Category Archives: General News

Zombie Steampunk Cthulhu

Zombie Steampunk Cthulhu

  • Everything’s better with steampunk.
  • Everything’s better with zombies.
  • Everything’s better with Cthulhu.

Therefore, we need a setting where the use of Babbage’s Analytical Engine allowed cultists to correctly calculate when the Stars Would Be Right, allowing them to summon back the Great Old Ones, which in turn unleashed a plague of the walking dead upon the world!

Well, I’ve done the hard part.. coming up with the idea. Someone else can do the easy part of writing a 256 page full-color hardcover sourcebook with full art and playtested game mechanics and getting it published by GenCon, and give me half the money.

(You, erm, might detect some slight sarcasm in that last paragraph… )

The As-Required-By-Law Kickstarter Post-Mortem

Kickstarter Post-Mortem (Updated 2-25-2014)

As Seemingly Required By Law

So, my first Kickstarter is done. I beat the odds in several ways… it was funded. The product was produced, if not 100% on time, at least mostly under budget. (That is, I paid for all expenses out of the money raised…. with the exception of paying myself for the time involved. At the end, after expenses, I “earned” approximately $0.75/hour, or 1/10th minimum wage.)

So what have we learned?

Writing The Book Was The Easy Part

You’d think actually producing the core product would be the biggest hurdle, and after that, it would all be gravy. Well, that’s not the case. I found this experience an object lesson as to why any argument to the effect of “Dude, publishers and producers and agents are all just parasites feeding off the creative soul! Eliminate the middleman! Fight the power!” is total bull bagels. You know why middlemen exist? Because the skills and knowledge involved in turning a word processor document into an actual book are not instinctive, and time spent on that process is time spent not doing anything creative. I’d estimate it took almost as much time to handle the post-writing work as it did to write the book. Fortunately, a large chunk of that time was learning curve — it will go more smoothly next time. Yes, I’m stupid enough to think there will be a next time.

Figure Out The Art Early

One of the major delays was getting the art done. Some of this was due to Life Happening on the part of the artist, which is unavoidable and in no way his fault — my own current situation is ample proof that the universe is going to kick you in the balls and then shove you off a cliff at the worst possible time. Another part of it was due to me not knowing what scenes I wanted illustrated… or even what scenes would be in the book… until I was done writing it. Ordering art earlier in the creative process runs the risk of being locked into story elements you might later decide to change, but ordering it later means everything is delayed.

Size (And Shape) Matter

Another exciting discovery was that the costs of a book increase dramatically with page count, and that page size reduces page count — and thus cost. The reason so many self-published or small-press books are 6 x 9 is because that’s an optimal point between increasing cost-per-page due to larger pages, and increasing page count due to smaller pages. However, if your art was commissioned at a different height/width ratio… it won’t fit properly. And if you’re running really late getting the book out, you have to bite the bullet and deal with things that aren’t perfectly sized, cropping or scaling and hoping for the best.

Details Matter

Margins matter. Font size matters. Headers/footers, page numbers, and making sure things look good when viewed in a double-page spread as a print book, not just as a scrolling PDF, matter. Some fonts don’t embed properly. These are all things I didn’t know, and had to learn, and each one added to the delays in getting the books out. (And I shall be honest — the final print copy was “acceptable”, not “perfect”. The kerning is a bit off. The inner margin is too narrow. It’s well within the bounds of “readable”, but it could be better, and now I know.)

"Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!"

“Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”


I figured the only program I needed to know how to use was Word. Bwaahahah! One of the things I learned was that I needed to learn image-editing and image-conversion software… which I didn’t own and didn’t have time to learn. Fortunately, I did have skilled friends who took pity on me. They probably won’t take pity on me a second time, so I  either budget money to pay people for their hard-earned skills and talents, or I budget time and money to learn this stuff myself.

