Things Don’t Go Smooth

The first non-adventure supplement for the Firefly RPG has gone live on DriveThru. It’s called Things Don’t Go Smooth.



Much like with the Firefly RPG Corebook, I wrote the new Distinctions appearing in this book. Some of them get pretty far out there. Check out Bai Yin’s Distinctions on pg. 81 for really creepy stuff. The story of Bai Yin is a futuristic ghost story, something spacers tell to scare each other out in the black. She’s a young woman who simply appears on a ship. Rumor has it she never means anyone harm and always offers to trade secrets. People who deal with her plain swear she can speak with the dead. Those who cross her inevitably come to some terrible end. No one ever sees her twice.

I also wrote up the character sheets for the major GMCs. These get pretty weird, too. Program 741 (pg. 69) is a sentient computer virus that tries to hunt down Browncoats and wreck their ships. It has almost no physical or social ability but, wow, will it tear you up in pure intellectual challenges. There’s also an honest to goodness pirate queen in there, Tessa Barbossa (pg. 49).

Lastly, there’s an FAQ in this book! And I wrote it! It was a bit of a technical writing exercise and I had to sludge my way through all the internet forums I could find talking about Firefly. But it was worth it. I think it answers a lot of questions and can be very valuable to the players.

Things Don’t Go Smooth was a great book to work on and it let me branch out from just writing character Distinctions. I’m really happy to see it is now available for purchase and hope you all like it.

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Babylon 5 Remix

The Three Rocketeers has many influences, something I call out specifically in the design document with a movie night, TV binge, and reading list of inspirations and genre defining works. One of those influences is Babylon 5, the “novel for television” created and helmed by J. Michael Straczynski. I put it there because The Three Rocketeers is my attempt to mash together the grand romance of swashbuckling France and the immense, starhopping majesty of space opera. B5 is most definitely space opera. I began revisiting the series a few weeks ago as I look at what I like in space opera and what I can bring to the table.

cob5logo Continue reading

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On Growing Up

Today is a big day for my family. Mom and Dad close the deal to sell their home and buy a bed and breakfast. They move in to the B&B today and they have guests this weekend so their stuff will follow on Monday. This is something they’ve talked about for years and now their dream is coming true. I’m happy for them but I also find myself sad and nostalgic. Their adventure comes at the cost of my childhood home.   Continue reading

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It Must be Fate

Earlier this year the fine folks at Evil Hat Productions put out an open call for freelance writers interested in working on Fate products. Writers wanting to try out were asked to complete a writing sample that had four challenges. The people at Evil Hat reviewed them and invited those who passed to join the stable of writers.

I took the challenge and, after a round of revisions, found out yesterday that I passed. Getting that email was incredible and has added to the list of things that are going my way creatively lately.

Today I want to tell the story of my submission. But it’s not the story with the happy ending above. You see, I almost didn’t send in my writing sample. I almost didn’t even write it.

It would have been easier for me just to let it slide. Hours of work and hammering away at the keyboard would simply have never happened. I wouldn’t have spent two days worrying about my initial submission and going over every word. Fear and anxiety wouldn’t have dominated my life for a week. My wife and I could have gone to dinner one of those nights instead of me typing my way through an anxiety attack.

Screwing up the courage to submit my application was a harder, longer process than actually writing it. I worry a lot about failure, even though I’ve rarely failed when I put my mind to something. My armchair analysis of this is that I don’t really feel like I’ve earned many things; I tend to float to the top in organizations and, honestly, kind of feel like I’ve been failing forward much of my adult life.

The Evil Hat writer search was an opportunity for me to succeed or fail on my own merits. And that scared the shit out of me. It still does, actually. But one thing I have learned is that if I let my fear of failure prevent me from doing something it will turn into a life long regret. That anxiety I feel? That’s temporary. Knowing that I never even tried will eat at me forever. I know this from sad experience.

And failing? That would be fine, I tell myself. I’m still a young pup when it comes to freelancing and writing professionally. Evil Hat is a company with high standards, which is one of the reasons I like them as a publisher. There is no shame in not meeting those standards coming off your first project in the industry.

The writer’s search was open for six or eight weeks. I downloaded the info the first day. I submitted my application two days before the deadline. I only started writing the day before that.

