Rogue Planet: Now In Print

So, I’m just gonna leave this right here…

(Kickstarter backers waiting on the dead tree edition… they’re all in envelopes, all addressed, going to the Post Office tomorrow or Thursday unless something weird happens.)

Setting Seed: Bone Wars

Introduction

So, I occasionally have little burbling ideas that, erm, burble to the top of my brain. They get jotted down on random scraps of electrons, often in the midst of other data.

Let’s see… the initialization routine is being called, but it’s being passed a null pointer, except, it shouldn’t be null, it wasn’t null at the call point, so something else is happening here…

Idea: Downton Abbey+Gormenghast+Rogue Trader

Maybe something further up the hierarchy is overriding the value.

That’s what my OneNote pages for “Work Notes” look like. (When I was working, I had two monitors, and usually had OneNote open on the second, to dash off any thoughts I might have, regardless of their relevance.)

Anyway, I have decided to try putting some of my random setting or theme notes up — not fully developed, not really intended to someone to use directly, just “Things I’m working on”.

Setting Seed: Bone Wars

This came to me while playing the Jurassic Park cow-clicker on my iPad, because I wanted to look up some of the dinosaurs, and that got me clicking links, and I remembered what I’d read about the “bone wars” of the 19th century.

What if they’re not hunting dinosaurs, but the bones of titans and demigods, in a vast wasteland still charged with wild magic from whatever cosmic battle destroyed said entities?

Perhaps this region, the size of a small continent, has been abandoned and neglected since the Big To-Do, but now, a discovery has been made. Maybe alchemists can extract tremendous power from the bones, leading to a gold rush atmosphere. Or, cults have discovered how to partially re-animate the bones, so rival factions seek to assemble a complete skeleton. In the meanwhile, there’s all sorts of locals who dislike the outsiders, shady businessmen setting up boom towns, and warped mystic effects throwing things into chaos.

(I can actually see this is a boardgame/cardgame concept, where players compete to complete a skeleton and sabotage other player’s activities.)

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.

Very Short Tales Of Non-Adventure, Part 1

For  a while, I’ve had in the back of my head assorted tales of things not going according to trope, mostly for the fun of it. Here’s the first, hastily scribbled (if a keyboard counts as scribbling) in an ICU waiting room a few days ago. At some point in the future, I might edit/polish it up a bit, or a lot, but for now, it meets the standard of quality I’ve always aspired to for this site: Free, and worth every penny.

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The tavern was old, dating back at least to the Second War Of The Four Lords, though some claim it was built on the spot where an even older building had burned down. Dark smoke curled like grapevines around the rafters, filtering the red, flickering, light from a dozen torches set around the walls. A crimson glow emanated from the kitchen, as did the smell of roasting meat and the sounds of the innkeeper barking orders at his apprentices.

The four of them sat in silence, the silence that comes from old comrades who know each other so well that communication doesn’t require words. Drerigari, the oldest, was eye-level with her oversized and overflowing stein, the benches here not being built with dwarven anatomy in mind. Gallian, sometimes called Blueknife or Bleeding Wind, seemed to slip in and out of the shadows, occasionally startling a server when one stopped by. Cerridian of Dry Lake was her opposite; loud, boisterous, and seemingly incapable of keeping still. Last was Sir Jerrem Mornfeld. Technically, he no longer merited the “Sir”; his oaths of service long-since voided by a matter of honor, but few would dare tell the huge man that, even if he was momentarily not wearing his almost legendary suit of giant-forged armor. He was, after all, still carrying a greatsword made of red crystal, one which muttered in dead languages and reeked of old blood.

Most of the tavern’s other patrons were wise enough to stay well away from them; even if the four lacked any malicious intent and wanted nothing but a quiet drink, everyone knew their kind, and those who drew near to such types would find themselves sucked in to their activities, intentionally or not. It was simply how things worked, as sure as the turning of the seasons. One old man, though, perhaps so old he no longer cared about his fate, pulled a chair over to their table and sat down, facing them.

The four exchanged glances. By unspoken decision, it was Sir Jerrem who spoke for the group this time.

