A Scattering of Updates

I’ve had a busy couple of freelancing years and rarely seem to take the time to talk about what’s keeping me busy outside of some scattershot mentions on social media. Let’s rectify that a bit.

Kickstarter for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles

Fear's Sharp Little NeedlesAs I write, Stygian Fox Publishing’s Kickstarter for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles is underway, ending on March 1st. Recommended for mature audiences, the book is a collection of more than twenty modern-day micro-scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. They’re intended for Keepers to easily pick up and run in one session. The publisher’s previous CoC book, The Things We Leave Behind, has been very well received, and this Kickstarter is far past its initial goal, with more stretch goals waiting to be unlocked (including a PDF fiction anthology for backers). As an author involved in this, I’m in great and varied company. “Waiting To Be Born” is by far the shortest scenario I’ve written (by about a third), which was an interesting challenge.

 

Other Writing

On the opposite end of the length spectrum, I recently turned in a fifty-thousand-word first draft to a publisher. This, then, is by far the longest thing I’ve written (albeit a campaign of six linked scenarios rather than a single one). The word count provided its own interesting challenge, and I suppose, no matter the length allowed, it never seems quite enough. My outlined research notes alone came to about twenty thousand words. Of course, few of those words directly made it into the draft. Nonetheless, being able to refer to that (thankfully searchable) outline was a great benefit. Even if something I gleaned from a fictional or nonfictional source didn’t make it directly into the campaign, it all provided a foundation, even in its absence or allusion.

I fell in love again with outlining my research notes while working on an article for the upcoming Kingsport issue of The Arkham Gazette earlier this year, using nested bullet points to organize the information. While that article is only eleven thousand words currently, I dived deep into the source material, W. H. Pugmire’s tale “The Fungal Stain” and the many HPL and REH stories that inspired it. Following are a couple of examples pulled from that outline.

  • The fungal avatar
    • First appears to narrator when he reads The People of the Monolith in bookshop
      • Possibly his first time doing so in Kingsport, since he is visiting
      • Later can’t recall if he read it aloud
        • He sometimes does read poetry aloud
        • Likes to feel the words on his lips
      • Her presence
        • Face “seems all wrong, more bestial than human”
        • The way she lifts her curious mouth to “drink in the evening air” seems unnatural
        • Tall? Must bend to kiss accordionist and narrator
        • Unsettling
        • Beguiling
        • Narrator fancies he can sense her bestial appetite
        • The narrator is able to run when she kisses the accordionist a second time
      • Touches narrator’s hand when taking The People of the Monolith
      • Hums an odd song
        • Issues as mist from her unmoving mouth
        • The thickening fog meets and mingles with her exhalation
        • Beguiling
          • Draws listener to her with “almost unconscious motion”
          • Listener creeps toward her slowly
          • May not be sexual (narrator considers women an “alien race”)
  • Black Stone
    • The Black Stone is composed of a dully gleaming black stone, whose unmarred surface creates an illusion of semi-transparency
    • Characters inscribed on Black Stone
      • Completely blotted out up to ten feet from the base
      • Narrator climbs up and discovers the rest are more or less defaced
    • Natural stone seat near Black Stone
      • Narrator leans back in it
      • Narrator believes Geoffrey must have sat in when he composed poem
    • Visions
      • Gazing at the Black Stone for any length of time causes insanity (The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia)
      • Those who sleep nearby are haunted in their dreams the rest of their lives
    • Visions usually at night, particularly witch holidays like Midsummer’s Night
    • What is it?
      • A tower of an obscured castle?
      • “New made I rise, a pillar of dark stone, a nascent thing on Yuggoth’s hoary sod”?
    • The witch in the vision
      • Appearance
        • Naked young woman
        • Long black hair

Riveting, eh? There were a couple of other writing projects I was involved with over the course of 2016, as well as some others pending, including some more possibilities with publishers I’ve never written for.