Graphic Design

Seriously, I'm Not

Seriously, I’m Not

I have  very little graphic design sense. Contrary to grade school philosophy, people can and do judge books by their covers. Even with good art, the total design — font choices, placement of title and author, background — had to be good enough to say “This book is professionally written.” Is it logical to judge the quality of the words by the layout of the cover? Somewhat. Just as poor grammar/spelling in a post sends the message “I don’t care enough about my point to write it properly; why should you care enough about it to consider my message?”, sloppy design and layout says, “I don’t care about how the book looks; why should you trust me to care about the plot, characterization, and editing?” So, while I had some placeholder choices for the “late beta” PDF I released when I realized there would be a long delay for the final copy, I knew it wasn’t good enough. Further, the fact the scaling had changed meant understanding appropriate design “tricks” to make the art look good despite having the wrong height/width ratio. Fortunately, as noted, I had friends come to my assistance.

Let It Flow, Let It Flow, Let It Flow…. (Added 2-25-2014)

Something else discovered fairly late in the process. When I was finally getting around to adding in the credits for the backers, I wanted them to look good (and also not increase the page count too much). I knew enough Word stuff to set up alternating sections with different column counts, so I could have a header listing each backer tier, and then a two column list below that, and then the next division, and so on. It did look pretty decent, all in all. Until I converted it to epub. Then it sucked. Why? Because epub and mobi (and probably all other e-reader formats) are designed to flow text across all sorts of screens. They throw away all but the most basic formatting information to allow for maximum flexibility. So, I ended up having two different files (which I have to manually maintain in parallel — if I fix a typo in one, I must go change the other, then re-export both), in order to have one version that looks good in print and one that looks good in silicon. (I understand that “real” layout tools handle this automatically, and by “automatically”, I mean “someone who knows what they’re doing can set them up to do it”.)

General Conclusion: There Is No Magic Book Fairy

Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that all I needed to do was write the book, edit it, and then email a PDF to, and that would be that. As I learned, not so much. Overall, dealing with art, layout, formatting, and file conversion issues took about 30-40 hours of time. I can probably whack that down to 10-15 now that I know a lot more about what’s required, and that’s going to get factored in to the next budget plan.

Inspiring Images

Just a note: I occasionally stick stuff to my Pinterest board that is of interest (if not Pinterest) to games and other geeky types. So, here it is:

Inspiring Images.

Spam spam spam, glorious spam…

While Akismet has done wonders in the keeping spam from appearing in the comments, the robo-spammers have evidently found this site, and I have to clean dozens of messages out of Akismet’s holding pen every day or so. This tells me the captcha isn’t working. I dislike dealing with hundreds of spam messages, because I try to be conscientious and scan them for false positives (so far, I’ve found about 1-2 out of thousands of spam posts, so maybe I should stop bothering). Even so, does anyone know of a better tool than SI Captcha for keeping spam from even reaching Akismet in the first place, and which will be only a minimal burden to the humans who come here? (I don’t want to turn off comments on old articles, as a lot of them are “evergreen”; unlike a news site or the like, the core content here — rules, reviews, and so on — is generally useful no matter how long ago it was posted, at least to the extent anything here is useful.)

Still Alive…

I’m making a note here, “Huge success!”. (Probably my favorite fan video for that song….)

Seriously, I’ve been an emotional and creative slump for the past few weeks. I don’t know if I’m coming out of it, per se, but I’m going to force myself to do something other than assigned work with a deadline, especially since I met two deadlines for EOB today before lunchtime and had a major, major, coding breakthrough on Friday. So, rather than wait for the magic happiness fairy to hit me with her wand of unicorn sparkles, I’ve looked at my long list of “stuff I figured I’d get around to doing eventually”, and, right now, work is about to being on another review/walkthrough of an Erol Otus/early 80s semi-classic. Hopefully, some part of it will be ready to post before too much longer.


…is about a third over, and I haven’t posted anything. Bugger. I didn’t realize how long it had been since my last post until I logged in to do some other things.

I blame part of it on a new job — longer hours (I’m back to full time work, whereas, I had been on a 30 hour work week since November) and a raise (my first in five years!). Even better, so far, most of my work consists of what I’ve been trying to get into, professionally, for a long time — technical writing. There will be some coding, too, but I need to learn more about their software, etc, first. Also, my wife has been more-or-less immobilized (may spend a healing surge to take a move action) due to a foot injury, which means I have more chores to ignore do. Creativity tends to come in waves, mostly, and this is sort of an ebb tide period. (I can be creative on demand — it’s how I meet deadlines — but if it’s just for me, it’s hard to force it.)

