johnny Cargen, and the gunslinger Gertrude Blaze, a trick-shot artist with a background in circuses/ travelling carnivals.

It’s 1936, and Dr. Hollows and his team are contacted by colleague and sometime competitor Dr. Rene Emile Belloq, who is working for the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria. Belloq hints that the site on which he is working has links to the Pithos of Pandora, a mythological relic Dr. Hollows has sought for all of his professional life.

In Manchuria, the team encounters multiple strange rumours – a white river witch, a Japanese gentleman who seemed to constantly follow the team but was always ahead of them (whom the team nick-named Ghost-san), some indications that the temple site on which Belloq is working is anachronistically large and architecturally complex.

The team meets with a German officer from the Ahnenerbe who is willing to pay a lot of money for access to Belloq’s research or, even better, access to the temple site itself.

To add to all this, the team is attacked as they arrive back at their hotel from a day of exploring and investigating. They quickly dispatched their foes – smoke bombs distract, a trick-shot from a .45 kills the gun men, then Dr. Hollow’s bullwhips the drivers out of their cars – and in questioning them, learn they are called the Priests of Thoth, they consider the team dangerous, and they each have a tattoo of an obscure hieroglyphic rendering of the Greek god Hermes.

The team’s Japanese military liaison pulls out all the stops after the attack – which also makes the team, already somewhat famous for their various pursuits, local celebrities – and he brings in a small army to protect the team. Belloq’s dig is being privately funded by a colonel who is the commander for military intelligence in Manchuria. After the attack, he accelerates their schedule and arrives with a military aircraft to take the crew to Heiho, where they will take a river steamer to Shouwei, the site of the dig.

Ghost-san appears on the ship as the second mate. Further, Dr. Hollows recognize one of the kitchen staff as a much younger version of a hotel maid with whom he spoke. On questioning, the young lady seems to panic, Dr. Hollows is blinded by a flash for bright red light, and the lady is gone, leaving only a tuft of red fur behind her.

The ship stops at Moho for fuel and re-stock, and the team go assure, only to be attacked by more Prists of Thoth, whom they quickly dispatch, leaving one alive for questioning.

A Team of Losers is based on the Untitled Game System. You can find out more here.

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Fiction, RPGs and Personal Preference

I’ve started a few short fiction vignettes. They are not complete stories so they are not technically flash fiction. This is more about setting mood or illuminating characters. The two pieces I’ve done, each under 750 words, have been inspired by the Borderlands series of computer games. I’ve also been working in fits and starts on a tabletop RPG to emulate Borderlands.

So it comes to mind that I might use the fiction should I ever complete and offer this RPG. There’s a problem, though. I really dislike fiction in my RPGs.

To be fair, I don’t think I am the target market for RPGs. I don’t like settings. I don’t like big rulebooks. I don’t like supplements. I like systems – as pared down as possible. I really liked the True20 rulebook from Green Ronin because it was almost all system, with a few setting suggestions thrown in at the tail end. That worked for me. I also picked up their Game of Thrones RPG Pocket Edition because it excised almost all of the setting specific material.

That’s how I roll.

So just because I don’t like fiction in my RPGs, that shouldn’t influence my decision to include it. Fiction in RPGs seems pretty popular. It still feels really hypocritical.

Then again, I may not need to worry because this game might be going nowhere.

You can learn more about my Borderlands inspired RPG project here.

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Weekly Round-Up for 20 July 2014

Hawaii by Said the Whale. It was the song “Willow” that led me to checking out the Said the Whale website. I generally always look to see if there is an option to buy digital from the artist, on the assumption that they’ll get more money. Seeing the album Hawaii for sale on the site, I went to check out the tracks and realized that I’d enjoyed “I Love You” and “Mother” as well as “Willow.” I wish I could have purchased individual songs on the site, but given that I liked three of the songs, I dropped the money for the album. Support talent, right?

Knights of Sidonia. This anime is the general “misfit flying giant robot to fight aliens.” However, four episodes in, and it seems to have a little bit more beneath the surface than many. I am not a regular watcher of anime so perhaps this is the new standard for anime, in which case I might just end up watching a lot more. Attack on Titan is getting good buzz, and like Knights of Sidonia, it’s on Netflix, so that will likely be my next exploration into the genre.

Knights of Cydonia. Since their names are so similar, the anime led to thinking about the video to this Muse song. I couldn’t help but go check it out because it is just so campy and awesome. The execution was likely intentionally campy, taking inspiration from 70s B-movies, but the ideas and concept in this video are frankly awesome, and such a well of RPG inspiration. Speaking of which . . .

Weird West. I don’t think I’m the only one inspired by Knights of Cydonia. This is a very light, very cool little game that aims to hit that Western + Martial Arts + Weirdness vibe. It also comes with a mini-book format so that you can create your own pocket-version, which just adds to the awesome.

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Review: Slate Money

The online magazine Slate has a great set of podcasts, the best of which, in my opinion, is the Political Gabfest. On the strength of the Political Gabfest, I purchased a membership to Slate Plus, which – among other advantages – provides ad-free podcasts. It was through Slate Plus that I found Slate Money.

I am not an investor. I don’t know much about finance. I do know that economics is a driving force in the modern world and that economic decisions made by politicians and business people impact on all our lives. As such, I do have an interest in economics. So I thought I’d give Slate Money a shot.

It is now a “listen immediately” podcast, along with the Political Gabfest. The Slate Money hosts are smart, personable, and have enough of a difference in viewpoints that it provides lively discussion. More importantly, for a dude whose knowledge of finance and the economy comes from mass media with some small amount of theory learned in university, this show holds my interest while educating me.

I really can’t recommend Slate Money enough. If you listen to podcasts and have any interest in our modern economic system, I would strongly suggest trying one episode to see what you think.

I give Slate Money 4.75 bank bailouts out of 5.

You can find Slate Money here.

You can find the Political Gabfest here.

You can find Slate here.

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Playing vs. Producing: Fight!

It’s true that I’m using time I could be productive to play a computer game. I could be finishing one of my in progress stories. I could be working on improving one of my in progress RPGs. I could go back and improve one of my existing RPGs. But I’m playing computer games.

Here’s the thing: I’m less and less motivated to produce RPGs for anyone outside a very small group of people, mostly my local group – though they likely just want me to stop designing shit and stick with one campaign for more than 10 months.

And there seems to be a very, very small group of people interested in reading my fiction, which is the one thing that I might actually feel guilty for not producing.

PrintDon’t get me wrong. This isn’t a sob story. This is a liberation.

I likely won’t bother with another Kickstarter after Nefertiti Overdrive is done. I love writing and playing RPGs. I am getting really tired of producing them. It is a huge effort to project manage these, especially since I am very personally invested in them. For Centurion: Legionaries of Rome, I got paid less than 5 cents per word for my writing and nothing for project management.

Yes, I love writing RPGs. I also love playing computer games. And they don’t cost as much.

Will I ever publish again? I’m making plans. I’m thinking about it. I have at least two games and a setting I want to get out. I bloody well have stories I want to get in front of readers as well. Do it for free? I might. The effort that goes into getting games or stories presentable makes it just easier to do stuff for myself and hold it close. So I’ll be looking at ways I can get paid something decent and get my work out to people who care.

I’m a mercenary hack. It’s what I am.

Now, back to Borderlands!

You can see the financial for the Centurion Kickstarter here.

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