My Appearance on the Miskatonic University Podcast

After writing my three-part series on Lovecraft’s racism, I was invited to participate in a long-awaited special episode of theMiskatonic University Podcast Special Report Miskatonic University Podcast., which aired on January 12, 2017. The discussion between me and Keepers Chad and Jon centered around Robert M. Price’s controversial opening remarks at NecronomiCon 2015, wherein he presented his perspective on jihadism and political correctness by drawing on Lovecraft. We attempted to provide context and analysis of the meaning of Price’s words, as well as some of their repercussions at the convention. I appreciated being asked to join in on what I hope was a valuable and interesting discussion.

Copyediting?

This has been my focus for the last few years, and I’ve written an occasional scenario or article during that time. Last year, I copyedited the first three releases for TimeWatch, Pelgrane Press’s GUMSHOE game of time-traveling agents protecting the universe from chronal disruption. I also provided assistance with part of Cthulhu Confidential, the first GUMSHOE One-2-One game. Unfortunately, I was unable to fit the entirety of that book into my schedule. As you might surmise, my focus flipped over to writing at the beginning of 2016. There are many reasons for this change, but a crucial one is simply time. As with many freelancers, that work is not my only source of income. I currently work full time for the county library, which provides both stability and a career I love. I realized that maintaining steady copyediting work under those circumstances wasn’t working–not if I wanted time for anything other than work, no matter how enjoyable. So, I made the difficult decision to take an extended hiatus and focus on writing. Anyway, on to the future–it keeps coming, no matter what we do.

 

 

Advertisements

A Vegan at Gen Con

Gen ConHaving dietary restrictions while traveling can be a challenge, especially if you enjoy eating and hope for something that compromises neither your diet nor your tastes. Last year was my first Gen Con, as well as my first trip to Indianapolis, so I compiled a short list of vegan options beforehand. My initial quick search wasn’t promising, but a little more digging gave me a handful of places either close to the convention center or a relatively short walk or bus ride away. I arrived in Indianapolis assured that I wouldn’t have to eat the same thing over and over.

Here are the places I ate and my (somewhat hazy) impressions of them, starting with the closest to the convention center. There were a couple of other places I was aware of that I didn’t try (apparently there’s a vegan haggis at a nearby Scottish pub). If I try some new ones or others share their own food experiences with me, I’ll update this. I will definitely check out Three Carrots, the vegetarian restaurant which opened up recently east of Monument Circle; it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the convention center.

The Convention Center

This wasn’t on my list. I had no expectation that I would find suitable food in a convention center. On my first day, however, I took a look and discovered that the sandwich vendors offered the Vegan of Fury (which was also their only vegetarian sandwich option). I ate three or four of the things over the course of the convention. Eight dollars got me a decent-sized sandwich (cold eggplant, peppers, purple onion, and probably a couple of other ingredients I’ve forgotten), a mound of potato chips, and a pickle spear. Here’s what I posted on social media at the time: “It may not be revelatory in its flavor, but the price is comparable to other nearby options, and I hope they keep offering food like it. It was sold out at the first stand I visited yesterday, so it seems to be doing all right.” It was convenient and followed the rules for food in the convention halls (no outside food allowed), and I thought it was a good idea to support them providing options for folks like me.

Duo’s Food Truck

I ran across DuDuo'so’s Kitchen while searching for options. It’s three miles away, but they also operate a food truck, and they had posted that they would be one of the many catering to the Gen Con crowd on Thursday and Friday. I grabbed some food there both days. They had a great quinoa salad, with almonds and fruit, and the bisque was nice, as well. I also tried their vegan magic cookie bars, similar to a Mounds bar. They’re small but satisfying. I really hope they’re back this year. Their Facebook page seems to be the best way to track the truck and its changing menu (they should have one or two vegan options a day).

Noodles & Company

This was what INoodles & Company found on my initial search. I was unfamiliar with this chain, and I’m not generally fond of franchises. But it looked like a decent option, and it still qualified as a new culinary experience. There are three noodle dishes on the menu that are vegan as is, as well as a soup, and there are numerous vegetarian options. It’s at 121 W. Maryland Street, Indianapolis IN 46225, just a couple of blocks from the convention center, and it’s open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The lines tend to be long, but they keep it moving, and they bring the food out quickly. I’m sure most of the ingredients are prepared well ahead of time and are just waiting to be tossed together, but the food was decent nonetheless. I ate there twice and had the Japanese Pan Noodles and the Indonesian Peanut Sauté. I preferred the latter, simply because it was a slightly novel flavor combination (it’s probably the first Indonesian food I’ve eaten, even in approximation).

