Monday, March 31, 2008

Go Get Blight Elves

I have very little to report at the moment, other than the fact that the book I'm writing got extended by a chapter and I'm currently in the process of finishing that up.

So since I have very little to talk about, let's talk about something else. The Blood Throne setting was one of the settings included in the True20 Worlds of Adventure book by Green Ronin. It is, in my ever so humble opinion, the best default fantasy setting available for True20, and it stands up extremely well as a grim fantasy setting in general. It is also published by Reality Deviant Publications, the same company that will soon bring you my space opera setting Reign of Discordia.

If you don't have it already, I highly recommend picking up Blight Elves, which is available from RPGNow here. If you like sadistic elves with one heck of a twist, this is the book for you. Inexpensive and of professional quality, even if you aren't using True20 as your game system of choice, it's full of great ideas if you're looking for a way to make your evil variety of elves nastier in general. ALso remember that converting from D20 to True20 and back is extraordinarily easy.

I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reign of Discordia

The publisher has announced that True20 setting I wrote, so I can now talk about it somewhat. The name of the project is Reign of Discordia, and its a space opera setting. As far as space settings go, its something I was pretty hyped about as I was working on it because it took a lot of elements that I've always loved about the genre and lumped them in one place while, in my opinion, managing to be original.

More on this later.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

That True20 project - I just crossed the finish line. Hooray for me! Now all I have left to do is an art order and then its in the hands of the editors.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pathfinder RPG

The big news in the RPG industry this week was the announcement by Paizo Publishing (formerly the publishers of Dragon and Dungeon magazines) that they will not be switching to D&D 4th edition and will instead be developing the Pathfinder RPG, which will be based on the D&D 3.5 rules. I have to admit that I was in a state of shock when that announcement hit. I think that WotC, and most everyone else watching the industry, assumed that the 3rd party publishers were going to adopt the 4th edition rules under WotC's new Game System License (GSL) and run with it. There are a couple of problems with that assumption, however. First of all, WotC has yet to produce the GSL, and second, all indications are that its going to be much more restrictive than the OGL was. For starters, Green Ronin probably wouldn't have been able to do True20 under the GSL. There's also the possibility that companies may not even be able to translate their old material released under the OGL to 4th edition compatible versions.

Paizo has the additional problem in that they are producing a hybrid product. Their Pathfinder series is a series of linked adventures presented in book format, however, they ship on a monthly schedule. So the physical form might be that of a book, but in almost every other way, they're magazines. Since Pathfinder is all about series' of linked adventures, they can't afford to sit around and wait for WotC to give them the license they need to keep producing their monthly book. They're currently shipping the second adventure path and they're probably finalizing the third or even the fourth of these right now. If they want to be 4E compliant by the end of the year, they need the GSL and they need the rules prior to now.

Be that as it may, other than the publishers that this affects, who are the winners and who are the losers of this decision? The customers! Those customers who decide not to switch to the 4th edition rules (and from what I've been reading, there may be a fairly large number of them this time around) will have a ready source of 3rd edition (kind of) material. According to Paizo, they won't need to buy the new Pathfinder RPG to keep playing the Pathfinder adventures. Better yet, if they do decide to buy into the Pathfinder RPG, they'll be able to play old adventures and use old 3.5 accessories with the new books. So other than the rules upgrades, which will serve to streamline things a bit and solve some of those problems people complain about with the new edition, thjis is really just a way of keeping the 3.5 rules in print.

So those are the winners. Who are the losers? Those who switch to 4th edition will be the ones who lose out on this deal. A lot of people like having printed magazine like things to keep their games going. WotC will still have Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazines, but they'll only be online, and they'll require the use of a printer and a subscription that will cost $10 to $15 a month. Actually, people like me will appreciate this because it means that material wil only be printed out as needed and it won't require a lot of bookshelf space. I don't really see the downside, but for many, this will be a big deal.