“May we… help you?” he asked, his voice measured and eerily calm.

“No, no, no, no, yes… I can help you!” said the newcomer. “Heard you was going along the Old North Road, towards Crownbreaker Ford.”

Sir Jerrem nodded, gesturing for the man to continue. Though none but her allies saw it happen, one of Gallian’s unguessably large collection of knives made its way to the palm of her hand.

“Well, just thought I’d warn you, then, ‘bout the bandits!”

“Bandits.” Jerrem’s voice was now flat.

“Oh, aye. Small army of them. Hardly anyone can travel up the Old North Road. The weak they just plain rob bare, the strong pay a ‘toll’ to avoid too much trouble. Terrible thing.”

Drerigari snorted. “Have you no guards in this town? No patrols? No warriors?”

“Aye, of course we do! But the bandits don’t come out when they spy a great force of armed men tromping about, and we can’t root them out of their hidey-hole. No one knows where ‘tis, for one!”

Cerridian tossed a coin in the air, where it seemed to vanish, then casually plucked it from behind the old man’s ear. “So, a noseless hound could follow this trail. You know where they are, and you’ll tell us… for a small fee.”

“No, no, no, yes, a small one. Very small.”

Negotiations then commenced. When they were done, the old man left happily, and the four took out an old parchment map.

“Those bandits are ill news for this poor town”, whispered Gallian.

“True. Most trade has to go up and down that road. The bandits are causing these folk much misery.” Jerrem finished off  his drink.

“Well, there’s the place the old man described.” Cerridian’s finger circled a small squiggle on the map. “An old mill. Probably part of the remains of a great castle, filled with twisty underground passages.”

Drerigari snorted with laughter. “I know something of that! I’ll bet there’s warrens all through these woods. Using them, those bandits can pop up anywhere, anywhere at all. Clever rodents. Hm. I wonder what else might be lost deep down among those ancient halls?”

Gallian studied the map some more. “Can you guess the likely bounds of these tunnels?”

Drerigari’s finger traced a complex line around the map. Sir Jerrem followed after with a pen, making quick marks. They all looked at the completed project.

“I think I see what we have to do”, said Jerram. “I don’t like it, but we all know it’s the only way.”

Cerridian flipped a slim blade into the air, caught it, and stuck it back into his boot. “Yes. We’ll end up being a day late for our meeting, but if we go here,” he tapped the map, “and then here, we’ll completely skirt the bandits’ territory. We got our coin’s worth from the old man.”

Sir Jerrem began to fold the map. “We certainly did. One pointless distraction avoided, at any rate.”

The group departed the inn, completely avoided the highwaymen, and made it to their meeting in the capital without any incident, though they were mildly rebuked for their lateness.

The end.

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Rereading this, it occurs to me this band might someday run into Haldebard.

This Is A Sacred Relic

Playing at the World: Gary Gygax’s 1973 D&D Working Draft.

All I can say is, “Holy Frak.” I am going to be poring over this site. These are some of the earliest proto-D&D fragments, the Dead Sea Scrolls of gaming history. Just wow.

A Personal Update

Most of the people who might want to know about this are on Facebook, but I realize there’s people who aren’t, and who might still be interested, so I’ve written up a summary.

About nine months ago, Beth was strongly encouraged to look into gastric belt surgery. Her medications and other medical conditions make it effectively impossible for her to lose weight, and her weight was causing severe physical and mental consequences (which tended to require more medications and treatments, which induced more complication, etc.)

She went through an extended battery of tests, forms, classes, forms, required approvals, forms, evaluations, and forms. Finally, around early November, we were told everything was good, all they needed was final approval from the insurance company, and we’d be off. The doctor wanted to do it by Thanksgiving.

Then followed three weeks of not hearing anything, despite repeated calls. Finally, we discovered the doctor’s office had never sent the forms to the insurance company for approval. According to them, they’d never received them. Now, they were gathering information from several different medical offices and doctors. It is hardly implausible one of those many might have failed to fax, send, or otherwise follow through. It’s extremely implausible every single one of them did. So, point blank, the office lost or misfiled them all.