Bazbeaux Pizza

This pizza placBazbeaux Pizzae has a number of vegetarian options, and the senza formaggio comes without cheese (it’s in the name!). They have a downtown location, about a twenty minute walk from the convention center, at 333 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46204, with the hours of Monday–Thursday and Sunday: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. I went there Wednesday night after getting my badge. I’ll point out that Massachusetts Avenue runs diagonally, and if you turn the wrong way onto it, in the dark, after a flight, it may take you a little while to figure out that you’ve done so. At least that’s my experience. So I should point out nVonnegut Muralow that I’m fairly critical of pizza, having spent four years of my childhood in Naples. And, no, it’s not just because I get it without cheese. The point of good pizza is the crust and the sauce, as far as I’m concerned (and one of the traditional pizzas of Naples comes without cheese, and it’s incredible). I was also tired, and they were closing soon, so I ate fairly quickly. All that said, I found the pizza to be all right, perhaps a little disappointing. The ingredients seemed to be of good quality, and my experience was undoubtedly marred by shoveling hot food into my mouth quickly. I doubt I’ll be back, considering the distance and my aforementioned taste preferences, but it’s worth a look for those inclined. And you can pass by the Vonnegut mural (photo from indianapolismonthly.com; my own nighttime photograph turned out as poorly as one might expect).

Spice Nation

This is unfortunately both the farthest and best food I had the entire time. I believe it is the only completely vegetarian restaurant in the area, and it serves Southern Indian food, which were two reasons I hoped I’d be able to make it there. Sunday night, after the convention, I took a bus to the restaurant at 4225 Lafayette Road, Indianapolis, IN 46254. I had estimated it taking about twenty-five minutes, but the bus wasn’t on time, so it was closer to forty minutes to get there. Ultimately, I’m glad I went. The restaurant is located within an Indian grocery store; you walk down the entrance hall to the store, and the entrance to the fairly large restaurant is to the right. When I came in and the waiter seated me, he asked if I was vegan, which was nice. When I replied that I was, he informed me that the buffet had numerous clearly marked options. I really just wanted a dosa, one of my favorite things, and it became clear to me that they were only serving the weekend dinner buffet (which can be a dodgy proposition even in good restaurants). I asked if that was indeed the only option, and he assured me that I would find it quite enjoyable. Well, that was that, so I took my seat. My spirits were immediately elevated when he told me he’d be right out with my dosa (I hadn’t said anything about it; they simply give you one of the delightful things as part of the buffet). And the buffet itself was marvelous. I got to eat a number of dishes I rarely do, like korma, as well as try some things I’d never heard of. My waiter came by to tell me he’d just put out a pot of vegan chai. There were also two desserts I could eat.

They don’t have their own website, but, from what I gather on review sites, they’re under new management. This isn’t universally seen as a bad thing (there are at least some people who are happier with the food now, though there are a lot of complaints about the service). It was going to be difficult to squeeze it in as it was; now, I’m not sure how much effort I’ll make.

 

 

I Went to Gen Con

Gen Con

I did. It was my first time and everything. Yes, I’m a little tardy in summing up my experience. I was out of town for two weeks for not only Gen Con but NecronomiCon as well, and had work waiting or on its way to me when I returned. But, finally, I’m passing on a few thoughts.

So, how was it? It was quite nice, really. As a first-time attendee of such an enormous and long-running convention dedicated to gaming, I was prepared to be overwhelmed, which was indeed the right mindset. Having experienced Comic-Con International‘s staggering expansion over the last twenty years, I have developed convention survival skills that serve me well. While Gen Con isn’t as big (you don’t need to squeeze through people or perpetually stand in line), it’s still difficult to see and do everything you’d like to.

