My Favorite Sendak Quote

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The late Maurice Sendak, who along with Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel elevated the children’s book to high art, was often referred to as charmingly irascible. When people call you irascible with no further adjective, that’s usually a nice way of saying that you’re extraordinarily difficult but have somehow earned it. Charmingly irascible comes into play when your crankiness becomes entertaining—when you say the what we wish we had the cojones to say. Sendak wasn’t so much irascible as dead honest, and bracingly unconcerned with what you thought about that.

I’ve pointed it to again, but as we celebrate his life and work, here again is my all-time top statement of the governing ethos behind such classics as Where the Wild Things Are:

“I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.”

We should all be so irascible.

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Core Resolution and Emotional Dynamics

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How To Design Games the Robin Laws Way

(Part Six of Several; see part one for introduction and disclaimer)

With the core book outlined, it’s time to tackle the question of the game’s core resolution system.

(The reality isn’t so linear; thoughts about the book’s structure generally arise in parallel to ideas about the resolution system.)

If you’re designing a new game based on an existing core rules set, the choice is simple—let’s use that one. It might be dictated to you by the publisher, or a decision that you make as a designer. In the latter case, you'll obviously be constrained to the core rules sets available to you. Most likely, you’re working with a rules set by the same publisher. Or you might be using one available through a license, open or limited. We’ve already talked about the process of fitting a new game to an existing rules set; you’re presumably doing the Game X take on Y genre/setting.

If, however, I’m working from scratch, I want to design a core resolution system that creates the emotional dynamic implied by the core goal. Dying Earth, with its rolls and rerolls, evokes the comical back-and-forth of the source material. DramaSystem emulates the basic construction of dramatic scenes and otherwise gets out of the way. HeroQuest zooms out to a broader emulation of story construction, including the pass/fail cycle I later refined in Hamlet's Hit Points. GUMSHOE asks why it feels cool when heroes gather information in a mystery story, and brings that to the gaming table.

I never start out with a novel or abstractly intriguing mechanical idea and then try to build a game around that chassis. It starts with feeling. The mathematical construct is secondary; what the players are feeling when they use it is everything.

Recently I had the experience of switching from one core system owned by my publisher to the other. Before digging into the research for The Gaean Reach, I figured it would be Skulduggery-based, with bits of GUMSHOE sorted in. After reacquainting myself with Jack Vance’s delightful source material, I saw how the structure of its stories differed from the superficially similar Dying Earth tales the core rules were originally designed for. The SF novels played were more about investigation with the occasional setback than the constant picaresque reversals undergone by the likes of Cugel and Rhialto. So I shifted gears, to a GUMSHOE core with appropriate Skulduggery elements grafted on. Again this was a matter of creating the right feel, whether or not the crossover between the two systems introduces brand confusion.

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Toronto-Area RPGer Sought For Thursday Night Playtest Group

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As happens from time to time, a slot has opened in up in my weekly Thursday night game group. We meet from 7-10 pm in the Annex area of downtown Toronto. The game of choice shifts depending on what I’m playtesting or familiarizing myself with at any given moment.

At present I’m running a follow-up playtest of my new DramaSystem game. This will not use the standard Hillfolk setting, but will instead follow the conflicts and desires of a traveling circus troupe in Depression-era America. The players have asked that their carnies have supernatural powers. (I asked the group what setting they wanted to play and they settled on an homage to Carnivale. This blatant act of premise appropriation is for in-house purposes only and not for publication, so rest easy, HBO legal department.)

Once I’ve given the post-playtest rules draft enough of a spin, we’ll move on to Dreamhounds of Paris, a Trail of Cthulhu campaign in which you portray the major figures of the surrealist movement, after they discover the capability of consciously reconfiguring Lovecraft’s dreamlands. Goodbye Dunsany pastiche, hello melting clocks.

If interested, please shoot me a message on whatever platform you’re seeing this on. Give me a quick sense of your RPG tastes and experience. We’ve had a ton of fun over the years and look forward to bringing in an enthusiastic new player whose time commitments allow for reliable attendance.