Beth fortunately did not have to repeat the tests, but did have to contact everyone involved and get them to send in the paperwork all over again.

Beth has suffered severe depression for years; the only drug which even partially counteracts this is Nardil, an MAOI inhibitor that is rarely prescribed, despite its effectiveness, because it requires strict adherence to a dietary regimen. One of the many effects of depression is a very poor tolerance of frustration; if something is at all difficult, it will often be abandoned. Getting through all of this rigmarole was not easy for her, myself, or her mother. We kept pushing at it because we believed it was absolutely necessary for Beth’s long-term health, physical and mental.

So we finally, after far too long, got the final insurance approvals, and a surgery date.

(In the meanwhile, the company I worked for was being transferred to another company owned by the same uber-corporation. When this was announced back in August or so, we were told it would be mostly a matter of changing who signed the checks and moving the code over to the other company’s servers. Can you guess where this is going? Everyone in my division was a telecommuter; we were all over the place. The new company didn’t want telecommuters. They wanted us to re-apply for our existing jobs, and, if hired, to move to White Plains. Basically, they just tossed the entire accumulated knowledge base and skill set out the window. So, in addition to everything else, I am now unemployed.)

Friday, December 20th, I got Beth to the hospital at 5:30 AM. (Anyone who knows me will consider this proof of divine intervention, as “not a morning person” doesn’t begin to cover it. Then we got our first Fun Shock. Since Beth hadn’t hit her out of pocket maximum, the hospital wanted us to pony up over two grand, right then, minutes before her scheduled surgery. No one has told us this; it apparently wasn’t something anyone knew until they input her admission data. Fortunately, we had an “In Case Of Extreme Emergency” credit card.

Then, we got another problem. Despite the aforementioned many months of tests, surveys, forms, and so on, and despite the fact her long list of medications was always, continually, given to every doctor, nurse, orderly, and passing stranger during all of this, suddenly, they decided that they wanted her off the Nardil before surgery. This would take 10 days, minimum, and would lead to a Catch-22 of epic proportions. She was only approved for surgery because she had not been hospitalized for mental illness for a full two years prior. (This is close to a record for us for the past decade.) Without the medication, she would need to be hospitalized within 3 to 4 days, tops, based on what had happened the last time she’d had to go off it — which would mean no surgery. The doctor explained that if there was any indication of  problem with the anesthetic, the surgery would be halted, and we were fine with that.

There were no problems with the surgery. The doctor said everything went fine. I stayed until she was out of surgery and was waiting to be placed in a room. At the time, she was groggy, but seemed to be doing alright.

It took a long time to get her into a room. Since this was ostensibly an outpatient procedure, we were worried she’d be there longer than 23 hours from admission, which could cause some hassles with insurance.

I spoke to her later than evening. The painkillers had worn off, she wasn’t being given more. She was in excruciating pain, and was pretty much in tears, saying she wished she hadn’t done it, that she just wanted to go home. I told her it would be for the best.

Later the next day (12/21), she was discharged. Tests had been performed that showed there was no leakage in her stomach, that the surgery had gone well. She was still in overwhelming pain, and could not keep down anything, or swallow. We hoped bed rest at home would help.

The next morning, after a miserable night of vomiting and pain, we called the hospital, which told us to bring her back in, as this didn’t seem normal. So she was re-admitted on Sunday, 12/22. That was, and trying not to be too melodramatic here, the last time I saw her conscious, as of this writing (12/28/2013)

On the 23rd, she was an a BiPap machine, and we were told she was severely dehydrated, was not getting enough oxygen, and between the surgery and her being unable to swallow, she’d been off her meds for several days.

On the 24th, I called the hospital, and was transferred to her ward, and I got the following response when I asked for her:”Oh, you didn’t know she was transferred to the ICU?”

No. I didn’t know. Oddly, no one seemed to think that was worth calling us about. Funny, that.

She was having difficulty breathing and was running a 102.something degree fever. She was basically unconscious, though from painkiller or the fever or the lack of oxygen, I am not sure. They were still trying to figure out what was wrong with her.