Eternal LiesI got to reconnect with and meet a lot of people that I’ve worked with. I picked up contributor’s copies of Eternal Lies and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition from Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press, who released ten new books at the convention. As with all things Pelgrane, they’re beautiful books, and I’m honored to have had a hand in them as a copyeditor. Eternal Lies is Trail of Cthulhu‘s foray into the kind of globe-trotting campaign that Lovecraftian roleplaying is renowned for, and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition is a refinement with additional material for the game of occult conspiracies that introduced GUMSHOE’s investigative genre emulation to roleplaying. I met Mike Mason at the Chaosium booth, congratulated him on Call of Cthulhu‘s 7th editiThe Esoterrorists, 2nd Editionon, and told him how much my group enjoyed playtesting it. His new role as line editor hadn’t been announced yet, so I didn’t have an opportunity to congratulate him on that as well. He gave me a print copy of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules (the updated version is now available for download). I met lots of other great people and chatted with them about their games, and I attended some instructive panels on freelancing in the industry.

Gen Con’s a game convention, but I didn’t sign up for any beforehand for a couple of reasons. Again, not having attended before, I wasn’t sure how much time I could devote to that activity. Also, I wasn’t able to log on when game registration went live, and, considering what I’d heard about how quickly games fill up, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t much available for me. I started hearing about Games on Demand in the days before the convention, so I knew to check that out.

I don’t have a lot of experience with playing games in convention settings, so the hard-working folks behind this have set the high standard that I will now judge all such activities by. It was an excellent opportunity to try out different games. The flexibility Games on Demand provides worked out just great, and I got to play in five fun games over the course of the convention (and if I’d wanted more, I’m sure I could have gotten into some). It could sometimes be hard to hear over all the commotion, but I’m sure players at the adjoining tables were occasionally frustrated by my own volume.

I played School Daze written and run by Tracy Barnett and Carolina Death Crawl presented by Adam Drew. I played in a Dungeon World game run by Will Hindmarch, the head writer of Eternal Lies; I also played Always/Never/Now, his cyberpunk game based on Lady Blackbird, run by Mark Causey. And I got to try out Monsterhearts, run by Anne, a game I’d been intrigued by for a while. I read it a couple of months ago, and it was definitely interesting but not necessarily something I foresaw getting a group together for, especially  for a campaign. With the wrong group of players, Monsterhearts could be a disaster. That’s true of any game, but the sexually charged subject matter in this game makes the chance of blundering into the wrong group and having an uncomfortable experience seem a little higher than usual. I’m quite happy that I had a great time with it, developing more of an emotional attachment to the characters than I almost ever do, especially in such a short time. I’d love to be able to explore that particular story further.

Sex has never been a big part of my roleplaying experience. Even in games where players take more time with creating backgrounds and developing characters during play, romantic connections are rare or an afterthought. And, when I’m the GM, it’s not something I press. But thinking back on it lately, I realized there were more positive experiences with it in my history than I initially remembered, some quite recent. It was far easier for me to recall the awkward or annoying experiences, the ones that help make me trepidatious about including such material. It’s a quandry that we are generally more comfortable with roleplaying violence than we are with romance and sex. I know I’m not alone in this; it’s been a fairly frequent subject of discussion lately. Here are two recent Google Hangouts on the part sex can have in roleplaying: Indie+ Sex and Dice, with game designers discussing how it factors into design and gameplay, and Sex & RPGs, where two of the Games on Demand folks discuss how they approach sex in their games.

The X-CardI also got to experience the X-Card at Games on Demand, a device for creating a safe playing space by allowing any player at any time to non-verbally indicate that the game has veered into uncomfortable material. Of the five games I played, only one didn’t utilize it (and, in that one, we had a discussion beforehand about what themes we didn’t want to include). After its introduction each time, the card sat in the center of the table, accessible but, ultimately, unused. Regardless of its inactivation, I think its presence was a positive one. Just because no one at any point saw fit to use it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t doing its job. I found it reassuring, even though there’s very little, at least in the abstract, that I am likely to object to in a game (it depends on presentation, and I’m more likely to be annoyed than outright offended). Possibly I was more reassured to know that everyone else had recourse to it, in case I or anyone else verged into uncomfortable territory. Certainly, when you’re playing a game like Monsterhearts with complete strangers, a device like the X-Card can be very welcome indeed.