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Extreme Zombies

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I’m pleased to announce that “Susan”, my story of undead unwholesomeness set during a queasy recovery from the zombie apocalypse, will be reprinted in Extreme Zombies, an anthology from Prime Books. Editor Paula Guran has packed its pages with impressive names, meaning that I’ll be sharing a masthead with such worthies as George R. R. Martin, Nancy A. Collins, and Joe R. Lansdale. Lest you conclude that only the middle initial users need apply, the book also makes gore-spattered room for Stone Skin Press contributors Jesse Bullington and Monica Valentinelli. Check out the full roster on the Prime Press site.

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Gene Ha portrait

The Treasure of Far Thallai

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The Wormwood Mutiny, part one of Pathfinder’s latest adventure path series, “Skull and Shackles,” has now dropped piratical anchor. With it comes the first installment of my new serialized novella, “The Treasure of Far Thallai.”

Challys Argent was once a cloistered scholar, pledged by family tradition to the pursuit of knowledge. But when her order’s seaside eyrie was razed and looted by pirates, her fellow pedants put to the sword, she swore to avenge her brethren and recover the precious artifacts the ravagers stole.

Now, years later, hardened, implacable, calculating, she plies the seas, pirate captain and venture-captain. She sails a captured galleon, the Aspidochelone. At her side fight four unwillingly champions—Golarion’s  notorious pirates all, bound to serve her by the magic of a mighty named weapon, the cutlass Siren Call. They are:

  • the cannibal ogre Otondo

  • the depraved noble Adalbert Aspodell

  • the rum-guzzling, mutton-chomping, avaricious Seagrave

  • and the vindictive, deposed pirate queen Rira, her face permanently hidden by a metal mask

In Chapter One, “Hell Come Ashore”, Challys and crew land in the village of Moonplum, as it is plundered by a rival pirate band. There they seek her latest quarry—the sadistic captain Kered Firsk.

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Gene Ha portrait

See P. XX

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In my promotional flurry for The Birds: There Goes My Dream Job I have been remiss in directing you to the April edition of Pelgrane Press’ webzine, See P. XX.

My eponymous column previews The Gaean Reach design process, explaining how a game I thought was going to be Skulduggery with a dash of GUMSHOE asserted itself the other way around.

But that’s just for starters! Also included:

  • an inquiry into the love life of the doomed Augustus Darcy, from Book of the Smoke

  • an introduction to the gorgeous artwork of new Pelgrane illustrator Phil Reeves

  • tradecraft and character dossiers for Night’s Black Agents

  • playtesting opportunities, including The Gaean Reach

  • tantalizing first looks for the 13th Age, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet’s upcoming love letter to dungeon-crawling fantasy adventure

  • and as always, Simon’s update on what’s new and in the works at Pelgrane

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Gene Ha portrait

Playtest Hillfolk With Me On Google Hangout

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Do you have a webcam, a free evening this Thursday, and a hankering to try out Hillfolk, my upcoming game using the new DramaSystem rules set?

The playtest will take place on Google Hangout from 7-10 PM Eastern this Thursday, May 3rd.

To indicate your interest in taking part, leave me a private message on Google+, setting yourself up on G+ if you haven’t already.

In Hillfolk, you play tribal raiders at the dawn of the iron age, torn by conflicting desires in a time of hungry empires.

In your message, tell me who you want to play, providing:

  • your role in your small, hardscrabble tribe

  • your character’s name. Names in Hillfolk are metonyms—understandable words that reveal something fundamental about you. Examples: Skull, Thickneck, Farhawk, Rolls-the-Bones, Twig, Redaxe.

The rest will be revealed during play.

Feel free to list alternate choices for your role in the tribe, in case of duplication.

If I get more than six takers, I will choose between them by means inscrutable.

I’m going to try recording the proceedings, possibly using snippets of sound and video in the crowdfunding video. It might also wind up as an Actual Play resource. Respond only if that’s okay with you.

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John Kovalic's The Birds: Vengeance

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It’s The Birds Week!

To celebrate the release of the second volume of The Birds, There Goes My Dream Job, friend of the blog John Kovalic has pitched in with a week of guest strips—which also appear in the book.


Click here for the complete strip archive.

Stuck in mobile mode? Click here for image file.

The Birds: There Goes My Dream Job is now available from the Pelgrane Press store, and is winging its deadpan, gun-toting way to wherever you purchased The Birds Volume One.

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