Early in the morning on the 25th (Anyone who says their Christmas was “ruined” because they got the wrong color iThing, please, come over here and say it to my face. I’ve got some repressed rage to work off.), we got another call. Beth had “coded”. She’d stopped breathing. They intubated her, got her going again, but obviously, whatever was wrong with her was very serious and getting worse. We went to the ICU and stayed there.

Midway through the day, they finally found the problem. Her sutures had been torn out, probably from her vomiting. So for several days, she’d been leaking stomach fluids, etc, into her body. They performed more surgery, to remove the gastric band, and to insert drains into her stomach. The damage done by tearing out the sutures was severe enough that they couldn’t just repair it, or at least that’s the impression I got. I assume they did something to close it up, but they needed the drains because it wasn’t sealed completely.

She still wasn’t conscious. There were no indications of brain damage (no blood clots, no signs of anoxia), but the doctor was “concerned” she wasn’t waking up.

We got home, tried (and failed) to relax. I was just barely getting around to accepting that while her recovery (from what was supposed to have been routine outpatient surgery) may now take several weeks, we were probably past the worst of it.

Then, we got another call. This was from the kidney specialist. We need to give permission to put her on dialysis, because her kidneys were not working. We’d been told there were some issues with her urine, but nothing had indicated she was suffering kidney failure. Then we got a call again, a few minutes later, saying we needed to give permission for something else dialysis-related; Beth was so weak they needed to do the dialysis slowly, through a tube in her neck, to see how she was handling it.

That was a bit of a breaking point. I’m now at the stage where every time the phone rings, I panic, because I have no more confidence things will either stay stable or get better.

We are visiting her every day, even though she’s not aware of us. She occasionally partially opens her eyes, or seems to react, but there’s no way to tell if it’s due to our voices or just random neural action. Supposedly, she is showing slightly more responsiveness; we’re going back again tonight (12/28) and we’ll see.

We don’t know if she’ll have long term problems, short term problems, or no problems. We don’t really know why she’s unconscious. I have no idea, really, what’s going to happen now.

(Not So) Great Moments In Marketing, Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

Wizards of the Coast Announces Thrilling Dungeons & Dragons Launch for Summer 2014 | company.wizards.com.

From the linked article:

“Players fight the most fearsome monster of all time in an exciting multi-platform gaming experience”

This isn’t the most compelling ad copy I’ve seen. It’s a very generic, bland, statement that seems to have come out of the BuzzWordOMatic 5000. Can you imagine someone trying to describe their last game of D&D this way? “Man, we fought the most fearsome monster of all time in an exciting multi-platform gaming experience! And then, Fred proactively leveraged his synergies to increase cross-market upsell with positive feedback redundancies and integrated vertical applications focused on dynamic buy-in transitions for high monetization over short term projections! And he rolled a 20!”

A Minor Diversion Into Artsy English Major Stuff

I’m doing another editing pass on Rogue Planet, in preparation for the final push to print. One of the interesting things about writing is when you set aside a document for a while, and then return to it, you can see things differently. Your brain is no longer filling in gaps automatically, and you have a distance from the text that enables you to approach it more objectively, as a reader more than as a writer.

I have read articles from writers that describe how they agonize over symbols and tropes and themes, how they decide that they’re going to use the Burger King Star Wars glasses their protagonist got as a 12 year old as a recurring symbol regarding hope and loss and memory and blah blah blah (I wish I still had mine, they’re apparently worth a bloody fortune now). Me, I don’t do that. I may agonize over extremely trivial details absolutely no one is going to care about, often just to add flavor text to a throwaway bit of dialogue somewhere. (For example, I just now looked up if it was “dialogue” or “dialog”, and the answer I got was “Meh, no one knows.”) I have often said I am not so much a world builder as a world explorer, and when it comes to writing, I am less author and more chronicler. The characters do what they do, and I write it down. When I find writing is difficult, when the words dribble out in the way molasses didn’t in Boston, 1919, it’s because I’m trying too hard to write a story as opposed to report a story.