There’s a few things bubbling, though. I still want to do something sci-fi and pulpy, I’m just not sure what — system, setting, complexity. Eventually, something will spark. I know I want hexagons.

Random WIP: Hyperspace

Honestly, this is sort of being posted because I don’t like long stretches of “No posting”, not because I genuinely think it’s likely to be of interest to anyone. (Oh, BTW, the next stage of the Battlelords walkthrough is almost ready; I need to decide if I want to split it into three parts or charge ahead and finish it now.)

Anyway, work on Stellar Battles proceeds in fits and starts; I’m still having trouble finding the right tone for it, in terms of rules. On the one hand, I’ve really been wanting to do the Ultimate Kick Ass Space Opera Laser Sword Five Mile Long Starship Pew Pew Pew Lasers Barfights And Smugglers And Ancient Mystic Powers And Forgotten Alien Artifacts science fiction game for a long time.  A very long time. As in, honestly, it was the very first thing I tried to design back when I was 14 and one way or another it’s been in the back of my mind for a while. I know I want race/class/level, because while I love freeform systems for a lot of reasons, I honestly find that I prefer RCL designs because they let me better define the core archetypes for a game while still (if using more modern variants, i.e, OGL-based) allowing for the kind of fine-tuned character control I like. I’m definitely not interested in doing a new game w/the 4e engine, not because I don’t like the system, but because I’d rather focus all my 4e efforts on Earth Delta.

This leaves me pulled in two directions.

One, go very much mid/late 1970s, esp. pulling from the “unofficial” stuff and the things Gary Gygax (sometimes with good reason, sometimes without) hated, and that’s Classes Galore… lots and lots of classes, most with some kind of simple “At this level, the blah can blah 1/day” powers to liven them up — see, well, classic Arduin, and no real skills/feats/goodies/ whatever, just boolean proficiencies or class specific powers laid out in varying levels of detail (ranging from simple notes bound to cause arguments to pages of niggling detail bound to cause arguments).

Two, give in to my passions and use a more “modern” system, either an OGL/Pathfinder variant or FantasyCraft, the latter being a system I really like for its plethora of crunchy bits and how it weds the kind of meta-gaming systems you normally find only in wussy free form commie hippie “story telling” games with the kind of hard tactical crunch I find endlessly appealing.

Three, screw it all, make up my own core rules that will draw from many strains of inspiration but not be particularly “plug and play” compatible with anything else. This is another thing I keep waffling over. I have argued, many many times, that the world doesn’t need one more way to kill an orc. And I stand by that. At the same time, I like creating systems for their own sake, knowing that they’re unnecessary and redundant. There’s a few mechanics I really like (non-Boolean success systems, for one) that aren’t a common part of the core D20 family. (By “non-Boolean”, I mean “multiple successes”, where how well you do matters. Hitting someone by 10 points does more damage than hitting him by 1 point. Tasks such as picking a lock require accumulating successes over time. The best known systems that use this mechanic, though, are dice pool systems which tend to fail in terms of granularity.)

Putting it more plainly, since I get no money, and very little in the way of fame or even feedback, for these kinds of projects, the only thing that drives me is passion, and if I don’t have passion for a particular style, it doesn’t get done. While I’m willing to play almost any game, except that which must not be named, when it comes to either running games or designing games, I like high granularity and high levels of mechanical character differentiation. That last one is important and it’s what tends to keep me out of the “Old School Renaissance” except as a source of ideas I can rip off inspiration. (It also kept me very annoyed at 4e until the first wave of “Power” splatbooks and Dragon articles.) I don’t care if one 4th level Fighter is run as an axe-wielding illiterate barbarian and another 4th level Fighter is run as a gallant Knight — if, when the dice hit the table, they are mechanically identical, then, for me, the system doesn’t work. The more generic the mechanics, the less interest the game holds for me.

However, the title of this topic was “Hyperspace”, was it not? It was! I’ve been dancing around the system issue by focusing on the setting, which is going to be, like most of the settings I prefer, something mostly drawn in big, bold, colorful strokes with unending room for GM improvisation and expansion. However, it does need some “rules of physics”, both literally and figuratively, and if you’re doing a grand space opera setting, you need to set out how faster than light travel works, as this is going to shape the game universe more than any other decision. It will influence politics, economics, and character backgrounds in all sorts of ways. There is no disconnect between “swashbuckling action” and “world building” — if the universe in which you’re buckling your swash has no sense of verisimilitude to it, you are not Errol Flynn innnn spaaaaaaaace… you are a four year old running around a living room, waving a plastic sword and going “I’m a piwate!”.