My fear almost won. It made a good race of it to the end.

Thankfully, (I guess?) I’m as prone to drunken bravado as any other young person. There’s a monthly get together in Chicago called CAGWIC (Chicago Area Game Writers I??? Colloquium; I’ve never been given a straight answer on what the I stands for). I was invited to join once I started writing for Firefly. At CAGWIC four days before the deadline, all the writers were discussing the Evil Hat search over several pitchers of beer. We talked about the challenges and ideas we had. A friend I respect quite a lot as a writer mentioned he’d already been rejected. I said that I hadn’t written my application yet but thought I could do a pretty good one. The next day, with just three days to go, I started writing my application because I wasn’t about to mouth off in front of Kenneth Hite and not follow through.

Speak words to power even in pride, I suppose.

My point with this whole story is that creation isn’t easy. Putting yourself out there is hard. Taking a chance and risking failure is scary. But sometime last year I decided to not let fear dictate the course of my life. And things have only gotten better. That’s not to say I am better. I’m still anxious and fearful and a bundle of neuroses but I’m getting work in the games industry and that’s better than being an anxious, fearful, bundle of neuroses that isn’t getting work.

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Star Wars Review – Fantasy Flight Games

We now have access to all three Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight Games – Edge of the Empire (Edge), Age of Rebellion (Age), and Force & Destiny (F&D). All are set in the time period of the original trilogy and explore characters during the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. For the most part, characters are intended to be anti-Imperial heroes fighting against a tyrannical regime. Continue reading

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World Creation/Exploration as Play

One of my explicit design goals with Heroes Fall is to have play be a creative exploration of world building. Players should start with the seeds of a world and fill in the details as they go through a campaign. The rules of the game should encourage players to make declarations about the world, reward them for taking ownership, and get them invested in the game. The design thoughts I’ve mused about in recent posts have me thinking about this through a different lens.

World Creation as GM and Player

Moving the structure of Heroes Fall such that each player acts as a GM when their character is not the protagonist changes the nature of world creation for that person. I’ll have to revisit the principles, agendas, and moves for both players and GMs to make sure they suit my principles and agendas as a designer.

Player agendas might be something along the lines of:

  • Seek adventure, explore ancient ruins
  • Explore the world, encounter other cultures.
  • Follow your passions, both loving and vengeful.
  • Obey your Drive.
  • Carve out your own place.

The players are being directed to be adventurers in a classic pulp sense. Conan was a wanderer who followed his whims, seeking adventure, fame, fortune, and love. He hewed his way to the throne of Aquilonia but in many of his adventures he was simply seeking a treasure, a woman, vengeance, or a salve to his pride.

GM principles will need to explore different things. Whenever take part in a scene as a GM, follow these principles:

  • Address yourself to the character, not the player.
  • Threaten the character’s place in the world.
  • Show the world through a dark, weird, fantastic lens.
  • Name your NPCs, push their needs.
  • Ask questions and build on the answers.
  • Respond with adversity and rewards.
  • Be a fan of the protagonist.
  • Follow the fiction.
  • Hint at the fall that is to come.

As a first draft this is a start. I think the principles will need to highlight more clearly what a GM’s role in this multi-GM story will be but this is my starting point. I do worry that telling the GMs to show the world through a dark, weird, fantastic lens will push the game in a gonzo direction, though it does speak directly to building the world.

The GM agenda is another place I need to consider how to guide play. Don’t have time to get into that now, but will dive into it in a later post.

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There Can Be Only One

While I was first working on Heroes Fall I did the bulk of my writing while I was binge watching the 1990s Highlander TV show. I’ve been a fan of the film series (well, Highlander and Highlander: Endgame) since I was a teenager. This set me to noodling on how I would make a Highlander game. The obvious problem here is the catch phrase: there can be only one. How do I make a game with a single protagonist that isn’t a bore for the rest of the table? Continue reading

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Heroes Fall: Quests & Motivation

I’ve let Heroes Fall slide. It’s been nearly two years since I ran it last because I had a terrible play test experience and couldn’t bring myself to look at the game. But it’s sat there, nibbling away at my consciousness and creativity. It lurks, biding its time like the One Ring of Power, until the time is right to reemerge.

That time is now. Continue reading

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