So I did indeed have a great time, both productive and fun. I’m going to do my level best to get there next year. And I expect I’ll make some time for games.

ACHTUNG! Trail of Cthulhu

My Trail of Cthulhu conversions of Modiphius‘s first two Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios are now available.ACHTUNG! CTHULHU The Achtung! Cthulhu setting pits agents of the Allied nations against those of the Axis as they seek to harness the cosmic power of the Mythos. The backdrop of WW II has previously appeared in Cthulhoid roleplaying, but Achtung! Cthulhu is the first setting to provide substantial material for games set in that era. Here’s a link to a bundle deal on the PDFs (where they can also be purchased individually).

The scenarios are Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea, the first two parts of the episodic Zero Point campaign, written by Sarah Newton. Each stands alone, providing an individual mission to challenge the players. Modiphius previously provided versions for Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, and PDQ. This is one of the benefits of PDF publishing, though print versions will follow at some point. Based on the great success of their recent Kickstarter—which started with two books and funded to about five times that, with the addition of miniatures, a board game, and more—this line will have a long and healthy life.

My conversions provide statistics and rules, including, of course, Trail of Cthulhu‘s method of providing clues. While these scenarios have more opportunities for furious action than Lovecraftian ones stereotypically do, they have many of the familiar qualities of investigation, cautious approaches, and mind-shattering horror. If you are unfamiliar with Ken Hite’s Cthulhu Mythos version of Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE rules, more information can be found on Pelgrane Press’s website.

While a lot of conversion work is more or less mechanical, though requiring creativity and judgment (this stat equals this one, this Call of Cthulhu skill used to find the clue is equivalent to this Trail of Cthulhu one, etc.), this project’s setting provided further interesting challenges. Sarah Newton had provided CoC rules for vehicle combat and large-scale engagements (including rules for PCs commanding such forces). I wrote rules for these aspects of warfare to fit ToC‘s style, and this was probably the most extensive design work I did on these. Also of interest to Keepers are the numerous spells I converted (three for Three Kings and seventeen for Heroes of the Sea, with two overlapping between them). Some of these are spells I’ve converted in the past, but I looked at each one to determine if changes needed to be made to fit the scenario or my own evolving sensibilities.

The Untimely Death of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

CIVIL WAR EpilogueIn one day, the license for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying expires with such force that official outlets for the game and supplements will cease to offer it. I know this is definitely the case for PDFs; DriveThruRPG has to stop selling them by the end of 4/30. I think Margaret Weiss Productions has to stop selling its physical stock by that point as well, but I base that on implications and inferences. Since the last three printed books (the Civil War supplements) never made it into normal distribution, that severely limits access to physical copies of over half the published material for the game. The first Annihilation book won’t see print and pre-orders will be refunded. The advance PDF is the only way to get it. Whatever final changes would have been made to the material will never be implemented.

What exactly happened can only be speculated upon by those of us not directly involved. Here’s my basic understanding: MWP had acquired the license from Marvel. It published the rulebook and a first round of supplements and had an ambitious schedule of future releases announced. Lots of work had already been done on these (and, apparently, work had begun on at least one that hadn’t been announced). Marvel and MWP were negotiating the renewal of the license. At some point, MWP decided they couldn’t continue with the license. They then had a week before operations shut down completely. (The official announcement is here, at the end.)

I don’t have any insider’s knowledge here. But without engaging in baseless theorizing, it does seem odd that there is such a short window of time to finish selling these products. I have to assume this was Marvel’s choice, and it doesn’t seem like a fair one. In any case, the situation is sad. It’s sad for the creators who put so much work into material that will never be seen. I don’t know what MWP’s payment terms are, but there’s a very good chance those hours of work will never be compensated. And if they were, then it’s MWP that will never see compensation. It’s sad for MWP, the company that worked to bring out a great game based on a beloved license and now has to deal with the effect this has on its operations and reputation. It’s sad for me personally, because this game did something I would have thought unlikely at best, and I was looking forward to more.