Thus, the first draft of the hyperspace rules.

Continue reading

A Waist Of Time

As belabored many times before, my time to work on Earth Delta is limited. Even so, I find a few minutes here and there, and one of the things that needs serious beefing up is the tech item lists. (I am, basically, writing my own full-length Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Adventurer’s Vault, a task which is as Sisyphean as it is quixotic and I wonder what tomorrow’s word on my calendar will be.) I managed to get a few waist items done (hence the title of this post — see what I did there? Aren’t I just so clever?). In one of those rare moments of inspiration (“You should have thought of that six months ago, moron!”) it occurred to me that a new type of waist item that fits the Earth Delta milieu (thank you, Earnest Gary Gygax, for you have done more for my vocabulary than all the pedantic pedagogues in the world) would be the holster. (It also occurred to me that I could write a Western RPG called “Holsters And Holsteins”, but I’m going to let that idea drop for a while…)

So I present to you the first holster item for Earth Delta. As usual, this is a first pass/unedited draft. Even so, it went through a lot of changes as I tried to balance “is this a sensible power given the special effects” with “is this a useful power” and “would a player want this in place of a different waist slot item”. As it is, I’m highly tempted to drop the charging property and give it to another holster that would have other, charging-related, powers.

Mag Holster Level 9+

From hip to hand in the blink of an eye…

Lvl 9 4,200 gp
Lvl 14 21,000 gp
Lvl 19 105, 000 gp

The mag holster resembles a small chrome disk, with a number of blinking lights and small controls. When a gun is placed next to it, the gun is held fast until the user wants it.

This holster can hold any one-handed tech gun.

Property: If you attach a full UPC to the weapon stored in this holster during a short or extended rest, the first shot from the weapon does not drain a charge from the UPC. This increases to 2 shots with the level 19 version.

Property: You can sheathe a one-handed gun as a free action, fastening it to the mag holster. You can then later retrieve it normally as a minor action.

Property: Anyone attempting a Thievery check to remove the gun from the holster suffers a -4 penalty to their roll.

Power(Encounter): When you draw a gun from this holster for the first time in an encounter, if the next action you take is an attack action using that gun, you gain a +1 item bonus to the first attack roll you make. This increases to a +2 item bonus for the 14th level holster. If using the 19th level holster, all targets of the attack grant combat advantage to you.

A Comment On Comments

I use Akismet to keep this blog spam-free. However, it’s reporting that it’s captured a lot of spam I don’t see (it’s supposed to store all blocked spam, but for whatever reason, that’s not happening for me). This could be a simple bug in how it displays blocked posts, or it could be over-blocking. Since I can’t see what it’s considering spam, I am concerned at least some legitimate comments might not be getting through. (I delude myself into believing there may be more readers of this than there’s evidence for…) If you’ve posted a legitimate comment and it hasn’t been made visible within a day at the most (I need to hand-approve posts by first time posters; once you’re legitimate, you’re gold until I decide I don’t like you anymore), please send me an email directly and I’ll see what I can figure out.

PS: Dear spammers, I am not a computer, I am a person, and I am quite capable of determining that “This was article of very interesting! Please writing more of this, it was of interest to me! By the way, if you are of liking to turn garter snake into python of most girth, click here at!” is, in fact, spam. I also want you to know that, if you are a spammer, if you were on fire, I would not piss on you to put it out, unless, for some reason, I had been genetically modified to urinate either kerosene or hydrochloric acid.

A Fragment From My Current Project

Just a minor tidbit from the project I’m currently working on, likely to premiere at GenCon 2011:

The necessity of linking multi-kilometer tall towers by primitive bridges, or building simple ladder, ramp, or lift systems on the outside of said towers (with minimal protection from wind, rain, and carelessly dropped Altairian pseudo-banana peels) leads to many opportunities for the GM to say “Let’s see, you’re two kilometers up, so that’s a -500 to your Breakfall roll.”