So what's my final analysis? I fully intend to do design work for 4th edition, and I intend to play the game and hopefully like it. From all accounts, it sounds like it will be a much easier game to design for. However, from what I've heard, it will also not appeal as much to the power gamers as 3rd edition did. In a sense, it's going to be like the old days when we had Basic D&D which ran alongside Advanced D&D. The difference here being that these games will be supported by different companies. While I fully intend to be onboard for 4th edition, I have to admit that I am a fan of the complexity and internal consistency of 3rd edition. I don't want to even think about liquidating my 3rd edition books, nor can I imagine never playing that game again. In other words, I'm thrilled that Paizo is doing this. I'm extremely happy that people are keeping the 3rd edition game system alive.

A final thought is that WotC may have shot themselves in the foot when they released 3rd edition by creating the OGL. Sure, up until this point, 3rd party publishers haven't been able to take much more than a small chunk out of WotC's loyal fan base, but who knows how long that will hold true? The OGL used the open source movement as an inspiration, touting that it would lead to advancements in game design, and in truth, I believe it has. There's also a lot of talk comparing 4th edition to New Coke, but I have another comparison that, should it come to pass, should be scaring anyone at WotC who is committed to the D&D game: IBM.

In 1981 IBM released the personal PC along with its open architecture, which made industry standardization possible. When Compaq came along and started using this to build IBM Clones, IBM fired off a bunch of cease and desist letters, along with several lawsuits. I don't think they intended for other manufacturers to use the open architecture to create their own PCs. Unfortunately for IBM, Compaq understood the implications of what they had done better than the parent company that had done it, and we all know how things turned out. Of anyone who might be reading this, are any of you reading this using a computer manufactured by IBM? Didn't think so. While IBM managed to hang in there through the mid-90s, often marketing their machines as "premium" or "original," the truth was that they became just another competitor in a crowded market.

Now, in looking at WotC and their wonderful "Open Game" upon which so many standalone games have been created, one has to ask whether or not its really in anyone's best interest to switch? 4th edition is really just an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle, then throw that bottle into the ocean and hope that nobody finds it. Good luck with that. Instead what is happening is that Paizo is out there in scuba gear, retrieving the bottle, shining it up quite a bit, and strapping it to the hood of their Pathfinder SUV and driving it a lot farther down the road that WotC expected them to. And you know what? Good for Paizo! I hope that the 3rd edition game is around in one form or another for decades to come, regardless of what ends up happening to D&D.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Overcoming Writer's Block - Or The Importance of Getting Enough Mental Fiber

I have to admit that I've been a little bit blocked recently. This project I'm working on is almost done. In fact, out of a 70,000 word manuscript, yesterday I was facing down 6,000 words remaining, which in writing terms is just a short jaunt, and having a hard time coming up with anything to say. And I hate it when that happens. One little detail comes along, confounds me, and leaves me lost for words sometimes for days. Given the fact that I'm doing this for a living now and I have four projects lined up after this, I really don't have time for it.

So to find a solution, I resorted to some fairly extreme measures. First, I took the kids to the park. Sure, it was very cold yesterday, but they've been bugging me about this for a while and they were all bundled up, so it was fine. While there, I noticed too late that someone had lined up two of those table/bench combo things and put them right at the entrance of the gazebo, so of course the kids had to go running up into the gazebo by way of the table/bench things. It's a wonder nobody has broken their neck on that. We got back and it took a while for my ears to warm back up, but that did nothing for my writers block.

Next I turned to more distraction, namely playing on our new Wii. I bowled a near perfect game in Wii sports, which was pretty cool. I also watched my oldest daughter bowl a pretty good game using my Mii, and then I solidly trounced my wife when we played against one another. Still blocked up.

Finally, when faced with a day completely devoid of production, I resorted to my secret weapon. I grabbed my MP3 player and listened to Def Leppard's Hysteria album. Now their tour back in 1986 supporting this album was the first concert I went to, and many of the songs on that album are fun, but I would hardly call them a masterful group unless your idea of masterful are the glam rock bands of the '70s and '80s, but they are fun. Check your brain at the door, don't expect anything too challenging musically, just sit back and enjoy the ride. I mean who could forget such memorable songs as Don't Shoot Shotgun, Pour Some Sugar On Me, and Excitable? On the other hand, for me it serves as pure mental fiber and usually gets my mental juices flowing. Sure, it may be killing off a quarter of my brain cells in one shot, but it works! However, like so many other big guns, I try to keep it in reserve. Using it too much could result in an unwanted addiction and it could stop working altogether. At any rate, I managed to get 2,000 words onto the page for the day, which is what I was hoping for.

