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. Those interested in working 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 even 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) that I was invited to join once I started writing for Firefly. At the CAGWIC four days before the deadline the Evil Hat writer’s search was discussed 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 if they are prideful, 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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War in RPGs

Playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown has helped solidify some thoughts that have been kicking around my head since Forge Midwest in April. While I was up in Madison, I was lucky enough to playtest Souls of Steel by Dana Fried and Elle Addison, both of I Podcast Magic MissileSouls of Steel is an ace pilot military drama game that draws inspiration from Battlestar Galactica, Top Gun, and various anime. It’s a powered by the Apocalypse game with some really clever takes on what a playbook means. I enjoyed the game quite a bit and I can’t wait to see it get refined further; it also taught me some things about how I don’t GM hard enough but that’s an aside.

Souls of Steel got me thinking about the drama in conflicts and how they can be zoomed in and out for different narrative focus and punch. My thought was that a military game – where the players are sent on missions but the big emotional conflicts happen back at base – could be zoomed out to a more squad-like tactical set of moves. The drama in a mission isn’t whether my character makes a particular shot or not. The drama comes from whether we succeed in the mission and what the mission costs the squad members, the unit, and the war effort as a whole.

XCOM ties into this as a computer game that is a squad-based turn-based tactical shooter with individual actions. And I think computers do that really well! Move Kira here, fire on the Sectoid. Send Bashir to the flank and lay down covering fire. Martok goes up the middle and double taps the hoverdisk at close range. Each action I take as a player directs my squad toward the stated objectives of the mission. This is the sort of thing that narrative-heavy role playing games don’t do well. Miniatures games also work well here but they’re a very, very different sort of game from RPGs.

And I’ve been role playing the hell out of XCOM as a [Starfleet] commander. My squaddies have almost no personality – a few pre-programmed quips that trigger on actions: “Rack-tap-bang” when they reload; “X-ray neutralized” when they kill and alien; or “Negative damage” when they miss. So I’ve been thinking about what drove me into role playing in XCOM so heavily and how I could get that investment into an RPG. Role playing in XCOM comes from the investment I have in my squad – naming them, planning their advancement, and giving them call signs really creates an emotional investment for me. The other half, how do I translate this to an RPG took some more thought.
Continue reading

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XCOM Review

I don’t play many video games anymore but once in a while I find one that’s worthwhile. My go to games are tactical RPGs, Lego games, and I’ve discovered 4x games with Civ V.

The latest to catch my fancy is XCOM: Enemy Unknown which I picked up during the Steam Summer Sale. A number of friends all recommended the game to me and I have to say it’s living up to the recommendations. I fired up the tutorial and dove in over the weekend, played until I got the hang of things, and then started a new game.

Story and Engagement

Before I dive into the mechanics of gameplay, I want to discuss what makes this game so insidiously good. Continue reading

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Firefly RPG Released

The day has come where I am a published RPG freelancer. The Firefly RPG core book went on sale today at DriveThruRPG (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/128012/Firefly-RolePlaying-Game-Corebook). You can buy it now. The print version is currently at the printer and should have a release date announced later this month.

This has been an incredibly exciting journey for me. I’d like to thank Mark Diaz Truman for bringing me in on the project and trusting me with the beating heart of the system. Monica Valentinelli has been wonderful as she guided the crew through the whole process. It’s been wonderful working with Dean Gilbert and Rob Wieland on the systems team.

The core book is only the beginning of the Firefly RPG. There are already some adventures on DriveThruRPG that you can buy and a number of supplements are in the works. I can’t wait for everyone to see the exciting things I’ve written in those books, too! My hat’s off to everyone who helped get the project to this point from Margaret Weis to the Browncoats who keep the Firefly fandom alive. You truly cannot take the sky from us.

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Firefly RPG

It’s been quiet around here for most of a year. There’s a good reason this time! Honestly!

Back in July I was offered an opportunity to join the systems team for the Firefly RPG from Margaret Weis Productions. Since then I’ve been hard at work writing for the game, including multiple follow up books after the core rules. As a first published credit in the RPG world, there’s hardly a more exciting property for me. Firefly has been one of my favorite shows ever since I discovered it back in college. I’ve been solidly a Browncoat for over a decade.

The Firefly RPG is the latest game to be powered by the Cortex Plus system. It is based on the Cortex Plus Action rules that first debuted in Leverage. As is always the case with a Cortex Plus game, Firefly has differentiated itself into a game of its own.

My work has been mostly centered around Distinctions. This is really exciting because Distinctions are the living, breathing heart of the system. Distinctions are what really separate characters from each other. It’s through Distinctions that we can give characters unique opportunities to affect the story and shape play at the table.

The game should be released soon, so keep an eye out for it. Things are in the final stages of approval with Fox and then the PDF will be available for purchase. As a teaser, here’s the front cover.

wpid-FireflyRPG-Full-Cover-PSI-1-FRONT-2014-03-29-21-02.jpg

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