21 Jul

Christmas in July at DrivethruRPG

It’s that time of year again when Santa realizes that gamers already read through all the gifts he brought them at the end of last year! Of course, his charity only extends so far, and maybe you weren’t all that nice so far this year, so instead the good folks at DrivethruRPG.com and RPGNow.com are running a massive sale all week long. There’s plenty of good stuff to be had and some pretty deep discounts on select products.

I’d also be remiss in mentioning that my own products are on sale this week, including the brand new Five Fantasy Barkeeps, Volume 2: Suspicious Motives!

Christmas In July at DrivethruRPG

19 Jun

5 Questions for Choice of Games

Steam LogoIn case you didn’t know, Choice of Games is a company that’s been putting Interactive Fiction back on the map. Their apps are available through nearly every provider, and they represent a new era in the classic Choose Your Own Adventure style but with the added depth that working off of an electronic device can provide. Now, in very big news, two of their IF novels, Heroes Rise: The Prodigy and Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, are now available on Steam! They are also Steam’s very first text adventure games, an impressive milestone indeed.

Choice of Games logoIn the grand tradition of networking, I was introduced to friend-of-a-friend, Jason Stevan Hill of Choice of Games. You see, fellow author Andrew G. Schneider (author of Nothing Left to Wish For and Undercaffeinated and Overexposed) introduced me to Alana Joli Abbott (author of Choice of Games’s Showdown at Willow Creek and Choice of Kung Fu as well as Into the Reach and Departure) who introduced me to Jason. Jason, in turn, graciously provided me with plenty of information and advice about Interactive Fiction. He spared a few minutes for me to answer some questions about Choice of Games adding Steam to their distribution channels. Continue reading

27 Feb

Reading List – Voices From Chernobyl

My typical reading selections rarely fall in the “uplifting” category. In talking to fellow gamers and writers I’ve also learned that I read far less so-called “genre” fiction than what is typical for someone who often enjoys writing in the science fiction and fantasy fields. Instead, I spend a lot of time on non-fiction and “not genre fiction.” (As usual, I don’t want to get into my thoughts about labels for fear of digressing too far.)

Voices from ChernobylI just finished Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster and, if you have any doubt at all, this book does not fall in the “uplifting” category either. I find uplifting and moving to be two very different things. It might occasionally have an optimistic moment, at least relative to what surrounds them, the book is more notable for such a raw presentation of human emotions and vivid look at human perspectives, not only about disaster and tragedy, but also about self-delusion and grim necessities. Continue reading

31 Jan

Andrew G. Schneider, 5 Questions for the Author

Undercaffeinated and Overexposed

I had the pleasure of making Andrew G. Schneider’s acquaintance after two of our articles for Dungeons & Dragons Insider contained some overlapping material. (Both adventures were set in the Chaos Scar, but Andrew’s “Scarred for Life” connected nicely with my adventure “Reflections of Ruin” thanks to an exceptional ogre and the Deck of Many Things.) We continued to correspond and commiserate about the joys of freelance and have even managed to get a game or two in on occasion.

Recently, Andrew published not one but two novels so I took a few minutes to lob some questions his way, chat about YA fiction, and see what he has planned now that Nothing Left to Wish For and Undercaffeinated and Overexposed: The Tale of a Coffee Shop Princess are off his desk. Continue reading

8 Feb

Kickstart the Weekend: Success Stories

Kickstarter LogoI have stayed away from Kickstarter for a little while recently. The avoidance isn’t any kind of “protest against their business model” or a stand against the notion that everyone and their brother has a Kickstarter. No, it’s that I would get too excited about things that I shouldn’t be buying. This surge of ideas and funding in the gaming community (and beyond) make it difficult to hold onto my money. But, as I’ve said before, if I can’t financially support a good idea, I can at least spread that idea around for others to see.