Four thousand words left until the finish line. Almost there! I should hit the mark and get everything turned in tomorrow.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Almost Done

I'm almost done with that True20 product, so it will soon be going off to editing and I'll just get to sit back and wait for it to be published. I've already hit my target word count and I have one chapter left, so I could really quit now if I was so inclined. Regardless, it's good to be almost done and on schedule. I do have a little more monkeying left to do with the rules mechanics, but those are so close to being done now.

Tomorrow night (actually, I guess it would be tonight, given the late hour) we'll be playtesting a bunch of stuff. I'm definitely looking forward to it and hoping that the playtest won't prompt a total rewrite. ;)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back to the Grind

After working for two weeks straight on my True20 project I took a much needed break this weekend. All I really did was mull around on the internet a bit, watch some TV, and then take the family for a drive on Sunday. In other words, took it easy. Now its time to get back to work and get the last third of this project written. I think I can probably have it by the 20th. I'll check back on the 20th and report my progress.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Filling the Pipeline

Working as a writer is all about filling the pipeline.

It's very rare that I take on more than one project at a time. I'm not saying that its impossible to work on more than one thing at once, but it definitely helps to do a good job if there's only one thing occupying your attention at one time. That means that the best way to do things is to continually look for more work, and then block out time to spend on those projects. Freelancers frequently face one of two problems. The first problem is that you don't have enough work to fill all the holes in your schedule. The second problem is that you have enough projects but you underestimate the amount of time it will take on another project, and that throws your whole schedule into chaos.

I've faced both problems in the past. In one case real life kept throwing me a bunch of curve balls, and on top of that I had projects do. It wasn't my finest hour as a writer, but what can you do? You can't make yourself less burned out, nor can you create time where there is none. All you can really do is hope that the guy you're writing for is a patient and forgiving person.

The other problem is the one facing me right now. I had cleared my schedule entirely, and I had intended to keep it that way for a good long time. I had intended to get a nice normal job and simply enjoy gaming again. No deadline stress, no getting burned out on the subject matter, just enjoying the hobby again. That all changed when I lost my last job due to some stupid political BS that had nothing to do with me. So I've finally decided to play to my strengths and go full time with my writing, and most people who know me think that's a good thing.

The problem I'm currently running into is keeping busy. I'm currently working on a 60,000 word project, and I'm about 2/3 of the way done with it. I'm hoping to be done with it by the end of the month, but I'm taking it on faith that there will be more projects lined up after that. Right now there's nothing definite. Most of the major publishers are in a holding pattern due to the release of 4th edition D&D. Many are unsure whether they'll pay the $5K to get an early start on compatible material, some aren't sure whether they'll make the switch at all, and I think that a lot of them are just waiting to see what the others will do. The end result of this is that there aren't very many freelance gigs to go around at the moment. This is not the best time to be trying to fill the pipeline. I'd get something going with WotC, but they aren't showing the 4th edition rules to anyone who doesn't already have them, which means that it will be June before I can start on anything new for them.

So one thing I have going at the moment is that the company that is publishing the True20 product I'm currently working on thinks they can keep me going for a while. They think I do good work, they enjoy working with me, and the nice thing about True20 is that it won't be going through an edition change anytime soon. So that's one thing I can sort of count on. I'm not going to lie and say that they pay as well as WotC, but they're good people and I enjoy working for them.

Another thing I might have going is a novel, but this is a big maybe. Back in November of last year I started a novel because it was National Novel Writing Month. I didn't make it to the 50,000 word goal, but I did get over 20,000 words. More importantly, I think its a good story and I also think its publishable. I recently contacted a novel publisher about publishing with them, and the vibe I got from their email was that they were interested, so send the manuscript for what I have. That has now been sent, so now I just wait to see whether they like it or not and want to see the rest. This is my first real attempt to get a novel published, so I'm hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. The one thing I have going for me that should keep me out of the slush pile is that I have done a lot of writing for WotC.