Any symbolism, patterns, or themes that might appear in my work, therefore, are a total surprise to me, and yet, they’re there. Some literary type reading my work in the future (yeah, right) might see purpose or planning, but my writing, like the universe itself, is a thing in which someone may perceive patterns, not a thing in which patterns were placed. Any apparent order or purpose, in either reality or in my books, is entirely illusory.

Warning: Some extremely minor spoilers for Rogue Planet and the bonus prequel story follow.

In the first chapter of Rogue Planet, I have tossed in a minor bit of characterization regarding a character’s disbelief of living testimony vs. a handful of paperwork. The Official Word As Printed On The Official Form ought to trump any corrections from the actual subject of the document. (One sees this also in Wikipedia editing, where the actual subject of an article is not considered an authoritative source.) Much later in the book, a chunk of plot turns on this same concept, on a larger scale, where automated systems follow their orders to the letter, any contradictory facts be damned! This can be considered “intentional” in that I consider bureaucracy to be both hilarious and tragic, depending on how much hold it has over someone’s life, but I never consciously thought, “I’m going to echo this theme from the beginning to the end of the book.” It’s a trope I am drawn to, so it’s going to show up unless I go out of my way to avoid it. (Trying to write without tropes is a moronic thing to do, but you always get people who think you can tell a story, or create a character, without using any number of established tropes; this is like trying to build a house without using any tools or construction materials.)

Likewise, the cultures of Rogue Planet, descended from “social deviants” (as the characters in the prequel story (currently titled “Approval Not Required”) refer to them) tend to be very focused on deals, bargains, honor, and suchlike. Debt, obligation, and duty are all regularly referenced. A larger part of this is due to genre tropes: Vows, oaths, loyalty, and bonds of honor and friendship are all major aspects of this type of story. Backstabbing weasels are the villains. Today, when I was thinking about “Approval Not Required”, it occurred to me that all the main characters are engaged in plots, counter-plots, manipulations, etc. Without ever consciously intending to do so, I’d created an interesting thematic contrast: The criminal descendants are more concerned with honor and duty than the governing authority that sent their ancestors there in the first place. If I’d sat down and decided “Oh, I’m going to make a Big Statement here”, I think it would have been ham-handed and dull. I didn’t realize that there was a Statement until I looked over the two stories from a bit of a distance. In both cases, the characters, and their actions and values, grew out of the general tone of the story. At the time I was writing Rogue Planet, I had no plans to write the prequel story; as I wrote the prequel story, I was most interested in adding details and background to established facts. I never thought much about “theme” or “concept” or “meaning”.

So my point? Not sure, really. “Don’t believe everything your English teacher tells you” would be one, I suppose. “One of the best parts of creating is being surprised by your own creation” would be another. If I had any shred of religious sentiment, I would argue that this is why a deity would create a universe: To be surprised. As a GM, pretty much the same thing as being a god, only without any hint of respect or admiration, that is definitely one of my motivations: To create a world and then see what players do to it. Being an author is like that, but without the players. You’d think it would make as difference in the degree of surprise, but surprisingly (heh), it doesn’t. The imaginary people that live in my head are nearly as confusing as the presumably non-imaginary people that live outside my head.

Treacherous Traits

Treacherous Traits

Four entries in one month! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I now look at Traits which might be useful to conniving backstabbers of various sorts. I like Traits. I introduced a concept I called “Lesser Feats” for a D20 book which sadly didn’t go to press due to the D20 implosion. Traits are pretty much the same thing. They address what I consider one of the worst aspects of feats, the one-size-fits-all mentality, when it’s patently obvious that feats vary considerably in utility. Many are nifty concepts that add unique flavor to characters, but they can’t “compete” with those that provide general benefits that affect play many times per session.

Anyway, with the focus on being sneaky, underhanded, and duplicitous, here’s an assortment of additional Traits. I am designing these with the idea that Traits need not be selected only at 1st level, as there’s a feat which allows you to pick 2 Traits later on. Thus, some of these Traits might be more useful to higher level characters, or reflect training/knowledge/etc. gained in adventuring life.