Most recently, Fred Hicks and Evil Hat Productions took my money (and the money of quite a few others). Although, for what I got for my money, I feel like I robbed him in some fashion. You can expect to hear more about my thoughts on the Fate Core System in the future. In the meantime, we have the final novel in Alana Abbott’s fantasy trilogy, some remarkable 28mm miniatures for the Torn World from Center Stage Miniatures, and my thoughts on the developments with Tabletop Forge and Roll20. Continue reading

22 Jan

Old School D&D in PDF Format

Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with my favorite folks over at DriveThruRPG.com and RPGNow.com to make a great deal of “old school” Dungeons and Dragons products available in PDF form. And I should point out that although I’m excited about the old school D&D releases, the PDF format books cover the range from Basic/Expert all the way up to 4th Edition material. So go find your favorites, even you weirdo’s who have this strange attachment to Second Edition D&D.

Behold! DnDClassics.com! (And your DriveThruRPG/RPGNow login and account are linked to this sister site already.)

Dungeons & Dragons Classics

Continue reading

18 Dec

The Next Big Thing

Mayan's Next Big Thing
All this assumes that the Next Big Thing isn’t just the end of all the things.

Everyone prefaces these sorts of things with “I don’t do chain letters BUT . . .” So consider mine prefaced as well. Jeff LaSala was kind enough to tag me in this chain that I think was begun by Elaine Cunningham. (Chain letters always make me think of the telephone game that starts at one end of the classroom as “I’m finished with our big stone calendar” and ends on the other end as “The calendar has predicted the date humanity is finished!”)

The idea behind the Next Big Thing is to answer 10 questions about a work in progress, and then tag 5 more writers who do the same thing the following week. I like the idea of promoting some good people. And a little self-promotion never hurt anybody, I suppose. My lead project for 2013 is a novel. –gasp– I’m always working on multiple things, but this is receiving the lion’s share of my efforts. Continue reading

16 Nov

Kickstart the Weekend: Shoggoths and Gamebooks

I’ve been exceedingly remiss in tending my blog of late, and even worse about keeping up to date with some really great Kickstarter projects. Now that I’m caught up on some of the work that pays the bills, I can take a moment to point you towards two Kickstarters that caught my eye. One, Maelorum, gives me flashbacks to my youth, and the other, The Littlest Shoggoth, reminds me that I want the next generation of kids to grow up with a whole new set of “children’s stories.” Both are worthy of your attention. Continue reading

18 Jun

Review – Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

Foreshadows CoverI like clever ideas, but they can be difficult to execute. Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero caught my attention because it was a book with a soundtrack. The collection of short stories is accompanied by an album with tracks that coincide with each story. (I’m going to just assume people still use the word “album.”) Each story also leads off with a black and white illustration. That means that between authors, musicians, and illustrators there are quite a few names associated with this project and, collectively, they execute this clever idea well.

Some of those names will certainly be familiar to folks in various circles, gaming circles among them. Jeff LaSala, who edited the collection, wrote The Darkwood Mask, an Eberron novel for Wizards of the Coast, as well as a number of other short works (including a great many contributions to Dungeons & Dragons Insider). Keith Baker, creator of Eberron and a more than a few sourcebooks for the setting, contributes a story to the collection as does Ed Greenwood. If you play D&D and don’t know who Ed is, go Google him; it’s ok, I’ll wait…

Obviously, these are the names that immediately jumped out at me. But there are plenty more great writers among the nineteen stories, each bringing their own vision to the dystopian, near-future setting that is Foreshadows’ shared world. And while it is to be expected that some stories will resonate more with a reader, whether it is a particular author’s style or simply the plot chosen, that’s to be expected when you have a range of authors side by side. Put average writing next to exceptional writing and you can’t help but notice. That said, however, I was entertained throughout the entirety of the book.

The world of Foreshadows steadily becomes a character in its own right and, for readers like me who can embrace a setting as much as a protagonist (or antagonist), there’s a real pleasure in unearthing another piece of the place with each story. As a cyberpunk setting, it clearly has certain expectations to meet (cybernetic body modification, immersive VR technology, AI’s and robotic constructs) and Foreshadows meets them, at times in obvious ways, but sometimes it forges ahead in unanticipated directions and presents something new.