So right now I'm faced with the daunting task of re-breaking into the writing profession. I suppose this is a pretty minor complaint when you stop to consider that I didn't get paid for any of my work for the first two years I was doing game design. Breaking in to the industry isn't the easiest thing in the world to do, but as my friend Eric Cagle said, once you're in, you're in.... unless you really do something to f*** it up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More on Gygax's Passing

I have to admit that I found myself tearing up several times today, especially when reading through the tributes to him on various messageboards. It was hard to stay seated at my desk and continue pounding out the product I'm currently working on, knowing that the man who made this possible is no more. Tonight I took a walk as I typically do a couple times a week. I like to go through the neighborhoods where I grew up, circle around the highschool and all the sports fields surrounding it, and then go back to my house. Tonight was a clear windless night with crisp cold air and bright stars above. As I went, it occurred to me how lucky I was to be alive to savor this walk. A human life is the blink of an eye to the universe, but if you add up all of the time from all of the lives Gary Gygax positively affected, it is no mere blink of an eye, but millions of years. The length of time it took for life to crawl up out of the oceans and transform into human beings. Maybe longer....

As I saw the familiar sites of my childhood, I was reminded how large a role D&D played in my young life and how that was all possible because of this one man who contributed so much and was always there for his fans, all the way until the end. On the way back around the highschool I saw something unusual. Deer! Two of them -- one of which was not fifty feet away. That had never happened before. I returned home, sat down, neared my daily wordcount goal, read some more memorials, and quietly thanked Gary for this wonderful living he made possible. And then I reminded myself again how lucky I am to be alive and wished that this great man could be the same.

Thank you Gary, for everything. Thank you. With luck we'll meet one day, but hopefully not for many, many years to come.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax Has Passed

It saddens me to report that the father of the roleplaying game industry, Gary Gygax, has passed away. His contributions have changed millions of lives including mine, and he will be sorely missed.

News From Me

Hey all,

It's been a few months since I came out strongly in favor of True20 as the premier source for Modern and Future games. I've obviously done design work for Wizards of the Coast, I'm a former employee of theirs, and by all rights I should come out strongly in favor of the D20 Modern game. Modern isn't a bad game, I've written a book for it, however, I find the simple act of creating a character for the system tedious at best. I also think that when we start talking about things like firearms and energy weapons, hit points aren't really the best measurement of how your character is doing. In these games, it isn't like D&D where you're some guy encased in steel, letting your armor take the brunt of the blows that connect with you. I think Hit Points are reasonably believable in a fantasy setting, but when we're talking about a firearm aimed at your skull, frankly, a real person's chance of survival will have more to do with their luck and a measure of their toughness. True20 supports this style of play, and better yet, character creation is not overly complicated.

So to get to the point, I've been out of game design for about a year and a half now. The reason is simply that real life demands were severely cutting into the amount of time I had for game design. That is no longer the case, I've decided to make the transition to full time writer, and my time as a writer is going to be about evenly split between fiction and game design.

More to the point, as I said before, I've written books for D&D, I've written a book and some web enhancements for D20 Modern, but the one thing that I've never had the opportunity to do is work on a project of my own. I've always been more or less a hired gun. There's nothing wrong with that since that's how freelancers make their money in this business. At the end of the day though, it left me wondering if I've ever really contributed anything substantial to the hobby I love.

I am pleased to say that I have made arrangements with a publisher that's willing to take a risk on True20, and I'm working on something that I'm actually pretty excited about. I can't go into any real details right now, other than to say that its going to be a new setting book, it incorporates a lot of the elements of what I've always enjoyed or thought was cool about the genre for about as long as I can remember, and it is very likely the start of a new product line that will be exclusively for the True20 rules. Be watching for an announcement soon. I'm pretty excited about this because not only is this an opportunity to bring my vision to this hobby, but its also giving me a chance to work with some great people whose work I have admired for a while now.

So to sum it up, I'm back in the gaming industry, I'm in all the way this time, and at least for the time being I'm hitching my wagon to the True20 rules.