Combat Traits

Bad Medicine

You did all you could, but you just couldn’t save him…

When you make a Heal check to stabilize someone, you may instead choose to take full-round action and perform a coup de grace, doing 1d3 damage, +1 per rank in Heal. Make a Bluff check, opposed by the Heal (not Perception) checks of any witnesses, to avoid being noticed. You must have at least 1 rank in Heal, or your actions will be too obvious.

Some GMs may feel this is simply a creative trick anyone with the right skills could try. If so, this Trait instead gives you a +4 Trait bonus on the Bluff check, and increases the base damage to 2d4.

Deep Wounds

When you take them down, they don’t get back up.

Whenever your melee attacks reduce someone to fewer than 0 hit points, but do not kill them outright, they have a -3 modifier to all checks to stabilize. This applies to any Heal checks made to help them stabilize, as well.

Iocane Immunity

You have gained a resistance to certain poisons.

Pick a number of poisons equal to 1+your Constitution modifier. You have a +2 Trait bonus on all saving throws vs. those poisons, and if you fail your save, any ability damage is reduced by 1. You may take this Trait up to three times, picking additional poisons each time. If your Constitution modifier changes, adjust the number of poisons appropriately. (The GM may rule some poisons are not permitted, or that your character would not have had access to them.)

Equipment Traits

Harmless Trophy

The rusty, dull, dagger you carry is a souvenir of an ancient battle, and useless as a weapon.

You gain a +4 Trait bonus to Bluff or Disguise checks (as appropriate to the situation) to make a weapon seem as if it has the broken condition, or is otherwise harmless — for example, appearing to be securely peacebound when it is not, or has a razor edge covered with a thin strip of metal to make it appear dull.

Magic Traits

Fading Magic

You leave behind little trace of any spells you may have cast.

Magic cast by you leaves a weaker aura behind. When checking for how long an effect lingers, reduce the die roll by half your Intelligence bonus (minimum 1). If this results in a value of 0, treat it as a roll of 1, but of the next lowest strength level (so moderate becomes faint).

Headology

Once you know something about someone, you can shape your magic to suit their nature.

If you have spent at least a few minutes talking to someone, your Enchantment (Charm) and Illusion (Phantasm) spells are more effective against them. They suffer a -1 penalty to saving throws against such spells. If you know them well (At least several days acquaintance, at the GM’s discretion), this increases to -2.

Paranoia

You always know when someone’s watching.

You may add your Intelligence bonus to any Perception checks to notice if someone is using magical divination against you. Any spells you cast which are intended to counter or fool divination spells (such as obscure object or nondetection) are cast at +1 caster level.

Religion Traits

Plane Dealer

You have an instinctive grasp of the nature of creatures from other realms.

When dealing with Outsiders, you gain a +2 Trait bonus to Diplomacy or Sense Motive checks. This increases to +3 if they share your alignment.

Social Traits

Card Sharp

Those who gamble with you might think you have the devil’s own luck, but you are leaving nothing to chance.

You have a +4 trait bonus to Sleight of Hand checks when cheating at games of chance. This applies to any game where you can physically manipulate the components — dice, cards, playing pieces (even chessmen). It doesn’t apply to situations where you can’t do this (such as betting on a horserace). The GM will judge if you’re able to apply this trait in a given set of circumstances.

Learned Liar

It always helps to salt a lie with a little truth.

Choose a Knowledge skill. If you have four or more ranks in that skill, you gain a +2 Trait bonus on any Bluff or Disguise check that relies at least in part on that area of learning. For example, four or more ranks in Knowledge (Nobility) can give you a +2 Trait bonus on lies involving local lords, or when disguised as a member of a royal household. You can take this trait multiple times. It applies to a new area of learning each time.

Flaws In The Tale

You quickly spot inconsistencies in someone’s story.

You may use your Intelligence bonus, rather than your Wisdom bonus, when making Sense Motive checks to counter a Bluff check. This does not apply to feint attempts, but only to conversations or other situations where a keen intellect might come into play.