Thematically, it also ranges over a great deal of ground. The stories explore the impact of technology as it races ahead of our own humanity and what that means for morality, spirituality, and our shared experiences and very nature. In some ways, there is more Frankenstein than Neuromancer here. And, rather than the typical atheistic future we’ve grown accustomed to in the genre, the book draws on several theologies (and mythologies) as it unfolds. Remove (most of) the fantasy elements of the Shadowrun setting and the place becomes eerily familiar (but in a good way). Without a doubt, the setting certainly lends itself to further exploration.

Not being a music critic, other than knowing what I like, I can’t point to one thing or another in the music and offer much in the way of constructive input or know “what the kids are calling it.” It’s a futuristic-sounding collection of predominantly instrumental synthesizer tracks. (Yes, I said “future-sounding.” If you’ll notice, I just pointed out that I’m not remotely a music critic.) I will say they would make excellent background tracks to a gaming session, especially in the same cyberpunk future that the book itself offers. At times I found the music immersed me in the “feel” of a story faster than I read the words on the page. But, at other times, I would be so drawn into a particular story that I failed to even register the music.

Reading something tied to its own music was definitely a different experience and, overall, I would say it was a positive one. Of course, I’m the sort of person who enjoys background music while reading (and writing) rather than someone who finds it distracting. But the book provides no “listening guide” or “rules” for the accompanying music, other than to assign a track to each story. A reader is clearly intended to find his or her own way and I like that because then it doesn’t infringe on how you read your books.

For more about Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero you can check out the book’s website. You can pick up a digital copy at BAEN here. or you can get a print copy (and accompanying CD) from the Very Us Artists store here. For fans of the genre, and particularly gamer-readers within the genre, I recommend checking it out.

12 Jun

Close Encounters: Proximity Alert

You may recall that about a month ago that I went on about my experiences as a 2nd grader who was essentially told to pipe down. You may also recall that not only that the “pipe down” lesson not take, but now some people actually ask me to talk. Such is the case for the upcoming Sci-fi Saturday event at the York Emporium. (Sorry, UK readers, but that’s York, Pennsylvania; it’s got more firearms, but fewer pubs.)

What am I going to be talking about? Well, for starters, I’ll be talking about Dungeons & Dragons and my experiences with the game, both as a player and as a freelancer. There’s a good chance I’ll also carry on about how roleplaying games form a natural bridge to creativity and writing. I’ll also be answering questions based on my limited knowledge and experience or, if those fail me, resorting to tangents and distracting anecdotes until my hour’s up.

The event is this Saturday, June 16th. Here’s the schedule for the day:

10:30   I talk about Dungeons & Dragons until I catch a whiff of the free popcorn…
11:30   Movie Screening: Light Years (free popcorn!)
1:00     Author/Publisher Dr. Lawrence D. Schoen
2:00     Author Alethea Kontis reads from her novel Enchanted
3:00     Science Fiction Jeopardy
4:00     Author Darryl Schweitzer
5:00     Light Saber demonstration with the Capitol City Jedi Knights

A Space Invaders tournament continues throughout the day. Yes, they have a fully operational Death Star coin-op Space Invaders machine in the store. Also, I want to point out that the grand prize for winning science fiction Jeopardy is an autographed copy of Bradbury Speaks. So, umm… you should leave before that starts so I win by default because I’m sure you don’t want to win it.

Also, beyond the science fiction events throughout the day, you owe it to yourself to browse one of the best used bookstores I’ve ever been to. And that’s coming from a guy who sets aside a minimum of one day of any vacation he takes to track down used bookstores. It seems like a little place from the front, but once you step inside you will be shocked at the actual dimensions of the place. (Rumor has it, the place might be a TARDIS.)

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