The unlikely thing that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying did was make me interested in a comic-book roleplaying game for the first time in twenty years. That it was for a licensed property, and that the way the license was implemented factored in, only makes it more surprising to me. The second roleplaying game I ever ran or played was TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set. (Before that came out, I used AD&D to run games set in the Marvel universe, just as I did Star Wars). I cajoled my parents into buying me the Advanced Set the day I saw it in a store. But I moved on a few years later. I began to feel that superhero roleplaying games just didn’t quite feel like they represented the comic books I loved. The rules focused on straightforward combat and benchmarking abilities. They didn’t have the fluidity and scope I wanted. Since I left those games behind, I’ve found some great games that have super-powered characters, such as the Wild Talents line of settings and Mutant City Blues. But I believed a game that really felt like playing a character in a comic-book story wasn’t going to come along.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying appeared to do that. I say “appeared,” because I still haven’t run a game. But reading online discussions got me to pick up the first book and the Civil War event book. When I read the recent announcement, I scrambled to get everything I’d been waiting for. I still hope to play the game sometime soon, but it’s unfortunate that, as far as official material goes, the end has come.

Golden Goblin Press Launches with Kickstarter

Golden Goblin PressISLANDS OF IGNORANCE has started a Kickstarter campaign for its first book, Island of Ignorance, the Third Cthulhu Companion. The Kickstarter went up on Friday, 4/19, and it’s been heading steadily toward its initial goal since.

I’m in the running to write a bonus “mystery” scenario. What’s the mystery? Almost everything about it. Backers at the Private Eye level and higher will vote on the elements they want to see in the scenario, as well as who will give life to the patchwork monstrosity. The other authors vying for the spot are Chad Bowser (writer of Cthulhu Invictus), Adam Gauntlett (writer of numerous historically based Trail of Cthulhu scenarios), Stuart Boon (line developer of Cthulhu Britannica), Bret Kramer (editor of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion), and Jeffrey Moeller (Lost in the Lights). Those are just a few of the credits these impressive writers have justifiably received accolades and awards for. That’s going to be some tough voting.

Oscar Rios is in charge of Golden Goblin Press. He’s well regarded for his numerous contributions to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, including the integral role he’s played at Miskatonic River Press since the beginning, both as a writer and an associate editor.

I’ve worked with him or been published alongside him a number of times. As impressive as his bibliography is already, I don’t think we’ve really begun to see what he’s capable of, because he keeps getting better and better. His Cthulhu Invictus campaign, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, stands eye-to-eye with any Call of Cthulhu campaign, which is saying a lot for a game renowned for its campaigns. And “The Tenement,” one of his latest offerings (included in Tales of the Sleepless City), is a masterful exercise in dread and despair. Under his leadership, Golden Goblin Press promises to be an exciting and vital new CoC licensee.

A Double Threat

Two books I worked on were published recently. Finally! (Working in publishing is an exercise in patience.) Paul Carrick was one of the many great artists contributing to both books.

Tales of the Sleepless City Cover

Paul Carrick’s cover for TALES OF THE SLEEPLESS CITY

I was a copyeditor on Tales of the Sleepless City, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Miskatonic River Press. It’s another beautiful book from them (their production quality keeps getting better and better). Each scenario spotlights an area of New York City in the 1920s, full of great atmosphere and details to bring the cosmopolis to life. Some friends and I got to play in a couple of the scenarios (“To Awaken What Never Sleeps” and “The Fishers of Men”) at MythosCon in 2011, courtesy of MRP president Tom Lynch.

Paul Carrick art from "This Village Was Made for Us"

Paul Carrick’s nightmarish painting from “This Village Was Made for Us”

I wrote a scenario, “This Village Was Made for Us,” and some scenario seeds for Atomic-Age Cthulhu from Chaosium.  This Call of Cthulhu collection takes place during the 1950s, a previously neglected era for the game. It also provides resources to create characters and run games during the period.  My scenario takes place in one of the communities established to support the nuclear industry, a surreal and oppressive environment for an investigation. I recently received my copy, and I look forward to reading the rest of the scenarios. Brian Sammons put it together, and it was great working with him again. I made my first RPG submission pitch to Brian back in 2002, for Strange Aeons II.