Monthly Archives: November 2016

Story Play or Game Piece Play?

game-pieceThe Old School Renaissance is immensely appealing to me. I like a lot of the “simpler is better” philosophy behind the design of adventures and rulesets, and the emphasis on creativity. But I keep bumping my head on one of the common conceits. I think it’s best summed up by this line from the famed module Anomalous Subsurface Environment 1, in which the writer Patrick Wetmore declares, in an advice section for players, “You will probably die at some point. Possibly  repeatedly. That’s okay, rolling up a new character is quick and easy. Don’t take it to heart.”

The thrust of this kind of gaming is centered on problem solving and discovery, and I believe — I can’t be sure — character development and narrative must be de-emphasized. I’ve seen some people playing this way, and the characters are only loosely role-played and the players don’t really speak with their voice at the table. If one is removed from the board, they just drop in a replacement character and keep going.

Return to the Jungle, Ki-Gor Style

silver witchIf your to-be-read pile is anything like mine, sometimes stuff leaps ahead for no good reason. For instance, I have a score of books I’ve actually been looking forward to for years and have never gotten to. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste (maybe I’m not feeling like a pulp adventure) and sometimes its just timing, or that I’m saving THAT book for a long airplane trip because I’m positive I’ll like it (such is the fate of Nathan Long’s third Ulrika book, and Tim Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark).

But sometimes it’s just a whim. I drop by James Reasoner’s excellent blog from time to time, and on November 18th he posted a review of a Ki-Gor story. He kind of liked it, and I dropped in to say that if you like THAT one, just wait, because they get weird and wild and far stronger pretty soon… and that got me and my pal John Chris Hocking talking about Ki-Gor again. He decided he’d finally get around to reading one of my favorites, “The Silver Witch” and I decided to heck with my TBR pile, that I’d tackle a handful of Ki-Gor stories I’d never gotten around to.

Raging Swan Rocks

raging-swanGamers, have you ever looked over the products from Raging Swan? I should probably highlight them over at Black Gate to draw even more attention to them. I can’t speak to the adventures they publish — I haven’t read any yet — but the game master material is top notch.

I get notified by RPGNow about their “daily deal” (one of the few marketing lists I’m deliberately on) and some months back learned that a little book called “Wilderness Encounters” was on sale for less than half price. What the heck, sez I, and bought a copy. What turned up was a whole host of lists with interesting, creative, evocative possibilities. Different bandit encounters, different minor events that could happen on the road, different weather events, and on and on. Ideas just flowed out of that book. I was immediately taken with it, and am slowly acquiring other holdings from Raging Swan’s stable.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. If you want to see the quality and variety, click here for NUMEROUS free samples. Even if you’re not a gamer and are a world builder, I think it’s easy to find inspiration here.

Incidentally, they bill themselves as a Pathfinder producer, and while they started that way, a lot of the stuff is either system neutral or available that way, and from what I gather a lot of their catalog also is available for 5th edition D&D.

New Story

hulk computerIn 2016 one of my short stories appeared in the Dungeon Crawl Classics 2016 Gen Con Program Guide. Joseph Goodman, sage of Goodman Games, enjoyed The Desert of Souls and contacted me to ask if I would be interested in crafting an Appendix N style tale. My answer was: “you bet!”

For a brief time, the 2016 Gen Con Program Guide — along with a whole bunch of great Dungeon Crawl Classics stuff — is on sale for 40 % off! That means you can go grab a copy, cheap, and in addition to all the cool Dungeon Crawl Classics stuff, enjoy the first-in-a-sequence tale of Hanuvar Cabera, my fantasy take on my favorite historical character, Hannibal of Carthage. It’s the first of two completed stories featuring him and hopefully the first of many more. He’s probably my personal favorite of all the serial characters I’ve created, even above Asim, and I have big plans for him, providing I have the time. I hope you’ll check out the story!

A Short History

bryson-everythingI have a big stack of to-read books, some by friends. But because I’m in the midst of heavy revisions, I’m reluctant to read novels that might catch my attention and steal time I don’t have to spare.

So at night I’m reading some non-fiction. Specifically, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I already knew I liked the book, as I’d read at least a third of it some years ago when I was working on my master’s degree. I got too busy with course work to finish, but I always meant to, and I thought highly enough of it that I loaned it out to friends.

Castles & Crusades

adv-backpackA couple of weeks ago I drafted an essay extolling the virtues of the Castles & Crusades role-playing game over at Black Gate, specifically related to the game’s new expansion, the Adventurer’s Backpack. You see, a Kickstarter has recently launched. The product is a go, but I still have fingers crossed that some of those stretch goals will be met. Honestly, I’m sort of confused that only a little over 300 people have signed on.

C&C bring that old school D&D goodness without all the rules exceptions. It’s streamlined and easy to hack so you can add on whatever you want, and feels pretty much like the old game you used to play, minus annoying bits to keep track of. This new expansion’s going to deliver some new character classes (i.e. archetypes), some streamlined hand-to-hand combat rules, additional spells and magic items, and other stuff besides. If fantasy RPGs are your thing, I hope you’ll at least investigate!

Pounds Hollow


Turkey Run State Park

At some point in junior high our school bussed us over to Turkey Run State Park. I wish I could remember the exact year or the teachers, or much else apart from me learning never to jump to a wet rock in the middle of a creek (feet went right out from under me, as I probably should have learned BEFORE that). My chief takeaway was that the park was quite pretty, particularly trail 3, which winds up a limestone river gorge.

Now, approximately forty years on, I’m better equipped to understand that many of the trails in Turkey Run State Park, near Marshall, IN, are among the prettiest American places you can see that don’t involve mountain vistas or trips west. And probably they’re comparable to even those, in a small scale way. My kids, who are considerably better travelled than I was at their age, name it one of their favorite places on Earth, primarily because of trails 3 and 10.

Three Cool Things

snapFirst, while checking the weather forecast this weekend I clicked through on an interesting headline to discover a pretty cool article. Just how many planets could fit in a star’s habitable zone, anyway?

Second, the spookiest story I’ve heard in a loooong time, courtesy of the folks at Snap Judgment. Definitely worth a listen if you’re in the mood for a good scare!

Third, in case you didn’t know, the election season is almost over. And wow, am I looking forward to seeing it in my rearview mirror. It’s even more annoying than my “n” key being so touchy on this computer that these days I have to click it three or four times before it works. Probably have to take it into the shop for repair. Blech. Which is a word that kind of describes how I feel about this whole election season. At least that should be over in two days, barring a court challenge or someone refusing to concede. My computer will probably be out for repairs for a week.



Three Book Contract

Howard ZebrasWhile in New York last week, amongst doing many other things — including some sight-seeing and some amazing meals — I signed a new three-book contract with St. Martin’s. This pleases me mightily, as you might expect.

The first book is slated to be released about a year from now, is titled For the Killing of Kings, and is far and away the longest book I’ve ever written, sitting at about 150 thousand words. That’s almost twice the length of my first novel, The Desert of Souls, and more in keeping with the size modern fantasy readers seem to like. The rough draft of the second is of approximately the same length and the third is planned to be similar.

Those of you who like the pacing of my prose might fear I’ve finally surrendered to trends and begun to pad, but it’s not so. I saw “big fat fantasy” authors who could keep their pacing going — writers like Scott Lynch and Mark Lawrence and Mike Sullivan — and decided I could try my own hand at it.

Here’s the current “cover copy” and elevator pitch. I expect both will be more finely honed in the coming months, but this should give some idea of what this whole thing’s about: